I just received a friend of mine's familial update in the form of a little newspaper, and it seemed like a good idea to steal.

Lead Story (old news -- the publisher apologises):
I am back in Minsk, and have been for about a week now, after more fun with visas. First I had to search Kiev for a working and friendly fax, so that I could receive my letter of invitation to Belarus. That search landed me in a small office just outside Park Shevshenko, where a very kind small business owner (a friend of a friend) allowed me to receive on his fax machine. But the fax machine didn't work. He had an older model in the back and somehow I wound up with the letter on happy rolly flaxy fax paper.

Then I applied for the visa, thinking I would get a 6-month visa like I did in New York, but this time make it dual-entry (so I can leave Belarus and come back in one time) instead of single-entry. But when I was told they could only do 30-day visas there, my eyes got a little wide. Would I have to pay $65 for a new visa each month for the next 5 months? the man behind the wall suddenly remembered he could do 90-day visas too, but not dual-entry. That's okay, I was praying for either a 6-month dual-entry or two 3-month single entries, so it wound up working well.

When the visa was finally in my hands, and everything was correct, I wanted of course to get to Minsk as soon as possible. My friend and I got to the station for the 11:30pm train, but found that it wasn't running that day. So we waited for another train at 3:30am. I breezed through both border checkpoints shortly after dawn, which was a huge answer to prayer since I was travelling alone and of course have only a slim grasp of the language. On Tuesday afternoon I found myself in Minsk.

International News Items
(about places I visited since last time I wrote.)

BERDICHEV: About 2.5 hours from Kiev, Berdichev was nearly 100% Jewish before the Communist Revolution. It is home to what is considered by experts to be the most unique, and one of the oldest, Jewish cemetaries in Europe. But the cemetary has been vandalized repeatedly throughout the years by Nazis, Revolutionaries, and Nationalists (neo-Nazis).

Berdichev also had a kind of "Baba Yar" of its own during World War II, in which 18,000 people were killed (which is astronomical for this little town). The sense of good Jewish family, though, is still alive and well in Berdichev, particularly in the Messianic Jewish congregation there. They are reaching out specifically to kids, and have about 20 kids from orphanages who regularly attend their services.

ZHITOMIR perhaps has some magnetic qualities. When I visted the town with the troupe of American interns, we wound up stuck there for an extra night because we couldn't find any transportation back to Kiev that could carry us all by the time we were ready to leave. I didn't mind, because Zhitomir was a place of refreshment and peace for me. In fact, now that I think about it, I can see two roots to the word "Zhitomir" -- which are "to live" and "peace." Interesting. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life from a high suspension bridge in Zhitomir, which was all the better because the pastor of the congregation there was standing next to me thanking God for the sun as it went down. I thought, "Hmm, that's a good idea."

But Zhitomir is magnetic when you are just passing through, too. Our mode of travel between Kiev and Berdichev was to grab cars along the highway. Of grabbing cars I have already explained a bit. We had to pass through Zhitomir going both directions, and on our way from Berdichev to Kiev we wound up waiting on the highway for several hours in the dark. Finally one man named Vasya picked us up, and he said that nobody had stopped to get us because they were afraid of us (two guys and two girls). We asked why he wasn't afraid, and he said because he had been in our situation before, and so understood our plight. I was able to pray for Vasya when he dropped us off in Kiev, and he was nearly in tears. "Nobody," he said, "ever prays for me but my mother."

BABA YAR (Kiev): This didn't involve worries about visas, or waiting on the highway with the mosquitoes, or cultural misunderstandings... But this was possibly the most difficult moment of my time in Ukraine. I was doing okay until I read what was etched into the the stone of the Jewish memorial. In Russian and Hebrew, Genesis 4:10 -- "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground." When I saw that I sort of lost it, and later realised that my rule about not crying in front of people has been shattered into a million pieces since I've been here.

God somehow managed to comfort me through a tree. This was a tree that sat atop of a little cleft in the hillside, and because of the way the cleft affected the wind, the tree would move up and down from the wind instead of side to side. Don't ask me to explain this. Just, sometimes God chooses to comfort us through a tree, or an ant on a blade of grass. It's simple and it's good.

PUSCHA-VADITSA (just outside of Kiev): Remember that last email, when I said it was my last day at camp? I was, of course, mistaken. I wound up at that camp several times again, and got to be both a participant (the highlight for me was playing my dream role of Trinity in an adapted version of "The Matrix" -- see right) and an observer. I saw God working in the lives of the kids, as well as in the lives of several American teens who came to the camp to work as interns. Possibly more on this later. More photos later too.

KIEV itself is big. The Messianic congregation there is big, over 1000 people. The city is big, the Metro system is big, the Orthodox churches are big, the silver statue by the Dnipro of the woman holding the sword and shield (a war memorial) is very, very big. My wait for my visa was big. Some of these big things were a joy to me and some were not. Most all of them caused me to pray, for which I am thankful. But I think that my time in Kiev needs to be a bit bigger before I am able to properly write about it.

Traffic and Transit ("on the twos"): In a couple of weeks they are opening a new Metro station in the region where our office is. They've already changed the maps in the Metro cars, and the announcement at the (current) last stop no longer says it's the last stop.... Which sadly means I've seen a higher frequency of drunken individuals coming back the other way, who failed to get off at the terminus.

The auto factory region, where all this is happening, is basically shredded at this point; there are holes in the ground everywhere, trolleybuses can't run, and kids make beautiful music by banging on various sizes of exposed piping.

It has been rainy and cool here ever since I returned, as if to say, "Welcome back to Minsk." They tell me that July was hot here. Really.

It's very good to be home. I loved Ukraine; it was inspiring and challenging and encouraging and bizarre, but I am looking forward to taking all of the inspiring and challenging and encouraging and bizarre things that I learned and applying them to life in Minsk.

I went to a youth meeting the night I returned, and simply couldn't stop smiling because it was so good to see my Minsk family again. Now my desire is to see us all get busy in ministry. Particularly me. A large part of this is prayer, which is what I've been hearing from the leaders in the congregation as well. Lately our prayer meetings and services have been incredible; it seems our role is just to humble ourselves and God's role is everything else. I'm looking forward to seeing what He does during the upcoming Jewish high holy days.

This will probably read more like an injury report. At a recent birthday party I managed to get hit in the nose with a baseball (it still hurts, but I don't think it's broken) and I skinned my knee. The birthday girl twisted her ankle. My arms and hands are sore from percussing so much after so long a break. All in all I feel like a little kid who was playing with abandon, and I trust my heavenly Daddy to take care of me.

One thing that has broken is my glasses. This also due to sporting with little kids, back at the camp. So I'm going with the contact lense look (instead of the scotch-taped glasses look), until I find time to get my lenses shaped to some comparitively very inexpensive Belarusian frames.

I hope you have found these little tidbits in some ways inspiring, challenging, encouraging, and / or bizarre.

- 16 August 2001

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