The thing about Revolutions

The Thing About Revolutions

At least one of the presidential candidates in this American election cycle is calling for a revolution. Having lived through one recently, I hesitate to recommend them. Revolutions tend to tie up traffic, leave a lot of broken glass, and the rubber bullets hurt (and real ones kill). In general they’re hard on a country, and we’re still cleaning up (at least economically) from ours There is one thing that revolutions do well however, and that’s unite people.

Often that unity comes in the form of opposition. In our case that opposition was to a crooked president, an unjust system, and a corrupt government. Ukraine endured revolution that caused shut downs, hurt the economy, and killed people for these very reasons; the protesters looked forward to a new Ukraine with a new justice and a new fight against corruption.

Fast forward two years.

Now the revolution in Ukraine is over, it has its own Netflix documentary and Wikipedia page, and has become, in more ways than one, history. In the years since, there have been some signs of progress; the old president is hiding in the country next door and isn’t welcome back, a number of money laundering banks have been closed, and a new police force has been hired that promises to be professional and not bribe-friendly; but many feel that’s not enough, the reasons for revolt still exist.

Not that the changes haven’t come far enough or fast enough, but rather many feel their hope was misplaced in the new system and the new president. There has yet to be indictments for those involved in the crimes of the past and there seems to be a lack of real fight against the endemic corruption. Some are now calling for a revolution do-over, while others are saying that more Molotov cocktails won’t help, but either way there is a deep and widespread frustration. Add to that a war, which took everyone by surprise (the joke here now is that Russia has cut its defense spending, but leaving attack spending intact), the possibility that what started in the East will grow (a recent demonstration at the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow demanded that Ukrainians get out of "our” – Russia’s – Kiev) and the skyrocketing prices (electricity just went up 25%) and the recipe that produced the unrest two years ago seems like yesterday.

Herein lies the crux. Earthy justice and truth is good, heavenly justice and truth is better. Working toward these goals in any country (maybe especially Ukraine) is a hard and laborious task, and may seem unattainable. Working toward these goals in any person (maybe especially ourselves) is a hard and laborious task as well, but is attainable only with outside help. This is where the work of the church (our work here) comes in. We have seen the church pick up where government leaves off. Countries can’t have revolutions every few years, it’s impractical (reference the traffic, glass, and bullets) but the desire toward and hope for the ideals is good, but must originate in something higher.

The Wikipedia page I referred to calls Ukraine’s 2014 revolution the "Revolution of Dignity”. Where does the idea of dignity come from? Not to mention the ideas of justice, truth, compassion, peace? We all demand them in our governments and societies, and desire them in ourselves, but reality in government and in the mirror fall short. The hope comes only from God who can provide it in us, and through us to society.

Pray for Ukrainians that their hope in government would stay alive thanks to the hope more and more hear about each Sunday. Pray that fatalism would not take the place of anticipation of a heavenly kingdom. Pray that this, the church’s message, would be received, and the Christ’s revolution that begins in each person would find it’s way to society…and even to government.

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27 January, 2016 21:43


The conventional wisdom for those who experience loss says that the real work of grieving starts when the funeral has finished and the friends and families have left. Rare is the person who continues to call and inquire about the grieved one month on, rarer is the person who inquires after a year or more. Such is life and such are our memories. Memories fade, and with them our empathy and our sympathy.

Thus is the plight of Ukraine today. The refugees of last year are the neighbors of today, the war-caused inflation and currency free-fall are the economy we live with, and the revolution that started it all is now a Netflix documentary (Winter on Fire). Life goes on. The roads in the east have deep ruts from the military convoys (tanks are not easy on asphalt…) and will not soon be fixed, draft notices still come in the mail for young (and some older) Ukrainians, and people are getting used to the idea of living in a country with checkpoints and a military draft. Dysfunction has grudgingly become function.

The same way that having a country split apart by the demilitarized zone has become the “new normal” (now old normal) in Korea, so having a “sub-country” within Ukraine is somehow acceptable. This “sub nation”, for lack of a better name, in the East of the country, has it’s own documents, passports, flag, and pseudo-government. Think Washington DC, but with tanks and checkpoints. This sub-country has millions of people in it and hundred of thousands of refugees who have left. Here in Kyiv, when you meet someone who introduces themselves as “from Donetsk”, you know there is a story there, often dramatic, involving danger, requiring flight, but most of all; loss. Loss of possessions, loss of loved ones, or loss of a home. It’s a sad normal we have now in Ukraine.

