Connecting with the Blind - February 15, 2008
So with my limited experience of ministering with the blind people who are coming to our church, I was concerned about being able to connect with them while we are in the van together. Previously, when Sasha Simonovich rode with us, they would have discussions about the Saturday ministry, they would ask and answer Bible questions, they would sing songs, or they would just talk. Often, all of them would talk at the same time, creating an overload in my brain so that I was totally unable to understand anything that was being said. So before I embarked on the adventure of driving alone with the group, I prayed God would help me connect with them.
My first stop is for Stanislav Ivanovich, my second is for Aleksandra Ivanovna, and my third is for Nina Alexandrovna and on and on. Now these names are difficult for me, and the formal and polite way to address people is by their first and middle name (the middle name is really a second name, called the Patronymic name, and it comes from your father’s name). It is basically equivalent to someone addressing me as Miss Richardson. Until you are invited to simply call someone by their first name or nickname, it is not polite (unless, of course, you are working with children; one more reason I like working with kids).
Anyway, I really struggle with these names sometimes. In the van Sunday morning, one of the ladies was sharing that she has a new grandson. Her son Artyuro named his son Artyuro, so the babies name is Artyuro Artyurovich. She was laughing about how difficult that was to pronounce. We went around the van, everyone trying to say this new baby’s name, and everyone stumbled over it.
What a fun connection! First, that they also have trouble sometimes with their own names, but also, that when we hear a new baby’s name we always say all the names together and sometimes think, “Oh, that sounds so pretty,” or “Did they never say the names together before they named that poor baby?”
The second connection was they talked to me. I found out that I am the age of many of their children, which makes them about the age of my parents. Also, very interesting, many of them had healthy eyes earlier in their life. Medical treatment is not nearly as available here as it is in the States, which is why some have lost their sight. They had jobs and have families; they are interesting people and willing to share their stories with me.
The third connection was that one of the guys started telling jokes, which caused everyone to start laughing and joking. I love to laugh and joke. Now I didn’t totally understand the joke, but it was about a dentist and having a tooth removed, and everyone else found it to be quite funny.
So I am enjoying my time with the people from the blind ministry, and I am excited to help with this ministry that God is blessing. Four of the ladies have given their hearts to Jesus. Praise the Lord! Praise Him for hearts that are open to Him. Praise Him for the church and its members who are actively serving Him and sharing His love with lost and hurting people. Praise Him for the freedom and opportunity to hold services on Saturday in a government-owned, non-church setting and that people are responding to His Word. Praise Him for His love for all people.
This Is Normal - February 13, 2008
It is funny. I LOVE being an American. Love it. I love America. Really. But, I love Ukraine too. While I was home in the States I found I was struggling a little with silly cultural things, and as I returned to Ukraine, I struggled with them again but in reverse.
First, in America I just couldn’t seem to find any tea. Everywhere and everyone wanted to give me soda. In my heart I just wanted tea. And, everyone served something to drink with dinner, but no tea right after dinner. It was strange and I kept telling myself, this is normal, Shushan. Now, I am in Ukraine. Everyone and their brother wants to give me tea but can soda be found…nope. I went and purchased a whole liter of Pepsi and drank it all by myself. Then I was at a friend’s house and she served all this dry food and not a single drop of liquid until we were done eating. I thought I was going to die. And I kept telling myself, this is normal, Shushan.
When I was in America I had a lot of trouble with my schedule. People kept asking me what my schedule was for the next week and I truly had no idea. I would call people and say, “Let’s go to lunch today,” and they would sometimes say, “Today I have plans, let’s do it next Wednesday.” I kept thinking, okay, Shushan, this is normal. Now I am here and no one can make a plan. I ask, “What time do you want to get together tonight?” and I get, “I will call you later.” “What are we doing next week?” “Let’s talk about it next week.” Okay, Shushan, it is normal.
