Till Next Time, Ukraine!

For David Betts. David was one of the first people to follow my blog, and from the beginning has silently been one of my biggest supporters. He always followed up, asked how things were, wished me well, and now he has requested that I write about my journey in Ukraine. Some days it would seem as though all my writing had been in vain, and it was in those days that David would encourage me. I have always loved traveling and serving, but never really saw it as an opportunity for myself. David has been nothing but a great example of someone who lives his life to the fullest. Although I have never met him, he has inspired me greatly to do the same in my life! If you haven’t already, please take the time to read his other entries. I can guarantee a pleasant read:)
Thanks again, David!

After giving it months and months of thought and prayer, I finally made what is by far one of the craziest decisions of my life. Last year, I decided to take a year off from school, friends, and work, and committed to becoming a full-time missionary. The year is quickly coming to an end and the irony of it all is that I have probably never worked harder, learned more, or made as many friends as I have this year! I’ll be honest; I had the time of my life!

Some way and some how I ended up serving in Ukraine. The journey had a rough start. Being several thousand miles away from home, missing two of my very close friends wedding days, and realizing what I had just gotten myself into, I hit what I called a small bump in the road. I was homesick. If there is anything I regret, it’s being homesick. At the time, it prevented me from putting 110% into everything I did.

My journey here (alongside with my team of 10) started in a small village called Sumy. Sumy happened to be only 5 km away from Russia (the country Ukraine is currently at war with). We slept on the floors of what only looked like an abandoned school; however, we later found that the school is, in fact, fully functional. The principal of the school agreed to allow us to spend our nights there in secret while we led a free day camp for all the children in the area.

The experience was something I will never forget. Showering outside with freezing cold water, using the restroom in a giant hole in the ground, being chased by flocks of geese, drinking “water” from the well, hearing gunshots in the distant, sleeping on the floor of a 100 year old school, all-the-while connecting with and serving the community of a third world village. Totally worth it.

Fast forward a week, and we’ve packed an 8-seat van with 18 staff members, on a 5-hour bumpy drive over to another village (talk about bonding), where we would repeat the process all over again.

I was privileged enough to be designated as the photographer for the first camp and as the chef for the second camp (I’ll admit, I was not the most qualified person for either of those positions but by God’s grace it all worked out perfectly).

We spent the next month serving the community in an even smaller village called Rudnya. Here we mainly served the local Pentecostal Church and helped plan and advertise their annual Harvest Festival. We build a handful of unforgettable memories here as well. I think one of my favorites might have to be the day the laundry machine broke because of bathroom plumbing issues (you can imagine the stench of those clothes😂).I also bonded with Babushka Galya who eventually became like my own grandmother. I’ve come back to visit her on several occasions now.

Now for one of our biggest projects here, the medical bus. We have been planning to fully fund a medical bus project here in Ukraine since before we even knew where we were heading! We sponsored 25 doctors (Pediatricians, Dentists, Optometrists, Surgeons, Cardiologists, Physical Therapist, Ultrasound Technician, etc…), we brought them in from the city to a small village, and paid for their stay, their transportation, their equipment, and the medicine that would be given away so that the locals can receive 3 days of FREE medical attention. We treated almost 300 clients within that time.

This was especially fun for our team because we all got to play secretary for the time being! What was our role? Simple really. We just signed everyone in, asked them who they needed to see, and led them to their doctor. (Thinking about becoming a secretary now.)

A Week in Odessa. This is the part where we meet and become friends with tons of strangers. We spent this whole week going to random churches and singing for them, and then following up with their members throughout the week. Little did we know that “following up” would mean cutting down forests to supply firewood for the winter and picking potatoes and corn. Who knew missionary could be doing such simple tasks. I’ve never felt more useful in my life. It’s not till you’ve seen how much farming a poor, old, widowed, crippled lady has to do to sustain herself that you actually begin to appreciate all that you have.

By now, over a month has passed and we’ve moved onto our next big project in Chernihov, Ukraine where we will spend the rest of our stay. Here we have a packed schedule everyday! None of us have an English degree let alone anything that qualifies us to be English professors, yet we have all become ESL teachers and professors. We taught all ages 5 days a week!

Saturdays we spend with our favorite kids 40 minutes out of the way in a village called Pisky. This is probably my favorite time of the week. We literally just play games with kids for 4 hours! Time never flies as fast as it does with kids. We read them a bible story, do some arts and crafts, sing songs, play soccer, and take tons of selfies (these never turned out to my liking. I’ve never been photogenic.), have some lunch and occasionally treat everyone to some ice cream.

