Friday, June 29, 2012

Keeping in touch.

I'm really struggling to keep in touch with people back in the states.

This is something which is really difficult for me.  It's hard to live with a foot in two different countries.  I want to keep up with my family and friends in the states, but I want to move forward with new relationships here.  It's a constant struggle and it's exhausting, really.

In Ukraine, most people have a circle of about six friends.  People who connect with lots and lots of different people are an oddity here - and they tend to only have surface level relationships with no real depth or substance.  I have a thousand friends on Facebook.  This is a terribly embarrassing fact for me to admit - but what is even worse is that I routinely delete lots of people.  I can't keep my list under a thousand people!  Even in Ukraine I have lists of people from other Methodist churches, from the Pilgrims student worship service, from St. John's UMC in Lviv, from English Club, from my volunteering at the University, from Schools I've visited - and the list of lists continue listing away!

I could count about 12 people as "best friend" level - people with whom I am inextricably connected.  Another 100 could easily count as "close friend" level - people with whom I have a friendship of length and depth.  Back home these numbers are proof that I am an energetic, gregarious, friendly person.  Here in Ukraine these numbers show that I don't connect well with others - or at the very least that I am stretched to my limit.

And sometimes I really feel that.  On my birthday all I wanted was to sit down for a nice meal with my two closest friends and to call my grandma.  Sometimes I feel that I am stretched too thin on the inter-personal communications side of things.

What is most interesting to me is that in Ukraine, most churches try a programmatic approach to discipleship.  They set up seminars, preaching times, and Bible studies.  This is funny because Jesus' model of discipleship is really the natural fit.  One person disciples his or her closest group of friends who do the same with their closest friends and so on and so forth.  In America this approach would never work - it would necessitate people becoming uncomfortably close to one another.

I'm really proud of one of our young men.  He counts David as one of his closest friends, and David has consistently discipled him.  This young man has grown so much in his faith - and he is now beginning to disciple others.  We didn't institute a program - we just lived life.

I'm going to keep trying to keep connected with supporters and friends in the states.  I'll keep blogging, will Skype more of my best friends, and will try to connect with my sister as often as our schedules allow!  But, in Ukraine I'm realizing that I need fewer friends and to work more consistently in building into their lives.  

Hosting some friends for dinner in my little kitchen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

An Update

So, we want to be completely honest and transparent about the mission work that is happening here.  You had read previously that I would be spending some time in Stryi.  Well, that plan has changed.  I went to observe, listen, and try to understand the situation better.  I learned more in two weeks that I thought I would be able to learn in two months.

Everything has resolved itself in a really wonderful manner.  I'll give a brief bit of background.  We once had a music person on staff at the Lviv UM church plant.  Our pastor, Lyubomir, offered to cut his salary in half so that we could hire someone to do music.  Eventually, that music person needed to leave the city for family reasons.  After some prayer and thought we decided to send him out to work toward establishing a preaching point in the town where he was moving.  Today, two years later, family circumstances are pushing him to migrant work in a different country to try to earn a better salary.  In the last two years, a small group was formed and good efforts were made to establish a congregation - but, ultimately, not everyone is a church planter, there isn't always a need for a new church, and sometimes the timing is just off.  This is one of those situations.

So, today we chose to refocus our energies on Lviv and the surrounding suburbs.  It was a hard choice, but one that we ultimately feel very comfortable with.  While we would love to see a healthy, vibrant, growing congregation in Stryi - we are thankful that the small group will continue to grow and nurture one another as a community.  We pray that someday we will be in a better position to disciple someone to be a church planter.  We learned a lot, and we are thankful for the experience.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I read this missionary biography once which left me amazed and frustrated.  I was amazed that someone - no, a group of people - had encouraged this man to write an autobiography, that it had been published by a Christian publishing house, and that many people had genuinely enjoyed this man's words.  The problem with the entire book was that the man was exceedingly arrogant and prideful.  He was stubborn like an ass, but without all of the charming qualities that the barnyard animal employs.  I have often considered writing a work of fiction with this man as the central character, because the "anti-hero" theme is so strong right now - but his life is so extreme that I couldn't possibly fictionalize anything more extreme.

In his twenties, after no church would call him as their pastor - again, probably because he was such a jerk - his District Superintendent encouraged him to try to start a new church.  He wasn't provided a salary of a title by the denomination.  The young pastor began calling himself the "Bishop" of the region where he would try to plant the church - because his small denomination wasn't yet represented in that valley.

It gets so much better than that.  The entire book is filled with such examples.  (It's fine.  I'm working toward a point.  Just bear with me for a minute.)  He eventually becomes a missionary somewhere.  During WWII the mission board asks all of the missionaries to leave the war-torn country and go to a safer location until the war is over.  Now, this man hadn't learned the language yet, but when the mission board's vehicle came filled with the missionaries who had served for decades - he refused to get on board and he refused to allow his wife and two small children to go to safety as well.

As the war got worse, mission boards from countries not in conflict with the host country also left.  By an extreme miracle, one such envoy passed by his house and had four available seats. His wife begged him to flee or at least allow her and the children to go.  He refused.

  In the end, during a battle the American army had to parachute in and rescue his family under gunfire.  A few soldiers were killed during the rescue mission.  This man had the buffoonery to write an entire chapter about how God's providence had protected his family and brought them to safety.  He wrote about how God had prepared those soldiers for such a mission, and that "in God's timing" they were able to get his family to safety!