In America I was in the car for hours at a time and no one wanted me to walk anywhere. In Ukraine, I have to walk and walk for hours and no one wants me to spend the 25 cents to ride the bus. But it is normal. In America I ate in restaurants almost everyday. My first day back in Ukraine I ate at McDonald’s in Kiev but not again since then, but it is normal. In America everyone hugged me. In Ukraine only grandmother-type ladies and children hug me, but it is normal.
Moral of the story, everything normal is different. When we eat, what we eat, how we pray, what we say, how we act. Some days I don’t feel so normal and I struggle to remember what is normal. So, let me apologize to anyone I frustrated with my abnormalities while I was home and please pray for me as I adjust to feeling normal.
Blind Faith and Trust - February 13, 2008
The Evangelical Christian Church, also known as the little house church where my friend Sasha is the pastor, has a ministry to the blind in our city. It started this summer with an invitation from another Christian organization to bring blind people from our area to a camp, but in order for the organization to invite “campers” local churches had to provide “counselors.” Our little church sent five people, so blind people from our local community center went to camp. Based on the relationships started at camp, the church began to host special services at the community center every other Saturday. Soon, it became every Saturday and then some of the people wanted to come to church.
Now, I truly think this is an amazing ministry, but I have had very little involvement with it for two reasons. First, I think it is wonderful that this is a ministry that the church is responsible for. Second, my Russian is still pretty poor. I rely a great deal on nonverbal communication and that is a lot more difficult with people who cannot see me. One day I was leading one of the blind ladies, Vera, out of the church, and when we came to the step I said, “Look.” One of the other ladies in the church was a little shocked, but Vera and the other blind lady within hearing distance both laughed at me. So, yeah, I am not a lot of help.
As the Saturday meetings at the community center have grown, more and more people have shown interest in coming to church. Praise the Lord! This presents a small logistical problem, namely how to get the people to church. The church is in a region towards the edge of town, not very close to downtown. Sasha Simonovich, an elder in the church and the only church member who has a car, has been picking people up and driving them to church, but his car is very small and only really has room for three passengers. The bus stop is about five blocks away and some of the people would have to take two buses to get to church, so taking the bus alone is not really an option and finding someone who wants to come to church with them is often difficult. Taxis are an option, but can be expensive, especially for those on a fixed income like all of the blind people are.
One solution: I have access to the mission van. This van is a multi-purpose vehicle, and I honestly so appreciate that it is available for my use, but I really don’t enjoy driving it. Actually, I really don’t enjoy driving in general; I much prefer sitting in the passenger seat. Long have I joked that really the only thing I am looking for in a husband is someone who loves to drive. And the truth is, driving in Ukraine is about a hundred times worse than driving in the States! Anyway, I digress. The mission van has room for nine people, so here is a viable solution. Now, Shushan is officially helping with the blind ministry.
The first few times I drove to the church and picked up Sasha Simonovich and then we drove around and picked up others who wanted to come to church. Then after church, we took everyone home and then I would take Sasha home. Well, last week Sasha asked me if I could take the people home by myself. I was a little nervous, but I did it.
This past Saturday I was at the church working with Pastor Sasha on the Kid’s Club. We made fun Valentine’s cards and talked about God’s love; it was great fun. Anyway, when we were finished Sasha Simonovich asked me if I could do all the pick ups by myself this Sunday. I immediately answered, “NO.” However, we sat down and made a list of who was attending. Two of our regular attendees are sick this week, and then we have a “new” guy who would like to come. So, armed with my list and after MUCH prayer, I was prepared to embark on this journey. All went well with the pick ups and we all made it safely to church on time!
Now, the drop offs were a little more difficult. After I dropped off the only person who could see (the wife of one of the blind men attends with us), somehow I made a wrong turn. Now, keep in mind that all the roads really do look the same and there are very few road signs to speak off. So here I am, lost, and driving with four blind people in the van. I am not quite sure how I got where I was, so turning around and going back would not have been the best option. Going forward, who knows where that would have led me? Maybe I should mention one of the reasons I don’t like to drive is that I have a horrible sense of direction. My sisters tease me that it is not a “road trip” until I get lost. Then I saw a road I thought looked familiar; keep in mind they all look alike! So, I made a turn and then thinking I knew where this road led, I stayed on it for a long time and viola, I ended up coming out on a road I knew and I was able to get back on my route to take my remaining four passengers home.
