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As I sit on this rocking chair out on the porch, my stomach full of homemade Ukrainian food and the sound of children playing outside wafting in through the open windows, I try to remember the series of events that brought me to this place. It might not sound very different from where I was a week ago, where anyone reading this might be right now, but let me assure you that it is.
Just listen closely and you’ll hear a series of sounds that don’t exist in the English language and smell unfamiliar scents blowing in the wind. While Zhytomyr may be a bustling city similar to the one I came from, six thousand miles and infinitely better coffee separate us.
Though we’ve only been here about a week, I feel confident enough to turn my initial assumptions and observations into facts. One fact in particular has given me reason to believe that by the end of the next two months, it will be hard to leave.
That fact is this: the Ukrainian people are some of the most hospitable, welcoming and kind people I have ever encountered. Perhaps it’s in their blood to feed me until I literally have to be rolled out the door, or maybe they can just sense my new found love for borscht. Maybe all Ukrainians aren’t like this or maybe it’s just a beautiful picture of our global faith family loving each other. Whatever the answer is, and I think the last option is probably most true; Ukraine has perfected the art of first impressions.
But, a good first impression should always leave you wanting more. And as I continue to discover new things about these people and their culture, there is certainly more to be had. I am attempting to learn bits and pieces of the rich Ukrainian history in order to get a peek inside the way the people think. I have learned through conversations that poverty and oppression have ruled the country for centuries and that despite their recent independence, traces of Soviet influence still linger.
But even as the new pro-Russian President makes moves that could endanger humanitarian and non-profit work, the folks at Mission to Ukraine have not given up hope. Just walk in the doors and you can see why. Two pillars stand in the entryway, both covered with pictures of childrens’ faces. One pillar is covered with the faces of the disabled children they have all grown to love and care for over the years.
The other pillar is one of life, filled with pictures of children who are alive today because their mothers decided not to have an abortion due to Mission to Ukraine. As I stood and stared at those photographs, I couldn’t help but feel emotionally smacked in the face with the beauty of human life.
In a place where the average woman has six or seven abortions in her lifetime, the sanctity of human life is taken for granted and the ability to control it is grossly misused. But this is exactly the place where the hearts of the women at Mission to Ukraine lie. And this is the place where I will be learning all summer.
Even after spending only a brief period of time discussing plans for the next two months with Natasha, the woman in charge of the crisis pregnancy side of Mission to Ukraine, I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store.
I have the opportunity to get to know a group of pregnant women who are clients at Mission to Ukraine on a personal level. I will see what their daily life is like and I am confident I will see the Lord provide in unimaginable ways just when He is needed the most.
I will get to build relationships, make friends and invest in people’s lives. And I will also see women working through one of the hardest decisions they will ever have to make. I will watch them struggle emotionally, financially and maybe even socially with a decision that will affect them and their families. And hopefully I will be a part of bringing even the tiniest ray of hope into their lives.
As the summer continues and I learn more about this organization and the women who are affected by it, I am going to need help. I can only do so much as an English speaking twenty-year old girl in a country where I can’t even pronounce the street I’m living on (yet). Nonetheless, I hope to discover their needs and through you, the readers, to meet them.
So if you need encouragement, if you need a visual aid in knowing that the Lord’s hand really is at work and that His Word truly is alive, just look at these faces. Know that these hearts are beating because He has a special plan in place for all of them.
And know that you can be a part of it.
About the Author: Lauren Schneider was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. She is a Journalism/Mass Communications major at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. Lauren loves writing and photography and could eat Chick-fil-A every day for the rest of her life.