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5 years

I have thought about what I might write concerning this event in my life often during the last few weeks. In many ways it hard to believe that five years have passed, and then, in other ways it seems like a lifetime.

Life in the sleepy “village” of Donetsk was in turmoil in February and March 2014 after the events in Kyiv. Two media guys from our organization had spent a couple of days with me, trying to capture the heart of the issue from the perspective of those living in Eastern Ukraine.

My apartment in Donetsk was located a few minutes walk from the regional government offices. The then governor was worried that “hooligans” from the west would come and overtake their building like they had in Kyiv. He had covered glass doors on the bottom floor with heavy steel, placed old trucks with razor wire around the building.

Along with the media guys, we walked around the building, then the short walk to the center where Lenin’s statue was. We talked with people on Lenin’s Square. At that moment, there were young people “guarding” the statue. Not one of them spoke of a desire not to be a part of Ukraine, but most of them wanted more autonomy from Kyiv.

We decided to enter the McDonalds on the square. We got something to eat and sat down. One of the young ladies who worked there walked over and spoke to us in English. She shared some of the things she had witnessed over the last month. Quickly, it became apparent that outside forces were influencing what was taking place in the city.

Later we spoke with some Christians who had set up a prayer tent near the river in town. We attended one of the prayer events that evening.

At the time, while I was on edge, I was completely unaware of what would transpire over the next two weeks. Life was normal in some sense, however, that was about to change.

Lugansk

After a long night on the train, morning came. As we arrived at the Kommunarsk station, I noticed the snow had turned to a brownish and blackish color.  I remember asking the interpreter why that was.  Surrounding the station was a huge coal mine belching out lots of black smoke!

Upon arriving in Lugansk we were taken to what we called the “Mission House.”  It was located on Obberonaya street, toward the airport.  It was a large home that a Ukrainian family allowed us to use since they had immigrated to the US.

I did not speak any Russian when I arrived. So, any conversation that I had with people happened through interpreters, or sometimes with hand motions or dictionaries!

I was definitely going through some culture shock. I even questioned my call. Then Sunday came!

It is a little bittersweet to walk through “memory lane” and know that a trip to Lugansk is not in my future any time soon. To know that the group of believers in the city cannot meet in their building today as I prepare to worship in several churches in Dnipro.

There were so many “feelings” I had in those early days. But one thing remained… I knew why the Lord had me here! That call on my life 25 years ago is as strong today as it was then!

I will close this 25 year tribute with some words I wrote on February 24, 1994. I think they sum up what I feel today, and hopefully everyday that I have left on this earth:

Train

My first train ride was full of unforgettable moments. Before even getting on the train, we had a 5 1/2 hour wait at the train station in Kyiv. Wow, the station was packed with people.

My first “cultural” experience happened when I went to the restroom. While I was standing in the room, I realized that a woman was mopping the floor around me. For a brief moment I thought I had made a mistake and went into the wrong room. After quickly looking around, I realized she was the only female in the room and was only doing her cleaning job.

The train arrived and we got into the wagon. There are 3 levels of comfort on an overnight train in Ukraine: 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The only tickets available for us were in 3rd class (open wagon), and my berth was an upper birth on the aisle. Which meant that every person who walked the aisle passed by my place!

It was quite the ride! While it was cold outside, it was toasty inside the wagon. I remember laying on my mattress, looking outside as the landscape changed. It had been a snowy winter and there was lots of snow on the ground.

Darkness comes early as well in the winter and once it is night on the train most people start to snooze. I was still feeling jet lag and snooze I did.

Tomorrow I will arrive in Lugansk!

Blessed!

One of the words I often see from my journal writings from 1994 is the word, “blessed.” I was truly blessed to be chosen by God to move to Ukraine. While those feelings of being blessed where challenged at times due to culture shock or by other influences, I still grew through each of those experiences.

My flight from Chicago O’hare took me to Copenhagen and then onto Vienna. On the flight from Chicago there were people headed to Norway for the Olympics. Then on the flight to Vienna, I met a student named Carl, doing an exchange program for 4 months.

