the White Rose and hope

2 10 2013

Today marks the beginning of my second year in Kyiv.  A year ago today, while moving to Kyiv, I had an 11.5 hour layover in Munich–which I chose over a 4.5 hour layover where I would have only seen the airport.  I hopped on the train from the airport to the city center with one primary goal : find the Hans and Sophie Scholl monument.

Munich was full of men in lederhosen, and women in traditional dresses, all there for Oktoberfest.  I grabbed a quick breakfast at a cafe, and set off to find the street which would intersect Geschwister-Scholl-Platz, the square named after the Scholl twins.  When I found the street its entire length was a huge party for the Day of German Reunification; every German state had a booth with tourist info, food, drink, and lots of people.  I walked maybe a kilometer up the street, found Geschwister-Scholl-Platz covered in festivities for the German reunification party, and eventually found the monument in the pavement.

I was en route to Kyiv, but finding that monument mattered to me.  Ukraine is a country that suffered greatly during World War II and under the Soviet Union.  I knew a little of the Scholl’s story, enough to know that their connecting their Christian faith with actively standing for truth, was something I wanted to learn about, and is something I believe is still relevant today. Perhaps more than anything, what Ukraine, Europe, or the United States need today is a solid basis for hope.

the White Rose in Munich

Hans and Sophie Scholl have been heroes of mine ever since I first read of them as a college freshman.  During World War II, the Scholl twins were part of a small group of university students in Munich who published a series of pamphlets from June 1942 through February 1943 informing people about the evil the Nazi government was pursuing, and calling people to stand against it.  Hans and Sophie were eventually arrested by Nazi secret police, tried in what was by all accounts a show trial and travesty of justice, and beheaded, along with five of their friends and fellow-students, who had helped write and distribute their pamphlets.

I felt that their story mattered deeply, and that in coming to Ukraine it was worth the stop to find their monument, to gain a little more understanding to their commitment to truth.  They believed that loyalty to truth ought to drive us to action, to standing against evil in the world, with a willingness to die if necessary.  During his interrogation at the hands of the Gestapo, Hans Scholl stated, “I knew what I took upon myself and I was prepared to lose my life by so doing.” Wow.  You don’t make that kind of decision without a commitment to truth and solid hope for the future.

But some have this idea that truth is for hard-nosed people, that you either care about truth or you care about people, that truth is only facts, and hope is just an irrational feeling.  Was that the case with Hans and Sophie?  Or did their loyalty to speaking the truth actually illustrate the deep love they had for their neighbors and hope they had for their future, for the men and women who lived in German cities, who were all around them but largely silent in the face of fascist atrocities?  Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  Their loyalty to truth, to living their lives out of their deepest commitments and hopes, still speaks today.

Here in Ukraine, one can still see the legacy of World War Two destruction, some seventy or so years later.  There are lots of monuments, eternal flames, and statues commemorating those who died, those who fought bravely, and those who died tragically and horrendously.  There are also countless villages which no longer exist, wiped off the map.  Much trust has been broken, and generations of people didn’t know if they could trust their neighbors or their government.  Soviet writer and dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago (p. 15) regarding the silence with with people responded to the disappearances of their neighbors and friends,

“You really can and you really ought to cry out—to cry out that you are being arrested! That villains in disguise are trapping people! That arrests are being made on the strength of false denunciations! That millions are being subjected to silent reprisals! If many such outcries had been heard all over the city in the course of a day, would not our fellow citizens perhaps have begun to bristle? And would arrests perhaps no longer have been so easy?”

Though not Ukrainian, Hans and Sophie Scholl provide a much needed example of people who weren’t content to remain silent.  They cried out, giving their lives as a witness to the truth.

There are still many things broken and wrong here, systemic corruption, and deep cynicism about the government.  However, this isn’t unique to Ukraine.  I have plenty of friends back in the United States who are deeply cynical about the state of things there.  Some think gargantuan corporations run the entire show with their Republican friends by simply pursuing the almighty dollar and a pound of flesh, others think leftist and statist liberals are out to destroy or remove constitutional freedoms.  All over people are concerned about the potential of terrorist attacks.  Whether confronting hard historical realities that still reverberate here in Ukraine, facing deep challenges to constitutional liberties and social order in America, or facing unpredictable terror, I think a primary question is how to give hope for the future.  And I’m not naive: neither people nor cultures change overnight, but they can change.