Now about this time, one of the ladies, Riah, asks me, “Who are we taking home?” I mean, yes, these people are blind, but they are not stupid! I am sure they realize I am not going the right way and that we have gone too far and turned too many times. I am sure at this point they are thinking that I am stupid; actually, they may have thought that before! So, a few minutes later when we arrive at the apartment building where Riah lives and I have to convince her that we are indeed at her house and I do indeed know where I am, I thought what an amazing amount of faith and trust it would require to be blind.
How often do I believe because I can see or because I have seen? How often do I trust the way things feel? Or do I trust the outcome only because I have recognized the path that led me to this point? In John 20:29 Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Oh, to have a faith that neither asks for nor requires proof. I pray Jesus will help me to get out of the driver’s seat and not move to the passenger seat but to the back. That He will help me to trust Him with where we are going and how we are getting there and that I will know that I am safe in simply being with Him. And then, when we arrive and it is time for me to get out of the van, I will trust that He is dropping me off at the place I need to be and that even if I cannot see Him, He is with me and I am in the right place.
One of Those Days! - February 13, 2008
Did you ever have one of those days? Oh, you know what I am talking about. One of those days where everything just seems to fall into place and everything just seems to come together. Where at the end of the day you think, I can’t believe how that all worked out. What? Not the kind of day you thought I was talking about? The other day was just an exceptional day; it was just amazing and amazing. And it wasn’t any one thing, it was everything. Truly everything! It was just a perfect day.
That night, as I knelt by my bed in prayer, I was whole-heartedly praising the Lord for blessing me with such a perfect day. I was giving Him glory for everything that had occurred and thanking Him for orchestrating the whole day. I thanked Him for His planning and provision. In that very moment God whispered to my heart, “Shushan, I always plan and provide, even when things don’t go the way you think they should.”
I am so amazingly and abundantly blessed. I am so in awe of a God who loves me and knows me and has a plan for me. I truly cannot entertain any other option but to surrender totally to His plan and to praise Him come what may!
Christ's Hands, Feet, and Ears - September 14, 2007
“I wanna be your hands, wanna be your feet, I’ll go where you send me, go where you send me.”
I have noticed there are a lot of songs about being the hands and feet of Christ, and I like them. It is something I think about and try to do. I believe service and obedience are signs of love. No, we are not saved by the work of our hands and we are not saved by the paths of our feet, but if we surrender our work and our path to God He will use us in amazing ways and give us so many blessings.
So, here I am in a foreign land that, somehow, amazingly, doesn’t feel foreign. Working in situations I often feel unprepared for and don’t fully understand but, somehow, amazingly, I am able to share God’s love in so many places and situations I would have never imagined.
The most amazing part, as I am trying to be God’s hands and feet, I also get to be His ears. People thank me for coming to Ukraine when it was God who brought me here. People praise my efforts when truly I am able to do nothing on my own. And, the sweetest of all, I get to hear the words, “I love you.” Even knowing that, truly, the words are being spoken to Jesus, how wonderful it is to receive a hug and a whispered I love you from a child.
Lack of an Example - September 14, 2007
Have you ever heard of Hama Beads? These things are absolutely amazing. Basically, you take this flat little plastic shape that is covered with little prongs. On each prong you place a colored bead. Then, once you have completed the design you want, you use a hot iron to heat the beads. The little beads melt together and then you lift them off the little plastic shape.
I had never seen these amazing beads before this summer. A couple volunteers from America asked me if I was familiar with them and then a couple teams from Ireland brought some out. I love these things, and I used them everywhere! Most of the kids had never seen anything like them before and they LOVED them. We used them at the youth center, in Sunday School, at camp (boy were they a huge hit at camp).
