Friday, December 30, 2011

Safely in Ukraine ... Enjoying being at my new apartment.

I went to a large outdoor market, and the crowds that were there the day before New Year's eve we really overwhelming.

But, my Christmas tree is up and I am excited to be hosting a large New Year's eve party tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

24 hours

I'm at the Pittsburgh airport waiting for the first leg of my flight. In a mere 24 hours I will be resting in my apartment in L'viv. This I my first trip from the US to L'viv, and it is a long one (I flew directly from Mongolia the last time I was there). These long transcontinental flights will be a regular part of my life from here on out.

It amazes me that a generation ago when my professor Dr. Smith flew to Latin America, he sent a telegram announcing his arrival and then went without contacting home for months at a time. When his mother and father-in-law traveled to East Asia they packed their belongings in a trunk large enough to use as a coffin to be buried in after a lifetime of service never to return home.

It is a quick flight filled with near constant updates thanks to the Internet, today! Just amazed at how lucky I am to serve in a time and place where life is easy and easily connected back home.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I can't believe that there is only one week separating me from Ukraine! And what a full week it will be!

Christmas is somewhere in there, as well as a Sunday night service I'll be preaching for at Warren First UMC. There are people to see, goodbyes to be said, gifts to wrap and unwrap and then pack away, more last minute items than could possibly fill two small suitcases, and packing up my sister and brother-in-law's house before they move (the same day I move!), and a thousand other details to focus on before I fly out.

And yet I'm oddly calm. My sister, a Physician Assistant, keeps checking my pulse to make sure I'm still here.

This Christmas season is an odd holiday time. I'm receiving the best gift ever - getting to go and fulfill my dreams with the support of my family, congregation, and denomination. My brother-in-law will take his dream job out in Illinios and my sister will happily find a new job in her field. We don't have a tree up, or really too many gifts stashed away - but this season we will celebrate well. We will follow that star wherever it takes us and find great joy in whatever lies ahead. Although we lack all the external, visible accoutrements of Christmas; I think we have found the real meaning. What a blessing that is.

Joy and Peace to you all as you find the meaning of this season.

Friday, December 2, 2011

apartment therapy

My friends in Ukraine are currently apartment hunting for the place where I'll live. We plan on signing for an apartment some time next week.

It's an odd adventure to apartment hunt by proxy. After my friends go to visit an apartment they will send me pictures and I find the address on a map to see if the location is good. There's a whole process that happens for each apartment, and its very time consuming. My friends are wonderfully patient and extravagantly generous with their time.

I've been a transient person for the last three years. I haven't lived in the same apartment for more than three consecutive months since January of 2009. I have lived with family, friends, and strangers; in rented rooms, luxurious apartments, and spare basements. It has been a wonderful journey. You don't know how much the kindness of others means until its all you have.

It will be good to have a (semi)permanent space. A place to make my own, to live in and love. A bedroom and bathroom where everything is just where I want it to be - it's odd how important these things become after a long time of not having them. I fully plan on throwing my suitcases over the balcony after I'm unpacked - I don't want to have to live out of a suitcase for years and years to come!

Hopefully in the next few days something great will work out. I'm certain that just the perfect place will appear.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Perhaps it was an off hand comment. But it's a comment I have been fixating on for more than a month now. Thomas Kemper shared a vision of finding a place for 500 young adults to serve in mission. The idea of 500 people my age engaged in mission within the United Methodist Church sets my heart on fire.

I just finished reading a few blogs written by friends. They have returned from living overseas, and it is profound to hear how much their lives have been changed by the experience. You can't turn your back on the reality of having lived out your faith in a different context. It's easy to waiver away from a faith formed entirely within your own context.

I will continue to nurture the fixation on a massive swelling of young adults in mission - a new movement in our missionary community. I will continue to dream and to pray.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I have had such an enjoyable time resting a bit. Churches tend to run on a fairly fixed schedule - and beyond Sundays and Wednesdays the pickings are a little slim. Now, when I'm back in my home conference I will be driving from church to church and visiting pastors during the week; but here in GA, most of my connections are laity.

I've had a wonderful time resting, reading, visiting familiar places and seeing familiar faces. This time of rest makes me feel that I am ready for the whirlwind of activity waiting for me in Ukraine. It's also really exciting to see all the ministry that I get to be part of here in the states. It's rare that I get to just sit and listen to people share the stories of their church and their faith journey. It's exciting to dream about the future and all of the faith stories that will be enriched through the ministry we are about to expand.

