Monday, November 12, 2012

Life in Kazakhstan is a road less traveled and full of curves and obstacles!

Beth and I have been in Kazakhstan more than a month now and I still find myself wondering if I’m going to awake from a dream at any moment.  

When we boarded the plane in Richmond, Virginia on Oct. 2, 2012 it was with many emotions -- excitement to be heading back to the land and people that have captured our hearts, and a bit of anxiety about launching such an enormous project.  But we were off.

Thankfully, we made all of our connections in the U.S and in Turkey and after a two-day journey, we concluded an uneventful trip even making it through customs in Almaty without even a second glance our way as we walked out the main gates with all six of our trunks.    

Part of the decision-making on when to head back to Kazakhstan related to the wedding of a dear friend.  The wedding of Zarina and Damire on Oct 8th was beautiful.  It was a great joy and privilege to be able to share in their celebration last month and capture the special occasion digitally.  

This time in Taraz we don’t have the benefits of a large, established organization.  That means no car, no support staff and no house with western conveniences.  But it has been great to see the support we do have and to learn to live daily life like a typical Kazakh.  We are averaging 5 to7 miles of walking each day as we go to and from our daily tasks. This is good exercise, but more importantly, it has helped us build relationships.  There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t run into someone we know during our walk.  It is touching to see the reactions of people as they realize we, as Americans, are walking and taking public transportation.  They also are getting some good laughs at our many misadventures as we try to learn our way around the city via bus.  Thankfully, complete strangers have shown us much kindness.  On a couple of occasions we have been totally surprised to find an English speaker in the most unusual places.  

We thought we had found a house to rent but the family later changed its mind.  We aren’t worried about this and trust the exact house we are to use will become available at precisely the right time.  We have several Kazakhs helping us with this and are grateful for their help.  

Arranging our visas has been its own adventure.  Our original visa was for 30 days.  One friend of ours who has an English language school was trying to invite us for another 60-day visa. As part of that, we would have volunteered at her school but a glitch in the law prevented that option.  

Another friend that Beth and I have known since 2000 is very excited about J127 Ranch.  She was the director of Ulan Orphanage for many years before moving to the Youth House as its director. She has many great connections and a real heart for the children. She knows their histories and heartaches.  When she heard we were having trouble getting our next visa she offered to invite us on a 60-day personal visa.  This application was submitted.  Since there was going to be a two-week gap between the two visas, we decided to head to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to get a 30-day tourist visa and then we will switch it to the 60-day personal invitation visa when the tourist visa expires.  

There is a bus that goes from Taraz to Bishkek.  A new law allows Americans to enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa but we weren’t sure the border crossing we would be using would accept us into Kyrgyzstan or would we need to fly into the country.  We took off on the afternoon bus for another of our many adventures on buses in Kazakhstan.  It was an older 15-passenger van (including the driver) with two seats on one side of the van, an aisle and a single seat on the other side.  The passenger seat tilted forward for passengers to enter the back of the van.  The aisle had what looked like trim bundled and piled in it, making walking a bit difficult.  Beth and I were among the last people to get into the van and so we stumbled our way to the back of it.  The seats were each elevated a bit as you moved toward the back, kind of like theater seats.  This made for good viewing out the front window.  Driving here in Kazakhstan is unlike anything you would experience in the states.  Passing a vehicle in front of you can be done even if multiple vehicles are come towards you.  Add into the mix herds of sheep, cattle and horses, horse and donkey powered carts, pedestrians walking and it is like a video game gone bad or an action packed movie with one of those crazy car chase scenes except this is real.  Beth said “All I need is pop corn and a soda an it would be like sitting in a movie theater!”  There is nothing to be done but sit back and enjoy the ride trusting the drivers and God.  We knew the general plan but most of the details we weren’t sure of so off we went into the unknown. 

John and Julie Wright who work in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan doing great work caring for orphans and widows had agreed to host us during our time in Kyrgyzstan for which we were grateful.   

When we got to the border crossing, everyone exited the bus, taking their packages and personal belongings with them.  Upon entering the passport control Beth called John to let him know where we were.  (Our phone would not work once we crossed into Kyrgyzstan.)  Due to poor reception, Beth had to talk louder than normal, making everyone in the building aware that we were foreigners and Americans at that.  We could hear the guards say something about the tourists.  We hadn’t wanted to be in the back of all the other people on our bus but that is what ended up happening.  We weren’t sure if the bus would wait for us even though we had paid for the whole trip.  When it was my turn to present my passport I was pleasantly surprised by an English speaking Kazakh.  He was very pleasant and within a few minutes we both had passed through Kazakhstan’s side of the border.  We exited a door and then went to a window on the Kyrgyzstan side.  Again, we were surprised to hear a Kyrgyz saying, “Good Evening,” in perfect English.  And as easy as that we were across the border with all of our required stamps.  Then, we were off to find our bus.  

It was dark by then and there were lots of people, cars, buses, trucks, and taxi drivers offering a ride on the left side of the path and vendors selling various things lining the right side.  I needed a bathroom and something to drink since, by then, it was past   7 p.m. and we had left our house at 3 p.m to begin our travels.  Wondering if we had missed the bus, we wandered down the path a bit.  One of the other women on the van saw us looking lost and spoke to us, thankfully.  She then pointed down a side alley where we spied a sign for toilet.  Beth graciously let me go first and as I headed down this alley way a small boy on a bike greeted me, talking a mile a minute oblivious to the fact I had no clue what he was saying.  He rode his bike in circles around me as I walked.  In Kazakhstan it is common to pay a small price to use a toilet.  This includes a bit of toilet paper that you pick up when you pay.  I paid my money to use the toilet to a young girl and, at this young boy’s insistence, I followed him down a path past some parked cars, a very large dog on a very large chain, then down a narrow path around a faucet and trough of water that had spilled over making the path very muddy,  Through some trees then a turn to the right to what was obviously an area being renovated.  The young boy showed me which bathroom was for women and explained - in detail - not to step on the wet cement but to walk on the board.  Even though I didn’t understand a word of his language I knew what he was saying and from the small footprint already in the cement, it looked like my young friend had already learned from experience what happens when you step in wet cement.    

