“The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” – 1 John 2:8
It was a nice summer day, three days before school started in September 2016. In the city, parents of school children were busy shopping and getting their children ready for the new school year. Every one of them was full of hope, investing in their children’s future. In the countryside, it was a different situation. High unemployment combined with extreme poverty has resulted in people living a 3rd world lifestyle: no running water or indoor plumbing and an inability to afford even the most basic supplies. That day in September was the day that I made my second trip to Zhmievka, a village in northern Ukraine, 70 km from Chernobyl.
My first trip to Zhmievka was in August. I had met with the Gorvat family. After meeting with them, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. The parents, Svetlana and Alexander, were raising seven children. When I visited, the parents and children gathered inside the house to meet me. I told them why I came and gave a bag of groceries to the parents. For the children, I had a special gift from Canadians – one backpack filled with school supplies. Through the local pastor, I knew that one of the children was starting school this year so I wanted to give that child this special gift.
When I first met the family, I was overwhelmed by their poverty and need. They lived in a house with no proper heating, kitchen, or beds. The children didn’t know me and studied me at first. Then they told me their names and showed me their beds and photos. The house was given to them by a Christian group from Kiev years ago. The furniture, clothing, and toys were all used items that came from different people and what the family was able to find at the dump.
I was stricken by two realities – life in the city and life in a village. Such a contrast! It seemed impossible, even wrong. Soon I learned from the rest of the children that none of them had school bags. They used plastic bags to carry their school books and pens. They had no coloring pencils, rulers, or erasers. I had nice fellowship with the family and before I left, we prayed together. Only God’s grace gives us hope and strength to carry on when all around seems so dark. One of the children asked me to bring her a children’s Bible on my next visit. I wished I had enough school back packs with me for every child in the family, but I didn’t. I promised to return before the school year started.
Driving back to Zhmievka for my second visit was a dream come true. This time I had school back packs for every school child in the family, children’s Bibles and extra treats for kids. This time everything was different for me. Now I knew the children and the parents. I wasn’t a stranger. As soon as children saw me they ran to me with their arms open wide. For a moment, it felt like Heaven on Earth. I stood in the front yard with the gifts in my hands and the children hanging all over me. They smiled and shouted with excitement. Diana, the one who had asked for a children’s Bible said, “I knew you would come back”.
Svetlana, the Mom, stood in the doorway with her youngest child in her arms and a big smile on her face. “Now we are real friends,” she said. “You share our burdens. I Thank God for you and give my gratitude to all Canadians.” When we got inside the house, I noticed some changes. The house was clean. It didn’t look as dark as before. It was evident to me that the Lord had been changing the parents from the inside. It showed in the way they took care of what they had.
God has called us to be faithful in what we have. We don’t have to wait for more to be faithful. The children clung to their new, first ever school back packs and checked out everything inside. Now all children were ready for the school year. Svetlana was encouraged in her new faith seeing how God answered needs of her children. We gave praise to God and prayed for the children and the parents.
The Lord is using various ways to draw people to Himself. What seemed dark and impossible yesterday, today is bright and glorious. Jesus Christ hasn’t changed. He still saves and awakens people to a new life in Him. We are blessed to witness it firsthand. But it wouldn’t happen without partnership and commitment. Thank you for your commitment to missions. At MPI, we make it our goal to listen to God and follow where He leads. I invite you to join with us and discover together the will of God and partner in our new projects in Ukraine and Belarus.