Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Guys, I love Ukraine.

Sure, there are rough moments and this past month has certainly not gone by without pain and difficulty- I miss my loved ones, the ocean, the English language, the confidence of living in a culture whose rhythms I know how to dance in- but I also love getting to move deeper into life and ministry here in Ukraine.

A couple weeks ago I was in the HfO office with some of the team members. One of them had a micro lens for his phone and was taking up-close shots of random things. Soon everyone started taking pictures of their scalps, eyes, nose hairs, moles, and pimples, laughing at the gross and strange images. I didn't want to join in. Invite people to take a magnified look at my embarrassing blemishes? On purpose? Aren't pimples the kind of thing we cover up or refuse to mention out of politeness? And yet, as I watched the team hunting for moles on their arms and pimples on their necks, I realized I was the only one feeling embarrassed. The rest of the team laughed with each other, not at each other as they experienced the freedom of vulnerability and literally bringing what has been deemed shameful to light. I decided to join in.

I want to live the rest of my life like that, creating a safe space for others to bring the shameful things they carry to light, drawing us closer together as we become more and more authentic.

Out of this desire and recognizing a need for authentic fellowship and processing shameful experiences, we've started a (for lack of a better word) "training" for some of our team members and the young men living at the HfO house. We meet together once a week at our apartment and go through exercises and discuss life skills topics with the purpose of engaging in the boys' lives, inviting them into ours, talking about dreams, shared experiences, and tools to respond to life's struggles in a healthy way. The first week we just played games, talked about our expectations and hopes for the training and what topics we'd like to cover. The boys were very honest with us that they don't want to be treated as orphans, and they're not convinced we would care about spending time with them if not for their orphan status. They told us they don't care about the Bible and don't want to be our Christian project subjects. It was a difficult discussion, but I was encouraged and challenged by their honesty. These boys have had to figure out significant pieces of their lives on their own. We would be crazy to sweep in and think we could save them and tell them how to live their lives. We can't "fix" them or remove the injustice and pain they have experienced. Our best gift to them is to keep showing up, consistently showing them we care, they matter, their stories matter, and we want to see and hear them.

Orthodox Christianity is deeply rooted in Ukrainian culture, and has unfortunately pushed people away from God through hypocrisy, judgement, and hierarchy. To many people, the Bible is a list of rules people in power created to dominate and shame others. If God does exist, He is distant, angry, and uncaring. We face these barriers every day as we try to share and live the Gospel.

In my prayers, God reminds me daily of some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). Please pray that God continues to teach us to love as He loves us and to extend that love to these young men- Jenya, Adik, Seryozha, Igor, and Tolik- and to everyone around us.

If you want to know how you can pray for me day-by-day, here's my basic weekly schedule:

Sunday- Worship service at Open Hearts church in the morning, and Reformat youth group at New Life church in the evening. Some of the boys and the HfO team go to both and I have relationships with both church communities.

Monday- HfO office meetings in the morning and our "training" sessions in the evening. Last week we focused on personal identity, last night we explored personal values, and next week our session will be about personal boundaries.

Tuesday- Ukrainian language lessons with Alex, my new tutor. Alex and his wife, Natahsa, attend Open Hearts and are studying Biblical counseling at Kiev Theological Seminary.

Wednesday- I teach English in partnership with New Life's middle school youth ministry, Flip. We have an English club at a local school and build relationships with the kids there.

Thursday- Masha, Igor, Liliia, and I travel to two orphanages in near-ish villages and build relationships with the kids through English lessons and life skills discussions. It makes for a long day of traveling, but I really enjoy these simple, regular interactions with the kids. I've never taught English before, but Masha is a great teacher and I learn much from her.

Friday- Winter camp preparations! We will do a 5 day camp in Mariupol next week with friends who have started regular visits to the orphanage there. It's incredibly encouraging to know that after camp, our friends will continue to meet regularly with these kids. We will also have several smaller day camps in early January in orphanages around Kyiv with which HfO already has relationships. The theme this year is Final Destination. All our games, activities, and lessons will center around different crossroads we have in life and how to make healthy decisions.

