The villages are a world apart from the cities.
A few small concrete houses randomly grouped together ... perhaps a couple of 2-level apartment buildings ... with a well-worn path snaking between them. Some geese loudly protesting our arrival. No roads, stores or indoor plumbing. The children go to school somewhere, but I don't know where. Ed told us that many of the people in the villages live their whole lives there, never seeing the city. Alcoholism is rampant, almost universal. There are no churches in the villages.
Unless someone starts one.
The main church in Krivoy Rog has "planted" hundreds of village churches, often with one person functioning as pastor over several. The pastor may live there, or may travel there several hours by bus a few times a month to pray with their people, to teach them, to help them. One woman pastors her small congregation of mostly babushkas ("бабушка") by helping them to bathe and cutting their nails when she comes. She often spends time with each of them individually, as there is no place to come together indoors.
Our team travelled to six villages in total, leading services in small living/bedrooms, or on the side of the road. We always took an offering - which included freshly-laid eggs on one occasion - for the church there. Music and worship are huge, and Jenya - an amazing guy, 20-something with a joyful, laughing passion for God - sang, danced, and played his guitar with nothing held back. He helped us reserved, uncertain Canadians to connect with the village inhabitants silently staring at the space aliens that had appeared in their village. Each time we left, there were hugs, smiles and an insistence that we crowd around a tiny table to eat something ... bread, cheese, potatoes, sausage.
And of course, tea. With lots of sugar. The Canadians don't want sugar??? Maybe they really ARE space aliens.
Then we wedged back into the van to swerve wildly towards another village, travelling along another unnamed road filled with tire-devouring potholes. Laughter and conversation filled the time, exchanging stories of our lives and even telling jokes that actually translated well. In between, Jenya played his guitar. Whether or not I ever see him again, he will always be high on my list of friends.
How amazing is it that I share a common faith, that I belong in God's family, with people whose world is so different from mine? And how very humbling to encourage and pray with pastors like me ... except they have sacrificed far more than I will ever need to ... heroes in God's eyes.
And in mine.