I recently had the awesome privilege of traveling to Odessa, Ukraine. It was my very first trip to Europe.
One prayer request I shared before going to Odessa was that God would grant me favour with the women there. Time on these trips goes by so quickly and I had heard that the people of Ukraine were somewhat guarded, that the women tended to stay in the background. So, I knew my window of opportunity for connection(s) would be brief.
I met Svetlana at the Odessa Airport. She was there to greet our team along with her husband, Alexander, and our interpreter, Misha. Her smile and gentle hug welcomed me. It was “game on” from that moment forward. We sat together on the drive from the airport to where our team stayed and spoke a bit through Misha, a bit through our eyes and smiles, and a bit via our made up sign-language.
I later discovered that Svetlana works at “The House of Peace” – our partner church – with women. No wonder our connection was immediate. Oh yeah, and, of course, I loved her shoes!
Oxana oozes music. She has a beautiful voice. She plays the Bandura – which is a traditional Ukrainian instrument, similar to the harp. She gives direction to the church choir, which really sounds more like a concert choir. She and her husband had us into their home for a delicious meal.
She told us that she has two sisters. “Me too”, I say. Then I made hand motions to ask if she was the oldest, middle or youngest girl. She is the middle daughter. “Me too”, I say. Again, immediate connection.
There wasn’t opportunity for Oxana and I to spend a lot of time together. On our last night in Odessa, the church had a meal for all their staff, their key volunteers and our team. Both, Oxana and I said how much we would have enjoyed having more time together. We meant it.
Maria (aka: Mama) is Pastor Rodoslavov’s wife and a whole lot more. She is a mama and grammie. She is a gracious hostess and an amazing cook. She is a gardener. She is a mentor to women. She is a Bible study leader and a Bible study attendee. What’s not to love?
StoneRidge Fellowship, our church, is currently helping to support two gentlemen as they study at Odessa Theological Seminary. Andrew is the name of one of these men. Vika (Victoria) is his wife.
Andrew and Vika welcomed our team into their home. We sat together around a table that was lavishly filled with treats – chai, a cake Vika had baked and chocolates – getting to know each other. Can I just say that interpreters are such an amazing gift! Andrew and Vika have a daughter and a son. They would come and go into and out of the room every so often, to get a peek at us foreigners and listen to us talk in a different language. They were so cute. I remember their eyes, wide open, taking it all in!
Her friends call her the evangelist; her community calls her the Rose Lady. Luba attends one of the small groups we were part of, in a village just outside of the city of Odessa. She grows roses to sell; it’s her business. I was the recipient of a beautiful bouquet from her garden.
She shared her great burden for her mother, husband and two son’s salvation. “Luba” is the short form of the name “Lyubov.” It means LOVE in Russian. And, it suited her to a “T.”
Now, just so you don’t believe I found favour with EVERY woman in Odessa…
Side note: When I was in India I took a photo of ladies fashions, it is one of my favorite pictures from my trip there. It’s in my office – come have a look.
We went to a market for some groceries that we were taking to three different families, on behalf of our church! The market was similar to our Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. There I saw a little shop with a grouping of ladies dresses displayed outside. And, I recognized the perfect opportunity to duplicate the picture – from Odessa. How fun!
SNAP. Got the picture.
Then, I heard loud words that I couldn’t understand, coming from a rather animated lady who was following me.
“Misha!”, I say. “What is she saying?”
Then there were even more loud words that I didn’t understand, coming from the animated lady and Misha. I have no idea what our interpreter said to her, but she allowed me to keep the picture. Yay!
These are just a few of my memories wrapped up in just a few women God introduced to me.