After 3 months of preparation, it’s all over and done with. Towards the end, we had some slight difficulty with the other man helping to organize the march, and it affected my expectations and excitement. But, God in His amazing goodness and mercy, exceeded my expectations, especially at Friday night’s service.
We arrived at the church, not really knowing how many people to expect. But, as we got ready for the meeting to start, people began to pour in, and by the start of the meeting we had around 200 people! We began with a time of worship, led by a one-armed keyboardist – the man was incredible! – and he also had a clarinet player with him.
After we sang some songs, the historian got up and began to tell us about the Jewish history of our city, Lviv. Despite the horrors that took place here during WW2, there is much the locals have to be proud of in their history. One of the national heroes, Bogdan Khmelnytsky (c. 1595 – 1657), was an extreme anti-semite, who led many pogroms throughout the country, ridding cities of their Jews. In his conquests, he would write to a city ahead of time, and ask for permission to come and kill all of the Jews. Lviv denied his request. Worried that he would defy the refusal and come anyway, they opened the city gates and invited all the Jews who lived outside the city to come inside the gates for protection. There were other stories of the good this city had done for the Jews, and it was a good reminder to not get focused on just the bad.
Following our lesson in Jewish history, the Germans came up and began to share why they were here. A team of 11 Germans came to Lviv (a total of 150 came to participate in the various marches in Ukrainian cities), and a few of them had grandfathers who served in Lviv. Apparently there is a bureau in Berlin, where they keep records from the wars, specifically detailing when and where someone served. Relatives can write to the bureau and request information on where and how their relatives served during WW2. Over the past few years, people from this church in Germany have written and inquired about their relatives – some finding out that their grandfathers were stationed here in Lviv. Those whose grandfathers served here began to repent and ask forgiveness for the destruction their grandfathers brought to this city and for the blood-shed.
After that, the German team stood at the front of the stage and invited the Ukrainians to come forward and form groups with them to pray. A side note that is important to the remainder of this story and how God orchestrated everything, is that my dad briefly spoke before this prayer time and had me translate for him – which then labeled me as a translator between the Germans and Ukrainians, as they only had one translator for all 11 of them (it wasn’t scheduled for my dad to speak though, or for me to translate for him). So, while all the Ukrainians began coming forward, 2 ladies, one in her 50’s, the other in her 60’s, came to me. The younger of the two stopped and asked me, “Please tell the Germans that this lady’s parents were killed at Babi-Yar,” (Babi-Yar is a ravine in Kyiv where, in the period of 2 days, 33,771 Jews were killed). I didn’t know what to do with the information just given me, as there were no Germans near me to pass it onto. I told them I would be sure to tell the Germans, and they joined a circle of people to pray. About 10 minutes into the prayer time, a man comes, takes me by the hand, and begins to pull me through the crowd. He takes me to one of the German men who is standing with a Ukrainian man, and tells me to translate for them. After the first man finished praying, the leader of the German team asked me to come and translate for him. I translated for each person he prayed with, and each time, he had me ask them, “Was your father or grandfather in the holocaust?” Each man answered with a no, or that they didn’t know anything about their relatives. After a few minutes of no one else coming to him, he leaned over and asked me, “Do you know anyone here who had a relative in the holocaust?” Immediately, I thought of the 2 women who had entrusted me with the information of the older
lady’s parents. I motioned for him to follow me, and we made our way across the room to these 2 women. I told him that her parents had been killed at Babi-Yar. He asked me to translate for him (despite the fact that his German translator was standing right next to us – just another God moment in this whole ordeal), and told me to tell the woman he was sorry for what his ancestors and countrymen had done, and asked if she could forgive him. I translated this to the lady, and she just looked down at the floor. The younger woman leaned over to me and said, “She’s not a believer and has actually not been feeling well throughout the service.” It was obvious this older lady didn’t really know what to do with what she was hearing or how to react, never having experienced the forgiveness of Yeshua, or such love that could bring a man to repentance for the sins of his grandfather. We asked her one more time, “Can you forgive him?” She looked up and said, “They killed my mother. The Germans killed my mother.” Gunther, the German man, said, “I know they did. I am so sorry that my grandfather and my countrymen killed your mother. Please, can you forgive me?” After looking down one last time, she muttered, “I forgive you. Yes, I forgive you.”
I am still completely blown away by what happened that night, and that God allowed me to be apart of it. Those two women had no reason to stop and tell me of this woman’s family history, but for some reason they did. The Germans would have had no way of knowing I could translate for them, until my dad asked me to translate for him when he was unexpectedly asked to speak. The Ukrainian man could have easily taken the German/Ukrainian translator to translate for the prayer time instead of me, but for some reason he chose me. Gunther could have switched back to his German/Ukrainian translator since she was standing next to the 2 women, but he continued to speak English and allow me to translate. So because of that, I was able to play a small part in seeing the grandson of an SS officer ask forgiveness of the daughter of 2 holocaust victims, and then see her forgive him. It was as if God was confirming to me, “You are where I want you and you are doing what I want you to be doing.” Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought I would get to be apart of such an amazing moment, and yet God allowed me the honor and privilege of being apart of it.
The prayer time continued a little bit longer, and then the Ukrainians decided it was time to rejoice and began dancing to Hava Nagila!
After some frustrations, wondering if anyone would even come, God came and blew us away! It was a great start to the event, and we all looked forward to Saturday with anticipation of what God would do then.
(Update about Saturday’s March coming soon!)