When I brought them for the craft at Kid’s Club at Sasha’s church, I forgot to bring a sample. Now, none of the kids had ever seen these beads before, and Sasha had never seen them put together. As I tried to explain it to Sasha and then he tried to explain it to the children, he stopped and said to me, “Shushan, it is too difficult to understand without an example.” With some confusion, I tried to demonstrate and explain but, truly, until the first completed pattern was heated and lifted off the plastic shape and the magnet was added to the back, the children and Sasha could not really understand what we were doing and what we would have when we finished.
This situation has come to mind several times since it happened. When I look around me here in Berdyansk, I realize the lack of an example is a problem not just during craft time. Children desperately lack positive Christian examples in their lives. Alcoholism and drug use are serious problems, and economically, this region is suffering. Further, there is just a general sense of hopelessness. Teens and young adults often want to leave Ukraine for better opportunities and more money in the West. Older adults seem to feel that nothing is really going to change and their lives really aren’t much better today than when they were under the Soviet Union. Working with children, I know there is a hope. I know Who has a plan for their lives and, desperately, I want to point them to Jesus.
I remember when I was a little girl and I first started to attend church and first sought to make a commitment to Christ. I truly didn’t understand what it meant to be a Christian. Of course, we have Jesus as the ultimate example of how to live, and the Bible is an amazing tool to understand God and His love for us. But, beyond that, God placed some wonderful Christian people in my life who, as they were emulating Christ, were examples for me—the Hartmans, the Harvilles, the Davises, and the Porters. As an adult, God continues to place people in my life to help me to be more like Him—people who when I look at I see the face of God, people who challenge me, people who hold me accountable. How wonderful that God uses people in such amazing ways!
Even more amazing to me is that God is using me as an example. Please pray that God will continue to work in my life so I can boldly say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 Pray that I will be an example to the children I work with everyday at the orphanage, in English class, in Kid’s Club, and at the youth center. Pray that they will come to know the hope that is found in the love of God. In this place lacking examples, pray that God will use me in a powerful way.
Plain Water - September 14, 2007
I like to drink water—plain, ordinary, nothing added, no bubbles, no carbonation, no flavoring, no lemon, no nothing—just water. Now the reason I mention this is because here in Ukraine that puts me in a minority. So, since drinking water from the tap is not an option, when I am out I drink bottled water. If you ask for bottled water it will most likely be carbonated. If you are lucky and it is not carbonated, it is probably mineral water. In my opinion, the only thing worst than carbonated water is mineral water. So, if you want plain water in a bottle, you must specifically ask for it.
When you ask for plain water, about half the time the store or vendor will actually have it. Hooray for plain water in a bottle! But, needless to say, when I am really thirsty and must have a drink, I can drink carbonated water. I have found that if it is really, really, cold, it is tolerable. Hooray for really cold carbonated water! Of course, drinking a really cold drink will make you sick (truth, one of my Ukrainian friends went to the hospital once from drinking cold milk). So, carbonated water is usually served at about room temperature. It is absolutely horrible and when I drink it, I feel sick to my stomach. But, summer was really hot and I was often very thirsty, so I have found that if I take very small sips and kind of hold the water in my mouth for a few seconds, it quenches my thirst and doesn’t upset my stomach. Hooray for not being thirsty!
Now, I admit I will probably always ask for and prefer plain water in a bottle, but I have learned to be content with carbonated water. I know it seems silly, but a lot of the things that I allow to make me unhappy and uncomfortable are silly things. There are many things in Ukraine that are different than in the States, and God has used things like this to show me how important I make things that are truly unimportant. I can focus on difficulties and differences, and it would be easy to miss all the wonderful things about Ukraine. But instead, like Paul, I have learned the secret of being content in everything is through the power of Jesus. Hooray for the power of God at work in me!
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13
Language Blunders - March 7, 2007
Nastya is a wonderful teenage girl whom I attend church with here in Berdyansk. She also hangs out at the youth center a lot and has come with her mom to our ladies’ meetings. Nastya is learning English in school, and with my fledgling Russian language skills, she and I have had many fun conversations. I truly think she is an amazing Christian girl.
