April 3, 2022, 10:00 PM

Day 3 -- A story of fierce resilience, unexpected friendship and Holy ground

Today one of my pairs of reading glasses broke. And it's unfixable. I find that when you only have one of something that you need very much, it becomes very precious. When I packed to come here, I packed only what I needed but when it came to reading glasses that meant I needed two pairs--a pair and a spare! Today, the single pair that's left has become very precious to me.

Well thank goodness we started this trip on April 1st because that makes it easy to recognize that since today date is April 3rd, this is the third day of our trip. The days start to blend together when you're waiting in an airport for 12 hours and then galloping off to a hotel for a few hours of sleep in order to come back to the airport to wait a several more hours before taking off. We are now here in Warsaw, but only for less than 24 hours.

We arrived in Warsaw at about 2:30 in the afternoon Poland time, which is about 8:30 in the morning for those of you back in the states.  As we flew in we could see the snow on the ground and the wind is sharp and cutting. We can't figure out how to use the ATMs to withdraw zlotys, Polish Dollars, so I am relying on credit cards for everything. The exchange rate is very good at four zlotys to the dollar, but we aren't here to shop. We did have a lot of fun navigating in the rental car and I give Cheryl full props for being able to find her way around Warsaw's streets to get us to this really lovely, lovely hotel.

But let me tell you a story about today, a story of fierce resilience, unexpected friendship and holy ground. 

5 weeks ago Cheryl, my traveling companion, read about a way to help local people in Ukraine - - buy rooms at local Airbnbs to use for housing soldiers or family members or friends who have to leave their homes. This also then provides income to the Airbnb owner.

Cheryl contacted Anna, an Airbnb owner from Kryvyi Rih, located in Central Ukraine, and bought up a month's worth of Anna's Airbnb housing to be used as free housing for people who needed to escape the war, or because they were called to fight in the war.

Unfortunately, the war came to Kryvyi Rih and the bombs got closer and closer to Anna and her family. They knew they had to leave, so Anna, her young daughter and her mother decided to take a train to the border. Anna's father, who wanted to stay and fight for Ukraine, stayed behind.

In the space of 24 hours Anna pulled together one suitcase that contained all that they were allowed to bring, mostly underwear and a single toy for her daughter. Anna left behind a chocolatier business and her Airbnb. Her mother had to give up her job working in a local orphanage where she helped teach children life skills. Writing that resignation letter was the hardest thing she had ever done because she loved her job so much. Shortly after getting off the train that took them to the border, they learned that the next train leaving from their station had been bombed.

When they got to the border, Anna said everyone was so welcoming and considerate and happy to see them. They were given food and they were asked if they needed any additional help. Anna was able to find housing at a local Ukrainian Orthodox guest house due to the generosity of the priest. Several other young refugee women and their children live in the building. They are grateful to be there, but it's not home. Especially since they left and her father behind to do the work of protecting his country.

Cheryl continued to provide friendship and support to Anna and her family. Both Anna and Cheryl made daily phone calls back and forth to check in, and Cheryl continue to send support that she thought was necessary so the small family could survive.

While Anna has been very grateful for everything that has been provided, including the local priest who has helped her enroll her daughter in kindergarten and who buys food for all the women at the guest house when he can, the experience has not always been good. Just a short while ago, Anna's purse was stolen with all her papers, including her passport. Without those papers Anna cannot get an apartment or a proper job because she has no identity. And since there is no government agency currently issuing passports in Ukraine, Anna must wait to see when and if this gets resolved

In the meantime, she has taken on a job working 12 to 13 hours a day at a local cafe where she helps bakes the muffins and breads, serves coffee, and cleans the business. She is grateful for the job, but it's not what she most wants to do. Wartime really messes with your plans.

Anna is incredibly strong and resilient and determined. I don't know what her ultimate plans are for heading back to Ukraine and I'm sure that neither does she. But she is a force of such strength and hope in the world while it looks like everything around is going crazy.

How do I know all this? Tonight Cheryl arranged to meet Anna, her daughter, and her mother. (I'm simply not comfortable using more names than Anna's for fear they'll be recognized). Anna is housed in the Warsaw area and was able to take the bus service to get over to meet Cheryl. I don't think I've ever seen a more joyful reunion in my life, considering these two women have only known each other for about 5 weeks. They just held on to each other for long minutes, hugging like long lost relatives. And the joy on Cheryl's face when she met Anna's 6-year-old daughter was priceless. The thrill on the little girl's face when she received the fancy Barbie doll that Cheryl gave her was also pretty priceless.

Cheryl also brought an enormous suitcase that she was leaving for Anna and her family because they did not own one, That suitcase was stuffed full of clothing and toys and fun things like makeup for the women who are living in the guest house at the church. Anna was completely overwhelmed by the gift. The suitcase had belonged to Cheryl's father and he has traveled the world with it. I'm sure it wasn't easy to give up except for the fact that it was Anna who was receiving it. So many singular things coming together to lift people up.

Anna didn't want to accept the gifts. She had told me earlier that she could not understand generosity like Cheryl's. She kept asking "why she helping me?" "why is she helping me?" 

Perhaps some of you are asking that question about what we are doing as well. Why are we doing this? Well, if I wasn't sure before, I am now. Remember that story about the single pair of glasses? Well Anna's life is one of a kind. And so is her daughter's life. And so is her mother's life. And they are precious in God's sight. Cheryl made a decision to help that family when all of this military action started in Ukraine. And it has made an incredible difference.

Cheryl has also been given one life. I have been given the same. And we have made a decision that when we combine forces with our 'one lives' s in order to meet the needs of so many other singular lives, when we answer the call that God has clearly given to each of us, we can see the hand of God at work in the things we're doing.

So here's the deal - - we're going to arrive late, but tomorrow we get to the border. I don't know how easy it's going to be for me to blog or not. I can tell you that I am falling asleep over my phone as I dictate this blog entry right now but I have to keep telling the story, the real story of real people who are suffering and dying. The real story of people who have lost everything in order to hold on to their singular lives.

Anna, who is not only resilient but opinionated, kept telling us tonight not to go to the border under any circumstances. We know we're going to ignore that piece of advice. Because our lives are about to intersect with the lives of others who so desperately want to see the cheerful face, the free sandwich, the help and love and welcome that are being offered to people after harrowing experiences escaping war zones. We believe we are called to be the presence of Jesus in the middle of an impossible place. 

I apologize if this isn't making much sense. It's very, very late and I'm not used to dictating my blog into a phone. But that's what I have to do in order to keep telling the stories.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others-- that's all we're really trying to do.