Monday, April 28, 2008
1) No more teachers, no more books...The school year is ending! Ideally, I would like to treat my students to a picnic or at least a tea party in the orphanage! However, as usual, Russian holidays are throwing everything into a state of confusion. May 1st and 9th are holidays, and in order to allow for long weekends, certain weekdays in the next few weeks are going to be weekends, and certain weekends are going to become working days temporarily. Got that? So when can I go to the orphanage? The kids are leaving for camp soon...
2) Africa. I'm leaving for Congo on May 22 for my brother's wedding. Things I still have to accomplish before then:
-get a visa (impromptu trip to Moscow?)
-have my dress sewn from African fabric (currently in-progress)
3) June. Return from Africa, teach English, figure out how to renew my visa, other plans TBA...
4) July. Possibly going to summer camp with a missions team? It would be English-language based.
5) End of July. Leave for U.S., as Russian visa expires. I've been accepted to a TOEFL certificate program which will occupy the month of August. Then I will hopefully get a new visa somehow
and return to St.Petersburg.
The first group of people that had been meeting and praying from the beginning was mainly volunteers. Although for most of us this idea was closely linked to our current work and was a great outlet for all of our feelings and observations about working with orphans, we didn’t have anyone working full-time on the new project. Meetings took place on evenings after work or on weekends. We had a lot of energy because our hearts were so inclined to this new vision. But it was still difficult to see progress when we could only meet once a week. Many of us had qualifications for working with children or with government administration, but no one was free to work full-time. So we began the search for personnel.
It was very difficult finding someone to work full-time for New Family. We tried to work through connections in local churches, among Christian social workers and others who worked with children. But since we had been working on a volunteer level, it was difficult to put into words how this vision had come about and what specific qualifications were needed in a full-time worker. We wanted someone whom we hired to be able to use his/her gifts and not have to change to meet our job description. That was why we left it open-ended. There were younger candidates who were eager but still studying. There were older candidates with a lot of experience who were used to a slightly bigger salary and a more rigid daily working regime. We needed someone who was willing to be a pioneer and join with us in starting something new.
Some of the personnel we realized we would need were: a director, a psychologist with the qualifications to train families and interact with the children, someone skilled in dealing with legal documents, a bookkeeper, someone to do presentations and draw in participants, someone skilled in interacting with directors and administrations of other organizations, etc. There were people who already could perform some of these functions, and some who had experience in multiple areas. But there were gaps.
In addition to having a core team, we wanted to find other ministries to partner with. As I mentioned, in the research phase we had done a lot of exploration so as to not do duplicate work. Instead of hiring our own lawyer or psychologist, perhaps someone from another ministry could help us with these services or train our staff to do these tasks.
God was constantly leading us into conversations with people who had some kind of helpful connection or had felt led in this direction. But there were still many "no" answers before we found people who could make a commitment.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I think eggs are associated with Easter worldwide, but especially so in Russia! When I called one non-Christian (Orthodox?) friend to invite her to church, she asked, "Oh, with the eggs?" I tried to explain that it was our normal church service, but with a celebratory focus. She said she would rather go to the nearby Orthodox church and watch the priests bless the eggs.
On the other hand, we did have eggs...at Sunday school!
The weather was marvelous, so a group of us took a stroll around the city. Here we are in a non Easter-related pose in front of the Museum of Hygiene.
Next we walked over to the Church of the Spilt Blood, the familiar landmark on the Griboedova Canal. I was searching for some evidence that today was Easter. Surely somebody was celebrating? Around the corner, we found some children painting a few giant eggs with messages of love and world peace. Always the eggs...
Next, we decided to go inside the church, which I hadn't done before. But it seemed appropriate to enter the Church of the Resurrection (its other name) on Easter Sunday. We waited for a group to form and were given a tour by a very knowledgable old lady who kept coaxing us to "gather around" her and listen.
At one point we were looking at the altar and our tour guide mentioned Christ, saying that He had always promised to be with us. Then she repeated, "The Saviour said, 'I will be with you always.' Amen." A few of us said "Amen," and she looked at me and winked. I think this old lady was a bit of an evangelist! :)
Thursday, April 24, 2008
So there are no more teenagers in our house...
James is now a big, bad college athlete. Recently, he won some throwing competitions (photos from the CMU Athletics department).
Happy Birthday, little brother!