So, on Sunday in church, as she was helping to lead the singing in service, I noticed she has a new cute hairstyle. After service we were chatting, and I started to tell her that I think her hair is really cute. Unfortunately, I totally drew a blank on the word cute, so I said, “I think your hair is very….” She was trying to help and offered a word. It wasn’t cute, so without thinking I just said “No.” I noticed the surprised look on her face so I stopped to think. The word she offered was “beautiful,” and I had said no. Oops! Of course, then the word cute came to me. So, I profusely apologized and confirmed that I do think her hair is both cute and beautiful. Learning a language can be very difficult.
I was telling a couple from church about my family. I thought I was saying I have one older brother, but instead I said I have one scary brother. Oops, not what I meant, but still true! I often confuse the words “young” and “small,” and sometimes it is okay, but mostly, it just doesn’t make sense. The numbers 12, 19, and 20 always get confused in my mind. I really do well with all the others, so I guess it is okay. For some reason, I confuse the verbs “to close” and “to forget.” I was trying to tell some boys at the center to “close the door,” but instead I told them to “forget the door,” three times before Leana asked me what I was trying to say. Oops!
I was at my friends’ house and they told me we were going to pray. I totally misunderstood and thought they were offering me something to eat so I said, “No, thank you.” Thankfully, they did not accept my answer and helped me to understand that they wanted to pray. Oops!
The good news about all of these mistakes is that I am learning Russian. I mess up a lot, but I also understand a lot and can speak a lot. I can have whole conversations in Russian, which to me is huge and amazing. I am so far from fluent, but really my goal is simple communication, and I am really starting to feel comfortable and confident speaking in Russian. Praise the Lord!
Making Friends - March 7, 2007
I am so excited to say that I have friends who don’t speak English! It is amazing to me. Now, of course this should make sense, since I have been living here in Ukraine for six months, but because most of my time is spent in ministry to children and youth, I don’t spend a lot of time making adult friends, especially those who don’t speak English.
There are two churches World Gospel Mission works with here in the city of Berdyansk. The first is Bethel Church. It is located in the Home of Hope and is the larger of the two churches. It has the youth center and English as a Second Language ministries. The second is Christian Church. It is a small home church that Sasha pastors. I attend Bethel Church on Sunday mornings, but it does not have a Sunday evening service, so I attend Christian Church then. It was there that I met Katya and Allosha.
Katya and Sasha both have birthdays in December, so the young adult group in the church decided to have a birthday party for them at Katya and Allosha’s house. I did not know very much Russian at that point, and I was a little intimidated to go to a party where I thought the only person I could talk to was Sasha. However, because both Sasha and Katya had invited me, I really wanted to go and try. Soon after we arrived Katya and Natasha went into the kitchen to prepare the food and drinks. I asked Sasha if I could help them and he took me into the kitchen, explained to Katya and Natasha that “Shushan likes to work,” and then left us to set out the cake and other things. Most of our communication was body language, but it was great. We laughed, and I felt so comfortable. I had such a wonderful time.
Not long after that, three of the young adults at Christian Church wanted to learn English, so I started tutoring them on Monday nights. While I am at ladies’ ministry at Bethel Church, they attend a prayer meeting at Christian Church, and afterwards, we meet together and study English with Sasha as our translator. They usually finish before I do, so instead of meeting at the church we started meeting at either Sasha’s house or Katya and Allosha’s house. Katya is pretty serious about trying to learn English, but her husband, Allosha, and the other young adult, also named Allosha, just sort of play around. Mostly, we really have a good time trying to talk and communicate.
Sometimes, after our lesson, we will just hang out and watch a movie or listen to music. Also, a couple of times they have invited Sasha and me over just to visit or to play games, but Sasha was always there to translate for me. A couple of weeks ago, Sasha needed to stay after church to talk to someone and Katya and Allosha offered to walk me home. As we walked we were chatting, and they invited me to come to their house. I was so excited! Not just that I understood the invitation, but that they wanted me to come, even without Sasha. It was such a great time. We struggled to understand each other, but for the most part it was great. Then, this Sunday, they invited me over again. Almost every time I am there, Katya and I end up together in the kitchen, making tea or something. She is helping me to learn all of the Russian “kitchen” words.
