Friday, January 18, 2013

Pastor's meeting

It was like a surprise party, except it was hours away and not a party but a meeting.  Maybe it was more like a surprise party for your fortieth birthday.  I wasn't very excited or happy about it.

I found out about the week long pastor's conference two days before we went.  Now, as an American, I have an unhealthy addiction to planning my life out in advance.  Ukraine keeps trying to break my habit and sober me up from this disease.  On the 14 hour train ride, I had serious thoughts about jumping ship and returning to Lviv, but my pastor had bought the ticket with his own money and wouldn't get reimbursed if I didn't show up.

It was like a surprise party in other ways, though.  I was surprised at how much I genuinely enjoyed it.  Many of the pastors from our conference were there, and they were joined by many seminary students and their teachers and co-workers from Russia.  There were many new faces - and some updates from old friends and places that I love.

The teacher for the week was Dan Johnson who serves Trinity UMC in Gainesville, FL.   He spoke about how Pastor's can take care of themselves and care for their own hearts and ministries.  It was really encouraging and uplifting.

I had a really meaningfull conversation with our new Bishop.  He is younger than almost all of the pastors in Ukraine.  Some of the students started a snowball fight and he joined in.  It wasn't in some attempted throwback to youth, but out of a genuine desire to win a snowball fight - and he did!

I'll be heading back to the pastors conference today for the last day and to spend a few days after that with the seminary students in classes.  It should be good fun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Years

It's hard to get out of the city and visit people in other towns.  The roads are bad, the weather worse, and it seems that I have fewer and fewer full days to travel and visit people.  While I have a whole list of great people I wish I could visit in far off locations, it especially breaks my heart that I'm not able to visit Mrs. Onoprienko as often as I wish I could.

Luckily, my vacation route had me returning right through her hometown - so I juggled the train timetable and found a little over an hour to stay and still make it home in time for my obligations back in Lviv.

Lyudmilla Onoprienko is Ilya's mother, and I had the pleasure of meeting her a few times with Ilya back in the spring and early summer before the tragedy took his life.  She is wonderfully supportive of our ministry and simply a pillar of faith.

I arrived into the small town at 7:30 in the evening and walked quickly to her apartment.  My train was at 9:00 - so, sadly, I didn't have much time to stay and enjoy my visit.  I was scared to visit Illya's mother by myself.  I speak Ukrainian more or less.  I understand most things without a hiccup, but when I start speaking I get nervous.   With friends my own age I just say whatever crazy thing comes out of my mouth, but when I'm with an adult I'm much more cautious and I stutter a bit.  Two of my closest Ukrainian friends have a marked stutter and while I don't have one at all in English, in Ukrainian sometimes it's quite pronounced.

When I served as a Pastor, I think one of the hardest realizations for me was that I really didn't have anything to say to people suffering tremendous tragedy.  And, that happens to be even more true in my Ukrainian.

Lyudmilla cooked up an impromptu New Year's feast.  We gorged on potatoes, sausage, fish, and salads - and then topped it all off with coffee, cake, and candies.  All the appropriate food groups were represented. We talked a little bit, and laughed a lot.

I asked her how her New Year had been and her answer was stunning beautiful.  She said, "At first, I cried and cried.  And then I thought, 'Ilya was always so joyful, and he doesn't want to sit up in heaven and watch me cry all day' so I got dressed up, went to the church celebration and had some mulled wine."

We laughed a little and cried a little.  I explained that it was about a 20 minute walk to the train station, and I would have to leave soon.  She said she would call me a taxi so we could spend another 10 minutes together and I wholeheartedly agreed to that idea.

It was really the perfect way to end my New Year's celebration - to spend some time with someone beloved and to celebrate a New Year that will certainly be better than the last.