Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Holidays

We carried out the first of several holiday events in the orphanage last week. At first we wanted to put on a Christmas performance, with gifts and entertainment. But the orphanage said that they had their own plans and would be celebrating the Russian Orthodox Christmas in January. They did agree to letting us organize a craft and decorating session.


We planned many crafts and brought all the materials. It didn't go exactly as planned, but we managed to decorate some of the main rooms...





...and ourselves.









Even some of the older kids got involved.


We hope that the kids will get used to having us around and that long-term relationships will be formed between adults and kids.

Update: We've been given permission to put on a Christmas program in the orphanage next Sunday, December 23rd. This is wonderful! Our project team as well as church members are busy preparing some music, skits, and games, as well as gifts for the kids and orphanage staff.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dreams

What is a dream? I don't mean the kind in your sleep, but that longing for something specific to happen.

There was a time when I didn’t believe in dreams. Someone asked me, “What do you dream about?” and I said “I don’t dream.” It seemed too fantastical to me, to spend time and energy indulging in thoughts about a plan that may never be realized.

I hated the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. My life is not my own. What if I answer the question and then things happen differently? Why verbalize something uncertain? When I tried to picture myself in the future, I could see only a black nothingness. Was I going to die? I couldn’t imagine what career I would have. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Why should I answer if I don’t know? If God has not revealed it to me, why should I make a guess?

I also dislike the wishes that come from other people. “I wish you well.” What does that mean? Am I obligated to say thank you? If they simply desire for me to have a good life, what does that do for me? Is there any action that accompanies the words? “I wish you love, happiness, success.” As if I weren’t already seeking those things for myself. “I wish you a Merry Christmas.” It sounds pretty, but is it effective?

It’s not that I’m superstitious. I don’t think that spoken wishes are in danger of remaining unfulfilled just because they have been publicized. However, timing does have importance.

13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit."
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are {just} a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15 Instead, {you ought} to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
(Jas.4:13-15)

The word “dream” sometimes has a lofty, ambitious feel to it, but here is the meaning it once had:
From Webster’s dictionary (1913):
“A visionary scheme; a wild conceit; an idle fancy; a vagary; a revery; -- in this sense, applied to an imaginary or anticipated state of happiness; as, a dream of bliss; the dream of his youth.

There sober thought pursued the amusing theme, Till Fancy colored it and formed a dream. -Pope.

It is not them a mere dream, but a very real aim which they propose. -J. C. Shairp.”

Meanwhile, my non-Christian friend was shocked that I didn’t have any “dreams.” I felt a little guilty for sounding negative. After all, I do have hope for the future, and I must tell others about it. God does make promises. Sometimes they aren’t as specific as we’d like, but they are enough to keep us looking towards the future. There are perfectly Biblical “dreams” we can have: dreams that our loved ones will turn to Jesus, dreams for our lives to glorify God, dreams that our children’s lives will glorify God. They are godly goals to strive towards.

I do have dreams. There are a few things that I strongly desire to see come about. I don’t know if the Lord wills it, but I will pray and ask Him about it. And maybe someday I will find the words and tell about it.

Advancing

The other day I was in the orphanage helping kids with English, when suddenly a girl needed help with her Science homework. The teacher sent her over to read it aloud to me. I was like, ummm, did she forget I'm not a native speaker?

So Vika came over with her book about "The World Around Us" and started to read to me a text on mushrooms. Surprisingly, I understood every word! We memorized the names of six mushrooms in Russian, three edible and three non-edible. We also memorized guidelines on how to pick mushrooms and learned the three parts of the mushroom and the role of mushrooms in the environment. I'm pretty sure American school curricula don't go into this amount of detail on mushrooms, although there was a mycologist living down the street from the house where I grew up.

So my Russian has now passed third grade. Pretty exciting!

Overheard recently

Mother (referring to old cartoon): "This is from my childhood!"
3-year-old: "No, it's MY childhood!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hymn #4- Speak, Lord, in the Stillness (The Quiet Hour)

This hymn can be sung as a prayer.

