In 2009 Laura Dietrich from Kitchener met Andrei Utkin from Molochansk, Ukraine at Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay. Now, 6 years later, Laura and Andrei have been reunited right here in Kitchener, before Andrei heads to Mennonite World Conference in Pennsylvania next week.
Yesterday, I had the joy of spending the afternoon playing beach volleyball with Andrei, Laura and other new and old friends at Landings Campground where Laura lives and works. In addition to having an awesome overhand serve, I learned that Andrei’s on the leadership team at Molochansk-Halbstadt Mennonite Church in Ukraine, where he works mainly with kids and youth. It turns out the serve comes from lots of practice: the church youth spend almost every summer day together playing beach volleyball.
Things in Ukraine aren’t easy right now. Active fighting happens not far from Molochansk, and the community lives with the fear that they may be forced to leave their homes at any moment, as well as the fear that they may be called to serve in the military. Some leave packed suitcases by the front door, just in case. But for the most part, Andrei says, life goes on as usual. Kids play volleyball and eat ice cream, adults go to work. They don’t do fireworks anymore though, he says. Fireworks lose their fun when a war is being fought so close to home.
In the midst of this, the church continues to be the church. There are seven Mennonite churches in Ukraine, all of them vibrant and growing, according to Andrei. Mostly, these churches are made up of people who are new to faith. Many come to church because they see a difference between the church people and the rest of the world, and they want to be part of this difference. Others are just looking for a safe and restful place to be in the midst of a chaotic world. But the church isn’t confined to the walls of a building. These days Mennonites in Ukraine are actively involved in working for social justice, and they can often be found visiting the villages that are located at the epicentre of the fighting.
Most of PiE’s work happens right here in Waterloo Region, but as Mennonite World Conference approaches, I am reminded that we are part of a global church. Over the next few weeks I will be praying for safe travel and smooth border crossings for all those who will be travelling to the conference from around the world.