Monday, December 17, 2012

Baikal Marathon.

One of the craziest/coolest things that I've ever done, was to run a marathon across frozen Lake Baikal last March.
You can now enjoy a "documentary" about this event. It even has english subtitles!



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It doesn't show signs of stopping...

It's been snowing like crazy in St.Petes. So, our typical drive to school turned from "alreadyhorrible" 40 min to "justshootmenow" close to an hour. Yup, just one way. And don't forget that we then have to turn around and go pick Ryan up. Starting to feel bad about complaining about your 10 minute commute to work? Just kidding.

On the bright side, we have amazing Christmas weather. I just wish it would go away on Jan.2d.

Oh, well...

(I took this picture today from my office window. That pile is about one week of snow).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Almost our final adoption update

NOVEMBER 19, 2012

Monday at 2pm to be exact.  

It was looking like this would be our last court date.  We were hopeful but you really never know what to expect here.  

Literal (or almost literal;) transcript of happenings in court:

1:50pm - Zhenya's prep with lawyer (he adopted Maya alone, with my permission, but at this point in time he is her sole parent legally).  Last time I didn't say anything in court but just observed in the back.  Which was good because our judge intimidated the pie out of me.  She spoke incredibly fast, incredibly quiet, all while keeping her head down looking at her papers and needless to say all in Russian.  Sitting in the back it was almost impossible to hear and understand what she was saying.  So. Back to Zhenya's prep….unexpectedly our lawyer turns to me and starts prepping me for what I will need to say in court.  Uh, What??  While I do speak Russian, all capabilities in the language seem to fly out the window when I am intimidated and nervous.  As the blood drained from my face I tried not to panic and think of how I should answer the questions.

2 pm - Enter the court.  Present are Zhenya and I, our lawyer, the social worker who has been visiting our home to check things out and see how Maya is doing with us, the Prosecutor who represents Maya and her best interests (she fights on her behalf if she sees that we are an unfit family) and then after we are seated, the Judge.

2ish - Lots of quiet fast reading by the judge, standing up and down while she makes some official statements, reading of papers, etc.  Each of the representatives are given the chance to share, add things or raise any questions.

2ish+ - Zhenya is called forward to answer questions.  He does a great job answering things like, Ryan's dual citizenship, what Ryan thinks about the adoption, etc, etc.  Pretty basic stuff.
UNTIL, suddenly and unexpectedly, the judge and prosecutor come back to the fact that Zhenya is adopting alone.  Even though this is legal, they don't like it and feel like now is the time to try and talk us out of it.  And the same ol' questions start over again….do we really live here, are we really going to stay, what if Maya would get dual citizenship, what would America do/require, we already have a biological child -why adopt.  But what became scary was when they seriously started talking about that it's not a good idea for Zhenya to adopt alone.  Why not wait a few years until things are better with my Russian docs?  Why hurry now to adopt?  She is living with us in foster care and can do so until 18.  So we have lots of time, just wait and adopt her later….. Zhenya then does a great job addressing all of this and makes it clear that we do not want to wait and have her only in foster care.  That even though this might be a more difficult path, it's important to us that she legally becomes a Shulgin.  

2:40ish - My turn.  Thankfully there was no reason for my momentary panic in the beginning.  When I was called up they just wanted to know if I approved, what I thought about the adoption, IF my family in America knew about the adoption and what they thought about it.  Now this kind of conversation is right up my alley!:)  Not hard at all for me to talk about Maya and my family!  It's interesting, but there was an immediate softening in the Judge and Prosecutor as I talked (I think that had something to do with sharing how my Mom and Dad cry tears of joy when they talk with Maya on skype and how much they love her and are happy for us).  They also asked what words she was saying now.  1 being Papa that is used for Daddy, Mommy and Ryan.  2 being Hi in English.  When English was mentioned they almost seemed a little surprised and asked how she was doing with that.  Since we have our example with Ryan and how both languages are completely natural to him, it helped a lot to alleviate fears that she would only know English.  All in all, it seemed to go well.  Zhenya seems to think that my testimony was the clincher and is convinced that this helped our case strongly.  

2:45 - Prosecutor share her opinion and recommendation.  She is a very nice younger lady that seems to like us.  So she had nothing negative to say and basically shared that she approves.

2:50 - Judge leaves the court room to make her decision.

Eternity….Ok, so it was only a couple of minutes, but it felt like forever.

We all rise when the Judge comes back.  Lots of fast, quiet talking AGAIN!  Ahh, come on!   I could barely catch anything that she was saying.  But at a certain moment Zhenya turns to me with a slight smile and nod of his head and I gathered that everything was alright.

