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Showing posts from December, 2008

Questions about tentmaking

I recently did a piece on missionaries and working, in which I challenged the use of certain terminology and noted some pros and cons of various options.

At missions' prayer the other evening, we had an interesting discussion about "tentmaking." Again in some ways I dislike how it's been made into a catchphrase, and I don't necessarily agree with taking one example (Paul) and making it into a rule. I think the situation is a little more complex than that.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, there are plenty of good arguments for missionaries to have a career aside from their church activities in the field. The question is, how does one go about becoming a missionary with a job? Is it actually possible to take what many people have theorized about and put it into practice?

Here's one scenario. At 18, a missionary hopeful already knows where he would like to serve, as well as what his gifts are. He chooses a college major that will give him the education to work …

Christmas withdrawal

It's over. Doesn't it always seem sad that after weeks of preparation, Christmas just...ends? I was used to the clock radio waking me up with a Christmas hymn (or "Dominick the Donkey"). And now it's back to the same old rock music and silly morning shows.

People are already throwing out Christmas trees and taking decorations down. It seems as though Christmas never happened, although if I look around, I see the pile of presents, or turn on my digital camera, and there's the evidence.

Even if it's a feeling of relief that the cooking and entertaining is over, doesn't it feel surreal? Anticlimactic, perhaps?

It seems that Faith Hill's "Where are you, Christmas?" would be appropriate here. The song was first sung by a little girl in "How the Grinch stole Christmas." I guess everyone knows that, but I never actually saw the film since I was kind of loyal to the book and the old animated version.

Just like a child may be disappointed b…

Love languages and Christmas gifts

A few years ago, I tried taking the "Five love languages" test by Gary Chapman. It didn't work very well since the test was aimed towards married couples and I had trouble answering questions like "Do you like it better when your spouse buys you chocolate or washes the dishes for you?" (Okay, I made that one up). I also tend to sabotage the results of such tests because I overanalyze the questions.

So I never did figure out whether my love language was "words of affirmation," "quality time," "receiving gifts," "acts of service," or "physical touch." (Brief explanation here).

Human beings are complex, and I'm not going to endorse this as a fool-proof system for living in bliss with all your friends and family members. But it's always good to be reminded that people are different, and that there is a difference between misunderstanding and insensitivity.

I remember scoffing at the "gift" option, thi…

A family for Christmas?

I suppose I'll have to wrap up my unofficial "Misha" series, now that he's being adopted.

I've never actually met the family that's adopting Misha, but Misha said they lived in Texas. Then another adoptive mom did a little research so Misha could stay in touch with his other orphanage buddies who've been adopted. She found the organization through which Misha was hosted and is likely being adopted. I noticed from my own research that the agency had to stop Russia adoptions temporarily as the Russian government was requiring many adoption agencies to be reaccredited. Perhaps that explains the delay in Misha's case.

When I left Russia a month ago, Misha was waiting for his adoption to be finalized. There's a possibility he's already with his new family for Christmas. That's a happy thought.

The work permit problem in St. Petersburg

Well, this is interesting. All this time I've been researching work visas, when it turns out the main problem is the work permits themselves.

Back in the summer, the quota was reached. I'm not sure if my application got in before that or not.

"Effective immediately, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) of Russia will no longer accept Work or Employment Permit applications for foreign nationals seeking employment in St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad region in 2008. The 2008 quota established by the government for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region has been reached." -From "2008 Work Permit Quota Reached for St. Petersburg." Fragomen Global Immigration Services. Published online 8/13/08.

A St. Petersburg Times article about illegal immigrants observes how the new visa laws of 2007 have changed things. "In 2007, due to a tightening up of the rules regarding migrant workers, a number of companies decided to legalize their foreign personnel, l…

Christmas presents

I found a vintage set of blocks from Russia for my niece! So cool! It says "Made in USSR."

I suppose I could have bought them in Russia, but that would have weighed down my suitcase quite a bit!

My brother and I did a quick inspection.

Misheard (Christmas) lyrics

I went to my town's Messiah "sing-along" this evening. They had scores to borrow at the door. I'm not very good at sight-singing, but I hit a few (correct) notes. I wished more that I was in the orchestra than in the choir.

A couple years ago, I got my own recording of the complete Messiah. It came with the full set of words and scripture references. It adds so much to be able to appreciate the production as a worshipful piece. I like how it tells the whole story of Christ's coming, from the prophecies to His death and resurrection.

If you like listening to the Messiah, I would recommend looking closely at the text. I, for one, often mishear lyrics, and I honestly had no idea what most of the songs were about, aside from the Hallelujah's. Here's one of them I misheard:

"He's raising...the lucky ones."

