It’s a return trip for a local mother to the country her daughter calls home, and the opportunity to serve alongside her for a short time in a community more than 8,000 kilometers away.
For 16 years, Cheryl Lyons has been living in Rzhyshchiv, Ukraine, a community about an hour drive southeast of the capital city of Kyiv. Rzhyshchiv has a population of 7,500 which can swell to more than 8,000 during the school year thanks to the presence of three technical schools in the town. “Most children complete their public schooling when they are 15 years old,” Cheryl explained, “and then attend a technical school where they learn various skills like bookkeeping, building, cooking and teaching.”
Being in a community of this size has given Cheryl good opportunities. “Living in a small community has allowed me to get involved in a number of different ways from teaching conversational English, helping out with different building projects, being involved with different church ministries and outreaches, helping out some of the local English teachers in the public schools and having the privilege to become a part of the lives of the people here in Rzhyshchiv,” she remarked.
Life in Rzhyshchiv holds some challenges including lack of infrastructure for water supply and undependable electricity and gas delivery. Cheryl is not immune to some of these hardships, even though she wouldn’t describe it that way. “The greatest joy is knowing that this is where the Lord wants me for this time,” she said. “So even when it is difficult, I have peace knowing that for now I am where He wants me to be.”
An additional challenge for people of Ukraine Cheryl says is political uncertainty. “I would say, not knowing what their future holds with the continued war with Russia as well as having a new president and wondering whether or not he will stand strong for the people of Ukraine no matter what the future holds” creates some concern. For the time being though, political changes and international politics are not affecting her work - work that her mother was able to be part of for two months this fall.
Cheryl’s parents, Blake and Loretta Lyons, were in Ukraine in 2013 in a visit that was cut short by a medical emergency Blake experienced. He passed away in 2015 and in the years since Loretta has been considering a return trip. “I had been thinking that it was time that I go again but had not set a date,” Loretta remarked. “When Cheryl returned in July for short visit to attend a family wedding, it seemed the right time to return with her.”
Loretta has been kept busy in Ukraine. She was the guest speaker at a Ladies Bible study at the church Cheryl attends, where she spoke on the subject of death and grieving. She also spoke at a community ladies’ outreach, one of Cheryl’s areas of responsibility. “About 50 ladies gather together for a time of fun, food, fellowship and Gospel message,” Loretta said. “I will be speaking about the Woman at the Well and the Living Water that Jesus has to offer freely to everyone.”
Mrs. Lyons, retired and beloved Kindergarten teacher, will be putting on her teaching hat once again, helping with a 6-week English Pre-K program in Rzhyshchiv. “I am excited about going to the school where Cheryl volunteers in the English classes,” she remarked. “I just want to be a part of life here in Rzhyshchiv to which God has called Cheryl – helping wherever possible.”
She will also get a chance to see a new building that has been purchased, which the international team Cheryl is part of will use for ministry and outreach. “The church is not a building,” Cheryl said, “but instead it is the people who love Jesus and have a desire to grow in their relationship with Him. We are in the planning stages of how best to go about renovating the new building but we have already seen many positive things come out of being able to regularly meet in a public building instead of a private home which we have been doing the past 16 years.”
Loretta is looking forward to getting reacquainted with Cheryl’s friends and Ukrainian family, and experiencing life as it comes in Ukraine; a country with marked contrasts from Canada. Loretta says some of those differences include language, lack of material possessions, lack of support for seniors, extended families living together, and lack of modern conveniences that Canadians think are necessary. But she is quick to point out similarities including “the desire to be accepted, the same need for God in our lives, and a desire for fellowship.”
No doubt as soon as Loretta returns towards the latter part of November she will be asked when Cheryl might be coming home next. It’s not an unexpected question given the interest and support Cheryl has amongst friends and family here for the work she is doing in Ukraine. For her part, Cheryl is always excited to make a trip back to Outlook but feels grateful that her life in Ukraine is so fulfilling. “The Lord has blessed me greatly with being able to ‘fully be in Ukraine’ when I am there and to ‘be fully in Outlook’ when I am there. I have two homes,” she said.
You can imagine the smile on Cheryl’s face as she shares, “Coming back to Outlook is like wrapping up in a warm towel freshly out of the dryer.”