Special Volunteer

When I first arrived in Ukraine, I volunteered at a center for children and made friends with a special boy named Anton.  He was bright, inquisitive and full of fun.  He was one of my first Russian teachers.  Time passed, and I moved on to other ministry projects and always wondered what happened to him.  I found him on facebook this week and he has been very busy with his life.  Very busy indeed.  I am so proud of him!

 

What Ukraine Used To Be Like

I got an email from someone stateside who wanted me to write a blog post on what Ukraine is like.  From his questions, I could tell he had the standard, post soviet ideas running through his head.  Dark, orthodox church bells, heavy food, oppressed people, women running around with just black purses on their arms…..standard enough thinking for someone who hasn’t been here.

Last night a friend took a look at a photo of me sitting in a cafe next to the river and couldn’t believe it was Ukraine.  “That doesn’t look the way I thought it looks.”  The brand new river front area in Kyiv, looks like nothing from the soviet era.

The thing about Ukraine that most people don’t recognize or understand is the country has been through TWO revolutions in the past twelve years.  That’s not one, but TWO revolutions since it became an independent country severing it’s ties from the Soviet Union in 1991.  Because politics are pretty complicated in this part of the world, it took a long time for the reality of separating from the Soviet Union, now Russia to happen.  It’s still happening.  Heck, Russia, annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, they were so upset with the separation.

Another friend commented this week how much Ukraine has changed in just the last two years.  That it was more….she hesitated to explain…….European now.  Listening to a popular singer here who regularly plays a circuit of concerts in the former soviet union and Russia, I noticed that her act seemed so….so…..retro Ukrainian soviet.  Pre Maidan music culture.  And suddenly, I started to process how much Ukraine and the culture has changed in two years and how it continues to change at lightening speed.  Kiev is Kyiv, and the Ukrainian language is heard everywhere in Kyiv.

So, I’m not going to try and explain what it’s like here because trying to explain it is too complicated. All I’ll say is that if you haven’t been here in a while or haven’t been here at all, all I can say is it has changed.  Just forget about state bread houses and the standard white “baton” bread loaf….now your bread is baked fresh in a restaurant or market and there are many different kinds and styles.  I’m in the middle of the change, so I’m just trying to hang on and process with the rest.

All I know is that young people are smart, sophisticated, and interesting…..I am so excited and blessed to be here at this point in Ukraine’s history.

(I had 19 people from Sweden check out my blog this month!  Welcome to my blog!   My great grandfather immigrated to America from Sweden!)

Hey! Short Termers! Read This Post!

Lots of people think when you go off to be a missionary and work with children or, excuse me, I’m going to cringe because I hate this term……”love on” people……that rainbows and unicorns are going to start popping up beside candy flavored mushrooms and the smell of roses will waft in your wake.

Ministry, REAL ministry, the bible believing loving and walking people through good and hard times ministry, the pointing them to Jesus, and hold on because this is really hard, HOLDING PEOPLE TO ACCOUNTABILITY AND A STANDARD OF INTEGRITY ministry is a lot different.  Ministry is always difficult.  It’s always messy because you are dealing with people, life, sin and good or bad intentions.

I think social media has a tendency to either reinforce the fantasy of unicorns or can tear up good intentions and leave them dripping in cynicism. How can one photo really explain a relationship?  Can a blog post or status update ever truly give someone who’s not there an adequate idea of the poster’s reality?  It can’t.  But some people start believing because they want or need to believe that those candy flavored mushrooms are there in the background just waiting to be picked and eaten.

The instagram account, “Barbie Savior” is a satirical account of Barbie’s short term, multiple trips to Africa to save the children.  And I admit when I stumbled across it, I laughed til I cried….and then laughed some more and then cried some more…..It. is. hysterical. period.

I laughed because we have all been there and those of us who have been there know that some people stay there.  The first missions trip is about emotion, passion, the desire to make a difference in the world.  I still feel it.  But the difference for those of us who made the decision to move overseas, is that we grew past the innocence, learned the language, and thankfully, if not painfully, came to terms with not just the things that touched us positively on our first few mission trips, but also learned about the ugly side of the culture.  It’s otherwise known as, reality.   It’s the stuff you only learn by living long term and getting involved in the daily grind of life in another culture.  I can explain it as the difference between a long term relationship where you see every side of a person, their strengths, weaknesses, the good and bad, as opposed to spending time together on short dates where you work hard to impress each other and cover up your faults.  The former is real love. A more real, gritty and intimate kind of love. But one that lasts for a longer period of time.

The intimacy of living together, with your own culture that’s inside you and the culture you are walking around in, is the key to building relationships and ministry that makes an impact on the world.  There is a difference between visiting an orphanage and passing out gifts, and waving goodbye to the kids afterwards and taking an orphan under your wing and helping them transition to real life.  The first is easy, there is little commitment.  It makes you feel super good. The second requires commitment, vision, and guts.  It requires growth and change.

