I’ve been back from the mission trip to Ukraine and thought through some highlights and observations from the trip. I’ll work through them in turn and as briefly as possible.
1. Vibrant Spirituality- at least in the churches I visited, I found the spirituality of the Ukrainian people to be vibrant and passionate. They sing some of the same songs that we do, but I didn’t get the impression that they were as critical about “singing too many new songs, long songs, old songs, etc..” Whenever worship started, there was a buzz around the congregation, and eagerness to see Jesus worshipped.
2. Hopeful- the Ukrainian people have experienced hardships in their past, but there remains hope that God will do amazing things in their country. I received a coffee mug and plate with the Ukrainian flag on it from one of the churches I preached at. The colors and look of the flag traditionally symbolize the fertile soils in their fields and the bright sky above them. The Christians, however, see the flag as God’s opened heavens above them and the ripe harvest around them. They are a people with profound hope.
3. Women- Women have a lively an active role within their congregations. One gets the sense that the Christian movement would fall apart IF NOT for the women in their midst. Differences of opinion on women’s active role in ministry aside, it must be celebrated how women’s value is lifted and honored in this country’s church culture.
4. Family- After every church service, our team had the opportunity to pray with many people. In Ukraine, it is normal to pray for every person in the congregation when the pastor invites people forward for prayer. The requests were diverse, but many of them were prayers for the salvation of their family members. In many cases, only 1 person in the family was Christian, but they were believing that God would rescue the rest by His mercy and grace.
5. Mobile- every church we participated in rented their space. Some in former shopping malls, others were formally drug houses. Many circumstances place these churches in rented facilities, but it does not deter them from pressing on. One church that we visited had holes in the floor and chalk-like paint on the walls. I was struck by the sheer simplicity of these spaces. The spaces reminded me of the incarnation, God becoming flesh in the body of a Nazarene. We in the West could learn much from the Ukrainian simplicity.
6. Communal- The Ukrainian culture has an impulse for community. Instead of complaining about not having it and blaming the church for failing at creating it, Ukrainians go make it on their own. There were many nights where the Pastor whom we stayed with had friends over to drink tea and play Skip Bo. One night, I was playing Skip Bo with four Ukrainians and listening to the same worship song in Russian (on repeat) for nearly 2 hours. Even though we communicated mainly through actions and broken English and Russian (all along listening to the same worship song), I could not help but think, “This is a window into the Kingdom of God.”
Ukraine is a wonderful place, filled with wonderful people. There could be many things celebrated about such a place, but space is limited here. Every time I look at my clock I imagine a place and people 8 hours ahead of me whom God loves and where God is mightily present.