This Sunday night, we were talking about Ukrainian food and they asked me if I like borscht. I said I do and that I want to learn to make it before I go home. They were a little shocked that I don’t know how, and they asked me why. Well, because I have a limited vocabulary, I explained the best way I could, by shifting the blame. I told them none of my grandmothers or moms have ever made borscht (sorry Grandmas and Moms if this is not true, but I have never seen any of you make it). So, it was decided that after our lesson on Monday night I would learn to make green borscht. It was really good, if I do say so myself. Basically, regular borscht is made with beets and lots of other things while green borscht is made with a green vegetable, sort of like spinach, instead of beets, and still lots of other things. I had such a good time.
The second Allosha left after our lesson and Katya and her husband and I played together in the kitchen. We chatted and laughed and joked, and I learned to cook. (A really wonderful and amazing thing, the verb “to cook” and the noun “a cook” were both in my Russian vocabulary list last week. God is so good!). We then played a game on the computer and started to watch a movie. I was so tired I just couldn’t stay awake, and, with apologies, I told them I couldn’t finish the movie. As Allosha and I were putting on our coats (after dark, men here will not let me walk home alone, which is really, really nice) I looked at the time, and it was after 11 p.m.
It is silly, but suddenly I realized that Katya and Allosha are my friends. I am so excited! They are such a precious couple, and I am so thankful they are part of my life.
Youth English Class - March 6, 2007
Every Tuesday and Thursday I teach an English class to children ages 8-14. I have been teaching this class since October 2006, and I have shared some prayer requests and praises about this group before. Over Christmas and New Year, when the schools were on break, I also took a break with this class. During the last week before break, we of course had a party (you know how I love parties), and we had a test to see what they had learned. I had planned to use the results to determine what I should repeat before learning new vocabulary this semester.
Looking at their tests, I was congratulating myself on what they had learned. I decided that they really do know more English now than when we started. I was feeling like I had done a good job teaching English. As I was congratulating myself on a job well done, I was struck with the question, “Why am I really here?” English is supposed to be the tool to get them in the door, and they have come in twice a week for three months, but what have I really shared with them? What impact has it had on them? I spent a good amount of time trying to justify to myself and to God how hard I had worked to incorporate Bible stories and lessons into the English class. I tried different stories and different methods to tell the stories and teach lessons and, always, behavioral problems would come up and attention would go down during the stories. I would try to be sneaky about it and sometimes water down the Bible story. I kept trying to reassure myself that the kids want to learn English, their parents want them to learn English, and my attitude and love alone would be enough of a witness even if I didn’t tell a Bible story every week.
I really felt like God was challenging me to do something different with the class as we restarted in January, but I was reluctant and honestly at a loss about what to do. As I was in the midst of privately struggling with this, I was talking to a friend. She said she wanted to ask me a question but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. She asked if I really felt like the English classes are a ministry, if I really felt like they were bearing fruit. I was able to tell her that I have heard testimonies about the impact of some of the classes in the past but that I was struggling with those questions myself about the classes I have been teaching. I asked her to help me pray about what to do and what changes needed to be made in order to make God really the center and focus of the class.
In January, when the class restarted, I explained that our class had three goals: to learn about God, to learn more English, and to have fun. Our class is 75 minutes long, and I have committed to spending at least 30 minutes of that time focused on sharing Bibles stories, lessons, and the gospel with the children who come to the class. After that first lesson, a parent came and talked to my translator and explained that she did not want her child to hear Bible stories, she only wanted her to learn English. Two other children also said they did not want Bible. My response was simple, they can learn just English in school but that I am here to share more than that.
