Last 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.