Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The implications of inheritance


He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for -that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the LORD. (Ps. 105:43-45)

This is one of those "happy ending" Psalms. Their journey is complete; they have reached the Promised Land. Praise the Lord.

But.

There is one tiny little assignment left....remain faithful to the Lord's precepts.

Have you ever received a great honor, only to realize that with it comes great responsibility?

What a privilege to be called the sons of God! Our sins are washed away, and we are justified by FAITH. But how convicting at the same time!

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. -Eph. 4:1


Monday, December 28, 2009

Advice for educators

It is interesting alternating between teaching English and attending Russian classes, because I can make observations from both points of view. For example, I have more motivation to do homework because I know what it's like to be a teacher. ;)

There was certain advice we were given in training about teaching adults, but I haven't been able to apply it all yet. However, I was able to test it out while being a student, and found that there are a few areas where teachers really do need to plan carefully and pay attention to students' needs.

1) Making lessons "fun"

I always have a dilemma when planning for Sunday school because I know the kids like to get up and move around, but I hate the kinds of games that have just one winner. So I look for activities that have an "everyone wins" objective, which aren't always so popular. more/-


But that's with children. Adults, of course, can handle a little competition. But as far as making the lesson "fun," I find that teachers sometimes mix up relevance with entertainment. Making an assignment personal is an important step in developing conversation skills, but it doesn't have to mean letting go of rules. Just because a student is sharing about his family or participating in a "get-to-know-you" game doesn't mean a teacher should be afraid to correct errors. That's what teachers are for! There are ways to correct errors subtly so as not to interrupt the flow of conversation.

2) What to do when only one student shows up

We were told not to say "Where IS everybody?" when one student is in the classroom. It is as if you are ignoring him. Somehow, something similar often pops out of our mouths to break the silence. We want to state the obvious.

But it really is insulting from the student's point of view. My teachers this semester were pretty good at getting started and acting interested in me even when no one else showed up or if the others were really late. Of course a few times we stalled or switched to an alternate topic for class, but they never made me feel like they had wasted their time to show up just for one student.

I think it's important not only for teaching but for any kind of gathering, to thank the people who HAVE come and to make them feel welcome. It's usually not necessarily to draw attention to the empty seats or to make an announcement about needing to change plans since so few people have come. If you are concerned about the others' health or whereabouts, you could ask someone who knows them, AFTER the class...rather than taking away from the class time.

3) Grading and expectations

I don't know about you, but I'm more motivated to work harder when the teacher expects more of me. If I know she isn't going to collect or check the homework, why bother to do it? If I know she's an easy-grader, why should I give 100% effort? I could work just a little bit and get a satisfactory result.

Students need honest feedback about how they are doing. It isn't just the donkey-carrot theory about getting them to work hard. If you want them to succeed, they need motivation to work hard, and they need to know what they can do differently. And as far as respect, they need to know that their effort doesn't go unnoticed.

4) Giving clear instructions

We practiced and practiced phrasing instructions so that they would be understandable to learners of English. We practiced checking for comprehension before beginning the activity. But I have to admit that I usually get lazy and give instructions in Russian, or just start the activity without any explanation and see if any questions come up.

But as a student, with all other factors being in order, I found that I felt a little panicky when we started an exercise without complete instructions. Or without a simple question from the teacher about whether or not we understood.

As a student, it's important for me to know:
-how to know when it will be my turn, or how to express that I want to answer the question
-how exactly to answer the question (i.e. a model)
-what resources are available to me (new vocabulary, a grammar chart, etc.)


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas myths and legends

Christmas legends...some of them are harmless; others, not so much.

I finally watched "The Nativity Story" recently. I had bought it after the holidays last year and waited the whole year. :)

The film provided some interesting material for meditation, although there were a few pieces of story that felt like they were placed there out of tradition rather than through careful research.

For example:
-The wise men arrive at the same time as the shepherds (this doesn't count as a spoiler:)). I had liked the portrayal of their journey, but why ruin the chronology?
-Mary rides on a donkey. For some reason this is in all the Christmas stories, but is not actually mentioned in Scripture!

