Thursday, June 21, 2007

Discoveries, Making Friends with Bobushkas, and Glimpses of a Masterpiece

I do not think I will cease to discover new things each day that I am here. Yesterday was a day absolutely filled with them - it was one of the best days I think I have ever had. In need of some things for the quickly approaching children's camps, Nadia and I made a quick trip to the market near our office. I've written about the market before - it is a place I absolutely love. Many of Nadezhda Ukraine's clients operate kiosks throughout the market, so shopping there is a way not only to support the work of those accessing sustainable methods of poverty alleviation, but it is supporting the grassroots of the Ukrainian economy. Roaming the kiosks, I came across some berries that were entirely new to me... currents and gooseberries. For those who've never had the pleasure, these berries are AMAZING. And a bonus discovery: in Ukraine, cherries are not simply cherries. There are several different names that clearly distinguish the varieties of cherries - Ukrainians take their cherries seriously.

Better than discovering the tastes and names of the fruit of Ukraine was meeting the kind bobushkas that sold them. The bobushka selling me gooseberries reminded me so much of my grandmother - hardworking and humorous. When I asked about the price (squelka stoid?), her response was "Duva!" It took me a minute to translate the cost into English in my head (I'm still learning the basics, you see...), so to help me along, she said: "Duva! (two in Russian) Von! Tue!" The expression on her face and the humorous forcefulness in her voice made me want to throw my arms around her right there - she could be Grandma's sister. The kind lady that sold me currents was inviting and enthusiastic. It remains evident that I am not from Ukraine (as soon as I open my mouth!), and she was eager to welcome me and ask me to return to her kiosk in the future. And a third bobushka kindly chose among the best of her cucumbers, simply to welcome a 'visitor' to the market.

In the evening, Nadia, Ashley, and I headed home together, intent on making amends with the bobushka I shared a less than pleasant encounter with on Saturday. The reconciliation was swift and sweet - within minutes, we were all smiling and talking easily, and she was telling us about her young grandson who would be visiting this weekend - and who she hoped we would meet. Knowing that we will be neighbors for another month to month and a half, I am glad that we've established a friendship in place of the tension that existed before.

These bobushkas are truly deserving of our respect. In fact, learning about their role in this country has reminded me of how quickly we in America (in general) have thrown respect of elders by the wayside. I started reading Waldon last weekend at the beach, and in the opening chapter, Thoreau describes how he felt his elders were no wiser than he was, and that he had nothing to learn from them. I have to disagree entirely. Yes, generations are different. We face different conditions, different struggles, different pressures, different modes of living... but that doesn't mean we have nothing to learn from them or that they are not deserving of our respect. Each morning as I walk to work, I see these women sweeping the streets, opening kiosks in the market, and carrying heavy bags. They have had difficult lives, have carried a country through two world wars, and continue to work in their latest years. How can it be said that there is nothing to learn from them? Or that they are undeserving of respect?

So why was this one of the best days? The best part remains! I've written often about how blessed I feel to be here, how fulfilling this journey has been, and how it has already been beyond what Travis and I had hoped for or imagined. As we've learned more about HOPE and Christian INGO's at work in microfinance ministries, we've become increasingly excited about sharing our experiences with our communities. Before returning to graduate school, I served for a year with a college ministry in Ames called The Salt Company (TSC). TSC is a part of Cornerstone - one of the most authentic, sincere, loving, and passionate communities I have been a part of. The equipping and encouragement Travis and I received there - the friendships and the relationships, and the ways we were challenged to grow are beyond words. It was difficult to leave to return to school, but poverty, policy, human rights, and international ministry were passions we felt called to pursue further. In the recent weeks, we've been in frequent contact with them, and yesterday, we learned that throughout the year, they have been exploring ministries in microfinance as well. They have started work in Zambia and have been searching out organizations that excel in microfinance ministries. Not knowing that I was in Ukraine with HOPE, the contacted HOPE and have begun to look for ways to learn from and partner with them. We do not know what the future will bring, but what we do know is this:

For years Travis and I have prayed and prepared for international ministry in poverty alleviation. It is something we feel called to - something we are passionate about, and something for us that is a part of both the compassion of our faith and the basic human rights of every being. And our family at Cornerstone have had a prominant hand in encouraging, equipping, and preparing us for such work. We know that this is not simply chance. What it will bring we cannot tell, but we are excited to search it out together. To think of what it may bring, no matter how big or how small, feels like a defining moment in our lives. We know that there is a grand masterpiece that is playing out, and we are eager to find our place in it.

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