Saturday, April 19, 2008
My brightest memory of this hymn is actually associated with "Psalty, the singing songbook." I used to listen to some of his albums. There was one called "Psalty's Hymnological Adventure Through Time." You guessed it, Psalty, the big blue human hymnbook, gets on a time machine. Due to the machine breaking down periodically, Psalty visits different hymn writers through the ages, including David the shepherd boy, Solomon in his temple, John Newton, and Fanny Crosby. Then Psalty visits his own childhood and sees himself as a "booklet." He describes "Take my Life, and Let it be" as a hymn that was very formative to his early faith. Then adult Psalty and child Psalty sing a duet. It's a cool idea. Maybe if I ever have a time machine, I'll do the same. It would be fun to sing a duet with my childhood self.
Anyway, here are the words:
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
I discovered that there are a lot of different melodies that accompany these lyrics, but I think the most familiar one is Hendon. And that melody is also associated with a hymn called "Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know," which also has good lyrics. You can listen at cyberhymnal.org, and probably at other sites as well.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
This is part of a continuing series about one of our projects working with orphans.
Now that we had some basic plans, we spent time gathering information about different formats for ministry. We searched for other Christian programs with similar goals. We didn’t find many locally who had an approach that was similar to ours.
In late 2006, we traveled to Vladimir, Russia for a conference. There we met other Christians serving orphans in Russia and Easter Europe, who are involved with foster care programs or transitional work for graduates. It was very helpful to learn about different programs that are already active. We heard from several sources that foster and adoptive families are very isolated in society, and that this is one of the biggest obstacles to more orphans being placed in local families.
I would like to clarify a little bit about terminology. To Americans, the word “adoption” is related to permanence, whereas “foster care” implies instability. American children removed from their parents are usually placed in a family while waiting for the next decision to be made. In Russia, kids go to the orphanage when there is trouble in the family or custody issues. Sometimes this is temporary, sometimes long-term. The orphanage group is akin to a foster family. Children get transferred between different orphanages and between different groups.
In the U.S., foster care can hold negative associations because the foster child is lacking the emotional and legal stability that comes from taking the final step in being adopted. There are also cases of abuse linked to the foster care system. But part of the reason adoption can be delayed is that there is a goal to reconcile family members when possible. Therefore there’s no rush to find an adoptive family.
In Russia, however, "adoption" is the word that has a negative reputation. This is because adoption means the end of government support. Adoptive families receive less subsidies than foster families, and no longer receive visits from social workers. They are on their own. In the U.S. we don’t like to have people checking up on us and interfering with our family life. We want to free the child from the institution and anything connected with it. But in Russia there are not a lot of social support programs in place for adoptive families, so the state is the only source of support, and to lose that is to become isolated.
Because of the bureaucracy and negative feelings associated with “adoption” as a legal process, we have been exploring other options. Helping a child find permanency has always been and will continue to be our goal. But we realize that permanency and adoption can be established in ways other than the American nuclear family. Some potential families and children are simply not able to pursue adoption. Maybe the family doesn’t have room for another bed, or the child has a birth relative who won’t relinquish rights. Does this mean we should stop there?
In the orphanage, a child may be better off in some ways than with his birth family in its damaged state. He will be well-fed and clothed; he will receive plenty of attention and help with schoolwork; he will be taught creative arts. But upon graduation, that all disappears and he is plunged into isolation. How can we ensure that he will have a home to go to when he is in need? An “anchor family” is one solution. Can an anchor family provide permanence? It depends partly on the level of commitment of the participants. If we had a commitment ceremony or something similar, it would be one way for the child to feel secure, even if on paper the arrangement is a foster family and not adoption. Then the family would continue to receive government support, but both the family and the child would agree to the terms of the relationship and would know what to expect from each other.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
It was good to be back, in some ways. And in other ways, it was upsetting.
As I approached Group #1, the little girls ran out to greet me and announced that a psychologist was there to work with them too. But the psychologist said she could wait, and sat in on our lesson to observe. She seemed like a student-type, so it must have been a research project.
We began our lesson, and I found that the girls had forgotten everything. Every.Thing. First we pulled out their English “passports” to go over the basic check-up questions. “What’s your name?” I asked the first girl. “Eleven!” she shouted energetically. Sigh.
We played with some flash cards, but then in doing the written assignment, it became evident that they don’t know the alphabet. Okay, they might recognize a few letters, but they certainly don’t know how to read. We’ve done plenty of tracing activities, so they’re familiar with how the letters look, but as far as connecting them with the correct sound(s), there is no progress. It’s too hard when we only meet once a week. So I’ll have to reevaluate. I’m not sure if it’s worth it to begin the alphabet from scratch in April. We’ll probably have to do just oral/pictorial activities until the end of the year.
