This post first appeared on Assist News Service in September 2015.
Last month I shared the sad circumstances surrounding our family’s relocation from the quiet town of Ternopil in Western Ukraine to Kyiv, the bustling capital of the country. I told how a dear friend and the pastor of a church in Kyiv had confessed to adultery, and the church leadership had asked us to come pastor the church. I wrote about the challenges and uncertainties we were facing as we transitioned from the pastorate of one church to another and prepared our four kids for the move. At the time, we hadn’t found a place to live, and we didn’t even know if our family budget could accommodate Kyiv’s higher rental prices or if we would be able to get our kids enrolled in a school nearby. Since then, God has graciously led us to the answers to these and other questions.
The large majority of Ukraine’s urban population lives in apartment buildings, most ranging from 5 to 16 stories in height, but in Kyiv, buildings in excess of 20 stories have become commonplace. In the 12 years of our marriage, we have lived in 9 different apartments, ranging in comfort from our first place that had uneven floors, wallpaper peeling off the walls, and a building entryway that smelled of stale urine, to our last apartment in Ternopil that was a spacious, 2-story unit with Western conveniences like walk-in closets and 2 bathrooms!
As we prepared to move back to Kyiv, I was bracing myself for a huge step down in living conditions. The cost of living in Kyiv is higher than the rest of the country, and I was afraid that the most we would be able to afford would be a 1-bedroom apartment. I could already imagine it: my husband and I would take the bedroom, and the living room would double as our kids’ bedroom at night and play area during the day.
Many Ukrainians get by with even less space. We visited a family in the church here in Kyiv that has 3 kids and is living in a 1-room apartment. Not 1 bedroom, 1 room—as in a kitchen, a bathroom, and one other room where everyone sleeps and works and plays on top of each other. Knowing this, I felt like a stereotypical spoiled American to want more, but I was hoping that somehow we would be able to manage the rent for at least a 2-bedroom apartment. However, I wasn’t optimistic.
About this time, I received an email from a dear friend who knew our news. She encouraged me by saying that she had been praying for God to bless us with a place to live in that was beyond our dreams. She acknowledged that finding affordable accommodations was much more difficult in Kyiv, but she said that she couldn’t see why God wouldn’t bless us in this area since He was asking us to move back to Kyiv under such grave circumstances.
Her message brought a ray of hope to my sinking heart. The situation we were stepping into as a family was so fraught with difficulty and pain that I had been expecting those qualities to extend to every aspect of our new life. But what if my friend was right? What if God considered the sacrifices we were already making to be enough for us to handle, and He was not going to ask us to sacrifice our personal comfort as well?
In contrast to my pessimistic view of what kind of accommodations we should expect in Kyiv, my husband seemed to see the move as an opportunity to upgrade! He had long dreamed of living in a house, and now he felt was the time to make that dream reality. So as we began to look for a place, he kept poring over the listings for houses within and without the city limits. I thought he was a little crazy, but I went along, because that’s what I do, and I’ve learned that often he’s actually onto something with his seemingly crazy ideas. Besides, I couldn’t deny that the thought of living in a house sounded alluring—impossible, but alluring.
The first house we visited was in an inconvenient location outside the city and a long walk from the nearest bus stop, and it was in very poor condition, but we looked at it anyway, with high hopes that it might work out for us. However, when the landlord told us he wanted double what we thought we could pay, we sheepishly excused ourselves and made a hasty departure. I felt the walls of a cramped apartment starting to close in around us, but then I remembered my friend’s faith-filled email. Instead of resigning myself to the worst, I decided just to wait and see what God would bring. I didn’t have long to wait.
The next listing that caught my husband’s attention was a house not far from downtown Kyiv. Not only was it just within our price range, but it was also very close to a bus stop and within walking distance of a subway station! The only possible catch was that we would have to share the building with our landlady, but we would have completely separate quarters with separate entrances.
When we stepped through the gate onto the property, my first impression was that I was walking into a tropical garden. There was some sort of vine with deep-throated orange blossoms growing rampant in front of the house. Walking up the stairs to the front door, we had to duck under stray tendrils of untamed foliage. I am originally from Hawaii, and it immediately made me feel at home. My second impression was of how much the landlady loved kids. I was holding my 2-year-old, and the landlady’s face lit up when she saw him. She immediately extended her arms and took him from me and carried him around while we looked at the house.
We loved the house, which was unlike anything we’d ever seen before in Ukraine, with natural wood floors, exposed wooden beams in the ceilings, and large windows that bathed the interior with sunlight. The view out the row of windows over the kitchen sink was like nothing I could have imagined for Kyiv—a few neighboring houses and then a large hill covered in trees with a handful of buildings near the summit. It didn’t feel like we were in the city at all! I didn’t even notice the road passing behind the neighbors’ houses until my second son excitedly pointed out that he could see trolleybuses. (The inability to see trolleybuses out the window was his one gripe about our previous apartment.)
As far as the floor plan went, the house had two bedrooms, two complete bathrooms, lots of closet space, a large open kitchen-dining-living room area, and a third area that was curtained off and could double as a home office/guest room. There was also a backyard with a brick barbecue, picnic table, and kiddie pool. On top of all this, the landlady seemed like a genuinely kind, reasonable sort of person. We prayed about it for a few days and decided to take it.
We moved in about a month ago. In that time, we’ve managed to unpack most of our things, get our two oldest kids enrolled in a great school nearby, and make a trip back to Ternopil to finally attend a Sunday service. In order to serve the Kyiv church on the weekends while we were preparing for our move, my husband and I had been traveling back and forth between Kyiv and Ternopil every week for 2 months, a round trip of about 600 miles. Because we were never in Ternopil on Sunday, we felt like did not have a chance to say a proper goodbye until our recent return visit. The church, now in the capable hands of my husband’s brother who had been the assistant pastor, welcomed us back and prayed over us to send us out with their blessing.
Now that the goodbyes are taken care of and we’re back in Kyiv again, I feel like we can get around to the business of settling into the new life that God has given us for this season. This week my 8-year-old and 6-year-old started 3rd and 1st grade, respectively. We’re still looking for a kindergarten option for our third child so that he can begin to get immersion experience in the Ukrainian and Russian languages, but God has led us faithfully thus far, and I know He has the perfect solution for this question as well.
In the meantime, I will be busy building a new nest for our family, praying for the wisdom, grace, and strength to make this amazing house that God has given us a true home, a place where everyone who comes through the door will feel loved and welcome.
Kyiv skyline photo credit: Dan villef / CC BY-SA, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0
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