So I didn’t think I’d post this one, but truthfully, I think it is a fitting way to say goodbye to my beloved Ukrainian community.
I sat down to write this sermon yesterday, and I’ve got to say, I sat down and had nothing. I’ve been planning this sermon for a long time in my head. Things would pop into my mind as I was walking or on a tram or bus, and I thought, hey that’d be something good to say in my last sermon. And yet, now that it has arrived, I find myself without the adequate words. I think this is for a number of reasons, the first being, I don’t know that I’m entirely ready to depart from you all and the second is that my brain is full of the events happening in Kiev right now, as I’m sure yours are too. Though I cannot escape either feeling, I am going to try my best to do that which I came to do, and I pray that God will give me the right words.
With that said, I feel like you guys should know, you are rock stars. Honest. From the first moment I arrived here, you have all shown me how amazing you are day after day. You welcomed me in way that I certainly did not expect, with open arms and lots of smiles. Though I was confused often, and lost so many times, you all were so patient with me and were my teachers and my guides. And even today, as all of this terrible stuff has been going on, you guys are rallying together. You are blocking military forces from leaving L’viv and you are protesting on squares in Kiev. If someone wanted a picture of what a church can be, of what the body of God looks like, I would certainly point them in this direction. You guys are humble, loyal, honest, and deeply spiritual. And you ask the hard questions, even if you feel like you already have the answers, Volodya. You guys have overcome so many difficult obstacles together as a community, and yet you keep faith and hope alive. Rock stars.
And being the wanna be rock star that I am, I want to talk about the lessons you all have taught me.
- Generosity. Y’alls’ spirit of generosity and sharing is amazing. If you need food, someone’s got you covered. Need to borrow a hat, sure take mine. Got some shoes that fit someone else, they can certainly borrow them for their hot date. Is your landlord taking over your apartment for two months? Sure you can absolutely stay with me! Need a cell phone, peanut butter, a computer, a suitcase, socks, medicine whatever, you’ll certainly find someone who’s got what you need that’s willing to share. No one here goes without if the bigger body knows about it, and that is an important and powerful thing.
- Hospitality. I have never, ever walked away from a Ukrainian house hungry. Not once. Not ever. During Christmas, in fact, my host took my fork and started putting more food on my plate because she thought that I just hadn’t eaten enough. Little did she know that I was about to explode. Mercy, have I been fed here. When you welcome people into your homes, it’s always a great and amazing time of fellowship. Each one of you show such wonderful hospitality to one another, and it’s pretty awesome.
More than all of that, you guys have taught me a lot about myself and a lot about the world. I remember when I first arrived here, I sat on the floor of the airport. They had lost my bags and we were waiting, so I just plopped right down. Nick or Katie, I don’t remember which one, at this point gave me my first Ukrainian culture lesson. That floor is cold and dirty, and you should absolutely not sit on this airport’s floor. In fact if I remember correctly they said not to be surprised if someone came and started yelling at me for being on said floor. That was the first time I realized I was somewhere quite different.
A week or two later, though, we were at the Gorans’ old apartment with Katie and Olya Kervitska, and we were making brownies. Katie had just finished pouring it into a pan, and I looked at Katie and said, how do Ukrainians feel about liking batter from the bowl? Olya looked at me and said, I don’t know how Ukrainians feel, but I feel just fine about it, and took a great big fingerfull of batter. That was the moment that I realized that we aren’t so different after all. And there have been so many moments just like this one during my time here. Booty shaking lessons in my apartment, standing in clouds in Georgia, the giant Christmas tree, adventures in Kiev, getting terribly lost with good friends, watching babies grow up, laughing and loving and learning with each of you. These life things are the experiences that you have regardless of where you’re located. The fact that we come from different places doesn’t change the fact that we all experience these life moments. The differences that separate any of us from one another are small and insignificant. I feel blessed to have been ‘on the inside’ of this culture for this short time, and to know some of the little more intricate details of your culture, but the reality is, is that we, fundamentally, are all people. The things that separate us are minuscule in the face of the reality that we are all so much more similar than we’d like to admit. We are one in the Spirit, we are all a part of the body of God, and really everything after that is just minor details. Though we often let these details separate us from one another, and sometimes they are certainly difficult to look past, we are all united as children of the Most High. Regardless of whether or not I take my shoes off when I enter a house, or like holodets, or know what a vishavonka is, we are all united under God. That’s a pretty big deal. That’s actually what brought me into this life. That’s part of the reason I became a missionary was to experience and work actively in the kingdom of God in another place. To discover the humanity and life outside of my home, and boy have I found it.
As I am about to embark on my new journey, and as I begin to leave this place, I feel as though I need to take care of a little business. I need to apologize. For every time I didn’t understand, every time I might have hurt your feelings or might have been rude, knowingly or unknowingly, I apologize. I hope that I have contributed to this community, but I apologize if I have been less than what you needed and if I haven’t given you everything you deserve. I know that there were probably better people for this job, but I feel so blessed to have been the one sent here. I hope that I challenged you and loved you in just the right way and right balance, because I certainly do love each and every one of you. But if I have failed you at any moment during my time here, I pray that you would forgive me. That you would this last time offer me the grace that you have so often afforded me.
I will always cherish my time here. I beg that you not ask me not to forget you because there is certainly no way that I could possibly forget any one of you and the time that we’ve shared here. This goodbye this leaving, is not the end of our stories, either together or separately. And I promise that greater things are coming for this ministry, for you personally, and for this country. I promise that the hope that God gives us through His presence in our lives is real and palpable and does bring amazing things to our lives. I know that as long as you continue to seek God, listen to God’s leading, and participate in the body of Christ, you will continue to be the amazing community that I have gotten the pleasure to know. Great things have happened here, and greater things are coming. God is the God of this city, the God of this place, and the God of your lives, and you can rest in the knowledge that He will not lead you astray. I know that the coming days and months are uncertain ones. Who knows what the events in Kiev will bring tomorrow, but I assure you that God will be there journeying with you. Trying to help you create and form a new free Ukraine full of promise and hope. I fervently pray that as you consider your role in these events, and the actions that should be taken, that you would consult God’s opinion. Make sure that you are not letting hate rule your mind and actions.
And as I leave you tonight, I’d like to leave you with two things. A wee bit of something to take with you.
The first, a story. Who doesn’t love story time? At my old student center, when people graduate, each year, we give them two things. Both of which are living currently in my apartment: Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss and a signed picture frame. This story is perfect for new beginnings and movings ons, but it’s also all the things anyone would want to tell anyone else about life, and I thought that it would be only fitting for me to read it with you all tonight. To keep this farewell tradition alive. I tonight dedicate this book not just to each of you as individuals, but to this community to this church, for you will find all of these things in your collective journey as well as your individual ones. I will read it in English, because let’s face it, any translation of this book just loses a little flavor. I do have some translated copies for whomever needs them.
And I’d like to close with part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I think that in some ways, these words are so much better than any other advice I could give you going forward:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
As you go from this place, this is my prayer for you. That you would go out as imitators of God as gentle, humble, patient, and loving people. These things can guide along the path of righteousness, and help you all of the days of your life.
I want to thank you for the time we’ve shared together. It has certainly been my pleasure. I pray that God will continue to bless this ministry. I pray that God will continue to bless every single one of you. I love you all.