EEA: On Family, Trust, and Religion

In September 2021, the decision was made to focus our EEA communications work in the first half of 2022 on the theme “East meets West – West meets East”. The aim was to create a platform for dialogue with our newsletters, particularly between Western and Eastern Europe, where we could hear one another, learn from each other and celebrate that together we are the Body of Christ in Europe. Never had we thought that this topic would get such a different connotation as it is the case now. Due to the current Ukraine war and many resulting encounters of people from Western Europe and Ukraine in host families, at work or in aid projects, the interview in this edition will deal with the understanding of family, trust and religion in the context of the UK and Ukraine. We are very pleased that Lyudmila Bryn (Ukraine) and Richard Procter (UK) have agreed to share their perspective on this topic. Lyudmila Bryn has been involved full-time in training adults for effective ministry with children for 23 years. She directs Children Mission International, an interdenominational ministry that equips Christians in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Since 2015, she has also been serving as the 4-14 Windows Movement Coordinator for Eastern Europe. Richard Procter lives in England with his wife and 2 daughters. He currently serves as the Leading Coordinator for World Without Orphans Europe.

What role does the family play in your context? Which values are particularly important in dealing with family?

Lyudmila: The classic family model of father, mother and child is no longer the usual reality, but still a dream for most Ukrainians. Financial possibilities determine whether two or sometimes three generations live under one roof or whether one has a separate apartment for the family. Often younger families live in big cities where there are jobs, while their parents resp. grandparents live in smaller towns or in the countryside. Some families are very close, although they live far from each other, others are even quite hostile to each other but still share the same apartment.

As we could see from the pictures in the media showing people fleeing Ukraine because of the war, pets are also considered family members, valuable enough to be taken with them. I think this is especially true for the urban population.

Certain family traditions are typical for most families – both believers and non-believers: a child’s birthday, anniversaries, and at least once per summer season a barbecue with family or friends.

Richard: Ask me about my family and I think of my wife and 2 daughters – the nuclear family. Grandparents are important, and we see aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews several times a year, but they are ‘wider family’. I think this is like many families in the UK, especially where wider family live in different parts of the country as do ours.

Immediate family and its mutual support are central to each of our lives. To see our children thrive physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually is a driving force. This is especially true for us because our daughters were adopted at a young age and carry the impact of early neglect and trauma – virtually every day is geared around their needs and helping them to grow, despite that they are now young adults.

Certain habits are important to us – we still eat together at a table every day and we discuss the events of the day. We attend church together regularly, and when our daughters were younger, we read the Bible and prayed with them every day. Now it is a case of encouraging them in their faith.

Are there distinctive role models within the family and which values are particularly important in raising children?

Richard: I think in the UK, we have become more fluid about specific roles in the family than, say, 50 years ago. My father was the breadwinner and my mother the home maker. In our home, we both work professionally and share the household tasks – I love to cook! We discuss in detail and agree all aspects of the childcare. Much of working this out falls to my wife, but I am very involved.

In raising our children, we have strong values about encouraging them, being positive with them whilst allowing them to feel natural consequences of behaviour – there are boundaries, but we coach more than direct, especially as they are older. Kindness is a key value we look to instil. It is not OK for us to shout at the children (it happens!), to smack (remember they were abused as small children), to embarrass them in front of others.

Lyudmila: I think in Ukraine the role models within the family were influenced by our recent history. After World War II, when millions of men died, it was the women who had to take the lead in providing for their families and raising the children. Very few of them were able to raise a generation of responsible men who knew how to take the lead in their families as adults. We are now the third or fourth postwar generation, but we still feel the lack of responsible and caring men in families and in society. Alcohol and drug abuse has its roots in the disappointments of totalitarian rule and later in the inability to adapt to a new system of free economy. It is still one of the main factors ruining family life.

Children are generally brought up with respect for their parents, but since the role of the mother is so important and there is a high percentage of single-mother families, mothers are usually treated with greater respect and gratitude. In this context, I should mention that if you have a loving father, you are envied. This is not a common reality, but it is highly desired by many.

What is especially important in public interactions with children from your cultural context?

Lyudmila: Having children is important in the Ukraine. A family without children is still considered ‘not a real family’ in many contexts. In public, children are expected to ‘behave’, meaning they are allowed to run around but not to make much noise. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is mandatory.

