Category Archives: Culture as I experience it

3M: The Greatest of these

Another week, another wedding.  I got to the church a little late and couldn’t find a parking spot.  Cars were every where.  I knew this probably meant the church was full and it might be hard for me to find a seat. I was right!

Valerie Antonuik, vice president of the Baptist Union, had been invited to lead the service.  He did a great job of explaining the union between a man and woman.

After the ceremony, I was asked to go with the couple to take some pictures at a local park.  It is a tradition with most Slavik couples to take pictures around the city at the different historical or scenic spots.

Sergei and Sveta decided to go to the new park the city is building near the football stadium.  It is a beautiful spot, made the more beautiful with the colorful leaves from autumn.  It was quite cold in the park since the wind was blowing pretty hard.

Afterwards, we went to Donetsk Christian University to attend the dinner the parents of the couple were hosting.  The dining hall had been converted into a nice setting to host the dinner.

Usually, those in attendance are given the chance to say some words of blessings or encouragement to the new couple.  I didn’t really want to stand in front of all those people and try to share my heart in a language not my own, so I waited until we had a break.

For the last few months God has been really speaking to my heart about love.  Since this day had been all about the love that had grown between Sergei and Sveta, God brought to my heart 1 Corinthians 13:13 “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

It has been apparent between these two young people that their faith is strong.  Knowing Sergei longer, I have seen the hope and trust he had in the Father to provide the wife for him.  And in the last few months I have seen their love grow stronger for each other.

So, when my time came to share with them, I shared this verse.  The greatest of all things is love.

For me, it means that I must love God even more tomorrow than I do today.  And because of this love, it will spur me to love my neighbors even more than I do today.  I will be judged by the Father by how much I love.  I must strive to fulfill these greatest commandments.

Weddings… Ukrainian Baptist style

Last Saturday, Sveta got married.  I got to know her this past summer as she interpreted for a couple of teams I hosted.  I knew she was bound for marriage the first day she interpreted.  She was constantly on her phone talking to her boyfriend, Zhenya.

Baptist believers have several traditions during the wedding day.  I make this distinction as I have never been to any other kind of wedding in Ukraine.

First, the young man comes to the house (or apartment) to pick up the young bride to take her to the church.  Ukrainian law requires them to have a civil ceremony as well, which is typically done before the church wedding. 

Zhenya picked up Sveta and her attendant, Toni.  Together with his attendant, they drove to Sharkhtorsk (about 1 hour from Donetsk).  Around 11 a.m. the flower girl and boy made their entrance, followed by the attendants and then the bride and groom walk down the aisle.

They had asked Stepan Ivanovich to preside over the service.  He is the regional pastor for Donetsk.  He did a fine job outlining the roles of both the wife and husband.  I enjoyed what he had to say to the couple and the responsibility of the family and church.

One of my favorites Ukrainian traditions is when the pastor lays hands on the couple and prays for them.  The pastor also had the parents of the the couple pray their blessing upon their children.

After the service, several pictures were taken around the church and then the couple headed back to Donetsk where they took pictures around the different cultural sites around the city, which is a Slavic tradition.

Then the parents hosted a very nice dinner at a local restaurant.  I was blessed in receiving an invitation.  After several hours of eating and enjoying the entertainment, they invited everyone to come forward that wanted and share some words with the couple.  Of course, I struggled to express my happiness for the couple since Russian is not my native language and I didn’t want Sveta to have to translate.  My weak attempt at a joke failed, so I guess I will have to call them later to explain what I meant.

Overall, it was a great day with weather to match.  I have two more weddings this month, so I will have a couple more times to expose you to a little Ukrainian culture.

A Big village

Donetsk doesn’t feel like a big city to me.  That’s why I really enjoy living here.  We don’t have the 20 or 30 something story apartment buildings like other cities of over a million.  So, I call Donetsk a big village.

I have had a REALLY busy day today getting ready for the team from AL, who will arrive Tuesday evening.  I got up early this morning and drove the Auchan Supermarket.  It is the largest store of its kind in Donetsk.  I always try to go there early because it can be really busy.  I didn’t think it would be today since it was a holiday.

I filled up the cart and had to wait until the lady checked some of my food before I could finish unloading.  I don’t know how people with large families do it overseas.  I guess they shop 2-3 times a week because our refrigerators aren’t big enough and neither is our storage space.  I have 4 bags in the floor of my kitchen since I don’t have anywhere else to put things in the kitchen!!!

Well, Auchan didn’t have parmesan or any good mozzarela cheeses so I knew I would have to go to another store, but decided to go home, unload the car (took me 3 trips up/down  3 flights of stairs).

