Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Relax, God's in charge.

Love and time heal all things.  This is one of those truths which in the abstract is undeniably simple, but in the concrete is almost unfathomably difficult to accept.  Love and time heal all things.  

I am teaching one of our first year students, Vitya, how to create the slides for our worship service.  He doesn't speak a word of English, but he is incredibly patient with my Ukrainian and it has been fun to see how much he enjoys contributing to worship in any small way that he can.  

Illya Onoprienko, the Ukrainian student who died during the tragedy in Ukraine, was such a strong leader.  At night I would pray that God would call him to become a priest so that the Greek Catholic church could benefit from his humble leadership like our student organization had.  

Illya prays during one of our Pyro - student prayer services.
Illya never considered himself a leader.  But he stepped up on the leadership team and was the pillar of support for our interns when they first arrived.  He coordinated the worship services on Thursday nights.  

While Vitya and I were going through slides, I found the slides from when the leadership team preached.  Everyone who spoke that Thursday night did a great job.  But, I think that many people had never heard Illya say so much.  He was quiet by nature, and this gave his words incredible power.  This is the slide he showed during his portion of the sermon.
The background on Illya's phone - and  his daily life reminder.
 Relax, God's in charge.  It's sarcastic and funny.  It's true and poignant.  Relax, God's in charge.

Illya had been teaching me liturgy for the last few months.  Greek Catholic churches basically always use the same liturgy - but in church people don't enunciate enough for me to understand everything.  I wanted to sing along when I attended Greek Catholic services, and I asked Illya to teach me.

Illya teaching me liturgy at a service at Ukrainian Catholic University.
We sang through it.  I went to worship services at his home church. And at his funeral I sang out loudly and clearly on almost every line.  I was so thankful to understand and worship through every word. 

Relax, God's in charge.  

As we try and move forward with our ministry here in Ukraine, these words are such a comfort.  They were so helpful to Illya and they are so helpful to me.  I don't like everything that is happening around me - but I trust that God is in charge.

(?), Max Semenov, me, Illya, Nadya Nadilna - at UCU for a worship service
Illya leaves behind such an incredible witness and testimony.  He loved fully, lived fully, and laughed often.  He took his own advice, and he chose to relax and trust that God is in charge.  We would do well to do likewise.  

Dear God, you heal our brokenness.  Our hearts are troubled and weary until they find their rest in you, O Lord.  Help us to live each day in the fullness of your resurrection life.  Help us to love others and to serve others unconditionally.  Help us to choose to lay our lives down for others.  We love and praise You. Amen.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Uzhgorod United Methodist Church

Before the tragedy happened in Lviv, I had the chance to visit some of the other United Methodist churches. I've already written about my experiences at the UMC in Chernivtsi.  Here is a bit of insight into the other churches I visited.  

The city of Uzhgorod actually has two United Methodist churches.  There is one which survived the soviet days, and there is one which was planted this year.  These are pictures of the new church plant.  

Pastor Joseph is a bold, energetic leader.  He is shorter than me, but about my size.  He runs a home for street kids.  He believes in new church plants.  

This church meets in a hotel.  I think that it was a low Sunday when I visited, I think that they usually have more people.  This service has a great feel and many young people.  Joseph helps young people who used to be addicts find meaningful leadership roles in the church.  It's a slow process - but it is tremendously important for the future of the church. 

You can see some of the diversity of this church.

Lots of young people in worship and leadership.

This is the least fuzzy picture I have of Joseph.  He just moves a lot! 

Serednje United Methodist Church

Before the tragedy happened in Lviv, I had the chance to visit some of the other United Methodist churches. I've already written about my experiences at the UMC in Chernivtsi.  Here is a bit of insight into the other churches I visited.  

Serednje is the newest member of our United Methodist connection here in Ukraine.  The congregation is comprised of Roma people.  People use the term gypsy - but this often has negative connotations.  On our way to the church, my translator and I stopped at a store on the way to the Roma camp village.  The shopkeeper yelled at us for helping "those dirty gypsies."  

Preaching at this church was one of the greatest honors of my life.  As a general rule I refuse offers to preach until I have visited a church at least once.  I don't like the fact that many churches will let any American in their pulpit - and I love hearing the sermons that our pastors preach.  But, our District Superintendent told me that I would be preaching at this church and then sent me out the door to preach!  During the ten minute car ride, I put together a sermon.  The church was wonderful.  The people were kind and open.  The pastor is so humble and gentle.  

Pastor Vladimir playing guitar. 

It is so wonderful to have church outside.  

The pastor blesses a baby as he prays for the sick children.

Kam'yanytsya United Methodist Church

Before the tragedy happened in Lviv, I had the chance to visit some of the other United Methodist churches. I've already written about my experiences at the UMC in Chernivtsi.  Here is a bit of insight into the other churches I visited.  

We have a cluster of six United Methodist churches in the Zarkarpatsky Region.  The congregation in Kam'yanytsya survived the soviet days.  It is our largest and most active United Methodist congregation in Ukraine.   The District Superintendent of the Western Ukraine District of the Ukrainian UMC gracefully stepped aside as pastor and encouraged his wife to become senior pastor of the congregation.  

Alla is a wonderful pastor.  She is caring, kind, and a true servant.  Her husband is a wonderful District Superintendent.  I wasn't able to attend worship at this church on a Sunday morning.  But - I have certainly worshiped here!  I went to the Friday night worship service, Saturday morning youth dawn prayer at 5 AM (!!!!), and young men's Bible Study on Saturday afternoon.  It is a wonderful congregation of loving and kind people.  The youth ministry is strong and comprehensive.  

The church building survived the soviet days, too. 