3:00 As the proceedings are finishing up our Judge suddenly turns very human on us while smiling and congratulating us and wishing us all the best.

3:15 Sitting in the car making phone calls to our loved ones letting them know the news.  First call is to Masha, Zhenya's sister who is babysitting Maya.  On the loudspeaker we can hear screaming, laughing, dancing and tears.  Maya gets on the phone to excitedly "talk" to Papa.  And that's when I lose it.  It's really over.  15 months of the most stressful time of our married lives.  15 months of miracles and roller coasters.  15 months of battle with papers, people, lines, deadlines, and in prayer.  15 months of living on the edge and waiting for God to come through yet again - miracle after miracle.  It's really over.  We still feel like we are in a state of shock.  

3:45 We pick up Ryan from friends who helped watch him while we were in court.  When he is told the news there is more dancing.  The past few months he has asked more than a few times if Maya was ours yet.  So he was beside himself when we told him that Maya is now a Shulgin.  He has been sharing the news with everyone, without much explanation, just excitedly proclaiming, "Maya is OURS!"


Please know how truly thankful we are that all of you have carried this burden with us as we have been on this journey.  It doesn't seem enough to say Thanks for your prayers.  But we are so very very thankful and humbled by your love, support and encouragement.

All our love,
The 4 Shulgins

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yay! Maya turned 1 on October 2d!

Adoption Update.

   Ugh.  Getting tired of writing updates quite honestly!
The saga, unfortunately, continues.  The good news is that we are still in the process at least.  Court was not a fun, easy experience today.  There were the expected questions of finances and what we do that are very difficult to answer.  So, they asked for more paperwork.  We have a month to gather the docs and then NOVEMBER 12 is our new court date.  

Please pray for the gathering of those docs.  What would be relatively easy for most people to get becomes really difficult for us with our "strange" situation and how we live.  
Our lawyer and the government workers seemed pleased with everything and said this is totally normal considering the circumstances and not to worrry.
So here we are.  Not worrying.  Exhausted and tired of the on going stress this brings, but not worried.
One way or the other, we'll get there!!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mission Adventures 2012

I can almost guarantee you that about 96% of all current missionary newsletters start with this sentence: "Well, the summer is over…". 

This one is not going to be different. Because it's true, summer indeed came to an end and it's time to reflect on some of the highlights of Mission Adventures season. 
As Ma Russia we believe that one day our nation will no longer be labeled as a "receiving" one. We know that God is able to rise up a new tribe in Russia- young people that obey His command "to GO".
However in the meantime, in this part of the world it's not very easy to find participants for programs like MA. Year after year our numbers are consistently low, but we have learned that numbers are not important. 
How's that? Well, great question, thanks for asking. See, because while we have had relatively small number of participants, we have been able to develop strong relationships with them and impact them individually. As a result, there is a high percentage of them that gets involved in some kind of ministry at their local church, or ends up doing a DTS (Discipleship Training School). 

This year we had two completely different programs in two different nations. 
First, we partnered with a different organization called Youth For Christ. Every year YFC host different outreaches in ST.Petersburg area and one thing they've noticed is that people that facilitate these outreaches definitely needed more training. Well, this is what Mission Adventures is all about!

At the end of June, 16 participants arrived at our campground. 

We had a blast with them.   This was one of the best weeks we've ever had.  It was the first time we've been able to host a Baptist group and we LOVED this team!!  In the past the Baptist church has been hesitant to participate in MA but it looks like we've broken through a barrier and the church as a whole seems to be excited for more teams next year!  The break through came when our team left for their outreach.  One of the places they went was to a Baptist youth conference of about 200 people.  They performed their program and shared their testimonies and blew everyone away.  Everyone there was so impressed that they started asking questions about how to join for next year!!  It was great walking away from our time with them and feeling like we had truly accomplished something great.

