Here we are in our third day in Ukraine and the city of Kiev. I seems that each day has its surprises - - some are great, others not so nice. Let's start with the great news. There are several I will mention. Our first surprise came when our group entered the Bieli Dom to join a meeting of the widows of St. Paul's Church - - the church begun by Music Mission Kiev. We had met with about 15 widow musicians on Friday at the MMK facilities. Today, however, we encountered over 150 widows and pensioners who were attending Diane McMurrin's weekly Bible Study, and Stevens Ministry. They had completed the Bible Study when we arrived and were ready to move into their time of prayer. Before they did so, they gave all of us a standing ovation as we walked into the room. They kept it up until all of us were present. I should mention that the room MMK uses is located up on the forth floor of the building and naturally, these building do not have any elevators. Just stairs.
Anyway, the widows greeted us, in English, "Hello America," and Hello Solana Beach." Diane told them something about us and us about the widows. They then asked Dan to greet the widows and tell them more about us and why we are here. Finally, they got into a time of prayer - - they in Ukrainian which was translated into English by Natasha who is in charge of MMK's Widow Ministry. In Ukraine, you are supposed to stand when you pray, so all of us stood and participated in the time of prayer for over 20 minutes. Their prayers were beautiful thanking God for bringing us to them, for food which is provided weekly by MMK, for God's love and provision, for the joy of music, and many, many things more. It was joyous prayer from the heart.
Following the time of prayer, Diane started to dismiss the widows in groups to go downstairs and pick up their sack of food that MMK and prepared. Over 330 widows receive food from MMK every week. There are a number of widows who are unable to get out of their homes or cannot climb the four flights of stairs to the meeting. For these widows, other widows pick up their food sacks and take it to them. It is an unbelievable ministry.
While the widows were collecting their food sacks, Natasha was dividing us into 15 groups - about 4 to a group - and put each group together with a particular widow, and also someone from MMK who were serve as translator and guide to and from the widow's home. Having heard back from the groups, it sounds like the widows lived all over the city; some groups went to the home by bus, others by the Metro, some by bus and metro, some by walking, and one group by bus, Metro, and walking. The group I was in was the last to leave the Bieli Dom because Natasha was going to be both our guide and translator. I cannot say that our experience was the same as all of the others (I would guess that each case was different), but it is the only one I can most accurately relate to all of you.
There were five of us in our group: Sally and Ernie Barlow, Marguerite and Keith Walker, and myself. Of course we also had Natasha and one other widow who was coming along. Our mode of transportation to the widow's home was by foot. It really wasn't so bad. We have been getting used to walking every morning from our hotel to MMK - - a walk that takes around 10 minutes. The Bieli Dom is located in the opposite direction from MMK as is our hotel. The section of Kiev where our hotel is, and where MMK is located, is called the Upper City. The West Bank of the Dnipro River, the oldest part of the city, is very hilly. Everything thing in this area is either up or down. It is uphill from the Bieli Dom to MMK. But we went a little different direction. We probably walked about two-thirds of the way back to MMK when we arrived at the home of Alla - our widow. Alla is homebound she does not have the strength to get out. Her food and supplies are brought to her by friends and people from MMK. She is 88 years old, and she had served as the Concert Master of the most important orchestra in Ukraine in her earlier years. She was the premier Concert Master at the Kiev Opera for many years. Alla shared with us her story about how she had, as an young girl, survived the Time of Starvation which was instigated by Stalin in the early 30's. Then, she told us about her fleeing from Kiev when the German Nazi's overran Ukraine and approached Kiev. You know, we in America simply cannot imagine the horrors that so many people here in Ukraine experienced at the hand of the Russian Communists and the German army. You wonder some times how any of them survived.
While Alla was sharing her story, a couple of sisters, both widows, joined us. One was Margarita who had been a ballet dancer; the other was Tamara who had been a professional singer. Tamara is the widow for whom Charlotte Glinski is one of her sponsors. Charlotte had really wanted to meet "her widow" but was unable to do so when she had to withdraw from our mission trip. However, Sally Barlow presented her with a special communication from Charlotte. Tamara was so excited to get that from Charlotte. Alla's apartment consisted of only 2 rooms: a living room/bedroom combination, and a Kitchen. Of course there was a small closet, and a small bathroom. That is all. The three ladies entertained us with Alla playing a couple of pieces for us on her piano, then playing as the other two sang. They also passed a plate with slices of apple on it and insisted that we each take a slice to eat and enjoy. You talk about the "widow's mite". Here was the same kind of sacrifice on the part of this widow. We presented each of these widows with one of our large cloth bags with "Solana Beach Presbyterian Church" written on it which contained another smaller bag, a CD of our choir, and some packages of dried California fruit. They were overjoyed to receive these gifts. When it came time to depart, each widow had to give each of us Americans a big hug. Their were tears in their eyes as we left.
Following a quick lunch at MMK, we returned to our hotel and got dressesd for our concert at the Kiev Central Baptist Church. There had been a lot of publicity for this concert: The church itself publicized the program, MMK also promoted it with their staff and the widows, and even the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN in the CIS) located here in Kiev publicized our concert both on TV and radio. The church hold upwards of 900 people - - certainly the largest church we have been in so far on our tour and great acoustics. Set up and rehearsal all went smoothly as we prepared for the program. About 4:45pm, Mike and Amy McClenahan arrived at the church. Their flight from Rome landed at the Kiev airport at 3:30 where they were met by Matt McMurrin and brought directly to the church. When they walked up the steps of the church and into the narthex, our entire group broke out in loud applause welcoming them to our mission trip. It has been two months since we had seen the McClenahans and we were not sure if they would be able to get to the airport in time for our concert. They did, and seemed to love it. Roger and Diane McMurrin were there along with Matt and Trish McMurrin and their 3 little children were also there. Several of the MMK staff also joined us. HOWEVER, in spite of all of the publicity, we ended up with probably the smallest audience we have sung for on any of the four Ministry Tours Dan and I have taken. This even was smaller that the one in Toalmas. If not, it was very close. Those who came loved our program and those who did not come missed out on some inspiring music. No one seemed to have an answer why so few turned out. This is just one of those things that we may never know. In spite of the small audience, we were encouraged by the very warm reception we received from those who did attend, and the opportunity to speak with most of them after the concert at the reception provided by MMK for all of us and also for those in the audience.
Se now we are back at our hotel - pleasantly tired from a full day of ministry. We have tomorrow morning entirely off and do not have to be ready to head out for the Worship Service at St. Paul's Church until 1:00pm. Pastor Mike will be preaching at that service, and we will be singing for it along with the strings of the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra. That will be exciting. Pray for that time with them tomorrow, and pray for the health of our people. Some have physical problems - - some rather serious, which can certainly use prayer. Thanks so much for your prayer; we depend on it.
(For Music With a Mission)