Sunday, October 6, 2013

9 years later...still in Ukraine

9 years ago today I arrived in Ukraine, for what was thought to be an 8-month post-college adventure.  23, fresh out of college and without much of an agenda or knowledge of what I’d be doing, I said 'dasividanya' to my life in Seattle and jumped into Ukrainian life.

The first year was crazy hard and profoundly lonely at times, but by the time month 6 rolled around, I was knee deep into a new project for orphans and had a feeling that God had a bigger purpose for me being in Ukraine; and as the story goes, I signed up for another year.

And then another year.
Oh what the heck, how about one more? 
Year 4 and 5 pass and I say cute spiritual things like ‘As long as God has me here.
Year 7 and 8 pass and I start to freak out a little bit and think less spiritual things like, 'seriously? I’m still here? This was not part of my plan! God where is the amazing husband and the small litter of children?’ 

Today I sit amazed that 9 years have been spent in Ukraine--- realizing a full decade is literally on the horizon.  Where did the time go? And oddly enough I think I’m at a deeper place of peace with it all.  I'm here, and I see purpose in that, and maybe that's all I need to know right now.

Lately when meeting new people and I’m asked how long I’ve been here,  there is a slight hesitancy to respond.  Just the fact that I can say that I’ve been here for 9 years makes me feel old.  I am tempted to answer:  “I’ve been here for 9 know,  I was 16 when I came.”  :)

Seriously, am I old enough to have lived here for 9 years??  Yes Karen, breath deep…you are 32 years old…deal with it.

I distinctly remember being on a women’s retreat (for missionary women) after only being in Kiev all of 2 months.  One evening they had people stand up for the various years they had lived in Ukraine, starting with one year and going up from there.  When I started seeing the 5, 10 and then the 15+ year ladies standing, I remember thinking—“Wow, they’re their crazy…there is no way that could ever be me!”

Famous last words right?  Reminds me of Sarah laughing at God…(“Me have a baby? At my age?? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day!”-k.springs translation

So here I sit in a cute little coffee shop, down the street from my apartment, reflecting on 9 years of living in a ‘land that is now my own’ (continuing the parallel with Sarah I guess.) 

Speaking of cute coffee shops—there weren’t any of those in Kiev 9 years ago.  Not to mention I didn’t have a cell phone, a computer, skype, or any form of social networking and I took my pictures on film!  Seriously, now I'm aging myself-- lamenting about the way things used to be! I digress.

So back to reflecting…

In all honesty, this isn’t the life I planned for myself.  Never in a million years.  I never had visions of cross-cultural living, let alone living more than 30 minutes away from my mother!  And yet I know that this has been God’s best for me.  Not always tear free…but still his very best.

When I was making the decision to stay on longer, way back when in 2005, I remember God using the story of Esther to get my attention.   

In Chapter 4 Mordecai has learned of an edict that has been made for the annihilation of the Jews.  He knows that he needs to get word to his niece Queen Esther, as she has the ability to speak to the King on behalf of her people.  Esther reads the message from her uncle and sends another message back to him- basically saying that it would be impossible for her to arrange a meeting with the king, unless he called for her, and he hadn’t called for her in 30 days. 

"12When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

It’s probably the most quoted part of the book of Esther.  We’ve all heard the ‘for such a time as this’ line woven into people’s purpose and callings in life.

However, the part that stands out to me in this passage is what is said just before that.  

 “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place…”

When you think about it, Mordecai had amazing faith.  Some of us might have looked at that situation and thought, ‘oh man, if Esther doesn’t do something, we’re goners…she better get her act together and speak!’  We look at impossible situations and make the outcome dependent on people’s action or inaction.  But Mordecai did not.

He believed in the goodness of God and he audaciously believed in God’s promise to his people.  He knew that God would deliver the Jews, because they were his chosen people and he knew that it didn’t depend on Esther—God would provide deliverance somehow, even if she said no . Ultimately the outcome didn’t depend on Esther.   Yet he also knew that God could use Esther if she was willing—and as a result she would share in the blessing. 

As I read that passage it was as if God was saying, “Karen, this is not about you and what you can do.  There are orphans in Ukraine and I love them more than you ever could, and I will raise up people to advocate on their behalf whether you stay here or not.  This is about what I am doing in this nation.  The invitation for you to join me is open for the taking.”

I find that thought so humbling and so freeing.  God doesn’t need us.  But he wants to use us.  He can accomplish his purpose however he chooses…. after all he is GOD!  But in his graciousness he extends the invitation to partner with him in accomplishing his work.  Whether we say yes is entirely up to us.   Saying yes doesn’t mean it will always be comfortable, and it doesn’t mean that suffering won’t be involved.  But the blessings will come as you realize you are a small part of a big story that God is writing, and if you had said no, you could have missed it.

So here I am, 9 years after saying ‘yes’ to an opportunity. 
And I'm so happy I didn't miss out on seeing God moving in this nation...

Through redeeming the lives of hundreds of orphans, who otherwise would have remained in institutions.
Through Ukrainian families catching a spirit of adoption and taking children into their homes.
Through an entire national orphan care movement beginning.
Through being given family and dear friends in a land that is not my own.
Through seeing God's provision and faithfulness in ways I’ve least expected.

Maybe it’s not the life I planned, and believe me there are still many times when I ask, 'what am I doing here?'
But at the end of the day I can say one thing with certainty:
I am glad I said yes.