Over the next few days I have the pleasure of hosting some of my friends who work with InterVarsity in California, James and Tatiana (who is 8 months pregnant!). As I adjust to my new life in Hawaii and develop new relationships, it’s a joy to cherish old friendships in a new place… I love having visitors! We spent the first 3 hours after their arrival doing what we do best in Hawaii–“talk story”– while eating macadamia nuts and poi (pounded taro root).
Since InterVarsity has formed us to be sensitive to issues of culture, we naturally spent a lot of time talking about my adjustment to life in Hawaii and their upcoming adjustment to life in Ukraine when they, Lord willing, move there this fall. While James is a born-and-bred American boy with heritage in the UK, Tatiana’s family immigrated from Ukraine. The door has opened for them to return to her home country to join the local campus ministry. James is studiously learning to speak Ukrainian and Tatiana is growing their American-Ukrainian child in utero who is bound to have an exciting life as a cross-cultural little person!
When I shared with Tatiana that my paternal grandfather was a German immigrant from the Ukraine in the late 1920’s, she excitedly flipped through the book Under the Red Star* by my great-great uncle Mark Houseman, to see where they had lived. To our amazement, the village of Rudakopf in the province of Wolynean where the Kuhns’ homestead was located, is only a 30 minute drive from the place where she was born! We concluded that we must be distant cousins… regardless of the fact that she has Polish-Ukranian heritage and my family is German. 😉
This realization did something to me. It took one part of my European heritage out of the realm of myth and into the realm of reality, and it put my ancestry on the map. As tensions and violence rage along the Russia-Ukranian border, I often think, my cousins are out there somewhere in the midst of this conflict… I could be there with them if it wasn’t for my great-grandparents’ choice to emigrate. But they did move to the nation of immigrants we call the United States of America and from then on, my family continued moving east.
Come to think of it, my family has nearly completed a circuit around the globe! In 1927, they left the Ukraine and traveled through England to Quebec and eventually settled in Michigan. My American-born father followed God’s call to China in the 1980’s where he met my mom (who was born and raised in Japan). They lived in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Now all we need to do is pass through the middle east and we’ll be back where we started!
I’m thankful to have discovered more of my roots in Ukraine. In some way, at least ethereally, I’m tied to land out there in Eastern Europe. One day maybe I will go there myself when James & Tatiana return the favor of hospitality! 😉
*In this book, self-published in 1958 by the author, he documents the exile of German residents in Russia to Siberia under Lenin. Many died in this grueling journey, but my great-grandma (pictured left) lived to move her family to the US. Her sister Adina died soon after this picture was taken in the cholera outbreak in the city of Orenburg.