Loving Beyond

Posted Nov 12, 2014 by 1 Comments

“From now onwards,” says the apostle Paul, “we do not judge anyone from a worldly point of view…”

I have been in Ukraine for almost six weeks, and in that time I have experienced an incredibly hospitable culture, an organization that serves “the least of these” with unparalleled compassion, and the grace of the Father through the generosity of others.

Never a dull moment with these kids!

Never a dull moment with these kids!

When I first found out that I was going to be traveling here, I was excited because I thought, What an interesting time to be visiting a country that is in the world spotlight – and tell stories about all the GOOD things that are happening there. I had no idea what I was in for and how my expectations would be exceeded a hundredfold.

Mission to Ukraine is a ministry whose main focus is to serve the disabled community by offering a wide variety of services from physical and occupational therapy to art classes to social integration. The programs are awesome and so many kids with disabilities have been loved on and cared for in ways that are completely contrary to the culture that surrounds them.

Art projects

Art projects

But surely, I thought, at some point, participants must move on from these programs. Then what happens to them? 

Ukraine, in general, has no infrastructure to care for or accommodate people with disabilities, and once they “graduate” from MTU programs, I wondered, are they back to being perpetually stuck at home, with no social outlet or opportunities to thrive?

Enter Kim and Jed Johnson and the youth of a local church community. I introduced the Johnsons to you in my last blog, “You’re Beautiful,” and they continue to amaze me with what they are doing here in Zhytomyr, in partnership with MTU.

A week or so ago, I hopped on a public bus (for the first time by myself) and found my way to a little cafe, tucked in the middle of a row of grey apartment buildings and storefronts with flashing neon lights. The leaves have fallen from most of the trees by now, leaving them bare; the air is cold; people are bundled; and everyone avoids eye contact, preferring to get to wherever they are going without interruption. I found the “Anticafe” (that’s the name of it, not some sort of ironic commentary) and ducked in, and what greeted me was the opposite of the harshness outside.

Laughter permeated the room; forty or so students mingled together, doing everything from art projects to playing video games to drinking coffee to Jenga. The atmosphere was warm, the mood inviting, and I instantly felt like I belonged.

Youth Church volunteer and MTU grad at the Anticafe

Youth Church volunteer and MTU grad at the Anticafe

This is what the Johnsons and a handful of university-aged students from the Youth Church host twice a month for MTU “graduates.”

I wandered around and took pictures; observed quietly from a cushy chair; snuck glances at the mothers sitting in an adjoining room, enjoying each other’s company, sipping hot tea; and watched the kids from the church love on the kids with disabilities (and vice versa). It was beautiful. In a country that seems to function in black and white, this was like watching a movie in technicolor.

As I soaked in the beauty of the scene, this passage by Brennan Manning came to my mind:

Why do you bring your full presence and attention to certain members of the community but offer a diminished presence to others? Those who have stature, wealth, and charisma, those you find interesting or charming or pretty or famous command your undivided attention, but people you consider plain or dowdy, those of lesser rank performing menial tasks, the unsung and uncelebrated are not treated with the same regard…

I think that’s how MOST of us are. We seek out the people that will promote our own self-interests and we want to align ourselves with those who matter. I know I’m tempted to do this all the time. I’m so ready to name-drop in order to build up my own self-esteem, wanting others to be impressed by the people that I know.

The way you are with others every day, regardless of their status, is the true test of faith.

Discussing the finer points of life

Discussing the finer points of life

I was so challenged, encouraged, and inspired by what the MTU volunteers have chosen to spend their time doing, initiating and engaging in friendships with people who the rest of society has deemed worthless. They certainly aren’t worthless, in fact, they possess an inner-beauty that most of us would benefit from emulating.

A team from El Salvador arrived in Zhytomyr yesterday (the translation – Spanish to English to Ukrainian and back again is a hoot) with the hope of encouraging the local church to integrate more people with disabilities into their congregations. I believe it’s a noble cause, especially after seeing what MTU, the Johnsons, and the Youth Church are working toward in this community.

I don’t know what it would look like for you, in your world, to reach out to a marginalized population, but I encourage you to seek it out, whatever it may be. We tend to overlook those who can’t enhance our status. Is it the homeless? The disabled? The poor? The unemployed? A foster family?

The way you are with others every day, regardless of their status, is the true test of faith.

Until next time,
Sarah

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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. Ginny said... 

    Reply

    November 23rd, 2014 at 6:33 pm  

    Sarah – so here I am finally catching up – well with this blog anyway!
    What Manning says so well – it’s so true of me- and so many wonderful churches here in the USA. In my heart I care about people outside of society’s mainstream — but where are my ” works” ? It’s a challenge. Will I take up the gauntlet????? Perhaps it is you doing it in my stead!!

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