It is good to reconnect. To reconnect with family and friends, but also to the needs and passion of the churches that support us.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I wish that everyone had the experience of itinerating.

Itineration. I think that perhaps it is one of our United Methodist words - like connectionalism - a word not understood by spell check or most of the United Methodist church.

Itineration used to be known as "home assignment." Many denominations refer to it as "furlough." It's an intentional period where missionaries go and visit churches. It's an opportunity to build relationships with local congregations. The goal is to raise financial support for the entire missionary community.

This is also an excellent chance to raise awareness for mission at the local church level. Did you know the United Methodist church has over 300 missionaries? Did you know that we still require NO pre-departure itineration? With most mission organizations each missionary needs to raise the full amount of support for their ministry before they leave for the field. Some missionaries spend years trying to raise the financial resources needed; but not with GBGM. We raise money for the entire missionary community. My way was payed by a missionary raising financial support a decade ago - and I'm raising money for the next generation of missionaries.

I wish that everyone could see the way that teenagers lean forward while we speak about missions. The way that young people are completely engaged and awestruck. The look in their eyes that seems to say, "Is this really a career choice?" or "Could I do this?" This is an exciting time to be a United Methodist missionary. The global United Methodist church has grown by 4 million+ members outside of the US in the last few years.

We are beginning a new age of young adults in mission. This could end up becoming a whole new mission movement. Thomas Kemper shared a vision for GBGM that included sending 500 young adults into missionary service. In every church I visit I can't help but be moved by the idea that God is calling 500 people my age or younger to follow the call of the cross to the ends of the world. It's an unbelievably powerful idea.

So, I'm itinerating now. I'm raising financial support, sharing the good news of how the Gospel is being spread around the world, and inviting others to join in the adventure.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Journey Begins

The commissioning service was beautiful. Jorge Lockwood planned a really engaging and multi-cultural worship service for all those present in person and over the web.

My boss, Hans Vaxby - the Bishop of Eurasia, preached a challenging sermon - commissioning us to "do whatever it takes."  He quoted a Swedish rock star throughout the sermon ... such a fun man. I wish he could be my boss forever.

This weekend I begin itinerating. I will travel around the country drumming up support for the United Methodist missionary movement. Thomas Kemper laid out a vision of sending 500 young adults onto the mission field.  This will obviously be a tremendous undertaking - and can only be accomplished if the standard support missionaries are able to fundraise well.  More than financial support, it is imperative that our local churches reconnect with the idea and theology of mission.

We can be nothing more than a dying institution without a connection to mission. If we can embrace the mission of God we can return to being a missionary movement again.

Exciting stuff.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WPA Annual Conference 2011

I can't quite remember how many times I've attended annual conference. I've gone enough to know how the game is played, but not enough to be a fixture. It appears that I've also voted enough times to speak Robert's Rule of Procedure almost fluently - and like most of the languages I study, I don't much care for it.

I'm anti-meeting. I'm anti-committee. My mom wrote to me once, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee." John Wesley's movement incurred the mocking name "Methodist" because it appeared that they held their organizational beliefs just as strongly as their theological beliefs. We have lost that love for efficient and effective organization.

This is what is wrong with United Methodism. Our theology is still sound. While it would be nice if we could stop debating the divisive issues, and honestly I would love to see us reclaim our Wesleyan heritage (we are not strictly Evangelicals, nor are we mainline protestants!), and I would be forever grateful if United Methodists would stop getting their theology from the lady with big hair on the Holy Roller channel; our theology is not the problem.

Our organization is the problem. Our structures and method are from a different century. My home conference put up a plea for people to "like" them on Facebook in the same month that 6 million Americans deleted their Facebook account. At conference I was asked to sign up for six e-mail mailing lists. I kept wondering, "Do people still use e-mail?"

I'm a dinosaur of sorts: I love Sunday School, I would rather not own a TV, I can't text and drive like the rest of my generation, I've gladly served on almost every committee at the local church level. I still fit quite well into antiquated structures and methods.

