Sunday, November 02, 2008

Stairway to heaven (Starbucks), Vienna
Church singing group
A meeting of babushkas

Mennonite workbench

The conversion from Ukrainian to Canadian began for Ben on Tuesday, Oct. 28th. First he had to say goodbye to our North American apartment, which will soon be occupied by Dema and Oxana and their three children. Dema is the new Ukrainian Director of the Mennonite Centre.

Ben then had to say goodbye to Larissa Funk, our soul mate in Molochansk, who will soon be returning to Germany after seven years of modeling in Ukraine—her beauty lies not only in her appearance but in her style, her integrity, her love for the people and country of Ukraine, and (most important for us) her endless patience and joy in helping us adapt. For clarification, Larissa is a missionary from LOGOS Germany!

Then, off to the Centre where lots of the staff congregate to administer the “pledge” which they individually give when you hug them and they say, “come back soon, yes?” Lest we get too sentimental, Vitaly our driver shouts out, “Ben, les go!” In that moment, it’s too late to revisit the mental list of what you could have forgotten.

There is one final, very important task before you go through Zaparozhye—you have to make your last visit to Aval (a joint, Austrian-Ukrainian bank) to bring in all your gifts and sacrifices in American dollars. This is handed to Dema who ensures that it is taken to Molochansk and converted to Ukrainian grievnas. And no, this conversion is not required by Mennonite Brethren… If we took the funds in grievnas we would have to carry an extra suitcase. Without this step the Seniors wouldn’t get their medication or their lunches, children wouldn’t get better facilities or musical instruments, and staff wouldn’t be paid.

Ruth Derksen Siemens’ highly acclaimed book, Remember Us, documents how letters from Stalin’s Gulag made their way to a small Prairie town. Ben is also carrying letters back to the Canadian Prairies. However, these are not letters of desperation, they are letters from children in the Molochansk sanitorium written to the children of the Menno Simons Christian School in Calgary. These are stories of their lives, their hopes and dreams which may well be fulfilled because children in a small private school do bottle drives and have bake sales which are then converted into American dollars. And when North American Directors come back to Ukraine they take letters from Menno Simons children describing their lives, hopes, and dreams. Let the children lead us.

We are signing off for 2008.

Ben and Linda Stobbe.

Canadian cheques are payable to Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine or FOMCU, and American checks should be made out to MFC-FOMCU. Mail to:
Paul Siemens, Treasurer, FOMCU
5 Monarchwood Crescent
Toronto, ON, Canada, M3A 1H3.


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