Friday, September 27, 2013

Country Road, Far From Home

Why would a pastor from Arlington, Virginia, find himself bouncing over country roads in rural Ukraine near the Polish border? Few if any Americans and no tourists have ever ventured into this countryside. No tour buses anywhere near here, just rolling hills, thick woods and grassy fields carved by winding streams. Lots of little farms with tiny houses, a few out buildings and not much livestock, a few cows or goats or pigs or chickens. These are not "get ahead" farms, more like "stay alive" farms. 

And when we were back on the pavement, we stopped in a few small towns and cities, scattered houses around a little school and a few businesses. One town was called Garadok and it was invisible or at least it used to be. Under Soviet rule, Garadok was a top secret military installation, closed to all outsiders and not identified on any map. Now of course, it is an open town with people living in the old Soviet barracks, trying to scratch out a living in the nearby fields.

What were we doing out there? I was one of a handful of American pastors traveling with two Ukrainian church planters, Bogdam and Taras, and our seminary host, Slavic. It was our privilege to go see where these newborn churches are being planted and are taking root even in the harshest of circumstances and with hardly any resource or support. We came as potential partners representing churches here in the states with a desire to help. And what I saw cut me to the heart.

These people have so much less than I do, so much less materially, apartments that look like closets, houses that we would call shacks, one set of clothes to wear all week, barely able to get by and keep going. Amazingly, they feel very blessed, even fortunate that God cares for their needs.

And yet, these people have so much more than I do, so much more spiritually, more conviction and determination, greater faithfulness and willingness to sacrifice, even more gratitude. I am humbled by their testimonies and challenged by their example.

Strangely enough, we really do need each other, as pastors and churches. Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters need our help, our resources, our teams to help them establish and expand God's work in their country. And, we need our Ukrainian partners to teach us again what it means to follow Christ so that we can build His church back here in America.

I came home with one burning desire - to do whatever we can do to help our new friends, to move heaven and earth to support the work of the Kingdom in Ukraine. Somewhere in the fields of Ukraine God planted a little piece of my heart.

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