Spring break was coming. I needed a break. I dreamt of relaxing at a water park and exploring yet another medieval castle. Abruptly, my plans changed. The email from our admissions office requested that I travel to Ukraine; the dates coincided with spring break, and we would leave in 10 days. At first I said, “No.” But something tugged at my heart and urged, “Go.”
Currently, here at LCC International University, we have sixty students from Ukraine. Eastern cities in their country have been torn apart by conflict with Russia and nationalist separatists. A million people are displaced within the country. Corruption is widespread. The currency has been greatly devalued, and the cost of heat forced all of the schools in at least one city to close for the month of January.
Over the past decade, in order to recruit students, LCC has built relationships with secondary schools, English teachers, and local pastors in Ukraine. Our faculty and admissions teams meet with prospective students and their parents to explain the benefits of a Christian liberal arts education. LCC’s mission is to provide Christian liberal arts education within a diverse learning community that transforms people for servant leadership.
In reality, outside of this mission, the political and military situation in Ukraine consumes everyone’s attention. People are focused on survival; buying enough bread for today and having enough money for heating bills are the pressing issues.
I said, “Yes.” to this journey. Although this would not be my first trip to Ukraine, I felt that this trip was going to be different. A part of me felt helpless. What would I say to anyone who lives in a country so torn apart by (what seemed like) hopelessness? So, before I left, I emailed a few teachers and told them about the trip. I gathered “words of support for Ukraine,” to take along with me. I asked my teacher/ friends, “What would you say to teachers in Ukraine today? What encouragement do you have for teachers who daily stand in front of children when their country is at war?” I received many heartfelt responses, which I copied on paper and tucked into my suitcase.
LCC’s President, Dr. Marlene Wall and I traveled to Ukraine during spring break. Dr. Wall was in Zaporozhe for the weekend, we meet in Cherkassy, and I continued on to Zhytomyr. We met principals and public school English teachers, as well as hosted speaking competitions for high school students. In Zaporozhe, Dr. Wall also connected with church leaders in New Hope Church and met with the head of an NGO working with Save the Children and the many displaced people at the eastern edge of the country.
We were privileged to meet many dedicated teachers and diligent students. Actually, the teachers gave me hope. Not all is hopeless in Ukraine; there is much to be thankful for. Despite the turmoil in the east of the country, the people are proud of their schools and their cities. Patriotism is evident in the many Ukrainian flags flying from balconies and sign posts painted blue and gold. In city centers, there are substantial memorials (photos, videos, flowers, candles, crosses) lain at the statues of WWII war monuments or at city halls. There are placards of photos and bios of the men and woman who were killed in Maidan (Kiev center) last year and photos and bios of the people who lost their lives in the eastern conflict this year. However, people told us that they were simply tired of the conflict. While they struggle to make ends meet, they hope that peace will come soon.
At the end of my presentations with the teachers, I said that I had a gift for them. Each time, the room became quiet. I said that I wanted them to know that teachers around the world wrote letters of support because they want to bring hope to the teachers in Ukraine. When I was able to put these words of encouragement into the hands of the teachers, their eyes expressed gratitude and pure surprise! It was a humbling experience to me to give greetings to these fine educators.
I have included a few excerpts from these letters to the teachers of Ukraine:
Dear Teachers and Students,
While we in —– can’t begin to imagine the hardships you’re enduring, we can imagine your desire to continue learning, your emphasis on finding common ground in hardship, and your hopes for peace. My hope and prayer for you is to stand resolute, continue educating toward a peaceful outcome, and to find compassion for all those involved.
Greetings from — University,
I want to affirm you in your dedication in teaching your youth in Ukraine. Educating the mind and spirit is an honor to have as a teacher. It is a great privilege, and I admire you in your perseverance throughout the ever looming presence of war within your country. Blessings and peace to you and your country,
My message is simply this: they and you are ever in our hearts and prayers, because they are helping students examine ideas, to investigate and question things in places and times that don’t value such activity (indeed threaten it). With love,
To the teachers,
No matter where we teach, and what’s going on in their worlds, we give our students a place to forget about their troubles and improve their futures. We are heroes to them. Keep up the good work and know that you make a difference in bettering the lives of all your students!
To my dear colleagues in teaching the youth of today:
Although I cannot stand alongside you physically, nor say that I have faced the same hardships, I can say that we share the awesome power and comfort of a mighty God. May His face shine upon you and be gracious upon you as you guide and inspire the youth in Ukraine. You bring sunshine. Remember, when you face the Lord, shadows fall behind you! I applaud you. I pray for you.
You are not alone. God is with you and people all over the world are praying on your behalf for PEACE in your country and for an ability to live your days without fear. May it be so!
I couldn’t DO anything except to encourage, to be genuine and to bring some moral support. I can offer LCC as a university of peace, hope and Christian education. I know it is not about teaching/ learning English or about LCC in particular. Our work is offering quality education for young people who are trapped in a country at war with their “brothers” and “neighbors.” Perhaps our work is about “showing up” and offering the words that we have. I know that my visit won’t make a world of difference, but maybe, just maybe, the letters will bring encouragement to the teachers who stand each day in front of young Ukrainians and teach lessons while the fighting goes on.
Dr. Robin Gingerich, Parnell, Iowa, USA, is passionate about teaching students. She loves seeing students interacting in the classroom for purposeful language learning. Robin moved to Lithuania in 1994, and since then has been serving at LCC International University. She is an associate professor and currently chairs the English and Communication department, which includes undergraduate programs in English and Contemporary Communication, a graduate program in MA TESOL, an Intensive English Program, and community English programs for adults, teenagers and children. Robin has given professional development workshops for English teachers in Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia, Albania Turkey, Estonia and Congo. Robin has been the director of LCC’s Summer Language Institute since 1999, an intense program of English classes for over 250 students at all levels of English. Each year, she recruits over 40 teachers to teach English in Lithuania and the region.