Next I went to group #2. Their memories were working a little better, but the behavior? Oh. My. I entered the room and Nadia was sitting in a chair zoning out with her cell phone. I said hello several times and there was no visible response at all. I went into the play room where we have English and got out my materials in a hurry since I had been stuck in traffic and was late. One boy, Misha, came over. “Can you call the others, please?” I asked. “No, and I’m not going to do English either,” he said with this silly smile on his face.
Eventually a few kids came in. One girl, Olya, was new. She seemed to have potential, so I made sure to give her attention during the lesson and give her a chance to participate along with everyone else. I was having difficulties with Roma, who I’m fairly certainly has been sexually abused. He has always had very strange behavior. When he was little it was just silly but now it’s depressing. He spits out swear words constantly and then immediately follows it up with “I love you.” He’s the first to disrupt the lesson yet he’s also the first to answer questions. Unfortunately Olya was encouraging his antics. I’m not sure if she was nervous or actually thought he was funny, but she kept giggling at everything he said. The other kids were discussing how much Russian I understood. I try to avoid speaking Russian during the lesson so that they will hear only English, but outside of class I speak Russian, and they know that. Still, it was a popular conversation topic. “She speaks Russian, she just doesn’t know swear words,” one boy said, at which point Olya giggled again. About 3 of them were playing with cell-phones, and I confiscated one. As I was getting ready to go, Roma came up to me, looked me straight in the eye, and called me a b----. Then he hugged me and told me not to leave.
After the orphanage, I went to sit for a 3-yr-old from church while her mom went to a meeting. It was fun because she’s at the age where she goes along with every scenario you can imagine, using whatever props are available. A plastic cup became a telephone, a few blocks were our grocery store, and the stuffed animals dropped in on each other to visit. We also set up a bowling alley and set up a train-set, all in the one-room apartment.
Later, her mom came home and we spent a few more hours visiting. Before I left, I decided to try speaking with Nastia in English while we were playing with the train-set one last time. In about ten minutes she had learned several words (bus, train, stop, go, yes, no, etc.) and was repeating after me of her own accord.
Now why is it that when I spend 3 hours preparing for a lesson, there are no results, while a few words inserted spontaneously into playtime get results?
Friday, April 11, 2008
One concept that he focuses on has been very helpful to me. It concerns John 15:7- “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
Hmmm, okay, we all know that verse, but how do we know what to ask for? I like how Spurgeon explains that our desires are shaped by God’s word abiding in us:
“You who have Christ’s words abiding in you are equipped with those things that the Lord regards with attention. If the Word of God abides in you, you can pray because you meet the great God with His own words and thus overcome omnipotence with omnipotence. You put your finger down upon the very lines and say, ‘Do as You have said.’ This is the best praying in all the world.”
And he continues: “You still may say you do not quite see why a man who abides in Christ should be allowed to ask whatever he wills and it shall be done unto him.”
Actually, that’s not exactly my question, but almost. My question is, how do I have the authority to ask for something if I’m not sure if that particular promise applies to me?
“I answer again: it is so, because in such a man as that [who abides in Christ] there is a predominance of grace that causes him to have a renewed will, which is according to the will of God. Suppose a man of God is in prayer and thinks that something is desirable, yet he remembers that he is nothing but a babe in the presence of his all-wise Father. And so he bows his will and asks as a favor to be taught what to will. Though God bids him ask to what he wills, he shrinks and cries, 'My Lord, here is a request that I am not quite clear about. As far as I can judge, it is a desirable thing. But Lord, I am not fit to judge for myself, and therefore I ask You to not give as I will, but as You will.' Do you not see that when we are in such a condition as this, our real will is God’s will. Deep down in our hearts, we will only what the Lord himself wills, and what is this but to ask what we will and it is done to us?”
I felt as though a burden was lifted after reading this. Sometimes we feel that we are always struggling between My will and His. “No, not my will, but Yours!” Of course we will have to give up some desires and make sacrifices, but the point is that when we abide in Him there will no longer be two different wills! Our will gets transformed into His will. As we become more like Him, our desires become His desires. If I don’t know how to pray about a certain situation, I ask Him to mold my immature desires to His perfect will. And then when I pray I will be asking for that thing which He will be pleased to give me. It's not that my desire is right or wrong, it's that I won't even feel led to ask for something that isn't in His will.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I set to work once again cropping my flowery descriptions...sigh. The last 100 "spare" words were the hardest to trim. When I got down to 550 (out of 500), I wanted to quit.
