Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ukraine Day 4

Our ride back from Luntsk lasted until the wee hours of Sunday morning. We basically got a lengthy nap before getting up to lead praise and worship for Victor's church, Buccha Baptist Church.

We were up early and ready to head over for breakfast. The walk from our camp to the church was about a 5 minute walk. It went down a street filled with small houses combined with very large houses. One thing we noticed about the houses in Ukraine was that each house was surrounded by a wall you might see here in America around a compound. When we asked about it we were told that in Soviet Union times all possessions were considered to be owned by everyone so people would just walk over to another house to take the lawn mower or anything else they needed. So walls were needed and now they are normal. It was a nice walk each day and got our blood moving.

Sunday morning we led Victor's church in worship.
I say led, I don't actually mean led. I mean for the most part we sang and they watched us. There were some people in the crowd who sang every word with us but most of them just smiled as we sang. After each song their church does not applaud but instead they speak words of thanks and blessings to those who sing. That was very interesting. There were several other things that stood out. First was the fact that there were two speakers. Victor told us that in time of the Soviet Union, they were not allowed to have Sunday School or any type of function outside of their Sunday morning church service. So in order to fit in as much doctrine as possible they would have 2 or more speakers each service. We also enjoyed communion that morning. Sasha and his wife Natasha translated for us and they were quick to warn us that the wine was real wine so be prepared. Since my Yaya's church uses real wine in their communion I thought I was prepared. What I didn't realize was that this wine was homemade by a couple in the church. When we took it it burned all the way down and there was a good bit of sediment in the bottom of my cup. Yes, we all felt it! But all of us realized the symbolism of taking communion halfway around the world, in a country where we couldn't understand a thing, yet we were bonded together with fellow believers through communion. (even if it did burn on the way down!)

After church Victor took us all to eat at a restaurant that could only be labeled as the Ukrainian Cracker Barrel. It was filled with all sorts of interesting paraphernalia.

It was a great time together even if it did take about 2 hours to get done. One of the interesting things was trying Soul. This looks and somewhat tastes like garlic butter until someone tells you that it is actually lard. Yes, I tried it. It wasn't too bad but I couldn't bring myself to eat more than one cracker with it on there. The last one shows some of the guys with a little bowl of Soul. Their faces say it all.

That night we sang at a youth service where very few in attendance were considered youth. There were several babushkas who come everytime the doors were open. This service was the one service I think all of us looked back on as a favorite moment on the trip. The church put the words to our songs on slides and we sang in English as they all sang in Ukrainian. I had to stop to take a breath in the middle to keep from crying as I realized the awesomeness of our God. A God who doesn't speak English or Ukrainian. A God who hears our praises no matter what language we sing in and who sees our hearts no matter what our nationality. That was a moment I will never forget.

We were given headphones that night to listen as Natasha translated from a translator booth upstairs. I took this picture actually during the service from across the auditorium when it struck me how we all looked.

All in all today was a great day. All of us got a brief glimpse at how Heaven would be. Believers of every race and tongue praising our Heavenly Father with one heart. Just the beginning of a great week.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ukraine - Day 2 and 3

We got up refreshed and started the day with breakfast and Bible study. There is a church member who is cooking for us for the week. Breakfast had salami sandwiches with real butter (always a treat!), cereal (looked vaguely like ours) and cool milk out of a box. It wasn't too bad since the basement of the church is underground and stays pretty cool- so the milk was pretty cool.

We went upstairs to start rehearsing. The church is the Buccha Baptist Church and it was beautiful inside. The wooden pews and accents were amazing.
The day started off cold and rainy and since we new we would be performing outside we spent time praying for the Lord to change the weather. Our short 4 minute drive to the town square was quick and when we got there the sun broke through and the temperature warmed up. Many people were curious and sat watching us set up. I was amazed at even the old women with "bobushkas" (scarves) stayed to listen. By the time we started there were probably around 200 people there. Not bad for a public square

We had several kids come up asking for our autograph before we even started! We sang several songs, I gave a testimony (I was very nervous!) and our driver Anatolli interpreted for me, and the drama team did a couple skits before a local pastor stood to present the gospel

Overall it was a great experience and we enjoyed playing at the town square. It was one of our favorite venues of the trip.

The next day was Saturday and we knew coming in that it was supposed to be the longest day of the trip since we were going to be traveling about 4-5 hours to a town in western Ukraine called Luntsk. What we didn't know was exactly how long of a day it was going to be. This was the day that we realized that Sasha, Victor's son who was in charge of our entire trip, had trouble estimating how long things would take. :0) Here is a picture of Sasha (on the right ) and our team leader Jon. They are probably discussing the fact that we spent longer on the bus to and from Luntsk than we did flying to Ukraine!!
Don't get me wrong we love Sasha dearly, however, our 4-5 hour drive turned into 7 hours each way. It was something we came to call "Ukrainian time". Whatever Sasha said, planon 2 hours more! We didn't have time to stop for lunch so we ate at a gas station that had a "restaurant" called "A la Minute" inside. Yes, a French fast food place deep in the Ukraine was a surprise to me too. We used the time in the bus to learn how to play UNO...Ukrainian style. I must say they have some crazy rules but it was alot of fun and really helped bond our group with the drama team.
When we arrived in Luntsk we quickly found the old Soviet sports complex where the Christian basketball camp was being held. We also realized that we couldn't ever plan on a set starting time because usually things were running behind...everywhere! We set up amidst flying soccer balls because it was also being used to finish up an indoor soccer tournament

We also found out that everybody has a twin. We discovered Ashton Kutcher working the camp as a counselor. Here is a picture of Ashton (aka Paul) and my friend Josh
To our great joy, the journey home gave us another thrilling stop at "A la Minute" when we couldn't find anything else to eat. We just couldn't get enough of it!