I ate my first “foreign” meat (turned out to be Hungarian sausage) on the plane from Vienna to Kyiv. In 1994, airlines still allowed smoking on the planes, and I remember sitting in the “non-smoking” section one aisle removed from the “smoking” section. Boy, am I glad that has changed!

Often I tell the story of stepping off the plane in Kyiv. In 1994, one would disembark the plane and just walk a little way across the tarmac to the entrance to the terminal. I remember exiting the plane and seeing a young soldier (?) with an automatic rifle at the bottom of the steps. I wondered what kind of wild country I had arrived in to be greeted in such a manner!

The passport control area was fairly large and it was poorly lit. I stood in the longest line as I had no idea where to go. Then, the baggage area consisted of a room where they literally dumped the luggage and you had to dig to find your bags. I had 3 large bags and there were no carts.

It was a chore for me to move those 3 heavy bags (each weighing 70 pounds!) from spot to spot. Finally, I rounded a corner to leave and there in front of me were a sea of faces! Lots and lots of faces! I wondered how I was ever going to find my contact!

Gary Hillyard and an interpreter greeted me and we went outside to take the bus into Kyiv. The bus ride for the 3 of us cost 150,000 kupons (around $3.50)! We got off the bus somewhere in town and then Steve Haines, an IMB missionary, met us and took us to an apartment on the far west side of the city.

As we waited for Steve, I remember the coldness I felt: physically and spiritually. I remember looking at all of the apartment buildings around us and how many of the balconies had fallen onto each other. I remember no one making eye contact: heads down. I did learn that this was necessary to watch for holes, etc!

Tomorrow the journey to Lugansk begins with my first ever train ride!

Zero Days!

Twenty five years ago today, I began a journey from Wichita Falls. My mom and middle sister, Nola, drove me to DFW airport. In yesterday’s post, I made the comment that “I Surrender All” was new and popular on the radio. In my journal, I made another mention that it was the last song I heard on the radio as we arrived at DFW.

I remember sitting in the International Terminal in Chicago. They had flags from various countries hanging from the rafters. I felt like a child in awe. Here was this person who grew up in a very small town (Ukrainian-sized village) about to cross the Atlantic to live.

I had to raise my own support at that time and had a difficult time. Trusting the Father to provide was a huge step of faith for me. But Pastor Larry B at Faith BC in Wichita Falls was so instrumental in helping me understand to trust the Father. He had encouraged me to read a few books about living out faith. They definitely helped!

I wrote these words,

Tomorrow, I will arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine for the first time…

GO!

Twenty five years ago I started on a journey that led this Texas boy across an ocean into a land which I hardly even heard of. Since that first trip in February 1994, I have lived in 3 former Soviet countries, traveled throughout much of Europe and eaten foods I didn’t know existed!

For the next few days, allow me to share some thoughts from my journal and my memory of those days leading up to moving to Lugansk, Ukraine.

This note is captured from my journal and sums up some of the emotions I was feeling at the time. In many ways I was quite unsure what was going on in my life at the time.

In early January 1994, Clay Crosse released “I surrender all.” It was an important message the Lord used in my life in January and February 1994.

The second verse included these words:

So I lay aside these trophies 
to pursue a higher crown
And should You choose somehow 
to use the life I willingly lay down
I surrender all the triumph for 
it’s only by Your grace
I relinquish all the glory, 
I surrender all the praise

My desire at that moment was to something that was so unlike me. I’m sure many of the people around me wondered what was going on.

January 28, 1994 proved to be pivotal in preparing me for the journey.

That night I went to a Promise Keepers rally in downtown Wichita Falls with a number of guys from Camp Chapparal. Even though it was 25 years ago, I remember that night! I don’t remember who Paul Cole is (sorry!), but I remember the message he preached. He read from Judges 6:11-16. I remember how I sat with my Bible open to that passage, and as I read vs 14, it was as if the Lord blotted out every word on those 2 pages and all I could see was the word, GO! It proved to be a pivotal moment for me!

As I read this note from 1994, I realize how “green” I must have been at the time (and how often I used the word “awesome”)! Again, there is a reference to “I surrender all.” It was a big hit on Christian radio at the time.