We were also excited about Phase Two of MA where we were going to Latvia with the goal to help launch MA there.  We were supposed to have a team of 8 with a mixture of both Latvians and Russians.  We bought our tickets, jumped on the train and were off!!……….Only to arrive and find out that there were no Latvians that would be joining us.  Meaning, we had 3 Russian girls we were expecting in 3 days time.  Who had paid for visas, transportation, the program, etc.  Needless to say, it was a blow for us and our first thoughts were, 

"Do we cancel? "

We knew that canceling wasn't an option, but we also knew that our original program and plan was not going to work.  So, (little pat on our backs) in 3 days we came up with a completely different program and developed something specifically for these girls that were coming.  With so few participants it also meant that we, as a staff, also became participants with them.  Part of our 'tour' in Latvia was going to a home for people with down syndrome of all ages, visiting a center for street kids, an elderly home,working on a FARM!, etc.  Our time in Latvia was AMAZING!  We, as a staff, were stretched and challenged.  And all three of the girls are taking next steps in pursuing missions more seriously!  One just left for Georgia (the country folks, not the state!;)  And the other two want to do a DTS.  AND the Latvian YWAM base is more seriously pursuing doing MA themselves next year.

So even though there was some unexpected turns, MA this year seems to have been a great success!!  The difficulties we have each year in encouraging church youth groups to participate, has been disheartening.  But once again, we have been encouraged to keep focused and plugging along, no matter what our numbers are.  We have seen time and time again that God can take that few and do great, great things.  It's our job to just be faithful with what we've been given.  


Thank you for all of you who believe in us and pray for us along the way.  We never take your support for granted.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Hey everyone,
This is a video of foreigners trying to read russian street names spelled in english.
This should fill your hearts with enormous respect for Heather, who has to read (and use) such words frequently.



Friday, August 3, 2012


Little design that I made for our church' last newsletter.

August Newsletter

We are so incredibly blessed to have our little girl home!!  We have had so much fun getting to know her these past few weeks.  Our feelings are mixed because in reality this only just the beginning and we at times feel like we are on a path of discovery with her, but at other times, it feels like she's been with us forever.

So while we are still getting to know her and will enjoy the process of seeing her little personality develop, we wanted to introduce her to you and give you a glimpse of what we are discovering.

Maya has a great little sense of humor and gets a mischevious look in her eye when she is "joking" with us.  She is the bravest little girl we know - There are so many new and scary things in her world now.  Things that you can see truly frighten her, but she is not easily spooked.  She tackles things head on and we together deal with the fear.  She is a survivor and a fighter.  She is strong willed and quite stubborn.  She is sweet, charming, affectionate and loves to cuddle.  When she is someplace new or with new people she becomes very calm, quiet and observant.  But at home and at our dacha with Zhenya's family she is very active and talkative.  The girl is also physically one active little wiggle worm.  Which after having one certain little Mr. wiggle worm, doesn't really phase us.  Her favorite thing to do is to talk on the phone.  I kid you not.  Give her a phone and she is smiling, laughing, and off and talking.

We have loved these precious few weeks we have had with her and are having a blast watching her adapt and grow.  We are amazed how smooth this transition has been and are so thankful for all of your prayers.  Please continue to pray for her and for us as we continue strengthen our bond.  Pray that each relationship will be sweet, special and strong, with her Papa, Mama and her brother.

ADOPTION update:

As we have mentioned before, Zhenya will be taking the first step and adopting Maya alone.  He alone will be legally her parent until I can do it later on.  This is, by far, not the easiest route, but the route we have decided on taking now.  We hired a lawyer and it quickly became painfully obvious how much will need her help.  As our represntative, she turned in Zhenya's adoption paperwork last Thursday.  Fortunately she caught the judge before she left on vacation and was able to talk to her personally.  However, it soon became clear that the judge absolutely does not want to take on this case.  For every ridiculus question and statement that the judge had, our lawyer was able to answer and represent us well.  We now have until August 14th to get a few more papers together and then if it's acceptable we'll be given a court date.
Please pray for the gathering of the rest of the paperwork, that it will be accepted and that we will actually be given a court date!!!

Thanks for hangin in there with us through all of this!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July Newsletter

What a whirlwind these past few days have been!!

Maya came home on Friday afternoon.  It still feels so weird to say that!  Today we are ending 4 full days of having her at home.  Her adaption and transition period is so far, going incredibly smooth.
The girl is one happy little trooper.  It has been a joy to watch her transform and relax in her new surroundings.  She is soaking up the love and attention, we are pretty sure that she has never been played with at the orphanage how we play with her at home and she LOVES it!


That is to say the least!  She has been super happy and loving life, but at the same time you could see she was totally running on adrenaline and not sleeping as much as she needed to.  But she seems to have a personality much like Ryan's, that she can go and go and is still as happy as a clam even without regular naps.  We knew though, that this wouldn't last forever and thankfully yesterday and today you can see she's starting to come down a bit from her adrenaline high.