While I was traveling to the “restroom” – in reality, a fancy outhouse - Beth chatted with one of the three other women on the bus.  When I got back, Beth took off about the time the two other women showed up.  They were also traveling to Tokmok so we decided we would get a taxi together for the journey between Bishkek and Tokmok - about an hour’s drive.  It turned out these two women were Dungan.  It was a great blessing to have them join us as we negotiated the city of Bishkek and secured a taxi.  The ride was uneventful but my heart sighed in relief as we pulled up to the “bus station” to see John Wright sitting on the back of his car with the hatch open (he had told us he would do this to help us find him in the dark).  

Our time in Bishkek was above and beyond any expectation I could have had.  John and Julie and their two grown daughters welcomed us with open arms.  We were able to participate with two different delegations from Canada, see a small bit of the great work being done there and gleaned a bit of their wisdom in the process.  Be sure to check out their website to see the great work they are doing –  

I could go on and on sharing about the many different happenings here in Central Asia.  The central theme is the children.  Life is hard for the average person and family.   Without the stable foundation of a family to help the children navigate life, the ones without stable families or any family at all have little hope.  

The mountains before us on the great adventure that is J127 Ranch are high and the path before us is full of unknowns.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Perseverance, patience and persistence are what we need to continue forward.  My heart aches for the children.  When we were visiting Ulan Orphanage this past Friday, the staff had just found out the orphanage would close December 1.  Some of the children will transfer to Saramoldaeva Orphanage.  There are so many unknowns.  One worker at Ulan said 10 caregivers will keep their jobs and move to Saramoldaeva but another worker said only three were transferring.  A few workers we spoke with said they didn’t know what would happen or that they weren’t transferring.  It was obvious the director had been crying and we saw tears on several other staff members’ faces.  What a sad day for them. But then I looked at all of the children.  Their already unstable lives were being turned upside down once again.   

There isn’t one comfort I’ve left or one discomfort I now live with that I wouldn’t endure to keep moving forward – to keep persevering and patiently hoping and believing a door will open so J127 Ranch can open doors for these precious children.   

Thank you all who have joined the community of people who are committed to ENGAGE with one another and the children in ways that ENRICH each of our lives so we are all EMPOWERED to be who we were uniquely created to be.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Exciting News and a way you can help launch us to Kazakhstan!

I can't believe how quickly the days are passing.  I am also amazed some days at the amount of work yet to be done for the J127 Ranch vision to become a reality.  

I am pleased to announce with, much thanks to the dedicated work from Kim Floyde at Aspenglow Services and Cindy LaJoy the J127 Ranch website is live.  Be sure to visit!

Beth and I are humbled and thankful for all those who are stepping forward to be part of J127 Ranch.   The Ranch will not be just a place for orphan children to live, but also a place where we Engage in one another's lives, be Enriched by the fellowship and community and be Empowered to be who we each were created to be.  

One couple has step forward and offered a generous Matching Grant of $5000.00 each for Beth and me toward the $14,000.00 we each need to apply for permanent residency.  We are amazed and humbled by their hearts to care for the orphans in this world.

There are several reasons why permanent residency is so important.  One of the major obstacles of staying long term in Kazakhstan is the visa requirements.  With permanent residency we will not be constantly struggling to renew our visas.

The other advantage permanent residency offers us is the ability to purchase and own property.   That's what makes this generous donation such a big deal.

Many of you have expressed a desire to help.  So for those who feel called to be part of this vision, here is a great opportunity to jump start the J127 Ranch!  You can help by being part of doubling this $10,000.00 grant and making it $20,000 towards the $28,000.00 we need for permanent residency.

J127 Ranch is a Department of A.C.T. Intl a 501(c)3 organization and all donations are tax-deductible.

When you donate towards this Matching Grant,  make sure to add a note that your donation is for the J127 Ranch - Beth & Victoria's Permanent Residency

Mail a check or money order directly or use your Bank Online Bill Pay system.  Checks should be payable to   J127 Ranch / A.C.T. Intl and should include your name and address in order to receive a receipt. 

Send To: A.C.T. Intl
PO Box 1966
Brentwood, TN  37024-1966

Donate Online using your credit card by going to  This website is linked to a PayPal account and a 2.9% processing fee will be deducted from the donation.  You will receive a receipt from ChipIn, Paypal and a tax-deductible receipt will also be provided by A.C.T. Intl. 

We are excited to see how all the ranch hands and wranglers are being brought together from so many different parts.  

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 
Victoria for the J127 Ranch Team 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kazapalooza - "Kazakh Party"

Kazapalooza (“Kazakh Party”)!  Palooza means “party!

This past weekend Beth Turnock and I had the honor and privilege to be part of a great annual event held this year at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio.  It was a gathering of over a hundred families who have adopted at least once from Kazakhstan.  Many of the families have made the trip to Kazakhstan several times in order to complete their family.  Adopting from Kazakhstan is a long drawn out process and a testimony to the dedication these parents have for their children. It was a delight to see children glowing and thriving in their adoptive families. 

