Love God, Love others… reflections from the past year after leaving Donetsk

My world changed on April 14, 2014. I left my apartment early in the morning, just after daylight. I was headed northwest to Dnipropetrovsk and was sure that I would be gone for maybe a couple of weeks when things would settle down.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I got to the city limit sign. I hesitated and wondered if I should stop and take a picture with the sign. Ultimately, I did not stop at the sign, as I was sure that I would be back soon. I now regret not stopping.

Just a few months prior, our church planting team had met and was making plans for the summer and beyond. The turmoil Kyiv was experiencing seemed a world away and didn’t really affect us. All of that would change when the president left the country and the government appointed an interim president.

I am a news junkie. As a youth I loved reading the newspaper in the morning and watching the news on TV in the evening. I wanted to be a reporter and attended college to do just that, but God had other plans. So, with all the events in Kyiv, I would sit in front of my TV watching the news for hours.

I have lived in Eastern Europe the last 11 ½ years (14 1/2 total). I love the cultures and the peoples who live in this area. I love many of the foods (still not a fan of salo or holodets) and enjoy visiting in homes for hours enjoying a meal and unlimited tea and conversation.

Donetsk became my home. I loved walking on Pushkinska Boulevard. After the long winter months, the city burst open with millions of roses blooming. The city took pride in its appearance. Even with all the coalmines in the area, it was still a clean city. I loved living in the center. At times friends and acquaintances would be in the center and call to see if they could drop by for a cup of coffee.

All of this made leaving that much harder.

I spent 4 months in “exile” to Kyiv. Colleagues opened their apartment to me. At first it was hard, but they made me feel at home. Another family was scheduled to be in the US for the summer, so I moved into their apartment for the duration of my time in Kyiv.

For the last 7 months I have lived in Dnepropetrovsk. It is a little bit larger than Donetsk, but seems much bigger because the city is divided by the Dniper River. I enjoy the city but it still doesn’t feel like “home”… yet!

I have learned so much this year. The Word has been my comfort. My friends in the Ukraine and elsewhere have encouraged me. Often I tell people that we are all students and life long learners. This has been true for me during the past 12 months.

The one thing I have learned is not to take relationships for granted. I miss my friends, I miss the small group who had become the church, I miss worshiping with them.

Through it all, though, God continues to show me that my life should be a reflection of Mark 12:30-31: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Understanding the truth of these verses compels me to press on!