While home I went ahead and did some cleaning.  It is amazing that I cannot find someone to come clean/ cook for me.  I even had a pastor ask around.  No luck yet.  So, I am having to plan and prepare all the meals for the team and so am trying to do casseroles and crock pot stuff!

About an hour ago, I decided to go to the other supermarket not far from my house.  I figured that it probably had calmed down enough that it wouldn’t be too busy.  BOY, was I wrong!!  My big village turned into a big city around Park Sherbakova, McDonalds and the supermarket.

I think everyone was there.  First of all, lots of young people were out front drinking and eating and leaving their trash (I feel bad for the supermarket having to clean that mess up!).  I bet they wish they didn’t build so close to the part as well.  The lines to use their toilets was incredible.  I bet there were more than 20 women standing in line!

The supermarket itself was packed as well.  I should have known from the overflowing parking lot not to go in.  But I figured, “Hey, I am here.  Let’s get er done!”  I was able to get everything on my list.  I found the mozzarela and parmesan I like, along with a few other items.  And I actually found a short check line.

Well, I guess it’s okay that my big village was a big city for a while.  It will make me appreciate even more the next time I am at that parking lot and the lot is not as full.

Life’s good…

Easter wrapup…

The last 5 days have seen me at 4 services.  I attended a Thursday night service where the Lord’s Supper was observed.  It was a very nice service in remembering the new covenant that Jesus instituted.

Sunday morning, I got up early and went to the central Orthodox Church in Donetsk.  Orthodox believers head to the church with baskets in hand.  These baskets contain eggs, Easter bread called Paska, a bottle of wine, along with other items.  More info here.

I sat outside the church, observing the people.  Many already had their baskets ready, while others prepared them and checked them at the church.  After ensuring all is ready, they stood in a large circle on either side of the church, waiting for the priest to come by and bless them.

In the picture you may notice the priest in the black robe, in the center of the picture.  He douses the people and their baskets with what they consider holy water.  The guy to the right of him is accepting donations in the large box around his neck.

I went inside the church, but didn’t take any pictures.

I left the Orthodox church and drove over to Gethsemane Church.  It is the evangelical church that I attend when I am not speaking in other churches.  They had started at 7 a.m.  When I arrived there were few places to sit.  I actually stood for over 30 minutes before finally finding a seat.

Pastor Anatoliy preached a great message of that blessed Easter morn more than 2,000 years ago and the news that the Marys brought back after finding the tomb empty.  Pastor Anatoliy was interrupted during his sermon by a couple of young people who came forward to repent and receive Christ!  It was a beautiful picture!

The choir had prepared some wonderful music that I greatly enjoyed.  One of the young men even played the bass guitar during one song that took me by surprise.  It was the first time for me to see such at a more “traditional” church in Ukraine.

I finally arrived home just before noon and had lunch and rested a tad before I headed back to Gethsemane for a drama that they were to present that afternoon.  Since I know several people in the choir I didn’t want to miss it!

It was evident that they had spent lots of time preparing the gospel message.  The music and message told the story so well and was received by the audience.  It was fitting to end Easter Sunday.

Since Easter is on Sunday and a national holiday, Monday is a government holiday.  So the church held a special service for children and invited children from orphanages to be in the service.  The church children prepared some special music that I really enjoyed.

Overall, it was a great weekend of celebrating the the Resurrection of Jesus!


Turkey: Islam and the European Union

It has been too long since I have written anything.  It seems since March my life has been extremely busy (or I am just too lazy to post anything!).  In mid-March, I went to Turkey for a conference and some vacation.

Turkey is a very interesting place.  I’m not sure what all I want to share here with you (sometimes it is better to remain quite).  Turkey is trying to get into the European Union.  I’m really not sure why, but they are.

While there, I heard several guides say, “Turkey is a secular country.”  Yet, everywhere you look around there are mosques.  Everywhere!  Near the hotel where I stayed in Istanbul, there were no less than 4 in the immediate vicinity, and they woke you up around 5 a.m. for the call to prayer.  I doubt that most European cities would allow church bells to be rung at that hour!

While there are mosques everywhere, I did not witness any people stopping during the day and laying out their prayer rugs to pray.   There was one occasion in those 3 days that I saw one man, in his own yard, praying.

So, maybe Turkey is more like Europe than I thought.  After all, most of Europe (including the country I live in) is full of beautiful, old churches that sit mostly empty except on high holy days.