The women bringing Kazapalooza together are adoptive mothers themselves.  (Gretchen, from TN, mom of 3, Muriel, from IL, Mom of 2, Lori, from Ohio, Mom of 6, Kristan, from FL, Mom of 3, Karen, from KY, Mom of 1, Michelle, from WI, Mom of 2)  They dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours organizing and preparing for this event.   It was fabulous!!  (to see more pictures from this event

The experience of traveling half way around the world to bring home their precious children united them with a common experience.  Their desire for their children to feel a connection to their birth families and to their birth country, as well as to see other children just like themselves, is the driving force for this event. 

Friday night was a family cook-out with games for the children.  A pie eating contest topped off the evening.  My heart loved seeing all these precious children running around having so much fun.  I kept looking into their faces wondering if any had siblings I knew back in Taraz.  As much as my heart loved seeing these happy children, it also ached for all those children left behind.   Their futures do not look as bright as these at Kazapalooza.   Those left behind have no one to advocate for them when they struggle in school.   They have no one to comfort them when they are hurt or to hold them in their arms when they are overwhelmed with life. 

  A luncheon and raffle was held Saturday.   The families not only wanted to celebrate and enjoy one another, they also desired to give back to those children left behind.   Each year the event planning committee chooses a non-profit working with orphans in Kazakhstan to donate funds raised during this event.   This year Ark Village, a wonderful private orphanage outside Almaty run by an Italian man, was chosen. Papa Guido has been running Ark Village for 12 years.   Each family brought an item to be raffled off.   There were some wonderful gifts which raised monies for Ark Village. 

What amazed me is that these families not only adopted their child but are staying actively involved and giving back to children that remain in the orphanage system in Kazakhstan.   These adoptive parents’ hearts have been touched and transformed. 

I heard many stories of treasured memories the families have.   Their desire is to expose their children to the rich heritage of Kazakhstan.  Many talked of wanting to return with their children when they are older so they can see Kazakhstan and learn about their birth country.   The desire for their children to be healthy, well-rounded and joyful was abundantly evident in all. 

There were also stories of their child’s struggles to overcome past traumas and the surprise they had when learning about issues they had no clue about previously.  I was encouraged to hear each parent’s determination to find the resources needed to help their children be the best they can be no matter what.    They could laugh at the struggles, at themselves and at things they had never thought funny before.  There was a comfort each family felt being surrounded by people who didn’t react or look strangely when a child had a melt down because they were in a new place, out of routine and over stimulated.  It was accepted that these precious children fight a battle against terrors and traumas most could never imagine.  The lack of a loving parent during those first critical years of life has left scars that may not be seen by the eye but are present nevertheless.  Only in a loving, caring environment will these children learn to overcome what they weren’t given at the beginning of their lives.  Each of the children at Kazapalooza now have parents who are dedicated to loving and nurturing them.  What joy that was to see!  Families came from as far away as Texas, Virginia, and Canada. 

The desire of my heart is see the children on the J127 ranch thriving and learning to overcome the traumas in their lives as they build a future and become contributing members of the society they will live in.  J127 Ranch will be a place for each child to engage with others and in that process be enriched and empowered to become all he or she was created to be. 

Thank you for joining us on this journey.
Victoria on behalf J127 Ranch Team

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I can't believe how fast the days are passing!.  I'm also amazed some days at the amount of work needed to make the vision a J127 Ranch reality.   But I am pleased to announce that thanks to much hard work from Cindy Lajoy and Kim Floyde at Aspenglow Services  the J127 Ranch website - is now live. 

Beth and I are humbled and thankful for all of you who are stepping forward to be part of the vision to engage, enrich and empower orphan children in the Taraz area of Kazakhstan.  

One amazing couple has stepped forward and offered a Matching Grant.  They are offering $5000.00 each for Beth and me toward the $14,000.00 we each need to apply for permanent residency.  We are amazed and overwhelmed by this donor's support and generosity.

There are several reasons why permanent residency is so important.  One of the major obstacles of staying long term in Kazakhstan is the Visa.  With permanent residency we will not need to continually re-apply for a new Visa.

In addition to the benefit of not needing to frequently leave the country to apply for a new visa, permanent residency offers us the ability to purchase and own property. Without property our J127 project is on hold.  With this gracious matching gift, we have the possibility of applying for permanent residency and of soon owning property. 
So, for all of you who feel called to be part of this vision, here is a great opportunity to jump start the whole project. Come help us to double this $10,000.00 grant. With your help, the $10,000 will become $20,000 towards the $28,000.00 we need for permanent residency. Your donation, in whatever amount, will be matched up to $10,000.

Please make sure to add a note that your donation is for the J127 Ranch - Matching Grant for Permanent Residency

You may mail a check or money order directly or use your Bank Online Bill Pay system.  Checks should be payable to   J127 Ranch / A.C.T. Intl and should include your name and address in order to receive a receipt. 
Send To: A.C.T. Intl
PO Box 1966
Brentwood, TN  37024-1966

Donate Online using your credit card by going to  A.C.T. Intl provide this option for your convenience, but please be advised that there is a 5% processing fee charged the J127 Ranch to cover the cost charged by the credit card companies.  

We are excited to see how all the ranch hands and wranglers are being brought together.   