Then, on Christmas Day, I opened up a news site to find the following headline: Was Jesus Wealthy?

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Obviously not, you say. But apparently certain churches follow a different teaching, and this made the news.

The article mentions, "[Pastor] Anderson says Jesus couldn't have been poor because he received lucrative gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- at birth."

Again...this is incorrect, at least chronologically.

And this: " 'Mary and Joseph took a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the finest transportation of their day was a donkey,' says Anderson. 'Poor people ate their donkey. Only the wealthy used it as transportation.' "

What?!

So American churches are teaching that Christ was wealthy. Does this seem ironic to anyone else?


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

(Just modeling some Christmas gifts!)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On spending the holidays "away from home"

Spending your first holiday in a new home? Or overseas?

This is my first Christmas in Russia. But I remember my first Thanksgiving here very well. Some missionaries invited me over for dinner. My hosts had cooked a turkey and mashed potatoes, but many of the Russian guests brought Russian salads that they had purchased on the way to the party. It was good food...but not what I was used to.

Even if you haven't moved, everything changes as seasons of life change. One year everyone is fighting over the decorations; the next year no one wants to help at all. One year everyone is up until 2am drinking eggnog; the next year they are all tired from the work week and want to go to bed early.

Therefore, it's important to adjust your expectations, and, even better, to come up with your own traditions that you can add to and change as you like, because they're yours! more/-


Recently, I watched "The Nativity Story" for the first time. As I watched the camels making their way across the sand, I thought to myself, this doesn't look at all like our Christmas scenes. Our traditions are all made up. We like them because we have taken ownership and made them personal.

There is nothing material that you absolutely HAVE to have in order to make a nice Christmas tradition. Wherever you are, in whatever circumstances, you can come up with your own idea and say "THIS is how I choose to celebrate Jesus' birth."

This may seem a little late, but...

For Advent, you can start on whatever date you like. Maybe 4 Sundays before Christmas, maybe Dec.1st, or maybe you don't have time until one week before Christmas.

Don't have time to physically gather together for Advent? You could leave Advent messages for roommates to find or send electronic messages to family and church members.

Who says you have to have a huge fir tree for Christmas? Decorate your houseplant, or make one out of paper! Or skip the tree altogether. Make up your own Christmas visuals. What images help you to meditate on Christ's birth and the events leading up to it?

Want to take a more serious approach and fast for some time before the holiday? Also an option.

Who cares if you can't buy an Advent calendar, Christmas lights, or the "right" colored candles? There is no right or wrong here!

A lack of molasses for gingerbread men doesn't have to spoil your Christmas. Make (or buy) your favorite treat that IS within limits.

With a little motivation, you can keep fond memories of the old traditions, make some new ones, and lose nothing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The calendar...

Oh well, I'll have to post this without the other photos...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been working on a new kind of Advent calendar this year, and I finally got caught up recently. This happens every year: I get behind and then end up finishing it after Christmas so that it will at least be done.

Now, a few days before Christmas, I am finally on track.




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I have liked the pattern I'm using this year. The pictures are Medieval in style and I'm using paper collage with bright origami paper that might never be used for its intended purpose. It is fun to just make a few simple cuts and end up with a colorful picture.

Also, the tape I'm using is really weak, so it creates an interesting pop-out effect as it loses its stick.

Some of the figures aren't easy to recognize, but we do the Scripture readings, so we understand what they mean; that's the important thing.

Unfortunately, I will probably have to look for a new idea for next year. :( I just can't seem to use the same idea twice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The weather report

Grrrrrrrrr. Blogger is loading my pictures for my other post sideways.

I will have to resort to Plan B and write about the weather. :)

I scoffed a bit when people were talking about a "blizzard" in St. Petersburg. But we did, in fact, get several inches of snow, which actually stuck. It is looking pretty wintry around here!

