Back to the Frontlines

Chapter 7


After an uneventful plane ride, I arrived to a rainy Kyiv, and was met by 2 friends trying to talk me out of traveling to Gorlovka and on to Dzershinsk. All I could think, but didn’t say,  ‘like I came this far just to turn around?  O.K.’, so I boarded the train with some apprehension as to ‘who’ would be in the compartment with me…and it was a nice young banker from Krasnarmisk. .  We spoke a bit, but I quickly fell asleep, exhausted from no rest on the plane.  The train stopped may times, so the usual 14 hour train ride turned into 17 hours, but arriving around 10:45 a.m., I was met by Lena, daughter of Pastor Eugenia and Ludmila’s and a driver to take me to the bus station, where upon arrival at the station, seems I missed the last bus to Dzershinsk by just 20 minutes.   Ghorlovka is enemy occupied, thus I’m in enemy territory, the only American for miles and miles…it isn’t safe by any means.  We drove past the police station, the same one they threw the official from the roof while he tried to replace the UA flag, after separatist removed it.  Ludmilla calls trying to persuade me to return to Kyiv, Lena also tried to convince me to ‘RETURN to Kyiv’, I refused.  I felt calmness, I knew God was in control, though literally there was chaos surrounding me.   I could hear gun battles in the distance…hearing machine guns is very unnerving, especially when you don’t know where the noise is coming from, or going to.   You never really get used to this noise, regardless of how much or how long you hear it for.   The repeativeness of machine guns is seared in my brain.    I think about my life, how in the world did it ever go in this direction… then I remember:  “hear am I, send me.’

I made it clear to all the people trying to convince me to return to Kyiv, that I was not leaving, so Lena found a place for me to ‘hide out’.  This was literally like something out of some movie, my head was ‘on a swival’ and I was constantly making mental notes of my surroundings, civilians and ‘military’.  I was then taken to an empty house of a church member, whose son was working in Crimea, and offered the house to me to stay there.  Everyone again tried to talk me out of going on to Dz., saying that there were fires, no electricity, water, or gas.  I listened, but I allowed God to move me in this situation.  To me, it seemed that if I missed the bus and I had a place to stay, I should just stay there until another ‘door’ opened.  This is pretty much the way I operate, God will open and close doors when I need to move or stop…I just have to recognize that it is from God, and to use discernment and wisdom.  It seems I’m in a constant state of mediation to the Lord for direction and wisdom; trust God will make my way clear. 

So here I sit, in this empty house, alone, not knowing the plan, except that I was ‘stay there’, so I decide to call a few friends to let them know I arrived.  One of my oldest friends who I met on my first trip to Dzerzhinsk in 1998, is Tatiana, an official for the local schools and social department, is being treated for cancer; so I decided to give her a call and see how she was doing.  I know that she gets her treatments in Ghorlovka, but had no idea where she was at the moment.  Tatiana answered, but asked if she could call back, saying that she was completing her chemo treatment and that she is in Ghorlivka.   She and I had spoken prior to my arrival in Ghorlivka, planning to return to Dz. together Saturday morning on the bus, if it were going.   But with the ‘war’, the bus schedule is very unreliable. About 2:00p.m., Tatiana returned my call, saying that she was going by private taxi to Dzerzhinsk, and if I wanted a ride, to come along with her.   This was one of those amazing ‘God’ moments. With all the chaos around me, for this to fall in place, I thought, this is God speaking to me; I need to go ahead and go, while I have the opportunity.  I missed the bus, but God provided a safe way for me to get to Dzerzhinsk, with someone who speaks English.  No one, with exception to Tatiana thought me returning to Dz. was a good idea, but still, I felt that if God opened this door, I should walk through it.  I step back to that ‘movie set’, where my head is on the swivel, making note of my surroundings; the plan was to meet at the line of ‘yolka’ (cedar) trees along the road.  There is a traffic light, with a small ‘pull off’ on the road, so I could jump in her taxi there without a lot of attention being drawn to me, in addition, we didn’t want the taxi coming to this house, as if anyone saw me leaving the house, they would know that the owner harbored a foreigner. 

Having just about 45 minutes wait, I decided to take a quick shower, since I had been warned that there was no electricity, water or gas in Dzerzhinsk, and I had not showered for 2 days since I had left the U.S.  I was very thankful for the tepid water, thinking that this may be the last shower for quite sometime. 