But my friends don't. My pre-churched, un-churched, and post-churched friends don't fit into the organizational system. The United Methodist church needs to undergo radical change. The change will be invisible to those outside our system, but if we could reform our ways - the whole world would soon feel the full force of the United Methodist church.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Going Home.

After two long years overseas, I'm heading home in one week. One week!

I look forward to (in no particular order!):

1. Seeing my sister and brother-in-law for the first time in two years!
2. Not riding route-buses everywhere! Squeezing into packed transportation and fighting my way off 20 minutes later is something that I will certainly not miss!
3. Cooking without limits! I will no longer have to use a million substitutes in every recipe.
4. Seeing friends and family!
5. Driving! I haven't driven a car in two years - and I can't wait to get behind the steering wheel again.

I will miss:
5. Ukrainian food, which I love very much.
4. Especially the Lokal' restaurants - which are a dynasty (because "chain" makes them sound tacky) of restaurants owned by the same man which are themed around L'viv and its history.
3. Long walks through this beautiful, architectural city. It seems that I find something new to admire every day.
2. Thursday Night and Sunday morning worship here.
1.These people, these wonderful, beautiful people who mean so much to me.

I will be back. I promise that much.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I was asked to speak at an exploring ministry conference for the Holston Annual Conference. Since I will not be in the states for the Discovery event, I created this video for them to watch.

In it I share my story, my call to mission, and my current work in L'viv, Ukraine. It's directed at young people considering going into the ministry - but I hope that anyone could enjoy watching it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It's a little after noon on a typical Thursday afternoon, and yet; nothing is ever typical.

This evening I will co-preach at the student worship service with my friend Olia. She has never preached before, and as we live in a fairly conservative, predominately Catholic culture - women don't often preach. She is nervous, but I have full confidence in her ability, spiritual maturity, and calling. It will be great.

Also, the translator for my half of the sermon has never translated in front of a crowd before. I trust him completely. Also, we're going to incorporate the arts into the service by painting part of a picture each week. That should be fun.

Our sermon tonight is "Angry Jesus." We'll highlight the fact that for many people our age, God is seen as angry and wrathful ... and they have a point. In the Old Testament God is often full or wrath, and in the New Testament Jesus carries on the tradition. But we will also highlight the fact that the Triune God is angry for very specific reasons ... and they might not be what we have come to believe. Anger is a healthy emotion, especially when it coincides with demanding justice.

I usually include a write up of my sermon - but, I don't have anything written up this week. We have an outline, but my sermon will not be a manuscript sermon this week. There will be a lot of discussion, exchange, and (angry) argument between the two preachers - and some of it will be in Ukrainian.

This should be an interesting Thursday!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The interview.

I began with some softball questions: name, year born, the usual introductions. I had hoped that the interview would be slightly more casual - but she was a little embarrassed perhaps, or at least a little thrown by the idea of being interviewed by a young American.

Hanna Mixhailivna was born on the 2nd of March 1935. She looks older than my own grandparents even though they have quite a few years on her. Proud of her appearance, she has clearly re-done her hair after coming in from the wind and picked out a nice sweater for the occasion.

I explained why I had wanted to interview her and lead off with a fun ice-breaking question.

On the bus ride over I had imagined how, if asked, I would respond to the question: What is your happiest childhood memory?

Maybe it was the summer that all the neighborhood kids took on two-part alliterated animal names and Rebecca was Paula the Porcupine and I was Aurthur the Alligator. We pretended our dirt lot a small town and because I couldn't ride a bike like the rest of the kids I owned and operated the gas station. Or maybe I would be a little more generic to avoid being so honest and make vague statements about learning to ride a bike, or playing pool with Robbie and Rebecca.

She paused after the question left my mouth. More than a stop-gap it was an awkward pause. I thought about adjusting the question - maybe I could remove the word "favorite" which tends to trick people up - but I could see that she wasn't searching for a memory, she was looking for the right words. After a lengthy pause she began:

"My childhood wasn't very happy, what I remember of it wasn't very happy. The war came soon. My family was persecuted by the Soviet Union. My father was imprisoned for 11 years for taking part in the rebellion. My family was dispersed. My brother, he was taken to Siberia for 20 years. My mother and I were hiding anywhere we could just to survive. So, I cannot remember any happy moments from my childhood."

I shared my own awkward pause.