I like the line "blissful, glad surrender." Sometimes it is such a struggle to surrender, and we battle with our own flash, but then we feel the sweetness of the fellowship with Jesus.


Speak, Lord, in the stillness
While I wait on Thee;
Hushed my heart to listen,
In expectancy.

Speak, O blessèd Master,
In this quiet hour,
Let me see Thy face, Lord,
Feel Thy touch of power.

For the words Thou speakest,
“They are life” indeed;
Living Bread from Heaven,
Now my spirit feed!

All to Thee is yielded,
I am not my own;
Blissful, glad surrender,
I am Thine alone.

Fill me with the knowledge
Of Thy glorious will;
All Thine own good pleasure
In my life fulfill.

Like “a watered garden”
Full of fragrance rare,
Ling’ring in Thy presence
Let my life appear.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Looking for escape

This is Masha (middle), from one of the orphanages I visit. Today she was sitting by herself in the foyer as I was leaving.

"I haven't seen you around much," she said.

"I'm here every Wednesday," I replied. Masha said she has two brothers, who both got married recently. I asked her if she attended the weddings.

"No. The first one took place during the summer while I was at camp. And I had a fight with my other brother, so I didn't go to his wedding." I asked her if she had plans for New Year's vacation, and she said she was going "home."

"It's boring here in the orphanage!" she blurted out suddenly. She looks different now from the picture, which was taken three years ago. More make-up. More serious. Becoming aware of how dismal her life is.


As I left, I thought about the paperwork needed for adoption, and I wondered if Masha has a chance.

There is a group looking for ministry opportunities in orphanages, and this one is a candidate. Maybe by some miracle the administration will agree.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Elections

Last weekend, I went with my friends to the elections for State Duma (and to get a fresh-baked roll from the school cafeteria).


From most appearances, the elections didn't seem much different from those in the States. But appearances aren't everything. Who knows what was going on behind the scenes?

Putin's party won by a landslide.

Friday, December 7, 2007

...crazy teacher

In the orphanage the other day, I was helping one of the kids with the alphabet. He was fairly confident that he didn't need any more practice, so I handed him the flashcards and asked him to put them in order. We ended up with something that didn't quite resemble the alphabet. The other kids then helped, though, and we got things in order.

Meanwhile, I had a nostalgia moment and suddenly burst into Big Bird's rendition of "ABC-DEF-GHI" when he thinks the Alphabet is one long word.

And thanks to the Internet, you can watch it on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pr5er4ueWBQ

Here are the lyrics:

ABC-DEF-GHI
sung by Big Bird (Carroll Spinney)
Music and Lyrics by Joe Raposo & Jon Stone

ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
It's the most remarkable word I've ever seen
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
I wish I knew exactly what I mean
It starts out like an "A" word as anyone can see
But somewhere in the middle it gets awful "QR" to me
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
If I ever find out just what this word can mean
I'll be the smartest bird the world has ever seen!

It might be kind of an elephant Or a funny kind of kazoo
Or strange, exotic turtle You never see in a zoo
Or maybe a kind of a doggie Or particular shade of blue
Or maybe a pretty flower Naah, not with a name like that, Uh uh!

ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
It's the most remarkable word I've ever seen
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
I wish I knew exactly what I mean
It starts out like an "A" word as anyone can see
But somewhere in the middle it gets awful "QR" to me
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
If I ever find out just what this word can mean
I'll be the smartest bird the world has ever seen!

As transcribed by Jon Cooke and William Powell

The kids thought I was pretty strange when I sang it to them, but oh well. I'll blame it on being an American. ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Crazy kids

I got to the orphanage yesterday and the teenage boys approached me mumbling something in "English." Apparently they had heard it on the radio or something and wanted a translation, but I couldn't understand a word they were saying.

"But you supposedly know English!" they laughed.
"That's not English!" I said.

My hesitation led them to believe that I simply didn't want to reveal the true meaning of the words. I probably should have just made something up.