To be honest, some of the children that came last semester have stopped coming to class, but God has blessed us with new children who are coming. We are not covering nearly as much English as we did last semester, but I am so encouraged. We have a Bible story during every lesson, and almost all of the class behavioral problems are gone. Last week, we heard the story of Noah and the flood. I told half the story on Tuesday and the second half on Thursday. We talked about the fact that the Bible is truth, that science gives evidence of a global flood, that it had never rained before the flood, and that God can do things that have never been done before. I asked them what it would be like to be on a boat with just your family and a bunch of animals. Would it be fun? Do you think they had a TV? Do you think the animals were stinky? Who had to clean up the animal’s messes? The children listened and talked and participated. When we stopped on Tuesday, Noah and his family and the animals were all still on the ark. On Thursday, I asked the kids to remind me of the story so far and one little girl said, “It is a very interesting story.” What a praise to know that stories from the Bible are capturing their attention! Pray with me that the message of the Bible will capture their hearts.
The Ukrainian Volunteer Weight Loss Program - March 6, 2007
I am so excited to share that I have found the perfect diet plan. Now, before you start thinking this is some kind of crazy infomercial, let me reassure you that there is no cost to learn this secret plan. I am going to tell you all about it for FREE.
Now, experts will tell us that in order to lose weight we must change our habits and behaviors. When I came to Ukraine I realized I was changing a lot of things, but I did not recognize some of the implications. As I have mentioned before, the closest McDonalds is about two hours from where I live, so I will admit that it makes eating there a little more difficult. Actually, in Berdyansk the only “fast food” we have is food from the deli at the grocery store or prepared by women in the open-air market. I have eaten restaurant food less than 10 times in the last six months, and the food I eat at home is wonderful and homemade. There are almost no “convenience” foods here, which means cooking takes longer but there are fewer preservatives.
Another thing that I have changed dramatically from when I was at home is my eating schedule. When I first arrived here I remember having a discussion about scheduling with two Ukrainians and they wanted to plan a class to take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I explained that we couldn’t do that because it was lunch time. Neither of them could see a conflict, and now I understand why. Meal times here are really very flexible. In the States, when it was time to eat, I would eat. I would stop what I was doing and eating always took precedence. Not so much now. Honestly, you do what you need to do and then eat when you have time.
Also, in the States everything social is tied to eating, and I am very social. We eat for and at every occasion. We have special breaks at the office, someone brings in a cake for a birthday, or you haven’t talked to a friend in forever so you go out and have dinner. We snack at Bible Study and in the car on the way. Here, tea is very social and is almost always offered with cookies or candy if you are in someone’s home. However, if you are out, people do not plan to eat, often because most people are on very tight budgets and it is viewed as an unnecessary expense.
The other thing that has dramatically changed since my arrival in Ukraine is the amount of time I spend exercising. I walk so much more than I ever have before. Even when you take the bus, you have to walk. To go to the youth center or to my youth English class, I walk about two blocks to the bus and then about five blocks from the bus. Sometimes, the bus stops downtown are so crowded that if I want a seat on the bus it is best to walk five or six extra blocks to an earlier stop to get on. Riding on the bus can also be aerobic exercise. Standing and holding your position in the crowded bus as it turns and speeds along is a workout for all your muscles. Sometimes sitting is even hard work, balancing the pressure of holding yourself on the seat without squishing into anyone around you sometimes feels like your doing squats.
Typically, if I travel with my Ukrainian friends they would rather walk, and it really doesn’t matter the distance. If we are staying within the city of Berdyansk, it is “not too far.” The typical question is, “Are you in a hurry?” and if I am not, we walk. If you are walking and you are cold, the answer is to walk faster, and if you are walking and start to get hot, the answer is to keep walking because we will be there soon.
The really amazing news in all of this is that for the first time ever in my life losing weight is easy and I am really feeling healthy and great. I am enjoying walking, and distances I used to think were far don’t seem like that big a deal anymore. I even walk by myself. For the most part, I don’t miss fast foods, and for the first time ever, I am one of those people who says things like “Oh, I forgot to eat lunch today.” I used to be really annoyed by people who said things like that.
Bottom line…in the six months I have been in Ukraine, I have lost 50 pounds! It is amazing and wonderful! I hope I continue to lose; it really is the perfect diet plan. I am so thankful to be here, serving God in Ukraine, and my weight loss really is an incredible bonus to all of the blessings I am experiencing.