When a man lays down his life for his enemies, and then rises from the dead three days later, that can change the world.  That gives real, substantial hope as it reverberates through history.  That hope is something solid, not just a wish—its a foundation lives can be built on, truth to which we’re called to live in response, and hope for cynical cultures.

I’m beginning my second year here.  How much can I really do, as a foreigner?  I’ve just made a start learning the language, with only 11 months under my belt.  I worship with Ukrainians Christians, serve our community through an English club,  am investing in relationships with friends I’ve met here, and am helping a small group start a new church.  Why?  I long to give hope, to bear witness to the truth, to stand against cynicism and help Ukrainians, Europeans, and Americans display this hope for their own cities, and point to the empty tomb that gave birth to a new humanity of women and men with hope.





comfort food

26 07 2013

A few weeks ago, our church here in Kyiv hosted a dinner and program to thank the American missionaries who are serving this congregation.  We were asked to bring a favorite dish of food, so I made Baked Lentils with Cheese, from the More-With-Less cookbook, for those who know it.  This is a dish my mom made often when I was growing up, and its become a comfort food for me over the years.  The first time I made this here in Kyiv, just a couple months ago, I remember when I sat down to eat I though, “now why have I made this sooner?  I love this recipe.”

A lot of my Ukrainian friends really liked it, and asked for the recipe, which I’m providing below.  Priyatniva appetite!

Чечевица запеченная с сыром

На 6 порций
190 градусов C
1 час. 15 мин.
Комбинат в мелкой форме для выпечки 23×33 см:
• 500 мл воды
• 400 мл сухого чечевицей
• 1 лавровый лист целом
• 10 мл соль
• 1 мл перец
• 1 мл каждый майоран, шалфей, тимьян
• 2 большие луковицы, нарезанные
• 3 зубчика чеснока, измельчить
• 500 мл консервированных помидоров
Плотно закрыть и выпекать 30 минут.
Раскройте и движение в:
• 2 большие моркови, нарезанные толстыми 30 мл
• 125 мл тонко нарезанный сельдерей
Выпекать покрыта 40 минут, пока овощи не станут мягкими. Движение в:
• 1 зеленый перец, нарезанный (опционально)
• 3 стакана тертого острого сыра чеддер
Выпекать, не накрывая крышкой, 5 минут, пока сыр не расплавится

 

And for those who would like to try it but don’t know Russian, here’s the original version I used:

Baked Lentils with Cheese

Serves 6
375 degrees F (190 degrees C)
1 hr. 15 min.
Combine in shallow 9×13″ baking dish:
•  2 cups water
•  1 3/4 cups dry lentils
•  1 bay leaf
•  2 teaspoons salt
•  1/4 teaspoon pepper
•  1/4 teaspoon each marjoram, sage, thyme
•  2 large onions, chopped
•  3 cloves garlic, minced
•  2 cups canned tomatoes
Cover tightly and bake 30 minutes.
Uncover and stir in:
•  2 large carrots, sliced 1/8″ thick
•  1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
Bake covered 40 minutes until vegetables are tender. Stir in:
•  1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
•  3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Bake, uncovered, 5 minutes until cheese melts





come to our English camp!

10 07 2013

Hello friends, if you’re in Kyiv and would like to improve your conversational English, come to our English camp.  I’ll be one of the teachers at X-Way 2013: The Game, the tenth annual English camp my friends here in Kyiv have organized to serve English learners in Kyiv.  Details and registration are at www.xwaycamp.com.

EnglishCampAdverts

And as an additional bonus, if you can find me or my friends this Friday or Saturday in the center of Kyiv, we have an English reading test for you.  If you can read the first few paragraphs with minimal pronunciation mistakes, you’ll win a free, cold drink.  If you’re able to read the entire poem with no more than five pronunciation mistakes, you’ll receive a discount on your English camp registration fee.