Happy International Women’s Day

Tomorrow, March 8 is celebrated in parts of the world as International Women’s Day.  It is a HUGE celebration in most of the former Soviet Union, and in Ukraine it is a national holiday.

For days, people have been busy shopping and preparing for the holiday.  The government gave its employees Monday as a day off so that people could enjoy a 4 day weekend.  Employees will work next Saturday to make up for Monday’s day off.  I’m emphasizing that it is a big deal here.

Saturday morning I got up early to go to the supermarket.   I arrived at the store a few minutes after 9 a.m.  The store was already full of people and it only got worse the less than 1 hour I was in the store.  Fortunately, I was going to use my debit card and they have special lines just for card users as they don’t have readers at every checkout.  Also, fortunately, people haven’t realized that they can use the line even if they don’t use a card.  So I was able to get out of the store relatively quickly! 🙂

Later in the day, I decided to go to a local electronics store to look at microwaves.  My microwave caught fire last week and I thought I might live without one.  I really need an air conditioner before summer and need to save money in order to buy one.  However, one week without a microwave and I already miss it.  So, I walked into the store and saw it was FULL of shoppers.  Again, many were looking to buy gifts for Women’s Day.

I took a quick look at the microwaves and got in my car and went home.  It actually took me longer to get OUT of the parking lot due to traffic then the time I spent in the store!

Yesterday, after attending services in a nearby city, the interpreter wanted me to drop her off near a shopping center as she wanted to buy a gift for her best friend.  Even in the midst of a heavy snow storm she wanted to go shopping!  This is a big holiday!

Tomorrow, the church I usually attend in Donetsk is having a special service for women and their families.  I believe the church is buying a small gift for all the women and the mission’s committee is going to do something after the service for guests.  The youth of the church are having a fellowship after the service.  This is a big holiday!

So, tomorrow is International Women’s Day.  Celebrate!

Lost in translation, too

Thursday afternoon I needed to pick up some advertisements that we had printed for the English group starting next week.  I asked Sergei for an address but he said I wouldn’t find it.

He told me to get on a bus and go to a stop and get off and call him.  Which I did.  Now the fun part began.  I began walking in the direction I thought he told me to go.  I went a few yards and told him what I saw and he said I wasn’t in the right place.  So, I went back to the beginning.

He kept using some right words, left, right, but also “down” which I had never heard in this context.  After some “dumbing down” of the language, he got me headed in the right direction.  So, I began walking down this side road which was more like a skating rink with all the ice on it.

I had taken off my glove and ear covering so that I could talk on the phone and by now, with the temp hovering around 10 degrees my hand and ears were getting cold.  I walked in what I thought was the right direction, but found myself off course.  I knew I had to be in the right general area as there was only one building that had a brick wall around it.

After a while and wishing that Sergei had come to get the advertisements, I was ready to give up.  However, I saw a man walking toward me and asked if he could talk to my friend and point me in the right direction.  They chatted for a moment, he smiled and nodded and I realized he knew the place I needed to go.

So, they hung up and the guy told me how to get there.  After a couple of minutes I finally found the place and called Sergei back to tell him.  I was happy!  I went in, paid for the stuff and left.

Mission accomplished!  I can get anywhere, just tell me lefts, rights and give me a few markers and I will be on my way.  Yet, better, give me the address and I will look it up on Google maps or on my GPS.

I realized quickly that it was too cold for me to be walking around a place that I had never been, looking for a place or a building that was hidden by another building.  Fortunately, someone happened to be in a place where I needed some help and God put us in contact with one another.

I was ready to give up, but the Lord sent a messenger who “found” me and sent me along my way.

Lost in Translation

I have been around Russian language off and on now for 17 years.  While I understand most general conversations in Russian, I still struggle with speaking it correctly and tend to get lost when having to listen to “technical” conversations.

One of those times happened today during a visit to the eye doctor.  I remember my first visit to the eye doctor 17 years ago.  I had only been living in Lugansk for a couple of months when I broke my glasses.  So, an interpreter took me to the eye doctor.

As soon as I sat in the chair, I knew we had a problem.  The eye chart used Russian letters and I hadn’t learned the alphabet yet.  So, after we all had a good laugh, we improvised and went on the best we could.

Seventeen years later, I went to an ultra modern clinic with lots of gadgets I haven’t even seen in my doctor’s office in Wichita Falls.  When I walked into the exam room I felt so confident that I would be able to tell the doctor what letter I was seeing.  Then, the nurse handed me a document to fill out and right away I felt like the guy did 17 years ago.