Lolita was alone today and we worked on her "passport." It's a little book with biographical information, which the kids can use to collect stickers. Lolita is getting adopted soon, though, by a Christian family from the U.S. The court date is supposedly in a few weeks. She went on our hosting program a year or two ago. Since then, her orphanage hasn't been very cooperative, especially as far as Americans are concerned. It's too bad because the kids there are fairly needy. Perhaps once our Russian hosting program gets off the ground, the orphanage will be more open to working with us.



Then Zina came in and tortured Lolita for a few minutes while we finished up the lesson. I still haven't figured where Zina was all that time. I asked her where she was and she said "I was out." I said "For a whole year?" and she just giggled.


I went on to the next group, where we finished up passports as well. Every single child, upon being given the gluestick, immediately took the cap off and sniffed the glue numerous times.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Preparations

Despite looking for ideas months in advance, it's now Dec.5th and I still haven't finished making the Advent calendar.



We're pretty much on track with the Jesse Tree though. Our tree may be sparkly silver and the ornaments made of paper, but it's still the same idea. We are enjoying the daily readings. Oops, I haven't done today's ornament...

Meditation

Reading the Bible and praying: obvious ways for a Christian to spend time with God, but there is so much variation in the way you could accomplish these two activities!

I have trouble reading the Bible and then praying as if they were two separate tasks. When I’m reading the Bible, my thoughts wander to the cares of life. I try to push those thoughts out, and then when it’s time to pray, I forget what concerns I have. And after praying, I forget what I’d read in the Bible just moments before.

While reading “Desiring God” by John Piper, I came across a quote by George Mueller about how his reading and prayer time went.

“The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; not for the sake or [sic] preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.” –from “George Mueller of Bristol,” quoted in Piper

I like this concept of natural progression into prayer, rather than trying to follow a schedule. Our hearts were designed to respond to God’s word, and what better response than to turn to Him in prayer?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hymn #3- What I know

Today's hymn grabbed me with its title: "I Know Whom I Have Believed."

At Sunday school (Adult) we are learning about the attributes of God: His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. There are so many things that are too great for our human minds to conceive! And yet, there are some things that we can be certain of, despite our lack of understanding. In this lies our faith.



I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

Refrain
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

Refrain

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

Refrain

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

Refrain

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

Refrain

At the bottom of the page on cyberhymnal.org, I noticed that there was a Russian translation. So I'll add that here too.


Не знаю, почему открыт
Мне благодати дар,
Иль почему спасенья щит
Мне дан от вечных кар.

Припев:
Но я знаю, в Кого я верю,
Ничто меня с Христом не разлучит;
И Он мне спасенье вручит
В день, когда опять придет.

Не знаю, как мой Бог дает
Мне веры слух живой.
И как та вера мир несет
Скорбящему душой.

Припев

Не знаю я, как Дух Святой
К греху внушает страх,
И как дает Христос благой
Прощение в грехах.

Припев

Не знаю я, что в жизни мне
Назначено нести,
И как меня к родной стране
Бог хочет довести.

Припев

Не знаю времени, ни дня,
Когда Господь придет,
Иль как чрез смерть иль Сам меня
В тот день Он позовет.
Припев

Winter activities

December1 marked the first day of winter in Russia. Last week, we took a group of orphans to an ice skating rink. For many of them, it was their first time on ice skates.







We also took some families along who are interested in adoption, so they could get to know the kids a little.










A fun time was had by all.




Saturday, December 1, 2007

Safety regulations

They say that Americans are obsessed with physical safety. I hadn't really thought about it before. I rather like our laws about safety(seatbelts, helmets, etc). It seems like common sense to me. But maybe that just proves the stereotypes to be true.

At any rate, here is a classic Russian example. The handpainted notice indicates that you can obtain the key to the basement by calling the listed telephone number. The door to the basement is padlocked. This raises all sorts of questions. Why is the basement locked? What is down there? What happens if there is an emergency? Whose number is listed, and is it possible to actually reach them? Yes, the great "key hunt" is a part of everyday life in Russia. Maybe it makes sense to them...




