"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Monday, November 15, 2010

Regional English Olympiad and Church

On Saturday, our Link had the opportunity to participate and help judge the Regional English Olympiad. I was expecting it to be some sort of Ukrainian 'Spelling Bee', but much to my surprise, it was set up more like the SAT. Students from different schools from all around the Region were split into their respected grades (8th-11th forms) and given topics to write on. After about a half hour, one of the American's was to read a rather lengthy magazine article and they had to answer questions. I was partnered with my friend Val, and we helped to facilitate the 9th Form Olympiad. We read a passage about the "Penny Black" stamp and it's impact on the world. The students then answered 10 True/False questions, as well as 10 multiple answers. What I thought was most interesting was there was no key, so it was up to Val and I to decide what the correct answers were. After the listening portion, they read their compositions that they had been writing on before the listening portion. Val and I were told that because they were in the room, many of them were too nervous to speak. The ones that did, however, we very impressive. Their English is far more advanced than my Ukrainian, but I am not being graded in front of my peers. Overall, the English Olympiad was an interesting experience, one that I will most likely take part in a couple of times over the next few years. PCVs write the questions and help judge the National Olympiad in Kiev, so I'm sure it won't be the last time I participate.  

Walking through Kivshovata Saturday bus from Tarasha dropped me off, I walked past the local church and decided that the next morning I would go. It was something I had wanted to do for a while, but also something my schedule and confidence hadn't permitted. So first thing when I got home, I asked Lecia in perfect Ukranian, "Tomorrow, I want to go to church, but I don't know when?" She told me that she wasn't sure, but she'd call around. And call around she did. We finally figured out that it was starting at 9 and if I wanted, a Babucia would take me. I told Lecia that I was grateful for the offer, and could most definitely get there myself, but would be happy to sit with said Babucia. Come to find out, there are no pews, or seats for that matter, and about 30+ Babucia's to choose from. Not knowing which one, I smiled politely at the ones who were starring at me. I like to think they were starring at me because I was wearing a suit and looked really nice, not because I was obviously foreign.

Let me take a second to describe the church. From the outside, it really doesn't look like anything special at all. It is a little run down, but beautiful in it's own right, with 2 light blue domes adorned with a cross on top of each one. Inside is breathtaking, and every wall is painted with a different Biblical scenes. The alter is practically a gold wall that simply radiates beauty.  Words really can't describe the place, and I am going to see if I can take pictures some time during the week if it is open, or after a service one Saturday or Sunday. I also want to know more about the history of the church. Motivation to work on my speaking and listening skills.

Worship was a once in a life time experience, and one that I am so happy that I took a chance and participated in. I still haven't figured out everything about the Russian Orthodox church, but judging by the crosses outside and in, as well as the 100+ pictures and paintings of Jesus, I'm guessing we have a few things in common with our belief systems.

The service was really unlike any I'd been to before. Mostly a choir of 7 ladies sang, as did the priest. A sort of call and response to each other, without any congregation participation. Worship started at 9 and ended around 11:30. Parishioners stand the entire time, too. Some of the Babucias sat when they were tired on a few benches, but they stuck it out most of the time. Even some kneeling and touching the floor with your head or lips. I just sort of went with the flow, made the sign of the cross when everybody else did (about 150+ times), knelt (sans floor kissing) when others knelt, etc.  I think it's safe to say they were speaking Russian or Ukrainian, probably a mixture of both. What I secretly wanted out of the whole thing was to commune, so when I saw bread and wine, I knew I might have an opportunity. And luckily for me, they were as eager to serve me as I was to take it. But as soon as it was time for communion, everybody took out a small plastic bag. When it was your turn, you took some bread and ate it, but also took some bread in the plastic bag; to-go bag for communion - ingenious! I was not prepared, but about 3 Babucias were looking out for me and gave me one of their extras. Score! I'm going to share the bread I took with my cluster when I tell them about my experience. The wine was mixed with boiling hot water, and cold water, and poured into a tea cup that everybody drank from. And if any bread crumbs or wine went on the floor, you were to kneel down, pick it up with your fingers, and eat it. This happened on more than one occasion, but I was sure not to spill.

For me, taking the chance and flying solo to church has been one of the many highlights of my time here in Kivshovata. I figured it was a safe place to take a chance, and I'm so happy I did. The looks of many went from, "What is he doing here?" to "Isn't it great he's here". Hopefully I can put up the pictures so everybody can see the the beauty of this place, but a lot of the beauty can't be seen, only felt. On Thursday, the PC Office comes to conduct our Site Placement Interviews, and after my time at church and the feeling I had walking away, it is clear to me that I want to stay in a small village, where the community is great and the people are close. Yes, life may be simple, and I may not have everything at my fingertips, but what an extraordinary life it truly is.  


  1. Ben,

    You'll remember visiting the Russian Orthodox monastary just outside Florence, Arizona. Having seen that, I find it easy to relate to your worship experience.

    The Arizona site was much more formal and ornate, but very welcoming.Some things are more or less universal.



  2. Ben,
    I am so amazed! You are so brave. I can picture you in your suit at the church. Good call not kissing the floor. Do you think they wash it between Sundays? Is there a chance that your placement could (continue to) be Kivshovata? You said "over the next few years" which made me nervous because few=three or more. How about you stick with "a couple." :) I'm so glad you are enjoying everything. All of my other questions are in the e-mail I just sent.