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Showing posts from March, 2007

A Tour of the Subtropics

It's school vacation week!

My colleague Katya and I took a group to a greenhouse exhibit (botanical gardens, as they call it....sounds more exotic). Last year we had taken the same group there, only to a different exhibit.

A little background on this group of girls: I met them when I first arrived in St.Petersburg over 2 years ago, and many of my partners in ministry have had a steady friendship with them for longer than that. The kids have changed so much! They are beautiful young ladies, but unfortunately have become more and more depressed and hard-hearted; forlorn children who have grown into deeply wounded teenagers. Their counselor is dear and welcomes attempts from various Christian mentors to reach out to them. Katya visits regularly. But time is not slowing down. The director of this orphanage agreed to work with us to help Russian families become involved in foster care. We hope that it will happen soon. These girls deserve a loving home.

(I ruined the picture with my dopey…


In an earlier post I included a list of ways you can tell you've been in Russia too long. I received an e-mail with another version and have included additional comments here. I apologize for not knowing the original source.


-You hear the radio say it is zero degrees outside and you think it is a nice day for a change.
-You ask for no ice in your drink.
-You change into tapki (slippers) and wash your hands as soon as you walk into your apartment. -You begin to refer to locals as nashi (ours).
-You have to check your passport for an arrival-in-Russia date.
-You've been to Tallinn at least a dozen times for extending visas.
-Cigarette smoke becomes 'tolerable'.
-You think metal doors are a necessity.
-You changed apartments 6 times in 6 months.
-You no longer feel like going to your 'home' country.
-You speak to other expats in your native language, but forget a few of the simplest words and throw in some Russian ones.

My big sister

This is my sister Emily, although I usually call her something else. :) She's 6 years older than me.

In her own words, this photo "kind of says it all."

But it's also from about 5 years ago, so here's a more recent one.

Notes on John 7

John 7 has come up twice in the past week, so I guess I should blog about it. (How's that for an introduction?)

But what to say? The first time was at Bible study and I had read John Calvin’s commentary.

Here is one excerpt that I noted:

On verse 7, Calvin remarks,“When he says that the world cannot hate them, he reproves them for being altogether carnal” If this is a correct observation, it is fairly convicting. Obviously our "righteousness" pales in comparison to Christ’s standard, but the Bible instructs us in leaving behind our carnality. How? The example Christ gives here is that of avoiding “friendship” with the world by condemning the sinful lifestyles of the people present. Do we approve of the sin around us by keeping silent?

Other than that, the verses that everyone seems to quote are 37 and 38. "...If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."


My big brother

This is my brother Nate! He's three years older than me. He lives in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Nate works for a non-profit micro-finance NGO, if that makes any sense. Here he is with some colleagues (back right):

A recent Women's Day (March 8) celebration:

And here is a goofy pic, which make up the majority of my collection:

Continuing the Africa theme, here are my younger brother and mother in their Congolese outfits!!!

(btw, they're not really short and fat-the photo just got a little squished)

When Jesus wept

Just when reading through the third Gospel account in a row was getting a little tedious, I was struck by Luke's description of the triumphal entry...

At the time when Jesus should have received glory as the heir to the throne, those who wished him dead interrupted the celebration with their scorn. The joyous moment was cut short by those who were too blinded by self-righteousness to recognize the long-awaited Messiah.

As the shouts of praise were reaching a climax, the Pharisees cried out, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" -Luke 19:39

Jesus grieved over these lost sheep, knowing what future they had.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within yo…

My little brothers

Time to meet the fam.!

This is my baby brother James. He's six years younger than me. That's him in the middle, accepting his track award.

And this is my middle brother, Tim. He's 3 years younger. He's pretty easy-going.

Displaying our family's athletic prowess....:)

What keeps me going

The Lord was merciful today. I had a very calm lesson with the 9 yr olds. They still managed to get competitive and call each other "stupid" over a coloring assignment. But it was overall fine. Two of the girls were at their very first English lesson, but I didn't adjust the lesson any other than giving them some extra help and having the more advanced kids go first. I was speaking almost exclusively in English and they settled right in.

