Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Everything Is Wonderful

By Michael Airgood

I know that's not the blog post title you've been waiting for.

We have faced a terrible tragedy recently. Everything was terrible. For days my entire body hurt. My head felt like it was much too heavy for my scrawny neck to support it. We lost a beloved friend, a pillar of our community, and a truly good man when Illya died. I spent a very difficult day with the widow of our American friend who died. For 36 hours my dear friend David Goran was in a Ukrainian hospital without painkillers or antibiotics after a very serious injury.

Everything was terrible.

As we move forward, we see the great joy of living life in community. Here are a few pictures of our Sunday morning worship service.

Everything is wonderful. Even in these difficult days we see God's great loving-kindness in abundance. We see people growing closer to one another and to God. We see true community.

God is good and God is faithful. My pastor and I have shared so many good conversations these last few days. We have experienced Scripture in new ways. He has read and re-read the Gospel of John as one long trial of Jesus. I have delighted in God's words to Job.

Everything is wonderful. Our God, our theology, and our faith are big enough to handle death, especially the death of one who loved Jesus with all of his heart. We rejoice that Illya is with his Savior in heaven. We look forward to joining them someday.

We are moving forward--but we have a long way to go. Everyone is grieving in different ways, and even one of his good friends just found out the news today. But, the great joy is that we have our faith and one another to help us through these times.

Everything is wonderful. Tomorrow we celebrate the baptism of Erika and Andriy Tatchyn's baby girl. They are thankful that their dear friend Illya was able to come and meet their newborn daughter before the tragedy.

They asked a priest how long they should wait during this time of mourning before they baptized her, and he confidently responded that they shouldn't wait. It is always the right time to celebrate a new birth and a new child of God.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Even the Skies Cry

By Nicholas Haigler

As most of you are now aware, last week our community endured a very tragic event. During remodeling of our old space, a roof collapsed, killing Volunteer in Mission David Nevotti and one of our students, Illya Onoprienko. Also David Goran, my supervisor, was injured. Read the story.

It is a very sad time here, and the healing process has just barely started. While the loss of anyone is tragic, and all my prayers go to our team that was here, and the family and friends of David, the death of Illya has really struck a blow to me; he was more than just one of our students.

Illya was on our leadership team this year as our worship coordinator. He was at every event that he could be. But even more than that, he was one of my best friends and roommates. He was someone who was truly alive and never wasted a second of his life: he loved and he cared.

For General Conference this year, we were asked to make a short video about the student center and our involvement here as Mission Interns. We wanted to focus on a student and chose Illya, and through the video he really shows who he is. Please take a moment to watch it.

What more can I say? There is a saying here that if you can't talk good about the dead, then do not talk at all. I can talk all day long about this brother of mine.

I know many of you are concerned for me. I am doing okay. I am grateful for every day I am alive. I am thankful for peace and the knowledge that my brother did not suffer. I am thankful for a wonderful support system around the world.

The title of this blog comes from Thursday. It was on Thursday that the funeral was held. We were not sure if we would be accepted there, but we were. Our community was asked to share a song, and then I was asked to carry the casket to his mother's house before it would be taken to the cemetery. I didn't get to, though, because I was too short, but it was okay.

The weather here is always switching, but for the last two weeks we have had hot, sunny weather. On Thursday it rained. Not a steady rain but a rain that fell like tears. At times it would rain hard and for a longer amount of time, then it would stop and there would be a light drizzle. It felt like everything I was feeling was being expressed by the sky.

Sunday we still had church, and we will continue with pilgrims as well.

Please keep David and his family in your prayers as he is recovering. Also please pray for our community as we begin to heal and grow.

Blog: Ukrainian Experience

The Missional Life Beyond Formal Commissioning

Rachel Keller and Joe Hopkins in New York Harbor,
with the Statue of Liberty to the right. (Photo courtesy of Joe Hopkins)
By Joe Hopkins

"What are you thinking about?" my friend Rachel asked me. "You just look so pensive."

I was deep in thought, lost in my imagination of what the tens of millions of immigrants must have thought as they moved across New York Harbor to Ellis Island. What did the Statue of Liberty mean to them when they first saw it?

I was on one of the New York Harbor ferries that transport tourists from Manhattan to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. With me were my United Methodist young adult missionary peers, a collection of 10 people from all over the United States who had been sent out for two to three years to serve in children's homes, youth centers, homeless service centers, and advocacy organizations (among others). We had converged in New York City to celebrate the completion of our terms and to continue our commitment to justice in the world.

But what would that look like? What does the future ever look like?

In the last two years, I had served in the national office of Interfaith Worker Justice, working diligently to help coordinate campaigns, facilitate communication, and make sure the logistical i's and t's were dotted and crossed. IWJ had sent me to Madison, Wisconsin, at the high point of union protests in February 2011 and then to Indianapolis in January 2012 just before right-to-work legislation passed in the Indiana state house. Outside the IWJ context, I had developed roots in the near-South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, getting involved in a little Lutheran church, helping to form a new grassroots power organization, and living the daily chaos that is my housing co-op.

