The week has gone by very quickly. A typical day has been to arrive at the office at 9:00 AM. We spend an hour with Oksana, our manager, planning the activities for the upcoming visit with the Ambassador on October 12. We decide on a list of everything that needs to be accomplished that day. Then Mary and I have to sit back and watch Oksana become the proverbial one-armed paper hangar as she works on our to-do list. She makes and receives endless phone calls, emails, and personal visits. We hear her speaking in Russian. Sometimes she will end a phone call, smile and tell us in English “Okay that has been arranged”. We have no idea what has just been arranged but are glad that progress is being made. Part of our stress comes from the fact that we cannot get a direct sense of what is happening as all communication around us is happening in Russian. We do know that Oksana is making progress on many fronts. This week we got the design of a banner inviting the town of Molochansk to come celebrate our 15th anniversary.
Last Sunday afternoon, Mary and I took a drive south about 30 km to a place where there are some natural springs bubbling up from the hillside. We find this is a place we can go to relax. We take along some chairs from our apartment and like to sit there and read and watch the locals as they come through the area. The local people probably come to look at 2 strange foreigners, sitting on out of the place chairs, reading their books.
Soon after we arrived, a group of 30 children came through, each carrying containers for water. They had come to fill their bottles with fresh water from the springs. One of the adults supervising them guessed that we were from the “Mennonitesky Centrum”. We understood from her that they had come all the way from Tokmak - a good 50 km drive.
Couples frequently come to this location to take their wedding pictures. A wedding party arrived soon after we did. The groom and his best man wandered off to drink a beer and have a smoke. The bride stood in front of the main pool and spent her time talking on her cell phone while her maid of honour glared at me as I tried to sneak a picture. Not sure why they came as no photographer ever showed up for them.
As you can see in the picture with the children filling water containers, there are a number of religious icons on the grounds. Some people come to meditate and it is a special place for them. We observed one young lady spending time in front of each icon. She then came to the pool you can see in the picture with the bride. She entered the pool in street clothes, and commenced to fully immerse herself in the water. Each time she came to the surface she would cross herself with the Orthodox cross – that is top to bottom and right to left. It was a special moment for her and it would have been totally inappropriate for me to intrude by taking a picture.
We operate weekly medical clinics in the Mennonite Centre. Doctors come once a week to provide specialist services that are not readily available in our town. People make appointments with our receptionist for these visits. The Mennonite Centre pays the cost of this service and anybody is welcome to use them. The other day an elderly lady came to make an appointment. Her husband had brought her on a rather special type of vehicle. I followed her out when she left and got permission to take a picture. It truly was a “5 star” mode of transportation. It was a scooter converted into a pickup truck. I would love to borrow it next time I take Mary out for dinner.
One morning we had a school class come to the Mennonite Centre. They have been working on a special project of mailing ‘Doves of Peace” to children around the world. The Mennonite Centre paid for the postage and as a thank you, the whole class came to get their picture taken in front of our building. The children are holding the doves with messages of peace as well as the addressed envelopes in which they will be mailed.
Friday we drove to Zaporozhye to pick up Ben (our FOMCU board chair) and Lil Stobbe who have come to participate in our October 12 meeting with the Ambassador. We also heard a concert from the Men’s Faith and Life choir, on tour from Manitoba, as they performed at a music school in Zaporozhye. There was a good size audience for the afternoon performance. The audience really liked the songs that had a strong harmony and showed it by their loud applause. People in the audience started to smile when the choir sang a song in Russian. Occasionally the smiles grew a bit stronger and people would look questioningly at their neighbours. I assume this occurred when they heard the pronunciation of a Russian word that was a bit foreign to them. It was a great concert and the audience gave them an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Next week we have the “big” event at the Mennonite Centre with the visit from Roman Waschuk, the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, and Senators’ Peter Harder and Don Plett. Will keep you posted.
If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ or follow our daily activities on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine-735361069838076/