The outcome of the war in Ukraine has increased significance to those who have friends or family in this battered nation.
My history with the Ukrainian people dates back to 1993, just two years after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Americans were a novelty then; most Ukrainians had not yet even heard the English language spoken.
In the process of our pro-life mission there we were richly blessed in traditional Ukrainian fashion.
An American organization, Thoughts of Faith, donated two mobile medical units to the Ukrainian people. I and a dear friend, Ann Warner (now Tolly) were brought in to help set up pro-life pregnancy counseling as a part of the medical services offered. Ukraine’s dire economic situation frightened many women into having abortions.
We came equipped with sets of fetal models and hand-held replicas of twelve-week unborn babies. In addition, we brought pro-life brochures on fetal development translated into Ukrainian, along with other teaching aids.
During our time there Ann and I experienced heartwarming hospitality that we will never forget.
On one occasion a university student heard our lecture on campus and invited us to dine with her family. In their difficult economy it was common for three generations to live in one flat, as was the case with this family. Our hosts put on a feast they could ill afford. Even so, we all delighted in our meal, the fellowship and beautiful song while the student served as our translator.
On Saturday, a rare day off from lecturing and teaching, we found ourselves in the Ternopil city square where a wedding party was taking pictures in front of the fountain. It was tradition that they would have a civil wedding ceremony, followed by pictures in the square and then stop at a photographer before heading to the wedding reception.
When asked, the bride and groom graciously allowed us to take their picture. As we began to walk away, the father of the bride invited us to the reception. We were hesitant to accept because of our casual dress and American social norms that you don’t crash wedding festivities.
Our translator told us that we would bestow a great honor on the group if we accepted. He was unable to accompany us, however, one of the guests spoke some broken English, so we gladly entrusted our afternoon to people we didn’t know in a foreign country. As we stood in line to board an old school bus used to transport wedding guests, the bride’s father waved his finger at us and was shaking his head. I whispered to Ann that he probably had a change of heart about the invitation.
But that wasn’t the case at all. He pointed to a car decorated with streamers, indicating that we would have special transportation. On the way there, we stopped at a photographer where the wedding party and attendees assembled on bleachers for a group photo. Ann and I stood off to the side, but they would have none of it. We were to be included in the picture, and weeks after our trip, the image arrived in the mail. We were officially part of the family!
The reception was nothing like we had experienced before. Ann and I were seated at a place of honor near the head table. People doted on us at every turn. The food was amazing and the conversation – made possible by creative communication – was interesting and fun.
At one point the bride and groom received well wishes from the attendees. Women offered the bride a flower and the men slipped a few coupons (the currency at the time) into the groom’s hand.
The American dollar had far more purchasing power over the Ukrainian coupon, and I didn’t want to come off as a showy American tourist, but a twenty-dollar bill was the smallest denomination I had, which at the time was several months’ pay for this young man.
So as Ann presented the bride with a flower, the groom discretely slipped my folded contribution into his pocket without looking at it. I sometimes wonder what they thought when later that night the groom counted their gifts!
We spent five or six hours with these wonderful people, and they cried when we left. They will always have a special place in our hearts.
Ukrainians are proud of their country, their people and their culture, and most harbor a fierce attitude against Russia. Not just because of the invasion but due to the long history of the big nation treating Ukraine as a territorial possession. That’s why we never refer to Ukraine as “The Ukraine” because it designates it as a bordering property of Russia.
Please keep the people of Ukraine in your prayers. May God deliver them from Russia just as David delivered the Israelites from Goliath.