The Kingdom of Heaven

This past week the daily gospel spoke continually in parables of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant, “who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it,” it’s like a mustard seed who grew to become the largest tree in the garden, it’s like a fishing net cast out in the ocean and everything was brought in, and it’s like seeds falling on good ground… 

Over and over it spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. At one point I thought we were accidentally repeating gospel readings. How awkward would that be?

And some of these texts are difficult. What do I do with the idea of seeds falling in the wrong place or of the, “bad,” being sorted out? I don’t know. But this past Sunday I think maybe for one moment I saw and heard the Kingdom of Heaven. I heard many voices dancing joyfully in the presence of God. It was something really new for me: Nigerian students offering their songs in a Ukrainian church. These two things I never would have partnered. Conservative, stoic, “Eastern,” tradition was matched with rhythm and the power of music that dances on it’s own.

I am thankful. 

16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

-The gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13

The People of Суми

Our practical involvement in Sumy has picked up. We are teaching private and group language classes, cooking, singing in the mass, and cleaning a bit. Father Wojtech also takes us to visit parishioners who enjoy the benefits of community: conversation, meals, cultural exchange, and eucharist.

The diversity of this community is well beyond that of many “western,” communities I’ve seen. Just today we visited a Hungarian-German couple with two Ecuadorian girls to celebrate mass with a Polish priest. The wealth of personality can not be fully explored here. I feel like I’m swimming on the surface and it is already a high density situation.

Sumy was in the path of the second world war and communism, has been part of Russia, is part of Ukraine, attracts a lot of international students, and they speak an undefined dialect of Ukrainian Russian. When the war passed through Sumy, three buildings were turned into consentration camps. One of those buildings is across the street from us. When communism was instituted, the Catholic church was turned into a gym for the school in front of it, only returning to its intended purpose in 1994. But there is also the city’s first maternity ward down the block and a magnificent number of children have been born there. Two of them are in the picture above, standing in front of its doors. They’re probably the first doors opening to the sun they ever passed through. They stand there proudly, loving each other. What a beautiful place!

We are starting to make friends. People want to take care of us. They teach us a medley of Polish Ukrainian Russian. They sing songs from Taizé with us. Sometimes it’s difficult, but they do it. They try to take us in their way of prayer also. I think Clotilde and I are usually a bit lost, but we are also trying.


My first impression of Ukraine was just of sunflowers. I had traveled the evening before from Warsaw and crossed the border around 02:00. Everything was black at that hour except the duty free shop, but it was the sunflowers that sunk down inside me. I woke to streaks of yellow around 05:00 and wasn’t bothered at all by the jarring of the bus. I felt the gold, the peace of the fields. I already had love for Ukraine.

I was welcomed in Kiev by a magnificent woman named Katyrna. She took great care of me. A few hours later we were joined by Clotilde. Then she took great care of us. 

Katyrna got us on a small bus to Sumy, which took about five hours. It was…bumpy. The man next to me hit his head on the ceiling. We laughed so much during those hours.

Around 20:15 Clotilde and I were greeted at the final stop (next to McDonald’s) by two Caritas volunteers who also live in the parish house of Sumy. We had dinner at 21:00 with the four men daily involved with the work of the Catholic church and Caritas here. They are funny.

Our first full day was filled with three masses, getting to know the volunteers and the Nigerian students who serve as alter boys, and speaking at one mass about why we are here.

We said we don’t really know yet why we are here. That was some days ago and I still don’t. It has been good and strange. I’ve never been somewhere so different from my home. The sense of time alone is something to grapple with. I don’t understand it but somehow I get why we are here. I will become more human. 

Warsaw Deja Vu

At 16:00, July 18th, Clotilde and I met at platform 10. We both went to Warsaw West Station thinking it was the simplest place to meet. The tickets said the bus to Kiev would leave from platform 10 or 11, but it was nine. And Clotilde was clever enough to check with this bus that had no outward sign of being our Avtotranzit bus. I felt really lucky to make it. I wouldn’t have thought of it on my own.

About 22:00 that evening we discovered a problem with our documents on the border of Ukraine…the countries outside Schengen don’t accept ID cards. Oops.

Here we are now again in Warsaw. I didn’t expect to see it again so soon. The passport is being posted to us overnight. We should be able to try again soon.

In this funny and marevlous way we are being taken care of…we are already a community. We already must take care of one another and live our project. “Luckily,” there was a bus on the other side of the border crossing who would accept us. “Luckily,” there was a miracle woman who let us come to her flat in the middle of the night for a good place to sleep off our mistake.  It’s strange how “lucky,” we are already.

See you soon, Ukraine. For now it looks like we must learn more about Polish hospitality.