We’ve played soccer with the locals on several occasions. After discovering that they have a champion team we didn’t hesitate to create our own team. We played a total of 8 games with them. Before and after every game, we made it a point to pray together as a team. Believe it or not, us amateurs won every game. (Team Jesus for the win!)

Sundays we commit to the church and their elders. Let me paint this image for you. Imagine you’re well in your age, your husband has passed, your children have grown and have their own children to foster and care for, you are too ill to work or simply unable to work for whatever reason, and you have no one left. You’re imagining a good percentage of the Slavic elderly community. Walking into their homes, I get a strong sense of loneliness and no sense of purpose. These people love surprise visits! Sundays we dedicated to people like this. It was our way of letting them know that they aren’t forgotten and that we appreciate all that they’ve invested into this community.

All-the-while, we’ve sent the males in our group off to the war zone (Dambas) to deliver 10 tons of rice to feed the soldiers in the war. The drive is 8 hours long, and took several trips and little to no sleep! But the reward is well worth it.

Back at home, the ladies and I use our free time to visit the local Orphanages and set up Friday night fellowships with the locals. The most important investment we have here are the people. Obviously our goal is to help those in need and to get the message of the gospel across, but if all else fails (which it hasn’t), at least we’ve created a lasting relationship with the people around us. Someone you can remember by name and pray for even when you leave.

I dedicated all this time to serve God and his people, and in return I feel like he has served me ten times over! There isn’t a single prayer here that has gone unanswered. I have more testimonies, friends, and memories than I can ever write about in a single blog.

On top of that so many of my dreams have been answered. I’ve experienced the life of a photographer, a chef, a student, a teacher, a professor, a graphic designer, and a traveler all within a short year! In all these things I’m nothing short of an amateur. But that’s the fun in everything. It’s newness to you. Once things become familiar, once you become anything more than an amateur, it becomes routine. But here, the moment things begin getting familiar we leave. New people, new faces, new food, new places; we come, we serve, we love, and then we do it again somewhere else.

Being a missionary outside of my country has been scary and exciting all at once. I’ve been taken outside of my comfort zone more times than I can remember. I’ve been humbled and humiliated. I’ve left people I love but I’ve met more people who need to be loved. I’ve broken down to tears and I’ve been built up again. Looking back, I’m not sure why it took me so long to decide to live a life like this. I don’t deny that it was difficult to come to the decision to leave everything I knew for the unknown; but now, it’s more difficult to go back.

It’s great having that 9-5, knowing that you have a source of money, it’s great that you have evening classes and are getting an education, it’s great you’re going to church on Sundays, it’s great having family dinners, or coffee dates with your best friends, it’s great making it to your best friends wedding, and it’s even great that you get to celebrate the Holidays with your loved ones…

But it’s pretty amazing meeting new people, people who are barely making ends meet and helping them, people who make about 50 cents an hour, people who can’t get an education, who can’t pay for that cup of coffee. Hearing their stories, giving till it hurts, seeing someone receive healing right before your eyes, missing your friends wedding to serve food or take photo’s for a children’s camp that that wouldn’t have otherwise happened, being someone’s only guest every Sunday, getting hug attacks from the three little rascals who live next door, even if all the while you lost your phone, or got lost in a city you’ve never been to before is all just as amazing. The memories here are endless;

  • Relying on public transportation for everything
  • Drying your clothes outside
  • Freaking out when a woman greets you with a kiss for the first time rather than a hand shake
  • Forgetting your grocery bag at home, needing to buy a new one every time
  • Finding out they don’t have ranch here (or bagels and other luxuries)
  • Always needing to ask strangers for directions hoping that they even understood where you’re trying to go
  • Learning the schedule of the light rail
  • Missing the light rail
  • Getting off at the wrong stop
  • Needing to buy a new glass of milk (and most other things that need   refrigerating) every day because your fridge is broken
  • Finding out that your clothes have been marinating in toilet water in the laundry all day because the pipes are confused
  • Avoiding the bathroom all day because you don’t really want to squat over a large hole in fear of falling into it
  • Sometimes peeing behind a bush because it’s the better option, being followed home by a herd of dogs
  • Being ripped off by the taxi’s when they find out you’re not a local
  • Awkwardly watching your friend yell at him when she finds out about it
  • Understanding the struggle of going around one word because you don’t know how to say it in their language, and the list goes on

Leaving all of this for the luxury of being stuck in traffic in my car, warm indoor showers, a dryer, and a listening to the chaos over the lack of a snowman on the Starbucks seasonal cups is definitely harder! America is great, California will always be home, but for some reason I find comfort in all this discomfort. And I think it’s because I feel a sense of purpose here. Yea, maybe some unfortunate things came my way. But honestly, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!

Till next time, Ukraine!

-XoXo, Oxie-

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