Real text: "the dead shall be raised incorruptible." (1 Cor. 15:52) Wow, talk about the wrong idea. That would make for interesting theo…

Anti-americanism and civic activism

I was tagged by an acquaintance of mine in a video on the Russian version of Facebook. I ignored it for awhile because the videos are often composed of things like pictures of kittens put to a song about friendship. Then I decided to check out this latest video. It's called "The American Show," and it's in the political category.

I might be a little late tuning into this, but I don't normally follow politics.

In the beginning of the video, "President Bush" begins enlightening us on how the American Empire got so powerful, beginning with World War I. You could say the film is in a Michael Moore "exposee" style.

Since the version I was watching was dubbed in Russian, I decided to go hear what the English sounded like. I found an English version on Youtube, and lo and behold, the George Bush impersonator is in fact Russian.

Meanwhile, a lot of people (mostly college-aged) were leaving comments like "This is so true!" "This is a great v…

Christmas Politics

I don't know about your town, but in many places it isn't too common to hear "Merry Christmas" anymore. It's been replaced with "Happy Holidays."

I suppose I would be irritated as well if someone congratulated me on a holiday that I don't celebrate.

Yet, it seems wrong not to hear the words. It isn't right to neutralize everything. If you really don't want to offend someone, wouldn't it be better to show an interest in his life and ask what holiday he celebrates, rather than just playing it safe?

My friend Ashley is involved in the "Campaign for Christmas." Pictured is one of their pins. My dad and I both wear one. My mom thought it seemed provocative, but isn't that the point? Our war isn't again the cheerful folks who say "Happy holidays." Our war is against the principalities that want to silence our attempts to honor our Savior's birth. After all, the Good News is for everyone. If we congratulate only our…

A trip to the library

The last time I went to the library, I didn't prepare myself beforehand. Normally I have a list of authors or some topic I'm currently interested in. This time I was starting from scratch.

After determining that there was nothing to help with Greek study (except a Greek-English dictionary), I headed for non-Fiction. I ended up with a pretty random selection of biographies (well, most of them are people of faith).

My favorite one so far has been "Take my Hands" by Dorothy Clarke Wilson. It's the story of Dr. Mary Verghese, an Indian woman who, despite enduring a car accident in which she became a paraplegic, went on to become a surgeon, mainly treating leprosy victims.

I like the straightforward and positive tone of the book. It's inspiring without making you want to gag over the saintliness of the people described.

Without giving away the story, here are a few observations I made:

1) Mary often recalls the words of "Take my life and let it be..." and con…

Winter and other arrivals

Winter's here. We don't have much snow yet, but the transformation is underway.

My youngest brother got home (in the middle of night) just in time for some snow clean-up.

My oldest brother and his wife are flying in from Africa tomorrow and we're thinking of ways to keep them warm.

Purposeful attitudes

A few mornings ago I woke up to the radio blasting, "Ain't that America." It wasn't hard to remember where I was! I switched to a Christmas station and a song was playing about "gratitude" being the "right attitude" for Christmas. I don't know what the song was called or who sang it.

It's not a bad idea to look for reasons to be thankful around Christmastime. "It's better to give than receive," people always say. It's a good time of year to look around and give thanks for having family, food, and a warm place to be, as well as God's gift to us of His son.

But this is beginning to sound a lot like Thanksgiving Day, which we celebrated not too long ago. In addition to Thanksgiving, there are many qualities, specific to Christmas, which we can focus on. For example, there are the four candles of the Advent wreath: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy (not necessarily in that order.)

The hope of the people as they waited for the Messi…

More pieces of the puzzle

I hadn't heard from my boss in over a month, so I decided to try emailing her again, even though I already emailed her two weeks ago and she hasn't responded yet.

Today I got an email from work, but it wasn't from the boss. It was from one of the other teachers, who recently volunteered to take over some of the organizational responsibilities. She sent a spreadsheet with information about all the teachers and travel dates. I was curious to see if I was even on the list.

Next to my name, it lists the company I had been teaching at and says "New contract for 2009 to be signed." So maybe that means I'll have my old students back! That would be nice. I was already preparing myself to start over with new students. Or maybe it means they are supposed to invite us back and haven't yet?

For the travel dates, I obviously have a question mark as my return date. The other teachers are all going home for Christmas and New Year's and coming back for the next semester…

December sunshine

The sun was being a tease today. It kept darting behind a cloud every time I tried to take a picture. It's hard to believe that it will be getting dark in an hour or two. Tonight it's supposed to be 13 degrees (-11 Celsius).

Jesse Tree reading, Second Thursday

1 Samuel 8 (New International Version) Israel Asks for a King 1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." 6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 …

NT Greek self-study

I've been working through Mounce's "The Basics of Biblical Greek" on my own for the past several years. Hmmm, I think it is only supposed to take one year. I do like the presentation of the book. I think I've mentioned this before, but there are a lot of accompanying study aids, as well as a constantly-developing website.