Of greater significance is the fact that today is December 22, which means that YESTERDAY was the shortest day of the year.

Spring is coming! :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Defense of Russian Medicine

I read an interesting blog post recently challenging someone's advice to those traveling in Russia.

She advised foreigners to avoid Russian hospitals; he suggested that she was being a little too judgmental, and went on to defend Russian medicine.

I reviewed a book last year that offered great insight into the Russian approach toward medicine.

I would agree that we are too quick to judge, and too quick to fear what for many people here is considered normal. In many ways the conditions are less comfortable than desired. But is the care any less effective? Mistakes are made, but do they exceed the mistakes made by U.S. doctors?

I agree that travelers should avoid landing in the hospital, but not because the care is inadequate. The main reason is that it is different from what you would expect at home. It's hard to be sick and experiencing culture shock at the same time. If it does happen to you, the best thing is to cooperate with the doctors and try to "relax" as much as possible and let them do their job. Of course if you're not deathly ill, you could try to be patient and just wait until you get home.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The presentation


I might as well share about my presentation since I had asked everyone for advice. I needed to find an interesting cultural topic.

Well, I prepared a few ideas, and the one that my teacher approved was a description of the U.S. school system. She encouraged me to find interesting contrasts and bring in school photos.

I know, it sounds boring... but the school system in Russia, like queuing, is one of those key factors that serves as an instrument for studying culture.

On the day of the presentation, I was last to go...other topics included vodka, Russian rock music, an Irish film review, and a discussion about teaching English abroad. Yes, I had definitely chosen a "boring" topic. But it generated a bit of discussion. more/-


My conversation teacher and classmates, at our end-of-semester tea party:



We got our grades immediately after the presentations, and I could write a whole dissertation on the grading system alone.

1) She announced our grades ALOUD! A major no-no in American culture, at least. When I was in school I was barely aware of any of the grades of my classmates, except for some of my closest friends.

2) We had not been given any criteria for the presentation...just, talk for 20 minutes, make it interesting. Yet when she was announcing our grades, she made comments like, "_____, you made two errors...you get a B." So it turned out we were being graded on grammar.

3) She compared us to each other! ___________ did better, _________ did worse, _____________ did the best, etc. I took the opportunity to explain in my presentation that American students are not compared with each other, nor praised/criticized much in front of others. She wondered how students were motivated if they weren't constantly reminded of their need to perform in a group. I suppose we do have a ranking system in the U.S., but it certainly isn't used as a stimulus for daily performance.

The next day in class, the teacher took my idea and did the same thing with the Russian school system, describing each level from preschool to university. As usual, I was shocked by the differences! I don't really know how to put it into words, but it is just a difference in mentality, with the Russian system being more regulated overall. To me it is unusual for there to be so much uniformity. However, I know that their system has a good reputation. My classmates said that the Russian system is pretty much like the European one, so I was the only one wondering why I wasn't taught proper handwriting and grammar in elementary school.

I did find it surprising how proud my teacher was of her native school system. Of course, it does employ her, so she must like it. :) But I could never say that I support a certain approach 100%. There are always pros and cons. For example, the American system is rather disorganized in comparison to others, but the flexibility means that students' individual needs are better met.

Part of our group with our Lexicon/Phraseology teacher:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Whose nickname?

I was a bit taken aback a few years ago as I walked down the street and spotted a billboard saying "Russia-the land of opportunity."

Well, how would YOU react?

I think it's fair to say that this nickname more often refers to the U.S....

However, in class recently my Lexicon teacher noted that is it actually RUSSIA who was called the "Land of Opportunity" in the 18th century, more than a hundred years before the concept of the American Dream came into being. This referred not only to opportunities for foreigners to make a nice living for themselves, but to Russians who were close to the tsar and could receive many desired benefits. +/-


In a way, we are all looking for the "Land of Opportunity" when we move to a different city, neighborhood, or even a new position in our work or ministry. We try to make the best choice based on a number of factors. In general, we are looking for something better than what we have at the moment.

