From Ukraine, with Love

I just got back from spending a week in the Ukraine.  I was there to speak at the dedication of the new church building as well as to be the speaker at the 18th annual conference of Russia and the Ukraine.  People came all the way from the far reaches of Siberia (5 days away), from our church in Chelyabinsk, from the Russian Church of God congregations in Southern Germany, and from various parts of the Ukraine.

I have to admit, I went into this one completely depleted.  Year 2 of Three Worlds has been emotionally exhausting--and as you know if you follow the diary---has been one big travel-a-thon.  I also felt that my 6 speeches (which actually turned out to be 7...surprise Ukrainian-style!) were among the  worst I've ever done.  The night before I left, Jamie helped to give them more structure, but I still felt massively unsettled as I boarded the plane.

Once I landed in Donetsk--Ukraine's 5th largest city and recent site of Euro Cup matches--it was back into work mode.  This is what I do for a living. I manned up.  I made my way to a hotel located next to Donetsk's new stadium which they are very proud of.

The next day I was picked up by my host Pastor Vassilly and Pastor Wallentin (from Germany) and taken to the little village of Kamenka--population 700.  The drive was on bumpy roads and we passed nothing but open fields.  Eventually we arrived in the village which seemed to have one main street....and that's about it.   And it had one store which I mistook for an empty abandoned warehouse.  Ukraine is not a wealthy country and years of living under the Soviet Union's economic system has not been exactly good.  Their transition to democracy has not been exactly smooth and outside of Kiev and a very few major cities most people live very simple lives.  In the van with me was Stefan, the pastor's son and his awesome wife Luda, as well as Fritzlar Bible College student Rudy.

Nobody spoke much English at all, so it was a great thing when the interpreter showed up the next day.  Anya was the best interpreter ever, and was such a fun person to hang out with.  The strange things about the Slavs---Russians, Ukrainians and others is how cold and distant they can seem on the streets, in the subways, ..basically everywhere.  But when you get to actually know them and become friends with them----my goodness---they go right for the heart.  As I got to know everyone in Kamenka, I absolutely fell in love with everyone.  They were so kind, so fun, so hospitable, and just so wonderful.

My speeches were not much better than I had prepared---yet they miraculously seemed to be exactly what the people needed to hear.  This is something that has happened to me before and it is pretty miraculous.  You say exactly what someone needs to hear at that exact moment in their life. It's supernatural.  And it's obviously supernatural when it happens from yourself--and you know you are not doing it because you suck.

There is such a thing as prophetic words---words that come from God at exactly the right time, that say things that no one could possibly know, that are special messages that give direction, affirmation and penetrate the heart.  Apparently God was using me to do that despite the fact that I felt none of it.  It was the least comfortable I've felt going into something.

We had lots of meals...not the kind of meals you are having today...and lots of time together.  We visited some homes in the village, joked a lot, and had a lot of church.  There was communion, a foot-washing service, and more of me yapping away.  I felt like I had a special helper...a girl name Masha who absolutely stole my heart.  She is roughly Marco's age, and like Marco she was quite the little confident director.  Masha was adorable, and seemed to be my very own personal assistant.  I'd love to hire for her Three! It wasn't easy to not just steal away Masha from her 2 brothers and Mother and Father.  They were a lovely family who gave me 3 dead fish as a gift (that's a first).  We spent some evenings at their homes late at night, drinking tea with honey and laughing.

Little did I know that someone had a prophetic word for me.  Luda, who was just the nicest, sweetest young lady was a joy to get to know.  Her English was pretty good and we met on that first van trip when she and her husband Stefan rode up with me to Kamenka. Stefan has served as a missionary to other parts of Russia and Ukraine.  Over the course of the week, every time I would see Luda, I just felt that she had a deep, intuitive, prophetic spirit.  An E.Q. off the charts.  There was just something about her.  So finally one day I told her that she had a special gift of discernment and that I could sense that.  I was right, because she said she does have that kind of gift.

The week went on and it was just great to be around everyone.  On the final Sunday, we had the dedication service of the new church which was open to anyone in the community as well as other churches.  There were special music performances including from other churches and words of greetings and congratulations.  Pastor Wallentin shared the history of the 18 years of this conference as well as the history of the construction of the church building which is completely paid off.  Then I got up to speak and we had a final meal time.  "That was my favorite pig that we just ate"  little Masha said wistfully at one meal.  The Bagmut family was wonderful and every time I was in their home I genuinely felt like I was in my home.

Saying "goodbye" was really difficult.  It was especially hard to say goodbye to Masha.  "You'll see him in heaven" people kept telling her.  "That's not making me feel better", she replied.  Actually, I hope it's a lot sooner than that.

Before Anya and I left to head back to Donetsk, Luda handed me a letter in Russia.  It was a message God gave to her specifically for me.  I couldn't imagine what it said, but I knew that it it came from Luda it would be real and profound.  We said our goodbyes to everyone and got on the bus and then Anya translated the message Luda had transcribed.

It was absolutely penetrating to the very core of my being. It was prophetic.  Only I could understand what was written in that letter.  There's no way Luda could have known what she was writing and what it meant to me.  It's private and I won't be sharing it here.  Suffice to say that never in a million years did I expect that gift on this trip to Ukraine.  It was miraculous.  When I got back to Donetsk and checked into a hotel for the flight out the next day I looked at my pictures and letter and just wept and wept and wept.

I'll never forget Kamenka, the people, the experience.  It was life-changing for me.

The small plane that was to fly me back to Munich had to abort the take-off at the last second.  There was a flock of birds the plane would have collided with.  We sat there for 45 minutes waiting for the breaks to cool.  I missed my connecting flight to Berlin and was put on a later flight and got back to Jamie and Marco.  Now we're together for a couple of months with no interruptions.  Finally.

Back in Berlin I looked up Kamenka on google earth and couldn't find the village of 700.  That's okay.  I'll always know where it is.  It's right here in my heart.