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.

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