This past season has been a continued invitation from the Spirit to let go of previous ways of being, to embrace vulnerability, living into our brokenness instead of denials and quick fixes. We’re being freed by the experience of God’s deep love, despite having nary a clue what is next for our family and friends in Ukraine.
His loving depths are dangerous, but oh, the resurrection freedom on the other side. It’s real!
Now if we can just to stay there, resting, embraced in our daily moments, sustained by the love of Christ.
I’ve been trying to teach Claire how to swim. I’m not sure a rock would sink any faster. She is quite a dense, sinking girl in the pool and no matter how many sessions we have, panic is in her eyes. The more she tries to swim, the faster she seems to sink. The water holds more easily those that rest in it, trusting that it’s working with us. She needs to learn to trust the water, and her dad!
Deb and I learning just how difficult it is to trust the love of God. Letting go of outcomes is a bit of a cross, isn’t it? As we let go, and embrace an unknown future to the possibility of a loving Creator, we sit sort of suspended. In this way, swimming, trusting, letting go, are all ways of the Cross, daring to believe and hope for the resurrection on the other side of surrender.
I think the Cross is a pattern, an invitation, a way of life. It’s not just a historical event. Each of us, called to embrace Christ, which leads inevitably to an opportunity to surrender. May his love flood us, keeping us from clasping the hands, and frantically splashing about in our circumstances!
This isn’t much of a practical update, but an encouragement to our friends learning to trust, again, like we are.
We’ll be in the US and Canada this December and January. We do hope to see you, to hug you, to laugh with you. For those of you we don’t get to see, thank you for journeying with us in prayer, solidarity, and your much appreciated generosity.
This past week, our family hosted a 4-day camp in the Carpathian Mountains. Locating next to Ukraine in central Romania was something I felt was important when the war first broke out and we were determining where to go. Being just 3-4 hours from a few of Ukraine’s borders has proven useful for serving transiting and refuge seeking Ukrainians. It was nice to hop in our van and spend only 8-9hrs total and be with our friends, versus the 16-20hr jaunt it takes from our home base south of Kyiv. Our friends took trains, buses and met us there. For some, it was the first time they’ve been away from home since the invasion, and was a deep, meaningful time for us all.
I enjoyed watching the kids, each day, get up bright and early with a sense of play, and anticipation for the day. They all really bonded well, and it blessed my heart to hear them all laughing, and talking in Ukrainian again. There were some cats and kitties about, so Claire was in her glory trying to grab hold of one, if they let her.
We’re now all back, and about to head for a week, just Deb and I, to an isolated, warm place. It’s been over 2 years since we’ve been away, just the two of us for some R&R. We really look forward to it, yet, there’s a nagging sense of guilt, which accompanies missionaries more than most ‘vocations’, that we shouldn’t rest, or take care of ourselves. I am learning that nagging sense is rooted in a false way, an unhealthy part of me that cares too much what people might think. I’m thankful to get away, thankful in light of my dear friends who can’t. We rest and take intentional steps to bond, reflect, pray, sleep, because we embrace our limitations, and trust in Jesus to restore us that we may enjoy more rewarding fruit.
I don’t like leaving our little girls. They are a treasure, and without family here we’re entrusting them to the oversight of some of our female friends here. The boys are old enough technically to watch them, but watch is about it, they are so easily lost in their worlds, still lacking in maternal instincts 🙂 So Lord watch over our girls, and allow Deb to drink deep of some solitude and prepared food, no dishes, and nearness of the Spirit.
When we return, we’ll be back for just a week before Deb heads off to Spain to complete her final bend in her spiritual direction course. She’ll be 10 days there, with her friends she’s journeyed with for the past 2 years, then back for a week with us in Romania, then we’re off to the US. It’s an autumn of travel, and leads us into a winter of unknown, sort of.
In December we’ll be at our house in PA, connect with our older kids, head up to Canada to see my parents -the first time we’ve been back for 2-3 yrs, all the covid nonsense finally lifted so we’re looking forward to seeing my brother’s families, parents, and extended family for a short visit, and mother’s cooking of course 🙂 Then we’ll head down to Florida 2nd week of January for a week with Deb’s side, and a 50th anniversary gathering for her parents. It’s one of those events you feel won’t happen again, everyone is growing up, families developing families, life just evolves so quickly doesn’t it? We hesitated before changing all our plans to head back to the US this winter, but then realized this is truly a once in a lifetime type gathering, to honor and bless Deb’s parents.