Okay, here's my point:  I work rather hard to not be this guy.  I spend considerable energy on being kind, considerate, thoughtful, and not a jerk.  I also try to listen to God and the opportunities God has put before me.  I have done enough ministry to understand that sometimes it is very difficult, but generally it is a wonderful experience to serve alongside God's people in fulfilling God's great plan.

Sometimes in mission work it is easy to dig a hole for yourself and then complain about "the persecution."  When I realize that I am digging a hole, I genuinely try to stop digging.

I had originally planned to spend some months in Stryi.  I had planned well, made comprehensive outlines of how things should work, and got others on board to help me out.  But, in the end, Stryi will not be in my plans for this summer.  At least not in the way I had planned.

A lot of things happened.  A lot of things fell through.  There was lots of confirmation that the timing was off and that something better was waiting in the wings.  I could explain some of what happened, but I don't think it would edify anyone.  It was an unbelievably frustrating, eye-opening couple of weeks.  My main goal during my time in Stryi was to observe and try to understand better.  In these last few weeks, I was able to observe more than I thought I would be able to observe in the two months I had planned to spend in Stryi.  God revealed many things, and opened some great doors.

I don't feel defeated by this in any way.  I feel really encouraged that we have some tentative plans of how we can realistically move forward.  Sometimes plans change, and part of being a missionary is being flexible and open to change - and not being a jerk about it!

Friday, June 15, 2012

This is the bridge to cross the river to get to Vittya's village.  Perfect, right?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Breakfast in the village of Jidyachiv.  Rebecca wanted me to post more daily pictures.  We'll see.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vittya's Grandmother

My friend Vittya is helping me out in Stryi this summer - after we found an apartment he invited me to visit his family's home and to meet his grandmother.  He says that she is 90.  When we came to her house she was out in the field weeding.

Vittya is one of the young people who attends the United Methodist church in Lviv.  Vittya doesn't speak any English, but he is incredibly patient and genuinely enjoys talking with me in Ukraine.  Most people just tolerate my poor language abilities - but Vittya loves it.  I'm able to talk to people more freely when he's with me because if I get into trouble he can talk me out of it.  Here he is with his grandmother.

I love this picture.  Vittya's grandmother showed us which green strawberries were good to eat - and she gave us bitter greens to eat first so that the strawberries would taste wonderfully sweet.  It was great.

Here is Grandma Masha in front of her house wiping her neck with her apron.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I'm moving to Stryi for a few weeks.  We have a small church plant in the small town of Stryi.  It's a daughter church of the Lviv Congregation.  We decided that it was really important for us to invest a bit more in our daughter church during the summer months.  Realistically, it only makes sense for someone from our main team to go and live there for a while.  Hopefully other people from the Lviv congregation will be willing to visit if there are a few people they know there on a Sunday morning.

I'm the lucky one who gets to go and make Stryi my home away from home.  My friend Vittya will come and help me out - and a host of young people from the Lviv congregation already have plans to come for a day or two.  Many of them have family or friends in Stryi.  Hopefully we will be able to give this small group a much needed boost so that at next year's annual conference it can be formally recognized as a new congregation.

This wasn't in the plans for my summer - but I'm glad that it will work out this way.  I feel lucky to get away from the big city during the EURO cup madness.  I hope that I'll be able to make some new friends and get to know the people from the Stryi church plant a lot better.  Please keep us all in your prayers during this time as we have many teams from the states coming through - including one team visiting Stryi to do a combined VBS with the Methodist church and an independent church.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Annual Conference Report

The Ukraine/Moldova Annual Conference concluded meetings June 1-3 with a large gathering of United Methodists worshiping together to celebrate Pentecost (eastern calendar) in five different languages.

The Annual Conference was hosted by the cluster of churches in the Uzhgorod area.  These vital congregations show the diversity of the the church in Ukraine.  Some survived the Soviet days, others are new church plants.  A few are in the heart of their oblast's capital and others are in small surrounding villages.  The churches served as wonderful hosts and made the closing worship a wonderful experience for all.

The District Superintendents gave reports of common struggle and shared joy in ministry in Ukraine and Moldova.  While different congregations experienced different challenges, it was noted that many were growing and expanding to begin new ministries and even pushing forward to try to plant new congregations.

As Bishop Vaxby finishes his final year as Bishop of the Eurasia Episcopal area he stressed that our Roadmap for the United Methodist church in Eurasia does not end with his tenure, but continues well into the term of the Bishop who will be elected this October.  The roadmap states:  We see the United Methodist Church in Eurasia in 2015 dynamically growing, recognized in the society and helping people to become committed Christians

- A new congregation was welcomed into the United Methodist connectional system.  Seredna UMC is a small congregation comprised of Roma ethnic minority persons.
- Alla Vuksta and David Goran were ordained as Elders.  Valodya Prokip was made a licensed local pastor.

The Ukraine/Moldova Provisional Annual Conference grew in membership, average worship attendance, and financial benchmarks toward self-sufficiency.  The conference is comprised of 15 United Methodist congregations as well as two large-scale social justice ministries working with street kids, two beginning stage church plants, and an inter-confessional campus ministry.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A photo a day

I love graffiti and street art in general.  This picture was rolled out near my friends' apartment.  I really love it.