When Travis and I accepted the internship with HOPE International, we knew that it would mean several weeks of separation. At the time, we anticipated around nine weeks, but realized later we had miscalculated the time (my graduate program calls for a ten week internship but HOPE designs internships to be eleven and a half weeks). After some travel and logistical gymnastics, we managed to get the time we would spend apart back down to between nine and ten weeks. I cannot tell you how many times we heard people say, "you must be crazy," or, "are you sure about that?" or, "I can't imagine - I could never do that." To be honest, there were a times when I questioned whether I could endure such a long separation, but a basic truth sustained us both. We knew that while we would be apart, the cause for our separation was something we believed in, were committed to, and felt called to. Since we became engaged, we have prayed for an opportunity to be involved in an international ministry committed to holistic, sustainable poverty alleviation and children. This summer provided that opportunity, and while it meant a long separation, the end of that separation brought a chance to do something we have prepared and waited for for years.
I traveled from Zaporozhye to Kyiv (halfway across the largest country in Eastern Europe) alone by bus. The journey was not particularly a pleasant one - an 8.5 hour trip by bus over poorly built and maintained roads (my dad, a civil engineer, would be fascinated by the Ukrainian transportation system!). Having picked up only basic Russian and Ukrainian, I was a little unsure as to how well I would fare alone on the long trip. However, I arrived at the airport in Kyiv without incident and EXCITED, knowing Trav's flight would arrive at any moment. His plane was delayed, so I waited for nearly two hours among a pushy, irritated, and impatient crowd. But finally, the doors opened to Travis walking through, weighed down by bags filled with supplies for children's camps, clothes and reminders of home for me, gifts for our Ukrainian friends and 'family', and a few clothes to get him through the next two weeks.
Travis arrived to what appeared to be a Ukrainian bride. It is no exaggeration to say that online marriages and 'mail order' brides (and grooms, in fact) are common in Ukraine. There is a shortage of jobs and opportunity for the youth of Ukraine, and many are extremely eager to gain citizenship in other nations with more wealth and opportunity. I personally met at least two women who had met and married men online and then immigrated to another nation, and Ashley and I met several men who asked us to marry them and take them with us to the states. It is heartbreaking - Ukraine is a beautiful nation with much promise, but certainly with problems in policy and economic development. It becomes all to easy at times for youth to focus on their country's challenges rather than the incredible potential and resources lying somewhat dormant but ready to be tapped into. At any rate, clad in the traditional Ukrainian blue and carrying flags (Ukrainian and American) and a poster with "Welcome to Ukraine" written in Russian, I looked every bit the Ukrainian bride. I didn't care...
We gathered his bags and sped off to drop the bags at our hotel. Then it was off to see the sights of Kyiv - our only 'tourism' of our time in Ukraine. It was a priceless and long awaited arrival!