Much of the Old Testament is reminding God’s people to remember what He’s done and who He is. It’s easy to forget, and also easy to be forgotten about. Many Ukrainians now feel forgotten about. As the country reaches out to the world for help, as much as we want it to receive the attention and justice that the it deserves, we understand that ultimately the country’s fate, and the fate of the fifty million souls in it, as was the fate of God’s people written about by the prophets, depends on not the trinity of the US, UK & UN, but the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Dependency often gives way to humility, which leads to faith. Pray that as Ukraine goes through this process, and very real suffering, that it would end in faith, not hopelessness.

To that end, the churches we work with have not forgotten about the conflict. The pastors pray everySunday without fail for the effects of the war on their country and their congregations, also many churches are directly involved in the relief effort still sending aid and receiving refugees. Among the many stories in many churches, many look and sound like this; a 27 year old single mom named Galina who was an English teacher Horlivka Ukraine, just north of Donetsk. Our church in Belgorod has taken her in (along with many others) and provided temporary housing after they fled the East, and are now helping to find a job and a permanent place as the conflict in Ukraine enters it’s second year. May God enable his church here in Ukraine to be faithful as they remember His faithfulness, and pray for us as we seek to expand the church.

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28 October, 2015 13:52

Going back to a hometown, a school, or house you grew up in is always a combination of familiar and alien at the same time. In our case, since our return to Ukraine after our year absence, both emotions have been in abundance. Lots has changed and much has remained the same in this country, I’ve been struck by any number of things, here’s a couple that come to mind.

Prices – Higher generally, in some cases dramatically. It’s hard to do an apples to apples comparison from a year ago because the currency has lost so much value, but ten eggs (not sold by the dozen!) a year ago would have cost 10 Hryvnia, now costs 26. Almost everything is either literally more expensive, or functionally so because people earn in Ukrainian Hryvnias. The effects of this are seen everywhere, people make clothing last another season, food stretch a bit further, and, as in a number of cases I’ve heard of, installing a woodstove because natural gas is (or will) become prohibitively expensive.

Patriotism – The Ukrainian flag is a simple blue over yellow, and if you didn’t know that, it would have become abundantly clear visiting Kyiv a year ago. Much like post 9/11 in America, flags were flying everywhere, people also wore blue and yellow ribbons or pins, and many buildings and landmarks had been painted the national colors. The presence of the traditional Ukrainian embroidery pattern was also everywhere, on shirts, jackets, even painted on cars; generally all things national were displayed proudly. Now one year later as you drive through town, you see less flags and less shirts, and the blue and yellow splashed everywhere is fading a bit. This does not necessarily mean that the country’s resolve has diminished, but rather that the country is entering a new phase, passing through activism toward reform.

Politics: Yesterday in Ukraine elections were held. A friend of mine asked his grandmother who she was going to vote for, and she replied “the same old party”. He told her that there was no “same old party”, in fact few parties that were in power two years ago even exist now; (revolutions will do that), to which she replied; “I’ll vote for the same folks whatever party they’re in”. This betrays what many think, especially those who formed political opinions during the Soviet Union.

But make no mistake, the political revolution continues. I’ve written about the “falling Lenins” around the country, many statues of the leader have been toppled, now a new twist, one in Odessa has been remade into the image of… a twenty foot tall Darth Vader, complete with helmet and cape. A way, it seems, of poking fun at the past, while distancing oneself from it. The old is passing away, however slowly. Just a few months ago the city of Kyiv effectively fired all of its police and hired a new, young, tri-lingual force, to which Toyota donated a fleet of new Prius’. This along with a country wide PR campaign, shows the will of the people to move out of corruption, cronyism towards transparency and truth.

Spiritual interest: The revolution and the subsequent changes in Ukraine over the past year have all revolved around hope. Hope fraud will be exposed (the mansion of the former president is still open for tours), hope that transparency will prevail (a new website shows expenses of all elected officials), and hope that justice will prevail (a popular political party recently renamed itself the Justice Party). Of course, all of this progress is important, but our desire to live in a country of justice, truth and honesty only mirrors our desire to see a eternal kingdom with those qualities.

