I’ve only been in Ukraine for 2 full days, so it is way too early to be making categorical statements.

But I can’t help it… I’m going to anyway. I absolutely, positively love it here!!!

A Greek Orthodox church, a common sight in Zhytomyr.

A Greek Orthodox church, a common sight in Zhytomyr.

Here” is a city in Ukraine called Zhytomyr. It is about two hours west of Kiev, and according to some of my Ukrainian hosts, is known for “ice cream and panty hose.” Not entirely sure what that means…

I am here to learn from and work with a ministry called Mission to Ukraine. They primarily serve disabled children, orphans and young mothers. There are a huge number of abortions in Ukraine, and MTU (as it’s called) works hard to educate young women about their other options (more on that in a future post).

Now, like I said before, I’ve only been here two days, so I haven’t really had the chance to go super deep into the culture. However, there are definitely a few things that have made me fall in love with the place.

Me with my host, Pastor Peter.  Apparently he's known for serving massive dinners...

Me with my host, Pastor Peter. Apparently he's known for serving massive dinners...

First of all, the food is amazing. I’ll write more about it later, but let me just say, it’s all good. And it never stops. Tonight for dinner we had at least 8 different courses (including three for dessert!). Our hosts just kept bringing out more of the meal.

At one point (around course 5) I literally burst out laughing. Now I understand why everyone else was taking such small portions early on!

So the food is great. But the people are wonderful. Of course folks in Ukraine are really hospitable, but it goes way beyond that. Watching the staff of Mission to Ukraine in action is amazing. It’s a whole team of people who are just overflowing with compassion.

Oxana, one of the MTU staff members, working with mentally disabled orphans.

Oksana, one of the MTU staff members, working with mentally disabled orphans.

Yesterday I sat in on a class for mentally disabled children. Their teachers were remarkably patient and loving. In a country that often treats mentally challenged people like animals, this was a class full of equals.

I may be halfway around the world, but already I feel like I am among friends.

Now, the last major thing I love here is a bit hard to put into words, but I’ll give it a shot…

Like many places with great poverty and injustice, the veil between the physical and spiritual world in Zhytomyr feels really thin. Evil and corruption walk about openly, but so do compassion and grace.

Looking into the eyes of a disabled orphan, it is easy to see that the world is a messed up place. But looking at the smile on his face, it’s like you can feel the presence of God.

I don’t know what else I will experience here, but I do know that, like India and Kenya before it, Ukraine will reveal the kingdom of God in some brand new ways…

So yeah. I love it here.

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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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Comments

  1. Maeven Mendoza said... 

    Reply

    April 2nd, 2009 at 10:38 am  

    This is amazing, Barry. I can’t wait to read more!

  2. Ken Ney said... 

    Reply

    April 2nd, 2009 at 11:29 am  

    I am sitting here with chillls running down my spine reading your post. I knew you would be hooked. Now you know why everyone who visits MTU loves it there. Your post was awesome! Tell Pastor Peter hello.

  3. Sharon said... 

    Reply

    April 3rd, 2009 at 7:48 am  

    Everyone I’ve known who has visited Ukraine has been greatly moved and blessed by the experience. As a former special ed teacher, this story warms my heart.

  4. Blake Anderson said... 

    Reply

    April 3rd, 2009 at 8:52 am  

    I am so amazed at how God brings about his plans in the world through some amazing people and amazing ways. Great post, can’t wait to see you back home soon.

  5. Julie B. said... 

    Reply

    April 6th, 2009 at 3:04 pm  

    I’m anxious to hear more as your trip goes on, but I have to say you’ve already got me hooked here between the pantyhose (what??) and 3 courses of dessert!

  6. Dave Quigley said... 

    Reply

    April 7th, 2009 at 8:49 pm  

    This is great – we talked about how great MTU is!

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