Friday, February 20, 2009

London Underground and More

Greg and Edna in Trafalgar Square
Me and Edna in Trafalgar Square

On Monday, Edna and I flew to London to avoid having to register here in Ukraine. It was also a late anniversary celebration for us (Our anniversary was on February 14th). We have visas, but we’re still required to register with the government or leave the country every 90 days. Dominic and Joshua are under 16 years of age so they don’t have to register (Joshua stayed with the Claycamp family and Dominic stayed home under the watchful eye of our neighbor Olya). Edna and I did the math and found that if we could get a cheap enough flight out of the country and have a place to stay, we could save some money. The timing is right so that we won’t have to register or leave the country again until after September because we are going to California in May when Edna’s visa expires. (The way to get a visa is to go to a Ukrainian embassy outside of Ukraine.) Of course we are basing all of this on the last article we saw in the Kyiv post regarding the always changing and constantly vague immigration laws of Ukraine.

Edna in London
Edna across the the River Thames from Big Ben, the House of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey

Anyway, we found an extremely cheap flight with Wizz Air (I still can’t believe that we were able to pull this trip off and have it cost less than registration and avoid the hassle). These are the kind of flights where you can only take a small carry-on, you pile on and grab the first available seat, you have to pay for the food if you want to eat, and there are no refunds. It worked out great because we were able to stay with a wonderful Christian family living in greater London. We were blessed to stay with Magda and Norman, the parents of Andrew Mitchell who we first met at the Bible College in Hungary. They were so good to us and made sure we had a wonderful time London. Norman even made us a traditional British pudding for after dinner one night. (I still want the recipe for it, but it might be a guarded family secret.)

Edna by a Phone Booth
Edna by a phone booth

Before flying home on Wednesday, we spent a few hours on Tuesday exploring all the tourist spots via the Underground or “Tube”. We saw the London Eye, the House of Parliament, The Great Clock of Westminster (that houses Big Ben), Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace (the Queen was actually there at the time), Wellington Arch, Piccadilly Circus (the Times Square of London), Trafalgar Square, etc. Edna even conquered her fear of heights by riding on the London Eye, the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe.

Greg in London
Of course I took a photo by a phone booth too. Why are they so interesting?

We had an amazing time even if it was short, but just as we got on the train to leave the city, something happened that left me shocked and saddened. A man came on to the train as we were waiting for it to leave the station. He politely introduced himself and I assumed he was selling something like they do on the Metro trains in Kyiv. Instead, he started off by saying that he wanted to share something from the Bible. He said that he thought he had been free before becoming a Christian, but it was an illusion. At this point, Edna and I were listening carefully. He began to give an analogy of a fish trying to live out of water, but that was as far as he got.

Edna in London

A woman began to loudly berate the man saying that she didn’t want his religion forced on her and he needed to shut his mouth. Edna then spoke up and assured the man, who obviously had taken great courage to share his faith, that we wanted to hear what he had to say. He then tried to direct his attention to us as though speaking only to us, but another woman from behind us began yelling that the man needed to get off the train and take his religion with him. I heard various other grumblings coming from around us as well. Finally, the man apologized and looking a little defeated, began to walk off the train. Edna and I both thanked him and he said he’d pray for us. A woman then shouted out that she didn’t want him to pray for her because she didn’t need any of his prayers.

The London Eye
Proof that Edna conquered her fear of heights on the London Eye

As the man left the train and the train began to roll out of the station, I heard a girl behind us ask her mother a question. She said, “Mommy, was that a bad man?” Her mother replied, “No, we just don’t need him on our train.” In my mind I was thinking she might as well have said, “No, we just don’t need God.” With all the “tolerance” and respect for religions and cultures so prevalent in London’s multicultural population, I was at a loss to see any tolerance for the Gospel of Jesus. Instead, I saw outright hostility. Sadly, this confirms what we saw all around London, empty churches.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?” – from a play by Friedrich Nietzsche

Here’s an excerpt from an article in The Times Online called Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour by Ruth Gledhill.

“The report makes it clear that Christianity is becoming a minority religion. It also reflects the changing nature of religious practice worldwide and will further aid the stated aim of the Prince of Wales who, on his Coronation, hopes to become Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith.” Click HERE to read the full article.

As we were leaving the train station to get on the bus to the airport, I noticed two public safety posters in the station. The first showed a man in the hospital eating Jello. It said something like, “Do you want to make it home for dinner? Then don’t use the stairs without holding on to the handrail. Eleven people didn’t make it home for dinner because they slipped on the stairs and weren’t using the handrail.” While I was reading the sign trying to decide if it was some kind of satire, a voice kept coming over the public address system telling me to use the handrail at all times while on the stairs to avoid falling.

Safety First
I guess the British take safety very seriously. I expected to see a poster warning about the dangers of running with scissors, but maybe I missed it.

Never mind the gap, watch out for those stairs. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the next sign I saw claiming that out of literally millions of travelers, a whopping two had fallen while running in the station and ended up in the hospital. I’ll take my chances.

Thanks again Magda, Norman, and Andrew for making us feel so welcome in your home and taking such good care of us. We really enjoyed the time of fellowship with you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feeding Time

Baby Boys
Edna and Dani enjoying a taste of motherhood

I haven't posted a blog in awhile, so I thought I'd share a couple of photos I took last Friday. We were visiting the orphans at the infectious disease unit of the hospital in Kyiv with Marianna, Dani, and Allyson, and it happened to be feeding time. There were three babies that day, two boys and one girl, all under 8 weeks old. It was difficult for the girls to put them down when it was time to leave. It's hard to imagine that these babies can be so easily discarded by their mothers. One baby that was there, was the second baby to be abandoned by a local mother.

After feeding them, we left them swaddled and sleeping in their beds. Their faces were so sweet and peaceful. The babies were so tiny and perfectly crafted with God's gentle hand. The thought that was on all of our minds was, "How could anyone not want these little treasures of life?"

Baby Girl
Marianna and Allyson were enchanted by this little girl

Sadly, abandoned babies and children are a common problem in Ukraine. The ones that don't end up in hospitals or orphanages, live on the streets any way they can. We constantly see "Lost Children Alerts" on television, but they are more like "Lost Parent Alerts". It's typical to see a young child being interviewed who only knows his or her name and age, but doesn't know where their mother or father is. They are often found abandoned in public places, left to fend for themselves.

Here are the lyrics to a popular Ukrainian rock song by a band that is trying to raise public awareness of the issue. It's called, "Lost Children". (I did my best to translate the thought properly.)

Like leaves plucked from a tree
Like flowers broken by the wind
Wandering in a bad world
Unloved, lost children

Nobody wants them
Not their mothers, not their fathers
They're lost and nobody wants to find them
No one, No one

Mama, find me - I'm here!
Mama, any longer and I'll die

Like dogs in the night
Extra people in our society
Resulting from reckless love
End of story, a taboo subject

With a crucified heart
Trouble follows them everywhere
People - Fear God!
And sort this out for yourself