Whine Or Be Wine

Posted on: April 30, 2001 Written by
Whine Or Be Wine
Photography by: SurkovDimitri from iStock          

We received a three-month visa when we came to Ukraine and approached the time for visa renewal with foreboding. In some ways, we hoped our application would be denied—at least then we could go home and save face. Life in Ukraine had been more difficult than we expected.

On the other hand, I wasn’t quite ready to pack my bags. After all, I had eighty pounds of potatoes stored on the balcony for winter use. Also, I found pleasure in the small victories: understanding someone and being understood, successfully purchasing ten stamps at the post office all by myself, finding freshly baked bread, still warm.

When the pastor took my husband, Cory, to the capitol city to renew our visas, officials yelled at them for not having the proper documents. They visited several offices for signatures and stamps of approval and had to make a second trip before they finally got our visas renewed. Though we may have wanted the easy out—getting expelled from the country—God had other plans for us.

Those who think global workers are “super saints” probably don’t know any very well. Our new roles as global workers in Ukraine brought new kinds of stress, which like a refiner’s fire, brought impurities to the surface. We didn’t cope very well.

Some days, I woke up growling. I felt angry, more often than I had in my whole life. I disliked the inconvenience…the sense of isolation.. .the language barrier…the hard work. I wondered, will I ever feel at home? Family, especially Cory, got the brunt of it. I wrote in my journal:

Some people believe in purgatory, the idea of getting cleaned up for heaven after death. I think God uses life to get us ready for Glory, to burn up the chaff so we can look and act like Jesus. I want to shine like gold, but I don’t like the fire.

When a couple heads to the field, it’s like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool when you don’t know how to swim. It’s hard to offer support to your spouse while thrashing around trying to keep yourself from going under.

Cory and I had to learn the language the first year, so we tried to find ways to divide household tasks. He helped wash dishes and clothes. He packed out the trash and read to our daughters. I appreciated his help (at least sometimes I did) but laughed when I saw a Beetle Bailey comic strip at our teammate’s house. The general’s wife declared, “If you are going to retire soon~, you will have to help around the house.” “No problem,” he said—but whatever he did, he didn’t do it the way she would.

It’s not that men are inept or anything, it’s just that they’re in trouble if they won’t help and in trouble if they do. It was good for both of us that Cory went down to the building project at church to throw bricks around occasionally and do the male bonding thing.

Cory’s reluctance to help with the shopping upset me. He never liked shopping in the U.S. and felt even more overwhelmed in Ukraine. I was more familiar with outdoor markets from my previous work in Kenya, but I still wondered why I should have to pack it all home.

One day, I asked Cory to buy some bread while I went for a walk with the girls. When I came home, he emerged from the bedroom with swollen eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t get your bread. I can’t. I don’t know why—I just can’t. I’m ready to go home. I’m not cut out to be a global worker.”

Someone advised us before we moved to Ukraine, “Give each other the freedom to struggle.” Nevertheless, I let each additional problem we had reinforce my anger at his failure to help me in the beginning like I wanted. I focused on his faults so much I didn’t see my own. His acts of kindness and words of affirmation bounced off my shell. I wondered what happened to the strong, fun-loving man I once knew. Cory probably wondered what happened to his affectionate, easy-going wife. Eventually, I found the freedom that comes from understanding how flawed we both are.

Previously, I thought of God’s calling as a place or profession. Now I see He isn’t as concerned about the good we do for Him, as much as our heart’s condition. Obeying His call to a place or profession is a good way to prepare for corrective surgery. I was better suited anyway for shopping in a “hunting and gathering society” like Ukraine. I was a garage sale shopper even in the U.S. As head cook, I knew what would enhance our menu. If I sent my husband out to buy eggs, it would never occur to him to buy raisins.

Though I had to cope with housework, in some ways it was easier than Cory’s job. I knew how to cook and clean, but he had to figure out how to minister in a different culture. He came home barking occasionally, and I’d bark back. “I don’t like it when you take out your frustrations on us,” I said once. He looked at me soberly and asked, “Who else can I vent to?” Neither of us had the outside supports we once enjoyed.

We came to Ukraine in hopes of a fruitful harvest. Paul talked about being poured-out wine for the sake of others. Grapes must be crushed to make wine. Sour grapes don’t make sweet wine; so God is perfecting the fruit in me.

During one washday, two-year-old Alicia gave her plastic cat and The Jungle Book cassette a bath. Cory took the tape apart to dry. Alicia discovered the tape sitting on a windowsill and had to inspect its innards. A frustrated mother gathered small pieces together and struggled to rewind the sprawling tape. Alicia tried to crawl on my lap but I pushed her away. With her attempt at reconciliation ignored, Alicia burst into song, “He’s still working on me.”

Janelle, age three, asked, “Is He still working on you too, Mommy?”

Thankfully. He is.

 

©2001 Thrive


View the original print magazine where this article was first published.



About the author

Janice has served in Ukraine with her husband, Cory, since July 1995, with Christian Missionary Fellowship. While she hauls produce from the market, battles cockroaches and homeschools their two girls, he works alongside local leaders, training church planters. She is the author of Five Loaves and Two Bowls of Borscht and its companion Bible study guide , Finding Strength for the Journey (see sidebar). She enjoyed reading In the Presence of My Enemies , by Gracia Burnham, “It shows God's faithfulness in tough situations.”

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  • Jodi

    I really appreciate the transparency from missionaries’ point of views! Thank you for the encouragement and honesty! My family and I are in Bolivia and we can definitely relate to all the emotions shared here. Thank you

  • Robin Price

    Hi Janice,
    I appreciated your article…I’ve now been in Ukraine a little over 2 years myself. I’m in Odessa with a small team from MTW (Mission to the World). What city are you in? I’m single, so I don’t relate to the issues in quite the same way, but I certainly understand the feelings that both you and your husband experienced. The language for me is still the biggest hurdle. Hope your ministry these days is bearing much fruit.
    Blessings,
    Robin