Pretty much everything about these past few days is a highlight!  We constantly look at this little miracle scooting around our house and are amazed at God's goodness.  Hearing her laugh and watching her discover the world around her are priceless treasures.  But what I am most thankful for is that she already recognizes Mommy, responds and reacts with sheer joy when she hears my voice or sees me and has even fussed when I have left the room.  Little things that you totally take for granted when you birth a child, that become even more precious with a little one who has to learn who and "what" Mommy is.

We find that we've had to re-educate ourselves in babyhood and are "happily" experiencing sleepless nights again.

We need your continued prayers in two ways.

1.  Zhenya is going forward with the process to adopt her, but alone as a "single" father (with my persmission).  The paperwork will be turned into the court next week.  Pray that everything will be in order, acceptable and that we can get a court date!!

2.  For Maya's continued adaptation into our home and family.  Zhenya will be leaving for M.A. in Latvia Wednesday night and will be gone for 9 days.  Pray for God's grace to help me through this next week.

With all our hearts we thank you,
The 4 Shulgins!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Maya's coming home SOON!

Ryan met Maya today! And Unlike yesterdays "meeting" they actually were able to be up close and personal. It was very cute to see the two of them. They both were a little unsure about this new person that has appeared in their lives. Maya couldn't stop staring at Ryan and Ry pulled out his very best "Peek-a-boo" faces. Such a sweet and special memory for our family to have.

The reason why they let Ryan in to see her, is because she is coming home very, very soon!! We turned in our final paperwork today and it was approved, accepted and the final paper will be ready next week.

So on Friday, July 6, 2012 Maya will be coming home!!

We are so excited, we can't stand it!! Thanks for all of your prayers!!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First "Family" visit

Today all three of us Shulgins went to the orphanage. We had no other option but to take Ryan with us today even though he is not allowed to go inside. The video is of her orphanage and the grounds surrounding it. I sit with her at that fountain every day when we go for a walk. Because Ry wasn't allowed in, we staid outside the wall, but found a playground that we could climb up so we could see over the wall. This is Ryan and Maya's very first "meeting". It was very sweet, even if we were separated by that wall. Very soon though, there will be no more walls between us and she will be home!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This is the video that Zhenya recently made for our church.It really captures the beauty of St.Petersburg.

Newsletter (June 26th)

Last month came with the news that our judge refused to open up and process our adoption case, stating that we had failed to meet her requirements for our documents.  When all of our paperwork was handed back to us and the case closed, we were at a complete loss.  Even though on that particular day it felt like we had just been hit by a truck, we immediately scraped ourselves up off the pavement and scrambled looking for answers and a way forward. 

Phone calls, skype, emails, messages, running around... you name it, we were doing it.  The one thing we knew for sure was that we had to find a lawyer that could help us through this.  We had come as far as we could on our own and had now found ourselves in way over our heads.  And when we went into details and explained all the nuances of our case to others (American lawyers, adoption agencies, international lawyers, Russian lawyers, etc.) they all gave the same advice.  Our case was way too complex and complicated, we needed a lawyer to proceed further. 

So, the hunt began.  In Russia it's not so much what you know, but WHO you know that is important.  Through friends and aquaintances we were put in touch with top notch lawyers who might be able to take on our case.  It became clear to us that lawyer #1 was not our guy when, COUGH, he quoted his price at $45,000.  We were then greatly relieved to meet lawyer #2 who was great.  Very professional, helpful, trustworthy and was only asking for $10,000 (what a bargain!).  We kept looking around and kept our ears open, but couldn't find any other options.  Then, last week, a friend gave us another reference.  We met with lawyer #3 last Wednesday.  As soon as we left the meeting we knew we had found our lawyer.  She was down to earth, kind, helpful, was easy for me personally to understand and talk to AND, drum roll please........was only asking for 40,000 rubles (roughly about $1200).  Either way we didn't have a dime for any kind of lawyer expenses and knew that God would some how have to come through.  We were confident that he would, but didn't expect for an immediate answer.  An envelope with Maya's name on it was given to us a couple days ago by a young Russian family that are good friends of ours.  When Zhenya and I went home and opened the envelope were shocked  to find 40,000 rubles, the EXACT amount we needed for the lawyer!  I still get choked up every time I think about it.  We are so humbled by their love for us and their care for our little Maya, whom they've never even met.  Not only that, but we have had family, friends and anonymous people give towards the adoption costs that have come up.  So many people have already made sacrifices for our family and have been hard at work doing every thing they can to help bring Maya home. 

During all of the chaos and craziness there was a very important piece of information that we found out.


