In the short time that I have been here, I’ve discovered two truths about Ukrainians. One, they are amazingly hospitable. Two, they are extraordinarily humble. When these two traits are combined, it can lead to some interesting situations…

On Sunday evening, I was leaving church with my host family. The kids and I were being goofy, laughing and throwing a plastic cow around (turns out, cows in Ukraine say “Moo,” but dogs say “Gav gav!” Don’t know why they got that so wrong…).  : )

My host Yuri and his son, Taras.

My host Yuri and his son, Taras.

Anyway, we were waiting by the van for their father, Yuri, to drive us all home.

After waiting for a while, we saw Yuri walk out of the church talking to a young man and woman. When they reached the gate, the two began walking down the sidewalk, away from Yuri. With a big smile on his face, he kept talking to them, raising his voice as they got farther away.

Eventually, he was practically shouting. “Come here!” he yelled in Russian, making animated gestures with his hands. The couple continued walking.

Finally, it looked as if Yuri had given up whatever he was trying to communicate. He walked to the van, got in the driver’s seat and said something I didn’t understand. All of a sudden, his kids began throwing themselves in the van as fast as possible. Taras, his oldest, gestured to me and said, “Get in! Quickly…”

I dutifully jumped into my seat and held on as Yuri whipped the van around and gunned it down the street. I had no idea what was going on…

As we approached the intersection, Yuri rolled down his window and began yelling something at the couple, who were just about to round the corner. The young man smiled and shook his head.

When the light turned green, Yuri again whipped the van around and drove down the next street, again shouting out the window as he passed the couple.

Why is everyone smiling? I thought. Am I missing something? Shouldn’t we be terrified?

Finally, after wheeling the van around a couple more times, making some crazy U-turns and zipping around a few cars, we pulled up to the curb a few feet ahead of the walking couple. Yuri jumped out of the van and started having an energetic conversation with the young man.

When I realized that my life was not about to be over and that things were apparently completely normal, I turned to Taras and asked him what was going on.

They are a brother and sister who live in a village outside of Zhytomyr.” He said. “My father wants to give them a ride home, but the man is very humble and doesn’t want to inconvenience us.”

Yuri, who told me later, "What else could I do?  I couldn't let them walk!"

Yuri, who told me later, "What else could I do? I couldn't let them walk!"

Ah… It finally made sense. This was a battle of humility vs. hospitality. Yuri couldn’t imagine letting them walk all the way home, but the young couple couldn’t imagine allowing his family to make the drive for their sake.

Well, apparently Yuri had the most convincing argument, because the brother and sister finally got in the van. We drove about 20 minutes and dropped them at their front door.

20 minutes! I thought. They would have had to walk for hours.

After getting out of the van, they thanked Yuri profusely and closed the door. Yuri turned the van around and drove us back the way we had come.

On the way home, I couldn’t help but wonder about how long I would have lasted in such a situation.

Would I have chased them down and argued for 10 minutes just to give them a ride? Would I have insisted on walking, even though it might take 3 hours?

Uh, I doubt it…

I mean, I always thought hospitality meant putting on a pot of coffee for visitors. And come on, humility is great, but who’s going to pass up a free ride?

Obviously I still have a lot to learn…

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Chyrise Ney said... 


    April 8th, 2009 at 9:40 am  

    I’ve driven with Yuri and it’s abit scary..More than once I said ” Look at the road!!! We can talk without you looking at me!!!” He is a delightful person…just like his dad.

  2. Barry Rod said... 


    April 8th, 2009 at 10:50 am  

    Aren’t they? I love the whole family. They’re just the sweetest people.

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