Category Archives: Culture as I experience it

Dreams

As I contemplate what to write this morning, it is easy to get side-tracked.  After several days of snow, extreme cold and cloudy days, this morning it is clear skies, sunny and 10 degrees!  A “dreamy” kind of morning in eastern Ukraine, if it weren’t so cold!

Joseph was 17 years old and his father’s favorite.  His first dream showed his brothers “bowing” down to him.  Because of this, his brothers “hated him even more.” (Gen 37:8)  Then another dream had all his brothers and his father bowing down.  His father rebuked him, and his brothers were jealous.

Joseph’s dreams put in action a plan that God had for his family.  Many twists and turns will happen before Joseph or his family will see the bigger plan.

His brother’s jealousy led them to be deceived and they sold their brother into slavery.  In Gen 37, we read that he winds up in Egypt, and Jacob, Joseph’s father, mourning a son he thought was dead.  Deceit has a way of leading from one lie to another to another.

What dreams do I have?  Where do these dreams (or goals) come from?  Is God in the midst of those dreams?

As a person living cross-culturally, I have lots of dreams.  Most of them involve trying to help people live their lives seeking out God’s plan.  Starting new groups, new churches.  Discipling.

Like Joseph, it may take many years before seeing those dreams become real. I’m sure at the moment when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, his dreams were the farthest thing from his mind.  Yet, God had a plan.  A plan to use those dreams at just the right time.

Authentic

January 8, 2018  7 a.m.

View from the central square in Kharkov, Ukraine

I have been here numerous times over the last almost 4 years.  Many of those times have been in the winter, some with snow and temperatures below freezing, some days with rain.  Today is was cool: temperature at 32F (0C).

I dressed well for the occasion: long johns, layered clothing, ear muffs, and gloves.

Probably the smallest crowd I have ever seen, but many familiar faces, and they accept me as one of their own.

This group began meeting in the center of the city on March 2, 2014.  NO ONE imagined that they would still be meeting today, but they do.  No matter the weather, no matter the season.

The reason they met that day was to pray for their city and their nation.  Turmoil was all around them.  There were protests in Kyiv, protests in Kharkov, protests in many cities across the nation.

Today, as they have for the prior 1,407 days, a group of Christ followers have met in the city center to pray for peace: Peace for their city, for their nation.

For 1,408 days, one of the pastors from one of the evangelical churches has led the people in a short devotion, they break into small groups and pray, and then they close by singing “A Prayer for Ukraine” and reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

What makes this group so authentic? They gather together from different denominations, different backgrounds, different parts of the city and they pray.  They pour out their hearts.

Oh, and they gather with a smile on their face, and their heart’s filled with joy!  At 7 a.m.! Even when it is 32F (or colder!).

Every time I am privileged to join them, I leave so humbled.

Authenticity means to be: real, not a copy.  May my life be real, genuine and filled with a love that overflows from a heart that seeks to do the Father’s will.

Familiar sights, familiar sounds

IMG_1701Last Friday, August 12, I drove to a village near the war front on the west side of Donetsk. As I crossed the border between Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk regions, I pulled over to take this photo. It was somewhat comforting to see, freshly painted in the Ukraine colors of blue and gold.

As I pulled out back onto the main highway, four-lanes, divided, that was build for the Euro 2012 games and still in great shape, I heard a sound.

The first time I heard that sound was in July 2014 when a colleague and I made our first trip to Slavyansk, after the city was freed from the separatists. The first time I heard it, I thought there was something wrong with my car, but then I saw all the grooves in the highway made from the tanks that were sent to the front lines.

So, here in western Donetsk region, I was traveling down a nice, 4-lane highway, being sung to by the tank grooves on the highway.  A new normal…

I stopped in Pokrovsk (formerly Krasnoarmiisk or “Red Army”) at the WOG station.  Across from the station I noticed the city had already changed all the city markers to read the new name.  They had also painted over the “petrovsk”, in Dnipropetrovsk, on the signs pointing to Dnipro.  I found this humorous as the city leaders in Dnipro haven’t taken any steps to change the signs inside the city!

Back in the car, I passed through two checkpoints before arriving at my destination.  All the way, the humming of the tank grooves greeted me.

I admit, I was a little nervous (anxious) about going to the camp, but knew those feelings would subside the moment I saw familiar faces and children playing.  Sure enough, seeing my friend’s face, the camp and the children laughing and having a good time, I knew I was right where I needed to be.

