Radiant Joy

Posted Oct 31, 2014 by 2 Comments

I mentioned in my most recent post, Solo Dios Basta, that some of the Mission to Ukraine staff would be heading back to the military hospital with a few of the youth with disabilities that they serve. The idea was to use some of the classroom time at MTU to teach the kids a smattering of basic words and the value of patriotism.

Soldier waits outside of the Zhytomyr military hospital

Soldier waits outside of the Zhytomyr military hospital

I had the opportunity to sit in on a few of those classes, and it was incredibly sweet to see these young kids write “Дякую!” (Thank you!) on construction paper of blue and gold.

Ukrainian patriotism even in hair accessories!

Ukrainian patriotism even in hair accessories!

There is an increased sense of national pride around town as Ukraine is facing this ongoing war with Russia. It is common to hear (in Ukrainian, of course), “Glory to Ukraine!” with “Glory to the heroes!” in response. It reminds me a bit of living in California immediately following 9/11 – we were affected, of course, as U.S. citizens, but far removed from the action. Patriotism was bolstered and we were united under a common sense of tragedy and loss.

It was such a privilege to return to the military hospital here in Zhytomyr with the MTU staff and three young people with significant physical disabilities. As we were waiting for the marshrutka (local bus) one of the staff leaned over to me and said, “We’ll see how this goes. We’re not sure how the men will respond to these kids.”

I think the fear was that vulnerable men, coming home from war, wounded, and faced with the possibility of long-term disability would be discouraged rather than encouraged by our presence… like peering into what could be their future life of immobility. What we genuinely hoped and prayed for, however, was an opportunity for the kids to express their thanks to those returning from battle, and show them that in spite of having disabilities, it is indeed possible to possess radiant joy.

Mission to Ukraine staff with youth and moms, ready with gifts for the soldiers

Mission to Ukraine staff with youth and moms, ready with gifts for the soldiers

So we rolled up to the hospital, not knowing what to expect. Would we be welcomed? Or would we not be received as we hoped?

I’ll be honest and say…it fell somewhere in the middle. I would love to be able to share that it was a raging success, hugs all around, everyone loves everyone. But when do experiments ever really turn out that way? What I will say is that it was a step in the right direction. The kids that went did indeed love it, and they were beyond excited to be able to do something good and be a part of saying thank you to these soldiers who are suffering.

The reaction from the soldiers themselves was mixed, as we expected it might be. Some were happy to see us, while others remained reserved and withdrawn. We didn’t linger too long. The MTU staff helped to guide the kids, along with their moms, through a few of the rooms, making the rounds, shaking hands and expressing gratitude for the their brave service. They handed out the cards that had been crafted beforehand, and hung a “Thank you!” poster on one of the walls.

We meandered back out into the falling yellow leaves and I was struck by how close to home this hit with my new MTU friends. For us in America, the war is so far removed that it can be a bit of a challenge to relate. But when it’s your friends who are feeling the weight, you want desperately to be able to do something, to have the right words to say, or just simply switch places, even if only for a little while.

Soldier hanging a “Thank You!” poster on the recovery room wall

Soldier hanging a “Thank You!” poster on the recovery room wall

As Brennan Manning writes, “A hard day? Yes. Rattled and unglued? Yes. Unable to cope? No.” Why? Because we have hope. And we are responsible to pass that hope on to others who are suffering. The power is in the message, not the messenger.

Ukraine faces many challenges as it is confronted with an ongoing crisis. Mission to Ukraine is committed to being a light to the community and an encouragement to those who need it most. Will it always be perfect? No. Is it awesome to see kids who are overlooked by society having the chance to do something of value in their community? Absolutely.

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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.

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Comments

  1. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    October 31st, 2014 at 11:53 am  

    I so wish I could have been there for the visit! My heart is so full knowing the joy the kids must have had to be able to serve these soldiers in their own way. Wow!

  2. Ginny said... 

    Reply

    October 31st, 2014 at 4:19 pm  

    Thank you, Sarah, for helping those of us (me) so far removed from the tragedy experienced by those in Ukraine to gain a little understanding of those children, their parents, the MTU staff, the people there, and especially the soldiers. I don’t even have that personal knowledge of American soldiers who are returning from the Middle East wars! Prayers!

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