Friday, June 8, 2007

Journey to Crimea

It has been quite some time since I have written and much has happened since then. Early in the morning on Saturday, June 2nd, we left for Crimea, a city along the coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine. Hope's regional semi-annual conference was held across the week. It was a wonderful time and gave us the opportunity to learn even more about HOPE, to meet the staff operating programs throughout the country and region, and to rest on the incredible shores of the Black Sea.

The journey to Crimea was a bit sobering. When I first arrived in the country and traveled by bus to Zaporozhye from Kiev, I saw countless wreaths and memorials at the sides of the roads. I remember thinking that the significance must be different from the US. It couldn't be possible that there were that many deaths by accidents along the roads. Traveling to Crimea, I understood why it is possible and why it is so.

The infrastructure of Ukraine, while making much progress (we passed a number of construction sites), remains somewhat underdeveloped and thus dangerous. Compounding the matter is the fact that few drivers observe driving regulations. People consistently pass in no passing zones, pass along curves and up hills, drive at incredible speeds, and ignore the set lanes.

(***Warning - graphic material in the next paragraph***)

About a third of the way into the trip, we passed one of the worst accidents I have seen in my life. I have seen a 25 car pile up on the ice of Iowa roads, but the worst did not compare to this 2 car accident. The cars were demolished and two bodies lay at the side of the road. I cannot describe what I felt at that moment. Complete sadness for them and their families, frustrations over structural poverty, fear that we were traveling the same treacherous roads. About a half hour later, two cars passed us dangerously and at incredible speeds. Not ten minutes later, we came across another accident. The cars had collided and ignited. None survived. We came across two additional minor accidents. When we arrived in Crimea, I was exhausted and in a bit of shock. I realized how shielded we are in the states from such tragedies. Accidents are blocked off until all is cleared away - we seldom see the true devastation - just the glass and pieces left behind. Here, accidents take sometimes only 15 minutes to clear, and you are confronted with the entire tragedy. It opened my eyes in a new way to structural, country-wide poverty. A lack of infrastructure costs lives and livelihoods in a number of ways - more than we would think.

When we arrived in Crimea, I felt the promise of God's hope and goodness in new ways. The beauty of the sea and the mountains is hard to describe. The rest and renewal I found there were things I much needed. And what I continue to learn about Hope inspires me to delve further into the ministry and work here... it is a story to be continued!

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