Ten Months In
Last night, Katie and I watched with tears in our eyes as the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the United States congress in person.
It was his first trip outside Ukraine since before the war began almost ten months ago. A year ago, no one could have imagined that a Ukrainian president would ever get any air time to address the entire United States. But this year has been a year unlike any other in our lifetime, and Zelensky has risen to the challenge in a way that has caught the attention of the entire world.
We felt overwhelmed with emotion as he entered the hall at the Capitol Building. You could tell he felt similarly, and it was touching to see him choke up, if only for a brief moment, when he addressed a group of the Ukrainian diaspora seated in the balcony.
To some, I know the speech felt like just another attempt to get more money into Ukraine. But to those of us who call Ukraine our home, it was so much more. Last night's speech was an honorable recognition of Ukrainian strength after these last ten months of suffering. It was a beautiful recognition of the partnership and support the entire world has shared to help Ukraine defend itself during this nightmare. It was a beautiful Thank You which I think we all needed to see.
And just the fact that he made this trip was significant. Literally the day before his flight, he was visiting the front lines of the war (something he has done regularly throughout his entire presidency). From there, I can imagine all too well the hassle it was to get out of the country safely where he boarded his flight to travel all day to Washington D.C. And from the moment he landed, he was busy with meetings and conferences for the rest of the day.
As a frequent experiencer of jet lag, I know how grueling this is (his address to congress was at 2:30am Kyiv time), and as an adult learner of a foreign language, I can imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been. Zelensky doesn't speak English confidently, and for him to address essentially the entire English-speaking world without a translator was a significant gesture. That decision alone confirms to me that he probably got very little sleep on his flight over to the U.S.
Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned how millions of Ukrainians would be celebrating Christmas in the dark, some without water and heat. Katie and I feel those words so deeply because we know so many of those people personally. They are our dear friends. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Zelensky is not perfect. In fact, I cringed over the missed opportunity to give God any glory when he said, "We’ll celebrate Christmas, and even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out.” The light of our faith in ourselves? (As cringeworthy as this should be to Christians, it certainly is not a misrepresentation of a classic American sentiment.)
But goodness I'm not perfect either. And I do admire the way in which he has faced a challenge I'm sure he never expected he would face. Instead of fleeing, he marshaled the entire world. His dedication to his people as a leader is an example to me in my work with the church. I want to be so committed to something eternally more important (albeit while giving glory to God, not to my country).
Ten months in, our hearts still ache for Ukraine. We want to be there. The other day, a Ukrainian friend replied to a message, "Thanks for thinking of us." I wrote back, "We are always thinking of you." Always.
It's hard to imagine this war might be over any time soon, but we will continue to beg God that it is. Until then, we will do what we can do from where we are. Training more and more laborers for the harvest.
Working for our King whose kingdom is outside of time and space.