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  • Nery Duarte

Uvalde, Texas, May/22

Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a new landscape.

- C. S. Lewis


While serving in Ukraine, I witnessed the aftermath of the massacre in Bucha where dozens of innocent people had lost their lives at the hands of Russian soldiers, including innocent children. Only one month later, I became an eyewitness to the aftermath of the massacre in Uvalde, TX, where 22 people lost their lives, mostly innocent children. What are the odds of one person being present in two tragedies that have shocked the world?


This week as I approached the end of my motorcycle journey while travelling through Texas, I decided to take backroads and planned a sleepover in the city of Uvalde, TX. As I was travelling through backroads, I enjoyed my trip’s solitude and the endless patches of desert land. Then suddenly, the peacefulness of my journey was broken by the blaring sound of sirens. Police, military trucks, fire trucks and several ambulances started rushing by me, a familiar sight I had become used to in Ukraine after missile attacks in the cities of Lviv and Kyiv. But this was not Ukraine. It was the United States…


My imagination began to flow with no internet available to know why so many emergency and police vehicles and even a low flying helicopter were rushing by. Was the United States under attack? Had WW3 started? I think I can write a book with all the things which went through my mind while traveling without news. As I seriously thought about the possibility of having to spend a long time stranded in the United States, I felt comforted to know that my motorbike was loaded with survival supplies which I intend to take back to my students in Ukraine. Fortunately, the uncertainty only lasted for a short time. Yet, unfortunately, I learned that the city I was heading to had suffered the second most deadly children’s school massacre in US history.


The decision was quickly made. I would travel to the community of Uvalde and offer counselling support to those affected by this tragedy. When I drove into the town of Uvalde, as I started to meet and share with relatives and friends of the victims, it felt like I had returned to Bucha, Irpin, or Chornobyl all over again. What I found rewarding was how easily I could connect with those hurting people when I shared with them that I had just returned from service in Ukraine.


You would think my life was already not interesting enough. Right at the school where the massacre occurred, I connected with a reporter working in Ukraine who had become interested in the fate of a missionary couple abducted in Mariupol. I had become concerned about their fate in Ukraine since I had lost track of them, and unfortunately, this reporter also had no news about their fate. I returned to the post where I was meeting people for counselling, discouraged by the lack of information about this couple. As I sat disheartened about the lack of news and while waiting for people for counselling, a couple and a pastor approached me and asked me if I needed prayer, and I said yes. As we began to speak, I discovered that they knew about this missionary couple in Ukraine, and they informed me that the couple were indeed safe and serving in “occupied territories.” On top of that, they would sponsor all of my trip expenses from Canada to Costa Rica along with the shipment of my bike, and they will make it possible for me to deliver a 4x4 ambulance and trailer back into Ukraine!


As I was preparing to finish my mission in Uvalde. I sat at the crisis center to have something to eat. I was tired. I had slept very little the last couple of days since I had attended the vigils organized by the community. I was not prepared to talk anymore, so I chose an empty table to sit at. Suddenly a middle-aged man came and asked if he could join my table. He seemed very interested in why I had chosen to come to serve them. I shared my story, which included my recent memories of the massacre of Bucha. I began to cry. The man, who also happens to be a brother in my Christian faith, gave me the sincerest condolences and words of encouragement. As I began to pull myself together, I asked who he was and what he was doing there. He responded, “I used to be the school principal where the massacre occurred.” Holding back tears, he added that the two teachers killed were close friends, and he knew each child and their families. “I dearly loved each child,” he said, still fighting tears. Then I realized that the man carrying such great grief had greatly encouraged me. A gentle reminder that God can use broken people to uplift other broken people…


Nery

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