When the girls had left, I was talking to Misha (see earlier posts) about their school vacation coming up. I pretended to cry when he said they might not be here for their lesson. He came right over and gave me a hug to cheer me up. So sweet!

Easter preview

My Bible study is performing at the Easter service. A few photos of rehearsals...

Fun times.

New students

I have a new English class at a school in St.Petersburg. I've never taught at a regular school before, but they said that many of the kids there are orphans and/or have developmental delays, and that is something close to my heart.

The other day Sara and I went to the school for the first time to get acquainted. First we were ushered around to meet various administrators. They were so welcoming and genuinely happy that we had come! After settling on a schedule, we were led to a classroom. The teachers were saying that we had come too late because most of the kids had left for the weekend, but they went to gather the ones who were still around. First about 5 kids showed up, and that seemed manageable. We started introductions. Then 10 more came in. Finally we had about 20 kids. I initially panicked, not knowing what to do with 20 kids ranging in age from 6-16 and all with some unknown level of English. It turned out that most of them had about 0 conversational skills, but presumably…

More to the story

I left out one part of yesterday's story. Perhaps the most important. The American family had sent a letter with the care package to the young boy, and the children clustered around, beginning to read it. They translated the basic conversational content and then handed it to me to read the rest.

A hush fell over the room as I read the next part (paraphrased here): "Be a good boy, and depend on God. He loves you. We are praying for you."

These are good children, but I would not describe them as quiet. Yet they fell silent as they heard words about God. They wanted to listen. They were hungry.

I didn't preach. But I delivered some Good News.

Two Sides

I was going to post about something else, but this needs attention....

Side #1: This week I visited a few different orphanages as usual. I already posted about one orphanage, and today I visited another. Everything was fine. As I approached the orphanage, some of my students passed me, jump-roping down the street. They joyfully greeted me and promised to return soon for English. Their counselor said that they were going to the post office.

They returned later with a package, sent all the way from America! The kids gathered around it excitedly. It had taken a month and a half to get there and was filled with Valentine's gifts for the whole group. The American family had lovingly chosen the gifts and had included a handmade card. I don't know the family, but how could a care package be anything but a gesture of love?

Meanwhile, their other English teacher came in. She said she had seen a tv show about foreign adoption that featured the non-profit organization where I volunteer. Uh …


I went to see my favorites again! I was a little late so I crossed paths with some kids I hadn't seen for awhile. Then I had fun times with the youngers.

For some reason Misha and Lolita are obsessed with wearing my clothing. Here's a picture of their antics (sorry for poor quality). That's Lolita wearing my coat and Misha wearing my hat and purse. Today they actually planned it out and off down the hallway wearing my clothes. I lured them back with the stickers they had already earned for doing their lesson.
Another day we had a visit from Superman.
We do get some work done in the midst of all that.

Evidently we need to work on handwriting.


Sometimes they look so sweet and innocent. This is Galya. She's eight!

I had a lesson with the older boys too. They're fun. Today we learned the construction "I'm going to....(do something.)" Their answers were "I'm going to...sleep, eat, and do my homework." I confused them all with irregula…

Spring Politics

It's spring in St.Petersburg.

In this reflection you can see a political campaign poster displayed on the new high-rise apartment building in the background.

Russia held legislative elections yesterday. The apparent "winner" was Unified Russia, the party most closely linked with President Putin. Big surprise.

Danger, Part 2

I’ll add a little bit to the thoughts from my first “danger” post. But it still doesn’t feel like a complete study.

“It’s always dangerous.” This isn’t just referring to Missions. It’s talking about the Christian life.

