In February 1994, I landed for the first time in Ukraine. Thus began my love relationship with this country! It is amazing the transformation this country (and many other former SU countries) has undergone during that time.
I recently shared some of my first perspectives with a group of Ukrainians and we laughed at some of the discussion. I would like to share a few of those highlights with you.
After arriving at Borispol Airport in Kiev, I remember walking down the steps from the plane. At the bottom of the steps was a military guy with an automatic rifle. I had never been greeted with such fanfare! It was cold (it was February, remember!) and around 2 p.m. I followed the people into the doors leading into passport control. It was a big open room, with lots of kiosks, but very few of them open and very few lights working so that it was almost dark.
Since nothing was in English, I had no idea which line to get in. I decided to get in the longest line as I figured most were foreigners. After getting my passport stamped I walked into a room where all the luggage had literally been dumped. I had three suitcases (I was traveling light back then!), but there was not a cart available. None of my luggage had wheels and one was a trunk that I had bought that was already falling apart.
I dragged them over to the conveyor belt for them to be x-rayed. I had to do it in steps since I had 3 pieces. Finally finished with the process, I dragged them over to the exit door to be greeted by hundreds of faces, none being the person I was looking for. I bent down to pick up 2 of the suitcases when my friend appeared out of nowhere. I was never so happy to see a familiar face.
The interpreter took us to the bus and we rode into town. We got out at one place and waited for a driver to show up to take us to an apartment where we would spend the night. I remember so many things going through my mind and I couldn’t process them all.
After a good nights sleep, we went to the train station and spent the day trying to get tickets. Tickets were so hard to come by back then. I was to experience another shock while waiting for our train. I had to go to the restroom. First off, I didn’t know you had to pay to use the restroom, then while inside the room, I looked up to see a lady cleaning the room. It was not the last time I would experience seeing a woman in the restroom!
The only tickets available were in the open wagon, which meant we had absolutely no privacy and they were all upper bunks. I remember looking out the window the next morning, seeing snow that was yellow, brown and black. Soon I realized that a huge coal mine sat around the train station and that explained why the snow was that color.
The next Sunday, I went to my first worship service. I so vividly remember a lady, Nelia, pouring her heart out in prayer and me not understanding one word, but understanding her heart. She became like a mother to me. It was at this first service that I truly fell in love with the people and the culture of eastern Europe.
I will never speak the language as well as I should, but I hope that I will always understand their hearts. Seventeen years ago the Lord became much more real to me and I have seen Him work in ways that only He can work. To Him be glory and honor and praise! Thank you Lord for allowing me to be in this place.