What we didn't know was that Zhenya could apply to be Maya's foster parent AND it could be done without a court date or going through a judge!  Which means we could actually bring Maya home while we continued to sort out the paperwork for the adoption process!!  We already had almost all of the paperwork for it.  So last week we started that process.  Even though the process is pretty fast, there were 2 papers that we needed that could have take 5 weeks to get.  Go ahead and ask....Did we get them in 5 weeks??  If you could hear me screaming and laughing, I would answer you with a big, fat, wonderful NO!!  It took less than 1 week for both of them!! 

Today we were able to turn it all in, to be carefully, painstakingly scrutinized by the appropriate personnel here.  When she found everything in order and begrudgingly admitted that everything was fine, she sent us to be interviewed by the same nice lady who did our homestudy.  And, if I do say so myself (well, actually my husband said this), it was my moment to shine!  I was able to talk about Maya, our home, family and answer her questions.   She now needs to write up a paper that we will take to another office to get their approval.  Our estimated quess is that this will take a couple more weeks.

But ONLY a couple more weeks!!!  Maya could be coming home very soon!!!

When I went to the orphanage today, Maya's doctor asked me if we still plan on adopting her after becoming her foster parents.  OF COURSE!!!  This is totally still the plan.  The beauty of it is that she can be home no matter how long the adoption process will take.  We are so excited and have been getting everything ready. 

We aren't there yet, but this is HUGE!!  Please pray for us these next couple of weeks that there will be no hitches in the fostering process and that Maya can come home.

Thank you for praying, for giving, for running errands for us stateside, for watching Ryan for us so we could run around, for asking, for laughing with us and crying with us.  

We are so blessed to call you our family and our friends.  We couldn't ask for better support.

The Shulgins

Ryan rocking his rollerblades in a local skatepark

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


FC United.

This spring several guys from our church formed a soccer team and participated in the CFL- Christian Football League (yes, our sweet dear north americans, football is the actual name of this game).

FC United did good and finished third overall and Zhenya became the team's main striker with 15 goals. Two of the guys on our squad used to be a part of our Day Center in the early 2000s!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Post #1

Adoption, Adoption, adoption!!!  Is there anything ELSE that those Shulgins do?!?!

Alrighty folks.  Sorry for the lapse, we've had adoption on the brain, but here it is.

What we are up to:

Coming this summer..........Youth with a Mission's ministry program, Mission Adventures!!  We will be organizing Mission Adventure in St. Petersburg, Latvia and somewhere far away in Russia Siberish:)
We love MA and the chance to work with church youth groups, teaching about God, missions and injustice issues.  We love challenging Russian youth to think outside the box and helping them realize that they CAN make a difference in the world we live in.  After a week with us we send the teams out prepared to work in orphanages, elderly homes, practical help, churches, etc.

New this year:

We are involved in helping a new church plant in St. Pete!  We LOVE our church!  Heather is serving as the Children's Pastor and is working on developing the children's ministry for kids 0ish-13ish.  It's been awhile since she has worked in this capacity but is loving every minute of it.  It has been an honor to work with the kids and families in our church.  The children's ministry has had a great start this year and we expect for next year to be even more dynamic!  Zhenya is in charge of media at the church, creating videos, slideshows, newsletters, designs, etc.  He also is the M.C. at church.  What you say?  An M.C. at church?  You got it.  He is and has played an important role with our pastor Andreas in creating a service that is truly unique.  We love helping our pastors Andreas and Anneli in any way we can and meet with them regularly to talk, plan, pray.   We believe that God has huge plans for this church in the city and we are so excited to be involved at the ground floor!


Design.....while the other ministries have been things that we have both involved in together as a couple, this one is strictly Zhenya's deal.  Heather does not even pretend to understand a thing about computers or anything technical or else her husband would mercilessly mock her. Design and photography is another ministry focus.  Working with magazines, writing articles, designing magazine covers, posters, designs for churches, other ministry organizations, YWAM.......the list goes on and on.

So how can you be praying for us?

Our greatest need is to be praying for MA this summer. Quite honestly, because of the adoption process both Zhenya and I are just totally emotionally spent.  Zhen has numerous times commented on he's not sure how he's going to make it through this summer.  We typically go into our summers excited and full of energy.  But as it is we spend our days running from office to office, needing to do something concerning adoption and our nights then need to be spent working and calling America to get things taken care of there.  We will soon give you another MA update with more details.  But please pray for the strength emotionally, physically and spiritually to give all we can to this ministry this summer.

We love you all and are so thankful for you in our lives!!