And here we have people playing with fire right near a crosswalk. The building burned down and the demolition guys decided to make some sparks fly with whatever that tool is called. Point, being, fire near people=dangerous. Or not? They did put a rope around the building...which doesn't exactly exceed the radius of the sparks shooting out. I don't think I've ever seen a "danger: hardhat area" sign in Russia. But maybe I'm just paranoid?


I do think I've gotten better at ignoring such differences. When I'm riding the public transportation, I just hang on tight and pray. What else can you do?

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Second Coming

I usually associate Advent (which begins on Sunday) with the birth of Christ. However, during Advent we are meant to not only remember the First Coming, but prepare our hearts for the return of Christ! I was reminded of this as I read Revelation 5 this morning.

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits
of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." (Rev.5:4-10, NIV)

You are worthy, O Lord!


Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped. (11-14)

Just as the shepherds and wise men came to worship the newborn King, so we will kneel before Him in heaven.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A boy and his cat

I arrived at Seva's house and there was a big box sitting on his bed.


"What's that, Seva?" I asked. "A robot?" (He wants to be a robotic engineer)

"Kitten house!" he announced proudly.


I looked inside, and sure enough...


Marcelle poked her head out to see what was disturbing her slumber.

And Seva checked up on her periodically...


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The return of Zina

I've waited for months to be able to write this post. I hadn't seen Zina (mentioned in an earlier post. ) for over a year. When I visited the orphanage, the kids always said "She ran away," or "She's in the hospital." Sometimes they said she had been in the orphanage, but that I had missed her. It was all very strange and I prayed for her safety. Then today I arrived at the orphanage, and I saw her. We couldn't talk because we were rushing in opposite directions. But now I know that she is alive.












Here are the younger kids whom I now teach. Aren't they beautiful? :)







Today my new roommate Zhenya came to help with the lesson. She's of Korean descent, and the kids weren't sure if she was Russian or not. So we pretended that she spoke only English, and the kids were incredibly well-behaved! They tried hard to speak English, or when speaking Russian, tried hard to "help" her understand.





(We were only slightly in pain when the photo above was taken.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Music


Last Saturday, our church hosted a music outreach. We worked together with friends, both Christians and non-Christians, to put on a concert. The invitations read, “Music for the soul.” We kept the content uplifting, but not necessarily preachy. It was meant to be a neutral zone where performers and spectators could enjoy music together in a friendly atmosphere.

Below: Igor, the coordinator, puts together the final song list. Lida and I played a classical piece. We were accompanied by Lena, who teaches music in one of the orphanages I regularly visit. It was quite a feat for all the musicians, us included, to find the time to practice. But the rehearsals provided a chance for fellowship, and the results were quite pleasing!



Later we had the "cafe" portion- a time for refreshments and conversation.

Below, I chatted with an employee from the children's hospital where Sveta from church works. Sveta faithfully prays for her co-workers and witnesses to them. In the summer, we washed windows at the hospital and had a chance to get to know the nurses. With events like the concert, we continue to have personal contact.




Hymns #2

Today I was searching my Bible for the book of "Hezekiah." Sigh. In my defense, I was looking at a table with people in one column and scripture references in another, and I got confused.

Meanwhile, one of the hymns I've been listening to from cyberhymnal.org is "More love to Thee, O Christ." The words were written by Elizabeth Prentiss, the author of the book "Stepping Heavenward."

More Love to Thee, O Christ

More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest;Now Thee alone I seek, give what is best.This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Monday, November 26, 2007

When it pays to be a packrat

Making Christmas decorations is easier when you never throw anything away! Here we decorated our doorway with old greeting cards. They don't even have to be Christmas cards, but we picked more colorful ones. The difficult part was getting it to stay up with paper-clips and Scotch tape.





Later my roommate walked in and asked, "Do you know what I can do with my old socks?" And I pulled out a book of instructions for how to make stuffed animals out of old socks and gloves.

