Speaking of hope, I cannot imagine a more hopeful way to have spent this anniversary of Sept. 11 than with a few of our newer friends and neighbors on the courthouse lawn here in Lucas County during Chariton’s first --- we hope of many --- Ukrainianfest.
To understand why we were celebrating, you need to know that during the last 10 years Lucas County’s population of religious refugees from an area that includes Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Moldova has grown from zero to perhaps 700. That’s a huge deal down here in a small rural county. They’re good neighbors (and great cooks). These neighbors of ours also form Iowa’s largest population of people from this region, although other settlements have radiated from this home base.
Most are devout Pentecostal Christians, many actively persecuted during the days of the former Soviet Union, many still fearful of conditions in unsettled newly-independent republics. Some are natives of the Chernobyl region and suffer from after-effects of radiation exposure. They worship in three Chariton congregations.
They are here in large part simply because this was the area of the United States that reminded them the most of home --- and because they were welcomed. All ages are represented. And language still is a barrier for these older newer Iowans and for recent arrivals.
For the cost of a $5 wristband, we ate all we could of every Ukrainian main dish and dessert imaginable, listened to some wonderful music and a certain amount of preaching (didn’t hurt at all) and just sat there in the cool sunshine of a perfect Iowa Saturday amazed that such things could come to pass.
One of the older leaders of the community, speaking through an interpreter, recalled how surprised he was to discover after arriving here --- a victim of persecution who had brought his family far from its former home in search of religious freedom and opportunity --- to discover how few of us actually worshipped in the dozens of fine church buildings scattered around Chariton. He then prayed, in Russian, that Chariton would be blest --- and perhaps (I suspect) revived.
It’s was interesting and humbling to spend a little time among people who have higher expectations of their new neighbors than we do of ourselves.