Stephen Curtis Chapman has a song about this concept. His conclusion? Matthew 6:33...

This is a world full of options
It's like a never ending buffet line
While all that I'm really needing
Is living water and the bread of life
So as I'm walking through this life making choices
There is one thing I must never forget
This land of opportunity has one God
If I seek Him first He'll take care of the rest

Perhaps you have heard this sermon many times... but does your life show it? Have the people around you heard it? As you look at their faces, do you think that they know and believe that there is something more in life?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to "build" a Christmas tree

I know where Christmas trees come from.

First, some big machines make a structure...



Step 2/-


Then it is covered with green material....all ready to be decorated!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trying new things

I have always been intimidated by the open-air market, for three reasons: 1) Having to speak Russian. 2) Unfamiliar hygienic conditions and business ethics (based on rumors I've heard). 3) The smell and sight of the raw meat.

Okay, that was my little confession. I get bored with the selection in modern supermarkets, and the conditions are probably not any better. A few days ago I was craving grape leaves, and decided to stop at a nearby market after class.

I didn't go near anything that would upset my stomach, and I actually liked seeing the bright arrays of fresh (?) fruits and vegetables. After inquiring about grape leaves, I was directed to the "pickled" section, where I found them without any problem.

I might have to return at some point for some herbs and spices.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One morning

It was another dark morning, but as I examined the sky, it was a shade of deep blue, tinged with turquoise-more colorful than it had been on other mornings.

I remembered looking at photos of the northern sky in a book, and it looked about the same.

When I emerged from the metro, the sky was a light pinkish-lavender.

I thought to myself, "I am going to see the sun today." And I did. Two days in a row...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Picture post

It's Sunday. Time to take a break from thinking and post some photos! Actually, that's not quite true...I have to study for a test. :( But nevertheless, it's good not to be glued to the computer.

Teaching English at the orphanage...



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A typical downtown scene.



A night scene with New Year's decor.



With church friends at McDonald's. Where else? :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ward 9 roommates

My mom and I went to visit Nastia's mother. As usual, the trip was a bit complicated, though not necessarily stressful. It was about 2 hours in each direction.

Since it was winter, it seemed to take longer than usual to get down the winding road to the hospital. When we got there, it took us some time going up and down the stairs (with bags of groceries) to find the right ward. We remembered approximately where it was, but flu quarantines and construction created some obstacles.

Lena and her roommates were glad to see us. Even the nurse commented that Lena has been more at peace than a few years ago, partly due to knowing that Nastia is safe and well-adjusted in the U.S. Because of the construction, they had lost our contact information, so that had created a little stress as they could no longer connect with us. But now that we had shown up, that fear was gone. continue/-


After saying hello to everyone and looking at photographs, we took the time to have tea with the nurse, whom my parents had met when they approached Lena about adopting Nastia.

Of course we didn't leave without taking our group photo, as well as a little video to send home to Nastia. (Lena is the woman in the wheelchair in front of me)



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesus and bureaucracy

Paperwork... wouldn't life be different without it? Sometimes I want to just throw it all in the garbage and get on with my LIFE.

But around this time of year, we can remember Mary's condition. Although she may not have given birth in December, if we observe the church calendar, we see Mary and Joseph getting ready to make a journey, all for the sake of paperwork!

Of course this isn't the earliest case in the Bible of people needing to travel for the sake of citizenship, land ownership, etc. But we know that at least this example of life's worries was not unknown to Christ. In human form, he wasn't exempt from it.

Scripture tells me, "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head."* Do I really have anything to complain about? Or, to look at it differently, is there any situation that the Lord does not understand? Does He lack compassion?

*Matthew 8:20

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baby shower

On Saturday we had our first church baby shower. It was fun because a lot of the guests and the mother-to-be had never been to one, so it was truly a surprise.



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Everyone decided that I should be in charge since it was an American tradition. But I have to admit that I felt pretty overwhelmed and ended up delegating most of the responsibilities to other people. We had found a lot of elaborate ideas online, but it was hard to actually make it come about.



