Lessons from Odessa—Part 1
A Dead Mouse and a New Life
My wife was looking at a dead mouse on the ground. We were in Odessa, Ukraine visiting. I was convinced that God was calling us to move there, and indeed He had spoken to Elana as well. However, as she looked at the dead mouse, which really was a microcosm of how the rest of the city looked and felt, she thought, How can I bring my three daughters to this dirty place?
In fact, as the plane landed earlier that day, she would tell me later, God spoke to her: “You will live here.”
Deribasovskaya Street, the Walking Street
As she looked out onto the tarmac, watching stray dogs roam around looking for something to eat, she responded: “No, I won’t!” I imagine that there was a chuckle in Heaven—as a year later we were living in the heart of the city, on Deribasovskaya Street—the most famous street in Odessa, maybe in all of Ukraine.
We spent the year there working with the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a cooperative effort of several ministries to train believers to minister to the growing Messianic community. In 1992, Jonathan Bernis began to hold mass festivals for Jewish people. After seventy years of atheism, the Jews were hungry to celebrate their culture. The events would attract thousands of non-Jews as well. Auditoriums and sometimes stadiums would be filled. Thousands of Jewish people put their faith in Yeshua… but there were not many Messianic congregations or Messianic leaders. Hence, the MJBI was formed to meet that need.
We moved into a very modest two-bedroom apartment. The girls had a bunk bed where the bottom was a double, so all three of them could sleep there. I used their room as a home office as well, using 33kps speeds and dial-up Internet. Sending my newsletter to the printer in Maryland would sometimes take well over an hour.
I had bought a first-generation digital camera before we left that came with 4 megabytes of memory and took pictures at a quality of 1 megapixel. I have always been a storyteller and I had a feeling that the camera would help me convey the many stories and adventures we would experience in this new country.
Slamming the Door—A Big Mistake!
One of which happened about three months into our adventure. I was working out in our apartment. I had thought of joining a gym, as everything was extremely cheap, but after stepping one foot in the gym, the odor drove me out. I would figure out a way to stay in shape at home.
There was a knock on the door. I answered it and a babushka (literally grandmother, but used for any one of that age) was standing there and she began to yell at me. I don’t speak Russian (the Ukrainians of Odessa speak Russian, as opposed to the rest of the country that speaks Ukrainian), so I had no idea what she was yapping about.
This wasn’t the first time this had happened. In fact, it happened regularly. You parked in the wrong spot; you’re blocking me; you are on the phone too much! Yes, I would get complaints that I used my phone too much. No one told me that we were sharing a phone line with a neighbor. For real!
She just came on the wrong day. I was simply tired of getting yelled at by old women—so, with very little fruit of the Spirit, I slammed the door shut. I went back to working out. I didn’t give it much thought after that.
However, five minutes later there was another knock on my door. She was back, I thought. This time, I will let her have it!
However, there was no screaming babushka at my door. Instead, I was staring at a hard-faced man, standing over six feet tall, dressed in an expensive suit that screamed I am Ukrainian Mafia. Next to him was a security guard that obviously worked for him. Hard-face walked right in, gently shoving me to the side. I had no doubt that this man had either killed people himself or had them killed. He began to yell at me.
I was terrified. What had I done? Why was he so angry?
Keep reading! Check out Part 2.
Lessons from Odessa — Part 2
*Originally published September 2, 2012