In addition to camps, we have several events coming up to celebrate the holiday season. Ukraine follows the Orthodox calendar, so Christmas is celebrated the eve of January 6th through January 7th. We will celebrate New Year as a team, and also have celebrations at a trade school where we teach lessons, as well as 2 different celebrations for elderly men and women in near by villages who don't have family to celebrate with.

Thank you for your love and support and for making all this possible!

And now, some pictures....

Lilliia and I found a lovely 1 room apartment near the HfO house.

Igor and Jenya made this awesome pallet bed for us.

This is Misha, he and his fiancĂ©, Luba, practice English with me and teach me Ukrainian words. They are lovely friends. 

Preparing skits for winter camp.

Teaching English at an orphanage in Starobasan.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Life in Ukraine: Week One

It's crazy to imagine I've already been in Ukraine a week. I'm in the awkward twilight zone of living moment by moment so it seems I've lived here forever while simultaneously feeling like I stepped off the plane yesterday.

When I did get off the plane, I was greeted by my friend and Hope for Orphans (HfO) team member Masha, who then took me to the HfO home where I have been staying until I can find an apartment. Masha lives in the HfO home and runs the transition program for kids who have aged out of the orphanage and are studying at university or trade school in Kyiv. 5 boys currently live in the HfO home and I've enjoyed getting to know them and their personalities a little better. Most of the boys love rap and hip hop and sometimes play a song and see if I can guess the artist. I'm not well versed in rap or hip hop, but I did introduce them to Lecrae, NF, Flame, Grandmaster Flash, and Daveed Diggs; it's been a fun connection point. 

My past and present ventures in Ukraine continuously teach me to appreciate every moment I am able to connect with someone. Not having a solid grasp on the language and still having so much to learn about the culture has made me hyper aware and attune to details. Having to read body language, facial expressions, and tone forces me to focus on the person(s) in front of me and be fully present. Every moment someone communicates something to me or I to them is a gift I value rather than a moment easily taken for granted.

I've been gifted with moments of connection with the boys at the HFO house, kids in two orphanages near Kyiv and one in Mariupol so far this week. Kids and adults I meet ask me why I left the U.S. to live in Ukraine. It's something I ask myself moment by moment :). Yes, I am here to serve orphans, but I can do that anywhere. I'm here because I love these people and want to learn and grow with them in this beautiful and difficult country. 

There is a dire need for trauma healing both for kids living in chronic trauma and those who are in the middle of the war in the East. My desire is to fuse the trauma healing resources I'm connected to with the work HfO is already doing. I've talked to several team members about this and am excited to see how this develops.

Another project I'm working on is inviting teams to join us for summer camps in 2017. Having teams from other countries come support the HfO team energizes the HfO team and is a great opportunity for the kids to interact with people from other countries. I may be going to London next month to connect with churches there. If you know a church in the States that may be interested in sending a team, let me know and we can talk about what that would look like.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

I'm really bad at remembering to take pictures, but here are a few...

On the train to Mariupol. I successfully asked for a spoon from the train attendant in Russian. #smallwins

Mariupol! We had a special time getting to celebrate our friend Dima's birthday and prepare for winter camp at the orphanage next month.

The Sea of Azov! And here I thought it would be months before I would get to see the sea again. Not the Gulf Stream, but I'll take whatever saltwater I can get.

Teaching English in an orphanage near Kyiv

Monday, September 5, 2016

Impossible Dreams

New Year's Day, 2014, I was in Ukraine celebrating with dear friends at the HfO house during a few days lapse in between camps. We decided to write down our dreams for the new year and seal them up in tiny jars to be opened next year. I heard the scratch of everyone else's pens as they wrote their dreams, but my pen simply rested against the piece of red construction paper I held in my hands. I had nothing to write. There were the usual resolutions I could put down- go skydiving, study Russian, write more poems, read the Bible every day... but these were practical things I could accomplish, not a vision or hope I had for the future.
Life had taught me dreaming of the future could be dangerous. The future could disappoint and hurt me, so what's the point of dreaming at all? I had rationalized the safest way to live meant having no expectations, simply taking whatever came and accepting it as the Lord's will. Sitting on a kitchen chair in the HfO living room that night, I realized how sad it was that I allowed fear and pain to stop me from dreaming. After a few more minutes of having no idea what to write, I wrote down the only honest thing I could, "Lord, give me dreams again." We all sealed our jars without sharing what we had written and sang a few worship songs together.
As the party dwindled and people began to leave, a new friend of mine, who had no idea what I had just asked the Lord, turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said, "my sister, my wish for you is to dream impossible things." And then he turned away and left.

