The first time I visited L’viv (long before we moved here), I came to a distinct understanding that Dnipropetrovsk and L’viv could be in two different countries, even though they are both part of Ukraine. I mentioned previously that life in Dnipro is harsh, that people commonly yell at you on the street, in the store…pretty much anywhere…and for no apparent reason.
I came to L’viv as a guest and was on a bus. I didn’t know the city or where my stop was, so I did what I always did in Dnipro – worked up the nerve to approach someone with a question, preparing myself for the resulting outburst or cranky response. I picked what looked to be the friendliest woman near me, took a deep breath, and ventured: “Excuse me, ma’am, can you tell me where the church of Saint Anna is?” To my utter astonishment, she smiled and said, “Come stand next to me. I’ll tell the driver when to stop and show you where to get off.” I’m sure my jaw dropped to the floor!
This is just one small example, but it is indicative of the biggest difference I have found between life in Dnipro and life in L’viv: the mentality of the people. There is an openness, an automatic friendliness about people in western Ukraine. You frequently see people smiling, and it is perfectly normal here in L’viv to greet strangers with a polite, “Good day.” I have a deep love for both these cities, both these distinct cultures, and I have come to appreciate the many differences between them.
Vishivankas, Banosh and Ukrainian Language
The mentality is one difference, but there are so many more. In Dnipro, they speak Russian – in L’viv, it’s Ukrainian – a very proud Ukrainian. I primarily speak Russian, having lived in Dnipro for so many years, but I often find myself in bi-lingual conversations here – me speaking in Russian, the other person in Ukrainian. Usually, it’s because that individual either does not speak Russian at all, or they simply choose not to, because of deep patriotic pride in Ukrainian roots. I’m continually working on my Ukrainian, but at this point, my language has unfortunately morphed into “surzhik,” a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian, which is actually quite common in Ukraine.
Architecture is another major difference between these two cities. Buildings in Dnipro are reminiscent of Soviet totalitarian power – lofty structures with strong angles and features that speak more of authority than beauty. L’viv, perhaps more than any other Ukrainian city, boasts western style architecture. The buildings are impressive for their artistic qualities and fine details, even Romanesque in some ways. L’viv, known for its gorgeous city sites, cultural events, and many festivals, is a popular tourist destination for Ukrainians and people from other European countries.
Dnipro has strong influences of Russian culture, due to its close proximity to and history with that country. If you read my last post, Welcome to Dnipropetrovsk, you will recall that Dnipro was a regime city under the Soviet Union, where they manufactured rocket engines for missiles. People there do identify as Ukrainian – they are proud of our country and patriotic to an extent. The people of L’viv, on the other hand, cling tightly to Ukrainian culture and are among some of the most patriotic I have met in all of Ukraine.
The traditional folk style shirt of Ukraine is called the “vishivanka.” Growing up in Kyiv and Dnipro, I saw people wearing this very traditional clothing only for holidays or formal school events. Here, most every person owns at least one, and we wear them both for holidays and for everyday life. You also see more elements of the Carpathian mountains in the traditional clothing in L’viv – warmer, woven skirts and wool trimming, due to the shepherding lifestyle in the nearby mountain range.
Titus and Nora in their “vishivankas”
Like the traditional folk wear, Ukrainian art and decor were not strong elements of popular culture in Dnipro, though that has changed somewhat over the years. But, in L’viv, you commonly see traditional decor, especially in restaurants, cafes, and in public settings. Ukrainian folk art is bright and colorful, with lots of flowers, especially red poppies and bright yellow sunflowers. Designs and patterns often speak of the rich farmlands of Ukraine, with pictures of wheat and other crops. This style also includes rustic, unfinished wood and straw elements, reminiscent of past days of simple, wooden huts and life on the farms which have always been so prevalent to Ukrainian economy.
Even food differs from Dnipro to L’viv. One of our favorite dishes in the east was red borscht (a vegetable and meat soup which is usually a deep red or even purplish color, due to beets being a major ingredient). In L’viv, I first had red borscht with something like kidney beans in it. In Dnipro, we ate lots of “vareniki” (most Americans think of these as “pirogi,” which is the Polish name) and “pilmeni,” (small dumplings filled with ground meat). Both of these are also served in L’viv. But, here in the west, I’ve been introduced to several dishes that I’d never even heard of in Dnipro. One is “banosh,” a thick corn meal porridge, commonly served with meat and “brinza,” a soft white cheese made from sheep milk. Another is “bograch,” a sort of spicy stew with several types of meat in it. Both these dishes originated in the Carpathian mountain areas.
Religion differs as well between Dnipro and L’viv. Baptist and charismatic churches have large presences in both cities, but Dnipro’s official religion is the Orthodox church, while the people of L’viv are strongly Catholic. I remember that people who attended the Orthodox church in Dnipro were in church mostly for major holidays – Christmas and Easter, but faith was not a big part of their everyday lives. Here, on the other hand, the Catholic churches frequently have lines of people outside them, waiting to worship on more religious holidays than I knew existed! It’s common to see people making the sign of the cross whenever they pass a church, whether they are walking down the street or sitting in a bus.
