Back from Ukraine!

I used to wake up with a plan for the day. Now I wake up and have to figure out where I even am.

In the midst of writing a month’s worth of posts for our Child-Training Boot Camp Bible study, arranging flowers for two different weddings, putting our house on the market (5 offers in 4 days!), and accepting an offer on the place that has been our home for the past 19 years, my daughter Bethany and I packed up and went to Eastern Europe for a month. (Actually, Bethany isn’t coming home for a couple more months.)

We ate and talked and sang and prayed and bounced down incredibly bumpy roads with brothers and sisters in Christ in Hungary and then Ukraine.

I admired a scrapbook lovingly crammed with pictures of a little boy’s first year of life — pictures his mama in America had faithfully sent to his grandma. That sweet grandma has still not been granted a passport to come to meet that little boy and his new baby sister. I tried to imagine not meeting one of my grandchildren for more than a year. I know how to pray for that grandma.

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I lived with a pastor and his wife who daily lay down their lives to serve God and His people — opening their home day and night to others, traveling long, hot hours to encourage fellow believers, showing Christ’s love to neighbors, store clerks, waiters, and bus drivers, and turning down many opportunities for an easier life in order to stay with their flock of believers. While they were so busy serving others, they didn’t neglect to love and serve each other.

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I listened to young people singing hymns together — in English and Ukrainian — below my bedroom window several nights and gave thanks to our God who is not limited by language, culture, or nationality. His Holy Spirit is at work all over the world.

I ate amazing food made by amazingly hospitable people, and then I ate more — mixtures of pork fat, wild mushrooms, and buckwheat prepared in a huge kettle over a campfire; a wild assortment of smoked meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, and chocolate spread before us as honored guests at a Catholic church celebration; the best barbecued ribs I’ve even tasted, piles of roasted meat and sausage, and lots and lots of the best tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon I’ve ever had outside of our own garden. People with so little gave so much.

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Amazing food came out of this pot — bacon, wild mushrooms, buckwheat, and cream over an open fire
This is AFTER we all stuffed ourselves as much as possible!
This is AFTER we all stuffed ourselves as much as possible!

I tripped on uneven staircases, banged my head into unmarked obstacles, tried not to tangle with broken sidewalks in the dark, hoped parents were watching their children around the screenless windows at child-level in second story buildings, and prayed a lot while we barreled down the road without seat belts on. Eastern Europeans obviously don’t rely on building codes and traffic laws to take care of them.

I learned how to speak with a translator, a challenge that feels a little bit like getting interrupted every minute or so. I would say something, then turn and watch the beautiful and skilled Natasha turn it all into Ukrainian,Then it was my turn again, and I had to remember what I had just said so that I could continue with my next thought.

Natasha is next to me. Her mother-in-law and her husband (who was seriously injured in a bicycle accident several years ago) are on the left.
Natasha is in the blue dress next to me. Her mother-in-law and her husband (who was seriously injured in a bicycle accident several years ago) are on the left.

I got to share a bunch of good reasons for homeschooling our children, and tried to answer the same kind of questions that people ask about homeschooling here at home. What about socialization? What about college? How do you teach more than one age level at once? I was thrilled when three young mamas at the conference knew enough English for us to talk together. We worked our way out of the meeting room, friended each other on Facebook in another room, and then kept talking out in the dark outside the building before they hurried to the train station to start their 500 mile trip back home. A new movement is afoot in Ukraine — people who long to make God and His Word the center of their children’s education and are willing to make huge sacrifices in order to do it.

The Polish pastor that was overseeing much of our trip graciously detoured into the town of Stryj, and I had the unexpected privilege of walking the streets of the town where both of my father’s parents were born. They lived there until their mid-teens, when they left for a new life in Canada with their parents and siblings. I marveled at our all-knowing, all-powerful God who orchestrates every detail of our lives, and I was humbled as I reflected on how profoundly my life has been impacted by the hard work and courageous sacrifices of the people who came before me. How many of them will I get to meet in heaven someday?

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One of the older streets in Stryj — maybe one that my grandparents walked

I walked through magnificent churches, some from centuries ago, others that have been completely rebuilt after being destroyed at the hands of the Soviet armies. I heard accounts of a country’s history riddled with one conquest after another — a people sometimes under Polish rule, sometimes Austrian, sometimes Russian. I stood in Independence Square in Kiev and tried to imagine the blockades of burning tires, the tents and camp kitchens, and the cruel shootings during Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest last year. I walked the long length of sidewalk, lined with picture after picture of people, mostly men, some as young as 17 or 18 and others in their 60’s, who gave their lives for the cause of freedom in their country.

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Part of the long line of pictures of those who died in Euromaidan
Part of the long line of pictures of those who died in Euromaidan

It was a wonderful trip, filled with joy and food and sweat and beautiful people and so much more than I can adequately describe here. I’ve prayed for these people for a long time. I’ve watched my daughter walk down an airport concourse more than once to get into a plane and fly to these people. I’ve read her accounts, I’ve seen their Facebook pictures, I’ve followed the news of their country’s struggles.

But now I’ve been with them. Now I can picture them as I pray. Now I better understand the difficulties they face each day and the joy that they embrace in spite of them. And I am changed by my experience. Thank you, all of you who prayed.

 

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4 Comments

  1. I didn’t know you were part Ukrainian? How exciting to visit where your ancestors are from (a dream of mine some day). What conference were you at? What part of the country? I’m living in the south-central part right now. It’s been hard answering the homeschool question here where the concept is unheard of and I’m still a newbie, but thankfully I’ve got a small group of like-minded expats here for encouragement.

  2. Thank you for sharing in your personal journey. It is so true in your closing comments… As a birth and adoptive parent, Guatemala and Ethiopia. We/I tried to imagine and understand life outside of the U. S., and what the so called “culture shock” would be like for us, We looked at pictures, read, and heard others accounts of visits. (And found all most helpful.) We prayed daily for our children, their care, the process, and our journeys to these Countries. But when you actually travel to and have lived among the people (as much as you can on a limited time frame) do you truly understand how to pray. I found my prayers to be limited. Our journeys taught me how to pray better for all nations/people groups. My prayers for our World have changed. As you said; “Now I can picture them as I pray. Now I better understand the difficulties they face each day and the joy that they embrace in spite of them. And I am changed by my experience.” Thank you again for sharing!

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. What a wonderful post for me to be thinking on as prepare for my unusually busy day :).

  4. I can feel the joy you had visiting with them and the joy and privilege you have to pray for them now. Going on mission to another country may not be something I can experience today or ever, but this reminds me that I don’t have to travel to experience that joy. The Lord calls me to love those that are right by me. And I fall short daily. Thank your for sharing your experience in Ukraine, and the pictures!!!