Thursday, 20 November 2014

Invisible Need

We were walking though the town centre last week, when a middle-aged man with a friendly face stopped us and started talking very fast, in Ukrainian. When he realised we didn't understand, he switched to Russian and finally, some English. Most people speak little to no English in Ternopil; it was a nice surprise to hear him introduce himself as 'George'.  This man was well-dressed, with smart jeans, shiny leather shoes and a nice jacket. He pulled some faces at Joni and made her laugh. Then, he asked us to buy him some bread and told us he was hungry. It took us a moment to actually realise what he had asked, because his appearance contradicted his words. It would have been impossible to guess, looking across the central square, that this gentleman was hungry and in need.

I wanted to share this encounter because it illustrates a surprising reality we have discovered. People's needs are very real here, but they simmer below the surface of everyday life like a toxic undercurrent. I asked a YWAM colleague, who grew up here, where the poorest areas of town are. He said, "there aren't poor areas, poverty is hidden in every neighbourhood". You may never be able to guess which neighbour or even friend is struggling most. This is probably true to a degree in most places. Certainly, in England there has been a huge increase in the middle classes using food banks and seeking other charitable support, when jobs are lost or people get into debt. You may never know how much a family is struggling to pay the mortgage whilst keeping food on the table if you judge them by the facade of their big house or their nice cars (often brought with finance or credit to keep up appearances). I have never been anywhere before, though, without any known areas of acute deprivation; be it a 'council estate' in London, or a slum in Nepal.

In Ternopil, living is cheaper than in any other city in Ukraine, because average family income is also low. However, much like its' people, who work hard to maintain appearance and social stature, Ternopil town is beautiful and well-kempt, with grand architecture, statues and fountains throughout the centre of town.

We have seen a couple of women selling handpicked flowers, or simply begging to make ends meet, but this is not common. The ones we have met have been dressed in their best clothes, they stand with a bowed head rather than sitting on the pavement and they are proud and dignified. It is painful to see them having to ask for help and more painful to help them, if you allow yourself to empathise with the shame they might be feeling.

Our challenge then, is to love and care for everyone in the community. In time, and through deep relationships, we might better learn about individuals who are in need of practical support. Then again, we need to accept that we may never find out, which of the 100 cups of tea given out in the town centre made its' way to the hands of the man, woman or child that has no money to buy one themselves, nor a home to warm up in.

Offering practical help to those most in need is very important to us, but I think that serving everybody in the town indiscriminately also has huge value. We can foster community spirit and demonstrate 'loving your neighbour' in action, through all kinds of ministry to the local community. Indeed, some people may need practical support less and wonder why on earth we are bothering to serve tea, hold english classes, family nights, youth camps, or whatever else YWAM Ternopil is up to, but everybody benefits from emotional support, spiritual care and friendship.

A big prayer request from us is for the YWAM Ternopil team. As we arrived, the staff here learnt there were not enough trainees to run the yearly missionary/discipleship training school (DTS), something which the whole team had been preparing for. The cancellation of the DTS has caused an unexpected lull in the work at the base. This time could be seen as gift, a unique opportunity to pioneer new ministries, serve the local community more, and help with to send aid to the war-torn East. It could just as easily, however, leave staff feeling flat in spirit and demotivated. We would appreciate your prayers that, in the coming months, the team in Ternopil could pull together as a family like never before, become renewed in passion, and have wisdom and courage to work with the local community in new ways. The team has recently welcomed new leaders, Megan and Lance, who have the tough time of learning on the job whilst navigating the base through these unknown but crucial times. Please also keep them in your thoughts and prayers, that they would remain strong whatever personal challenges they are facing and be both wise and inspirational in their nurturing of the Ternopil team.

We love you all so much. We feel peaceful that we are where we are meant to be, but I am looking forward so much to being back in the UK at Easter time ready to have the baby. It must be pregancy-hormones, but I am missing the little flat we used to rent in Slough, because of little things of comfort like having a crinkly kingsize duvet with soft bedding, as many pillows as I want to get comfortable (ladies that have been pregnant may well relate to that!), our own clean toilet and bathroom (with a bathtub even... bliss!). This week, we have received a postcard from friends in Turkey (thanks John and Maureen!) and some really encouraging emails from friends in Nepal; friendships like these are surely better than having a bathtub so maybe I should ask you to pray for me to get over myself and stop being such a diva!

I want to get some pictures up soon so you can see some of the things we have been up to, me with my new brunette hair (lower maintenance!), Josh in his best thermals, and Joni looking grown up with her waist-length hair and confident little attitude. Joni is just making us burst with renewed love everyday, with her funny anecdotes and commitment to her new ballet classes (concentrating so hard to get the moves right that her little tongue pokes in and out in time with the steps for the whole hour!). Three is the most wonderful age, I often wish time would slow down some can keep her at this hilarious but beautiful stage for a bit longer.

Love and Hugs,

Nina xxxx

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