Best Sponsors E.V.E.R!

I am officially giving the “Best Sponsor of the Year” award to Phil and Tara, our new friends.  Little did they know when they let Chris poke around their apartment in December 2011 that a long string of questions from me would ensue.

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(photo credit Creative Awards London, England)

For anyone not associated with this military lingo, a sponsor is one who has already done what the other people are about to do.  In this case, Phil and Tara had already lived in Kiev (twice!), and had much wisdom to share in order to help us properly prepare.  Not only the endless string of emails on what to bring, buy ahead, and leave behind, but hosting us in their home and being friends upon arriving when everyone and everything was so new.  Saying I was overwhelmed is an understatement.  We had jet lag and were moving our family of six to a foreign country.  I couldn’t read or speak the language.  (Well, I mostly still can’t do these things, but I can sound out some words, sort of like a six year old.)  Oh, and there is a certain degree of culture shock that goes along with moving into the city after always having a nice house with yard, or at least a neighborhood.  Yes, it helped that Chris was familiar with the lay of the land after living here last year, but he didn’t have the same concerns or responsibilities since he was living in a host family’s house.

So back to these folks.  Our kids didn’t want their kids to move away after meeting just a couple of times.  They wanted to choose churches based on where their new friends attended too.  Dear Tara walked me around showing me the secret little spots: French bakery, Italian leather purse shop, framing shop, and more.  I have notes which meant very little to me at the time, since I barely understood the street names she was saying, that I still refer to now.  (I walked that walk today, Tara, which is why I had to write this.  I am continually recognizing buildings we commented on, places you pointed out, especially the brown, orange, and blue horizontal tiles on the corner bldg of Yaroslaviv Val and Artema, and me being in awe that you even knew where we were.). 

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Oh, speaking of being in awe.  This lady can converse in Ukrainian with the local people.  She smiles a big smile, asks them how they are doing, wishes them well and they can’t resist being nice, even though it isn’t their normal response.  No wonder she made friends with the little ladies at the produce market and everywhere she went.  I’m nowhere near making friends with anyone since all I can do is explain to them that I speak “Engle-ski”.  No, I don’t know how to actually spell that.  

They gave us maps.  Told us the good places to go and how to get there.  She made me a phone book!  It had my own address in it (Ever moved somewhere new and not yet learned your own address?!  Yep.), my husbands new work number, future friends numbers, the good restaurants, fun places to go.  Be still my heart.  My eyes are getting all misty just thinking about it.  She put me in contact with new friends who would share the same school and others who could answer just about anything.  How priceless to have a network of knowledge upon moving in.  There are still frustrations, but nothing unbearable.  God has blessed us beyond measure.  

All the while Tara was fielding my questions, she continued homeschooling her little ones, and preparing to move her own family back to the United States.  You see, Chris took Phil’s job.  Talk about having big shoes to fill.  We never heard the end of what a wonderful job he did there.  Thankfully he is a good teacher, and very thorough too so Chris had the best possible mentor coming into the new job.

And if that isn’t enough already, there is more!  We arrived on a Friday evening, around 11 p.m.  Phil greeted us cheerfully at the airport with a 12 passenger van to haul our countless bags, XL dog kennel, etc to our very own apartment in the city!  In case you haven’t personally experienced it, let me tell you there is no better feeling arriving in a new country, where you don’t speak the language or know where you are going, than to have a friend waiting for you at the airport.  It was priceless.  We didn’t feel like maybe it was someone dangerous or that they were going to overcharge us for a taxi.  I felt safe.  We drilled him with questions as he drove.  We received the news that one of our bathrooms, as well as the kitchen, didn’t have hot water.  His wife had been at our apt with the maintenance man, trying to get it to work, while her own kids were at home with a babysitter.  No, we wouldn’t get to meet her tonight.  She rode the metro home, near midnight, alone.  No big deal, right?  Yeah right.  I was astonished.

Just wait.  There’s more.  They had prepared the apartment for us ahead of time too.  The Embassy provides a welcome kit with bed linens, bath towels, etc, and kitchen supplies since it takes weeks/months to receive a household shipment from the U.S.  They had made all six beds, washed the new towels, put the dishes away in the cabinets, and PURCHASED more than basic grocery necessities. I didn’t shop for nearly a week.  I took pictures because I was so giddy.  Milk, eggs, flour, cereal, butter, bread.  Rice, pasta, sauces, chicken, recipe book, hand written recipe, ingredients included!  (Another thing Tara, we can’t eat the Dancake bread without making sounds of delicious enjoyment!  Just had some the other day.).  Popcorn, peanut butter, frozen veggies, juice, raisins, baking essentials, snacks, fruit, CHOCOLATES, cheese, yogurt.  Oh, did you think that was the end?  No.  She baked for us!  I distinctly remember some delicious chocolate chip banana muffins, and a bag full of chewy, good cookies.  I can’t forget the homemade strawberry/rhubarb jam that was in the fridge!

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They gave us spices, appliances with 220 voltage, the house had construction paper, markers, colored pencils for the kids.  Extra this, more of that.  Grocery store coupon card.  (Used it twice this week!).  This brand has the best napkins.  I like that dishwasher detergent.  The aluminum foil is terrible here.  Bring your own.  How to file tax forms, how to operate the appliances (the instructions are in Ukrainian, Russian, German, etc), how to do a consumables shipment, encouragement along the way, reporting the status of whether we had a place to live yet.

Maybe I would have done this if my sister, or mother, or close friend were moving to town, but a stranger?  Yes, I consider her a friend, but Tara HAD NEVER EVEN MET ME.  Are any of my military friends reading?  Is this normal?  I don’t think so.  Granted I have never moved overseas, but they went above and beyond.  Hence the “Sponsor of the Year” award.  But really.  It is a picture on a computer screen.  They got nothing in return.  

Have you ever been the recipient of an unmerited gift?  It was exactly like that.  Too much.  Too good.  So kind.  So thankful are we.  I hope I can pass it forward someday when a “deer in headlights” family is coming to experience Kiev for the first time too, because that is what Phil told us to do.

This reminds me of the free gift of salvation through Jesus.  We did nothing to deserve or earn it.  We can never repay it.  We can only thank Him and share it with those in our midst.

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4 Responses to Best Sponsors E.V.E.R!

  1. Krista Czerwiak says:

    Dear Wendy,

    I have tears in my eyes as I read this special tribute to Phil and Tara! How do you put words to the depth of gratitude you feel when you receive unmerited love such as theirs? My husband was the recipient from sponsors such as Phil and Tara when he move here from Argentina. We have been “paying it forward” ever since, and will continue as long as the Lord gives us the ability! My Thanks to Phil and Tara!!!

    With my love, Krista

  2. Tara G. says:

    i forgot to ask you to send me copies of the photos!! That was a fun evening and I miss those cookies!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Sveno Olson says:

    The Geelhoods were just as amazing to many others… and their legendary selfless service to all those around them lives on well after they move on… at the mercy of the US government. They are greatly missed and appreciated!! Thank you soooooo much for sharing this Wendy!! A true gem!!

  4. Cath Meuzelaar says:

    What a captivating report Wendy! Like Krista, it “teared me up” at the end! This family gets our vote for Sponsors of the year! Thanks for sharing and God bless Phil & Tara! FRIENDS FOREVER!!

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