When we decided to move to our present house, 20 years ago, it was first of all, because we desired a guest room in which to host exchange students. Wanting our children to be more globally minded we felt this was a way to make it more personal by exposing them to real life people from other cultures.
We moved to Grande Avenue in July and within a week or so our first student arrived. This young German girl fit so well with our family and we absolutely loved her. After her year was over we jumped at the chance to host again. This time we chose a girl from Ukraine.
Olah arrived just before her 16th birthday in August 1995. Being a very bright girl with a culture significantly different from ours, we eagerly took on the enjoyable challenge of introducing her to the American way of life. She was a serious minded person who studied hard, eager to learn all she could in her one year with us. Brian and I spent a lot of time with Olah and found our discussions educational and gratifying as we worked day by day to learn all we could about her and to teach her about us and our country. She eagerly participated in everything we did, from family vacations to holiday traditions and church every Sunday.
The year flew by and before we knew it, this dear girl was on the plane heading back to Odessa. We sadly realized we would never see her again.
But as life goes, we came to realize we should never say "never."
In 2005 Brian and I had the opportunity to travel to her city with SEND International, an organization that places missionaries in a variety of locations around the world. We went on a vision trip to view the active ministries taking place through SEND with Grace Baptist Church. It was an informative trip where we eagerly visited the many outreach opportunities offered by that one church. A highlight for us happened on our days off when we were able to visit Olah, meet her husband, stay with them in their apartment and eat a meal with their parents. As we headed home, thoughts of not seeing her in the future seemed to be a reality once again.
But another chance presented itself when we were invited to participate with a construction team to a camp on the Black Sea. On our days off, we traveled to the city where we were able to meet up with Olah, this time to celebrate the birth of her first child. We were overjoyed at this rare opportunity to once again participate in the life of this very special young woman at a momentous time in her life.
You might think that was enough, but one more occasion arose to be with Olah and her family. Several years later Brian was asked to lead another construction team back to the Black Sea Camp. We eagerly accepted the challenge with a request to visit our dear Olah on our days off. Once again we stayed with her at another important time in their lives, just after their son joined the family. Their parents came over again and we were greatly pleased to eat, enjoy conversation and exchange gifts.
Never say never! We have kept in touch all these years, aided by our visits, but also due the internet as it enables us to continue exchanging photos and information. We are thrilled to see their children grow and they enjoy seeing our expanding family.
To say our hearts are in Ukraine is an understatement. Olah and her family are foremost in our concern and prayers. Due to our three trips, we got to know and respect the believers at Grace Baptist Church and the missionaries who serve in that area. Staying in their homes, eating their delicious meals, working alongside them and worshiping together endeared them to us as well. They are like family and we feel deeply for their welfare.
We are asking God for protection for the many innocent people in Ukraine. Wise decisions and respect for the freedom of Ukrainians is first in our minds. Believing that God uses government leaders to accomplish his will, we are trusting him for things we cannot see or understand.
I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Ps 57:9,10
Inviting an exchange student for one year has led to a lifelong relationship. We are thankful to have said yes to this opportunity. Now hearts are in tune as we keep this young woman, her family and her country in our prayers.