Immediacy of Hope
Robert Gamble, This Child Here
We don't have electricity, but we have light. There is no connection, but there is communication, and we are together. The soldiers of your country go to death for the sake of death, and the defenders of my country die for the sake of life.
Our children, shuddering from the view of the sirens and freezing in the darkness of their homes, will have a worthy future and the right to live in a free country, unlike yours, whom you are depriving right now ... and have already deprived of a normal future.
You never understood us during this war. You did not understand that fear disappears, but every day help for one’s own and hatred for the enemy grows, and the will to win becomes stronger. And most importantly, you did not understand that it is impossible to intimidate with darkness those who have light burning in their souls...
-Tatiana Lonskaja Kyiv, Ukraine
I was in Izmail, Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. A year has passed, of brutality, fear, rage and death, a year of stories: families living for weeks in the dark basements of apartment buildings, some crawling under gunfire or shrapnel to reach a shelter, one family riding in a truck, the engine on fire, yet roaring down the road to escape mortars and missiles. A sister is raped, then killed, her face mutilated so no one will recognize her.
Where is hope?
Every day children gather in the collection of rooms lower than street level we call “The Center.” On Sundays the mothers come. Today, they sit in a crowded circle with postcard sized pictures of thought-provoking images. Each image includes a question, “What does this picture say about hope? What does this picture say about home?
They talk, they laugh, they weep. Later the psychologist-facilitator spreads clear plastic on the ground, and gives them gouache paint and paper. They paint with small balloons, Q-tips, and brushes.
Hope begins with tears. Tears mean letting go. Tears also mean joy. People don't weep at death, right away. Denial is the first stage. But tears as a sign of hope.... are always immediate.
“After arriving at the checkpoint, we were ready for another inspection before we entered a neutral territory to Nikolaev, but they were our guys. We rolled down the car window and we heard in Ukrainian: “Good morning. You didn't recognize us? We’re Ukrainians." This is where we started crying.” Irina from Mariople.
Here is what I notice. In a country at war, we linger longer in an embrace. I feel it every day from mothers, children, staff people. The common greeting is to touch cheeks and make the kissing sound. Here we grasp each other. As we lift another, we are lifted.
The people we meet each day are re-defining home and hope. Their house or apartment is in a battleground, occupied land, or destroyed. We meet them at the store, “get what you need and we will pay for it.” This is not only to help them financially, but to say we care. We talk with each family and invite them to our Centers for sports and creative activities. We aim to do more than give away aid. In time, our Centers life our summer camps, become places they belong. Come in, take off your shoes, put them on the rack. You're home.
Belonging gives them hope. They not only need hope for the end of a war. They need hope in the midst of it. There is an immediacy to the apostle Paul's grasp of hope, even if what is to come.... is still to come. For in this hope, we were saved. Paul says. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what they see?
Irina wears jeans and a black polyester-filled jacket. She has three children and a husband in the army. They lost everything and fled Mariople. One Sunday after our program, Ira is standing at arm's length in front of me.
In all twenty days in the basement, we never once felt safe, Ira tells me. The bombing did not stop, the basement shuddered from explosions. In rare moments of peace, it was possible to go out to cook food on a fire, but then we saw the courtyard and a street full of dead people.
I almost tell her, “It's terrible, horrible what they did.” Empty words. What do I say?
I've done it more than once with mothers I know, their eyes filling, the weight of war in the distance. No doubt, crossing misconduct boundaries for clergy, I step forward. As we lift another, we are lifted.
In the lightness of the embrace, we believe in what we cannot see: hope.