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Showing posts from April, 2008


I have some exciting plans for the next few months. Goodbye, weekly schedule. Hello, irregularity and adventure!

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) Jul…

New Family history, part 5- Teamwork

Part five, 2006-2008. Teamwork.

Starting an adoption/foster care program from scratch would take an incredible team of people, we realized. We needed people who were not only qualified professionally but who had compatible Biblical views and could work together.

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 find…

He is Risen

Today Christians in Orthodox Russian churches (and in some Protestant churches , like ours) celebrated the Resurrection.

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 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 wo…

Happy Birthday

Today is my brother James' birthday. I think he is 20. Now that I forget my own age, it's harder to remember everyone else's!

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!

Hymn #8

It seems that I exhausted all my writing energy last week! Maybe it's a good day for a hymn. My hymn newsletter today highlights "Take my Life, and Let it be."

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 t…

New Family history, part 4- Research

Part four-2006/2007. Research.

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. A…

Contrasts in pedagogy

I went to the orphanage this week. I hadn’t been there for a long time because I normally go only once a week and each week there was a scheduling conflict, like school vacation or sports tournaments.

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 certa…

My will, your will, our will?

I’m enjoying Spurgeon’s The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life. I like his “no-nonsense” approach.

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 no…


I opened up my unfinished essay and stared at it, thinking, "Do I know you?" I should have finished it in one sitting rather than putting it off.

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.

Another birthday

I always thought it was weird that people put birthday dedications on their blogs. Why wish Happy Birthday on your blog if the person doesn't read your blog? Or if he/she is someone close to you and does read your blog, why are you congratulating him/her on your website and not in person?

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.

Terms of Endearment

This morning I was thinking about the different ways I am addressed throughout the day, living in Russia.

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 …

New Family history, part 3- Structure

Part Three-2006. Structure.

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…


My check-list for trying to cut a text by 2/3:

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!


Today I am struggling with the usual problem that I have a surplus of words to write and a lack of words to say out loud!

I have to write an essay, 400-500 words. I currently have 1500. :)

Fear of Needles

I had to go get shots recently for my trip to Africa.

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…

New Family history, part 2- Direction

Part Two: 2006. Direction.

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.

New Family history, part 1 -The Problem

A reader recently left some comments about the concept behind the potential foster mother whom I featured recently. I don't remember how much I've mentioned New Family on here before, but I thought it was time to do a recap and explain a little bit of the history of the project. I know some aspects of the Russian orphanage system can be confusing.

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 tha…

New 90-day Russian visa restriction

Does anyone know how this new law is being implemented? It seems like a mystery. I know some people have gotten the restriction actually printed in their new one-year visa. But others have received a new visa without anything written in their visa. Does that mean they are exempt? Are there going to be any addendums to the law that will render some people exempt?

There are a few forums online that follow this topic.

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)…

This week in amateur photos, #3

This photo isn't so visually stunning, but is meant to be an announcement.

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!