This snippet from my journal sums up my feelings at the time. I was young (early 30s) and still had not experienced much life. I did feel inadequate and uncertain. However, the call the Lord had placed on my life was so clear, so certain.

Tomorrow the “journey” across The Atlantic begins…

Adventure! ПРИКЛЮЧЕНИЕ!

When I moved to Kyiv in 2003 to serve with the IMB, I had to take public transportation from one side of the city to the other side every day to attend Russian lessons. It took about one hour and 15 minutes one way.  One of the first words I wanted to learn in Russian was adventure, because, literally, I had an adventure every day!

Yesterday, I had an adventure as well.  I worked all day at home due to the weather, but I had purchased a ticket to go to a Christmas Jazz Concert at 7 p.m.  I was uncertain about going due to the weather, but decided to go since I had spent money for the ticket!

I planned to go to a local mall, pick up a few things, then drive downtown, have dinner and then walk to the concert.  As I was walking to my car after shopping, when I reached into my pocket, I realized that my apartment keys were not in my pocket.  

Well, I realized right away that they probably had fallen out of my pocket at the garage when I took out the garage keys.  However, we had lots of snow during the day that I shoveled the snow before I left and it was really snowing at that moment!

I drove to the garage, looked around, but knew that it would be almost impossible to find them in a heavy snowstorm.  Also, it was now 5:30, dark and I needed to see about getting in my apartment.  I called a service and they were there by 6 and by 6:15 I was in my apartment!

I didn’t have the energy or desire by that time to go to the concert.  During the night the temps rose and by morning, some of the snow had melted.  

I got up and had my quiet time and prayer as usual.  I read Acts 16.  Paul’s desire was to go to Asia, but the Holy Spirit prohibited him.  The end of the chapter sees Paul is jail.  I wrote in my notes: “God changed Paul’s plans so that he could go to jail!”  From there, we read several received Christ!

So, as I began my trek to the garage, I asked the Lord to direct my steps. I didn’t expect to find the keys with so much snow.  I could tell much of the new snow had melted.  As I approached the garage, in the middle of the road were my keys.  They had not been run over by another vehicle.  Just laying there in plain sight for me to find them.  

Well, I cannot express how much gratitude I had in my heart to find these keys.  So, why did it happen?  

I guess I may never know, but I got to speak of God’s love and goodness to two of my neighbors through the situation.  Sasha, the young man who came to open the door, heard the gospel.  The front desk lady got to hear God’s goodness proclaimed.
And my team of co-workers praised the Lord with me!

While I would have enjoyed going to the Christmas Jazz concert, I was able to share the Good News with some people who might not otherwise heard.

I’m glad I learned 15 years ago that to be on mission with the Lord is an adventure!  May it continue…

Seasons

Saturday evening, as I was preparing supper, I was listening to Air 1 radio.  Switchfoot’s “Love is worth the fight” came on, and immediately, I was transported to Donetsk when I was introduced to their music and had several friends in Donetsk who loved their music.

I’m trying to find where my place is
I’m looking for my own oasis
So close I can taste this
The fear that love alone erases

All at once, memories flooded my mind.  I was taken back to December 2013.  I was staying in a home in Fort Worth, preparing for my return to Donetsk on January 3, 2014.  I was aware of the issues in Kyiv, but, having lived in UA as long as I had, I didn’t think too much about it.

So I’m back to the basics
I figure it’s time I face this
Time to take my own advice

Love alone is worth the fight
Love alone is worth the fight

Little did I know that my life in 2014 would take a big turn.  It is hard to believe that almost 5 years have passed.   So much has happened in those years.  Forced displacement, war in Ukraine, temporary life in Kyiv, move to Dnipro, cancer, return to Dnipro.

And we find what we’re made of
Through the open door
Is it fear you’re afraid of?

Recently I made a list of all the cities (and countries) I have lived in during the past 15 years (too many to list).  Soon, Dnipro will be the city where I have been the longest.  I guess one of the reasons it hasn’t felt like “home” is that I kept yearning to return to a place that I don’t think exists any longer.