It's not hard using old things...but it is hard to keep from acquiring new ones!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Update on the Crying Boy

Yesterday's kids were difficult, but today's kids were angelic. I will focus on today's kids, because I'm just not sure what to think about yesterday's.

Liosha (from last week) was smiling and cheerful today, even chatty. That is, until the hairdressers came and he hid in the closet. I wonder what makes him so afraid of people? Although, I'm afraid of the hairdresser too.

Denis, also timid, was eager for English today too. And he kept making this show of pulling my chair out for me.

Then Roma surprised me by also being willing to do English. Normally he is stand-offish.

Finally, I went to the younger group and tutored another Roma, the sweetest boy. I always scold myself for thinking kids are sweet and letting them manipulate me, but he truly is. It was very pleasant.

So basically I spent the day surrounded by angelic English students. Was it all a dream?

And now I've written the most boring post ever, all because there is nothing negative to analyze!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hymns #1

I recently signed up for a Hymn-a-day at Cyber Hymnal . You can read the text and background information while listening to the Midi file. At first I wasn't too crazy about the Midi files, but you can listen and sing along while reading the text. I haven't been looking at the hymn each day, but I'd like to learn 1 or 2 "new" hymns a week. They have great teachings in them.

While I was browsing and waiting for the hymns to arrive by e-mail, the tune for the first song I looked at was composed by a man (George Kingsley) in my hometown!

And the words are by Harriet Beecher Stowe. You can go to the main page and find this hymn in the title list.

Abide in Me, O Lord

Abide in me, O Lord, and I in Thee,
From this good hour, oh, leave me nevermore;
Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed,
The lifelong bleeding of the soul be o’er.

Abide in me; o’ershadow by Thy love
Each half formed purpose and dark thought of sin;
Quench ere it rise each selfish, low desire,
And keep my soul as Thine, calm and divine.

As some rare perfume in a vase of clay,
Pervades it with a fragrance not its own,
So, when Thou dwellest in a mortal soul,
All Heaven’s own sweetness seems around it thrown.

Abide in me; there have been moments blest
When I have heard Thy voice and felt Thy power;
Then evil lost its grasp; and passion, hushed,
Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.

These were but seasons beautiful and rare;
Abide in me, and they shall ever be;
Fulfill at once Thy precept and my prayer,
Come, and abide in me, and I in Thee.

Has Seva met his match?

After Seva's pet rat passed away, a cat soon joined the family.

Recently during a lesson, the cat was lying on the bed and Seva jumped on top of him. I was nervous that the cat would jump up and bite someone (like me), but the reaction went no further than snarls and hisses.

Today with mild reluctance, the cat endured yet another torture session.

Note the tv in the bedroom. Sigh.

The child is creative, I will give him that.

Church

Last Sunday at church, we gathered to take a group photo. Some amateur photos were taken as we tried to assemble ourselves!

(Note: the little girl in the orange is holding her craft from our Sunday school class! We are almost done with Creation. :) We made sun, moon and stars mobiles. The kids were more interested in running around shouting "it's flying!" than the lesson itself. Oh well.)






The next photo is more of the same, but I have to point out that some of our Sunday school props made it into this photo as well.



Photos by Gena

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Misery

I was in the orphanage again and the kids were misbehaving. In every group I visited, they were running around and the counselors were yelling. In group 2, there were struggles to get homework done. Some were fooling around and others were having trouble with Algebra. Liosha, 12, sat slumped over with his head on the desk. He was usually subdued, but today was especially listless. A bad day at school? Or had something from his past resurfaced?

Later we all stood in the hallway talking and I could heard Liosha weeping. The counselor closed the door so he could be alone. No one seemed particularly upset, but I couldn’t bear to hear him crying.



After a tour of the orphanage for some of my co-workers who were there for the first time, the head counselor invited us into her office and gave us lists of the kids and told them all about them. She’s a very kind lady. She will help us identify kids who have no one left, so that we can connect them with local families. We have had a few excursions, but have some paperwork to complete before families can visit the orphanage grounds or take kids home.