Blessings and Joys to you each.. 
Victoria for the J127 Ranch Team 

Be part of J127 Ranch to
  Engage, Enrich, Empower
the orphan children in the Taraz area of Kazakhstan 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hello Everyone,
It has been a long while since I last wrote and so much has happened.

I turned 50 last June.  I'm now mid-way through life.  Wow.. How did that happened.  It seems like it has only just begun and in many ways it has.

A heart for children was build into me when I was formed.  I dreamed when I was a small child of living on a large farm with lots of animals and kids running around.  Now, my vision back then did have this farm in the rolling foot hills of Virginia.  

In 2000 I first traveled to Kazakhstan with Interlink Resource on a short term trip.  That is when I first fell in love with the children of Kazakhstan.  That trip took me an entirely different turn then I could have ever imagined and it has been a wild adventure since.  In 2009 I moved to Kazakhstan to live and work full time as the Youth Department Manager with Interlink.  I loved my job, the wonderful people I had the privilege to work with and absolutely loved working with the children.  

It didn't take long to realize how much more needed to be provided for the children to give them a chance to build productive lives.  It is all about relationship build over time.  People who are committed to the long term process of teaching/mentoring and coaching these children.  They have nothing but mountains of "baggage" filled with pain, hurt, distrust, and stories no child should have to live through. They need a safe place to be loved, encouraged, some tough love with people who are committed for the long haul.

That first year way back in 2000 I knew the call on my life was to care, love and be a voice for these precious children of Kazakhstan.  Most of the children are not legally free for adoption and would never even have a chance to be adopted.  I am called to care for these children.  I dream and pray for each of the children to find their forever family, but am now moving forward with a vision that will  provide these children a place they can call home.

In December after much internal struggle I resigned from Interlink to pursue making this a reality.   It is a huge project and I knew this could not be accomplished alone.  It will take a large number of people being committed to it.

Beth Turnock and I spent many hours while we lived and worked together in Kazakhstan talking and planning for the ranch.  Beth too dreamed of a ranch since she was a young girl.   Beth was the Director of Operations for a large residential facility in Indiana before moving to Kazakhstan.  The last part of her 7 and a half years she was the Director in Kazakhstan.  The end of January 2012 she decided that the calling on her life was to be part of this vision too.  I am so thankful for her friendship, partnership and for the wealth of experience and knowledge she brings to this project.

One chapter has closed and a new chapter has begun or it may be the next book in a series.  Which ever is the case it is a God size project and will only be accomplished in HIS strength.

In February Beth and I went to Kazakhstan to pack our belongings up in the Interlink house and put into storage as well as share about this vision.  It was encouraging to have it be so well received.

We took time to drive to Karatau to visit sweet Saule who use to be at Ulan Orphanage but was moved after I left to a Boarding School for disabled children about an hour and half north of Taraz in the village of Karatau.   It had been snowing and was extremely cold during our time in Taraz.  But that day it dawned bright and sunny and off we headed north with a friend.   The first hour of the trip was uneventful as we drove mile after mile through barren snowy landscape.  It all changed dramatically when we rounded a bend in the road into full white out conditions with wind blowing the snow side ways.    The wind was blowing so hard it blew the car sending it sliding out of control.  Thankfully when it got to the side of the road the snow bank stopped the car from plummeting down the hill.   We thought about turning around at this point.  Then though the village was only another 30 min drive and more importantly a 7 year old young child was waiting for us to come visit her.  So we inched forward.  What should have been a 30 min drive turned into a 2 hour Epic Adventure with scares and detours around each bend through the mountain pass.  
Me walking in front of the car making sure the snow isn't too deep.  

Saule and me after we arrived

If you would like to read the long version of this trip please email and I'll gladly send it to you.  But the short version is we finally made it.  And one sweet small girl with a club foot and face disfiguration knew that she was loved enough to come a long way in a snow storm to see her.  The staff didn't understand why anyone would go to so much trouble for an orphan child that they could see no value in.

I think the experience is going to be a great example to us as we move forward with this vision.   It is a huge project that is going to take lot of people being committed to the children as well as resources.  At times we will not be able to see two steps in front and will have to slowly - inching forward.  The sky will clear at times giving us a glimpse of the long winding road ahead then just a quickly clouds will fall low blocking the view.  We will have to persevere with patience and determination. Never forgetting who is waiting for us.  Saule had sat on a sofa from early morning till 3:00 pm waiting for us to arrive.   The children who have no one else are waiting for a place to call home.

The Vision
The Ranch will give hope to children who are no longer able to live with their family of origin.  The ranch provides a safe place and loving community for the orphans in Taraz, Kazakhstan and surrounding areas to call “home”.  At the Ranch children are surrounded by people who are committed to pouring into their broken lives as they heal and learn how to build productive lives knowing they are valued and uniquely created for a special purpose. More than just meeting needs like food, clothing and shelter, the children’s spiritual, emotional, medical and educational needs will also be addressed.  The goal will be to give children the solid foundation along with the vocational and spiritual preparations needed to fulfill the call on their lives.  Incorporated into each “home” will be a core set of family values with an emphasis on the arts and how the process of creating; whether through dance, drawing, painting, writing, singing, or any other creative endeavor can give insight into living life to the fullest and finding joy and a positive future.  

Stay tuned for how this adventure unfolds.  If you would like more information please feel free to email me at  

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New blog page!

Hello dear family and friends;

Here in Kazakhstan things have been finally settling down into somewhat of a normal routine. Due to some difficulties with not being able to access blogger I from Kazakhstan I have had to start a new one at . I will try to update them both when I can but you may want to check them both.

