Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gift giving in most cultures can be a challenge at best. Gift giving in response to an invitation or an act of kindness or thoughtfulness can be an added complication. During Soviet times you appeared to have more options--a Bic pen, a T-shirt, or a pair of jeans was greatly appreciated. Now with the vast array of consumer goods in Ukraine you have to be aware not only of cultural differences and finding something that is unique and truly valued. Our task in this regard has been made easier by a Mennonite organization and many people in Canada.

The Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia regularly receives donations of old Mennonite songbooks which were originally published in South Russia (now Ukraine). The Society often has several copies of the same book.  There were books from Halbstadt, Alexanderwohl, and Odessa; some have the handwritten names of the villages written inside the front cover. These Liederperlen and Gesangbuch were among the items that families could not part with when they fled, providing encouragement and comfort to their owners.

Some of these books have been taken back to Ukraine and offered as gifts to local schools, universities, libraries, museums, and churches. This week we gave a Gesangbuch dating back to the early 1900s to the library in Molochansk. When we pointed out that this book was published a mere 25 metres from the current library, the librarian was astounded. She exclaimed, “I am going to phone the newspaper to tell them what we just got!”

Thank you families, and thank you Mennonite Historical Society.

These aren’t the only books that we give out which were published in Ukraine. The Ukrainian translation of Rudy Friesen’s Building on the Past was recently published in Melitopol. People regularly come to the Mennonite Centre to buy the book at an affordable 50 UAH ($6). Several months ago a pastor bought several books for his congregation. We also give these books away as gifts to schools, universities, libraries, museums, and influential leaders. We are still looking at how to make it available to Ukrainians for purchase online. One person who received the book in Melitopol this week simply said, “I never knew this story.” This week alone the book went to a group from Lviv, the Ministry of Culture in Kiev, the library in Molochansk, a museum in Vasilievka, and the Director of the Social Care Centre in Tokmak.

Here, as in so many countries, villages are dying. It is interesting to see what they once were, as well as the spirit of the people who once lived there. The Gesangbuch and Liederperlen speak of a spiritual home; Rudy’s book illustrates the architecture of our earthly homes. The old books talk about our future and the new book talks about our past. A church songbook placed in a school museum, or Building on the Past given to a village mayor, show that people with common values and a sense of God’s leading could forge a very productive and satisfying life in this grassland.

In describing the historical context of the Mennonite experience in Ukraine, Rudy says that Mennonites who are now coming to visit this country are doing so “neither to glorify nor mourn the past, nor to reclaim what they once owned, but in a spirit of mutual embrace.” It is a wonderful experience to give a book, a kiss on the cheek, and a warm embrace.  This truly is gift-giving.

Ben and Linda

If you wish to contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine make your Canadian cheques to "Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine" or "FOMCU." Cheques from American donors should be made out to "MFC-FOMCU". All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Rd, Beamsville, Ontario, Canada - L0R 1B1. Check our website at for information on credit card donations.


At 10:48 PM , Blogger Russian said...

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At 7:30 AM , Blogger shivakumar said...

I think giving back to Ukrainian communities is a lovely idea, it's nice that some of the Ukrainian texts are being translated for English audiences. It seems to me that going with the professionals is definitely the safest option. Although machine translation is fast and easy, the potential for misunderstanding allows too much room for awkwardness. The risk is particularly large if the translation involves a language you don't actually speak!

When you need professional standard, the register required is often beyond the capabilities of a machine. The key thing in translation is precision and while computers mathematically accurate, language often requires gentle nurturing in order to best express meaning. Translation is an art beyond reach of even the most sophisticated computer.


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