JULIE MEINERS, GRACE STAFFER & UKRAINE SHORT-TERM TRIP LEADER
Visiting Ukraine gave the contrast between darkness and light a whole new meaning for me.
As we drove the busy highway through Kiev, I felt something. Sad, I think. Maybe a little hopeless.
Tall, gray apartments housing far more than a western fire code would permit edged the highways. Government buildings were stark and foreboding. Abandoned construction projects reflected only the skeleton of a factory or parking structure. Fully uniformed soldiers could be spotted walking the streets. Driving past the location of the May 2014 massacre quickly reminded me I wasn’t in Indiana anymore.
But as we left the city, I spotted a field lush with bright, yellow sunflowers. Against the backdrop of deep blue, the flowers and sky proudly boasted the colors of Ukraine.
As my visit lingered, I started to notice blue and yellow everywhere, decorating ornate basilicas and tiny convenience stores. I would learn that graffiti artists had been contracted and brightly colored paint freely distributed to residents in hopes of splashing color and life onto the previously drab canvas of Ukraine. Their national pride is inspiring.
Though stark and evident, the dark/light contrast showcased in lifeless objects was nothing compared to the way it would be personified in the people I would soon meet.
In Ukraine, the least of these are often hidden in the shadows or worse. Because they look and act different, disabled children and their parents are strategically placed at the top of tall apartment buildings with no viable way to navigate their way down the stairs and into the world. In addition, all unexpected pregnancies are expected to be terminated. The message is clear. Rather than deal with the expense and awkwardness, these “inconvenient” children should be tucked away in an orphanage or disposed of altogether.
Hidden. Forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind.
And darkened by shame.
Society shames those who choose to keep their disabled children or unexpected babies, insinuating they are selfish and foolish. Those who listen to the “wisdom” of the culture and dispose of these children are riddled with a silent shame nestled deep within their souls.
But as I met people of the Mission to Ukraine (MTU), the grim darkness that had begun to envelop me was immediately eclipsed by the brightest love, hope, and faith I’ve experienced.
MTU doesn’t hide the least of these, they seek them out and celebrate them.
The first thing I noticed when entering the MTU reception area was the pillars. Two columns filled top to bottom with pictures of smiling, beautiful kids saved and served through the two pillars of MTU (Disabilities Ministry and Crisis Pregnancy Center) immediately draw you into this bright hopeful place. The halls bustle with activity. Volunteers and staff lovingly and capably care for newborn babies and children with disabilities. Parents waiting patiently as their kids are cared for are eager to smile, shake your hand, and make their best attempt at a conversation despite the language barrier. The gratitude in their eyes cannot be missed. Someone has cared. Someone has hugged their child. Someone has brought them out of the dark into the light.
Visiting the disabilities camp brought me nearer than I’ve ever been to heaven on earth. Kids normally shunned and hidden from society are out in the sunlight, dancing, exercising, sliding down slides, riding on boats, and competing in Special Olympics. Parents who have felt only disdain from society are treated as dignitaries.
MTU is founded on love. The love of God is being poured out through the staff to every child and every parent.
The joyful face of every kid, parent, staff member and volunteer brightly reflects the light of God’s love.
The darkness of a broken country is being pushed back by the light and love of God, poured out by those who love Him on every person coming in contact with Mission to Ukraine.
Would you like to be the light in a dark country? Click here to learn more about our trips to Ukraine or any of the Grace Short-Term Mission Trips.