Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving!
First and foremost, I'm very excited to be revealing our new Ray of Hope logo design courtesy of our friend Paulina Lobato and her company Polly Designs. To see more awesome designs from Paulina click the button below.
As usual, time seems to be moving at the speed of light for Ray of Hope as we continue to grow and add new programs and features to the ministry which you can learn more about in articles below. From garden projects to celebrating Thanksgiving, we've really kept ourselves and our students busy while having loads of fun!
God's blessings to all of you and we hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Becoming a Family
As a kid I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas as my all-time favorite part of the year. Delicious food, Black Friday shopping, and opening presents all add up to some pretty great times. But my personal favorite part was going to visit my family in Minnesota. You see, I grew up in North Dakota and I have a relatively large extended family with lots of cousins who I only got to see
maybe twice a year. Being with family made all the food taste better, the shopping more enjoyable, and opening presents was way more fun with the cousins. My parents raised me to always put family first (after God of course) and that’s something that has stuck with me to this day and has become even more important as I have a new family of my own withmy wife Viya, our son Raymond, and Viya’s family as well.
So now that we’re all feeling warm and fuzzy, I’m going to shift the tone a bit here. I’ve been living in Cambodia for five years now and Viya and I started Ray of Hope about two and a half years ago. In that time we have worked with a lot of street kids and their families, except it can be hard to call some of them “families”. Most of our students come from broken homes and none of them have two functioning parents. Some of our student’s parents are in prison, some are lost to their addictions, and some have even abandoned their children in favor of their second families. So this picture of a warm, happy, and loving family is something that these street kids have never experienced and quite frankly don’t even know exists.
This issue has weighed heavily on my heart, and the hearts of our Ray of Hope staff as well, since we started working with the street kids. When we opened Ray of Hope, we knew there was one thing we absolutely had to create in order to bring Jesus into their lives. They needed to feel loved, they needed to feel safe, and they needed to feel comforted. They needed a family.
One of the strongest aspects of Ray of Hope is that our entire staff is all Viya’s family. Her mother is our cook, her father is our driver/handyman, and her brother and sister are our tutors. Every day our students enter our center they are greeted by a real, functioning, and loving family. This consistency has enabled us to build deeply rooted relationships with each student which in turn has enabled us to bring Jesus and His word into their lives on a personal level.
This new family doesn’t end with just us, however, it also includes all of the people who have so generously supported our ministry. By giving your love and support you become an extension of this family and make no mistake, the kids know it and give prayers of thanks every day for this wonderful blessing God has given them. We have created a family for these kids and the love that we show to them is a reflection of God’s love for us
In keeping with our theme of "Family", what better way to celebrate than Thanksgiving dinner! The kids got to stay late at our center to celebrate with our family and everyone had a blast. We went around the table and all the kids said something they were thankful for (mostly food). We had an amazing feast of Viya's homemade mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, buttered rolls, fresh papaya, and a 12-pound turkey! So naturally, the kids ate mostly rice lol. Nonetheless it was a great Thanksgiving and we thank God for the opportunity to share it with the kids.
We Are Farmers
Our newest extracurricular activity this year is our new garden project. What started as a fun idea Viya had has slowly "grown into fruition" (ha-ha, see what I did there). We recently planted Cambodian Morning Glory, Bok Choy, Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes, Chilies, and Radishes. This has been such a fun activity for the kids to learn about and help us create.
Preparing for Christmas
With Christmas soon to be upon us, we believe it's time for Ray of Hope's First Annual Christmas Pageant! This has turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to teach the Christmas story more in-depth with our students and their response has been amazing. The kids are very excited to perform in front of their families for the first time and we will also be live streaming the whole thing on our Ray of Hope Facebook page which you can find and learn more about on our Facebook Page.
Update on Joe, Viya, and Ray
The last few months for the Stoltenow family have been pretty exciting and full of new experiences. Back in September, I(Joe) started working out with my friend, and fellow missionary, Dom Shorthouse at his gym Fitness BTB. Fitness BTB is a functional fitness gym similar to CrossFit and the high intensity workouts have been helping to counterbalance Viya's amazing cooking ha-ha. I even entered in the gym’s fitness competition in October and my team took 7th out of 9 teams.
Viya has already settled back into her new position as a full-time tutor at the center for the new students. She has been teaching them the Khmer alphabet and working with
them on improving their behavior in and out of school. She has also been heavily involved in the Christmas Pageant and has been leading our practices and rehearsals.
Viya has also been extremely diligent in teaching Raymond to pray every day before eating and going to sleep.
God’s Blessings to you all! Joe & Viya Stoltenow