For all the progress made, there are still critics nagging that this is all a drop in the bucket and the “old Ukraine” will never change. As much as we hope that is not true, many are seeking something bigger and more lasting than what this reform may give. Thus we are seeing our churches full on Sundays, our Bible Studies growing, and our English classes have a waiting list. People want their country to change, yet long for a larger hope than a website can provide. Pray for the church as it speaks into this need, preaches a truth which transcends, and a peace that lasts.

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27 May, 2015 22:26

War and Washing Machines

While I was in Ukraine on my trip last week, I read of the terrible events in Nepal. The huge earthquake reduced many buildings to rubble, many thousands of people were displaced, thousands killed, more injured, and much cleanup to do. At some point in the future, after the aid workers have left, and the short term solutions turn to long term fixes, the country will have to come to terms with what this great tragedy, both physically and spiritually.

As I thought about this during my trip, I was struck that Ukraine is in the same situation. Hundreds of thousands displaced, tens of thousands wounded, and thousands dead as a result of the ongoing tragedy, and of course the uncertainty of what will happen in the future. One year on now, Ukraine is just starting to begin the process of coming to terms with the implications of the conflict, yet while having to still live in it.

It’s the still having to live in it part that’s tricky. Even in war time when there are daily reports from the front, concerns about how far this will spread, and an active draft of young men, people still have to eat, sleep, and pay bills, and yet keep the conflict in the back of their mind. I asked a friend if Ukrainians now were more concerned about the battered economy, or the conflict that caused it. He said that the patriots were concerned about the war, everyone else the economy. The trouble is those two groups are not mutually exclusive.

Ukraine has a love/hate relationship with outsiders who want to give advice. From the many diaspora living in Europe, the US, and Canada, to world politicians who offer “fixes” as former president Jimmy Carter did recently, to the casual “fan” following the conflict and ready with opinions. They love that people are invested, interested, and care, but the hate comes when they sense a condescending attitude that demands that Ukraine fix its many problems. The outsider’s advice usually comes with a list of to-dos, and in the case of countries, they can withhold aid and investment until their concerns are dealt with. Everyday Ukrainians say that may be nice for you to suggest living in Canada, the US, or Europe, but for those of us who are living here, banking reform takes a back seat to having stable electricity and the next doomed ceasefire agreement is less interesting to me than driveable roads.

It’s something like a person battling cancer. Life goes on, but one never forgets the disease. The neighbor watching our house while we’re gone informed me that a local transformer fell over in high wind last week and sent a surge of 440 volts to our whole neighborhood in Kyiv, including to my house. Many of those on our street had toasted toasters, fried computers, and burned out televisions, mostly beyond repair. He checked our house, and we only had the fridge plugged in and it seemed to be fine, but the principle is that for many, electrical surges are just as important than military surges that are happening hundred of miles away.

In my ten days in Ukraine last week, I talked to a number of pastors and missionaries, friends and coworkers. We had many meetings about the future of the ministry, the health of the churches, and budget discussions. What struck me during these talks was the ease that they transitioned between church budgets & war readiness, between outreaches & casualties, and between training pastors and evacuation contingencies. What a strange conversation to have about starting a new church and all the planning and logistics that entails, then at the end of the conversation someone says “assuming that the Russians don’t get this far”. Such is life and ministry in Ukraine. Even in war there is planning and praying, conflict and sin, and also redemption and forgiveness.

On a personal note, we are closing in on the remainder of our time in the States now, our scheduled return to Ukraine is in August. Please pray for us and for our next few months here in the US, and for the last remaining portion of our support to come in to free us to go. Our ministry will continue as long as there is a possibility to engage in it, and we’re privileged to be a part of the growth of the church there, and see this time as key in it’s history. Both Nepal and Ukraine need to come to terms with their crises in many ways, including spiritually. The church in both places will be the key societal instrument that God is using and will use to do that, and we hope to play a part in His plan.

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27 May, 2015 22:23


Since we have been in America, I’ve thought a lot about the character Uriah, written about in 2nd Samuel. We are now four months into a one year stay in the States as we travel and raise support and awareness for our work in Ukraine. Since we’ve been home, we have felt a tension of the sort that Uriah felt.

