Mary Raber, Mennonite Mission Network worker, is serving in Ukraine at Odessa Theological Seminary. Her official role is to help
begin a master’s degree program and train new leaders. But Raber also has a much wider circle of people that live around her, and she wanted to meet them, too. She shared these stories of what happened when she decided to pray about getting to know her neighbors.
Getting to know the neighbors
I love teaching at theological schools, but there’s a drawback: I can go for weeks without talking to people outside our little Christian circle. I’ve begun praying to meet some of the people in my neighborhood and I believe God has given me a modest start.
For example, at Easter I decorated eggs and made a basket with candy and a greeting card for Anatoly, an elderly man next door. I’m naturally pretty shy, so I had to work up a little nerve to knock on the door. My idea was to just say a quick hello, drop off my gift, and duck out, but I was surprised all over again by Ukrainian hospitality. Anatoly took me firmly by the elbow and escorted me into the living room where his brother and sister and their spouses were enjoying their holiday dinner.
They not only filled up a plate for me, but also a shot glass of cranberry-flavored vodka! I knew this wasn’t the moment for a temperance lecture, so instead I concentrated on learning their names and enjoying their company. They clinked glasses all around and solemnly repeated, “Christ is risen!” I’d never heard the ancient Christian greeting used as a toast before.
I don’t run into Anatoly very often, but at least now the ice is broken and we can chat when we meet.
A couple of days ago, I glanced out my back window and observed two stuffed animals—a dog and a cow—lying jumbled on the flat corrugated roof of the downstairs neighbors’ shed. They had obviously suffered a terrible descent from some apartment up above.
I fetched a handy article of furniture called a taburetka which can be used either as a stool or a low table. I used the taburetka to boost myself to a height where I could easily sling my leg over the balcony sill. After I opened the window and pried up the thumb tacks that hold down the screen netting, I looked down on the corrugated roof. For the first time, I wondered how I would climb back into my apartment once I was out there!
I fetched another taburetka and eased it out the window onto the roof to serve as a step on the other side. Then I slowly got my leg over the windowsill and managed to climb out onto the roof to retrieve the animals. They were dirty and soaked with rain, but dried out overnight.
The next day I went in search of their owners, inquiring at all the apartments directly above me. (Do you see how the Lord got me to talk to strangers?) About halfway up, I reached an elderly woman who informed me that the only children young enough to enjoy throwing toys off the balcony were on the ninth floor.
“Take the elevator!” she advised. Fortunately, it was working that day, so I went up to the ninth floor and knocked on the door that corresponded to my apartment.
Bingo! The young mother was really surprised and pleased. She said, “We could see the toys down there, but we had no idea how we were going to get them back.”
So I went downstairs feeling rather heroic—and with a better idea of who lives in the same building with me.