Saturday, May 30, 2009


A beautiful summer day - our last in Ukraine. Over the past three months, working together with our Ukrainian director, we've initiated 19 major projects and provided aid to many more institutions and individuals. We are just one link in the chain making these projects possible. The following example illustrates this process.

It was a few days after Easter. Our cook at the Centre made us aware of needy families caring for invalid children at home. One case, which I highlighted in an earlier blog, touched our hearts in a particular way. When Drs. Art & Marlyce Friesen (board member) visited us several weeks ago we visited this family again. Marlyce writes the following "....we drove to the village and found our way to a small apartment. We were greeted by a smiling woman in her early fifties who ushered us into the family's small bedroom - four beds lining the walls, with just enough room to walk between. Lying in one of these beds was Igor Vladimirovich. The mother told us this story.

Twenty-one years ago she was pregnant with Igor. She developed difficulty with the delivery and a C-section was performed. Tragically her infant son suffered severe injuries which left him with profound cerebral palsy. He has no use of his arms and legs and is unable to sit. Although his mother feels he understands much of what is going on around him, he is non-verbal except for "Ma-Ma' and 'Pa-Pa'.
Igor lies in bed all day and hasn't been out of this room for three years. His mother is unable to leave him unattended because he has epileptic seizures several times a day. He cannot control his bladder and bowel function and needs frequent diaper and bedding changes. His mother does laundry by hand.

They live in poverty. Windows are kept closed even on warm days to prevent rats from entering. Her husband is also ill, suffering the effect of years of excessive alcohol consumption. The family receives a pension to help care for the son but it does not even cover essentials. Because Igor requires full-time care, his mother is not able to plant and tend a vegetable garden which most villagers have to provide essential food for the family.
As the mother tells this story she lovingly strokes her son's face and cups his chin in the palm of her hand and we realize she is seeing the beauty of God's creation in her disabled son and even though there were tears in our eyes and our hearts were aching we rejoiced in the miracle of a mother's unfailing love."

A few days later we received an email from a friend at home in Canada asking whether there might be a project our Care Group could take on before they disband for the summer. In less than a week they raised enough funds to buy this family a washing machine, laundry soap, sheets, towels, diapers and a window screen.

What a joy to deliver the machine this afternoon. We believe the best support for Igor is to support his loving, care-giving mother. She was speechless; overwhelmed. She told how her hands ached from wringing the wash each day and how this was particularly difficult in winter. Then she couldn't stop smiling.

We are grateful for each link in the chain that makes help possible, our North American board which sets policy and approves projects, our cook who became aware of the need, directors who investigate and facilitate, our truly caring Care Group at home and finally our maintenance man who helps when installations are necessary. What a joy to be a link in this chain and what a wonderful way to complete our assignment.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


One of the pleasures coming into a new country is trying out cultural foods. Recently I've been identified as a "true Ukrainian" just because I've tasted salo. It took some courage biting into the piece of pork fat, this coming from a person who has always meticulously trimmed all the white from any meat. But, not so bad, in fact it was surprisingly tasty. Ukrainians love salo. Slabs of this salty flavored pork fat cover several tables at the Tokmak bazaar and holding pride of place amidst these mounds is a pig head. The story goes that salo became popular when the price of meat was out of reach for most Ukrainians. Now it's become a fad with unique inovations. We are told that small sticks of salo, covered in chocolate have become available at some of the posh restaurants in bigger cities.

Just around the corner from the salo tables is the dairy section. Women sell large batches of homemade tvorog another mainstay in the Ukrainian diet. It is a cross between ricotta and cottage cheese, but doesn't really taste like either. It can be eaten with jam & sour cream for breakfast, as a snack or used in all sorts of sweet and savory recipes. I've made blinchiki - stuffed crepes, syriniki - fried patties, and zapikanka - baked with a bit of cream of wheat, raisins and sour cream, often eaten for breakfast. Fcoosna, delicious! Adjacent to the tvorog section one can find varieties of soured milk - yogurt, kefir and riazhanka (boiled milk with sour cream added), each with its unique flavor and texture and much more tasty than expected.

Last week Dema and Oksana invited us for Plov, pronounced plaof. He is the Plov expert and we discovered that there is an exactness to the preparation, in fact there is a ritual. It is cooked in layers of browned meat, onions, carrots and rice with special seasoning. Apparantly the dish originated in Uzbekistan but has been adopted in many Central Asian cultures. It is said that there are as many recipes for Plov as there are cooks. As we watched the chef at work we were given step-by-step explanations. NEVER EVER stir the rice when making plov. Again we found that it is possible to take simple ingredients, combine them in a certain way with sensational results.