I’ve been back in Taraz for almost three weeks now and I definitely hit the ground running. I’ve loved being back in Kazakhstan and am ever so thankful for restored health. It has also been great to have spent the last two weekends in the same location which is something I haven’t done since November. Even better, that location has been here at home!! I did visit with some friends but kept things pretty low key after some very busy weeks.

During the last two weeks, the team and I have had fun at the orphanages with the children. I want to share some pictures and tell you about one particular boy.

Arman is a sweet boy who was new at Ulan Orphanages when I returned from my time in the States. He is bigger than the other children in his group and didn’t come running when we entered their room. When I asked about him, I was informed that he was deaf, dumb and mute. Well, he most definitely is deaf. He doesn’t make many noises but does have the ability to make sound because I have since heard him make many. He is trapped in his own world with little or no attention having been paid to him. This young child is not dumb by any means, from what I can tell.

With a little work he will give eye contact. I was thrilled to see him pick up a crayon when I directed him to the table and demonstrated with a crayon what to do. Arman explored the many colors and made many marks on his paper before turning his attention to playing with the crayons like Lincoln Logs. He lined up 5 side by side and, using his hand, rolled them simultaneously back and forth. Then he stacked 4 crayons on top in the opposite direction and again rolled them, observing how they rolled back and forth depending on how he pushed them.

The next week the class decorated book covers and title pages with stickers and their names. We wrote their names both in Kazakh and in English but they did all the decorating. I placed the pages in front of Arman, then handed him a foam sticker and placed the sticker side towards his fingers. After several minutes of exploring the stickiness against his face and hands, he placed it on the cover. I was so pleased to see him work right along with the other children who were decorating.
It has been a challenge getting the other children to realize that we will not tolerate their grabbing things from Arman or hitting him. Whenever a hand goes near him, he flinches. It breaks my heart.

I also let him explore the buttons on my camera. This is not something I generally do! Many of the children in the younger groups have impulse control issues and are not very gentle with things like expensive cameras. Arman very methodically and gently pressed the buttons and soon it became evident to me that he was searching for the button that caused the flash to go off. Once he identified the button, he stood in front of the camera getting it to flash several times. He also found the button that allowed him to scroll back through the pictures I had taken. He touched an image of a child and then searched the room looking for that particular child. Several times he looked directly into my eyes, seemingly to ask me a question and then he turned back to the camera. Oh, how I wanted a way to communicate with this child.

I started researching, looking for resources to help reach Arman. American Sign Language wasn’t what I needed. I needed Kazakh or at least Russian. I talked to Beth and send several emails to various people. This past Monday I found out that Gulnar, who works here at Interlink with the older orphans after they leave the orphanage, actually knows Kazakh sign language! And her mother is a translator for the deaf community right here in Taraz. Amazing!! What an answer to my prayers! It turns out there also is a deaf boarding school here in Taraz. We are looking into seeing what kind of facility this is and if Arman could go there and what kind of services we can get for Arman right now. I am so excited about this.

Last Thursday I was greatly encouraged when Arman let out a heartfelt giggle while I was playing with him. To see this precious boy smile and laugh made the hardships I encounter living here more than worth it.

Thank you, dear friends and family, for your continued support and encouraging words. I love hearing from each of you.



Friday, January 1, 2010

Remembering a year so full of blessings and adventures!

This past year was bursting at the seams with an abundance of blessings and treasured memories. I've started this new year in the same place I started last year! In Virginia! And my travels since my return 15 December to the States are taking me back and forth from Virginia to Pennsylvania and soon to Indiana and then returning to Virginia to leave again for Kazakhstan on 2 February. Last January I went from Virginia to North Carolina back to Virginia to Indiana back to Virginia then to Texas back to Virginia down to North Carolina to Virginia to Pennsylvania and then back to Virginia before boarding the plane that would take me to Kazakhstan. I am still amazed at the most amazing people that have crossed my path as I've traveled on the journey. Sweet friendship have been made and memories that I will treasure for a life time.

Kazakhstan filled my heart with great joy in 2009, as well as breaking my heart for the hardship and conditions facing its people. I count it a great joy and privilege to be able to serve the people but especially the children of Kazakhstan. They captured my heart in 2000 and this love has only grown.

I have been so amazed and touched by all of you who help in so many ways for me to carry out this work that I have been called to do. It wouldn't happen without your financial support and for that I am eternally grateful. I am even more grateful that you not only give of your finances to help in the work here but in the notes and encouraging words I receive. Each one I hold close to my heart especially on the days that the great needs all around me can seem a little overwhelming. Thank you, dear friends, for joining me and Interlink to care for the least of these.

To use well the time I have been given and to finish well the race before me takes preparation, discipline and the support of my dear friends who carry me through with their prayers. I am ever so thankful for each one of you.

Since arriving in Richmond, Virginia, I have been checked head to toe by my regular doctor, GI guy, eye specialist and a neurologist. The Neurological doctor made me laugh with his dry "Well, if it was a brain tumor making your pupils fixed and unequal for this long, you would be dead. Since you are sitting here, I'll assume you aren't dead!" That was a good thing. So, no brain tumor, though he did do a through examimation. My blood work does show a predisposition to having auto immune issues which bilateral Iritis is, but otherwise my report was good. With eye drops the pressure in my eyes are within normal range so, all in all, I'm good to go.