I took lots of pictures of the children, the camp (the last time I saw the camp, it was still in desperate needs of remodeling), the food, everything! I was there less than 24 hours, but I cherish every minute I had.  What a wonderful picture: the church being the hands and feet of Jesus to children living along the war front.

That night, I watched around 80 children celebrate their last evening at camp by deciding to change something in their lives.  Many of them verbalized their decision the next morning at their closing service.

Even as I put into words what I felt, saw, heard, tears well up in my eyes.  I never thought that I would truly see the effects of war as I have the last 2+ years.  But, for a few days, for these kids, they saw something and heard something different.  They learned about hope.

Hope that is found in Jesus.  Hope that comes from a relationship with a Savior who loves them, no matter the situation.  Hope found in kind words being spoken in love.

Yes, it was great to be back in Donetsk region for 24 hours. A familiar place.  But the most familiar sight I hope I never grow tired of is seeing people respond to the Gospel.  And the most familiar sound I hope I never grow tired of hearing… people saying “yes” to following Jesus.

Child like

In several European countries, there is a tradition of clapping after the plane lands. I do not know how, why or when this tradition started, and as of late, it seems fewer people are doing it when landing in Ukraine.

Friday, as I returned to Kyiv on a WizzAir flight from Budapest, several people started clapping. I smiled and chuckled, remembering the words of a friend and colleague who had posted about such behavior on Facebook recently.

But what captured my attention the most were the squeals of a child a couple of rows behind me. He was clapping and half-shouting, “We’re in Kyiv! We’re in Kyiv!” All the while his mother was trying to shush him…

His reaction caused joy to well up inside me. That’s exactly how I feel after a period of being away from here, and he summed up my feelings as we landed (I just didn’t verbalize them!)

Now, please understand me, I love my country of birth, and will return there to live one day if it is the Lord’s will. But I love the place where God has me right now and I should feel just like that little boy did on the plane.

What causes me much heartache are the number of Ukrainian believers who are eager to leave here because life is a little tough. God has taught me so much through this war in Ukraine. The biggest lesson is that just maybe He has me here for His reason and ultimately, it will be used for His Glory!

It made me wonder about the time when Jesus told the disciples to let the little children come to him. Were there squeals of delight as the children came to Jesus? What were they thinking?

Two things I took away from that boy’s outburst: one, I need to always come to Jesus with a child-like exuberance, knowing that he cares for me and will always be there for me. Second, I need to always be content in whatever situation I may find myself.

I need to shout from the building tops of Dnipropetrovsk, “I’m here! I’m here in the place God sent me and in which I love with all my heart.”

Of hair, and new experiences

IMG_0781I had a new experience today! I got a haircut at an Express Cuts kiosk near the apartment where I am staying.

As you walk in, there is a pay box. At first, I didn’t understand what it would be there for, but soon, I discovered that you pay for your haircut through the box. IMG_0779
The machine offered 3 languages, Russian, Ukrainian and English. There are several types of haircuts available. Once choosing the haircut I wanted, the next window showed me the amount owed.

IMG_0780 After paying the amount, I was issued a receipt. I sat down on the one available couch and waited my turn which didn’t take long. While I was waiting, one stylist finished with her client, swept the floor and opened this vent on the floor that was a vacuum cleaner. I noticed that every stylist had one.

When my turn came, I placed my backpack into a closet that was in front of my seat, and the door served as the mirror as well. It seemed like every inch of this place served a purpose. The building was not much bigger than a small trailer in the US.

After finishing, my stylist asked how I liked the cut and said I was free to go. I got a decent haircut in under 20 minutes and it cost 30 UAH (around $2.56). Each stylist had a tip jar and it appeared most of us were leaving tips. I guess this is the new trend in “no frills” haircuts and I liked it!

Days of our Lives (or something like that…)

Early this morning I visited the hair salon to get my hair cut.  It is a nice shop about a 5 minute walk from my apartment (another reason to love living in the center).

Oksana has been cutting my hair for over 2 years and she knows how I like it done.  We talked for a few minutes as she got started.  Her station is next to the TV that hangs on the wall and, as usual, there was a Russian soap opera on.  It is always interesting to see the interaction between the women that work in this salon as they discuss what is taking place on the TV.

This morning, one of the main characters on the show had a mental breakdown and Oksana stopped cutting my hair to watch the action on the TV (I guess this is better than her continue to cut my hair or shave my neck and not paying attention!).  One of the other ladies in the shop became animated and they began speaking really quickly.  It was quite amusing.

