It’s difficult to summarize this day, just as with all the others. What might I highlight? It could be the emotional joy it gives all of us see one in our group find the home of their parents or grandparents in some Molotschna village. It might be how moving it is to sing the doxology before a meal in Molochansk, what had been the heart of this vast Mennonite colony. It could be the sight of people scrambling over a stream, a bridge, or a pot-holed road for that perfect picture of a home or a ruin of a home. We saw some in our group who were just content to be this close to the village of their forebears, a village that occasionally did not exist at all.
We heard each other’s stories this day: stories of parents who once rode bikes across streams on narrow rails; stories of those who recalled stories of their mother’s or father’s courtship days, or of churches where they once preached or schools where they once studied. We went to a nursery school in one former Mennonite village to share some modest presents with them: perhaps crayons or markers or stickers or staplers and so on. We saw Ukrainian villages struggle to survive in villages where Mennonites once thrived. We were impressed by the work of the Mennonite Centre of Ukraine.
We pondered a powerful voice of loss and consolation from Matthew: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” even as we pondered our own losses. We saw yet a few more memorials in this land, many of which are the result of the determined work by Harvey Dyck. And we were fortunate to be accompanied throughout by Olga Shmakina, whom many will recall with fondness.
We’ve had 10 days or so of busy schedules, but we’ve done them together. Tomorrow is our final full day and we will go our own ways for much of it; then back together for our final meal. But the bonds from here are real and heartfelt. One senses already that conversations begun on this tour will not end soon.
— Leonard Friesen