These doubts and fears that troubled me were born of my infirmity; Though I am weak, God is most high, and on His goodness I rely; Of all His wonders I will tell, and on His deeds my thoughts shall dwell.
Verse 5, To God Will I Direct My Prayer (#145), 1959 Psalter Hymnal
Year one is complete. In a few days, I will begin the 19 hour trek home.
It’s surreal in many ways, not least of which is how quickly 10 months flew by. Chiefly, it feels like I am leaving home all over again. I love Ukrainians and their country and I am thrilled beyond succinct expression to live here among them. Ukraine is in my blood. Secondarily, the year has been exhausting as I have learned a new culture and engorged myself with as much of their ways as I could. Despite all I have learned though, there is still intimidatingly vast amounts about Ukraine I still don’t comprehend.
In innumerable ways, my cup overflows. The headaches I encountered through this year seem quite small in hindsight. Every worry about provision was unfounded. Every student quandary was given relief. I encountered one bout of homesickness. My years-long battle with seasons of acute loneliness was alleviated with four companions.
There were also obstacles which drove me to prayer and Scripture. Banking was the single biggest headache of the year. PDA in Kyiv is ubiquitous and as a result, the more difficult aspects of celibate singleness sometimes had more than enough fuel. Abundance of easy communication technology did not equal communication in quantity and quality. 5,400 miles of separation presented family dynamics I wasn’t prepared for.
In this first part of three, I would like to recount some of the funny, difficult, and positive lessons I have learned this year.
Mind the Gap
The subway pulled up, the doors opened, passengers exited and in the precious few remaining seconds, I went to get into the train car, caught the edge of the doorway and face planted into the train floor. On my way down, in a feeble attempt to catch myself, my hand landed and bore my weight, right on the foot of a young woman. (adios, first impression)
The only sound I remember post-fall, was a collective Ukrainian “oooh.”
When I got up to my feet, I was covered, lips to toes, in the dirt of a million passengers from time immemorial…okay, 1960.
Bread is revered. Ice is avoided.
Bread holds a very important, borderline sacred, place in Ukrainian culture. Not only is this country frequently referred to as the Breadbasket of Europe, but they have some of the most incredible bread I have ever eaten. (Julia Childs, eat your heart out) I believe Ukraine’s love of bread also stems from the periods of their history when they were without it.
As such, bread is never to be wasted. Ever. What then, are you to do with that fuzzy, green bread? Throw it to the birds. The park behind my building is full of luscious lilacs, magnolias, and a multitude of bread scraps.
In America, you can stop by the local gas station and grab ice by the pound. Here? Ice is only available in the winter (the rumor being they cut it out of the frozen river…I don’t quite buy that). Further, Ukrainians do not put ice in their drinks, believing there is a connection between chilled drinks and illness. We may chortle at such a notion, but a few of my friends have fallen ill 1-2 days after ingesting chilled drinks.
Many Ukrainians possess histories that will keep you up at night.
Ukraine is intimately, painfully, and inescapably conscious of the evils of communism. Further, The Gate to Europe has known so many foreign invaders in their history that it might be easier to recount who hasn’t invaded here. Invasion seems like an ancient concept, but here are some of the most recent invaders in Ukrainian history:
- Poland, 1919
- Russia, 1922 (formation of USSR)
- Hungary, 1939-1944
- Nazi Germany, 1941-1944
- Ukraine reabsorbed into USSR, 1944-1991
- Russia, 2014-Present
Experientially, I know nothing of this. The most recent wars on American home turf are: 1861-1865, and December 7, 1941. If you really want to clarify the comparison, the last time the United States had an occupying enemy, the year was 1814. (We had some small invasion parties during the Border Wars in 1910-1919.)
Many Ukrainians have parents, grandparents, and friends who have survived some of these periods. The Holodomor (which translates: to kill by starvation) of 1932-1933, which killed anywhere from 3-7 million Ukrainians, is very real to them. The grief due to the deaths of their relatives and friends at the hands of a Russian influenced Ukrainian government in 2014 are still palatable. Ukrainians bear deep wounds of history that influence their view of family, friends, food, government, religion, and daily life in ways I may never fully understand.
With Russia still illegally occupying Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, many Ukrainians in Kyiv, are displaced peoples, having fled from the Donbass regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. (One of my students is in such a position). I’ve spoken with many people who have lost everything and the only proof of their previous life is preserved in pictures. PTSD is not merely a soldiers battle, but also families who fled besieged cities.
Yet, the stories don’t end there. Ukraine has a large orphan population, which in all likelihood is probably larger than what is documented. For perspective, Ukraine has an orphan population of 104,000 (0.0023%), whereas America has 400,000 (0.0012%). Further, the family situations orphans come from and the conditions they subsist in are stupefying.
- Elementary age siblings living on the street
- A child witnessing the murder of a newborn because the family cannot support it
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Human trafficking
- Family killed during Russian occupation
- Children so shell-shocked that they believe Adoption = Kidnapping
- Orphanage workers telling children: You don’t deserve love.
Low view of hospitality
I will touch more on this in a future post (part 3), but my view of hospitality has been challenged this year. As I have come to see, hospitality is to be more than a smattering of game nights and meticulously planned dinner parties.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Salesmen have made evangelism on the street or in the park particularly challenging. The Orthodox church has stigmatized organized religion and labeled Protestants as cults. English clubs happen frequently and while many relationships are formed, many people only come for the language and tune out Scripture or spiritual topics.
Ukrainians treasure their relationships. Time and money take a back seat to these all important centerpieces of life. This prompted a question, which led to Scripture and prayer, which providentially coincided with Rosaria Butterfield’s most recent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.
I need to be more ordinarily hospitable in the coming year.
Praying and exercising more faith in the area of finances
I could never have fathomed how difficult finances would be on this side of the world. The card issuer says: We care about the security of your card and account. What I hear: You won’t be able to access your money…anywhere.
Why don’t I just open an account over here to transfer funds into? 1) Ukrainian banks want little to do with the complex US banking regulations. 2) The United States would require me to pay tax on the account if the amount surpassed $10,000 over the course of 12 months. 3) Ukrainian bank regulations would require me to prove the origin of the money – since that isn’t here in Ukraine, good luck.
Further, I now live on support rather than what I earn per hour. There is no option to work more hours to make a few more dollars. I have what you were able to give. That’s it. I am not just paying lip-service when I thank you for your support. It is literally the umbilical of my work.
As such, I have never prayed more about money than I have in the last 10 months. I pray for a change of access to finances. I also pray for your continued financial support. I pray for new supporters so that I can increase my work.
Like a spoon under a faucet, I feel like I have only gathered the smallest portion of what was available in Christ’s school this year. I pray I learn more next year.
See you soon,