I registered for the online class at, and now I can listen to free lectures with accompanying slides.

The problem with self-study is of course no accountability. The website offers quizzes that I've done a few times and then corrected myself. But in general I don't learn the material well enough and end up having to do the exercises with my book and notes open. And then if I try to translate something, I have to go searching through my book again.

But I do like Mounce's grammar explanations. I don't like the way that a lot of books for "laymen" or whomever tend to oversimplify the grammar. Yes, it can be easier …

Around Town

I took some pictures of the night lights a few days ago. I was sitting in a car for some of them, so they didn't come out very well.

The center of town. Sorry it's blurry....

A jewelry shop, all spruced up.

Can you spot my parents?

Some other shops...

The Animal

My room is in the attic. There is a storage tunnel on the outer perimeter, and little doors are placed here and there to grant access to the storage.

Late at night, when the lights are out and all is silent, The Animal comes out. I begin to hear a series of scrabbling, squeaks, and the pitter-patter of a living creature. I can hear him as he makes his way from one end of the storage tunnel to the other. I can put my hand up and touch the wall where the noise is, and imagine who is on the other side.

I stuck a camera in and snapped a picture during the daylight hours. I don't see anyone there, do you?

Once, I heard a thump against one of the doors. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened the door a crack, to see an injured bat flapping around inside the storage space.

I read somewhere that a bat colony can live in the same house for up to 100 years. It can be almost endearing to think of a lone creature; a solitary mouse or bat or even some bigger creature. But a colony? Yuck.


2nd Sunday of Advent

My Jesse Tree looks a little better now that it has some ornaments on it!

Today's passage is Isaiah 9:2-7.

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, [b] Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the …

Divisions and confusion

I'm about to give away the climax of a story. I liked the way that this Jewish man's realization of his conversion is described:

I was not a praying man, but I opened my mouth. “Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe. I thank You for the fellowship and friendship at this table. I thank You for what we have learned at this meeting. I ask You now to bless this food, and I do so in the name of Jesus, the Messiah.”

For a moment I sat there amazed. I had prayed in the name of Jesus, the Messiah! It had not been planned by me. But the words had come from my heart.

The others at the table could have missed it, but they didn’t. They all knew of my inner struggles. Their faces were suddenly jubilant.

“Stan, you’re a believer! Praise God!” They got up in turns and hugged me. Several cried with joy.

And then I too began to cry.*

The story goes that one of the daughters in a tight-knit (American) Jewish family tells her parents that she has accepted Jesus as the Messiah. In shoc…

Happy times

Mary sent me some photos she took from the last time she visited the orphanage with me. After that I only visited one more time before leaving for the States.

There were two pictures and this was the silly version. The kids look like themselves. :) The girls looked especially cute that day though, because they were dressed up for some sort of dance recital.

Misha, center, on the floor, is on the brink of being adopted. He probably won't be there when I get back. I didn't manage to get his new address, although I doubt he knows it anyway. So I'm not sure how I will be able to get in touch with him. All I know is that he was hosted by a family in Texas a few years ago, and now he's being adopted by a family from Dallas. I'm not sure if it's the same family or not. But I'm pretty sure they're Christians.

I got my picture taken with the counselor, Raisa. It was supposed to be a group shot with the boys, but for some reason this boy was shunned and the others r…

Russian work visa FAQ

No visa news, but I finally found a helpful website that explains the process in steps.

I'm going to paste some excerpts here.

Justification for obtaining a work visa:

-In general, a foreign employee assigned to work in the Russian Federation should have a degree of appropriate knowledge, specialized skills or managerial/executive-level skills that are not available in Russia's labour market. [native English speaker will suffice]

-A foreign employee may not convert her/his immigration status from a "Visitor" (travelling on the basis of a tourist or business visa) to "Work" status while remaining in Russia. [this just means that you have to leave the country to get the new kind of visa. So, even if my invitation had been ready in October as expected, I still would have needed to make a visa trip somewhere]

Here's the process. It's pretty long. I'll try to break it down.

1) What is required of the employer (the company where I teach): In order to spons…

My career

I wrote a Russian friend recently telling her about my visa situation, and she wrote back saying that she wished me luck, whether I returned to Russia or decided to "stay home" and start my "career."

That made me wonder, just what have I been doing all this time if I haven't started my career? Just what is a career, and how do you know when you've started it? And why is it important?

The first word that comes to mind when pondering the meaning of career is "profession." People in Russia are always asking me what my profession is, and I dislike answering. I suppose for simplicity's sake I'm a teacher, but I really dislike putting my life in a box like that. I've been teaching informally for about 8 years; what difference does it make if I earned money from it or not?

If career relates to education, I have studied many subjects. Why does it matter what degree I've earned? I've poured out passion into subjects that I only studied for…