Why I Love Ukraine

The memories of my three trips to Ukraine have been inundating my mind, over the past few weeks.  No doubt, it's all the news coverage concerning my beloved Ukraine's recent troubles that has opened the floodgates.  I had the pure blessing of a brief reunion with some of my teammates and one of our Ukrainian brothers, last week...oh my soul!  Glorious, even under such chaotic circumstances, to be in the presence of those who understand what the mention of "Ukraine" does to my heart.  I pulled out my scrapbook.  Pictures of the 2004 and 2005 trips are in there.  I found the disc that had  pictures from the 2006 trip.  Good grief!  Things came alive in my memory that I hadn't thought about in YEARS...vividly so.  Explaining to you why I love this place is hard.  If you've never been there, you might not understand. If you've never traveled to a place, home or abroad, that has just gotten under your skin...into your soul...you might not understand.  Here's a list and what I can put into words, I will.  Know that there is so much about this connection that leaves me speechless....and we ALL know that's quite a feat! 

(All these pictures are from 2006.)

  • The food...please...are you surprised?  Cabbage rolls, blintzes, pelmini, BORSCHT, black currant juice, blood orange juice, salami, cheese, chocolate...for BREAKFAST, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, dill, REAL sour cream...like, when you open the container, if you listen close enough, you'll hear the cows mooing!  Yes, it all tastes good...well, not ALL of it. There were one or two bowls of borscht that I could have lived without and the smoked prunes...let's not even talk about that!  It does taste good, but it's more than that.  Every meal I have ever eaten while in Ukraine...even just tea time snack...I ALWAYS felt like an honored guest,  which shames me because of my attitude about cooking for my own family.  The simplest tea-time munchies of open faced salami and cheese sandwiches were purely delicious because they were set before us with love.

  • The landscape:  The 2006 trip was AMAZING because it took place in October.  The previous trips had been in March and Ukraine was still very much in the grip of Old Man Winter.  Seeing it before the snow flew was almost like seeing a different place.  The dirt in eastern Ukraine is SO rich and SO black, it could probably grow anything.  Riotous color bursting out of late fall gardens.  The birch trees were turning and it made me think of Michigan. Of course, seeing all the snow on the March trips also made me think of Michigan.   

  • The Babushkas:  they ARE Ukraine.  It goes beyond "grandmother." Some have an easy life...some do not.  It is not uncommon to see them sweeping the sidewalks or selling flowers at roadside stalls.  On the '05 trip, we took the train from Kyiv to our mission HQ in Donetsk Oblast (think county or province).  I have witnesses that will also vouch for the fact that our train had definitely seen action during The Cold War years.  So, we're barreling through the dark, frigid Ukrainian night; stopping at every depot along the way and at these depots, it was common to see The Babushkas manning their track side stores...selling all sorts of things, including some rather garish and Wonka-esque stuffed animals.  Just what the weary traveler needs at 2am...a neon pink stuffed rabbit.  They are iconic...wizened smiles, weathered faces...some by years, some by circumstance...noggins wrapped securely under colorful head scarves.  Our team's nurse practitioner has had them come to her, not for treatment...but just to look at her...just to see an American...just to have prayer.  In the middle of all that's happening, I worry about the Babushkas...especially the ones who remember all to well what it was like to live under Soviet rule...the ones who understand that no good will come from returning to that way of life.

  • It's old!  Now, that might sound odd but let me unpack this for you.  On the 2004 trip, we had a long layover in Kyiv, so we took the time to do a bit of sight seeing.  It was COLD and windy and we're walking around in the cold and in the wind looking at cathedrals and monasteries. In the courtyard of one of the monasteries, I was nearly dumbstruck by how old things were. Seriously, history was being made in Ukraine before any of my pale faced ancestors ever set foot in The New World.  The appreciation of things old sometimes gets lost over here.  Old building?  Tear it down...why? Just because it's old.

  • The people:  Old, young and in between.  Rich, poor, city folk and country peasant.  Educated and illiterate.  Deaf and blind.  Recovering addicts and rehabilitated criminals.  Orphans and families with ten children.  People who risked their lives, during Soviet times, to print and distribute the word of God.  People who don't mind standing in the hallway to hear Gospel preaching because there is no more seating in the main meeting room.  A woman who spent an entire day mopping up the muddy footprints left behind by patients coming to the clinic and while she mopped, she sang...the WHOLE day...she mopped, she sang.  Never once did she complain or lose the smile on her face.  Children who pledged their undying love for me because of chewing gum and toothbrushes....and they meant it.  People who opened their homes to foreigners, with no thought to any inconvenience they might incur, and treated us like treasured family.     

  • My team...the people I've traveled with and they, with all their gifts and talents and abilities and goodness...leave me speechless.



  • The church:  And I'm not talking about the buildings.  We saw beautiful cathedrals and even witnessed a bit of an Orthodox service.  When I think of "church," I don't think about that Orthodox service.  I'm talking about the people...God's people.  It's wild to know that He hears my English prayers and their Ukrainian/Russian prayers and understands us, all.  He hears us sing "How Great Thou Art" in our own languages, at the same time, and He welcomes the sound.  I love the stories of how our God has moved in their lives, on their behalf, in their part of the world...while doing the same thing for me in mine. 



There are so many reasons, but these are the ones I can put to words.  This past Sunday, our pastor challenged us to be peacemakers.  Did you know that peacemakers are defined by the wars around them?  Did you know that the peace they are making...the peace they are bringing is the peace that passes all understanding?  The peace that is not of this world's defining?  There needs to be that kind of peace in Ukraine (and here and well, everywhere).  Unfortunately, this peace often comes at cost and great risk.  So I pray for the peacemakers, on the ground in Ukraine.  I pray that in all things, they would seek to glorify God.  I pray for their safety and well being. I pray for their fortitude and perseverance.  I pray that they be awash in grace and compassion.  I pray that they have the courage and bravery of David when he stood before Goliath.

And we all know how that ended....Slava Bog! (Praise God!)