Around 4 p.m. Tatiana calls me, signaling me to be at the road in 5-7 minutes.  I stop and pray, may angels go before me, and come behind me…then I drag 2-50lb. suitcases and a carry-on to the tree line to wait.  Praying that no separatists drive by seeing me and stop to question me.  God makes me invisible, or just doesn’t allow anyone to go past me, as Tatiana arrives, and we quickly load the luggage and pull away from the curb…all is well.  Prior to our meeting, Tatiana privately ‘briefed’ me by phone, as she did not want the driver to know he was transporting a foreigner, as he may refuse.  Additionally, she was able to prepare me for the checkpoints, instructing me to say very little, if anything.  From the time I reached the road with my suitcases, to the time we arrived our destination I was praying the entire way we drove though the first checkpoint, which is the worst; usually fully manned, each have guns, young and old, they look very unprofessional, some are even openly drinking beer.  Today there were just 2 men that were checking cars and documents and they didn’t even NOTICE us…invisible, praise the Lord…We continue to head down the road to Dzerzhinsk, passing the big car market , where I purchased my van many years prior, passing the ‘fork’ in the road that goes to Artomosk, veering to the left towards Dzerzhinsk.  We arrived at the second checkpoint, just in front of the railroad track overpass, which had been blown out.  DNR flags are flying, tents set up, and the road well blocked by a maze of tires, we are promptly stopped by a man with a machine gun.  He asks for our passports.  I did not even look at the terrorist, as I didn’t want to give him any respect, since I don’t respect what they are doing in Eastern Ukraine.  He looked closely at my passport, and then handed it back to the driver, telling us to ‘leave’, and off we went, taking the 45-minute detour due to the railway bridge blown out.  Thank you Jesus…The ride is quiet, and if I didn’t know better, the road seemed quite normal.  But then we arrive at the next checkpoint, and the stress starts all over.  Thankfully the checkpoint was basically unmanned, and we drove through, unstopped.  Thank you Jesus.  The final checkpoint we had to go through only looked at the drivers documents, so we were safe.  We finally arrived home to Dzerzhinsk at 5:30 p.m.  A 20 minute drive took 1.5 hours.  

I had the driver drop me at the house, instead of the Children’s Center, as if he saw that place, my fee would have been doubled.  I drag everything inside, not taking the time to unpack or really do anything, I notice that Pastor Sasha is in the Children’s Center yard having Bible study with a couple of kids.  Pastor Sasha, he isn’t really a trained pastor, but more like the only person that would step up to lead this group of people, who want to study the Bible.  We were all a apart of another church at one time, but tension, power struggles, and personality clashes, along with flat out ‘sin’, basically forced a group of us to make the decision to leave.  After 3 years of praying and trying to talk with the leadership of the ‘church’, 9 of us left, forming a small group, that meets at the Children’s Center.  The group has grown from 9 or about 15 +/-.  Sasha has Bible study Wednesday and Friday nights for kids and adults that choose to come, and then Sunday’s they have church at the building. 

Personally, I’m exhausted, I have been awake for approximately 30 hours traveling to get to Ukraine, but Pastor Sasha was having Bible study at the center, so I run over to find he, his wife, and 2 local children.  It was so great to see Marina, his wife helping, as this was a FIRST.  So a praise God for this.  Olya, a young 13 year old girl, the eldest of 4 gypsy children and Aloysha, who we have known since he was 7, an orphan, and invalid, he lives off and on with his grandparents or his sister and her 3 children.  They were listening intently to Sasha as he talked about false teachers.  It was great to see them, but great to see their interest in hearing God’s word.   After they finished up,  Sasha shared with me that the city center has no electricity, as the power sub-station was blown up, and there is no power.  We have power, water, gas and internet, so I’m glad that I came, and hopefully God can use me here to help those that don’t have.  But Sasha making this statement about the city center, tends to make me wonder ‘what’ he thinks, where he stands on all this.  I remember Ludmilla (one of the many people in Ghorlovka trying to talk me out of traveling to Dzerzhinsk)  saying all this, yet we are fine, we have water, we have gas and electricity…so what is all this ‘talk’.  They really had me concerned, but now I see that there is nothing to be concerned about.   Later, I was happy to be able to call Ludmilla and let her know I arrived safely and that all was fine.

Keeping in mind that Dzerzhinsk is under the ruling thumb of the DPR, I must be vigilant about where I go.  Though I made it back to Dzerzhinsk, it still is not safe here, and at any moment men could show up at my gate and demand something from me, money, food, my house, my car, or worse yet, take me.    God sheltered me the trip, I trust Him to continue, but I still must be wise with my actions.  

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