The Ukrainian portion of the Carpathian mountain range is rich with wooded slopes, wild beauty and green upland pastures. When you venture deep into the Carpathians, you feel as if you have gone back in time to a simpler era with embossed tin-roofed farmhouses, horse-drawn carts carrying bails of hay, and babushkas herding goats and geese.
In January I visited the poorest villages in the Carpathian mountains with some of my favorite people: Nadia Remizova and her daughter and family, Elina, Igor, Sophia and Solomia. A team from London came to minister to the families in these villages, so we met with the children for a time of games and teaching, then distributed Christmas gifts to the families in their homes, sometimes carrying packages across narrow plank bridges in order to reach a small cluster of homes. It is not uncommon in these villages for a family to have eight or more children. The children ran out to greet us, which they do every time Nadia comes to their villages. As we froze in sub-zero temperatures, we had the time of our lives with the people in the villages, enjoying the beauty of the snow-covered mountains in a place that seems to be forgotten and frozen in time. Many of us remarked how much we were amazed by what God can do through one person who is humble and willing to serve.
Nadia started the work in the Carpathians ten years ago when a teenage boy came to her city of Lviv to receive medical treatment. The boy, Peter, was severely burned when he rescued his three-year-old brother from a fire in their home. Months after Peter returned to his village, Nadia had recurring thoughts that she should visit the village where they live. Convinced that God was leading her to go there, she went by train early one morning in November. On that trip, she was invited into several homes by families who were glad to welcome a guest in their remote village. Their hospitality touched her, especially when she saw the poor conditions in which they lived. Many were without shoes, adequate warm clothing and basic necessities. When they needed medical care, they suffered and did without. After seeing their poverty, Nadia determined to return to help them.
Since that time, she has visited every month to teach the children about God and provide them with food, clothing and medical care. She also organizes summer camps for them every year. In 2002, an Orthodox priest in the village tried to incite the families to stone Nadia and her husband, Boris, because she was baptizing the children. He spread rumors that she wanted to kidnap their children. But Nadia kept going to the village, undeterred, and eventually won over the priest.
As we went from house to house delivering gifts, Nadia told the story of each family, lovingly describing how each one had been helped. She told me about the time she walked 12 kilometers from one village to the next at night with no flashlight (or torch, for you Brits). There are many wolves in the woods, but she did not want to disappoint the people in the next village who were waiting for her. Nadia is one of my best friends and even though she is old enough to be my mother, she is a perpetual teenager, more vibrant and vigorous than most people half her age. I enjoyed our time together, talking and laughing. We bonded even closer as I grew to love her more through seeing her in her element, caring for the families in the Carpathians.
The team from London was also impressive. They were very well-organized, humble, and caring towards one another and the Ukrainian people. For one team member, Gavin, it was his first mission trip. He works for an investment bank in London. He said it was definitely his best experience. After the church service in Lviv, he was in tears as he prayed for Boris and Nadia. That evening, Nadia and I talked about the trip over herbal tea she gathered from the mountains at her bohemian home on a hill overlooking Lviv, her paintings and those of her daughter beautify the walls. They are both professional artists.
I had just received the news that a fellow missionary in Lviv passed away the day before of a heart attack, leaving a wife and four children. He was only 37. We talked about the need to value each moment because we don’t know what the next day or year will bring. I told Nadia how glad I was that God brought us back to Ukraine after three years away to be with the people we love. I still feel privileged days later to have had such a rich experience this past week. It was a week fully lived. And I thank God for Nadia, whose life is fully lived for God.