As we look back to the beginning of Music Mission Kiev, we realize that only God could have done this! In 1992, when Roger and I first visited Ukraine and presented Handel's Messiah to a country recently released from atheistic Communism, we had no idea where the path would lead. We thought it was an adventurous serendipity in our numerous travels to other countries. Yet our heart had pangs of sadness when we left these wonderful people at the train station after six weeks of living together.
Truly it was like "living together," for all day and every evening we were involved in rehearsals, printing music, media appointments, business planning for concerts, or working in George McCammon's church with a small group of believers. I had a children's choir to conduct in the church, and Roger was heavily scheduled in activities.
We didn't have time to shop for food at the open market. We lived on packaged macaroni and cheese mix and Crystal Light lemonade powder which we brought from America, and Snicker bars bought at the Metro on the way to rehearsals, while we carried all the music for the choir of 35 people on our backs each night. We rarely had time for lunch and a piece of bread with a cup of instant coffee was sufficient for breakfast. I lost 20 pounds and Roger lost 40.
It would have been an impossible feat without the help of four Ukrainians who are still working in the Mission today. Sergey Basarab who had been working as George McCammon's translator became Roger's translator for rehearsals. I remember how Roger would run around the stage as he talked to the singers, and Sergey would run right at his elbow, speaking in Russian simultaneously while Roger was speaking in English. I could speak no Russian in those days and relied on body language, and lots of smiles.
Today Sergey is a key administrator of the mission, has translated books, hosted press conferences, and has taught Bible lessons to our men and to the refugees from eastern Ukraine who depend upon us physically and spiritually. It is impossible to list all the many things that Sergey does to make MMK a strong and effective ministry. Sergey is married and has two children.
The same day we met Sergey, we also met Larisa Reutova, whom we called "Larisa the Red" because of her long red hair. She became our choir accompanist, and she had the amazing talent to sit at a piano and sight-read an entire orchestral score. Through the years she has coached soloists on their parts, served as church accompanist for St. Paul's, played harpsichord in many oratorio performances of the KSOC, traveled to America many times on tours, as well as playing for more than two thousand choir rehearsals.
I still remember the first time we met Vika Konchakovskaya. She would come to our apartment to organize the orchestra music, bringing her young daughter who would draw pictures with crayons while Vika worked. It was not long before Vika was conducting the KSOC as one of Roger's assistant conductors, and then became the main assistant. She knew how to "take charge" and people respected her leadership. Now she not only conducts, but she manages the choir, the scheduling of concerts, and assists in tour preparation, under the principal conductor, Wes Janzen. If you need something done, Vika always finds a way to accomplish it, no matter how challenging the request. In Vika's words, "Music Mission Kiev is my life."
Finally, we met Irina Loktionova as a singer in 1992, an alto in the choir.
One of the first memories we have of Irina is how she organized a birthday celebration at rehearsal, presented a cake with lighted candles, and read a Tribute she had written in English about Roger and his coming to Ukraine.
It was such a touching poem. Even after we left Ukraine, Irina wrote us a letter and the words pulled at our hearts. God used her words to give us a longing for Ukraine and the experience we had had with this wonderful choir.
For 25 years, Irina has served as an interpreter for Music Mission Kiev, in Bible studies, worship services, interviews, widow visits, radio programs, and now she is the Director of Widow and Pensioner Ministries. She has been invaluable in being our voice to hundreds, perhaps thousands of Ukrainians with the Gospel. She carries the Bible that Roger gave her in 1992, and she uses it in the Bible lessons as she skillfully interprets Kim's Bible lessons.
The Lord has brought us many wonderful workers in the last 25 years, but these four have been with us since the beginning. They are the four pillars which support the organization. Through them we have stability and continuity for the future.
I have a hand-written diary of the days in 1992. I admit that when I read it, it gives me a headache. There are things in this diary that I never put in "The Splendor of His Music" book. From the first day we arrived, everything was a challenge.
I started reading at the beginning of this diary, and found some memories from our first day in Ukraine, July 13, 1992:
"When George McCammon, the Episcopal priest who invited us to Ukraine, met us at the Lybid Hotel the day after our arrival, he brought his wife, son, and driver in his car. We had too much luggage to get into one car, besides all the people, so we let Sasha, the driver, hail us a taxi. He said he could get one for 60 cents, but if we tried, it would be $20. Sasha got a taxi to pull over to the curb but it stopped too close to the hotel, and the head taxi man (from the Mafia who controls hotel taxis) would not allow him to take us. He motioned that we were not to get in that car. Though I knew he didn't understand me, I said to him in English, "Oh, give it up! You live in a democracy now!" It made me mad. But, the Mafia man made us carry our heavy luggage to a block from the hotel where Roger, Matthew, and I were finally allowed to load it into the car. "
"That same day George McCammon gave me a can of mace for protection.
He said that his son and Sasha had had to use it against attackers, usually drunks.
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