I walked home, blinded by tears. My heart was broken by the misery I had witnessed. But then I remembered the meeting with the head counselor. There is hope that the kids will find families. They are not abandoned.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Middle school

Oh, how I dreaded middle school!

A friend recently asked me to visit the school where she teaches English as a foreign language. The school is public but specializes in English. I said I would visit, but didn’t know when. Then this week a morning freed up, so told her I was available. She called me at about 10:30 pm on Monday night and I was going to visit on Tuesday.

“You can talk about yourself and about America. Then in the second half, you can talk about Jesus. Eighth grade is studying Ecology and seventh grade Education systems, and with the fifth grade you can talk about anything.” Ummm, okay. Panic attack! I managed to grab some photos from various albums before drifting off to sleep.

As we entered the school, I felt the familiar stress from the school days: social hierarchy, too much homework, sleeplessness, godlessness….my friend didn’t seem too thrilled about it either. She is from a Baptist church and they are very strict about contact with the World.

When the kids came in, they had to stand up and say “Good morning” and remain until the teacher told them to sit down. Then she introduced me and told them that they now had an opportunity to listen to me and ask questions, and that they should use the time wisely.

I passed around photos of my life in America and fielded questions from the students. The younger kids had been instructed to prepare questions as homework, and had 10 each. Some of them were interesting and others were obviously written in haste. From the Ecology group I got questions like “What do you use water for and do you waste water?” Or, “What ecological problems exist in America?” From the Education group I got questions like “How many years do American children study?” and “Does America have a good school system?” Then of course there were the personal questions about why I’m in Russia and what my favorite color/book/film/t.v. show/magazine is.

There were a few teen questions as well.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.” (giggles from the kids…)

“What are your favorite colors?” “Black and red.” (excited whispers…) “Do you like pink?” “Yes.” (rumors went around the room that I was an Emo fan….)

“What kind of jeans do you like? Low-cut or high-cut?” "Ummm, I like them to fit me and not fall down."

I was nervous as to what Natasha had said about telling them about Jesus. Was that allowed? What should I say? But some of the questions made an easy transition. It was natural to talk about my favorite holidays as relating to my faith. Even questions about the environment provided an opportunity, as I explained how I don’t know much about science, but believe that God created the world that we see around us. I also talked about how God had led me here to Russia.

The 9th-graders were not surprisingly the most challenging. Whereas the 5th-graders had jumped out of their seats to ask questions, the 9th-graders were apathetic. Their lesson was meant to be computer-based, making today an exception. Some of them sat at computers and logged into Facebook while others chose to listen to what I had to say. We talked about fastfood and learning foreign languages. I found myself lecturing about university being more interesting, but that they needed to do well in school so they could be better prepared for university. :)

The five classes went by fast, but I was tired. I admire school teachers who are with their students for the whole day, every day. I can barely manage two or three classes in a row. I do think that teaching a foreign language is a little more straining on the vocal cords because you have to annunciate very clearly and repeat the same words endlessly.

And so, I enjoyed being a special guest…but I’m not sure if I could handle the regular position!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The next generation?

I should have known it was a bad sign that Seva was making bombs when I arrived for his English lesson.



I was bitten and put in a headlock before we even began. After about 20 minutes of waiting for him to stop playing and get ready for English, I was getting irritated.

"Okay, I'm going home," I announced, and made my way towards the door.

"Noooo, one minute," he said.

"Nope, I've been waiting for 20 minutes already. I'm going home."

Seva body-slammed the door shut.

"Sit at your desk then."

"You first."

"No. Sit down."

"You first." (still blocking the door)

I called his mom and explained the situation, and she talked to him a bit over the phone. His eyes narrowed to slits and tears seeped out. We decided to give the lesson another try.

After the phone call, both of us sat in our places. It was a stalemate.

“Okay, we can have the lesson over here.” Seva said. He brought all the materials over to the bed and we began to make a game for review.