It reminded me of a time around 20 years ago when I lived in Lugansk, Ukraine and spent a couple of days in the infectious hospital and was basically quarantined.  One night I came out of my room and saw a large crowd at the end of the hall.  I walked down there and the nurses offered me a seat in their room.  I smiled as I saw that they were all watching “Santa Barbara”, an old US soap opera.  After the show ended, the nurses wanted to know if life in the US was really like what was portrayed on the show.  I assured them that it was not!

Some things transcend culture… I guess soap operas are such.  We really want to know how the others spend the days of their lives.

Back in Donetsk

I arrived back in Donetsk 10 days ago and still wondering where winter has gone… it had been above freezing since I arrived until today.  Snow began falling this morning and the temps started falling.  Currently it is 21 degrees.

Everyone has commented about the weather and how “warm” it has been… and most of us agree that if it is going to be gray and “cool”, it would be best to be cold and snow on the ground.   So, let winter begin… let snow fall…

“Village” life

I grew up in a small town (Ukrainians would call it a village) in east Texas, population 2,000.  I spent my entire childhood in small towns so I didn’t know any better.

Growing up in a small town had its advantages (know most everyone) and its disadvantages (know most everyone and their “problems”).  I enjoyed it greatly, for the most part.

When I moved to Texarkana to attend college, I grew accustomed to living in a bigger city with all of its advantages.  I would be what you call a “city” guy now.  In the last 20 years, I have lived in a city with no less than 500,000.

I am preparing to host a team in a city of 43,000.  It isn’t too big and its not too small.

Recently I was in the town to help the deacon prepare some things for the group and he invited me to his house.  He lives in a private home and has some land where he is able to grow lots of fruits and vegetables.  This is normal for most people with land.

It reminds me of my childhood, where my father bought a garden tiller, taught me how to use it and each spring we would prepare the land, plant the seeds and then water!  Living in Texas where it gets to be 100 most summer days, we had to water often!  It was fun to go out and pick some of the veggies we grew.

This deacon has given me stuff from his garden before and this day was no different.  I had the 2 summer missionaries with me and so the deacon and his wife invited us to pick strawberries.  We picked lots of strawberries and they gave us every one of them.

Funny side note, I never liked strawberries until 1994, while living in Lugansk, UA.  An interpreter and his mom invited me to their summer garden where we picked huge strawberries and I ate them and liked them.  Now I love strawberries!

The smell of strawberries filled my car on the return trip to Donetsk.  While I may be a “city” guy, I sure enjoy driving out to the “village” and getting goodies.  Excuse me now while I go enjoy some strawberries…

Way of movement

I live across from the train ticket office in the heart of Donetsk.  Like most people in the world, many Ukrainians take vacations during the summer and that means, for most of them, that they will travel by train.

Each morning before 6 a.m. people begin arriving at the ticket office and sit.  The office doesn’t open until 8 a.m., however, people begin lining up early in order to get tickets.  This morning I heard a commotion and looked out the window.  It was almost time for the doors to open and I guess someone tried to cut in line and some lady was letting the person know that she didn’t approve.

It reminded me of my visits to Kiev almost 20 years ago and trying to buy tickets at the main train station.  The lines were horribly long and one could stand in line several hours.  There was always a semblance of a line, but you would never know how many people had come and asked someone to “hold” a place for them while they did other things, only to return just before you thought it was your turn.

Late last year the train ticket office went through a renovation and they installed a machine that spits out numbers so there is a better system in place.  However, I guess that doesn’t really help until you get inside the door.

Freedom to …

Last week I had a conversation with a professional woman.  She shared with me how she is volunteering at a local animal shelter, along with some of her friends.  I congratulated her on the decision to volunteer and give back to her community.

Then, I shared with her that I learned at an early age about volunteering.  I remember when I was a high school student I began volunteering at a local convalescent home (this was in the 70’s).  I told her that I think one of the things that makes America great is that many of us learn early in life that we should do things to make our communities better.

She commented that she felt that there were two great things about America, volunteerism and freedom to wear what you want.  Let me explain what she meant by this freedom.

Ukrainian women, and more widely, eastern European women, have lots of pressure put on themselves to never leave the apartment without having a certain style or look.  Sometimes it is very “humorous” to see women looking like a “million dollars” as they walk with a guy dressed in jeans and a t-shirt!

Later that same day, I was talking with a guy friend about this conversation.  He shared with me that his wife feels this same pressure and will sometimes buy shoes/ boots that look tremendous, but feel incredibly uncomfortable.

Even though I have lived around this culture/ country for many years, I am still learning!  This insight gives me one more view of what influences their lives.