First of all, you can’t just go to one supermarket here and find a party section with everything you need. I think I went to about 5 different stores looking for the right kind of balloons. Also, another girl and I were working on a scrapbook to give the mother-to-be, but we could only find a few hours on Saturday afternoons when we were both free. After two sessions, we only had a few pages done and were running out of time. So that remained unfinished…oops!


But it was a fun time, overall. :) (Don't try looking for me in this photo, because I'm the photographer!)




Monday, December 7, 2009

Progress

The quest for temporary residency continues...

My dad prepared a surprise for me. Some of my documents were ready and he was able to send them with my mom.

So now I have in my possession:

-my FBI background check
-my birth certificate

I wasn't even really thinking about it since it was out of my hands, so it was a nice surprise.

What next? I'm not sure. I feel a bit scattered. I need to get some advice since I am hoping to apply after New Year's!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A visitor

My mom has arrived! Here's the proof...


Saturday, December 5, 2009

By the way

I need your input! Scroll down* to read how you can help me with a homework assignment.

A lot of things happen in Russia "by the way." As in, "I forgot to mention that..."

BY THE WAY, my phone number doesn't work anymore.

BY THE WAY, the tram isn't running.

BY THE WAY, I'm getting married.

BY THE WAY, the bank is closed for lunch.

And this is how I learned about my latest assignment for conversation class. more/-


On Wednesday, the instructor suddenly said,

"BY THE WAY, you're having your final exam next Wednesday. You need to prepare a 20-minute presentation." Wha...? I don't mind presentations, but isn't this a little sudden?

*So I need to pick a topic by Monday. I need ideas!

These are some of the topics we covered during the semester: Russian hospitality, the meaning of hand gestures, Russian flags and symbols, gender theory, advertising, time, housekeeping, healthy lifestyles, and fear.

I need a topic that is fairly universal. Naturally, I will be presenting some observations of Russian culture and comparing it with my own. Then my classmates will have a chance to ask some questions and weigh in.

Any suggestions???

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scary

The conversation topic was "fear," and I was the only one in class, with a substitute teacher. She wanted to talk about the train crash.

The teacher knew I was a Christian since we had talked about Christmas the day before. She asked me what I thought about the role God played in such tragedies. Somehow we got to talking about predestination, and I realized that I am not very good at explaining it in Russian.

The next time we had class, our regular teacher was back. She asked us about our childhood fears and then each of us had to tell about a scary situation that had happened to us.

My incident took place a few years ago, but before I started blogging... read/-


I was going home from one of our first worship team practices that had lasted about 4 hours. It was late. The subway train stopped one station before mine, and there was an announcement that it would go no further. Since it was around midnight, I thought maybe it was the last train, and decided to exit the metro and get on a trolley, which would go straight to my house.

When I exited the metro, I saw the trolleys all tucked in for the night, and I realized that there weren't going to be any more. I thought about hopping on a route taxi, but as I looked down the street, I saw that instead of picking up passengers, they too were all turning into a parking lot. It was too late.

In Russia it is more standard to hitch-hike than in the States. But I had never done it on my own. Even though people do it all the time, I wasn't sure what would happen to me as a foreigner if I tried to hail a car. At the very least, they might charge me more money. It seemed safer at the time to continue down the dark road by myself, on foot.

That was before I came upon the cemetery. It was along the road in a wooded area. There was no one else on foot walking around, and the cars were coming along every few minutes. Sometimes they would slow down as they neared me. I was, essentially, alone in the woods, walking by a cemetery.

I can honestly say that I wasn't really scared, but it was one of those situations where I had to ask myself, "how did I get into this mess?" Otherwise known as "if my friends back home could see me now..."

After the 10-15 minute walk through the "woods," I reached a better-lighted intersection that I actually recognized. In fact, my friends lived in the building on the corner. I could have stopped by, but they were probably sleeping, and I wasn't really in trouble.

