Monday, March 30, 2009

A Wonderful Church in Kiev, Ukraine

The best thing about my gypsy life has been visiting churches across Ukraine. One lovely congregation in northern Kiev is the Obolon Church of Christ. And here are some photos. This is a large congregation with 60-some present on Sunday mornings. (Click photos to enlarge.)

A prayer for the children.

A rousing song service.

Most of the songs were in Russian, as I recall, and maybe a couple in Ukrainian. We know that hymns - in whatever language - bring joy to the heart of God.

Listening intently to the message.

People packed right up to the doorway. Being a bit crowded, a rather good problem, seems to me.

What was once a grocery store is now the church's meeting place.

Located in a typical 9-story apartment building, a short walk from the metro.

Listening to the message. The brother on the far right brought the message the Sunday I was there. Men of the congregation rotate preaching duties.

Lunch with a dear mother and daughter at a favorite cafeteria. They travel 45 minutes on public transport each Sunday to be in worship. Always a highlight to be with Christian brothers and sisters and join together in worship. A taste of heaven in advance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hitting the Restart Button - Not So Fast

The heading above links to the blog of Peter Lavelle of Russia Today TV. He notes, From Moscow to Washington, politicians and diplomats appear to be in a bidding war over who can best hit the ‘restart button’ to put life back into the troubled Russia-US bilateral relationship. There is good reason to believe that both sides at the highest political level have the will to make this happen. Unfortunately, recasting the Russia-US relations must also involve a change of mindset in Western media and those who make a living off of Russia bashing. . .

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gifts from the Road: Souvenirs Galore

Unpacking from recent travels through Ukraine into Central Europe, I took a few photos of my souvenir stash. Care to have a peek? Who knows, you might be the intended recipient of something here. The soccer scarves publicize Ukrainian soccer teams including the Donetsk Coalminers and Kiev Dynamo. I have some nephews bound to like those.

The wooden dolls - not matrosha dolls - but they were a bargain in Zhitomer. Then in Kiev I found the blue evil eye, front center, wildly popular in Turkey, thought to protect the owner from the evil spell of a person who looks on with jealousy. The embroidered cloths are part of a traditional Ukrainian wedding ceremony, used for presenting the specially-baked wedding bread. Only the ends are embroidered but I figure it will work as a table runner. And then there's my stash of booklets, guides and maps.

The white wooden things are from Hungary: a little doll that opens, painted spoons. Also handwork is so popular in Hungary - embroidered bookmarks, cut-work, cloth Christmas tree ornaments. Toward the right, a few items from Slovakia: novelty pens and pencils, magnets and a piece of pottery.

You'll forgive me, dear blog readers, for these less than perfect photos. But by the time I got home and was unpacking, I was so camera-weary (no offense there, little Olympus) that I was feeling a little rebellious about getting just the right shots. I'm sharing a bit of my heart with you- about how I was feeling after five weeks on the road as a gypsy.

Oh, speaking of hearts, here's a popular gift from Hungary.

Embroidered felt hearts, several sizes. I didn't buy any but I did capture a few in Debrecen before I was tired of taking photos.

An embroidered apron and little jacket. Let's see, for what sort of occasion would one need these lovely items? Probably for serving tea and crumpets. Do they do that in Hungary? Maybe at the British Embassy. Never hurts to be prepared for any occasion, right?

At the central market in Budapest, I came upon this nice lady lady who had her embroidery hoop, her needle and thread and was stitching away. She kindly posed for a photo and I kindly bought a few little things from her. She embroidered this vest.

Oh and here's a classic Russian painting, Rye, by Ivan Shishkin. I have always loved this painting since I first saw it years ago in Belarus. It reminds of the Bible verse, . . .the harvest is great but the laborers are few. . . The seller wanted only $3.00 so I didn't think twice. An original probably, right? ;)

Picked up a few maps - of Zhitomer, a Ukraine road map, Kharkov. Love my maps. Because chance are that I'll return and need to know where in the world I am. A map makes a big difference. Now also I do need a small compass. Not always easy to figure out where north is. And north is a good thing to know when it comes to map reading.

Even better than maps are books and booklets. Never expected that the Hungarian Revolution would be of interest to me but it is. And here's why...

I was raised on Kertesz Road just south of Akron, Ohio. So what does that have to do with anything? Glad you asked.

Here's Kertesz Street in Budapest. See, kertesz is the one Hungarian word I've known from childhood. It means gardener.

Here's the corner of Kertesz and Whatever in Budapest. It's near the city center. You see, a Mr and Mrs Kertesz moved to the US from Hungary in the 50's, I'm guessing, took up farming south of Akron and eventually allowed my dad to build homes on his land. It's likely that the Kertesz family moved from Hungary to the US during the Hungarian Revolution. Wish I knew more about that family and their story. All I remember was that as a pre-teen, I noticed that they talked funny. And that they had newspapers printed in Hungarian.

Looking down Kertesz Street in Budapest. So speaking of talking funny, I can speak a little Hungarian - I can say gardener and I can say. . . about three simple phrases. At least I could two weeks ago. But let me tell you, folks there figured I talked really funny. But at least person gets bonus points for trying. My point here is that finding Kertesz Street in Budapest was a very special gift.

And then back to Rostov, arriving late Tuesday evening and of course I stayed up for hours unpacking. But in the morning, there was a gift waiting for me just outside my window.

A dusting of snow! Big, huge snowflakes. They were so big that at first I thought they might be the fuzzies that come from trees in spring. But no, being below freezing and all, it was a gift of snowflakes. Beautiful and crisp and pure.