I hope to see you soon, either downtown, or at the English Camp later this month.  Happy learning!





living words

29 06 2013

On Fridays in my Russian class I’m learning words about God, слова о Боге.  Yesterday, we reviewed last weeks theme, which was words about the Bible.  My teacher asked me to say sentences following the patter, “The Bible is _____.”  I’d already covered things such as, God’s word, absolute truth, a historical book, the history of redemption, and the book inspired by God’s Spirit, but when I tried to say the Bible is the living Word, her response was, “We don’t say that.”  I told her I thought there is a phrase like that in the Bible, at least in English, and we made part of my homework finding the phrase—which I couldn’t remember then—and finding its equivalent in Russian.

So, what I was thinking of was Jesus and Peter’s conversation in John 6:66-69:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

When I found that passage this morning in English, I decided to try translating Peter’s response into Russian myself before looking it up.  Here’s what I came up with, mistakes and all:

Симон Пётр ответал ему, “Господь, кому мы поидём? У тебя есть слов вечной жизни, и мы поверили и узнали, что Ты — Святый Бога.”

Here are those verses in Russian, Евангелие от Иоанна 6:68,69, first from the widely-used, old Synodal translation (Синодальный перевод, translated 1813 – 1876), and second from the Russian Bible Society’s 2011 translation, Библия. Современный русский перевод, 2011:

Симон Петр отвечал Ему: Господи! к кому нам идти? Ты имеешь глаголы вечной жизни: и мы уверовали и познали, что Ты Христос, Сын Бога живаго.    [Synodal, 1876]

“Господь,” ответил Ему Симон Петр, “к кому мы пойдем? У Тебя слова, дающие вечную жизнь.  И мы поверили и знаем, что Ты — Святой Божий.” [Modern, 2011]

I got pretty close, but made a number of mistakes.  First, I forgot the “к” for the phrase, “к кому,” using the dative form of “whom” but forgetting that the verb of motion, пойдем, requires the “к кому.”  Second, I misspelled the verb, we will go, пойдем.  Third, though I got the Russian syntax of ‘You have” correct (horray!), in the present tense its not necessary to use, “есть.” Fourth, though I knew I needed a nominative plural ending for “words,” I confused genders and cases: слово is neuter nominative singular, so the correct plural would be слова, but somehow I was thinking the ending drops off leaving just the stem—слов, but that would be a feminine genitive plural ending—nonsense for what I was trying to translate. Fifth, I omitted the present participle of “to give”, дающие (giving), and simply rendered it as, “you have words of eternal life,” but that’s mostly because we haven’t learned any participles yet in class. Sixth, I used a past tense for “have come to know,” so said, узнали “we knew” and missed that this is a past action with continuing effect, but the Modern Russian translation uses the simple present, “to know.”  And last, I tried to render “the Holy One of God” with the nominative singular for the noun, “holy” plus the genitive singular for “of God”, but I used the wrong ending on for holy, Святой.  Technically, I translated Бога, “of God,” correctly, but apparently the Modern Russian makes the stylistic choice to use the adjective form of God, Божий, for which we don’t really have an equivalent in English (our word, “godly” is different because it describes people who are like God, whereas Божий only refers to God).

So, here’s my corrected translation, preserving my word order choice:

Симон Пётр ответал ему, “Господь, к кому мы пойдём? У тебя есть слова, дающие вечной жизни, и мы поверили и знаем, что Ты — Святой Божий.”

And just for the fun of it, I’m posting those same two verses in Greek.  It’s been 15 years since I’ve studied any Greek, but I just looked and saw that the older Greek New Testaments, like the Textus Receptus the KJV was based on, used the phrase, “Son of the living God” like the Synodal translation, but more recent Greek New Testaments follow the consensus of New Testament scholars in using the wording, “the Holy One of God.”  Here are the verses in Greek from both the NA/UBS and SBL online texts, ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 6:68-69:

ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Σίμων Πέτρος· Κύριε, πρὸς τίνα ἀπελευσόμεθα; ῥήματα ζωῆς αἰωνίου ἔχεις, καὶ ἡμεῖς πεπιστεύκαμεν καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ.

