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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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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!
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.