Two and a half years later, my impossible dream is coming true- I am moving to Ukraine.

I am buying a one-way ticket and will stay as long as the Lord leads, serving with the Hope for Orphans team and teaching English to kids who have aged out of their orphanage and are trying to get into trade school or university. There are currently 3 boys living at the Hope for Orphans House, Sergei, Edik, and Jenya; but the team hopes to add more boys and girls to the program soon. I am committing to at least one year serving with Hope for Orphans, but anticipate staying 3-5 years, or as long as the Lord leads. My passion is for Ukraine and serving teens who live in chronic trauma, and I am excited to discover more extensively how God will use the passion He has given me as I become more familiar with the language and culture of Ukraine and the Hope for Orphans team.

I would love for you to be a part of this journey with me. If you would like to receive monthly (or more realistically, every-now-and-then-ly) email updates with stories and prayer requests, please email me at abigail.d.mills@gmail.com and I will add you to my support team.

The support and encouragement I have received leading up to this next step in this journey humbles me. I could not be ready to make this next step without the financial, spiritual, and emotional support my friends and family have generously poured out. If you would like to continue this journey with me, there are several ways you can do so:
  • Stop by my moving sale on September 17th at my parents' house in Altamonte Springs! Call/text/email me for directions.
  • You can support me financially through a one time donation or on a monthly basis by following the link: Send Abi to Ukraine, or by clicking the "Donate" button in the right-hand column of my blog homepage. If you don't have a PayPal account, or feel more comfortable sending a check, you can mail a check to me with Ukraine in the memo at my parents' address (please email me and I will send you the address).
I am fundraising on my own, so unfortunately donations to me are not tax deductible. All cash, check, and online donations will go into my PayPal account, and I will gladly share my monthly budget with anyone interested in seeing it. To insure integrity, I have a team of 3 people who have access to my spending and have promised to keep me accountable.

It looks like my living expenses will be under $1,000 a month, so I aim to raise $12,000 before I leave. After the first 2 months, I will reassess if these are reasonable estimates and let you know if/when I make any adjustments.

Please pray for me. I am hopelessly inadequate to be a full time missionary in Ukraine, but when my inadequacies threaten to overwhelm me, I remember none of them are a surprise to God and He does not call me to walk in a way that He has not already prepared before me. The list could go on and on, but here are some things close to my heart I would love prayer for:
  • My family. They are incredibly supportive of my decision and rejoice that I will be serving the Lord in my heart country, but it will be hard for us to be so far away from each other. Please pray for their wellbeing and that I trust the Lord with their lives.
  • Political unrest in Ukraine. Tension is building as Russia and separatists continue fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Please pray for peace and protection of those made more vulnerable by the economy, having to flee their their homes, and losing loved ones to the fighting.
  • Hope for Orphans. This team is growing and maturing in beautiful ways. Please pray for the expansion of orphan ministry, for team unity, and for the resources needed to sustain the work the Lord is calling this team to. Please also pray for Sergei, Edik, and Jenya as they are the first kids to move to the HFO house.
  • Me. As you probably know, I am a very independent person and living in complete dependence on financial support, living in a country where I am dependent on my friends to navigate the culture and the language, and teaching English for the first time... yeah, I'm going to wrestle with feeling completely inept and dependent, and my pride won't like it one bit. Please pray I see the beauty in the journey, that I trust God, and that I rejoice in the ways He will carry out His will.
Thank you. Thanks for reading this far down the post :), and for being a part of this crazy wonderful story with me.