Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Memorial Service

Blog # 1, 2014. Hello friends,

On Thursday the 17th of July the world was shocked by the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Two days later I was in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam waiting for a flight to Kyiv. Inside the airport it was hard to believe that 298 people who had just recently gone through security and to their gates were now lying lifeless in the hot sun in the disputed fields of Eastern Ukraine. Outside of a message on the PA system indicating a two hour delay on the Malaysian Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur, there was little to remind us of what had just happened. It seems that the urgency of getting through security, finding the gate on time, and dealing with the little ones, gives little time for reflection or observation.
Only through the good fortune of a broken down computer system from Ukrainian International Airlines, was I given a seat in business class. The main advantage of business class is that your chances of sitting beside someone who speaks English is much improved. Now I had a chance to debrief and talk about that tragedy with a businessman from Scotland now living in Odessa.
On Monday morning I received an email from Walter Unger, one of the founders of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine and an active Board member, that I should consider having a memorial service for the 193 victims from the Netherlands. Dema, our Manager, quickly agreed and soon was making phone calls. We lined up Rhapsody Singers, an Orthodox ensemble group, developed letters of invitation to the Ambassadors  from the Netherlands and Canada, and the Governor of the Zaporozhye Oblast, and developed a program for the Friday 4:00 PM service.
It was a hectic week for government officials, given the challenge of removing bodies, securing the crash site etc. Understandably, senior officials could not find the time to come out but they certainly appreciated the gesture. In the letters of invitation I explained that many Mennonites in Canada could trace their origins to Menno Simons and the Netherlands and their development as a community to the nearly 150 years in Ukraine. In fact the plane came down in an area that may well have been farmed by Mennonites at the beginning of the last century. Many Mennonites are connected to these two countries.
It was a very moving service. We had pictures of many Dutch faces and of the lone Canadian; these will age no more. The names of all 298 victims kept rotating on the wall. The prelude to the service was a violin sonata by Ysaye, the opening and leading of the service by  Dema, and then an Ukrainian Orthodox song/prayer from Rhapsody. I read a  paper I prepared on the historical bond between Mennonites in the Netherlands, Ukraine and Canada. Rhapsody took us to another world with selections from Mozart's Requiem. Father Peter from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church spoke on love overcoming evil. Dignitaries from the Tokmak area thanked the Mennonite Centre for bringing us together, for the opportunity to share so much of what we have in common, and for providing a place where we could grieve together.
Unfortunately,  grieving is all too common in this area. Just before our service there was a service in Tokmak for a young soldier, the son of the former mayor, who after defending his dissertation in June, was called up,and died in battle a few weeks later. What is currently going on in Donestsk is on everyone's mind but not on their tongue.  Families are afraid to get news from the front, administrators have to keep schools warm with 30% less fuel this winter, the cost of medicine has gone up 50%,  and refugees may be facing a longer than planned for stays in camps.  Friends, any help you can give is deeply appreciated.
Ben Stobbe
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