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...
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.
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 goo…
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!
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 …
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.
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.
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-J…
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. P…
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...
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 …
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.
I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing us of sin, Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him.
I know not what of good or ill May be reserved for me, Of weary ways or golden days, Before His face I see.
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…
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 spiritsof 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 …
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 abo…
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 wa…
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!
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!
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 …
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.
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.
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 excursion…
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.
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 beg…
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 th…
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 …
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 …
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.
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 c…