I wrote question cards while Seva did his part. He managed to write one half of "finish" and then got tired.

But he wrote "next level" with no problem. Video games, perhaps?

I enjoyed his next attempt. "Oh no, it's a monster!" At least he wrote in English.

What will the next lesson bring? Will Seva's room still be intact after his bomb tactics?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Signs of winter

I was shocked to see this Christmas/New Year's tree the other day. Isn't it a little early? They're being installed at metro stations throughout the city.


The frost made this pretty pattern on the sidewalk:





Advent begins soon!

Orphan graduates update

I don’t really have any news about these young women other than to ask for pray for them.

Nastia is a vivacious girl who says what she means. She considers herself a Christian, but refuses to attend church, and we often argue about what it means to be a Christian. She is very open to fellowship with Christians from the U.S. and Finland, but claims that there are no Russians with whom she can have fellowship on the same level. She takes care of everyone, from pregnant peers to her beloved cat.



Vika, a graduate of the same orphanage, has a little boy, whose father died when the child was an infant. I was surprised to run into Vika recently in the metro since she lives outside of the city.

When spending time with orphanage graduates, they are on the one hand independent adults. We all grow up and become adults. But on the other hand, though beyond adoptable age, they still long for a mother and father. Maybe they are “managing” and going to their job every day and paying their rent. But there are still many of life’s milestones that are hard to face alone: birthdays and other holidays; falling in love; breaking up; having a baby. And even the smaller tasks that no one taught them: checking the expiration date on groceries, what to do when the electricity goes out. A young adult raised by loving parents is ready to face the world. But the fatherless live in an institution, waiting and waiting for someone to claim them. The institution becomes a substitute. And when the time comes to go out into the world, they leave behind both the dream of a family and the substitute that helped to fill the gaps. It’s like a second rejection.

Nastia and Vika both keep in touch with girls from their orphanage, and this helps curb their loneliness. They are both very social. But there is clearly a longing there to be loved, that hasn't been fulfilled.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

City sights

I did a double-take when I saw this drain-pipe. I found it quite amusing.


Ways to be rescued

We continue to wait for more clarification about new multi-entry visa limitations and how this will affect foreigners in Russia. I’ve heard rumors about people already getting denied one-year visas, while others say that Americans are exempt.

My feeling is that living here is going to become more complicated, but not impossible. But I'm not worried, because the Lord is with me.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. -2 Peter 2:4-10

Good news! The Lord knows how to rescue us. :)

And some more good news: If God is for us, who can be against us? -Romans 8:31


Here is Galina, a counselor from one of the local orphanages where I serve. As I may have mentioned in the past, she was unfriendly at the beginning, but over the past year, we’ve become friends.





When I talked about possibly needing a different kind of visa, she immediately tried to think of a solution, and was prepared to contact friends who could help me get the documents I need.

“I need you here,” she said. I am well cared for.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Challenges

Among the challenges of living in another country, I bet you never thought the following things would cause problems: doors, windows, and beds. But they do. Before I go further, I will say that I have trouble opening doors in general, so it’s not necessarily anything related to the Russian system.

In the U.S., I lived either in a house or in a dormitory. To leave a house in the U.S.: Pull the door closed. Take your key out, put it in the lock and turn until you hear a click. In Russia, you are faced with a variety of padlocks, deadbolts, and keyholes. I get pretty embarrassed if I’ve just been a guest at someone’s house and have said all my thank you’s and goodbye’s and then I can’t get out. Some of the doors you push, some you pull, some you push something up and then slide, or down and slide, or sometimes there’s a button that you push or a knob that you turn. When you get down to the main door, most houses now have an electronic system, so you have to press a button and wait for it to beep before pushing the door open. I am constantly forgetting this and often stand at the door for a few seconds searching for a handle and wondering how to get out. Sometimes I get confused and take out my key and try to stick it somewhere. I also do this in the metro trying to go through the turnstile.