The nutritionist I've been seeing identified some food allergies and reconfirmed the need to eat food that is truly good for me. Range feed meats, eggs from chickens that have run free, raw non-pasteurized milk, fresh veggies and fruit from locally grown sources that don't use chemicals and pesticides, whole grains soaked and not processed, no processed foods, no artificial sweeteners and very little sugar is the basic diet. In other words, eating like our ancestors did. What is put into the body makes such a difference to how it is able to heal itself and run properly. It is amazing how much money is spent on drugs and running to the doctor yet people don't want to spend on food that is actually good for them. If the body is feed well, it can preform well and medical cost would be lower.

Well, that is my little soap box lecture for the new year. I never have eaten much processed food but have now identified with the nutritionist's help a few foods that I'm allergic to. With the changes in diet I am feeling so much better.

I am excited about this new year and all it holds. I know I am blessed and have much to be thankful for -- no matter what! I will rejoice in all things because rejoicing is a choice not a feeling. I will count my blessings even in the midst of storms. I will cling to the dear friends I have been given and not hide during the times life seems overwhelming.

I am truly thankful for each one of you who are joining me on my "Epic Adventure," whether it is for a short walk on the trail or for a long haul. Each one of you is a treasured and most valuable gift.

Happy New year, dear friends.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

No Bake Cookies - so much fun!

Making cookies at Saramoldiva from Victoria Charbonneau on Vimeo.

The week before I left for the UAE because of my eye emergency, our team here took Tim and Walter (here from Virginia visiting their sponsored children) to Saramoldiva Orphanage to do an activity with the youngest children. After I came back from the UAE, our team here went to Ulan Orphanage. At both orphanages we did the same activity - making no bake cookies. It was such fun each time! It was also a little chaotic because this was a new activity for the children, but all in all it went well. We have started introducing themes with the activities planned around the day's lesson. The no bake cookies activity was to introduce basic cooking along with the idea of taking turns, sharing, identifying what the children have to be thankful for and learning to give to others. So, the children ate some of the sweet treats they made and they also gave some of the treats to their teachers and caregivers.

They took turns dumping the sugar, butter, vanilla, and evaporated milk into a pot and then stirring it until it melted. Once melted, the heat was turn off. Then the children helped mix in peanut butter, rolled oats and cocoa. They then spooned out dollops of the mixture onto wax paper. The children had never had this kind of opportunity. Their faces showed their excitement. My heart loved seeing them experiencing this simple activity. I wish they each could be in a loving home getting to do these kinds of things on a regular basis.

While the cookies hardened, we had the children decorate two paper bags. One was for them to keep and one to give to one of their caregivers. We spent time talking about all their caregivers do for them. It is always easy to see what we each don't have in our lives. Learning to be thankful for the things we do have helps us develop an ability to enjoy life more fully no matter what storms roll through. We wanted to start showing the children what they do have to be thankful for. It is easy to see all their lives lack, but they could be in far worse places. Many of them have come from very bad situations and are in a much better place now, even though I wish for them so much more.

Everyone enjoyed the sweet treat when all was finished. It was fun to see their joy and excitement doing something my children grew up doing all the time. Helping me in the kitchen and learning life skills are treasured memories for us. My desire is for activities like this to build life skills into the children here, life skills they will need once they are out of the orphanage. Hopefully, these activities will also give them some treasured memories to store in their hearts. It is fun to hear other groups at the orphanages ask when they get to make cookies.

Though the time was a little chaotic, it was fun and the staff were pleased to receive their little bags of cookies. The staff also expressed their thanks for our focus on what they do for the children. Oftentimes the staff is not acknowledged for all the hard work they do.

If you ever want to come join us in our fun here, you are most welcome. There are usually two trips a year for those who sponsor children through us. If you don't sponsor a child yet and just want to come see what we do here, you can still join one of the trips. Go to Interlink's web link on the right side of this blog to find more information. If you are interested in coming to work full time, you can also find more information there or you can contact us here in Taraz.

It is almost Thanksgiving, a time when we focus more on what we have to be thankful for. I am incredibly thankful that I have the privilege to work with these precious children here in Kazakhstan. I will miss Marc and Sarah terribly this first Thanksgiving and Christmas that we will spend apart, but I am comforted by the fact that I know being here is the call on my life.

Thank you, each one, for joining me on this incredible journey.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An unexpected trip!

Dear Family and Friends,
This is an unusual post. The stories I usually share are about people here in Kazakhstan. However, during the last couple of weeks my life was turned upside. I know there is a bigger plan in all that happened even if I don't understand it all.

On the 18th of October I journeyed to Abu Dhabi in the UAE - and it wasn't planned for or for a vacation. Why did I go? Well, because between the 7th and 17th of October I visited 5 different doctors at 5 different clinics trying to get a diagnosis as to what was happening to my eyes. I woke up Wednesday morning the 4th with both eyes red, sore, and sensitive to light. By Saturday the 7th, the pain was worse so I went to see a local doctor in Taraz. She said I had a cold or virus in my eyes. I did have a pretty bad cold so that made sense to me and my eyes did get some better with the medication.

An American team arrived on Sunday the 11th and I was the coordinator for their time here in KZ. On Wednesday the 14th I was showing the team Ulan orphanage. During the visit I kept cleaning my glasses - especially the left lense - thinking there must be something on the glass to blur my vision. About the 20th cleaning I decided to look at the glass to see what could possibly be there that wouldn't clean off. That is when I realized my glasses were actually clean and something was seriously wrong with my eye. I finished out what we were doing, knowing we were scheduled to go back to the office.

