As the RESILIENCE conference approaches, I find myself thinking about resilience and compassion, solidarity and freedom. Freedom is something we Ukrainians talk about a lot, especially these days, and all these words and the concepts they evoke seem to us tightly intertwined.
Resilience is inextricably connected to compassion and solidarity. And freedom (both earthly and eternal) is the goal of our resilience. Freedom—Christian freedom—can therefore never be individualistic. It’s about caring for the other, fighting and nurturing alongside friends and neighbors, and then sharing our gained and cherished freedom as a community. When we see Jesus in the eyes of every human being, we recognize the divine purpose of care in every single act of service throughout the day.
When the spring was just settling in, snow melting, and the air beginning to warm, I visited an elderly couple from the Kherson region who had relocated to Zbarazh—a small town in the west of Ukraine. Their living quarters—a simple kitchenette next to a narrow bed-like structure and a small table covered with a modest oilcloth—were a stark contrast to the cozy, beautiful seaside house with a soulful flower garden they owned only a year ago. After several direct hits, they had no house to return to. And yet, at the time of my visit, they were packing their belongings. “My wife got restless,” said Vasyl. “She is determined to go back home and plant a garden there. She has already bought all sorts of seeds!” The sole building with walls still standing is their neighbor's summer kitchen, though the roof and windows require mending. The couple planned on staying there for the time being since their neighbor was now a refugee in Italy and had left them the keys. The shop the couple owned had been blown to pieces. But nothing could change their minds.
“I will grow a whole lot of watermelons and send them all here, to Zbarazh, for the people who were so extremely kind to us. I came here in my pajamas, you know. But for the whole year, I was not lacking anything.” Nothing, that is, except her home. She did not actually say it, but I recognized the longing in her eyes. And it was to her nonexistent home that she was heading.
They didn’t go right away, though. First, her elderly husband went with a volunteer construction team to repair a church roof in a de-occupied village near their home (about nine hundred kilometers from where I visited them). Before repairing their own little nest, they chose to tend to the building that anchored their community. Once the church was complete, they did return to their village by the sea. But then Russia blew up the Kakhovka dam. They survived and have kept caring for others and also accepting the help offered to them.
When I was a little girl, my mom often told me God had no other hands here on earth but ours. The church is the body of Christ, a metaphor that highlights our solidarity and compassion. It shows that our freedom is in our connection. We are in ministry together and with God when we act on love for the sake of the other. But we are also ministered to, and we must have the humility to allow someone to serve us in the same way. Doing so is a declaration of dependence and acknowledgment of our need for Christ who is present in the other person.
It is love that exposes both God and us, created in his image, to pain. Pain leads us to God. And having found him in the darkest spaces, we embark on the path of healing through love. This is the path that begins with the Encounter but continues as long as we are imprisoned in time. Healing does not happen overnight but is accomplished in the process: step by step. We become an answer to someone's need and recognize a question within ourselves. We accept the answer from the outside and come to the aid of someone once again. Weaving interdependence to the rhythm of breathing love, we make freedom thrive.
Nadiyka Gerbish is a bestselling and award-winning Ukrainian author. She will be a keynote speaker at The Upper Room’s upcoming event, RESILIENCE | Practicing Compassion in a World of Conflict.
To learn more from Nadiyka and other wisdom guides, we invite you to join us on September 29-30, 2023. Together, we will explore the transformative power of compassion in a world marked by division. Learn more and register today at UpperRoom.org/resilience.
This reflection appeared in the August edition of The Upper Room Journal, a monthly newsletter to support you in creating daily life with God. Subscribe here.
Photograph by Nadiyka Gerbish / Ukraine
How does Nadiyka's perspective on freedom as a collective pursuit align with your understanding of personal and communal liberation?
Reflect on the statement, "God has no other hands here on earth but ours." How does this sentiment inspire you to engage with the world and those around you?
How has pain or adversity led you to seek a deeper connection with God and others, ultimately contributing to your own growth and healing?
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Join us for the next RESILIENCE conference. Learn more at UpperRoom.org/resilience.