When I last wrote, I was settling back into life in Minsk, glad to be home and ready to sow some more seeds in the place where I live. After about a week at home, however, I was invited to a leaders' retreat in Kiev.
This was a bit of a surprise to me because I am not exactly a leader in my congregation, but interns (I think that is what I am) were invited too. And so, I prayed. I knew that it would require a bit of a change of mind for me to go, because I had been looking forward to spending more time with my Minsk friends and I had just been in Kiev. But I knew deep down that I wanted to go.
And so in my passport, 10 days after getting the stamps that let me out of Ukraine and into Belarus, I received stamps letting me out of Belarus and into Ukraine again. The 90-day Belarusian visa that I had to argue for in Kiev turned out to be used for 10 days. So it goes.
The conference itself was amazing. Leaders from Shalom Network International -- our congregation in Minsk is part of SNI -- met at a sanatorium (NOT sanatarium; there is a difference, usually) for what was basically a week-long family conversation. Actually it was supposed to be a week long; many of us actually stayed on for a few extra days.
I was thrilled to see all my old friends (already old friends) from around Ukraine, and some of them tried to convince me to visit all their cities again before going back to Minsk. It was tempting, but I knew that after our tacked-on conference days, it really was time to go home.
The second homecoming felt much more real than the first. I am thankful that God saw what I didn't -- when I left Ukraine the first time, the lessons I was to learn there hadn't been fully learned. I remember waiting on my 3.30am train that first time, waiting eagerly to go. But as soon as the train actually started to pull away, I realized I hadn't been ready to start moving at all. The sinking feeling I had then summed up my first departure from Ukraine. I had been anxious to get back to Minsk as I waited for my visa, but once I left I felt like something had been left unfinished.
It wasn't until I came home the second time that I was able to start understanding what God had been doing over both stays in Ukraine. A few months ago I wrote of the need to explore... And in these explorations away from my Minsk home, I was learning about the nature of home itself.
My first stay in Kiev was very difficult. Whereas I had fallen in love with Odessa at first sight, I did not feel that way in Kiev at all and I just wanted to go back to Minsk as soon as possible. I tried wandering the streets of Kiev in the same way I had done in Odessa, and I would find wonderful things along the way. But I felt like the city itself was shielded from me, behind meters-thick walls of steel. Everything was glistening, and it was all supposed to be beautiful, but it just felt dead to me.
As I prayed I realised that Kiev is full of form and structure. While Odessa felt organic, as if the good and the bad were both growing through changes, Kiev felt mechanical, like the good and the bad were constricted. I knew my God couldn't be constricted, so I couldn't resolve the feelings I had.
I think this struggle surfaced a bit in my last update, as I wrote: "Kiev is big... Some big things were a joy to me and some were not... But I think that my time in Kiev needs to be a bit bigger before I am able to properly write about it." I was sure I would come back to Kiev at some point... I just didn't think it would be so soon.
In that update, I also mentioned a visit to Baba Yar. I did not mention that I began a fast at Baba Yar, because while I was missing Minsk and being confused by Kiev -- not to mention spending time with more Americans than I had seen in one place in several months -- the #1 question that in my mind was: Where do I belong? East or West, Jewish congregations or Christian churches... Even Ukraine or Belarus? The purpose of my fast was to listen for God's answer to my questions.
After a few days, I attended an outreach service by a special little lake, which had already been home to many late-night conversations and prayers with friends. We were celebrating the 15th of Av, when according to tradition the children of Israel realised that their 40 years of wandering in the desert had come to an end. None of my specific questions were answered at that time, but I knew that the Lord was answering me with Himself. It wasn't that my wanderings had come to an end in a place, or with a husband (Yes, that was also on my mind!), or with a plan. They had come to an end with God. Which is simply the best way.
But when I was on my way back to Minsk, I was strangely fearful. What if everything had changed and I didn't fit in anymore? When I saw everyone, of course, I was simply happy to be home. But during the worship team practice a few days later, I actually burst into tears. There is no place like home... and there is no place as challenging as home. I didn't mind crying, because I knew I was, in a sense, with family. But the fact that Minsk and these people mean so much to me puts me in a place of vulnerability and dependence that scared me a bit.
And so, leaving again after 10 days in Minsk was not an easy decision to make. I wanted to stay and work on my relationships, and make sure that everyone still loved me and that I still had a place in Minsk. But as I prayed about going to the conference, I realised another thing about home: It lets you go when you need to go, and accepts you back when you come back.
So, I went, and while at the conference, I found that the members of my family spread throughout Ukraine were also welcoming me back. The feeling of the retreat itself was like a family reunion, and folks from various parts of Eastern Europe and the FSU were praying, teaching each other, being bluntly honest, giving backrubs, singing songs, eating, telling jokes, lacking sleep... And in all of this, always together.
And then CW and I, who stayed only three days longer than planned (some stayed yet longer) got on a train toward home. When the train pulled away, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. When I saw my friends, I had no shame at giving them three-minute-long hugs to let them know how glad I was to see them. And now that I'm home, I'm not worrying about where I fit in, I'm just trying to do what my leaders set before me. I feel like a little kid who is just trusting her heavenly Daddy, and have discovered that when I'm obedient, even work is like rest, because I know that my wanderings have come to an end.
And now, some notes regarding physical homes.
Within a week of arriving in Minsk in January, I was pretty sure that I wanted to spend more than a year here. I resolved to just live my life and put off serious thought about this until after the Summer. Well, September 1st begins Autumn in this culture, and the desire to stay here longer-term has only grown. On top of that, it seems God has shown me a few things to confirm it's what He wants too.
But I'm not 100% sure, so I'm praying a lot and am confident that God will show me clearly where He wants me before I leave (around January 10). Some questions do require concrete answers. Please pray for me for two things: 1. That I would be obedient to whatever He shows me, and 2. That He would show me soon so that I know how best to plan.
And finally: Aside from people, the first thing I remember missing about America was Mexican take-out. Now, I hardly give quesadillas a thought, and the main thing I miss these days is Erev Shabbat (Friday night) dinner at my parents' house. Interesting that it still relates to food... But the bizarre family banter and the placemats and the smell of the traditional Shabbat candles are what I think of more.
Home is a special thing.
- 4 September 2001
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