This year, Spike came to Ukraine. It was his first time. Honestly, I wondered what his experience would be in this place that I love.
Saturday night when we arrived in Kyiv, jet-lagged and in an overnight train compartment with a Russian-only-speaking couple, Spike did what he always does - made a friend. Did you know a Canadian and a Ukrainian can become instant friends, language barriers notwithstanding, if both are rabid hockey fans? They just say names of hockey players back and forth, and cheer. And then they exchange gifts, and a promise to watch Olympic hockey together in 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The stranger-turned-friend gets off the train a stop before we do, and that's that.
We arrived in Krivoy Rog Sunday morning at 5:30 AM and headed off to a church service a couple of hours later, where I would be speaking. Spike mentioned quietly to me that he'd like to not jump in right away, would like the opportunity to acclimate a little. "No problem," I said. Seconds later, Pastor Galina came in and having heard that a musician was present, asked if he'd like to be part of the band in just a few minutes. Without hesitation he said he'd love to, to my amusement. The guitar barely left his hands for the remainder of the trip. Between hockey and music, he took to Ukraine like a pig to mud.
On Monday we visited the first orphanage, where a little girl with some kind of physical disability scampered across the room and climbed right up his body until her face was inches from his. The whole thing happened in seconds, no warning. He laughed, and hugged her, and I knew he was fine.
It's hard this time to write about Ukraine. Not because it's not an amazing experience. But because more and more it is still an amazing experience, but now with dearly-loved friends. We laugh a lot. We hug a lot. We pray and sing and play football with orphans and smile a lot. We improvise games and crafts on the fly, because the plans always change. We buy food and soap for the very poor. We share faith. We eat a LOT. In another post I will tell you about the boarding school.
But for now - my friends Sergei and Vika - they have a tiny farm now. Two years ago, he was an ex-con turned village pastor, trying to find someone who would pay him to work. Last year he had a new job! A beautiful wife! And a separate structure in which to hold church services (instead of in their 3-room house). And now - a farm. Chickens, a calf and 3 pigs. Bees for honey. A thriving vegetable garden. Dreams. Big dreams, not just for their village, but for the 6 other nearby villages. My friends - I love them.
So it's hard to write, because how do I tell you about my warm respect for Pastor Gregory, who always seeks to both challenge and learn? How do I tell you about Dennis, the boy who wanted to know if I had kids, and when I said, "All of you," he leaned on me and smiled with contentment? How do I tell you about Yura, eager to take pictures together, and to show us Buri Oogli, the mental institution from which he was rescued? He goes back now to help others there.
So - for my Uncle Ken, who queried if there would be more Ukraine stories - I'm trying, I really am. I'm still searching for the words.