Piece written by Joseph Mosse, Ukrainian Support Case Specialist
Procrastination is a dangerous thing. All the way back in August, I was asked if I could write a piece for a newsletter coming out in December about hope. The specific wording of the prompt was to write about “the hope that I have.”
But I procrastinated.
Clients, cases, and documentation all got in the way. Meanwhile, parallel to our work in the office, news of more wars, more atrocities, more violence progressed across our newsfeeds. Finally setting about writing, towards the end of October (even though you will be reading this in December), I find myself wondering less what to say about the hope that I have, and more whether I do in fact have any hope at all.
I grew up in Ukraine. My family were missionaries in Odessa, on the coast in the south. I knew Ukraine as a beautiful, complicated place, where the breathtaking Black Sea, the wheatfields and the sunflowers coexisted with stark, grey Soviet-era buildings, and grim, angular Lenin statues grimacing at passersby. Odessa’s historic city center, featuring its famous Opera house, the sweeping Potemkin Steps, the cool shadow of acacia trees on Primorska Avenue overlooking the port, all built in eclectic 19th century Italian and French styles, stood elegant and all a little bit crumbly and neglected. It was a peaceful place, where as a teenager, my friends and I could ramble the city freely and expect to perhaps have an idiosyncratic adventure or two, before coming home for tea.
Our first big experience with violence came in 2013-14. You may or may not be familiar with the events of those years. First a revolution, then Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and the beginnings of war in the Donbas. Amidst the uncertainty, I found the book of Habakkuk, a book written by a prophet living in a small ancient country, under the looming threat of a huge expansionist empire, asking God to explain why he allows evil, violence, and injustice to prevail. Habakkuk asked the same questions I had. God never answers Habakkuk directly, but in their conversation, a picture of God’s promises, his justice and his rescue emerges, one I could hold on to. I still hold Habakkuk dear, but now, after eight years of war, the Russian invasion on February 24th, 2022, events in Israel/Palestine on October 7th and after, I think I understand better why in addition to Habakkuk, we also have the books of Lamentations and Job, and so many of the suffering Psalms.
I wonder what we mean when we talk about hope. Is hope merely a statement about one’s relative optimism or pessimism? Do I hope that my friends who are more directly affected by the war will come out unscathed? Or do I fear that they will be harmed? Do I hope that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will break through Russian lines in the Zaporizhya Oblast, liberate Ukrainian territory to the Black Sea and destroy the Kerch bridge? Or am I terrified that if they don’t the West will abandon Ukraine to its fate and Russian occupation with all its attendant horrors will dominate the region? What is the difference between hope and anxiety? Is hope an existential, religious conviction? Is it that my salvation is assured, the Kingdom of Heaven will prevail, all will be made right, even if in my lifetime, my family, friends, colleagues, and clients must watch the people and places we love be torn apart? Is hope to be so heavenly minded that the earthly is entirely irrelevant?
I don’t know how to answer any of these questions. I only really know a few things. I know the Lord draws near to the brokenhearted, and the crushed in spirit. I know that those who mourn, who hunger for righteousness, who are peacemakers are counted among the blessed. I know my own grief, rage, and fear. I know, as horrible as it is, I’m only on the periphery of this war, and that other people are caught much deeper in it than me. I know I’m in a position now to do a little bit to help people who are caught up in this mess, and for now it seems like the best thing to keep doing. So, each day I get up and see what little I can do. Taken together, does all that equal hope? You tell me.