Food and water - necessities of life. Over the last few years as we've travelled around the Molotchna area and visited former Mennonite villages, we became aware that the village of Neukirch, now Udarnik, population 340 inhabitants, has no water. For at least ten years they have been trucking in water because the wells are "sour". Last year the Mennonite Centre donated a water tank to the village school so that children would have the opportunity of washing their hands. We visited the school recently and were told that they are now in the process of providing drinking water for their students. Many things we take so for granted are a luxury here. It has been our joy to be able to help this school.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Last weekend Mother's Day was celebrated in various parts of the world. In Ukraine women are honored on March 8 which is "Women's Day". It is a national holiday and traditionally women are presented with flowers. On the theme of women and mothers I would like to tell you a bit more about the Moms that meet at our Centre every Wednesday morning. The leader of this group, Oksana, has been alternating discussion sessions with a cooking class and a craft class and occasionally inviting a guest speaker.

During the midst of a discussion session two weeks ago one of our moms received a phone call. She appeared distressed and wiped some tears from her eyes but didn't comment. Several days later we were told that her husband had walked out on her. A week later another mom told the same story. Now all but one of our group are single mothers.
Lately we've been talking about parenting issues. We discussed the poem -
"Children Live What They Learn"

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive. If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves. If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy. If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy. If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty. If children live with acceptance, they learn to love. If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves. If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal. If children live with sharing, they learn generosity. If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness. If children live with fairness, they learn justice. If children live with faith, they learn hope. If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect. If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them. If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Oksana translated this into Russian and last week we made up wall hangings. It's a challenge to find craft supplies. Fortunately Mennonite Heritage Cruise passengers had brought humanitarian aid supplies along and we found some pretty paper. We managed to find narrow wooden moulding strips which we used for framing and then set the moms to work putting things together.

They had a great time being creative and were so grateful for the message. The mom in the red hat asked for five additional copies to hand out to her friends. Most of these moms don't come from a faith background, so it came as a surprise when they asked whether they could do something similar with the Lord's Prayer. Consequently next month Oksana will review the parts of this prayer and they will have an opportunity to practice their creativity again.
We are in the process of procuring some resource materials for this moms group and are very grateful to friends in our home church who have donated towards this purchase.

Monday, May 4, 2009


By God's mercy the rains have come - just in time. It hadn't rained for more than six weeks and the land was parched. Now you can literally see things growing. This is vital not only for the many kitchen gardens that provide sustenance to our people but also for the vast fields of grain that produce a large part of the Ukraine economy. Barring drought, it has been estimated that Ukraine will export 6 million tons of wheat in the year ending June 2009, compared to 700,000 tons in 2008. And by September the barley export is expected to be 6 million tons up from 1.7 million tons in 2008. If all goes well - a triple increase.

Further deeds of mercy at our doorstep. Several days ago a letter appeared on our desk, delivered from across the street. Back in early spring an elderly neighbor asked for help. Dema, our manager, and Vitaly, our maintenance man responded. This is a direct translation of her letter.

I thank you very much, the Directors of the Centre, for helping me with sawing down the trees in the yard in front of my house and sawing it into firewoods. That was done by Dmitry Ivanovich and Vitaly Tutik free of charge. I thank them very much.

I am almost 80 years old. All my life I worked hard, brought up my children, I'm a participant of the war, I am weak and sick. I need an operation on my eyes, but I can't because of circumstances of my life. My son worries me every day. He is an alcoholic. He was in prison not only once. He doesn't work. Sometimes he beats me and promises to kill me when is drunken.

So I thank the Centre very much for helping me. May our Lord bless you all good successes in your activities and good health.

April 28, 2009 With respect (Signature)

Another recent experience with a neighbour, living a short distance from us. I was introduced to Raisa in the fall of 2005. She is a widow, of German descent, who married a Ukrainian. She has lived alone for many years and become reclusive. She has, however, allowed a few people into her life. Being able to communicate in German helps. When we returned this year were told that she had lost her mobilibty and become bedridden. A merciful family in the neighborhood bring in meals three times daily and provide personal care.

Last Friday Raisa turned 88. I was invited to join several others for a birthday tea. Raisa was not told in advance because she probably would not have allowed it. Contrary to her incapacitated physical condition she is mentally alert and hasn't lost her feistiness. She has no children. Her deceased husband's relatives have been pressuring to place her in the psychiatric hospital, the only, but very poor option for institutional care. She has flatly refused. Seeing her frailty and her ulcerated legs and hearing about her struggle was heart-wrenching. Medical aids and equipment we take so for granted at home are unknown in local towns and villages. We hope to be able to implement some ideas to help make her more comfortable. At the suggestion of her neighbour, I brought her a light-weight head scarf. She had only very warm ones. Her immediate response was, "I will save this for my burial".

Similar stories are repeated over and over again. We hope shortly to revive the Mercy Group who will visit the housebound in order that these needy people are cared about and not forgotten.