We have all seen the heart-breaking footage of Ukrainian people fleeing their war-torn homes. The images of destruction, death, and heartache have stirred more collective empathy than we have experienced in quite a while. As an outsider looking in, I have always imagined the hardships faced by those leaving the chaos, but never really thought about those who have made the choice to stay…
Until I met Tatijana.
I had the privilege of meeting Tatijana Tevtul several months ago while attending an international educator’s conference near Warsaw, Poland. Tatijana has been teaching children in Ukraine for 29 years. She is also one of the amazing educators who decided to stay and teach in the midst of war.
During our time together, Tatijana shared that the Lord had called her to remain in Ukraine to aid in bringing help and hope to her students and their families during this dark time. She chose to obey but soon found that teaching in a war zone creates a variety of unique day-to-day challenges.
Tatijana’s classroom makeup continually changes due to the constant influx of people coming and going. Fear and uncertainty have become a part of daily life for those who have stayed. Students constantly worry that their family members will be forced to fight or that their town or village will be destroyed next. Many are also dealing with great loss… loss of family, friends, homes, and their sense of security. Some students are responding to the trauma of war by acting out; some are withdrawing; some are becoming clingy.
But the challenges do not end when the school day ends. A few of Tatijana’s students stay at the school building after classes are over because they have nowhere else to go. She has taken it upon herself to find supplies for them and provide extra love and support. Several of her students’ mothers are trying to care for their children alone since their husbands are off fighting or have died defending their country. Tatijana does her best to provide for their needs as well. Since most of the staff members in her school have fled, she and a few others are working hard to fulfill multiple roles as they support their students and their families.
As she told her story that day at the conference, I heard words such as exhaustion, anxiety, doubt, and even weariness. She admitted that these emotions have felt overwhelming at times. But, with a smile on her face, Tatijana acknowledged that these negative feelings are only present when she relies on her own strength. She understands that the only way she can fulfill God’s calling to continue teaching in a war zone is to rely on His strength.
When navigating any type of challenge, Tatijana said her first response is to talk to God and listen for His reply. He is always present, waiting for her. She doesn’t have to figure out a solution for everything because she has everything she needs through Him. He has helped her every step of the way. She simply asks and listens.
Tatijana also stressed the importance of understanding and walking in her God-given identity. She explained that her identity is not found in her role as a teacher. But rather, being a teacher is how she lives out her identity. She knows God has called her to be a motivator and encourager. When she puts her identity into action, she has a sense of purpose. She sees that she is making a difference. When she is living God’s plan for her life, she feels alive.
Even though God has called her to stay in Ukraine, surrounded by chaos and destruction, Tatijana has been able to serve with purpose and peace. Without her relationship with God, this would not be possible. According to Tatijana, “When you stay where God has you, you get the joy of the victories, both big and small. These victories come while coworking with God where He has settled you. If you run away and do things that you want, you may think it will bring you joy, but it won’t because it is not the place that God meant you to be. You can find joy and peace in a war zone. Until God releases me, that is where I will be.”
Responding to ChallengesTatijana has not allowed the difficulties of teaching in an area devastated by war to discourage her or cause her to flee. Instead, she has allowed these extreme circumstances to drive her closer to God, where she finds strength for the work He has given her.
How are you responding to the challenges and difficulties of teaching in your environment? How do you draw closer to God during uncertain times?
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Heather Kohnen has served in education for 30 years as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, and instructional coach. Currently, she is the Director of the AWAKE Ambassador Project for Christian Educators. Heather lives in Minnesota with her husband Corey and enjoys time with her adult children and granddaughter.
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