Sunday, September 21, 2008

The opening sentence of Lucy Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables describes Mrs. Rachel Lynde sitting at her window, “keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed.” In Corrections lingo Mrs. Lynde sat at the “Control Centre,” a name describing Purpose and Place where inmates can be observed in their goings-on. In many Ukrainian villages you also have these mini-observation stations, mostly beside the gate which gives you entrance into their yards. We are talking of the Ukrainian bench—a most functional, simple, wooden structure, serving as the place of observation and comment.

The bench appears to serve many purposes. When we come into a new village, our interpreter asks directions from someone sitting at the bench. Often we approach the old ladies (it appears that about 95% of benches are used by women) and ask if they remember anything about the German colonists who used to live in their village. They will point to another house with another bench. The bench is where stories are exchanged, gossip provided, issues clarified, advice given, and no doubt tears shed.

It appears that the larger the village, the fewer the benches. Molochansk has very few benches compared to Dolina or Grushevka. Maybe the two sets of benches we have at the Mennonite Centre take the place of others. On Seniors Luncheon days the benches are often occupied from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. On other days of the week, sometimes solitary people come and just sit and reflect. Often when we leave in the evening when it is already dusk, the benches are still being used. At least our benches at the Mennonite Centre have backs—many don’t. Most appear to have served for generations. Stories of war, death, new life, promises, tragedies, are told and retold. They are primarily occupied by older people who don’t get out too far but who want to see what’s going on. We have noticed one old lady on our street who stands by the hour, leaning on her fence, watching people. She needs to watch.

The seniors in the Seniors House which has been operated by the Kutuzovka Church for two years are relocating to the back rooms of the Church. One of the complaints of the seniors regarding this move is that they will be taken away from their busy street and placed in a quiet, private area where they can’t observe people—they want to see who is coming and going. One of the proposed solutions is to have children playing upstairs in the Sunday School rooms just so the seniors can hear activity.

The most interesting request we got this week was from a Ukrainian builder who plans to restore a former Mennonite home at the boundary between Halbstadt and Muntau. He wanted pictures of the interior of Mennonite homes so that he could restore it accurately. He said he has always been fascinated by the homes of the “German colonists” and he got quite excited when we spoke of the plans to translate Rudy Friesen’s “Building on the Past” into Ukrainian. This is the third place that we know of in Molotchna, where Ukrainians are actively saving or restoring a Mennonite building. We feel there is growing interest in this area and even though they want to have authentic Mennonite buildings they will probably still make provision for a bench near the front gate.

This morning Pastor Jakob Thiessen spoke of the gift of thankfulness. For the first time we heard him make a reference to English, where he said the difference between “think” and “thank” is one letter—if you truly think, you will be thankful. Friends, we think of you often and are thankful.

We will post some pictures of benches on our blogsite at

Ben and Linda

P.S. We broke new ground this week—Linda taught her first piano lesson to students in Victoria via Skype. You can run from your piano teacher but you will always be heard!


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