Some quotes, again from John Piper (this time in his book, “Let the Nations be glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions”)…

“The domestication of cross-bearing into coughs and cranky spouses takes the radical thrust out of Christ’s call.” (74, Piper)

“We must not domesticate the New Testament teaching on affliction and persecution just because our lives are so smooth. It may be that we have not chosen to live in all the radical ways of love that God wants us to. It may be that our time of suffering is just around the corner. But it will not do to take our own comfortable lives and make them the measure of what we allow the Bible to mean.” (76, Piper)

Here’s how I understand Piper’s statement: I don’t take it to mean that we should stop seeking God in the little details of life.…

Apartment Life

Today some friends came to visit. Yay! We had some funny conversations about culture. For example, my friend Katya said that she had thought of me and my Russian-ness earlier in the day when she needed a plastic bag and didn’t have one with her. A big mistake in Russia!

Then I asked Katya to pour off some water from a package of mozzarella cheese.

“You don’t need to use it for anything?” she asked.

I assumed she was concerned about letting it go to waste, and thought about it for a good 30 seconds before saying no.

Then after another 30 seconds, I realized that she was just joking.

Later…Sara remarks to me, “I wonder if I lived here as long as you have, I would start speaking English like you.”

WHAT? Speak English like me? What does THAT mean? What has happened to me?

So Sara and Katya were getting ready to go (Vova left earlier) and when they opened the door, we could hear the sound of rushing water. I assumed it was rain.

“Is that rain?” they asked in disbelief.
“I hope so, what else would i…

Tea with hedgehogs

Some friends and I went for a stroll the other day and found this cute cafe with a hedgehog motif...

(Just for fun)

"Funny" Jokes

I wasn’t looking, but someone else’s blog had a post about humor in different cultures.

Go here to read the “world’s funniest joke,” according to an experiment done in Britain.

Go here to read popular jokes from selected countries.

Some findings on humor around the world (emphasis mine):

"One intriguing result was that Germans -- not renowned for their sense of humour -- found just about everything funny and did not express a strong preference for any type of joke. (Full story)

People from the Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand most enjoyed jokes involving word plays.

Many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, displayed a penchant for off-beat surreal humour, while Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where there was a strong sense of superiority -- either because a character looks stupid or is made to look stupid by someone else.

Europeans also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that make people feel anxious, such as death, illn…

Evaluation of current events

NPR (National Public Radio) is doing a series called “The Resurgence of Russia.” You can go to the website and either read the reports or listen to the broadcast.

Here's an overview:

"As a newly stable Russia prepares for the post-Putin era, NPR examines what kind of country it has become, and whether there is a real chance for a new Cold War between the aspiring energy superpower and the West.

New Cold War: Part 1 examines Russian foreign policy, the motivation behind anti-Western rhetoric, and whether Russia can pose a true threat to Western countries' security. Moscow has flexed its muscles by hiking gas prices and cutting energy supplies to its neighbors, while Washington has accused the Kremlin of using energy as a political tool to blackmail and threaten pro-Western rivals.

The Soviet Union: Part 2 explores the extent of Russia's new authoritarian culture — and its similarities to the old Soviet Union. Although critics say Putin has brought back many of the old dict…

Riding the bus

Sometimes my mood for the day is affected by how the morning bus ride goes.

Today I was running late and crossed the street on a red light (shocker!) to make it on the bus. The bus was pretty packed, but I didn’t want to be any later than I already was. I was the last one on, teetering on the steps. I squeezed my way into the crowd and looked for something to hold onto.

Suddenly a voice to my right said, “Don’t worry, I’m holding on to you.” It was the conductor. She was a very pleasant young woman. I immediately relaxed. I heard her giving helpful comments to other passengers too.

At the next stop, an elderly woman got on. But not so elderly that she couldn’t do some pushing. She was swathed in bulky winter clothes with only her eyes showing (it’s 40 degrees outside) and had a big bag and tried shoving her way into the crowd. The conductor said gently, “Let’s not push.” The babushka answered unkindly.

After ranting and raving for a few minutes, the old lady asked,
“Are you the conductor o…


In Dec. 2003 I attended Urbana, the student missions’ conference. We saw a skit there about preparing for a missions trip. It was embarrassingly true-to-life, depicting Americans gathering all their comfort items to spend a few weeks in another country. One of the participants wondered….what if it’s dangerous? And the answer came: “It’s always dangerous.”

