We arrived home last evening and jet lag has hit me like a ton of bricks today. I guess that’s part of my occupational hazard! Before I shut ‘er down for the day, I’ll share a few musings about my Ukraine experience.
* The Odessa neighborhood in which we stayed reminded me of areas of India that I’ve visited. Narrow, broken roads made driving a challenge.
Stray, barking dogs interrupted our sleep at night. Steel gates and high fences protected homes from unwelcome visitors. Downtown Odessa was a different story – beautiful buildings with ornate design and carvings lined cobblestone streets. People sat on park benches and meandered through a square where vendors sold their touristy wares.
* I asked one of our translators about the average monthly wage. She said it’s equivalent to $200. A couple might spend approximately $120/month on food and $75 on bus fare. Do the math. For this reason, it’s imperative that both husband and wife work. And most young marrieds live with their parents because they can’t afford to rent a flat.
* There is an 85% alcoholism rate among men. Is it any wonder when vodka costs the same as a bottle of drinking water (many people drink bottled water for health reasons)?
* Small city buses transport people wherever they need to go. On one of our daily jaunts, I realized that passengers rarely spoke to each other. If they did, it was in hushed tones. No one made eye contact with us, let alone smile. This lack of trust and congeniality is probably left from Communist days when people didn’t wish to draw attention to themselves lest they were singled out and persecuted or betrayed.
* Guards stood at the doors of modern grocery stores and asked to see our receipts when we exited. Someone explained that one store, in existence for only six years, had posted a security guard on each aisle when it opened. That was necessary to prevent people from stealing products off shelves – the temptation was too great for them to resist after not having access to material goods for most of their lives. BTW, this store sold more than groceries and dry goods. It also sold rifles and handguns.
* One of our national missionaries, a pastor, became a father two weeks ago. Interestingly, he was not able to see his baby until she was six days old. He was allowed to visit his wife but not when the baby was present. This was due to health care concerns and the fear of quick and unstoppable spread of contagious diseases.
* A governing body or person in the city government decides when to turn the heat on and off in buildings via a main switch. It will likely be turned off in April, so hopefully the weather will warm up soon. Concrete apartments can get very chilly! Unless an apartment has an electric water heater, showers will be cold until the heat is turned on next November.
* Ukraine’s history bears a lot of pain. For instance, between 7 and 10 million people died of starvation in the early 1930s while storehouses filled with grain sat nearby.
Our time in Odessa gave me new insights into the immense physical and spiritual needs of this place. It gave me a deep appreciation for the missionaries working there. And it created within me a desire to return and encourage them, and to partner with them in the future as God leads.
My time there also gave me a surprise personal link to the Ukraine. My whole life, I’ve known that my father was born in Russia but didn’t know what region. Last Friday, I discovered his birthplace was in present-day Ukraine, directly above the Romania/Moldova border.
I pray that God will shine His glorious light into the Ukraine. As Easter approaches, I pray that His Holy Spirit will lead the people into understanding that He doesn’t desire their religious rituals. Rather, He longs for relationship with them.
Knowing Christ and His transforming power will set individuals free from alcoholism and the dysfunction that accompanies it. Knowing Christ will give them freedom from mistrust and fear. Knowing Christ will heal them from a painful past and give hope for the future. As individuals are changed inwardly, so society will follow. Will you join me in this prayer?
On Friday I’ll post a few photos of sights around Odessa.