During my three and a half years with the mission I had the wonderful privilege of going to the Ukraine twice and Crimea once. Watching the recent crisis unfold in these countries has brought back many memories of my visit to them. Some of the memories are good, some not so good, some are sad and others make me glad. I am sincerely grateful to the mission director for bringing me with him to have those experiences.
The mission provided a variety of projects that made a real difference to people’s lives in various desperate situations. The containers that were sent out had a vast variety of items in them. There were hospital beds and hospital equipment, wheel chairs, Zimmer frames, medication, food and clothes and many other practical and useful items as well. One of my outstanding memories was the first time that I went to the local church were the Pastor who co-ordinated the work in the Ukraine was ministering.
The building was huge. I think it was a theatre of some kind with a massive stage. I had never before experienced anything like it. The people were called to worship by someone blowing the Shofar, (Rams horn). The Israelites used it for praise, worship and going to war. When the man blew it every hair on the back of my neck immediately stood to attention, it was as if the presence of the Lord had been summoned and he had powerfully turned up. We know that God inhabits the praises of his people but I had never felt it so powerfully before this.
There was a powerful time of praise and worship in the presence of the Lord and then the mission director was invited onto the huge stage by the Pastor. The director spoke to the large crowd through our interpreter and he received a great welcome. After speaking for just a few minutes he looked down at me in a way that made me quite nervous, there is a look that people sometimes give you just before they are going to ask you to do something that you know absolutely nothing about.
Before I knew it I had been invited up onto the huge stage to be introduced to the people and then to give a word of testimony. I felt very nervous as I had never stood up before such a large crowd of people before, every one of them a total stranger who spoke a strange language. When I had climbed up the steps and turned around I could not believe what I was looking at. There was a vast crowd of people before me that I had seen once before. I saw them when I was sixteen just after I asked Jesus into my heart.
I was washing my hair in the sink in the kitchen; yes I had hair then, when I saw a vision of a great gathering of people before me. I had no idea who the people were until that day when I turned around on that huge stage in the Ukraine. It was the exact scene that I had seen over twenty years previous. I felt overwhelmed and nearly broke down but God restored my nervous composure. It was some experience, I had never spoken through an interpreter before and it took a while for me to shorten my sentences.
At the end of the service something happened that I will never forget. A man who was probably in his sixties came up to the director and presented him with something wrapped in a piece of old newspaper. When he opened it a wide eyed fish was staring at him, we looked at each other amused and a little baffled and then this man said something to the interpreter. We found out that he wanted the director of the mission to receive the fish as a gift and token of the man’s appreciation for the work the mission was doing and the many lives that were being helped. It was a very humbling experience as this was apparently the most valuable thing that he possessed.
We visited a hospital, an orphanage, a feeding facility for children, many of them street children who were living in underground tunnels for want of a better word. Some of the tunnels housed the heating pipes that went under the city. It was heart breaking to see such young children live in such terrible conditions but it was uplifting to see them getting one decent meal a day in the feeding centre that the mission sponsored. We visited some villages and distributed food, clothes, shoes and other basic items that many of us take for granted.
When we returned home I was even more determined to do all that I could to help and support these needy people. God was blessing the work so much that the director had to rent more suitable warehouses to contain the furniture, clothes and many other items that were coming in. I suggested that perhaps we should consider painting and refurbishing some of the older furniture and see if anyone would be interested in buying it. The director asked me did I know how to spray paint and when I said I could I think he was a little surprised.
To cut a long story short before long we had a spray booth and a sanding booth, plus a much needed extractor fan that the owner of the warehouse sorted out for us. We were amazed at the interest there was in the refurbished furniture and this became a very useful source of income for the mission. Two or three containers sent out each year was the target but the shipping costs kept rising. On one occasion the mission director shared with me that a container was due to be paid for in the next couple of days and the finances were not there to pay for it.
This situation was one of many where God would teach me something new about himself. I was familiar with the saying, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity” but had not experienced very much of that in my life in a practical way, until now that is. We were about to head off to make a collection on the Gilford road out of Lurgan when the mission director suggested we pray in the van before we leave. We had already prayed in the shop but the situation was desperate and prayer was the key to unlock the door of heaven and pour out blessings.
We both prayed and asked for God to somehow meet the need. As we were travelling up the Gilford road the directors mobile phone rang, I will say he pulled in, just in case he would still be liable for prosecution. The caller wanted him to collect some items for the mission and he asked him his location, to both our amazement he gave his address as the Gilford road, the same road that we were on. He was only a couple of miles from our original destination.
When we arrived at the location it was a rather large house with stables beside it, neither of use new who lived there. The director went to the door and I stayed in the van, it seemed that he was taking a long time to come back and then suddenly a lady appeared at the van and asked me to come inside the house. I immediately recognised her and she recognised me, she was the sister of someone that I used to hang out with.
Her husband and the director were sitting chatting and she offered us either tea or coffee. Her husband was asking questions about the work that the mission carried out and he seemed quite interested. Just before we left he left the room and came back with an envelope and reached it to the director and said that it was a donation for the work of the mission. He was thanked and we collect the stuff that we had originally been called to collect and left the house. As we were travelling down the road the director reached me the envelope and asked me to see what was inside it, it was a cheque for £1000. Before the end of that day most if not all or the money was raised for the container, either through gifts or sales in the shop. The lesson God taught me that day was that, “Whatever he orders he pays for”.