We’re only here for a season
I’m looking for the rhyme and reason


Why you’re born, why you’re leaving
What you fear and what you believe in

Why you’re living and breathing
Why you’re fighting it and getting it even
Let’s go headed down the open road unknown

 I have heard (and know) all the clichés… home is where the heart is, bloom where you are planted…yet (and there is that word, yet…), aren’t there times in our lives when we just want to go back to what was thought as a simpler life, more stable?

We’re only here for a season…

How true are those words? They are even more meaningful to me after discovering that I had pancreatic cancer.  So, I will choose to live life as it comes.  And I won’t seek pity or wallow in it.

One of the best pieces of advice I received early on after knowing that my cancer was malignant 2B and in some nodes… “allow yourself to have a pity party for 5 minutes and then move on.”  Since that day, I have strived to do just that, although I will say that I haven’t had a need for one in some time!

I have just returned from having a thorough medical checkup in the US.  My surgeon gave me a clean bill of health and told me that I didn’t need to return to see him unless I had some problem.

I know that I am blessed! And, therefore, I will live each day as a present. I choose to love more each day, seek the blessings, and know that I am exactly where I need to be.  After all, as Switchfoot sings so eloquently…

Love alone is worth the fight.

Home

This week I am in eastern Ukraine, near Donetsk where I used to live.  

It is difficult to hear the stories people share of their lives since the war started. While it has been tough on those from cities affected by the war, it has been tough on those in cities near the front as well.  These cities have accepted those displaced, even though many of these cities were struggling with adequate housing and jobs for their own.

On this day, I heard from a grandmother how her daughter in law, a mother of a four-month-old, left her husband and child and abandoned to them.  Then the grandfather and father of the boy died, leaving the grandmother as the primary caregiver.  She told me “she lives for the now four-year-old boy, even though she no longer wants to live.”

Another woman from a village near the Donetsk airport shared with me the horror of losing her son and husband due to the war.  Then losing her home and everything she owned.  Again, she is struggling with going on.

I spoke with a man named Vladimir.  I sensed in my heart a man struggling to find his place in life after his wife has died and being displaced from his home in Donetsk.  He is 72, still looks relatively healthy.  He cares for his 82-year-old displaced sister in a village near the town.  Many of the healthcare volunteers spent time with him, praying for him, shedding tears.  I was moved by his story and how our people responded to him. The pastor of the church encouraged him to attend services on Sunday.

Over the last four years, I have lived in a sense of “displacement.” I had to leave a place I called home for almost four years.  I still long to return to Donetsk, even if it is just to say goodbye.  Yet, when I hear these stories of heartbreak and loss, it occurs to me that home is not a physical place.  

As a missionary worker who has spent more than 18 years living in different lands, I have tried to create a home wherever I have lived. I am tremendously thankful for Southern Baptists who give so generously to provide housing for me.  

Yet, on this day, I have even a greater understanding for me of what home is.  Home is not a place.  It’s what I make of it in my heart and life.  

Family

Aren’t family relationships difficult at times?

Jacob learned that lesson many times in his life, and of course, some of them were caused by his own poor decisions.  In Genesis 31, the Lord tells Jacob to “return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” (verse 3)

Jacob did not have the best relationship with his father in law’s family.  They were jealous of how prosperous Jacob had become.  So, Jacob decides to take his family (which was quite large by this time) and return to his family.  His wives even said “whatever God has said to you, do.” (vs 16)

So they fled, without saying goodbye.  However, when his father in law, Laban, heard the news, he pursued them. Laban confronted Jacob, asking why he left and do not allow Laban to send them off.  yet, Jacob knew from experience that would never happen.

Jacob finally responded in verses 38-42.  Cooler heads prevailed and eventually Laban and Jacob departed in peace after making a covenant with each other.

I do not like confrontation.  I am a peace maker.  However, there are times when words need to be spoken.  And, almost immediately, healing begins the moment the words are spoken.

Often, the longer we wait to speak, the more agony we put ourselves through.  Jacob waited 20 years to speak his words to Laban.  Let’s not wait that long to bring healing to the family.