unexpected events

14 04 2014

As the riot police withdrew, snipers opened fire on peaceful protestors, shooting them dead from building-tops in the city center. My disbelief turned to horror at the unfolding events downtown: Kyiv became a killing field on February 20th. A week later streets calmed in Kyiv, but Russian troops steadily occupied Crimea.

prayer | the Ukrainian church on her knees

Since the beginning of the protests, the prayer tent (pictured above) has been the heart of the protest. Ukrainian Christians have prayed there 24/7, just beside the main stage where the protests organized and the people found their new voice. Our church in Kyiv held frequent prayer meetings; our elders called us to prayer and fasting. Persistent over three months, non-violent protestors demanded truth. When the corrupt government fled overnight, our pastor called it a miracle of prayer, reminding us people prayed for seventy years under the corrupt Soviet Union.

uncertainty | serving in a broken world

My team’s ministries alongside our Ukrainian church partners have continued through the stress of the protests, the rapid and surprisingly good changes within Ukraine’s government, and the uncertainty of Russia’s next moves. Tens of thousands of invasion-ready Russian troops have been massed on the Ukrainian border since early March. English Club was disrupted for a few weeks, but it has resumed.

An uncertain future and the real possibility of war has created an openness to spiritual questions among Ukrainians, similar to the early 1990s after Ukraine gained independence from the USSR. Pray for Ukrainian Christians, that the church will live the reality that only Jesus’ grace and the power of his cross can renew their land. Pray for my team and others serving Ukrainians under these daily uncertainties.

decisions | seeking our call together

Finally, my fiancée Stephanie and I are seeking where we will live and serve together after we marry in July.  We’re both excited to serve in Europe, using our skills and abilities to help Europeans strengthen their churches.  Please pray for wisdom as we have conversations with potential future colleagues, and as we make decisions together.  Thanks for your interest, prayers, and support!

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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.





population density

17 07 2010

When I tell people that Kiev is a big city, about 4 million people, I often compare it to Atlanta’s size.  However, that’s only half the story.  When you start looking at how many people per square mile live in each city, you realize why Kiev feels larger than Atlanta.

In 2008, Atlanta had 4,018.4 people per square mile in the city proper, and 629.4 people per square mile in the greater metro area, which is what most people think of when they talk about Atlanta being huge. Kiev’s population density is more than double that of Atlanta, at 8,544.4 people per square mile. In Chattanooga, where I currently live, we have 1,264 people per square mile.  So then I was curious how Kiev and Atlanta stack up against the population density of other major world cities.

  • मुंबई (Mumbai) Density (2010) 59,368 /sq mi
  • London Density (2007) 12,331/sq mi
  • Chicago Density (2009) 12,649/sq mi
  • Nairobi Density (2009) 11,678.3/sq mi
  • Berlin Density (2009) 9,987.7/sq mi
  • 上海 (Shanghai) Density 7,070.3/sq mi
  • 北京 (Beijing) Density (2010) 3,391.4/sq mi
  • Київ (Kyiv/Kiev) – Density (2008) 8,544.4/sq mi
  • New York City Urban Density (2008) 5,435.7/sq mi / Metro Density 2,828.4/sq mi
  • Atlanta Density (2008) 4,018.4/sq mi / Metro Density 629.4/sq mi
  • Looks like Mumbai, India leaves everybody in the dust when it comes to packing in the people.

    How close do you live to your nearest neighbor? What are the best reasons to live where the population is dense, or why do you choose to live in a sparsely populated rural hamlet?





    Rochester L’Abri Conference 2010

    15 02 2010

    This past weekend I had the joy of attending the Rochester L’Abri Conference in Rochester, MN. Running all day Friday and Saturday, the weekend was full of plenary sessions and workshops on the power of the gospel to transform all that it touches. On Sunday, I worshiped with Trinity PCA and lunched with good friends before catching my return flight.

    While at the conference I shared my future ministry in Ukraine with a number of people. One of the L’Abri workers in the Netherlands told me that there’s a Belarusian family with a vision to begin a L’Abri-type ministry in Belarus, but they were kicked out by the government and are now living and building their ministry in Kyiv, Ukraine. I hope to get in touch with them soon, and put them in touch with my team members in Kiev. L’Abri has been a blessing in my life and the lives of many people I know, so its exciting to think how the churches in Ukraine could be strengthened if their ministry were to grow in Kiev.

    Thank the Lord with me for the work he is already doing in Kyiv, and the ways I and my team there may be able to support and come alongside the Ukrainian church.





    time to travel

    14 09 2009

    I am returning to Ukraine tomorrow (15 – 26 September) to visit with two
    teams of missionaries, one in Kiev and one in Odessa.  Many of you have
    prayed for me over the past few years as I’ve considered and pursued how and
    where the Lord is calling me to serve.  Both teams are Mission to the World
    church planting teams working with Ukrainian presbyterian churches to
    establish and strengthen the church in Ukraine.  During this ten day trip, I
    will be considering these two teams and they will be considering me, to see
    if I might be a good fit on one of their teams for two to three years.

    Some of you may wonder how this fits with my civil engineering work.  I am a
    professional engineer, but that is not my passion, and I’m hoping that some
    of my gifts, strengths, and skills that have benefited me in civil
    engineering will be able to transfer to a church planting team.  The folks
    in Kiev have a seminary for training Russian-speaking pastors, and I’m quite
    interested in the possibility of teaching there longer-term, if that is how
    the Lord leads.  That team also has university ministry outreach, music
    ministry (including possibly mentoring Ukrainian musicians for thinking
    about music in worship), work with an orphanage, and lots of possibilities
    since its a city of 5 million people.

    Please pray:
    1.)  For safe flights (Newark to Boston to Copenhagen to Kiev).
    2.)  That I will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
    3.)  That the Lord will clarify his leading in my life.
    4.)  That I will be an encouragement to the missionaries I meet with.
    5.)  For safe travels within Ukraine.  The evening of the 20th I’ll take an
    overnight train to Odessa, and the evening of the 22nd another overnight
    train back to Kiev.
    6.)  That I will pick up a few Russian phrases quickly.
    7.)  That the nations will delight more and more in Jesus!

    Please let me know if you have questions or comments for me.  Thanks so much
    for your prayers.

    joyfully,

    Joel