BY JON-MICHAEL GUNNELS, TRIP PARTICIPANT
The world has fallen into a deep darkness and I am responsible for helping it get there. Like an exhausted man wandering off to bed with all the lights switched off, I have been blindly feeling my way through the darkness, unable to see the proper way in which to go. As a white Christian male living in America, it has been easy to turn a blind eye to the darkness as I have never felt the implications in my adult life. Sure, there are plenty of people out there that would dislike me for what I believe in and look like, but they haven’t affected my life yet. Besides the illness and death of loved ones in my life, I have never suffered true loss. I have never had to do without a meal, a bath, a bed, a home, a car, an education, a parent, the latest video game system of my choice, and the list goes on and on. My life has never been in danger due to any threat that would come along as a package deal with the area I lived in. The darkness that is the reality of the world has never been my own reality. I have been shaken by tales of the darkness, but every time I eventually forget about the darkness and move on. I have gone through this life (and still might, the acknowledgment of my brokenness does not seal the promise of my redemption) as many in my position in life have, indifferent to the fact that the charmed life that I am leading is not available to the majority of the people on this planet. The amount of days I have wasted doing whatever mindless activity that gets me through to the next day is overwhelming, even if I am only 21 years old.
The fear of never changing had slowly wormed its way into my mind and taken hold all the way up until my trip to Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The cynical worldview I had cultivated led to my conclusion that hope is for children and idiots. Every moment that I have spent on this trip has proven me wrong. This experience has rekindled the flame of hope inside me that I never thought could be reignited. The freely-given love of the thirty two-year-old orphan named Yura (whom I’ve spent the majority of my time on this trip with) has shown me that the value of serving someone besides myself will always far outweigh anything I am ever given or acquire by my own means.
Yura will always be more of a child in mind and body than he ever will a man due to the incredibly stressful nature of his environment. I see God in Yura’s face every time he looks at me, smiles and nods. He is proud to tell anyone he can that he has made a friend and that friend is me. This glimpse of what I imagine Heaven is has brought a frightening question to the forefront of my consciousness: Has my entire existence been wrong?
The moments of my life that I remember most fondly have been ones in which I leave my comfort behind to actively seek the darkness out and do my part to drive it away, so I surely have been mistaken every moment I have spent not making the world a better place, right? I actually don’t think so. Without the experience of living my life day in and day out only to serve my greater good, the impact of finding out that serving the greater good of the least of these would not have been nearly as devastating. The understanding I have of how not to live my life will serve me greatly as I begin to strive towards the righteous path. Mission to Ukraine serves as a guide for those who have lost their way by allowing us to serve the disabled children of their country and they are doing so incredibly well, but for me their greatest service has been to my own soul. Whatever I have done, it will have no effect on Yura’s soul, because if God is anything like our Bible says, Yura and anyone like him has long been guaranteed a place in His house. If anything, he will remember me as the goofy American who spent a week at camp with him and held his hand every second he could. I am no longer afraid of the darkness. I acknowledge its presence in this world and I also recognize that the darkness flees immediately when people decide to confront it head on.
One day I will die, the works I have done will fade, all of my accomplishments will be forgotten and all memory of me will disappear. And that’s okay. The fashion in which I live my life is more important than anything I leave behind, including my legacy. I would rather no one remember me and know that I have done my best to improve as many lives as I could than for the entire world to remember me forever because I served my own desires. After all, a Christian life is meant to be a life of duty, not a life of acclaim. I long for the day that I draw my last breath to be one of satisfaction, not regret on how I could have done better. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the final poem of the famous 19th century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko:
Let us sail, let us bear
With us holy glory
Ageless, young forevermore…
Or—friend, let it be!
I will do without the glory!
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