This is another blog post that has to start with a birthday shout-out—so Happy Birthday Elaine Baus! I hope you’re having a wonderful day at home and getting to eat good Japanese food. Know that my stomach here in Ukraine is jealous ; )
Today I went back to Kiev with my friends Lee and Abby, who are Peace Corps volunteers training in Chernihiv. I don’t see them that often, because we are training in different clusters, but whenever I run into them we always talk about hanging out. I met Abby in Washington D.C. at Staging—we were roommates before we came to Ukraine! And I sat by Lee on the flight to Germany, where he tried his best to teach me some Russian. He took Russian in college and is already pretty advanced, but he taught me the basics like “My name is Kate.” (Minya zavoot Katya! I’m impressed I remember that, it was almost 3 months ago!) Lee mentioned that there is a Hillsong church in Kiev, and I told him that I’d be interested in going sometime. Hillsong was started in Australia, and is well-known for having great worship music. I have some Hillsong albums on my iPod, and its good stuff! Abby is also a Christian, and she was excited to go to a church service with us. (The churches in Chernihiv are all Eastern Orthodox and Russian speaking, so all of us have missed Protestant, English-speaking church-services!)
So I saw Abby and Lee last week, and we decided on going to Hillsong before the end of Pre-Service Training. Once we swear in, we move to our permanent sites, and we’ll probably be on opposite sides of the country. I’m learning Ukrainian, so chances are I’ll be heading west towards L’viv, but Lee and Abby are studying Russian so they’ll probably be headed east or south. So we wanted to go to Hillsong together before training ended, but it turned out today was the only Sunday we all have free until the end of training. So today was the day!
I woke up obscenely early (6am!) and took a bus to Chernihiv to meet Abby and Lee. The bus stop is right next to a McDonalds, and I was there a half hour early, so I went inside and treated myself to McDonalds coffee. It made the early morning much more bearable : ) So Lee and Abby and I found the bus to Kiev, and got on. We were talking and getting settled when this guy sat down in front of me and said hi (in English). I said hi back to be polite, but I had no clue who he was. He had a cap on, so I couldn’t really see him that well anyways, but his voice sounded familiar. He started talking to me like he knew me, so I answered, while my brain tried to figure out who he was. And then Lee looks over and says “Sergei! Hey, how are you?” Then recognition came—he was one of the Peace Corps language trainers, who sometimes stops in at our lessons and makes sure we’re being taught well. With the mystery solved, I was very excited to have him on the bus with us. He was great company on the ride to Kiev, and we got to ask him tons of PC related questions that we don’t know the answers to. He shared lots of interesting information, but sadly enough, he couldn’t share with us the secrets of where our sites are! Peace Corps has already determined our site placements, but we will be kept in the dark until swearing-in. I’m not a huge fan of this policy, but I’m trying to be patient : )
So we got to Kiev and took the metro into the city and found our way to the Hillsong church. It didn’t look like much from outside, but a sign saying “Faith. Hope. Love.” (in Russian) let us know we were in the right place.
The services are normally conducted in Russian, but Lee knows Russian well enough to translate. But when the speaker stood up, I realized I wouldn’t need Lee’s translation to understand! The speaker was actually one of the pastors from the original Hillsong church in Australia! So he spoke in English, which was awesome. The message was about how precious children are to God, which was something I needed to hear now that I work with so many kids : ) He also talked about going to Haiti to do humanitarian work after the earthquake, and learning about how child slavery is rampant there. They found out that 80% of the child slaves in Haiti are kept by Christian families, and the Hillsong pastors decided to host an intense week of conferences with all the head pastors of the churches in Haiti to discuss it. He said the conferences went really well, and that the churches there are trying to reform this horrible practice. He said the child slaves are purchased from rural parts of the country and their parents are told they’ll be given better educational opportunities and such in the city, but in actuality they’re sold and treated like dogs. It was really sad, but so good to see the work the Hillsong churches around the world do.
There are many orphans in Ukraine who live in horrible conditions, so the message was very relevant to be sending here—that all children are loved and valued by God, and need to be treated as such. The pastor kept referring to a verse in James that says, (paraphrased) “Pure religion is this—to care after the widows and the orphans in their distress.” I really love that the Hillsong church is concerned with not only preaching the Bible, but also applying it and living it. It was a great service and I’m so glad we went to Kiev to hear it. And it was in English—what a great added bonus! The church itself reminded me so much of big churches in America, complete with huge screens and intense sound and lighting systems. I snuck in a picture, and I’m going to share it with you! This is the pastor from Australia I was talking about.
After church we had lunch with a friend of Lee’s who happened to be Kiev (what a small world) and then we went shopping at one of the largest bazaars in the city. It was a wonderful, relaxing day, and I’m glad I got to spend time with Lee and Abby! The majority of my time here is spent with my cluster-mates, which is usually great because I love hanging out with them : ) But the change of company for a day was nice, and I’m glad I got to spend time with Lee and Abby before we swear-in and move away!
I have to go for now, I’m about to call America and wish my mom a happy birthday! Much love to you all : )