On Friday night (7/2) our group split up into smaller groups of 4-5 to have dinner in individual families’ homes. I went to Galina’s house. We met her last week at church. She read during one portion of the worship service and also gave a testimony.
When we arrived at her home we were almost an hour late because of a thunderstorm that flooded most of the city streets. We were greeted with great enthusiasm and a bit of relief. She had been worried that something had happened to us. She and her daughter, Olga live in a two room apartment. Not a two bedroom apartment but a TWO ROOM apartment. The door entered into the small kitchen and to the left was the living/sleeping area. Their two beds aligned the walls on the left and right of the doorway. Between the bed on your left and the small patio at the other end of the room was the dinner table. This apartment has been their home since she was married in 1978.
Since we were late, Galina showed us directly to our seats. Six small stools surrounded the table. The night was full of contrasts. Our dishes were old and beautiful. Our flatware was plastic waiting for us to pull them from a cup that also held the napkins. Our food was incredibly simple but delicious. It was a traditional Ukrainian meal. We began with borsch, a red beet based soup. Then salad which was a plate of tomato & cucumber slices, lettuce, and a type of cole slaw. The main course consisted of boiled potatoes and chicken. We had compote to drink. It is made by boiling cherries, black current, red current and then letting it cool to room temperature. It’s actually very tasty.
Our conversation didn’t really get rolling until after dinner. She began by showing us her wedding picture. Then she told us of how she met her husband and continued through the fateful day that he and their daughter were visiting relatives in Chernobyl. Olga was born with down syndrome but had further serious consequences due to the nuclear fallout. Her husband became very sick very quickly and eventually lost his health battles.
From there she jumped back in time to tell us about her childhood which could have been right out of a movie. She adored her father who was a teacher. When Galina’s father left his teaching career for WWII, her mother promised him she would take the children to their home region of Ukraine, far east of where they were living at the time. Galina was three and her sister was four. They set out on a journey that would end up taking them eight months to walk. They would go from village to village resting, eating, and taking refuge wherever they could.
In the military her father was an artillery specialist and was one of the Russian troops that entered Berlin at the conclusion of the war. Upon their arrival snipers continued to shoot at them even though the war was over. Since he was a German teacher he was ordered to seek out and approach the snipers to deliver the news the war was over. He went with hands raised and without a weapon. The German soldiers respected the gesture and welcomed the news that the war was over. Then they usher Galina’s father to a room where a number of elderly people and children were taking refuge to give them the news too. They hugged him upon hearing the war was over.
Her faith story was weaved throughout the others. Her father was a believer while he was a teacher in the communist system. It was God who protected him during the war. He was the primary influence in her life and she had been a believer since her childhood. She told us of finding the Nazarene church and she was excited about it’s possibilities in the new location we had been working on.
Days later I’m still trying to process all that I feel about what I experienced that night. She was so different that the Soviets we were told about when I was growing up. They were people who either denied God’s existence or hated Him if He did…yet she has followed Christ for many years. Galina exudes gratitude and feels so blessed…yet has so little from our perspective. Her life has been so difficult…yet she doesn’t consider that to be negative. It was like all I could see was what she didn’t have and she was so conscious of what she did have.
I will never forget that night or her or how her face looked when she spoke of her God and the people who pointed her to Him.