Thursday, 5 May 2011


Mary and I attended church in Melitopol on Sunday and met an American citizen, Chip Taylor.  He is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist church but was invited by the Orthodox Church to work in their monastery.  He is instructing local people to be counsellors for those dealing with alcohol addiction.  According to him, the alcohol addiction rate in Ukraine is 60%.  In the west, the comparable number is 10%.  We knew the alcohol problem was bad but would never have guessed that it would affect over half the population.  The local authorities and churches do not know how to cope with the epidemic.  Even Chip Taylor had to smile at the desperation of their situation in inviting a Southern Baptist to work in an Orthodox Monastery.

Molochansk is not immune to the problem of alcohol addiction.  The ground is always littered with empty beer containers.  Alcohol is openly consumed in public and it is not unusual to see someone passed out on the street.  After dark, it is not safe to walk the streets of Molochansk due to concerns about unpleasant encounters with the inebriated.  Because of this, Mary and I were prisoners in our apartment in the evenings during the first few weeks of March.  With the coming of day light saving time and generally longer daylight, we can now venture out for a walk after dinner.

Dina and Mary

A lovely young lady from the Kutuzovka Mennonite Church by the name of Dina has befriended us.  She can speak English quite well and Mary has gone for some walks with her.  Dina wants to be a missionary and is showing the zeal that is needed for that difficult job.  She was drawn to talk to a man who was sitting on the curb drinking.  She told him he needed to stop drinking and come to church on Sunday.  She even gave him a written note that she put in his pocket telling him the location and time that a bus would pick him up to take him to church on Sunday.  Most of us would be reluctant to take such an aggressive approach to dealing with alcoholics or inviting people to our church, but Dina is not easily discouraged.
In one of our early visits to a former Mennonite village, Mary witnessed an alcohol fuelled encounter.  She saw a young teenage girl running screaming down the road pursued by someone, most likely her father, swinging a large pole.  She outran her pursuer who then threw the pole at her and missed.  Neighbours soon came out and the situation seemed to calm down.  Everyone shrugged as if to say, that’s life in Ukraine.  The country needs more Chip Taylors and a fundamental shift in determining acceptable behaviour.

Mary and Marlyce making Paska

Last Thursday was a special day in the kitchen.  Ira, the cook in the Mennonite Centre, had invited Mary and Marlyce Friesen to join her in the kitchen and help bake 70 paskas.  Easter was over but the Mennonite Centre was going to present each senior attending the Friday luncheon with a paska.  There was so much laughter and such an air of excitement in the kitchen, that everyone else was drawn to the place.  I got in only when they requested the “paparazzi” to come and take pictures.  Mary and Marlyce got to learn all the secrets of making paska.  They even learned the secret ingredient to help the paska stay fresh longer.  The final product was delicious and I have to admit tasted better than anything my mother ever made.  The secret ingredient was vodka (used in moderation of course).  No wonder my mother did not know about it.

Making Cherry Varenyky

Cherry Varenyky
Ira is the stereotypical multi-tasker.  While supervising the paska operation, she started making something else as well.  It was a large batch of cherry varenyky.   We had them for lunch.  It was a powerful reminder of something my mother used to make.  They were absolutely delicious and I cannot understand why someone would make any other kind of varenyky.
We said goodbye to Art and Marlyce Friesen on Friday at the train station in Zaporozhe.  We had stopped for lunch at a Ukrainian restaurant and sat there watching the royal wedding in London on television.  It felt like a normal thing to be doing.  I probably would not have bothered watching that event if I was home.

Ruins of my grandfather Suderman's church

Original Suderman farm site 2011

Original Suderman farm site 1910

Saturday was a special day as we drove off to explore my father’s roots in the village of Alexanderthal.  We found the village and needed a few minutes to get oriented.  There are very few original Mennonite buildings left in town.  The ruins of my grandfather’s church are still visible.  The school he would have attended is now a home but easily recognized.  The original Suderman farm site cannot be clearly identified but one can guess pretty closely as to where it stood.  It was a rainy day and we did not spend that much time exploring outside.  It was the longest trip we made where I was driving.  The round trip from Molochansk was 140 km and I did not get stopped by any police.
Monday and Tuesday were official holidays in Ukraine as they celebrated the International Day of Labour.  I found out I had something in common with my co-workers.  They were surprised that we do not celebrate this day in Canada and I was surprised that they still celebrate what to me is an old Communist holiday.

Equipment at Construction Site


There is a businessman with a construction company in Molochansk who has told Dema Bratchenko, our manager that he would like to someday build a church.  Most likely he assumed that he would be building an Orthodox church as that is his personal faith.  God sometimes challenges our assumptions as this businessman is now helping the Kutuzovka Mennonite congregation build their new church in Molochansk.  What happened was that the Kutuzovka congregation had a large group of volunteers   working on demolishing an old structure on property that they have purchased.  It was obvious to Dema and myself that they needed some proper equipment to help load and haul the old concrete away.  Dema contacted the businessman with a dream for building a church.  The next day a tractor with a front end loader and a dump truck were on site helping the demolition.  The businessman gave the church very favourable rates for the equipment which basically will only cover the costs of fuel consumed by the job.
It has been beautiful to watch the volunteers work on the site preparation for the new church.  The volunteers have consisted of church members as well as a number of people from Molochansk with no connection to the church.  The spirit of enthusiasm is obviously contagious.
Mary and I are very aware that our departure date is rapidly approaching on May 17.  We have a week planned in Germany before we head home to Canada.  It is going to be very hard to say goodbye to this place and the many friends we have made here.
For more information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to:

For information on the work of the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) in Ukraine, you can see an excellent Ukraine Youtube video produced last fall by a Winnipeg Mennonite film producer:

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