Image by Верховод Виктор Васильевич via Википедия
The Beginnings of Life as a Missionary Family
When we moved to L’viv in late 2014, I was only slightly aware that it would feel like starting over in a new country in some ways. Josh and I had been married for three years, and our daughter, Nora, was 16 months old. Our son, Titus, was born in L’viv two years later. The move to L’viv was long anticipated – Josh and I had been praying about and planning for the mission field since we first started dating.
Josh, Nicole and Nora preparing for our move to L’viv in 2014
In some ways, life in Ukraine has gotten easier over the years. We now have use of a car, which makes getting around so much simpler with two little kids, compared to our first two years of taking buses, trollies and trams. Also, while street markets are still popular, there are plenty of stores, including big supermarkets, where you can find most things you need (I say most…nearly every grocery trip there are a few items I can’t find…so, you learn to improvise!). There are even big shopping centers, like American malls, nice movie theaters, and plenty of restaurants and cafes. Back in our “Dnipro days,” few people had money to go out for coffee or a meal, but in L’viv, the cafes and restaurants are usually busy.
I mentioned in previous posts that my family lived in apartments when I was growing up in Kyiv and Dnipro. Here, Josh and our kids and I live in a house just outside the city, where we have many more conveniences, like our own water heater. Growing up, we often did not have hot running water – in fact, in Dnipro, there was an annual three day stretch in the summer when the city turned off all running water for cleaning the pipes (or something like that)!
While there are more conveniences these days, life is still full of daily challenges here in Ukraine! If you’d like to know more about our everyday life as missionaries in L’viv, check out our earlier post, Missionary Parenting – A Balancing Act.
Ministry in Our Church
The church where we serve is called New Horizons. It’s an evangelical, non-denominational church plant started by my parents, Mike and Michelle Pratt. As in Kyiv and Dnipro, most of the people who attend are youth. L’viv is a big university city, so we have lots of students, although our number of young couples and families is growing!
The church started about eight years ago as a Bible study in Mike and Michelle’s home. It outgrew their house and moved into a big apartment in the city, outgrew that and moved into an office building, and now we’ve outgrown that, as well! One of the favorite parts of our church culture is the coffee shop ministry, where our baristas serve a fantastic cup o’ Joe, and we enjoy lots of conversation and laughter as a church body.
We came to L’viv primarily to serve as pastoral support for my parents. Josh heads up the sound ministry at the church and is involved in our weekly English club outreach. He’s also on the church staff, where he provides support in planning church projects and ministries. He tries to be a “go-to” guy, helping out in practical ways wherever there is a need. Josh also works remote for an Indiana based tech company.
My role here is a continual adjustment! The last time I served on the mission field, I was in my early twenties, single, and basically doing church ministry from morning till night most days. Now I’m in my mid thirties, married, have two children under four, and my ministry is mostly in my home, with a little church involvement, too.
I led worship or was majorly involved in that ministry for the first two years in L’viv, including during the entire pregnancy with our son, Titus. Pregnant women are treated very cautiously in Ukraine, so it was almost comical to see the looks on people’s faces at church when I climbed up onto a stool and balanced my guitar to the side of my protruding belly on Sunday mornings! Due to health complications, I gave up the guitar for the last month of pregnancy and led vocally instead. After Titus was born, we prayerfully decided that I would step down from physically leading worship, but I continue to play a part in advising for that ministry.
The most natural ministry at this point in my life is discipleship to other women. I usually visit with at least two women each week, and I stay in touch with several others via phone and messages. It’s my heart to encourage them and challenge them in their walks with God and to be a listening ear when they need to talk. In recent months, God has burdened my heart for the growing number of young, newly married women in our church. As we are in the same season of life, I pray for opportunities to empathize with struggles they have and to give them practical, Biblical ideas on how to live as a wife and young mom (carefully making it clear that I’m in the same boat and am learning right alongside them)!
Ministry is at Home
Mostly, the ministry God has called me to right now is pouring into our family. If you have or had small kids, you KNOW this is a full time job, both day and night! If you are a mom or dad who works as a homemaker, your days probably look a lot like mine – laundry, cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, playing games, chasing around a crawling baby…It doesn’t look like the adventurous, romantic life on the mission field that you imagine, but it’s real life and the most important contribution I can make – probably in my entire lifetime.
I’ll be honest – I have to remind myself of that often. Do you ever feel like your life is mundane, accomplishing nothing of significance? I do. When I’m sitting down to change the fifth diaper of the day, when I’m washing the third load of dishes, cleaning up the fifth spill off the floor…I don’t often think in that moment, “Wow, this is exactly what I thought missionary life would be like!”
Well, Friend, let me tell you what I tell myself, what my husband reminds me of in those moments…being faithful to God’s calling in your life, even in the mundane times, is significant, and there’s a reason for it all. You and I may not see it right now, but God is working out something beautiful in us and through us. He is shaping us into His image and using us to touch others’ lives, to show them God’s love and grace and faithfulness. Those “others’ lives” may be your friends, coworkers, family…or as in my case, they may be your kids, who are watching what it is to be a Christian every day, what it is to be faithful even when it’s not all fun and exciting, to mess up and fail, and to get back up again. I pray that today you and I both walk with a sense of hope, knowing that God has a greater purpose for our lives than we may even realize!