Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 27

Blog, October 27, 2010

Thursday, October 14 saw the last of 5 “Youth for Life” presentations, organized by Dema, our manager. These are 90 minute presentations with two live bands, a dance team, gymnasts and weight-lifters performing between presentations on the health effects of smoking, the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse as well as AIDS. Complete with sound and lighting equipment, the intent of the program was to emphasize the dangers of these negative life-styles and encourage healthier outlets such as music or athletics. The City of Tokmak Palace of Culture (concert hall) was filled for both performances with high school students from Tokmak schools, 500-600 for each performance. The presentations were well-received by students, teachers and school officials.

The book launch, as well as the Youth for Life presentations, have given the Mennonite Centre some significant contacts in the local educational institutions. Recently a grade 8 class from Tokmak came to the Centre to get more information about the history of this area and the Mennonite background of these villages. Although the schools do not allow religious instruction as such, these contacts provide some unique opportunities to talk about what motivates us in running the Mennonite Centre.

Meanwhile, Hildie has been sorting clothing, school and medical supplies brought here by Mennonite Heritage Cruise passengers. These are being distributed to local doctors, several schools, numerous families who are poor or have handicapped children, and seniors whose names have been given to us by the local social services. Thank you to everyone who brought goods. Poverty, especially in rural areas, is rampant. A recent Kiev newspaper article reported the average annual income for Ukrainians to be about $2700 compared to Poland’s $28,600. At the same time, some of Europe’s wealthiest citizens are Ukrainian and live in Ukraine. The disparity is alarming.

A few days ago we received a telephone call from a retired university German instructor in Melitopol who wants to visit us at the Centre. We have had previous contact with him in person and via email. Over lunch, at his initiative, we talk (in German) about the importance of our faith. Although our backgrounds, lives and religious traditions are very different (he is part of the orthodox tradition), we find common ground in the stories of the life of Christ in the Gospels. He knows the stories well and keeps emphasizing the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The previous atheistic communist regime has not been unkind to him, but now he is finding new meaning in his religious expressions. The sandwiches we share after he has asked me to pray, take on a kind of communion experience for us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

After more than a week of rainy, cool weather, sunshine has returned to Ukraine. The needed moisture has spurred winter wheat germination resulting in green fields flanked by colorful trees and hedges – God’s thanksgiving display for us!

During the past few weeks our attention has been focused on the Mennonite Heritage Cruise and the busloads of tourists visiting the Mennonite Centre, hearing about our projects and touring through some of the former Mennonite villages. A stop at Lichtenau allows a visit with a local farmer who shows us his machinery and talks about his operation.
This is followed by a visit to the train station where we recall the many farewells that were spoken here during the emigrations of the 1920’s and then the deportations of the 1930’s. We take time to sing together “So Nimm denn Meine Haende”. The Dolina (Shoenau) school students treat us with several German songs and we see some of the projects with which the Centre has helped the school.

Following a short visit to the Sanatorium School and gymnastic demonstrations at the sports school, we enjoy a half hour concert by the chamber choir “Rhapsody” in the Kutuzovka (Petershagen) Mennonite church.

Saturday evening to Monday morning we were privileged to join the Cruise passengers on the ship, Dnieper Princess. A book launch took place on Sunday evening. Rudy Friesen’s book, Building on the Past, (2004) has been translated into Ukrainian and will be made available to schools, universities, libraries and museums in Ukraine. This was followed by an insightful presentation by historian Dr. Turchenko from Zaparozhia National University on the current political climate of the country.

On Monday evening another book launch took place at the Mennonite Centre. Some 30 representatives from local high schools as well as two school superintendents were in attendance. Dema, our manager presented a powerpoint of Mennonite history; Hildie and I spoke about the work of the Mennonite Centre and our personal family connections to this area. Rudy Friesen then shared some thoughts about the initial publication of his English book, and the translation of this book into Ukrainian. The book was well received with comments indicating that this book filled some gaps in the story of many former Mennonite villages. Each school in this area will receive a copy of the book.