In December, I took a long-overdue trip to Germany and visited holiday markets in Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. This trip was planned for December 2021, but surging COVID cases across Europe last year caused holiday markets to shut down, and the trip was postponed.

How very different to be in Europe one year later. The energy crisis was a topic of conversation at every gathering. Some holiday lights didn’t shine as brightly. Castles were illuminated but for shorter periods of time. Some lights didn’t come on at all.

Yet spirits were bright because we could indeed gather and spend time with old friends and new acquaintances, and visit favorite spots with their special memories and smiles.

It was wonderful to be back in the Alps, where I lived for five years, and it made my heart happy to see the mountains in the sunshine, with their sprinkling of snow. Skiiers made their way up and down the fresh slopes, and in the valley, people were glad to be out in the streets, drinking gluehwein and able to take part in the season.

But the shadow remained. Both Slovakia and Hungary share a border with Ukraine, and although we were just 200 miles from that line we heard stories of the refugees and their struggles.  Both countries were doing their best for their neighbors but the unspoken topic was the fear of spreading conflict.  In Slovakia, a local artist displayed his posters along the river, showcasing his views on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

For Americans, the devastation of World War II took place in countries across the ocean, far away. To many in Eastern Europe, freedom and democracy are still new and fragile. Fear of a return to oppression, destruction, and loss of freedom was not a topic to be discussed. But the presence of an approaching fear was felt at every stop we made.

The women in The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line did what they had to do, to make a difference, contribute to the cause of freedom, and to fight back. They all made contributions that helped end the war. Thousands of young people are stepping up today, whether in direct contact with enemy invaders, or those who are continuing to volunteer to help others in desperate need of food, clothing and shelter from winter’s cold.

It is the stories of this generation we will hear next—their stories of service and sacrifice. May God bless them all.

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