The village churches impact me the most.
Playing with orphan children is fun. Speaking at the huge Church of Praise is really enjoyable too.
But the villages ...
We all pile into a van for an hour or two. If you're lucky, there are enough seats for everyone. If there are not enough, still, everyone insists that the Canadians get a seat. Xhenya pulls out his guitar, and we sing all the way there. Tanya leads us in group prayer.
The van stops and we all pile out. Usually a little group is already gathered, waiting for us to arrive. Babushkas wrapped in scarves ... little kids, watching shyly ... one or two teenagers who offer a well-practiced "hello," followed by an embarrassed grin. We're friends immediately though when I manage a "strasvoytye" in return.
Either before or after the service, the pastor shows us around, anxious for us to see what God has given them. "We got this building, and we are working on re-digging the foundation, and repairing the inside ..."
"I got a job since you were here last! A full-time job!" (No mean feat when his background includes three separate jail terms.) "And a wife!" She beams at me, and asks me to pray over the dreams for the future they've written down. They are moving their church out of their two-room home, and into a building someone gave them in just two weeks.
"We've finished renovating one room of this building. We're working on the rest, as we are able to."
At one place, it was colder inside than out ... so we stayed outside, where a man named Valera pulled out an ancient trumpet. When I commented later that he was a really good player, he grinned and said with a thick Russian accent - "Pheel Dreescoll". We laughed together.
After the service, a meal for the guests, prepared from village-grown produce. It doesn't matter that you ate before you came, and you'll eat when you get back. In Ukraine, food is an essential part of friendship.
Then we all pile back in the van. Xhenya pulls out his guitar and we sing and laugh all the way home.
I love those village churches. The pastors are my heroes, living in these places that are a world apart, with high levels of alcoholism, high levels of poverty. Many have moved out to these areas without indoor plumbing, without grocery stores. They serve those that come, whether by praying for them, or taking food to them, or providing personal care to senior citizens that have no one else.
They are amazed that Canadians care about them.
We are humbled to have met them.