All of us have stories to tell… about our lives, circumstances we may find ourselves in, or even simply what was done that day.

As a journalism student I was taught to listen, but in our busy lives today, I think too often when we talk with others, we spend too much time thinking about how we are going to respond rather than listening to what is being said.

Yesterday, for me, was a day I will not soon forget. The organization I work with partners with another organization in community development (CD) projects. With the war in Eastern Ukraine continuing after 5 years, it is sometimes hard to find “good news” to write about. However, I am partnering with a group of people in an area that have started 5 churches since the war started! And they are looking at several other places to begin work.

A year ago, the leader of the group wrote several CD projects for his area. We explored the viability of them and through these projects, we have been able to see numerous people become employed in their own small businesses.

On a stretch of road lies 3 small villages. None of these villages have even a small grocery store. The villagers are accustomed to having a van come a couple of times a week to sell food products from the back of the vehicle.

It was the dream of several to see a small food store open in the middle village so that people would have a place to purchase fresh food. That dream came to light yesterday when they opened the store.

What I didn’t know until we arrived is that they named the small store after me! The leader told me that when they discussed the name, they both agreed it should be named Joe (Джо)! Even 24 hours later, it still causes me to smile… and I am quite honored that they would do this!

So, yesterday we drove to the small village in order to be there before it opened its first day, to pray with them and to be the “first” customers. They had over 70 villagers come the first day!

Then, at the end of the day, we drove back to the village to celebrate. Proceeds from the store will go to help their rehab center located in one of the villages. A large group of us went to the center, and while some of them prepared the food, I got to hear their stories.

One brother in Christ who was broken and restored, now sharing the Good News in a small town in the area.

Another brother in Christ who had a promising football (soccer to Americans) career with the local big league team and lost it all due to addiction. Through restoration, he now has his own training center in two small towns.

A Ukrainian family with Jewish roots, who moved to Jerusalem for a while, but have returned to eastern Ukraine to help a new church plant.

Another brother in Christ who almost lost his family due to addiction was restored through the rehab center and now has his own ministry in the area.

As the sun set around 9 p.m., my heart was encouraged by all the stories I had heard. As I drove back to Mirnograd, I was so thankful to have heard them. Even though we could hear artillery gunfire in the distance, (that reminded me there is a war in Ukraine), I would not allow it to distract me from the moments I was enjoying.

I will return to the area next week with a group of doctors from Birmingham, AL. I’m already looking forward to them getting to hear the stories as well.