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I owe most of my pop culture/historical/literary knowledge to Gilmore Girls, and my first day in Zhytomyr was no exception. Barry and I were enjoying a walking tour through town with Olya, one of the many amazing staff from Mission to Ukraine. At the entrance to one of the several parks in the area, she pointed to a statue and asked, “Do you know who Pushkin is?” “Yes, yes I do,” I replied, in my head thinking, Thanks to Rory Gilmore and her mild obsession with Russian poets…
So, I’ve only been in Ukraine for one full week and it feels like I could fill volumes with what I have seen, experienced, and eaten (I’ve devoured enough delicious Ukrainian food to last me the entire month). I’ve been thinking every day since I’ve been here, How could I possibly fit this week into one blog post? Or even five? So I’m going to start small, leave you with some first impressions, and then dig into the ministry, mission, hope, challenges, ups, downs, peace, and conflicts that embody this fascinating country.
After arriving in Zhytomyr from Kiev, we got a thorough tour of the Mission to Ukraine (MTU) facilities, which include physical and occupational therapy rooms, brightly decorated classrooms, and even several doctor’s offices. As we peeked into one, Tanya (master translator, communication point-person, and all around rock star) said, “The doctors look at the kids [with disabilities] with eyes of kindness and mercy, which is not how the community sees them.” And as I have continued to watch MTU work with “the least of these” in the last seven days, I believe her sentiment rings true. I have seen nothing but the joy of Christ radiate from the staff and volunteers as they interact with those they serve.
On day two, Barry and I enjoyed an incredible dinner of pyrizhky and borscht with our new American friends Jed and Kim, who have been in Ukraine with their four children for just under a year. Their story is pretty amazing, and I’ll get into it in another post later. This is just a teaser, and I hope you will continue to follow their journey of working with kids with disabilities at Romaniv, the rural boys’ orphanage. I mostly mention it here because I needed another “P” word to make my alliterative blog title work, and to be honest, it really was a highlight of our first week.
The days have been filled with a mixture of joy and sorrow, peace and heaviness. We have taken bike rides through the autumn trees, prayed over a young man’s grave, laughed over coffee and cake, and felt the weight of the ongoing war. These are the many paradoxes I am beginning to wrap my arms around as I discover this beautiful place.
I look forward to focusing in on the unique aspects of the work of Mission to Ukraine in the month to come, but what I want to leave you with now is a general idea that has been ruminating in my heart. It’s the idea of hospitality. Hospitality is something we are all called to (I Peter 4:9), but some do better than others. I have always loved the phrase “blessed to be a blessing”, and I hope in my own journey to be that kind of woman. But the Mission to Ukraine staff here in Zhytomyr are faithfully living it out day-by-day, and have made me feel completely at home, welcomed, loved, and accepted – like I’m already a part of their family.
If I could share one bit of encouragement with you from my first week in Ukraine, it would be this: “To be fervent in your love for one another…to be hospitable to one another…as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Until next time,
About the Author: Sarah is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She has her undergraduate degree in Business Communication from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and is currently working on her Masters degree in Organizational Leadership. Sarah recently finished a two and a half year assignment working for an anti-trafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she had the opportunity to mentor and lead college students in ministry abroad. She is mildly obsessed with Jeopardy, coffee, running, and the Atlanta Falcons.