Ear to Ear

Posted Oct 29, 2012 by 9 Comments

I love it here.

I really do.  When I’m in Zhytomyr hanging out with Mission to Ukraine, I tend to walk around with a big, silly grin on my face.

People stare.

And I don’t blame them. In an impoverished city, walking past crumbling soviet-era apartment buildings and bundled up against a dreary, overcast day, it’s a bit strange to be smiling uncontrollably.

But what am I supposed to do?  How can I not smile when I’m spending time with the MTU staff?

They put up with my stupid jokes. They laugh when I tell them, “I once ate an entire fried donkey” in broken Russian. They greet me with open arms and broad smiles.  We laugh all the time.  And they feed me.

Oh, how they feed me.

Borscht (beet soup), holubtsi (cabbage rolls), goat-cheese dumplings, blinchiki (fried stuffed crepes), and mushroom pie that is so mind-bendingly good it makes me drop my fork and make noises like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”.

Frankly, when I come to Zhytomyr, I feel like I’m home.

A special needs child in class at MTU.

But all of this – the food and the jokes and the laughter – isn’t even the main reason I can’t stop smiling.

I can’t stop because everywhere I look the kingdom of God is alive.

When I am with Mission to Ukraine, I sit in classrooms full of joyous special-needs kids who know with absolute certainty that they are loved.

I watch physical therapists lovingly and patiently massaging the muscles of children with disabilities.

I spend time with disabled orphans who yell and jump with excitement because the MTU staff has arrived at their orphanage for another lesson.

And I hold babies that were hours away from being aborted, alive today because their mothers received counseling from MTU’s crisis pregnancy ministry.

MTU staff and volunteers teach the boys at Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage.

In a place where the kingdom of darkness spreads the message, “You are worthless. You are alone. Abandon hope,” the staff and volunteers of Mission to Ukraine counter with a consistent, simple message of their own:

“Not if we have anything to say about it…”

Why am I smiling uncontrollably?  Because when I am here, the kingdom is so close at hand I can almost taste it.

So I’m sorry, people I pass on the streets, but you’re just going to have to keep staring. Because for the next few weeks, I’ll be here. Surrounded by family, immersed in the kingdom of God, and smiling uncontrollably everywhere I go…

I may not speak the language, understand the culture or know my way around, but when I’m in Zhytomyr, I’m home.

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Next Steps
    • Brad and I will be in Zhytomyr for a month. Want to follow along with our journey? Subscribe to our weekly article digest. It’s a great way to stay plugged in.
    • We would love your prayers. Brad will be pursuing Mission to Ukraine’s work in Zhytomyr and I will be heading out to spend a week living at Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage. Prayers for insight, wisdom and compassion would be much appreciated!
    Next Steps

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. Amy Sorrells said... 


    October 29th, 2012 at 8:27 am  

    You’re smiling and I’m smiling through tears. So precious! So awesome! So God!!!

  2. Kim said... 


    October 29th, 2012 at 9:17 am  

    We really love MTU too. Romaniv for a week? So jealous!! I can not wait to hear all about it.

  3. David Rodriguez said... 


    October 29th, 2012 at 9:53 am  

    Me too…smiling through tears…and wonderfully empowered by this ..”not if we have anything to say about it” Yes! Few things get me worked up more than seeing Kingdom revolutionaries act with love and abandon! Anxious to hear more from you and Brad!

  4. Sharon said... 


    October 29th, 2012 at 10:33 am  

    More misty smiles here. Amen to what you’re dad said. Thanks for this, Barry–the “low grade fever of sadness” has spiked a little lately and I needed this reminder.

  5. Donna McDonnel said... 


    October 29th, 2012 at 3:44 pm  

    I am a missionary in Kiev and would like to know more about your work there in Zhytomyr. Would it be possible to connect? My Ukrainian cell number is 096.613.5191. My husband and I are involved in ministry to those with disabilities here in Kiev.

    • Ken Ney said... 


      November 1st, 2012 at 8:23 pm  

      Check out MTU at missiontoukraine.org or mission to ukraine on facebook. Contact #’s should be on the website. Also, feel free to email me at kney1@me.com for more information.
      Ken Ney, MD, board of directors MTU

  6. Tasha Simons said... 


    October 29th, 2012 at 4:54 pm  

    That’s awesome, Barry! I remember being in Ukraine and everyone wore dark colors and people didn’t smile at each other when they passed on the street. Praying that your joy is infectious to all you encounter.

  7. Jonathan Pomazon said... 


    November 7th, 2012 at 9:15 pm  

    Barry, I couldn’t but smile widely tonight as I read your post. You express so beautifully what so many of us feel when we visit our dear brothers and sisters at Mission to Ukraine and are privileged to observe and participate in God’s kingdom work there.

    I suspect we smile because we see joyous, hope-filled people quietly, consistently living out the life of Jesus – in stark contrast to a society that, like the Roman world centuries ago, compelled uniformity and ignored the plight of the weak and powerless. It is the very power of God made strong in their weakness, perfected in their failings, inadequacies and insufficiency. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers:
    “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Cor 12:9, New Living Translation)

    Yes, God’s kingdom power is so palpable there that you almost feel like you can touch it. And that, I suspect, is exactly as God intends it to be – calling His people to be salt and light in a world that has lost its savor and sense of direction.

  8. Kris said... 


    January 20th, 2013 at 8:47 pm  

    Now that I’ve been to MTU, I know exactly what you and all my other friends have been talking about. MTU is a place of love and hospitality. You can clearly see God working right in front of your eyes and that’s a beautiful thing.

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