Another popular trend is ‘children need to be kept busy’, which means that whenever possible, good parents try to get their child into a music school or sports club, take them to drawing or dance classes, and tutor them in IT, robotics, gymnastics, English, or the like. Of course, this depends on the availability and access to various extracurricular activities in different regions.

Richard: Politeness is a great British value and children are encouraged to learn this – say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’. Greet adults and respond to them when they talk with you. Do not argue! Bad behaviour is frowned upon and parents will be criticised if they let their children behave badly.
Yet children will also be encouraged to play, will be praised if they do something do in public – maybe helping adults with a job, or a small achievement of performance. Having also travelled extensively in eastern Europe, it does seem to me that British children are not encouraged so young to develop confidence at performing publicly – e.g. singing, reading or dancing. It strikes me that is a strength that we often lack, though maybe we are better at this in the church, where there are multiple opportunities to sing or serve others.

What role does religion play in your context and how is religion lived out in family and work life?

Lyudmila: Ukraine is a country where up to 80-85% would describe themselves as believers. Christianity is the most important religion, along with Islam and Judaism. But even within the Christian tradition, there are several major churches – Orthodox (Russian and Ukrainian), Catholic, Greek Catholic, several influential Protestant associations, and Armenian Orthodox – which has led to pronounced religious freedom at all levels in the country – from the family to the workplace to politics.

In my personal experience, Protestant believers are no longer perceived as ‘sectarians’, at least in major cities and smaller towns where local churches have gained the trust of local communities. Christmas and Easter are public holidays. However, these are often the only days that most of these 80-85% attend some type of religious services.

Each family has its own religious traditions – from long-held traditions, such as cooking specific foods on certain religious holidays, to new ones, such as Advent at Christmas or Easter. The majority of families own a Bible.

Richard: In our family, Christian faith is very important. Prayer, playing of worship music is frequent, attending church meetings and mixing with others. Although one of our daughters, aged 20, professes not to be Christian, we often hear her playing worship music and she comes to church weekly. Conversation around faith matters is normal.

These are no doubt common practices in Christian families but are not at all the norm outside the small percentage of people who regularly attend church or are active in another faith in the UK. For most, religion has no place, and church is old fashioned and irrelevant in their minds. Equally, Sundays are a day of social activity, a good day for shopping and many more now work on Sundays than even 20-30 years ago.

How do you build trust in your cultural context?

Richard: Trust is about time in most of England, I believe. There is a general level of trust across the UK – honest dealings in shops, trust of professionals such as doctors and teachers are assumed until it is broken by an individual or an institution.

At a personal level, people will be polite but generally not openly friendly or trusting at the level of inviting them as guests until they have had time to get to know each other or something brings them together such as being part of the same club or group. Socialising would tend to take place in cafes or pubs rather than homes until you know someone well.

However it does vary regionally and people from the northern England and the other UK nations have a reputation for being much warmer with people – starting with friendliness and some trust until the opposite is proven.

Lyudmila: I think, in general, people in Ukraine trust each other. Here we are very people-oriented, while of course there are angry, cruel and hurt people whose trust has been betrayed. Trust is earned through actions. There is a saying that when you meet someone for the first time, you may be charmed by their looks and words, but then it is only their actions that have an effect.

From various surveys conducted over the past 8 years, it is clear that people trust the church first and then the army. The government, local authorities and the president are generally trusted very little. Some people, politicians or public figures, are trusted more than institutions or systems. I think this proves the principle mentioned above that actions should confirm words.

What advice would you give to people from another cultural context for living or working together with people from your cultural context?

Lyudmila: When you ask me ‘How are you?’ be ready to listen. If you listen enough, it is a sure step to a deeper connection. Please remember what you heard, especially if it is a problem or concern. The next time you ask not just, ‘How are you?’ but, ‘How did it go with this or that?’ – you become special because you remember me and details of my life situation.

Even in the work situation, people generally appreciate it when you understand and pay attention to their life circumstances: The child may get sick, the mother is in the hospital and needs to be visited. Personal support and appreciation lead to openness and a desire to find ways to help you in return.

Richard: Be polite, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. People will greet strangers with a smile. Don’t be offended if not invited into people’s houses as much as at home but be prepared to build friendships by meeting in more public places. Though I would say that churches are more welcoming than this.

Politeness can mean less direct communication so if you would like direct feedback, ask. Finally, if someone offers food or drink, accept as they may not offer again – it is not our culture as it is in some places, for 2-3 ‘no thank you’s to be the courtesy.

Originally published on the European Evangelical Alliance

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