It was a very long day and we were exhausted as we fell into bed that night. It was a short night since we had to lead worship in Victor's church the next day. I really wish I could clearly present a picture to you of the Ukrainian countryside as we spent so much of our day looking at it! There were hundreds of fields that people had bought and were out working in them as we drove by. Not a field with their houses on it. Their houses would be in the next village but they would drive out to their gardens to work everyday for their families.
I tried to take pictures as we sped down the road so I apologize for the bad quality. I was also amazed at how we would drive through such a poor area with small run down homes and then you would see a gold dome of an orthodox church rising out of the countryside. All of them gleaming white and beautiful

It was the beginning insight about these people we would be ministering to for the next week. They are hard working and diligent, yet there is a peace about them. We have seen that they love to have fun and laugh too! The drama team has taught us that. You will hear more about them in the next few days. But it was the people of Ukraine that I was drawn to and looked forward to learning more about in the next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ukraine Missions Trip - Day 1

The past two weeks have been one of those moments that you know you will always remember.  Not just the moments but the sights, sounds, smells (lots of smells!) too.  I left June 3rd on a missions trip to Ukraine. And just so you know it isn't THE Ukraine, it's just Ukraine.  Didn't know that until right before I left.  Anyway,  I thought I was going to be able to blog while I was there but we were left with only a couple chances to send brief emails instead, so I thought I would try to blog it now.  It was a long trip and was filled with many things so this will probably be broken up into several blogs. 

We left at 5 am on the 3rd.  The 2 1/2 hour drive to Jacksonville seemed to take forever.  It probably didn't help that I was VERY anxious about traveling over the Atlantic ocean at 35000 feet.  Not at all on my list of things to do in my lifetime.  Anywhoo, we finally got there and made it through security with enough time to grab something to eat and time for my friend Cara and I to buy a kooshy pillow for the trip.

The flight wasn't  too bad once we were airborne.  We made some short stops in Atlanta and New York and then we were off for Kiev.  I didn't think it was too bad until I took a nap and woke up only to realize we weren't even off the coast of Canada!!  Then we watched as our plane seemed to just sit off the coast of Greenland for hours!! Apparently the head winds were up to 70 mph making our progress slow.  As my friend Forrest termed it, we were in a "timeless abyss".  

Finally we landed in Kiev 21 hours after our journey started.  It was a little strange to see several airport personnel with masks on as we desembarked! These pictures were the last ones I took before a uniformed woman informed me "no photos" to which I kindly obliged. (notice the smiles. They disappeared when she came up!)

We very quickly realized that we weren't in Kansas anymore.   We couldn't read, hear, or understand anything at all.  I was a joy to recognize a coke bottle in the vending machine but strange to see that it was side by side with a beer bottle!

We headed into to Kiev to meet with Victor Kulbrich, the pastor of the church we would be working with. 

Victor shared with us the vision that he sees for Ukraine and although none of us could see straight, we were very humbled that he had asked us to be part of reaching his country for Christ. 

Our next stop was a restaurant named Big Belly's.  It was sort of a stressful Golden Corral buffet style place.  It was lunch hour and we didn't recognize anything and no one spoke English.  I finally pointed and said "chicken?". When she nodded I took it, along with a bottle of the ever friendly bottle of coke and was done.  We all tasted some different things that day and I must say, not my favorite meal.  If anyone from Ukraine ever asks you to try buckwheat...just say no! (unless you enjoy crushed up moth balls!)

We finally got to the camp we would be staying at and took a much needed nap before heading to the church for dinner and to meet the drama team we would be working with for the next week and a half. 

I must say that dinner was great.  Actually the Big Belly meal was the only meal we didn't like.  We did get used to chicken and potatoes in many different ways.

There were several things I noticed that day as just an introduction to this country that very soon would be endeared to my heart.  Here are some observations:

1.  The water had a metallic smell.

2.  The toilet paper was very much like our brown paper towels or sometimes we discovered like party streamers!

3.  We were given our towel for our stay.  Yes, I said towel in singular and no I did not mention a washcloth.

4.  They do not use shower curtains. Look out getting out on that floor!

5.  We quickly realized that no, they did not have ice, and no, we would not be seeing it anytime soon!

As our heads hit the pillows that night we were all out very quickly and we all couldn't wait to see what was in store for us on Friday!

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