I wanted to briefly share about my 2 week missions trip to Ukraine. For the first week, our team spent time in a town called Vorzel ministering in the same orphanage we did last year. The second week was spent at a summer camp in the northern part of Ukraine that hosted orphans from 3 different orphanages. There’s not enough room (except maybe in a book!) to share everything that I experienced in those 14 days!! From a crazy flight situation leaving Dulles, to not having our luggage once we arrived in Kiev, to the bathroom and shower situation at camp, to eating potatoes for 3 meals a day (every day!), to missing the simple things like ICE & being able to flush toilet paper. Yet, as I look back on my second trip across the Atlantic Ocean, one word sticks out that I feel sums it all up … SMILE!
One day while touring the city, I noticed that as we passed Ukrainians, they would say to each other “Americans.” Not necessarily in a negative way but more just simply stating the fact. I asked Nika (our translator), “how can they so easily spot us as Americans?” She responded, “It could be your shoes because they are different from what Ukrainians wear or that you have water bottles, but it is probably because you are smiling. Ukrainians don’t smile as much as Americans do.” Over the years, Ukraine has been through tremendous hardship, leaving them with more sorrow than joy. I believe this is just one of the reasons why it is so important for us to stand beside our sister church, Almaz, as they share the love and joy of knowing Jesus throughout Ukraine.
a few “SMILE” highlights:
* Ruslan was living in the orphanage last year when we visited. He suffers from Cerebral Palsy and has little to no use of his legs. He recently had surgery, but he was not rehabilitated properly after surgery so it wasn’t nearly as successful as it could have been. The thing that amazed me last year, and again this year, is that you’d often find Ruslan smiling. He finds joy in the little things – listening to music, taking pictures with your camera, gardening, and simply being out of his wheelchair and roaming the yard.
* Julia is from the Almaz Church and spent the first week with us in Vorzel. At the end of the week, as we were saying our goodbyes, Julia (thru a translator) said, “I wish we didn’t have a language barrier because I’d like to be your friend.” I quickly responded, “We can still be friends, Julia!” And thanks to Google translator, hopefully the language barrier won’t be too much for us to handle. It’s not like we had a lot of verbal communication between us during the week, but I believe God connected us through the joys from being with the kids exhibited on our faces.
* Maxim is a 9-year old boy we met during our second week at camp. One day,, as I was walking back to my room, Maxim followed me on the path until he caught up with me. He looked up at me, smiled, and then reached out to hold my hand. For the next 48 hours (until we had to leave the camp), Maxim was by my side. Most of our communication was simply done with smiles.
* The day we went souvenir shopping I found an amazing hand-painted glass picture! Not only was it a cow (my fav!) but it was pink and teal and would look amazing in my guest room. I went running down the street beaming to show the rest of the team. As I was doing so, a Ukrainian man stopped me. Thru a translator I learned that he was saying, “Stop. Let me look at you. You have the most beautiful face. The best of the best.” I thought to myself, this guy is crazy! But after reflecting on this random encounter, I realized what he saw that was so amazing to him was just someone smiling!
You cannot help but be changed by an experience like this trip.
The greatest things I walked away with from my time was simply don’t underestimate a SMILE.
It can communicate so much and no translator is needed!!