Jesus said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Luke 10:2
I spent a couple days this past week in the harvest fields of Mukachevo, Ukraine. A city nestled into the valley of the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine. For a little over a year now, Orphan's Promise has had several projects going on in this area, working with a local orphanage and 3 gypsy communities.
I've read the monthly reports that our team in the region has sent in over the past year, but this was the first chance I was given to visit and see first hand the work going on.
The gypsies, or the 'Roma' people in Ukraine, are a people group that can be found largely in western parts of the country-- their population somewhere around 14,000 surrounding Mukachevo. Their history is complex, and their poverty some of the worst I have seen.
Because of their skin color, their social background, lack of education and the negative stigmas that surround their lifestyle, the gypsy people in Ukraine are largely discriminated against. It is difficult for them to obtain work, education and even medical care in this country. They are deemed outcasts.
While in Mukachevo I visited 3 different Roma communities, or as they are more often termed, 'gypsy camps.' One of these communities had 5,000 residents- and no plumbing or water system. The shanty style homes were the first thing my eyes caught attention to as we drove in-- that and the children of all ages everywhere- running to greet our car. The children came quickly to see the new visitors that arrived with Natasha, the woman who works with coordinating our program in this camp. Most of the children don't speak Russian or Ukrainian, but instead a mix of Hungarian and a gypsy dialect-- so communication was more of a challenge. They could answer 'what is your name' without a problem-- but had a hard time understanding my Russian beyond that.
For 3 months now, Natasha has been leading a group of volunteers to come out to this specific community 2 times a week to teach lessons in Life Skills, Bible, and the Russian language. About 40 or so children attend these lessons, and at the end of their lessons they are given a hot meal that our team provides. For many of them- these are two of the only concrete meals they can count on for the week. From the way they came bounding towards Natasha and the teachers it was obvious that the kids were more than eager to learn and engage...and eat!
The teachers I talked to while I was there said they have noticed a change in several of the children in just the 3 months that they have been coming. Several kids, they said, are just so hungry to learn, and are grateful that people from the church care enough to come and teach them. One mother I met was in tears with gratitude as she thanked our team for coming to teach her children. She said she now had hope that her children could have a different future.
I was without words as I observed the poverty that these children live in each day. It is a vicious cycle of poverty that they have been born into and one that has existed for generations. It has become their normal. It disturbed me how 'normal' it seemed to them-- covered in weeks of filth and dirt, and yet still grinning from ear to ear and running wild. I wanted to just scoop up a couple of them and give them a good bath! I also wanted to tell teenage boys that it is not safe to ride a motor bike with a toddler attached to the front! But in that moment I also realized that these children need so much more than just a good bath or a lecture from some American girl. A bath and a lecture would seem to be a quick fix-- but it would be temporal. It wouldn't last for more than a few moments and wouldn't change anything.
I recognized that what our teachers are doing each week will take TIME. That results won't be seen in an instant. We can't pluck up this entire community of 5,000 people and change their situation over night. But we can begin a work for this new generation- teach them work skills, and living skills, and above all about Jesus.
I was inspired by my friend Natasha and her commitment to these children. She recognizes that she may never see the full fruit of her labor-- but she recognizes the call to love and serve this people group...and to start somewhere.
On my way home, as my train rattled away from the Carpathian Mountains back to the comforts of Kiev, I was reading in Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. I couldn't help but think of the little faces I had met the days before-- and of how many more workers who are needed to be sent into that harvest field.
What is the harvest field that God is calling you into today? Will we follow him there?