It began with a group of Americans who are worshipping and serving with Odessa Evangelical Presbyterian Church. We met at the Freelander’s home for Sunday Night Worship from which we had this view of the Opera House.
From there, Bill and I scurried to our favorite restaurant in Odessa, Zara Pizzara, to meet Vinny and his crew for dinner.
Vinny’s been working hard since he arrived last week. He’s traveled from Odessa to Kiev, brought children from Ismail to Odessa, connected with kids at orphanages all over the city, traveled to see Galina and help plan her next steps, and set up opportunities for folks to become connected with some of the most courageous women and children I have ever met.
First of all, this is Luba and her daughter.
As you can see, Luba’s daughter does not have fingers. In order to earn money for her medicine, she crafts traditional embroidered Ukrainian handiwork. She didn’t have any with her, or I would have bought it all. But arrangements were made, and she will send her work with the children who come to America with FH in December.
Then there’s Tanya and her children, Stella, and Katya.
Not our Katya, but another Katya. Stella and Katya have both come to the U.S. Katya came to Maryland last year and was baptized while she was with “her American family.” She was kept smiling and saying “Good, good,” when I told her that Bill is a pastor. Stella and Katya’s English is quite impressive and they served as translators for us throughout the evening.
And this is Luda …
… with her children.
Her son is 15 and now living in an apartment with a friend. The girls, Julia and Olia, are both 13. They have come to the U.S. and Luda desired for them to get student visas so that they can come, study, and be given an opportunity for more than she can provide for them in Ukraine. That possibility no longer exists because the U.S. Embassy has put a stop to the type of student visas they would need. They currently live with Luda on the weekends, but during the week, are at the same orphanage where our Katya is. Luda desperately wants a better life for them.
After dinner, Vinny, and many others left, but Luda, Tanya, and their children lingered. Sitting back down around the table at Zara’s we talked with 10-year old Stella, and 13 year-old Katya interpreting. Although I’m sure some was lost in translation, enough respect and love was communicated that none of us wanted the evening to end. As we exited our favorite restaurant, the Opera House shown in the chilly winter night.
Up Deribasovskaya we walked, laughing, gesturing, calling for Stella and Katya to help. After exchanging numbers and email addresses, looking at our photo albums which a dear friend had helped us translate into Russian, the bells at the Orthodox Street just up the road let us know that the evening was drawing to a close. As we settled these women and their dear children into a taxi and said, “Dos Vadanya!” with last hugs and blown kisses, we knew that our hearts were inextricably linked. When we leave Ukraine, for a season, we will leave part of our hearts behind with Luda, Tanya, their children, the children at #5, Alyona, Slavic, and so many more.
What a night!