Whatever the language, and in spite of my mistakes and misunderstanding, I’m deeply grateful that Jesus has the living words, and gives them to us by his Word and Spirit.





достопримечательность

19 06 2013

The Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet, which I took during my day off there last month.  This beautiful building, designed and built by a Polish-born, Berlin-trained architect, Zygmunt Gorgolewski.  He won a municipal design competition, and managed to fit the building into the already built city-center with his proposal to enclose the Poltva River underground.  The Theatre and the tree-lined boulevard created by his design are beautiful.

Yesterday in my Russian class, while discussing reasons why people enjoy going on excursions, my teacher told me, “of course, to see достопримечательности.”  Well, she realized I didn’t know the word, достопримечáтельность, which is a noun meaning for an interesting place.  And I couldn’t help but think of my classmate Helen, who’s left for the USA, but who loves these incredible sounding Russian words.

So apparently, its not just the Germans who enjoy scrumptious mouthfuls of syllables in single words.  I guess if we were playing Scrabble again in Russian, at least three of us would need to gang up to play достопримечательность… if it even fits on the board!





work, prayer, and a day off

9 06 2013

Last month I attended my first presbytery meeting here in Ukraine.  After Russian class, I took an overnight train out to the meeting, which was all day that Wednesday.  Because there aren’t as many churches in the presbytery as my home presbytery in Chattanooga, there was time during the meeting to hear a report from every church and then someone prayed for that congregation.  That may seem like a simple thing, but I was deeply moved to see the work of the church being done through prayer—a reminder that its ultimately God who builds his kingdom, everywhere, by his grace.  When we pray, we’re reminded that we’re dependent upon God to change us, to make us more like Jesus, to make us the best friends, neighbors, and citizens possible.

at a L'viv cafeThe day after presbytery I took a day off in L’viv, along with most of the guys from my team who’d been able to come to the presbytery meeting.  I’m thankful for the time we had to get to know each other a bit more.  Our team had time for meals together, conversation, coffee, and some strolling around the center of L’viv.  One of my colleagues, Alister (pictured with me at a cafe), and I got to explore the clock tower in the center of the old city square.  God gave us an absolutely gorgeous day for our visit.

Of course, it was back to work Friday morning.  We caught an early taxi to the train station, and took a high-speed train back to Kyiv, so I could make it to my Russian class, and my teammates to various meetings they had in the afternoon.  The train hurled across the countryside at speeds topping 160 kilometers per hour (99 miles per hour).





on life-giving letters

9 03 2013

I just found a quote from Henri Nouwen Latin American Journal that I typed up when I read it, but never actually posted here.  On January 9th, 1982 (p. 105), he wrote,

Letters are gifts, often greater than the writers realize.  Ever since I left the United States, I have experienced a deep hunger for lifegiving letters–letters from very close friends who have little to ask and little to inform me of, but who simply speak about bonds of friendship, love, care, and prayer.  I am overwhelmed by a letter that says: “We think of you, pray for you, and we want you to know that we love you.”  I have never experienced the power of such letters as strongly as during these last months.  They directly affect my spiritual, emotional, and even physical life. They influence my prayers, my inner feelings, and even my breathing and heartbeat.

“The Word was made flesh, he lived among us” (John 1:14).  These words by St. John received new life for me during my last months here.  A word of love sent to me by a friend can indeed become flesh and bridge long distances of time and space.  Such a word can heal pains, bind wounds, and often give new life.  Such a word can even restore a faltering faith and make me aware that in the community of love, the incarnation of the divine love can be realized wherever we are.

The letters I’ve received here have been a huge encouragement, perhaps even more so than the emails.  Is that because the physicality of ink on paper echos Jesus’ incarnation more directly than pixels on a screen?  When I’ve taken time to send handwritten thank you notes or letters, I come away from that hour or two deeply grateful for the people who’ve partnered with me in prayer, in giving, in friendship.  Or to use Pauline terms, writing brings people to mind, and when I remember them I give thanks for their partnership with my in the gospel of Christ.  How appropriate it is, then, to encourage one another with the incarnation of our words on paper.








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