I sat with these two and it was like sitting in church with my own grandparents!

Pastor Alla is such a strong preacher and leader. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Saying goodbye to Bohdan.

When I first arrived in Lviv, Bohdan was the first Ukrainian student I met.  David and I were on our way to the student center and we passed him in the street.  He hadn't been around the student center in a while, but he was excited about introducing a new American to the city.  He helped me out a tremendous amount those first few weeks.  We have become good friends - and he has introduced me to some of my closest friends here. 

I'm glad that Bohdan is following his heart - but I'm sad that that means he will be leaving Ukraine and emigrating to Canada.  It is always sad when one of our best and brightest leaves our borders.  I hope that someday he will come back to help make Ukraine better. 

Pavlo and Kristina (the girl on the left) set up the banner for his surprise party!

The group waiting around to hide.

Bohdan with a big smile after a big surprise!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The baptism of Marta Andriyivna Tatchyn

Now that Marta has been baptized and all of her friends and family have met her in person - we're allowed to share photos online.  Here are some photos from the baptism.
Proud mother Erika with the screaming bundle of joy!

Pastor Lyubomir and Maryanna Shevchuk are the godparents

The beautiful wooden church

The baptism.
Marta's adorable little face! 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Everything is wonderful

I know that's not the blog post title you've been waiting for.

We have faced a terrible tragedy recently.  Everything was terrible.  For days my entire body hurt.  My head felt like it was much too heavy for my scrawny neck to support it.  We lost a beloved friend, a pillar of our community, and a truly good man when Illya died.  I spent a very difficult day with the widow of our American friend who died.  For 36 hours my dear friend David Goran was in a Ukrainian hospital without painkillers or antibiotics after a very serious injury.

Everything was terrible.

As we move forward, we see the great joy of living life in community.  Here are a few pictures of our Sunday morning worship service.

Everything is wonderful.  Even in these difficult days - we see God's great lovingkindess in abundance.  We see people growing closer to one another and to God.  We see true community.  

God is good and God is faithful.  My pastor (standing behind the altar table in the third photo) and I have shared so many good conversations these last few days.  We have experienced scripture in new ways.  He has read and re-read the Gospel of John as one long trial of Jesus.  I have delighted in God's words to Job.  

Everything is wonderful.  Our God, our theology, and our faith is big enough to handle death - especially the death of one who loved Jesus with all of his heart.  We rejoice that Illya is with his savior in heaven.  We look forward to joining them some day.  

We are moving forward - but we have a long way to go.  Everyone is grieving in different ways - and even one of his good friends just found out the news today.  But, the great joy is that we have our faith and one another to help us through these times. 

Everything is wonderful.  Tomorrow we celebrate the baptism of Erika and Andriy Tatchyn's baby girl.  They are thankful that their dear friend Illya was able to come and meet their newborn daughter before the tragedy.  They asked a priest how long they should wait during this time of mourning before they baptized her - and he confidently responded that they shouldn't wait.  It is always the right time to celebrate a new birth and a new child of God. 

I promised not to post any pictures of Marta's adorable little face until all of our friends have met her in person - but for now you can see her great hair and Erika's joyful smile! 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Priska and Florian - Adventures in Romania

Priska and Florian arguing in German.

Florian in front of the center-square church.

Priska enjoying shuarma.

Priska and Florian - I had such a great time with them. I love this picture.

They're actually not a couple - but they sure do look it! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Vacation days

Florian, Allen, and Priska came to Lviv and stayed at Apartment 17.  They were excellent guests and they urged me to come and visit them in Romania.  I was pleasantly surprised to find two available days during the weekdays sandwiched by churches in southwestern Ukraine.  I decided that I should pop in and visit my new friends.  They are all studying in Romania, and will be going back to their home countries in Europe next week. 
This is what greeted me when I entered Romania.  Clockwork from the top: a poster warning of purse snatchings, a poster of contact info for the police, a picture of an unidentified corpse (including a close up of his face!), and a poster for self-defence classes.  This was not the police bulletin board.  This was the welcome bulletin board.
One of my hosts, Florian, trying not to make a funny face.  Originally from Germany, he studies here in Romania.

This is the view from Florian and Priska's apartment (they shared the apartment with others, but everyone else has left.)  - could you imagine a hotel with this view not charging $100 a night?  I love that I can stay with friends all over the world.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chernivtsi United Mehtodist Church

My job description is rather vague.  I like that about my job.  I work at the student center in Lviv, but I also have responsibilities in new church development and youth ministries in western Ukraine.  These are just words on paper until I build up enough credibility and experience to begin working with new church development and helping youth ministries find their footing.  Part of that process is visiting churches and spending time with people.  I love my job.  That's really all there is to say about that.  I'm on a bit of a roadtrip at the moment.  These pictures are in Chernivtsi.  Their pastor (not pictured, sadly) was arrested during the soviet days and imprisoned for his faith.  The congregation is wonderful to be with.  I introduced myself and gave greetings from the church in Lviv.  While the primary language here is Russian, everyone realizes that my Ukrainian is stronger so they switch to Ukrainian when they speak to me.  This is such a radical act of hospitality and humility.   The young adults and youth group just started last year and is beginning to really emerge here.  I'm hoping that they will be willing to look a little bit more toward outreach and working to share God's love with other young people.  The youth director here is so plainspoken and humble - it's been a real joy to spend time with him.

From here I will head to Romania for a few days of visiting friends followed by some days with the churches in the Uzhgorod area.  It is an honor and a joy to spend time with these good Christian people.
The church service in Chernivtsi.

The children play in the alley behind the church building.

The kids found a cute kitten. 

The young adults enjoy a picnic after church. (Yana, Ira, Vitalik)