After four incredible years, I'm leaving this beloved community
On Thursday night, the Pilgrims from our inter-confessional student ministry prayed to send me off. It was tearful and emotional.
When I signed on to serve in Ukraine, I understood that it was a short-term appointment. I was going to a community with deep roots and wide wings and these communities do not need outside help forever. Over the last four years I watched joyfully as leaders emerged and stepped up. As our community faced unbelievable tragedy, these young leaders graciously moved forward and did the impossible. Because of their fierce dependence on God and passionate service our community bounced back from despair and hopelessness. Today they are discipling new believers and transforming the world around them.
I was surprised when I felt the tug on my heart to leave Ukraine. The Bishop and I had talked about my transition to a new role, to a different city, or even sending me to another country in Eurasia. I transitioned out of primary leadership more than a year ago and handed off full responsibility to the new director of the student ministry, Volodya Prokip, a few months ago. I trust Volodya completely. He's a wise young leader respected througout all of Eurasia for his spirit of joy, humble leadership, and servant heart.
Still, over these last six months I gave more and more of my heart to Ukraine. Some of our students were beaten for their brave stand on the Maidan. Some were arrested. Some were on the front lines during the days of violence, holding only a tin shield while facing off against snipers with automatic weapons. Our students risked everything to defend their freedom. I understood fully how much I loved Ukraine during these difficult months. I stood with our students on the Maidan, worked for international awareness of the issue, and prayed over students going to the battlefield.
No one can explain what it's like to live through a revolution. Waking up every morning with the dread that more violence had erupted while you slept. Tracking down students to make sure they had escaped violence and arrest. Realizing that everyone you love could be imprisoned for more than a decade for their actions if the revolution failed. Sitting on a bus surrounded by weeping with only the rattle of cobblestone streets and prattle of more devastating news on the radio. Crying, laughing, and hugging everyone when the regime finally fell and we knew that we were safe. I'll never be able to describe this time without tears filling my eyes as I think of the "heavenly hundred" who gave their lives for the freedom of their country. One of our students lost a very close friend. Many students shared a love for their professor from the Catholic university who was assassinated by a sniper's bullet while pulling the injured to safety. Everyone had a connection to at least one of the murdered.
It was during these days that I learned that being Ukrainian has nothing to do with blood or birth-right. And so I was surprised when I was filled with peace at the idea of leaving. My contract was ending, and it seemed like the right time to leave. This decision was in no way influenced by the current political situation. Since the fall of the old regime, I have not felt any fear. The terrorist events in the south and the east are far removed from our setting here in Lviv. While we grieve Russia's involvement in sponsoring military terrorists in Ukraine - we feel that all we can do is build a better Ukraine wherever we are.
I decided that I wanted to spend a season focusing on my personal development so that I can be better equipped to serve the emerging church in Eurasia. I will be taking a leave of absence from GBGM to focus on my education and to gain ministry experience in my home context.
And so this amazing community of young people prayed me off as they always do. And I wept and I laughed in equal measure. I know that this community will continue to grow and shape new disciples. I know that I will continue to feel their love and support even if I'm serving across the ocean.
Following God's call can be scary. It can be terrifying, but in the end you are always left with a deep sense of peace. At this point, I'm most thankful for the sense of peace that I have about this decision. A part of my heart will always live in Lviv. And my whole heart will continue to rest in the palm of God's hand.