It started too early.
On the tenth of September, I crawled out of bed after two hours’ sleep, thanks to the hysterical Islamist loonies who keep threatening to do more of what they did five years ago. Getting up before breakfast has never been my favorite thing, and when I have to pack my socks and shorts at 4:30 a.m. for religious reasons (bomb screening), I get reallly unreligious.
By barreling up I-25 at 75 mph in the dark, I arrived on time at Denver International Airport, formerly called “Wind Shear Alley” by pilots in the days before Clinton’s quondam Secretary of Transportation Federico Pe?a turned it into a class-A boondoggle, gobbling up 53 square miles of perfectly good Colorado grassland, twice the area of Manhattan. Sitting in splendid isolation 30 boring miles east of Denver, the project went $2 billion over budget and finished 16 months late, partly because of a much-ballyhooed – and short-lived – baggage system, which at its press debut scattered luggage and underwear throughout the terminal. (But boy, was it fast.)
After somehow suppressing my native sarcasm long enough to clear security without getting locked up for insulting TSA officials, I dragged my sorry bod onto the first of three planes that would ferry me to my destination in Kharkov, Ukraine, after only 21 hours of sitting in seats designed for midgets who can sleep while sitting at attention, a skill that has eluded me since childhood.
You can easily imagine my condition and appearance when I finally deplaned (that means got off in case you’re not fluent in Fedspeak) and was met by my cute and chipper fianc?e, Lena, whose idea of a restful romantic interlude is shopping nonstop for incredibly expensive items she doesn’t need.
Fortunately, my Ukrainian liaison, Tanya, had arranged for me to teach a two-day seminar for house church planters, so my time there was not entirely frittered away on frustrated romance.
The attendees, to my wonderment, were all under 25 – in contrast to America, where most attendees are over 40. They paid rapt attention, asked incisive questions, and laughed appropriately at my jokes. An easy crowd. From what they said, I think they’ll go out and launch lots of house church networks, whether meeting in homes or offices or universities. In fact, I’ve been intrigued to see my book “Megashift” selling faster there than here. (In the CIS, it’s called Novoe Xristianstvo, “The New Christianity.”)
The Kingdom is starting to grow fairly rapidly in Ukraine. They’ve had it with oppressive systems, so the non-hierarchical house church pattern appeals to them. (No programs, no buildings, no paid pastors. Do your own weddings, baptisms and funerals. Learn to grow spiritually. Get help when you need it, 24/7. At your meetings, serve lunch, tell stories, make friends and laugh your head off.)
The excellent Orange Revolution of 2005 has left its mark there. They won’t be backsliding into Russian-style socialism anytime soon. Reforms, however, are currently deadlocked, and the country still has a ways to go.
For instance, if you visit, always look at least seven directions before you cross a street. Traffic is getting heavier, yet it’s not unusual to see guys zooming down crowded main streets at a hair-raising 50-60 mph. The police don’t care. Everywhere in the CIS, they make their living by standing in the street, flagging down nice cars, demanding to see the drivers’ papers, and squeezing them for bribes for the tiniest infraction. A cop job is a political favor.
If you visit Ukraine, the place to see is the Crimean coast, especially Yalta with its czarist-era palaces and mountains sloping down to the Black Sea. Lena and her interpreter and I spent three days there – three expensive days. Despite Ukraine’s low wages, prices are middling high because competition is scarce. If you open a shop that undercuts other stores, their owners will simply go to the government and file a complaint that you’re evading taxes, thus putting you out of business. (Nobody pays all the taxes in Ukraine. They would add up to roughly 120 percent of your gross!)
If you stick to the usual tourist traps, you can get great food, Western or Ukrainian. My special recommendation is Solyanka soup, which is actually Russian, but they serve it widely. If you want to get rich, let’s you and me open up a U.S. chain of Solyanka cafes. I’ll get the recipe; you get the capital. After my trip, I’m broke.