Here's the view out my balcony window. More snowflakes. Then I saw that bus on our driveway. That's not just any old bus. That's a funeral bus, a combination hearse and a bus for mourners. The bus didn't stop at my doorway. And that's a gift too. ;)

How about you, dear blog reader. Any favorite gifts from your travels? What sorts of gifts are you likely to pick up for others? For yourself? Oh - have you ever ridden in a funeral bus?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Budapest, You're Simply Beautiful

Hello from Budapest and the lobby of the Zara Hotel. Taxi's due here within the hour to take me to the train station to head back to Kiev. But before Hungary is history, here are some quick highlights. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

On Tuesday, two hours by train from Miskolc to Budapest through the plains of Hungary. Carpathian Mountains in the distance behind a typical, rural scene.

Welcome to Budapest, the capital city of two million. Parliament building left me breathless. Oh how magnificent. It has 365 turrets but who's counting, right? Funny, got to chatting with some folks from Great Britian today who said, Well it was nice enough. But we've got many such buildings in England...

Here it is again, from across the Danube River, taken from Fisherman's Bastion. Say, does that river look blue to you? What's with the Blue Danube?

Well sure, I'd love to pose with an eagle. Seems as though I've done that fairly recently at another castle. . .

One more shot: Parliament across the Danube. Actually I'm kind of proud of that shot. Is it a sin to be proud like that? Well, moving right along. . .

Still at Fisherman's Bastion, a view of turrets, facing south. This is on the Buda side, the west side of the river.

Remember the Rubik's cube craze? The cube was developed in Budapest, they say. Interestingly, these two fellows got on the metro yesterday and feverishly began working. Seems that they were trying to solve these before we reached the next metro station. The guy on the right won.

Monday, March 02, 2009

In Hungary: Through the Carpathians

Last weekend friend Tammy and I headed to Hungary from north-central Ukraine. That's a 525-mile trip that took two full days. Here's a typical sight, a little farm right along the road in southwest Ukraine near the Hungarian border. (Click to enlarge photos.)

Notice the haystacks, storks' nest and horse-drawn wagon. I was excited about the little pond and reflection in it. It's just a big puddle, Tammy said. That's what's neat about traveling with a small-town Iowa girl: rooted in reality.

Zoom on in to the storks' nest, a common sight along the way.

These are my travels since February 10th, when I departed Rostov. After great visits in Kharkov and Kiev, I joined friend Tammy in Zhitomer and over the weekend we drove here to Hungary. Tammy has made this trip dozens of times over the years and she knows every pothole in the road and where those mischievous traffic police are lurking.

We overnighted at the foot of the Carpathians and then Sunday morning after church - we had our own little service at 8:00 - we headed south into the mountains.

Reminded me of the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania.

Zooming on in for a closer look.

After the mountains, things level off quickly with the occasional bump such as that, above. As we approached the border, signage was in Ukrainian plus Hungarian. No surprise there.

Welcome to Hungary. In Hungarian, Ukrainian, German and. . . what's that on the bottom? Looks ever so familiar!

Earlier this week, Tammy and housemate Edith treated me to a tour around Debrecen. Edith spotted the Hungarian flag, above, flying with the flag of the European Union.

Zooming on in to the Hungarian flag: Red, white and green. The red stands for strength, the white for faithfulness, the green for hope.

How about you, dear blog reader? Ever been to Hungary? Eaten anything *paprikash* or had tripe soup? We deserve to know!

The Best of Kharkov, Ukraine

I'm overdue to introduce you to special folks in Kharkov. Followers of this blog - all five of you (smile) - will remember that I'm living a gypsy life 50% of the time this visa year and believe me, that's not by choice. But I have so enjoyed visiting churches across Ukraine. And the new congregation in Kharkov is a favorite. Last December I paid a quick visit to meet the church-planting team there, newly arrived last fall. And I knew that I'd need to visit again. So I did. (Click photo to enlarge.)

This is a team of talented, resourceful missionaries. Lucky me, I got to stay several days with Rob and Denyce (2nd from left, back row and front row) and their two boys. Like the rest they are fine young people, all sharpies, I like to call them. Rob is a computer whiz, editor of video and he helped me in many ways. Denyce is a wonder in the kitchen and with their two boys. The photo above is courtesy of Brandon and his wife Katie, left. They are in Lubbock, preparing to join the team in 2010. And another addition since the photo, little baby Max McDougle joined the group a month ago.

Malachi doing *homework* on the computer. He and I had fun singing My Little Puppy in English and Na Ladoni Bozhi (In the Loving Hands of God) in Russian.

David, right, has a background is home-building and construction. He's always got a project or two going and if that doesn't make a person popular. . .

Another brother in Kharkov, Valera works with youth camps and Eastern European Mission. Valera is a cook by profession and in December, Valera treated us all to homemade borsht. It was so rich and wonderful. Valera was my first link to all things Kharkov. Thanks to friend Jay in Atlanta for getting us connected.

With dear sister Lyba who graciously shares her apartment with me. Lyba works part time with the Alekseeva congregation in northern Kharkov. She's so very special and has a gift for serving elderly of the congregation. And gypsies such as myself.

Robert - what a great, dependable brother from the Aleseekva congregation. Getting me and my luggage from one place to the next is no small feat. Robert is a strong, dependable logistics guy.

Sisters on the Kharkov team meet together Thursday mornings. I got to join in recently at McDonald's. It's so nice to be together, plan together and pray together - even with Micky D looking on.

These fine folks are from the Alekseevka congregation which has been meeting in northern Kharkov since the early 90's. What a very special congregation. I wanted a group shot - but this was just a few after the worship service on a recent Sunday.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Interesting as Kharkov is - it's history, culture and scenery - that pales in comparison to Christian friends there. Maybe you'll get to visit sometime.