Upon arriving at the office, I looked at my eye more closely. What I saw was my left pupil wide open while the right eye was constricted. I was in a bright room. My heart sank. This didn't seem like a good thing, especially because my vision had been deteriorating during the morning. The film I thought was on my glasses was really a loss of vision in my left eye. We were suppose to be leaving for Shimkent in a hour. There were two stops along the way - one for lunch in a Kazakh's home in a village and the other at the orphanage in Vanovka. I didn't want to delay any of this, but my heart was filled with a sinking feeling. Things were much worse than I had previously thought.

I went to Beth, our director, and asked her to look at my eyes and tell me what she saw. Her face let me know immediately that things weren't good. Thankfully she is a very calm, take care of business kind of woman because at that moment I began to cry. I don't cry often but the pain that had been there for a week and the exhaustion from being sick with a cold hit me. Beth went into action and within 30 minutes I was in another eye doctor's office here in Taraz. After much examining, the doctor said it wasn't glaucoma but the pressure in my eyes, especially my left eye, was very high. He gave me different drops and sent me on my way. He said it was no problem to go to Shimkent and to come back in a week to check the pressure. Okay! I still wasn't sure why the vision was blurry and why my eyes hurt so much, but hey, a doctor said I was okay. The doctor's visit put the schedule for the delegation's trip an hour and a half behind schedule so, as soon as I returned to the office, Beth, Walther, Tim and I hit the road for Shimkent.

I trudged through that day trying to convince myself things were fine. I knew I would be seeing Dr. Lori, an American general practitioner in Shimkent. She handles the medical needs of our teams when they arise. Beth had called her on Wednesday and she agreed she'd like to see me Thursday morning. After an exam she wanted me seen by a eye doctor in Shimkent and she mentioned I might need to leave the country to seek medical treatment. This idea didn't excite me, but I certainly wanted to get my eyes treated properly. She was thinking, because of the high pressure in the eyes, I had developed Acute Onset Closed Angle Glaucoma. I knew about regular glaucoma but nothing about this kind. I didn't like the sound of it.

By going to Skimkent I missed some of the activities scheduled for the team visiting in Shimkent but Beth was able to fill in when I was away. My eyes seemed to be getting worse and the pain was increasing. The eye doctor in Shimkent said I did have Closed Angle Acute Onset Glaucoma and possibly needed surgery to lower the pressure. That didn't sound very good. I prayed and trusted God would take care of what ever problem I had. Thursday evening Dr. Lori said we needed to start calling and see if I could be seen by a doctor in either the UAE or Turkey, the closest places to find American doctors for this issue. My heart sank for I couldn't imagine how I could figure all that out much less pay for it. This all was just not in my plans. As I went to sleep that night, I prayed for God's comfort and wisdom for what to do.

On Friday when I woke I could barely open my eyes and the pain had doubled. Crying, I called my dear friend and mentor Edith. It was 4:30 am my time but I needed some advice because I couldn't figure out the next step. I couldn't think clearly any longer. I was a mess. I had been sick for three weeks and struggling with my eyes for over a week by this point.

I love Edith for many, many reasons and one is her totally efficient manner. A "small" detail of her life was put in place long before I even came to Kazakhstan. Edith and her husband Rip lived in the UAE for several years and still have many friends there. In my current situation, this is not a coincidence. When I mentioned where the doctor said to go, she picked up the ball and ran with it. I was in the office in Shimkent, Beth came in wondering how I was doing. I couldn't handle any more of anything so turned my computer over to her and laid down on the sofa. These two women are amazing in administration and efficiency. During the rest of the morning, through emails and calls all kinds of arrangements were made while I laid on the sofa listening to worship music in order not to focus on either the intense pain or the despair sneaking into my heart.

It was all quite amazing - Edith started emailing her large network of friends in the UAE. The response is a testimony to the friendships she has and their commitment to show God's love. Edith's friend, Linda Clark, is the head of operations at the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Daubi. She contacted Dr. Chris Cummins who agreed to see me Monday at 1 pm. Linda arranged for me to be met plane side and escorted through the airport to a waiting car. Janie Garrett, a friend of Edith's, agreed to host me. Beth and Marina Tsoy made all my travel arrangements from Taraz to Almaty then to Dubai. Heather Lewis agreed to host me in Almaty. It was absolutely amazing how all these people from Kazakhstan to America and then back to the UAE all came together to get me the medical treatment I needed. When Dr. Lori first said I needed to go out of the country, my mind could not even begin to process how I would figure all of that out. When she said the UAE, I thought "Well, Edith use to live there and knows some people there who may be able to help." What are the odds of knowing anyone in the place Dr. Lori suggested. Not very likely.

Edith and Rip moved to Richmond Virginia about 4 years ago. Edith was assigned my mentor for my application process with Interlink Resources. We became fast friends. All those years ago the foundation for what would be needed here and now were laid. We just never know what series of events will lead. All this was an ordained time and place.

Beth, Walter, Tim, Katie and I left Shimkent Friday afternoon heading for Taraz. We arrived around dinner time. After dropping Tim and Walter off at the team house to enjoy Pizza with Ken and an American family adopting their second child from Kazakhstan Beth took me to Adilya's house were I was staying to repack my bag for my trip. I actually could do very little so Beth pretty much did the work then took Katie and I to the train station to catch the night train to Almaty. Katie is part of the English center in Shimkent and was on her way back to America for a planned furlough. She actually wasn't planning on going to Almaty till Tuesday but agreed to escort me there so I wouldn't have to travel alone. So many people going out of their way. Thank you Katie.

