Did you know the name “Ukraine” means “borderland?” Late last week Nancy and I parted ways in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv and Caleb and I traveled from border to border in this borderland. It is about the size of Washington, Oregon and Idaho combined but with over three times the population.
It borders both Europe on the west and the old Soviet Union on the east. This has resulted in wars being fought here over it as well as ideological differences as well as the rich soil and access to the Black Sea. If you lived here, rather than the U.S., statistics say you would die ten years sooner, make 86% less income and be 13% more likely to be murdered. That being said, it is a great place to proclaim the gospel of Christ.
Recently we were in Lviv on the western border. It feels much more European with many historic buildings and lots of beautiful old churches with minor key choirs, candles and incense. People cross themselves just walking by churches. There are also lots of coffee shops and sidewalk cafes. Tourist abound here.
Then we boarded a train to the far eastern border. The next morning we had a few hours in the middle of the country in Kiev where the Maidan revolution took place in 2013/14. We walked through the war ravaged area that has been cleaned up. It now has many memorials with pictures of those who died to free the country of corruption. There were still damaged buildings and bullet holes evident. Yet there was a festive attitude that was sad considering the death of the "heavenly hundred" that took place here as they are called.
Then we boarded another train and arrived in Druzhkivka the next morning near the front line of the current war. That is why we were here. A special seminar was being held to help Christian handle the stress of war and also minister to others with the gospel. It alone provide answers for the evil of war and the problem of a sinful world and the promise of eternal life.
We met with over a hundred church leaders in the Light of the Gospel Church. The city was taken over by separatist forces in March of 2014 and freed several months later. However, many surrounding cities have not done as well. People have fled, businesses closed, jobs became more rare and some places have been destroyed by fighting. We were warned not to walk in fields because there may be mines there.
We also had the rare opportunity to visit an army base to do an outdoor chapel for the soldiers. The place looked like a war zone for sure. Around it were numerous weapons. About 25 came into a dusty court yard to listen as we sang Christian songs to a guitar. I spoke about our son-in-law Gabe who died in Iraq and how God sustained us through faith. Another speaker also gave a similar testimony. The soldiers clapped when each finished and many even wanted pictures with us.
All of this took place as dust blew and an occasional troop truck arrived from the front with soldiers and guns going off duty. We chatted with them after the service. One told me he had also served in Iraq the same time Gabe did as brothers in arms. What an amazing day.
See the videos for more detail.