508. And my computer shut off. After 30 minutes, I finally got it to turn on again, and the total was back up to 515 because the last 5-10 minutes of editing hadn't been saved.
And now it's 500. The End. But I don't like it. It's not me.
I feel like I just relived a college experience. Except that I didn't stay up all night.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
But, I've decided it can't hurt to publically celebrate the birthday of someone I care about, and to thank God for this person.
Masha turned 21 yesterday. She's had a rough year, with jail-time and other struggles. We were happy to have her home for a short time at Christmas and hope that she will set down roots in a church family while she's living far away in another state. Pray for her.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
On the street, I am called "devushka," which means "girl" or "young lady." It really used to annoy me every time I heard someone calling me "girl." It felt like people were either too rude to call me by a proper title or were scolding me as if I were a schoolgirl. But then I started to imagine that it can be translated more like "miss" or "ma'am," and then I can pretend that people are being polite. Still, it is going to be weird a few years down the road when people start calling me "woman."
In work situations, Russians use the first name and patronymic. I like all Russian renditions of my name, and I also like when Russians try to pronounce my American name. Most of them can't do the "th," so it sounds very French or something. :)
Last names are used in certain situations. I don't generally appreciate being called by my last name or by my last name followed by my first name. It makes me feel like I'm in gym class or in the army (not that I would know), where everything is impersonal and there is a lot of shouting.
People that I know generally call me by a Russian version of "Liz." Most Russian names have a common nickname or two that get used quite often, and those are the names that you come across in circles of friends.
Okay, while, I'm talking about the Russian language, here's one area that always trips me up:
There are certain polite conversational phrases that require a short response. “Nice to meet you.” “Nice to see you.” “Merry Christmas.” Now in English, we usually use the catch-all “You too” or “Same.” But in Russian, there are many variations of “you too” to allow for different cases (direct object, indirect object, etc.). And I usually use the wrong one.
Also, sometimes the answer should be “me (or I) too” instead of “you too”! Such as, “I’m glad to see you.” In English, we would say “you too,” meaning “I’m glad to see you too.” But in Russian, you should say “Me too,” meaning “I’m also glad (to see you).”
I should stop there, or I’ll ramble on and on about grammar when I should be doing other things.
Now, what about “I love you”? Is it “Me too” or “you too”?
Monday, April 7, 2008
I'm going a little out of order here because we had discussed structure and goals together, almost from the beginning, but we were looking for a foundation first.
Getting kids and families together was the main goal, but how do you do that when they don't know each other? How do you facilitate this meeting when you're not an adoption agency?
Other questions we discussed included: How important is it that we have the opportunity to instill Christian values in the kids and families? What structures would give us religious freedom as Christians? Should we do everything officially and be registered, or do the minimum paperwork and do things our own way?
One early idea involved having a Christian group home: A host family and a few kids, living together in an apartment or home outside of the city. We also talked about more of a large-scale vision: having several apartments or small houses together somewhere, with multiple families. Maybe there would be a private school. Or what about just helping one family adopt one child, but providing a support system in the form of discussion groups, financial aid, legal advice, etc.?
We still didn't have a mechanism for introducing families and children. Then the idea of a hosting program was brought up. Children would spend a vacation period with a family, getting to know them in a home setting. We would run a training program for the families so that they would be better prepared as well as experience fellowship, a key element that is missing from the Russian foster care system. We would host group events for all the families and kids together during the hosting period. Afterwards, we would help them take the next steps in the relationship. We already had experience with this from sending kids to the States on a similar hosting program.
But this plan wasn't set in stone. The idea was to introduce kids and families and facilitate bonding. Hosting was just one method we thought might accomplish this.
To be continued...
1) Delete most occurrences of “I think.” It sounds weak and it’s obvious anyway that the text is from my point of view.
2) Delete modifiers used to make generalizations such as “sometimes,” “possibly,” etc.
3) In sentences with multiple possibilities, be decisive and delete all except one! This is a big one for me…
4) Delete flowery descriptions….sigh.
5) Delete detailed descriptions…sigh, that hurts.
6) Replace phrasal verbs with single words. A lot of phrasal verbs like “find out’ and “pick up” sound uneducated. The verb “to be” helps!
7) Delete unnecessary “such as” clauses. In a 500-word essay there is simply no space to give an example for every single idea.
8) Use demonstrative pronouns instead of repeating long key phrases.
9) Rejoice that I have a blog where I can use as many words as I want!
Saturday, April 5, 2008
I'm not very good with needles. But I'm also not very good with phone calls, and I had to call first to confirm that they had the vaccinations available that I needed. So I had been putting this off for some time.