We took a taxi the Saturday morning to Heather's apartment. Dr. Lori had gotten me an appointment at the Eye Institute in Almaty which has the top doctors in the country. Heather who speaks fluent Russian agreed to take me there and translate. Dr. Lori had gotten me a 10 am appointment. I still had the flight out but was still thinking if I could be treated in country that would be best. After many many eye examinations with many different pieces of equipment the top doctor said I did have Acute Onset Closed Angle Glaucoma and needed surgery right away. He was the only one who could do it but he was going on vacation for two weeks so I would have to wait. Wait... that didn't seem like a good idea. He said it probably would be alright and not too much permanent damage would be done. Well, that pretty much determined I would fly to Dubai to seek medical treatment. Heather hosted Katie and I for another night and Sergey who does a lot of work for Interlink in Almaty took me to the airport on Sunday.

I flew out of Almaty Sunday 18 Oct and arrived to Janie Garrett's apartment about 1:30 am Monday morning. Linda Clark had arranged to have someone meet me plane side to escort me through the airport on one of those little carts and a driver to take me from the airport in Dubai the 90 miles to Abu Dhabi. Janie welcomed me with open arms and showed me to a comfortable bed where I collapsed. Edith has the dearest friends and I enjoyed getting to know them, as well as Janie during my time there. Janie drove me all around after taking me to the doctors that Monday to see the many beautiful sights of Abu Dhabi as well as some the harsher realities of how this beauty is built and by whom.

Dr Chris Cummins, an American doctor living and working in Abu Dhabi, diagnosed my issue after a through exam. His diagnosis: Iritis NOT glaucoma. Iritis is the third leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Without proper treatment, it does cause blindness. Usually iritis occurs in only one eye. Rarely are both eyes affected, but that's exactly what's happened to me. Iritis results in an increase of white blood cells in the eyes and inflammation, which is painful. Because my condition has gone on for so long the iris have started to deteriorate, sluffing cells off the iris which, in turn, caused my eye ducts to clog and, as a result raised the pressure in my eyes mimicking glaucoma. If the pressure hadn't been addressed it would have damaged the optic nerve but, thankfully, there is no damage now. The dilation of the iris is due to the infection. The doctor prescribed a daily drop to unclog the ducts and then a steroid drop every hour during waking hours to help decrease the inflammation of the iris. It will take time for the infection to clear - about 4 - 6 months. This is definitely a serious eye condition but very treatable and in the long run preferable over glaucoma. He needed to see me Wednesday to make sure the medicine was working. After my Wednesday visit he did think things were improving thankfully. My next appointment is 6 December.

My heart is full of thankfulness to God's faithfulness and all HIS provisions for this entire trip. I was so cared for by Edith and Rip's wonderful friends. I was humbled by their generousity and my heart touched by their kindness. It was a difficult situation yet I have come away feeling refreshed and relaxed. Everyday, no matter what storms rage about me, I am blessed beyond measure and deeply thankful.

My time in Abu Dhabi resembled a vacation. Below are sights from my time there. Because my eyes are so sensitive to light, I didn't make the beach scene but there are many other beautiful things to see in Abu Dhabi besides the beach.

Some of the behind-the-scenes aren't as beautiful. I will not focus on those issues today. Enjoy the beautiful sights.

Workers who are brought in to do all the manual labor for little monies.

Shaikh Zayhed Grand Mosque

Every detail is beautiful

The Royal Grand Palace Hotel

High Tea with Janie and Linda, both dear friends of Edith, who helped with details of my trip.

Thank you, Janie, for opening your home and your heart. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to show me some of the sights in Abu Dhabi and pampering me at a time I truly needed such.

A beautiful mural in the Hotel. The horses represent the seven colors of sand in the area.

Getting to say thank you to Linda Clark for all she did to organize my trip to Abu Dhabi. We were at Mug and Bean at the Abu Dhabi Mall. I was in culture shock. They had Krispy Kream Dounuts and Starbuck Coffee. Just amazing.

Thank you, Linda, for all you did put all the pieces together.

Thursday morning I had the great joy of going to Shaikh Mohammed's Royal Stables and riding one of his horses. Oh! how this was pure joy for my heart and soul. After a difficult several weeks, this was just what my heart needed - to be on the back of a beautiful horse filled me with great joy.

I had a personal trainer for an hour, a sweet Brit who was raised in South Africa now working in Abu Dhabi. I enjoyed her very much. The next day I remembered her when I awoke with sore legs. After a time of training I got to ride a trail on the grounds. As I rode, I marveled at how blessed I am, what wonderful friends I have, and how faithful God is.

I'm not sure if you can notice my smile in the pictures below. I was beyond happy with this unexpected treat. I went at 7 am and so the sun wasn't too bad for my eyes on the trail. My time training I was in an inside ring which couldn't have been better for my eyes. What a treasured gift.

The horses name is "Link." I am amazed at how many links were in place to get me to the doctor to accurately diagnose my iritis.

I am so thankful for each link on this "side" adventure! I am thankful God worked out all the details and had everything in place long before this event occurred. I am thankful for all my family and friends who were praying as soon as they heard from Edith and Beth the struggle I was having. I am thankful for all Edith's friends in Abu Dhabi who rolled out the red carpet to make me feel welcomed and comforted during my stay.

Thank you, Beth and Trish, for taking me back to the airport in Dubai and for showing me the sights. I can't believe I didn't get pictures of you two.

I am blessed beyond measure with dear, dear friends whose friends take care of me when need be. I am thankful to be home in Taraz. I was gone five days and had a great time but also missed my home here in Taraz.

Blessings to you each, my friends. And a special thank you to all my new friends in Abu Dhabi.