I’m not going to try to explain about windows without a visual aid, but basically I don’t get it. In the U.S. the whole window went up or down, and in Russia there’s a handle that you turn some way, but which way? I always get it wrong.

Now the bedding. My first experience with Russian bedding was at camp. You have some squeaky steel springs and then a mattress which is covered with a sheet. But the sheet isn’t fitted. And there is no top sheet. Gasp! The next layer is a blanket or bedspread, inside a duvet cover with a hole in it. I suppose it makes sense for the duvet cover to have a hole in it to be able to take the blanket in and out, but the hole is this big diamond shape in the middle, and I am always getting my foot caught in it in the middle of the night! Also, when Russians make the bed (if it’s a twin bed), they often fold the blanket in half. I was with a team of Americans at camp a few years ago, and they didn’t realize how to actually climb into bed. They were lying on top of all the covers and freezing to death, or trying to lie down inside the blanket as if it were a sleeping bag, not realizing then you could simply unfold it and spread it out. Silly Americans.

Probably the most maddening of all is when I’m trying to explain to Russians why I’ve been standing at the door/window/bed for 5 minutes paralyzed, and I tell them “things are different in America.” When they ask me “what’s different about it?” I blank out on what we actually do in America and find myself unable to explain. It’s like having amnesia. I know that somewhere in some context I was able to accomplish these tasks without looking like an idiot. But I don’t know if I can ever return to that level of confidence. Part of my brain has been deleted.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Addendum

Here are a few more political posters that I saw recently. Sorry I don't have time to write more.

1) A slogan I mentioned in an earlier post: "Putin's plan-Victory for Russia"



2) "You are part of Putin's plan." Then the bubbles show different parts of life that Putin's plan will supposedly help with. Retirement, working salary, government stipends, etc.







3) "November 4th-Unity Day." That explains why I had Monday off and got to sleep in! The new holiday occurs suspiciously close to Nov.7th, the former Communist holiday.








Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Campaigning

Parliamentary elections for Russia are coming up in December. Here are some ad posters put out by "United (or Unified) Russia," the party affiliated with President Putin.




Above: "In Putin's plan is the strength of Petersburg." Or "Petersburg's strength is in Putin's plan."





This one offers to help citizens help orphanages by collecting used items for children.



"Russia. Something to be proud of."

Some of the other ads I've seen are along the lines of: "We love our senior citizens," (with photos of smiling glamourous seniors) "Teaching is more than a profession," and messages about getting an education and protecting green areas of St.Petersburg. Public service announcements.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's that white stuff?

Yesterday I woke up to this sight.


It's our first snow! Nothing exciting, but winter is on its way, nonetheless.
Sunrise: 8:30 a.m.
Sunset: 5:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Excursions

Last weekend we accompanied a group of kids to Vyborg. It was our first get-together for the kids and the Russian families that may bond with them and become long-term mentors.


I was a little annoyed at having to go on a Sunday and miss church, but the situation was ameliorated by the fact that the kids were my own students from one of my regular orphanages.




When I got on the bus, the kids all shouted my name excitedly. But before I send the wrong idea here, let me just say that they do not shout excitedly when I show up for English class! :) They are pretty comfortable with me, but I don't usually come to entertain them, although they are happy to do English if they have a lot of homework in other classes. I'd rather be a caring (if boring) adult than a fun "babysitter"! But it was nice to have a chance to be in a more relaxing environment...


On the way to Vyborg we played games and chatted with the kids. The time passed fairly quickly. Once in Vyborg, it was a bit cold, so we huddled together for warmth as we explored museums and other sights. The kids especially enjoyed trying to shoot with a bow and modeling Medieval costumes.



I tried to interact with everyone, but one child who wouldn't leave my side was a 6th grade boy from one of my English groups. He's also one of the boys who was afraid of me last year! And now I have a little "shadow." These personal bonds are the ones I wait for. I would continue to do the work even if just for the sake of helping one of these kids or adults. But my heart aches to
see the kids find homes and not just friends with whom to spend a day or two.