I guess what I’m trying to say is we won’t end up like Barbie Savior if we keep growing.  If God calls you to short term mission trips, check your heart because chances are he’s calling or preparing you for a longer commitment.  Don’t be afraid of the commitment or the intimacy of doing ministry long term.  Don’t settle for passing out material gifts when you can give deeper and more precious spiritual gifts to people.  In this summer season of short term mission trips, don’t settle for just the easy ministry.  Ask God what is really going on and what is he really trying to show you.  Why are you doing short term trips and not serving him full time?  Why are you not committing to long term ministry.  How could you and your ministry grow if you decide to MOVE to where your ministry is instead of just visiting it?  How can you get more intimate with the culture you love?  Where is your comfort zone now?  Are you really helping the nationals with your quick visits? What do they need long term that you can’t give visiting for a short term?

Just make sure you don’t become a Barbie Savior.  Or I’m gonna laugh at you!

Here’s a great blog post on Barbie Savior:  “The Danger Of Being A Barbie Savior”

That Moment When…..

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That moment when you find yourself down on Maidan walking with a friend and you are explaining to her where everything happened during a revolution……and you realize….I was here.  This happened where I live.

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And now it’s a memory that you know well as you walk across the pavement and remember seeing blood and dirt where there should have been none.  A memory as I climb steps that have been chopped up and still are broken.  Explaining where people died.  Where the snipers were located……

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For many people in Ukraine, the revolution in Ukraine is something we are still processing.

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And will never forget.  Here is a memorial to the Heavenly Hundred.

Always Thankful

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The Bible says that “All good things works together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes.”  – Romans 8:28. 

This has been a hard verse for eastern Ukrainian Christians to read. Their lives have been totally disrupted by war and there is no end to the chaos in sight.

The last two years have been so hard for all of us in Ukraine, but this last week I was so blessed as I have been able to meet and am getting to know Christians from eastern Ukraine.  I am seeing first hand how God is shaking up communities and these young people are blessing and encouraging those around them in the new cities they are living in.

Last week I was able to experience a Thanksgiving meal in Ukraine which was put on and prepared solely by Ukrainians!  What fun and what a blessing for a home sick American.

I also was able to start a life skills training series for leaders who are ministering to orphans.

Ukraine is going to be okay.

 

 

 

What Can We Write?

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I took this photo on Maidan in Kyiv, Ukraine during the 2014 Revolution of Dignity

I was reading through my blog feed and one of the authors I regularly read lives and works in Paris, France.  She posted about a week after the Paris attacks and stuttered and bumbled her way through a post, apologizing for not having written earlier and trying to explain her thoughts which were still scattered as she was trying to process the tragedy.  She made no sense and was not coherent.  At the end of the post she added, “I just don’t know what I can or can’t say about what happened which makes this so hard for me.”

I knew way before Maidan why I wasn’t blogging frequently.  I lived in a country under oppression and anything I said could be misconstrued or held against me or anyone, church or organization I mentioned on my blog.  I had to keep a low profile  with our ministry.  I knew friends who were being…..well, the only word I could use would be, “persecuted” for trying to help orphans.  It’s still complicated today.

The potential for harassment made every post feel heavy.  What could I say?  What couldn’t I say? What can I write about that won’t get anyone hurt?  Something that came easily to me, being open and blogging about life, became difficult and complicated.

Then came Maidan which made things much more complicated.  Everyone wanted to post about it and we needed to post about it as it was unfolding, but it was risky.  Very risky.  If things went the other way, as they did for a while when we all technically lived in a dictatorship, there could be more trouble.  At the time, it seemed overwhelming to comprehend.  It still does.  It may sound over dramatic.  It felt that way at the time, but you didn’t really know what would happen next.

This blogger in Paris is feeling the effects of terrorism and civil unrest.  The stunned feeling, the unknown, the bad, the possibly worse things that could happen.  The inability to properly process the world around you even through words, which usually are the balm of your soul and way to express yourself could possibly make your life worse.  It’s a horrible feeling.

This is one of the very negative outcomes of terrorism and war.  Stunned people trying to process the world around them.  The fear of putting things in writing.  The fear of misunderstanding.  The feeling of confusion.

Now it’s not about just praying for Ukraine or praying for Paris……it’s about praying for the world.  And praying for those of us living on this earth who are not choosing to express themselves through evil actions and terrorizing others for power and money.  I’m not just praying for a specific city or country, but I’m praying that we would be able to learn to live our lives and spread peace in the midst of the growing evil and chaos.

Second Anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity

Today marks the second anniversary of Ukraine’s “Revolution of Dignity” otherwise and affectionately known as, “Maidan.”

Last year on the anniversary, everything still felt so new that it was still hard to process.  I think people will be able to process better this winter as events of the revolution are remembered.

I know that last year at this time, I was still trying to wrap my head around everything that had happened.  I NEVER imagined something like this unfolding.  I am still amazed at the will and strength of the Ukrainian people.

Slava Ukrainia!