I (Rich) am nearing the end of my time in Ukraine after a 5-day student conference at which I taught. It was the kind of conference I would have avoided if I had to fly from the US in order to come: I had 7.5 hours of sessions, and one 2-hour training time with staff, over the course of the five days. Not a very rigorous (or efficient) teaching schedule, and for the cost of a transoceanic flight and a week away from home, not really worth it, at one level. (I was teaching Images of Leadership and Situational Leadership, topics I have written about in this blog before.)
But I had a great week here, in part because I didn't have that attitude at all. I was, after all, not coming from the US but from nearby Turkey, just a two-hour flight from Istanbul to Lviv, Ukraine (a city in the Western part of Ukraine, in an area that used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and before that part of Poland). But I had a great week largely because of the conversations I had with students and staff, who sought me out or welcomed me at their meal tables while practicing their English.
I also had a meal with Marina, a graduating senior studying chemistry, who has served with the IFES group while a student and has been asked to consider serving on staff with IFES. Because I mentioned my academic background (chemistry major, among other things), she wanted to tell her story and hear mine. As it turns out, she has a professor and research advisor who is strongly recruiting her into graduate study in chemistry. She is a top student and enjoys science, but she also values ministry and her experience with IFES. I told her of my process, that at the end of the day, though I was better in science than with people in ministry, I enjoyed ministry more and made that choice. In other words, what I enjoyed really mattered to the decision, more than what I thought I was supposed to do. She hears a number of voices telling her to do science, but in the end I think it will be her own sheer enjoyment of her research that will lead her to make the decision. She will carry the values and vision of her IFES experience with her into graduate work and perhaps one day will become an advocate for IFES as she takes her ranks as a professor on a Ukrainian university campus.
I also had several brief conversations with Boba, a young man who came from the Orthodox church in Ukraine, and it was clear he was new to Bible study about leadership and ministry. At one point in a teaching session, he looked like he was falling asleep. As he was on the front row, I gently nudged him while I was leading a large group discussion of the passages in Mark 8 and 10, the paradox promises. He woke right up and was participating for the remainder of the session, and then came up afterward to apologize. I told him no apology was needed, as I understood why he was tired, but it was clear from our previous conversation that he was sincerely benefiting from the teaching and wouldn't mind being nudged awake. He thanked me for doing so and for the teaching, and at the end of the week, Boba stood to commit to becoming a leader in his IFES fellowship.
I met and heard the stories of the two young women who came from university in Sebastopol, Crimea (now defacto Russia), to attend a conference of their brothers and sisters in IFES Ukraine, even though they are no longer living in Ukraine. I encouraged a woman who has been reaching out to homeless people and seeing her heart break for them.
Rich and Lisa Lamb