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JOHN DEMPSTER: God's love helps us all turn pain and ugliness into beauty

By John Dempster

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Varvara paints the tanks defences.
Varvara paints the tanks defences.

VARVARA stands with her palette facing the ugly metal anti-tank defences in a Kyif street. She is painstakingly decorating these ‘hedgehogs’ (as they’re nicknamed) with intricately-painted flowers.

The photo appeared in Maia Mikhaluk’s Facebook feed – she’s a Ukrainian Christian leader whose posts bring close the everyday lives of the folk in the church she and her husband Nick pastor in Kyif.

They sing about the reality of God’s help: ‘I’m so grateful for your favour, your mercy and your grace, ‘Cause they go on forever, they’re sufficient for today.’

Once, Maia would have scorned such words. Growing up in Ukraine during the Soviet era, she was told religious faith was for old people, the uneducated, losers. People of faith were not permitted to study at university level, so all academics, all educated people were atheists, and Maia was no exception. God was never mentioned at home or school.

Soon after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Maia, now a student, met a group of American Christian students and their leader – a highly-qualified academic. So it was possible, she realised to be both well-educated and a believer.

Though initially sceptical, she tells us ‘I heard about Christ, but more importantly I saw Christ in their lives. I felt they loved me into the kingdom rather than convinced me.’ But soon she felt ‘the pull to Christ’ and realised that ‘I was getting convinced.’

Maia became a Christian. She now pastors the Kyif Church, and runs International Partnership, an organisation supporting Christian leaders in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union.

Maia’s regular posts with their stories of courageous living in time of stress encourage us. She writes ‘I am grateful for people in our church who continue to place their hope and trust in God, continue supporting and encouraging each other, looking for ways to serve people in need, praying hard for the Ukranian army and helping it in practical ways.’

Against the background of war, there is a heightened sense of the preciousness of life. ‘We don’t need to postpone life till after the war. We live it to the maximum now.’ Maia speaks of looking to the future, of ‘having babies, raising children, growing gardens, planting new churches.’ A young couple marry: ‘A new family was born in church today,’ Maia writes.

The words about God’s provision being ‘sufficient for today’ are not simplistic. They express simple trust in God, but it is a trust tested in the fire of pain and loss, and not found wanting.

Varvara painting the hedgehogs was, says Maia ‘Turning pain into beauty, ugliness into art.’ And so we can each ask ‘How can I bring some loveliness to the world today?’

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