Deb and I have decided to step down from Mir this past month. We stepped into this director role sort of without thinking about it. A charity is a huge blessing to have as a missionary, until it isn’t. Swamped in life over here, and still wearing the hat of US responsibility and vision became a burden this past year. We sense change, deep life chapter type of change and we’re still not entirely certain where we will land, and what we’ll be doing, and when. Yet, we feel peace, after a lot of wrestling, that the Lord has been growing us, forming us, to bring something meaningful in this new season. Regardless of the Ukraine situation, our roles have changed, and we now come alongside more, serving from underneath, resourcing, listening, praying with.. We came away from this retreat with deep gratitude that the Lord indeed takes care of the seeds, the investments of love and friendship. All is not lost inside Ukraine, just changing, and we can trust the divine orchestration of the Spirit.
In the meantime, we have a lot of travel coming up, and decisions unfolding. Thankful for life, and the goodness of God all around us, in us, and emerging even in spaces of suffering in Ukraine.
It seems the news inside Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus is getting increasingly unpredictable. One theme seems to be emerging, that Putin’s internal grip on power is in question. The humiliating defeat two weeks ago in the Kharkiv western regions cannot be underestimated. The global theater is shifting, allies once beholden to Putin beginning to distance themselves, especially in Central Asia. Russians respect power, and the seemingly unquestioned narrative that Putin has spun is being questioned, even overtly among former supporters of his regime.
As I write this update, +1,500 protestors have been arrested in the past 24hrs for opposing the mandated new conscription inside Russia. The Russian government suggests 6,000 of their soldiers have been killed in battle, but most outside of Russia recognize this number to be well over 40,000! Imagine the mothers, fathers, and countless grandparents who’ve yet to hear from their sons, week after week, month after month. Now, with the recent ‘partial mobilization’, thousands of young men are fleeing Russia by plane, train and automobile, as this ‘special military operation’ comes-a-reckoning.
I’d like to be writing about something other than the war. However, it’s impossible to paint a legitimate picture of life and ministry without the backdrop that continues to permeate everything. Even I have what they call, “Ukrainian fatigue.” What’s helped me, especially in the past few months, has been to more intentionally root myself in the meta narrative of Scripture.
Our western narratives, as you’ve likely noticed, are quickly deconstructing. We’re quickly losing the binding, unifying story that cultures rally behind. National ideologies are held together, for better or worse, by heroes and rituals. When those heroes are exposed, or the rituals questioned, we lose the glue that unites us. Those same narratives can begin to divide. Whether it’s the Slavic story of origins, or the American/Canadian founding narratives, the story tellers seem to be the power brokers. The victor, as they say, gets to write history. In Russia, it’s a desperate fight for control of the narrative, as it is in Ukraine.
Controlling narratives, now a popular buzzwords, is nothing new. It’s as old as God’s question to Cain after he killed his brother, “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Instead of answering truthfully, “He’s over there, I killed him” Cain answers, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” Our stories can serve our self-interest, as much as they elevate lofty virtues. The dizzying perspectives spun by masters of the trade from these political leaders seems designed only to confuse, divide and make us throw in the towel in any pursuit of objective reality. Many of us come away from news outlets these days scoffing like Pontius Pilate, “Truth? What Is Truth?” (Jn 18:38).
What is our truth? We can all agree it’s a mess, but what’s the solution? What’s our uniting story we can bring to this world? Are we simply to run around sharing a message, hoping some accept it so they can get a ticket outta here? When I watch some of the ministries inside Ukraine, you’d think that was why Jesus came, to get us out of here. Packages of food are being exchanged for church attendance, scores of heads bowed, prayers prayed, boxes checked. Sigh. This is not our story, is it?
In times of distress, our theology gets actualized, it comes out. I confess my own faith was sadly lacking in the first months of the war. As we ran along in hero mode, my own personal story came unglued. However, it forced me to wrestle afresh with my own ‘over-arching’ gospel story narrative. Stepping back, and seeking God in solitude brought me back to the grounding narrative that ushered in a refreshed sense of peace, and ultimately, joy.
But what’s our story as disciples of Christ? Do we have a vision of the world the way it should be?
This world is fallen, but it’s being mended, healed, restored. Jesus loves this world, that’s why he came to it, and us. We, not just me, are the joy of his heart. He’s coming again, and all things will be renewed, not destroyed and burned up. Until then, we are part of the Creator’s great renewal project. It’s the story of the Father, in the Son, and now through the Spirit.
