There was a shy smile on his wife’s face as Volodia proudly pointed out the tidy vegetable plot outside the open patio doors. This garden is all Oksana’s work, as are the flower beds beside the church building. Looking after a severely disabled 16-year-old is of course a heavy burden, and Oksana bears the brunt of the care involved, so gardening is a therapy for her; she confesses how uplifting she finds it to see the plants progress and grow under her care, for there has not been much similarly heartening development in Zechariah’s basic state as the years have gone by.
Oksana’s delight in gardening gives her a point of contact with the people she meets. She once took on a plot of derelict land near the flat they used to live in, where the previous owner had begun to plant a few flowers. Oksana continued that good work, turning the spot into a flower garden. Seeing the results, some of her neighbours began to cultivate that wasteland too, brightening up the drab surroundings. Flowers sprang up in the midst of grey bricks, and for Oksana it was a good opportunity to have a chat with those who saw her working in the garden. First, they talked about flowers, then about Zechariah, going on to reflect on life, and the different challenges everyone has to face…
That story is probably symbolic of Oksana’s life and ministry. A lady whose family had given up on church once saw Oksana smiling with pleasure as she touched the plants on a market stall; the spectator marvelled that this young woman could be so serene and joyful. After all, great sadness had come her way when little Zechariah was born in that traumatic delivery that left him permanently and profoundly disabled, dependent on his parents’ care at all hours of the day and night. So impressed was this lady by Oksana’s calm joy in spite of her trials that she and her family returned to the church. The blossom of Christian hope was so evident in Oksana, even in the midst of the greyness of daily suffering.
That incident happened 12 years ago. Zechariah has grown physically and is heavy now. He can have night seizures and needs ongoing medical treatment. His little brother Oleksii is a lively 17- month-old who loves kicking the ball around with his dad, and who just about lets his mother chat to an EMF interviewer for a while as he competently swipes through the screens on his mum’s mobile phone. “So what is a typical day like?” we asked. Oksana’s face said all too clearly that that was an impossible question to answer; her 24hours are as unpredictable as Zechariah’s condition itself. But each day she has to make about four different kinds of food for each family member, including the dog! Piles of laundry to do, some specific nursing care to give, and the boys need taking out to get fresh air. Only Volodia’s brother is really available and skilled enough to take some of the daily burden off the couple.
What has kept her from going under? We asked that, knowing that Volodia has a church to care for, with the Happy Wheels and sensory room project also under his supervision.
Oksana was glad to tell us of how the Lord has sustained her over these 16 years. This university graduate in Business Administration who had grown up in central Ukraine tells of how she was converted as a young girl and became a successful supermarket manager. She married Volodia, already working with EMF in Ternopil, and her first pregnancy was a happy, non-complicated period. Then life changed for ever when it was clear that their little baby had huge health issues.
In the dismal days that followed, when for the first weeks she and baby Zechariah were confined to a depressing ward, the only contact with Volodia was through a tiny window in a door (“Like a prison”, Oksana recalled). Later the new family travelled to a Kyiv hospital, 450 km from Ternopil, for more tests.
It was during these months that Oksana found herself battling with doubts regarding her Christian faith, in “a spiritual crisis”. She could not understand what God was doing, or why. As she fought to understand the incomprehensible, however, she found that the love and prayers of many believers in different countries, including EMF supporters, along with the help of the Ternopil church, played a significant role in her being able to get through dark days. “Why do these people care, and pray for me? They don’t know me or my baby!” she had thought. Speaking now to us, she makes sure that her husband, sitting beside her, translates those words carefully, stressing how real that help was to her in those first weeks, and urging him to pass on her gratitude.
She learned much in those days about depending on the Lord, finding him to be “a living God”. She has not forgotten those lessons, it seems, for Oksana is convinced that it is as necessary to feed her soul each day as it is to look after each member of the household. “Otherwise, I would become too egocentric”, she affirmed.
Many couples break under this kind of pressure. Oksana wants us to know that Volodia is her greatest support and that they stand together in their struggles. “His sincere love for God supports me”, she says, and (despite her husband’s embarrassment at her praise of him), wanted to underline that he practises what he preaches each week from the pulpit of Grace Church.
Though neither Oksana nor Volodia would have asked for this ongoing trial, both of them are sure that the Lord has ordained this. They see now how they can reach out to other needy children in their community through transport in the Happy Wheels bus, and are overjoyed as they look forward to being able to offer disabled children in Ternopil (including two adopted children in a church family) the services of a new sensory room. Words fail them as they try to express gratitude to those from the UK who made all this possible through generous donations. Obviously, there are doors opening for them to share their faith, hope, joy and peace through these excellent resources. They view little Oleksii as a special gift too, as he makes them laugh and interacts lovingly with his big brother; they pray that he will have a heart for the disabled too.
Flowers in a wasteland. Gospel hope in the midst of trials. That is what Oksana’s life testifies to, and listening to her speak about all this is so very encouraging.