When you think of God’s family, how far does that family stretch for you? Is it your closest Christian friends, your youth group, the members of your congregation or the entire church in Scotland? But how often do you think of the family of God on an international scale? I know that I hadn’t before I went to Ukraine in February with the gap year team for our international mission trip.

While we were there we saw and did so much: we taught ceilidh dances to high school pupils, we gave out Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in primary schools, we played games with children in after school clubs and visited Independence Square after some of the worst protests and violence the city has ever seen.

Ukraine group

But for me, the biggest impact hit when we visited local Ukrainian churches. We went to two churches during our stay, and both were amazing in their own way. Neither had particularly big, thriving congregations – in fact the average age was around 60 and the number of people was between 8 and 12 – and the worship consisted of just their voices, singing from battered hymn books from Soviet times. But despite lacking the components of what’s seen to make a great church back in the UK, it was here that we felt the most welcomed and truly part of something huge, despite such small numbers. Ukrainian foodIn the first we visited, we shared our testimonies with them, and then they all promised they would pray for us and laid out a table heaving with food just for us. They were not wealthy people; they met for church in a run-down little house out in the countryside, but even though they had so little they gave us all that they could to make us feel welcomed. In the second, we shared our testimonies again and an elderly lady came to me afterwards and gave me a verse she had picked specially for me: “You need only remain calm; the Lord will fight for you.” Exodus 14:14. She had listened and seen I was worried about my future, so she wanted to show me God was with me, fighting for me. Their hospitality and genuine care for us in spite of not knowing us at all was overwhelming. It was like God was saying “I am here. Not just in Scotland, not just the UK but all over the world. This is my family.” There were times when the trip was difficult, but on a whole it was one of the most significant impacts on my faith and it opened my eyes to see that I have brothers and sisters in Christ wherever I go.

“So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

Written by Kirsty Geddes, gap year. Find out more about SU Scotland's gap year programme.