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IMG-20102021.  Has it occurred to you that this number will be nowhere near as satisfying to type as 2020? 

We enjoyed ringing in the New Year as a church. This year, we requested people come in a hat… any hat… and had fun seeing the results. Being the church in a small town is great. We are one big family who enjoy pretty close relationships with each other and seem to fit in a good measure of “silly times”.

We have the weirdest winter I’ve ever seen in Ukraine. Zero degrees Celsius in winter is a joke here! We still don’t have the heating set up properly in the church building, so I’m quite happy with the “weird”. At the start of the winter, I determined that if the temps dropped to -5 or below, we would stoke the furnace up and heat the building. I expected we would need to do that for most of January and Feb… but no. It’s hasn’t been happening… until a few days ago. Today, we have -18 and it’s “ooh-hoo-hoo” cold.

The Renault van broke down last week in Germany. I left with Sergei, a policeman, at midnight on Friday to pick it up. We drove the next 8 hours on fairly good roads but in dropping temperatures to the border. The trip back was way more adventurous, or perhaps better put, audacious. We shouldn’t have risked it. But we did, and God had much-appreciated mercy on us.

We ended up leaving the border at 8:30 and towing the Renault back with a car on its tray for the next 14 hours. Perhaps due to the freezing temperatures, we drove for over 10 hours before the police pulled us over. (Admittedly, what sane policeman wants to stand outside in -15 for more than a few minutes?) Thankfully, Sergei was able to talk with them “as one cop to another”, and they let us go on. The next policemen to stop us advised us to try to go around Kiev so as not to run the risk of the Kiev police stopping us once we reached Kiev where they wouldn’t be able to be so “friendly”. The next two hours saw us wending our way through back streets on slippery roads with deep appreciation for google-maps, but extreme tiredness definitely mitigating our gratefulness.  imageWe finally reached our destination… and took a minute in the deserted yard to thank God for His blessing.

Oh! We came upon a bus on the way home which had conked out. (Diesel fuel, if it hasn’t been treated, gels up at about -10C.) The poor driver had managed to fill up on some cheap untreated fuel… and was himself nearly frozen. It was a pleasure to help the poor bloke.  Needless to say, we all slept like the dead Saturday night.

Church yesterday was a cool one. I don’t know what the temperature was in the building, but even with the furnace stoked up and the fires going and four powerful blow-heaters blowing… we weren’t warm. I had everyone stand up and sing and pray three times during the sermon… just so that toes didn’t freeze.

Considering what is happening in some countries around the world, we are grateful we don’t need to consider governmental restrictions on churches when we decide how to meet. (The laws allow us 100 people in our building.) Remaining unified in the face of different members having different opinions about the importance/need to “comply” has been a bit tricky… but covered in God’s grace. I’ve been impressed and thankful for the wisdom of different members of our church family on this head.

On the 5th, we celebrated Elle’s 16th birthday. She had a few friends over and we went to Kiev, skating. It was an outdoor rink and had been decorated beautifully. The word on the street was that “everything would be closed from the 8th of January – quarantine”. As it turned out, quarantine WAS introduced again… and perhaps due to this reason, every lad and his girlfriend was wanting to skate! We had to wait for three hours until we could actually get on the rink. But it was worth it. (Although Cheryl surely wishes she’d stayed on the sidelines and not broken her hand!)

School is on quarantine for two weeks, and we gathered up a group of Elle’s friends and took off for an hour of sledding on a super-hill in the village before coming home to warm up with some borsch and buns. I walked off for a bit and looked out over the rolling hills and just shook my head at the creativity of God. We live in a beautiful part of the world.  Don’t you just wish you were here for a week or so?