Through this narrative lens, I see Putin as a godless hoarder of power, much like Lukashenko in Belarus who began this week jailing pastors again for holding prayer meetings. Power is so ugly when it’s not divested in the pattern of the Son. Power is a gift to be shared, to co-create culture together. Throughout history men, in particular, have continued to look for ways to dominate one another by force. As much as the the humanistic mind would like to celebrate progress, figures like Putin only undermine the utopian fantasy and hurl us all back to an important reality check; we humans are desperately broken, fallen, and quite easily do, and permit terrible things when we disregard Christ as our Creator who’s come to earth to save us.
How quickly we forget both Russia and Ukraine are equally God’s; it’s his dirt, we create nothing ex nihilo. The earth is the Lord’s and ALL it contains, right? When God comes to earth, through His people, He comes in the same pattern of the Son. When we serve one another through awareness and compassion, restoration happens. Neighbors reconcile, and nations experience peace. We, the church, are not to be wrapped up in national identities to the point we are unable to traverse the manufactured and temporary boundaries between them.
The way of the cross moves towards those that oppose it.
So let’s get back to the story.
There’s a why we do what we do as believers. Doing good things is not enough. It’s never enough. This is why Jesus said many will come expecting heavenly rewards for their good deeds, but sadly rejected.
The why of Christianity defines our values and tells or story.
As a Christ follower, I’m not for Ukraine and against Russia any more than I can love the neighbor to my left while hating the one to my right. I love my Ukrainian friends, but I love my Russian ones as well. God has created each and every soul and determined us eternally valuable! Only God knows the depth of the demonic power structures in place that have oppressed and pillaged the imago Dei for generations within Slavic culture. Now it seems to be Putin’s turn to play the puppet of ugly power. We can see the same strings being pulled in Western nations, where history seems to be neglected and democracy hangs in some cases by a thread.
Yet, I believe what we’re experiencing in 2022 has as much in common as the year 1022, or in Christ’s day. Things are not getting worse, as crazy as this past season of Covid and war have been. History is a treasure trove of humanities continued plight of bring broken, being mended, and moving to restoration. The story continues, by God’s loving mercy, and while we might throw our hands up in anger with our lot, the very act of being alive to be defiant is a showcase of His enduring love over us.
One day soon, the garden of God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy will blossom fully. If Christ indeed resurrected, as the Slavic community loves to recite with each Easter Sunday morning, than He will return. Until then, God’s story continues in our day. It can seem quite hidden, I admit, but as we detach ourselves from the political narratives of nations, I believe we can navigate this world like the body of Christ before us. The grand narrative of Scripture can help us, as we each experience this life changing love in Christ, and enlist in God’s recreation trilogy.
The first Adam has been restored in the person of Jesus. Let’s not get tangled up in the corruption of the first. Adam’s story of brokenness and oppression is all around us still. His legacy is found in the sham elections in Eastern Ukraine and lies of a corrupt thug currently hoarding power in Russia. As a follower of Jesus, I choose to move with God’s story line. My vision for the world comes through the eyes of Jesus, and it is good, and it’s going to get even better.
May His story continue to unite us as His global body. The world sure needs us all.
Settling into the autumn weather in Cluj, Romania. We’re navigating some changes as a family, our roles, future. It’s been a much needed season of prayer, listening, processing together.
We feel God at work, and sense the invitation to trust (see my blog below about ‘Surrendering Outcomes”). We’re settled here in Romania through December, then will fly back to the US to visit friends and family for Christmas. After that? We’re not entirely sure, but leaning towards coming back for 2023 to Romania. Our lives are literally spread out in 3 countries.
We are planning a retreat in Western Ukraine in October with friends and staff at Lighthouse. It will be the first time we’re all together since the war began. We’re also hosting quite a few guests in the next month.Waiting on documents for the family so we can leave and come back in to Romania. Living as permanent residents in Ukraine has been so nice all these years, back to being ‘short term’ missionaries is a lot of extra work, you spend a couple months per year just trying to logistically stay legally.
I’m going to try and get back to personally blogging, and feel a joy to start focusing on our family and less on the charity we’ve been overseeing the past few years. I’ve gotten a little lost in the mechanics of running a charity, especially during the war, it’s been intense. Stepping back into the focus of a missionary feels a little strange, and scary. God keeps calling us out of boats, the invitation to walk on water continues for all who dare follow Him 🙂
Family is healthy, we really miss our kids in the US and Byron our grandson.
Romanians love hammocks! They are found in the parks, and yes, in living rooms!
In the coming months we hope to be sharing more about the direction and ministry focus of our family. Until then, we covet your prayers greatly.