Saturday, November 23, 2013

Protests in Ukraine

This article from the BBC is well written and unbiased.

Only a few days before Ukraine was to sign important agreements with the EU, the Ukrainian government has halted the process.  The European Union considers Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister - currently serving a long prison sentence, to be a political prisoner.  Some reports claim that the EU is demanding that she be allowed to receive medical care in Europe and some report a demand for her release.
Thousands of people, young and old, are crowding the streets in protest against the decision to halt the European Integration process.  Mass rallies are happening all over Ukraine.  On Sunday there will be a mass rally in the capitol city's main square.  Allegedly the government has stopped buses from Lviv to Kyiv and has stopped selling train tickets.  The government fears mass protests like those of the Orange Revolution 9 years ago this week.

This weekend, across Ukraine, people will commemorate the forced famine of 1932-33.  Between 6 and 10 million Ukrainians died as a result of the forced famine.  My best friend's great-grandfather led a caravan of 40 wagons of food to the border and was turned away by the Soviet authorities who insisted that there was no famine.  The forced famine of the Ukrainian people is perhaps the largest act of genocide the world has ever seen - and it is almost entirely lost to history.  This weighs heavy on the hearts of many Ukrainians as they fight for further integration with the European Union.

This is a complicated and difficult situation, and I am always afraid that perhaps I do not understand everything that is going on.  Ukrainian politics are messy and complicated - and I generally stay almost completely neutral.  I'm not Ukrainian.  Although I love this country and translate poetry from Ukrainian to English, I am an outsider.  My students are so passionate and so united about this cause, that I simply must join with them.  They truly see no other path forward for their future.  For some of my friends, EU integration is their only chance of a normal and productive life.

I will be at the central square in Lviv often during this time.  I will be showing my support and my solidarity with my students and friends.  Please pray for safety for all involved and for a peaceful resolution.  Some are calling for another revolution.  The most common thought that I hear among my friends is that if "we start this, we must finish it."  People were left disheartened after the Orange Revolution fell apart following the global economic collapse and party infighting.  If it comes to revolution, may it be a peaceful one.

students gather to remember those who died in the forced famine

The rally in Lviv

Thousands gathered near the monument of Taras Shevchenko

During the rally, many ordinary people stepped up to speak.  Lviv's mayor spoke eloquently.  The rector of the University, Vokarchuk, who is being forced out for political reasons spoke beautiful words.  But it was the common folk who really touched my heart.  One man stepped up with a very strong speech impediment.  He spoke directly from his heart and brought many of us to tears with his words.  This has been an emotional week, and there is certainly more to come.  Please keep Ukraine in your thoughts and prayers.  I will try to post often and keep people up to date on what is happening here.

- Michael Airgood

Monday, November 18, 2013

Introversion, ministry, and self-care.

I'm an introvert.

I don't know why this simple fact is so hard for people to understand.  I'm shy around new people, especially when I have a crush.  There are times when I'm happy to be in a small group and times when it terrifies me - it depends on a wide variety of factors.  My job requires that I be bold and up front and outgoing and I do that to the best of my ability.  I'm terrified of speaking in front of crowds, and I'm exhausted after preaching.

This is the nature of being an introvert in ministry.

Extroverts draw their energy from the crowd.  It recharges them to be around people.  Introverts give their energy away to the crowd.  We have to go away by ourselves to recharge.

Introverts in ministry chose to give of ourselves all day.  I'm in ministry because it's a calling.  I've explained to God hundreds of times all of the reasons why I'm not very good at it and why I'm not qualified to be in ministry, but I haven't changed God's mind on the matter yet.  I keep getting called to be in ministry - in uncomfortable and painful places, with people with whom I disagree, in situations that scare me, in languages that I'll never fully understand, with people whose problems are far greater than my own, and in ways that I never expect - the call to ministry continues.

As an introvert, each interaction takes a small bit of me and makes it no longer me.  You give one spoonful away at a time, and hope that the bottle doesn't run out before new supplies arrive.  You make it through the sermon and you collapse and try to recover.

I love people.  I love old people and teenagers and children and conservatives and liberals and Ukrainian students.  I love people, and I love being in ministry with people.  I love leading worship and I love preaching and I would never trade the late night conversations and the impromptu marriage counseling sessions for anything.  I love being in ministry.

And ministry is messy.  And John Wesley charged us to keep the world as our parish and my ministry has never fit inside of church walls.  And a person in ministry's work is never done.  It's never finished.  There is always something more that can be done, that should be done, that needs to get done.

But that is why Jesus is the Savior and we are the saved.

As an introvert in ministry, I have to step aside and make time and space for me to recharge.  I need to talk with a close friend about non-ministry things and sort through all the thoughts in my head and my heart.

And this is ok.

This is the hardest part about self-care: you have to give yourself permission to take care of yourself.  For me, I have to shut down and walk away from the crowd and be alone or spend time with someone who understands my boundaries.  I have to not answer questions about English and not speak Ukrainian sometimes.

Self-care is vital in ministry because without it you don't stay in ministry very long.  There is no way to keep everyone happy - and as long as that is your goal you will not be in ministry very long.  Self-care is about realizing that Jesus calls real people into ministry.  We aren't machines and a call to ministry doesn't make us machines.  We are people with feelings and emotions and triggers and baggage - and that is ok.  As a person in ministry, you need to take care of other people - and yourself.

The world is your parish, but you are your parish, too.

While you certainly should have a good network of great clergy friends and mentors, you need to give yourself to permission to take your own advice and find some rest.

When I have less to give, I need to recharge more often.

I'm not making any excuses and I'm not making any apologies - I'm just stating some facts to help people understand.  Ministry is a wonderful journey.  Introverts make tremendous pastors and missionaries.  Some of the best ministry people I know are deeply introverted.  We need to make space for all people and all giftings in ministry.  As long as God calls all types of people, we need to find room for all types of people.

Introverts included.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vacation in Odessa

I finally got to take a vacation in Ukraine.  I have wanted to go to Odessa for years now, and finally found the time to make the trip.  I had planned to go alone, but luckily one of my best friends who moved from Lviv some months back just happened to be coming to Odessa for work and we got to hang out for the weekend.  It was a really great vacation.
Den joined me in Odessa for the weekend.

Odessa is a weird city.  This is a Santa Claws pup.

It was still warm weather in Odessa in mid-November!

The cat zoo - there were stray cats everywhere - and in with all the animals. 

If you're going to ride a camel, this is the way to do it.

I'm going to miss all this sunshine!

I wasn't the only one to get in the water!

The sailor's uniform is quite common in Odessa. 

And even a Karcher shop for dad.