Ukraine journey part 1

I flew yesterday from a sunny Budapest to a rainy Kyiv. When I arrived I took a cab from the city airport and talked to the driver about Jesus. In our 20 minute conversation I could tell that peace was on this man’s mind. I avoided the subject of war that had been tearing up the eastern part of the country because I wanted this man to know Jesus loved him, died for him and was ready to forgive him and give him new life. We talked about the Bible and I suggested he read the Gospel of John. I told him about a church a friend of mine is part of on the western edge of town. I paid him, we shook hands and I went in search of an old friend who had a train ticket for me.

Over a decade ago, I was leading a group of students on mission in our partner camp in Ukraine. We were there for a week or so and the students performed a variety of tasks, primary of which was teaching English.

On that trip I had the opportunity to invest some time answering hard questions about God from an 17 year old. A couple of our team enjoyed hours of conversation with her about Jesus. After a few years we lost touch.

Yesterday (Thursday) I was blessed to catch up with her in Kyiv for about an hour as she had a train ticket for me. After an enjoyable time of catching up (which included showing plenty of my grandson pix) I briefly heard her first hand description of the events that have been occurring here since last fall.

She works downtown in a newspaper office so everyday she walked by the growing protests in the central square. She told me that the worst, of course, were the deaths that occurred at the height of the protests which had turned violent.

Those protests, you may remember (“how soon we forget”), led to the president fleeing the capital and then off to the “safety” of Russia. The parliament got busy making sweeping changes. These changes included appointing an interim president from among their number. An interim prime minister (also from their body) was then put in place who proceeded to initiate changes in the government. He remains in that office today having been kept on by the newly elected president.

This newly elected government, and the temporary one it replaced, made a decidedly westward turn. Since being elected, the new president has signed an agreement with the EU that was the very agreement the now displaced president almost signed. It was that act, of not signing the EU agreement, that started the protests back in the autumn that led to his ouster.

It is said that the reason the former president changed his mind about EU partnership was a threat or a promise (or both) by the Russians. Once he was gone things began happening and counter protests began in the Russian speaking eastern regions. This, in an amazingly fast time frame, led to the annexation of the Crimean region into Russia. Hopeful of the same, protests began in other eastern Ukrainian cities.

After several months, a few false starts, and the loss of many of their members to pro-Russian fighters (likely led by Russian para-military and equipped by Russia smuggling arms across the border. Now, it appears the Ukrainian military are slowly regaining control in the east.

But my friend told me that things in Luhansk (a city prominent in the pro-Russian insurgency) were still bad. Her family had come from there when she was 10 and a friend of her mother’s was actually leaving there this weekend.

This woman is fleeing the “war with Russia” (as I’ve heard it described) that continues in pockets of eastern Ukraine. She told me that several times a day explosions are the reality in Luhansk and other places for Ukrainians. Some people who don’t have friends in western Ukraine have fled to Russia to refugee camps.

The long border with Russia is supposedly being secured. It has likely been the source of weapons used by the anti-Kyiv rebels in these pro-Russian enclaves.

It is into this context that I have come to gain a deeper insight into this situation and see how the gospel is making a difference and think about how it should be.

I will be asking a few leaders these two questions:

How has the crisis affected the church?

and

How has the church inserted the gospel into the crisis?

As of this post I have had one response. It was over a dinner of stuffed cabbage, layered salad, minced meat cakes and pizza (yeah, it surprised me too). This pastor told me that the crisis had driven the church to its knees. 12 different meetings per week for pray, wether it be a daily lunch meeting at church or a late afternoon house meeting or fulfilling a commitment on a prayer chain, for months these people have prayed.

Will it take war on your soil to make you pray?

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Filed under culture, Eastern Europe, experience, shifts, travel notes

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