Second class citizen? No, not even that.
I have a growing affection for the immigrants of the United States. We sometimes see the signs that say “We speak English” and we want to give that store our business. We meet many people, some are genuinely glad to see us here. Many look for a way to exploit us. Most are bothered by our presence. If we were here on business then they feel we are helping their economy and society. For the most part I have found outside the church the people are a bit put off by fact that we are here as missionaries. I had the privilege to spend some time at a language school. In my class were two Italians and one Swiss man. They all spoke English but were there learning Russian. When introduced to the class the teacher asked me if I was there on business and I said “no, I was here as a missionary”. She responded “well isn’t that interesting”. The Italians thought I was Mormon and the Swiss was perplexed on why a missionary would come to a “Christian” nation. The Italians were open and accepting of me but were quick to say we were on the same team, they were Catholic. Unfortunately I did have the opportunity to teach “being Catholic” was not what was required but belief in grace not works or baptism by a priest. The Swiss implied my work was admirable but poor for business so please do not bother him with the details. This feeling was the same as with most of the Ukrainians I met outside of the church. I kind of felt like I was back in the States, an unwanted immigrant. In fact, the scary thing is I really see not how different Ukraine is from the United States, but how it is similar.
So a little about the life in Ukraine. The power goes on and off. The water pressure is low to nothing due to being in an old building and on the fourth floor. When someone uses the water to wash a car on the first floor we have to wait until they are done. People stay up late and sit out on the street talking, arguing, and playing. Getting A/C was a blessing because we could close our windows at night and sleep well. The mosquito bites were all but eliminated as well. However our A/C is like a window unit so it only cools two rooms. The kids have fans. Most things are more expensive. We are having trouble finding sports leagues for Jacob. We have asked for Tae Kwon Do, wrestling, futbol, rugby or anything but everyone looks at us weird when we ask these things. We know they exist but they are hidden and hard to find for a father and mother who do not speak the language. It is not all bad we do have our victories, like finding a spice store close to the house and being able to get $30 of spices for $10. Finding out that the kids new favorite dinner is Pelmeni which cost about $3 for a bag that feeds the family. Also the kids love spaghetti and so we have meals the kids like.
Last month I spoke about how it was not so much as a difference between countries as to moving to an urban lifestyle. This month it’s not as much as being urban as being a family in single minded environment. Grandmothers raise kids. The growth rate for Ukraine is already negative. Most couples have one or two children at most and then the Grandmothers do the raising. Often the parents live in a different city or even country than the kids. We do see some “families” but often the children run the family. Parents are scared to discipline their children. People speak of family but their allegiance often goes to a grandparent more than a parent or spouse. I could say the family unit is weak here but is it so much different in the states? Our church here in Odessa is the culmination of a decade of youth camps and college outreach. Many of these people have grown up and now are getting married and having kids. They are facing a transition of how to become a church for families. There are already some babies but three more on the way this fall. Our family is now the example where we used to look to see how others did it. Saying it is all about family now is an understatement.
I am not sure how God will use us to bless the people of Ukraine. I see the Port daily and long to work with men and equipment, P&Ls and all the other things I have grown to love. I still get excited and smile and say hello to the garbage men here and look at their truck and inspect it as they come by each day. I observe building sites and marvel at their styles of work. In the short term we will continue to learn how to live as a godly family example. Maybe we will learn how to help the local church body see the lost people right next to them. Maybe God will use us to open their eyes to see the harvest field right in front of them. Maybe God will use us to reach one that he might then reach 1000’s. I don’t know, but I do know that just focusing on my first responsibility to God, raising my family to count nothing more important than the Gospel is our current ministry. Maybe this will be a blessing to the people of Odessa.
Prayers and Praises
Praise the family got here with all our luggage and we had a flat to move into immediately.
Praise the Kids got to meet the students from the school they will be a part of in September and are excited for that time.
Prayers needed for the kids as they adapt to the culture that they will not just retreat in to the safety of the apartment and become withdrawn and separated from the people of Odessa versus embracing learning the language. Pray that God gives us all a thirst for the language.
Pray for our Visa/residency process. I am not used to doing things the Ukrainian way so please pray for God to allow me grace and relieve me from judgment in the situation. It is not a “certain” process and there is the possibility that we would be denied. We need prayers that it goes as needed.