While I had known most of these facts before the interview began, hearing them all together was rather sobering. I really didn't know how to continue the interview. I was suddenly embarrassed by my care-free childhood and relative lack of struggle.

Grandma Hanna's father had gathered supplies for the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgents Army), a pro-Ukrainian guerrilla-style combat unit that fought against the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during WWII. Growing up, her family had always respected the names Bandera and Shevchenko and all the others who had believed in an independent Ukraine.

Hanna was only 8 when her father was arrested for his involvement in the conflict. Along with her brother, he was sent to a prison in Siberia. It would be decades before they would be reunited. Hanna and her mother shared the politically dangerous last name, and were forced into hiding. Sometimes there would be long stretches when she wouldn't know where her mother was. She remembered the great strength and determination her mother showed. She would work so hard in the collectivized fields that her hands would bleed. Hanna remembered watching her mother grate beetroot; she couldn't tell where the red dye of of the vegetable ended and the red blood from her mother's hands began.

Did you think about love when you were a teenager? :: "Yes. Of course. We all did. I married when I was 25, which is the perfect age to get married. Not too young, not too old. I was persecuted by the Soviet government until my last name changed when I was married."

When the soviets removed her right to worship in the traditional Ukrainian faith of the Greek Catholic church, she continued worshiping in a Soviet sanctioned Orthodox church. "We believe God is one. God heard our prayers. Greek Catholic ... Orthodox ... it didn't matter so much. We worshiped in the same church we always had - and today that church has become a Greek Catholic church again." When her children and grandchildren were born she had them illegally baptized into the Greek Catholic church. Faith was an integral part of survival for many Ukrainians during these difficult years. Hanna is glad to see so many young people actively living out their faith, but feels quite strongly that more young people need to connect with God for the good of the country.

This was particularly poignant for me. In my work as a missionary in Ukraine, I work for a student-run inter-confessional student ministry. The student-leader of language outreach ministries is a passionately Greek Catholic Christian. I am continually impressed by the faithfulness of our students and their strong desire to serve God.

Grandma Hanna beams with pride as she talks about her grandchildren. "Nazar finished music school with a red diploma - a perfect record." Although several of her family members are part of the diaspora in America, Canada, the Czech Republic and Argentina; she is proud to finally be part of an independent Ukraine. "The years of persecution were worth it. Things are improving, and they must improve ... We did what we had to do for our future."

Hanna felt it was important to tell me that during the Soviet imposed forced-famine in Eastern Ukraine her family had sent food. They, along with the food which would have saved lives, were turned away by the Soviet guards at the border. The guards lied and said that there was no famine.

I thanked Hanna for the interview and she invited me to celebrate the Holy Feast with her family. Like all good Ukrainian grandmothers, she then offered up food that she had spent all day preparing. She fed her grandson and me until we were full - and then insisted that we eat a little more. We chatted a bit in my broken Ukrainian, and she expressed real joy that I was at least trying to learn Ukrainian. She gave an interview of her own and asked me all about my family. Cultures and situations are always different, but people are always the same. I answered with the same beaming pride as I described my family.

I had read about the UPA and heard stories from my students about the difficulties their grandparents had suffered - but this was the first time that I had had the opportunity to sit down one on one with a survivor and hear a first person account of the persecution. I am thankful for the chance to learn more about this difficult time in the history of Ukraine.

[Special thanks to Grandma Hanna for graciously allowing me to interview her. Also, special thanks to my friend and teacher Nazar Yatsyshyn for arranging and interpreting the interview.]

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dear Friends,

It breaks my heart to leave this place.

There - I've said it. In one month, I'll be on a plane back to the states. I left in May of 2009 - last decade! - with the idea that I would be gone for a year. Eventually I settled on the idea of visiting a few UM missionaries before my return to the states. I decided to spend a month or two with Helen Shepherd in Mongolia and a month or two in Ukraine with David and Shannon Goran.

Today marks one year since I arrived in Ukraine. In the way things tend to work out, two months, stretched to 3, then to 7, then to 13. In my heart, I'm hoping and praying that 13 months will stretch into 13 years ...

Transition is difficult for everyone. Two years ago I sold everything that wouldn't fit into a single trunk. I have a bed, two boxes of dishes, and a hope-chest filled with important things. I wrote up a last will and testament (just in case) and closed out most of my bank accounts. I found a good home for my cat and my car, I said final goodbyes to my grandparents (just in case), and I left the country with two bags.