He was in the army of Israel faithfully serving when he was called home from the battle by the king. Of course David’s purposes were sinister, but Uriah continuing to identify so strongly with his compatriots at the front, refused any civilian amenities or relations, choosing instead to sleep in the servants quarters as an act of solidarity with his fellow soldiers.

While our family has not refrained from donuts and Target shopping (wow, we missed them) we still feel very connected and concerned about our brothers and sisters in the church in Ukraine. We love being home/back (home for the parents, back for the kids), we love seeing friends & family, connecting with people who supported and prayed for us over the past decade, we love reacquainting ourselves with people in our home church, we love the ease of living in America, the food, the culture, and the language (it’s so nice to have everything in English). All of this is true, but we are still missionaries to Ukraine, and are still burdened for and miss the church and people there.

Tomorrow I (Jon) leave for Ukraine for a week to meet with Ukrainians and missionaries about how we can serve the church better as we move forward. I will also attend an annual team meeting and retreat. I’m looking forward to thinking about how we can serve to develop the church and its leaders for the next generation of ministry in Ukraine even despite the chaos.

Currently Ukraine and Russia are in an agreed upon ceasefire, which lately has been interrupted each evening with the shelling of the Donetsk airport. A ceasefire that is more fire that cease. This airport was brand new for Ukraine’s hosting of the EuroCup soccer championships only a few years ago, and until recently had been an active airport. Now it is literally a shell of its former self, and much of the city of Donetsk is in a similar state.

I have been encouraged by the pastors and the people in the churches throughout the country that we work with; their resolve, and unity has been an example for the global church. It’s easy to talk about unity in Christ trumping politics, but it’s hard to act it out. Church members have been raising money, accepting refugees, sending teams to rebuild, and donating in some cases what little they have to soldiers and displaced people in the East.

All of this typifies why our family feels torn. It’s hard to take part in the American dream, when many friends are living the Ukrainian nightmare. Please pray that we will be able to raise the funds needed, take the time out necessary, and visit those who have been faithful in their support over this year. We thank God that his promises to us and the church are true; that full redemption from this fallen world will come, and that his church will triumph in the end. May we have faith in His promises.

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Baseball and Slavic Churches

If I were to compare the two Presbyterian churches in Odessa, Ukraine to American baseball teams; the Odessa Presbyterian Church downtown would be the New York Yankees, thanks to it being the established, professional standard known by all. The church plant Covenant of Grace outside of the center would be the Minnesota Twins. It’s the small market, small budget team that consistently produces some of the best talent in the league.

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting this small market wonder, and enjoyed doing so. The temperature this Sunday was hovering near zero, and the temperature inside was not significantly higher, but the atmosphere in the church was warm and pleasant. It felt like meeting a kid from a healthy family. The child’s family security allows him to be an open and inviting person, the kind you don’t see of kids with unstable backgrounds. This church struck me as ok with itself, and therefore seemed a place I might like to stay a while.

The pastor of this church is George Kadyan. It’s obvious to see George’s Holy-Spirit-inspired fingerprint on this church. He’s an easy going, funny, Christ centered, family centered person, and folks like that, or folks who want to be like that are attracted to the church. Laughter and a hunger for knowledge were both on display in spades. I have a harder time, however, explaining the fact that for every one woman in the church there are two guys. That is an achievement of God working through his methods which should be noticed, especially since the average age of the congregation is in their twenties. At a time when men are present in the Ukrainian church less than women, for some reason in this church that trend has been reversed.

As I preached to this congregation who in their four years of existence have had seven different meeting places, as I stood there with the space heaters blowing around me, as I spoke with the kids of the congregation coloring at a table four feet to my right, I thought to myself; If this church were a company – I’d buy stock.


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Commute in Kiev

Here is what I saw on my way to work today:

1.  One of the first timid fare takers on the bus that I’ve seen.  Usually they are loud and demanding.

2.  A lady practicing Irish dancing in the park.

3.  Tens of senior citizens doing exercises together in the park.

4.  A friend whom I haven’t seen in a year or so.

5.  A white fur coat

6.  Another white fur coat.

7.  A guy in short sleeves.

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