And that line will always remain fixed in my memory. It’s always dangerous.

Fast-forward to yesterday when I was listening to a John Piper sermon online. The message was about missions and situations like the persecuted church and martyrdom. One thing that was particularly convicting was what he said about Americans and comfort. As an example, he mentioned potential missionary families who asked about how safe their children would be on the field. It may seem like a sensible question, but the way he phrased it really made a certain self-centeredness come across. We really do live in a protective bubble sometimes.

But what is the next st…

A message to myself

Lately I've regressed to my college days as my bedtime gets later and later. One day last week I went to bed and woke up at a reasonable hour and had quite a productive day. Unfortunately, for the rest of the week that wasn't the case. And yes, I'm writing this at 12:30 a.m....but my target bedtime is 1 am. And that's early for college!


Camp Karavella-where it all began, #2

Global warming and other "worries"

In the light of some of the discussion about The End, I recently read this verse:

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Ge.8:22)

It was comforting to me. To think that I could find something new in Noah's Ark! Yes, there will be signs of the end. But each day there are also signs that God is with us and that He cares for us. The end will come, whether we're ready or not...but in the meantime we can keep our eyes open to the evidence of our Creator, and be reminded of our reason for living.

A Slow Week

It’s been a slow week. Everyone has been taking turns getting sick. My turn was last week, but this week there were people with colds, the flu, chicken pox, etc. I did have some English lessons. Yesterday I went to one of my regular orphanages.

Some of you have asked about my “typical schedule,” so here is what yesterday’s visit went like:

Background: I arrive at the orphanage, and most kids have returned from school. They have a little free time before their study session begins. I usually go around to the different groups, either helping with homework or leading some English conversation practice. But I can’t lead a large group because it supposedly interferes with their other lessons.

Group 1: The counselor tells me that the girls are on a field trip. The boys are more interested in playing a board game. Okay, moving on…

Group 2: There’s one boy who is getting adopted soon. His English is really good already. We chatted casually and played a few games in a textbook I have for teenagers…

On the other hand

In contrast to my previous post on needing to remain in Russia longer to understand the humor, here are some signs that it has actually been long enough…(disclaimer: I got these from a website, so they’re not necessarily things that I do myself…but I can relate).

You know you have been in Russia too long when ...

-You have to think twice about throwing away the empty instant coffee jar.
-You carry a plastic shopping bag with you "just in case."
-You say he/she is "on the meeting" (as opposed to the more proper "at the" or "in a" meeting).
-You answer the phone by saying "allo, allo, allo" before giving the caller a chance to respond.
-You save table scraps for the cat(s) living in the courtyard.
-When crossing the street, you sprint.
-In winter, you choose your route first by determining which icicles are least likely to impale you on the head.
-You are impressed with the new model Lada or Volga.
-You let the telephone ring at least 3-4 times be…

Why I don't get Russian humor

The title of this post may be misleading, since I’m not sure I can answer the question myself. I think the problem is either…my culture or my personality. :)

The scenario

Russian person: [insert anecdote here]
Me: [silence or fake laughter]
Russian person: You didn’t understand?
Me: I’m not sure.
Russian person: [translates joke into English]
Me: I know, I got it. I just…don’t think it’s funny?

Then I decided that none of you readers will know what I’m talking about unless I provide an example. After reading through several pages of jokes, I couldn’t find one that was funny. And then I remembered that their non-funniness to me was the point of my research in the first place.

So in the end I chose a few doctor jokes, which I found to be the least offensive to my American ears. Maybe it’s because I’m not a doctor…

From Wikipedia: “Medical jokes are wide-spread. Usually, they consist of a short dialogue of doctor or nurse and patient.
-'Doc, why is it that when I speak to God it's a prayer,…

Late-night Bible meditation

22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?
23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, [a city] of Sidon, unto a woman [that was] a widow.
27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
(Lk.4:22-28 KJVS)

I read this first in the NIV, but it’s not a huge difference. There are two things that st…