I'm down to one bag.

I'm ready to go home for a visit. I'm excited to see people, and to spend time with my family and friends. I long for the opportunity to share my experience with others - to energize people and rally them around the concept of mission.

Specifically - I want to come and visit you and your church. I would like to have a chance to speak to youth, young adults, UMW groups, UMM groups, or the whole congregation on a Sunday morning.

If you would be interested in hosting me and having me speak at your church, please e-mail me at

Friday, February 11, 2011

A children's sermon at L'viv UMC.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The wind rushes through the holes in my jeans and my too-thin shoes. The cemetery is on the crest of a hill, and our only protection from the elements is each other. The nine of us gather around the grave of our sister, daughter, and friend.

[[On a normal day, in its normal ways I had heard my name being called. I looked all around the street and didn't see anyone I knew. Then I noticed a tall girl with black hair who looked vaguely familiar. As I approached I recognized her as Mariya. She was the first person I had recognized as a visitor at Pilgrims. After almost 3 months I could recognize when someone was new. She had been a semi-regular at Pilgrims years ago, and came back to try it out again. She stuck for a week or two, but felt out of place because she wasn't a student anymore. On the street that day I invited her to try our Sunday morning worship service.]]

As we approached the grave, her mother shook all the flowers to remove the snow. It was almost as if the snow was personally trying to offend her and the memory of her daughter. In less than 30 seconds of being present we watched as her mother crumpled into a sobbing mess. The evening before, I had taught a Bible study on the beatitude, "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." I cursed my laziness and the few extra words I would need to know to express this simple thought.

[[Mariya came week after week to the Sunday service. She and another young person took over my responsibilities of setting up the altar and the communion elements. Some Sundays we only had 9 or 10 people, but Mariya was always present. When she finally found a job, she tried her best to get Sundays off so that she wouldn't miss church. In the summer she helped translate for one of the camps. I introduced her to David and Shannon and then I got on a plane to go to Germany for the week and Kyiv for some time after that.]]

After we held our service, we tried to catch a bus. The bus we had anticipated was cancelled and we had to walk to the next village over to find a way home. Mariya's mother tells me that it's only one more mountain and that we'll make it in time if we run. Like all Ukrainian women I can't quite place her age. Somewhere between 40 and 70 seems a little imprecise. She holds my arm and tells me stories of life in the village that I can't fully understand.

[[David shares the bad news that while I was away Mariya's mental condition had deteriorated. They were trying to find a place at a clinic for her. The members of our church had her on 24 hour supervision. They took turns in groups of 2 or 3 to stay with her overnight. For several days our congregation gave up their own lives and free time to protect her from herself. After she was admitted, they made routine trips to visit her in the hospital.]]

Mariya's mother invites us to her apartment in L'viv for some dinner. We ate in the living room, which had also been Mariya's bedroom. Gifts from friends at church lined her shelves, and our photos filled the final pages of her photo albums. The pictures from the all church picnic where Mariya looks so happy.

She found a job she loved and she worked hard. And we were all just in shock when we heard the news that she had been hit by a car on her way to work. It was so hard to have lost a friend and a part of our community.

She brought our community together. Before her illness we were a loose group. We went to church together, but there was no real community. We became a community through service to Mariya. We became a church through being the hands and feet of Jesus to one of our own.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas Service

We just finished celebrating Christmas recently, and I just wanted to share a few seconds of the carols being sung by candlelight.

Monday, January 3, 2011


On Sunday I preached at L'viv UMC. I preached on the stories of the wise men and the shepherds and on the theme that Jesus brings us all together. We had a record number of people show up, we accepted 3 new members, and we dedicated a child. It was a beautiful service.

Our pastor, Lyubomir Rudko, blesses the communion elements. In the foreground is our advent wreath with 7 advent candles.

It was a rather cold and icy morning and many parents didn't allow their children to go out for Sunday School, but those who did show up were treated to an excellent Sunday School lesson prepared by (adults, left to right) Roman, Yulia, and Erika.

It's really beautiful to watch a church grow, especially in this context and under these circumstances.

I was a little sad that I couldn't get a great picture of just David, Shannon, and Jesse - but I love this picture a lot because it shows the tremendous amount of support they have from this church family.