I brought those memories, and many, many others, with me to the US-2 missionary end-terms. And my peers brought their own triumphs, setbacks, pains, and joys with them to share with the rest of us and with the staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.

However, we didn't just come together to share our individual pasts. As young adult missionaries, we learned about the uglier sides of church and society--how people are excluded and oppressed for a large array of reasons. While we mourned the pain of those experiences, we also got righteously pissed off. How can we as a church deny the full humanity of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer sisters and brothers? How can we collectively wash our hands clean of the blood that runs in the production and distribution lines of goods we use every day? How can we claim vitality by consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands, leaving all but the already privileged and powerful out in the dark?

We couldn't, wouldn't, and didn't claim such preposterously anti-Christ-like ideas. In response to our collective sharing, we made the compact to continue our mission, though under different auspices. We were leaving our placement sites for grad school, seminary, and the larger workforce, but we would continue to carry our commission with us. We do not need the hands of a bishop to urge us to justice, though we sure do hope that bishops will join us in our missional lives.

A few years ago, I learned from a Dominican priest at the Universidad Católica de Argentina that we can look at our lives as perpetual pilgrimages. David Wildman at Global Ministries would argue that we are all migrants, "undocumented Christians," living in an increasingly hostile world. So we wander, guided by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, in the missional life where we cannot return to the ignorance of a materialistic, middle-class life.

In the missional life, I live in solidarity with the tens of millions of people who left all they knew to find a new home, beginning at Ellis Island. In the missional life, missio dei connects me to my young adult missionary peers and the global, apostolic, and catholic church.

In the missional life, what I call the Red Poppy Fields, I hope to find you there, too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Lesson in Gettysburg

Detail from "The Battle of Gettysburg"
July 3, 2012

Sitting in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport awaiting my next flight and watching as folks coming into the terminal go through security, it becomes evident to me that we have indeed changed how we travel. Our fears have moved us to take precautions in order to protect human life. Experience has told us it is not only necessary but that we must provide the highest levels of security in order for travelers to feel safe.

As I am nearing the end of itineration and three months of visits to congregations, my final stops have been in Richmond, Virginia, and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Sunday I found myself driving west of Washington, DC, in an effort to avoid the I-95 monster and congestion; my destination--the United Methodist Church at Camp Hill where I was scheduled to give a presentation. Searching for a route that would allow me to arrive on time, I discovered US-15 North. I was taken aback by the beauty of the drive, the horse ranches and beautiful hills. Seeking a rest stop, I exited and found myself unexpectedly at Gettysburg. It held a captivating mystery which I longed to understand better.

The next day, July 2nd, on my return trip to Richmond, I decided to take some time at Gettysburg. Just the night before at Camp Hill UMC, a former Texas coworker and her husband came to see me and on hearing of my plans to visit Gettysburg the next day, gifted me with the “Auto-tour of Gettysburg” CDs.

Driving through the battlegrounds and listening to the stories of generals and foot soldiers made me wonder just what it is that continues to lead us into decisions of battle. It isn’t anything new for mankind, and history is filled with similar stories. But as I drove to Little Round Top and heard the words of leaders and commanders on both sides of that battle, I realized it was more about individuals following the voice of promise. The conflict occurred there on July 2, 1863, and here I was on the same ground on the very day of that battle 149 years ago.

From Lincoln to Lee, men had very good reasons for standing firm on their words of leadership. Opposing views seemed to stem from an economic demand of the people, and both had determined the right course of action to make that demand fruitful. But at what cost? The “Auto-tour” mentioned comments from some of the dying for their families: "tell them I died with my face to the enemy."

As I stood in the Gettysburg Cyclorama (a mural of "Pickett’s Charge" by French artist Philippoteaux, completed in 1883) and viewed the recreation of the bloody battle on US soil, I thought of the farm boys sent out to defend the views of their leaders and communities. I thought of the families who would now live with only the memory of their loved ones. War is a complicated thing and is always messy and should be avoided at all costs.

I’ve visited the Alamo; the USS Arizona Memorial; an Indian Reservation; Ground Zero; and now Gettysburg. Recently, while in Chicago I had an opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois. It was a solemn walk through the small beginnings of evil. Hitler had the right words, promising wealth and power, and the people responded. The Jews thought it was just a phase and would soon pass. In the end, concentration camps were opened to “handle” the problem.

A great part of the responsibility of leadership lies with each of us when we make our demands upon those we have selected to lead. I now wonder if we should be more cautious of what we ask our leaders and understand the reasons why they are asking to lead.


Becky Harrell
Advance #15141Z