Bags packed. Early morning. Yesterday was our return flight back to Ukraine. I wasn’t sure if the truck would start at -20C, but she started up nicely and we were off to Baltimore Washington International Airport, a 3 hour drive from the blue mountains in PA.

Thumbs down…. we can’t return to Ukraine.. yet. We are willing, but not yet able with Covid positive test results.

Deb, who has been battling a cough and fatigue for the past week was not doing well. We knew covid had worked its way through our family over Christmas, but it had been several weeks so we felt we were good. Plus, as permanent residents of Ukraine, as stated clearly on Delta’s website and the Embassy in Ukraine, we did not need to furnish any PCR tests, but simply quarantine upon our return or take a test within 72hrs of returning.

We parked Bill’s Texas truck, a donated blessing for our time here in the US in long term parking per his instructions for pickup (he was flying someone to drive it back to Texas for us). Making our way to the bus, the drive to the terminal and Delta desk. After providing all of our documentation, the kind lady asked for our PCR or Antigen tests… to which we provided the documentation and permanent resident cards that should have relieved us of this requirement. “Sorry sir, my system says you need to provide a test.” We were early enough to get a test at the airport, so we raced to the testing facility.

In line, we had to download an app, fill in everyone’s personal data. You know when you are in a rush, your mind doesn’t always work too well… thankfully Deb remains quite calm… though she was truly half alert from feeling ill. Noah was also hunkered over a pile of suitcases like a wounded soldier. What a site this crew of misfits at the airport.

We managed to make our way inside the testing rooms, and had to sign four more paper applications for the four tests (kids under 12 exempt). This pushes me over the edge – Why, oh why on earth do we use technology like digital apps for collecting information and STILL require paper.. double entry drives me insane. As a former project manager for 15yrs, the whole purpose of digital anything is to consolidate, make things easier, not waste even more time – connect your systems, go digital or paper, not both people! I digress.

Inside the rooms, the swabs, noses, there’s something quite unnatural about foreign objects reaching up and touching your brain. It’s done, we have 10 minutes to get our results, and hightail it back to Delta check-in. We miss that flight, we miss the other connections (3 flights) to Atlanta, then Amsterdam, to home in Kyiv. As we were waiting, I realized I had hastily signed documents that included the cost. I went back to the desk to inquire, $250 per test! $1,000 of testing that takes 15 minutes.. that’s $66 per minute… $1.00 per second!

Abbey (10yrs) is a well traveled, sweet girl that loves to do laps in the pool with her dad. She’s a good swimmer, and at basketball a remarkable shot!

Then, another thing hit me.. did we just pay $1,000 and still won’t be able to go.. if just one of these tests positive, we’re back to square one, minus $1,000! I felt sicker than Deb. As I mentioned this to the ladies at the desk, the doctor happened to be there, she overheard and said, “You mean you all had Covid over Christmas?”… “Why didn’t you tell us?… you’re tests most likely still be positive”…. I referred them to their application forms, there were no questions about having Covid. They gave me the number to their manager if I wanted to complain, but said it wouldn’t help.

Deb and Noah’s tests came back positive, so we sat, sitting in the hallway, defeated. Then, one of the ladies came out of the office and called my name. She asked, “Mr. Crowe, are you an American citizen? The tests are covered now by the government, I need to give you a refund in full.” They had of our personal information, our social security numbers, home address, passports.. and yet somehow, we were viewed as foreigners, and charged incorrectly.

Relief! But now what? We gathered in the hallway, prayed as a family for wisdom, and guidance. We had prayed the day before with friends and supporters on Zoom for clear open and closed doors. We had peace on that call, and that same peace now flooded our hearts – we are willing, but currently not able to return. What next? Food. We hobbled and pushed our luggage to the food court at the airport, and watched our flight depart over some salad and pizza. The kids were delighted, not to be staying in the US, but to be eating such yummy food. I like that about kids, life is right in front of them.

The second half of our day was in reverse, back to the truck, 3hrs back to PA, back to the snow, back to Tucker who had just returned from work (he got a job at Fedex just 10 minutes away from our place here). We crashed, and poor Deb hit the couch, not to arise from it until morning. We are back, a little disoriented.

We are now praying for wisdom for the next 3 weeks – our tickets were rescheduled without cost for Feb 12. This gives us time for everyone to test negative Lord willing, and I will need to dive into my Fuller doctoral work, which is interestingly on Slavic (Russian) history and power dynamics for leadership development strategy for this part of the world. We have been working on getting large letter Bibles into Ukraine and Belarus this week for the widow’s ministry.

I’m also wanting to give praise to God for another interesting things – before we left Ukraine, I felt an urge to work with the international bank in Kyiv to get funds in country without being present to withdraw, something that is not an easy process and required 3 failed attempts with one of our Ukrainian leaders – then finally literally days before we left, it worked! Keeping the widows ministry moving, the volunteers visiting, is a vital thing for so many we serve -we were returning with funds for 2 months for the feeding program which serves +500 widows, especially essential for them in winter when they can’t afford to heat their homes let alone eat. So, this week, we will test that transfer process and pray that it works again and the ministry can continue uninterrupted. There was no urgent reason to setup up this transfer process at the time, so it’s encouraging to me that when God urges us to do something, we can trust that His wisdom and providential care is at work beyond our capacity.

Praying for spirit-led redemption on our extra 3 weeks, to meet with those we couldn’t, to be available in whatever way would please the Father, Son and Spirit.

We also pray for peace, for mercy on this situation with Russia, Ukraine and the West. Talking with many Ukrainians, and some Belarusians this week. Life is pretty normal there, they are so distrusting of media most folks are quite pragmatic and honestly, fatalistic in the sense that they are caught in a situation that is out of their control. Life is hard in Ukraine, so folks don’t have time for speculating… heating your home and feeding your family is where your focus needs to lie, especially in the villages.