I had to ask her to explain the first question, then the second… eventually I did get to the point where I at least understood the jist of the questions.  After filling out the questionnaire, I had the eye test, then he did some checking.

He sent me to another area for further tests, then the cataract test, periphery vision and then they dilated the eyes.  They put me in the waiting area and after about 15 minutes, they came and got me and did some further testing. Probably the funniest moment was when one technician asked me if my eyelashes have always been white.  Of course, I didn’t know the word for eyelashes and I touched my eyebrow and she said “no” and then pointed to the eyelash.  I told her that I have always had blond lashes and brows! 🙂

The thing I probably dislike the most is when they put this thing in your eye to hold it open so that they can put this extremely bright white light near the eye to do further exams.  I have had the same test in the US and I still don’t like it.

After all the tests, the doctor sat down with me and explained all they did.  I didn’t understand it all, but he provided me with a written explanation that I will get someone to translate for me.  I do know that I didn’t have a big change in the prescription and so will probably wait to get new glasses sometime later.

Probably one of the coolest things that happened is that they took a picture of my eyes in “color” and black and white.  Here is the color version of one of the eyes:

Overall, it was a little frustrating not understanding everything, but I quickly accepted that I wouldn’t.  I know my limitations and should understand that some things just get lost in translation!

Blood is thicker

There is an old German proverb that we often use in English, “Blood is thicker than water.”  It means that the bonds of family are stronger than those bonds between friends or unrelated people.

Sunday after church I understood this clearly while sitting in the pastor’s office.  A woman in her 70’s, frail and using a cane, walked into the pastor’s office in need of prayer.  I sat stunned as I heard her story and became increasingly angry at the same time.

It seems that this grandmother has an alcoholic daughter who lives with her.  When the daughter drinks she begins abusing her mother by hitting and beating her.  As the elderly woman told her story, which the pastor has heard before, I couldn’t help thinking that this woman was almost defenseless and couldn’t run away from the abuse due to her frail state.

The pastor informed me that he had visited and prayed with the daughter of several occasions and has wanted to call the police to report the abuse, but the elderly woman has begged him to not do so.  So, the pastor promised to come once again and speak with the daughter and try to encourage her to stop her drinking and beatings.

I was struck by the love this elderly woman obviously has for her daughter.  She kept repeating that we needed to pray for her daughter’s salvation.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I heard the pastor pray for this unrepentant daughter and for the mother to have strength to endure.

As the woman left I remembered that old phrase, “blood is thicker than water.”  It took on a slightly deeper meaning for me as to the degree this mother is willing to do to protect her daughter from life in prison.  It is apparent that she loves her daughter very much and is willing to endure some abuse to see her daughter come to salvation.  I am praying salvation comes quickly.

A cup of coffee in a tea culture

I don’t remember the first cup of coffee I ever drank.  I probably didn’t like it.

I don’t think that I had ever drank a hot cup of tea until I moved to Lugansk, Ukraine in 1994.  I learned quickly that tea in Ukraine is drank hot, often and year round.  This was difficult for me, especially in the heat of the summer.  Coffee pots didn’t exist in Ukraine in those early years, and if they did, they were often so expensive that no one could afford them.

When I returned to Ukraine in 2003, one of the first purchases I made was a coffee pot.  However, tea was (is) still king.  Most Ukrainians that visited my home in Kyiv still preferred tea to coffee.

When I moved to Kazakhstan, the people there loved tea also, with a twist: milk.  Well, I had to learn to drink hot tea with milk, which definitely changes the taste of the tea!  Every time I had tea in the afternoon, I felt I was becoming more British and was expecting the Queen of England to walk in at any time!

The time I spent in the Georgian Republic I quickly learned that the Turks had influenced their tastes.  The Turks love their tea, but they also love strong coffee.  So, many Georgians like to fix Turkish coffee at home.  While it wasn’t one of my favorites, I loved living in a culture where coffee was appreciated. 😉  Also, I learned that I love Turkish tea!

Now, I am living in Donetsk, UA and I have witnessed a change.  There are many small coffee shops around town and several more have opened up since moving here in July.

When I invite people to my home, I always prepare hot water for tea and prepare coffee if they want it.  I must tell you, I have witnessed most of my guests want coffee.  A small group meets at my apartment on Thursday night.  There is usually one or two who like tea, however, last night every one of them had a cup of coffee.

Most of the coffee I prepare is from the US, so I don’t have an unlimited supply.  It’s not like I can go to the local Auchan and get more US coffee.  So I guess I better start buying some local brands and find several that I like.  Guess you could say that I am trying to change the lives of people, one cup of coffee at a time.