Todd & Cheryl – Ukrainian Connection

We accepted the challenge of leading the Ukrainian Celebration event for three reasons. First, we have served with Cru City Austin in a variety of ways in the past. Cru always does such a great job planning meaningful events so we knew from the beginning that we would be working with a strong and experienced team.

Second, we have friends and family that are connected to Ukraine in various ways. My (Todd’s) uncle has been the leader of a missions group working directly with Ukrainian people for years. Another friend worked for several years with a ministry that helped train Ukrainian pastors and missionaries. Finally, we knew the direct impact the Ukrainian war was having on its people as we know the mother of a CRU staff member who was displaced from her home in Ukraine where she lived all her life. When you personally know people that have been directly impacted, how can you not get involved at some level?

Working alongside others for this celebration event gave us the opportunity to serve those going through dramatic change in their lives. We both believe in Christ’s simple commandments to love God and love people…these events offered an opportunity to do both.

The biggest learning opportunity for us was balancing and blending Texas/U.S. culture with Ukrainian culture during the event. We wanted everyone to feel welcomed so striking a good balance between “Howdy Ya’ll” and Ukrainian norms was important. We (the team) made a lot of decisions by carefully listening to the input from the Ukrainian team members.

One example stuck with us. In the U.S., we tend to be very time/schedule driven when it comes to social gatherings/celebrations such as this. The American members of the team were generally pushing for a relatively short gathering (a couple hours) with scheduled time slots. However, the Ukrainian team members had a different perspective. They wanted a schedule – yes – but they wanted less time for “scheduled” activities and more time at the beginning and at the end for everyone to just hang out and visit. Of course, they were right as many of the attendees hung out for quite some time after the “scheduled” events were over.

Our own lives were impacted in several ways. First, simply being around people from a different part of the world reminds us how similar we all are and that we are all created in God’s image. In today’s American culture, everyone seems to focus so much on differences, when in reality, we have so much more in common. Second, talking with the refugees about their experiences makes us stop and fully appreciate our blessings. Third, we feel good about the opportunity to share some of our blessings with the refugees in hopes that they are blessed during this difficult time of transition.

Months later, we are still involved with helping the Ukrainian community. We have been using our pickup truck to help move furniture for various families as they are moving into their new apartments. This simple act of moving has encouraged us in a couple ways. First, the giving nature our local community is evident. Many of the refugee families have fully furnished apartments within weeks due to furniture and other donations from a wide variety of people throughout the community. One family we helped move had a car donated to them! Remember – these families literally show up to the U.S. with suitcases containing clothes and a few personal items…that’s it. The second blessing is simply witnessing the thankfulness and appreciation the Ukrainian families have for the generosity. Despite all the hardship the families have experienced, you can just tell from their reaction how grateful they are. One family told us directly that they just can’t believe how friendly and helpful everyone has been. Very humbling experiencing this as an “affluent” American.

Our involvement with the celebration event and the influence of several people we met during this process led us to take another step: sponsoring a refugee family through a program that legally allows Ukrainian families to relocate to the U.S. This process is underway with the arrival date of our sponsored family not yet set.

We are doing just a small part in helping a much larger group of people make a difference in the lives of our new Ukrainian neighbors. What continues to motivate us in these efforts is our desire to love God and love people.