When I called ahead, the receptionist was very friendly and informative. So that was a good sign. When I found the medical center and entered it, a child came out of a room crying hysterically. "That one hurt MORE!" I almost turned around and ran.
So here's what happens when you go to the doctor in a foreign country and don't know all the medical words...
I went up to the reception desk and mumbled something about Africa, so they told me to have a seat and wait for the doctor to be available for a consultation. After a few minutes, the doctor, a youngish-looking woman with long curly hair, emerged and led me to another room. She and a nurse started discussing which immunizations I needed, but I had a list with me and piped up about what advice had been given me. I didn't want to get stuck with any unnecessary needles! To my surprise they agreed to my suggestions and didn't try to argue or give advice. I expected a Russian scolding, but this was a European clinic, after all.
Armed with my paperwork, I headed back to the reception area to wait for my turn. The doctor had said it would take 10-15 minutes to prepare the vaccines since they're special ones. Meanwhile, I paid my bill and tried not to think about needles.
A group of teenagers was there, getting a vaccine for something all together. Maybe they were going on a trip. Then the nurse appeared and said, "Who wanted the Yellow Fever?" And everyone stopped talking and stared as I got up and followed the nurse to my doom.
Once in the room, the nurse said, "Have a seat on the ______." The what? I don't know that Russian word. I looked around. There were only two possible types of furniture: a chair, or a low examination table. "Excuse me, the what?" I inquired. She repeated what she had said and I guessed she meant the table, so I headed over.
"You wanted the Yellow Fever?" she asked. "Yes, and two others..." I stumbled over the names and had to give her the sheet so she could look. "And you haven't had any of them yet?" "Ummm....today? No...."
She got the vaccines ready and was already heading at me with a needle, and I had no idea where she was going to stick me or whether or not it was going to hurt! That one was in the upper arm. The second one was in my other upper arm. Then she said, "Take off your undershirt, because this one goes in the __________." The what? I had no clue. Somewhere above the waist, not in my arm?
It ended up being somewhere in my back. Miraculously none of the shots hurt much. I guess I had been expecting worse because my last needle encounter had been getting blood drawn. Ewwww.
I didn't know the check-out procedure, so I wandered out to the reception area waving my paperwork, and they told me it was my copy to keep. So I left.
I managed to not get lost on the way back, but I did pass the Trinity Cathedral, which had been damaged in a fire last year.
Friday, April 4, 2008
As we met and prayed, God gave us insight, sometimes in the form of a single word. We talked about Exodus, about a complete departure from the institution. We talked about children coming to know their Heavenly Father. We talked about needing to have a firm foundation for whatever ministry resulted. We began to write the vision on paper, and these were the goals which resulted:
-To provide permanence in the lives of orphaned children
-To facilitate opportunities for orphaned children to experience healthy family life
-To provide support for families who host orphans
-To foster long-term caring relationships between orphans, families and the community
One note I'll add is that we were specifically looking for ways to help Russian families. We do support American adoptive families through other programs, but in this project we were looking to form a ministry for local churches and families.
So I'll try to tell the story from the beginning. Other people who have joined the project at various stages might have a different point of view, but this is mine.
Part One: February, 2006 (I think. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong).
A problem is raised: There are transitional programs for orphanage graduates, and many younger kids get adopted by foreigners or nationals, but what about the school-aged kids? Many of them are still very impressionable, and if taken out of the orphanage situation, could have a chance to thrive and avoid some of the consequences that orphanage graduates face. But how could we help that come about? Some individuals with a heart for orphans began to meet and pray about possible forms of ministry for school-aged orphans.
There are a few forums online that follow this topic.
http://www.waytorussia.net/TalkLounge/conversation9920.html http://www.waytorussia.net/TalkLounge/ http://www.expat.ru/forum/travel-visas-registration-residency-status-more/
My visa is still under the old law and therefore I can be here full-time, but I can only be registered for 3 months at a time. So every 3 months I have to exit (for any amount of time) and enter Russia as a formality for renewing my registration. I recently did this in Estonia and there were no problems. I think that they probably saw that my visa 1) is dated before the law was passed in October and 2) has no restrictions printed in it. So it didn’t look like they were trying to find all my entry/exit stamps and calculating how many days I had been in Russia. I don’t think. Who knows what they actually check?
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Winter made a brief comeback last week, but over the weekend it got warmer and Spring decided to make an appearance, coinciding with Daylight Savings. So now it's both light and warm. Yay!