Down the block, I could see the metro station that I was SUPPOSED to be at. But the trolley wasn't running there either. I passed the metro and walked the rest of the way home.

I got home sometime after 1 am. No one was waiting or knew that I got home late, so it was rather anti-climactic. But all's well that ends well!

Epilogue: I later learned that my friends had actually called to make sure I got home alright. Only they got mixed up and called my friend Lida, who was home asleep in her own bed. "Did you get home alright?" they asked. "Yes," she answered. They wondered what was wrong with my voice, and she thought it was awfully nice of them to check on her.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nota bene

Without speculating too much, I do want to comment on the train crash that occurred last week between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Although this is no longer "front-page" news in certain places (such as the U.S.), keep in mind that this was a fairly serious event.

The BBC News reported today that an Islamist group has taken responsibility for the attack. Investigations continue. The injured are recovering; funerals are being performed this week.

It's uncertain what role the incident will play in future politics and relations between religious groups. But keep in mind that if you have friends in Russia, this might be something they've been thinking and possibly worrying about in the past few days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Events

Anybody out there? I haven't been able to write many long posts lately. Maybe that's true for you too if you've begun your holiday preparations.

There are lots of fun things going around here....along with the usual work and play. :)

Concerts...





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Decorating for Advent...




...and lots more to come this week. But I'll post when I can!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's raining meat

Nope, it isn't The Weather Girls. I actually have Psalm 78 on my mind. He rained meat down on them like dust, flying birds like sand on the seashore. (verse 27)

I discovered this psalm a few years ago. I suppose I had read it plenty of times, but never paid much attention. But one day while reading it, the truth of God's faithfulness and the tragedy of the human condition struck me at the same time.

There are so many years of history packed into this one psalm that if you stop to remember each event, you go through a roller coaster of emotions.

First, there is the promise of the people to never forget God's deeds. read more/-


We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done. (v.4)

But that didn't last very long...

They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them. (v.11)

They continued to sin (v. 17) and tested God, displaying their unbelief.

When the LORD heard them, he was very angry;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,

for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance. (v.21, 22)

It was around this time that they got the meat they had been longing for (see beginning of post). Then, even when God punished them for their gluttony, they still didn't believe.

In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. (v.32)

And so the cycle continued...

Whenever God slew them, they would seek him;
they eagerly turned to him again.

They remembered that God was their Rock,
that God Most High was their Redeemer. (v.34, 35)

And then, after some time of trusting in Him...

Again and again they put God to the test;
they vexed the Holy One of Israel.

They did not remember his power—
the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, (v. 41, 42)

It's so baffling to read, and at the same time it makes so much sense. We are in need of God. As we begin to forget, and stray from His path, we sooner or later run into trouble that makes us run to Him again. And He is merciful to welcome us back.

A lot of times in life we use the excuse "I forget" or "I don't know." We make our mistakes sound more passive than they are. But the thing is that even the absence of a right action or a right thought counts as wrong.

"Forgetting" God leads to sin! But remembering won't come automatically. We have to take steps to make sure it happens.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. (Deut. 11:18-21)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In the news

I am often pretty skeptical about various sources, but it's interesting to read about what is considered news here in St. Petersburg. You probably heard about the recent train "crash." :( I typed up this post before that happened.

Here are a few recent headlines, not quite as heavy:

Swine flu may have been invented for the sake of money
-Wow, really? Only about a year late (though I am not claiming that anyone suffering from the flu is making it up... you have my sympathy)...

Fur coats for little dogs
-To each his own, I guess.

In correctional facility #5, an internet shop has opened
-This was kind of an interesting idea. Relatives can order things for inmates via the Internet, and the packages are prepared right there and delivered. It saves them from standing in huge lines or waiting for mail to come from home with stale food.

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Priests are joining the army
-(photo: big burly-looking dude with a priestly beard and headgear, in camouflage) Apparently there are new military schools opening which will educate young men for the priesthood and the armed services simultaneously.

The planned "Okhta" Center won't spoil the skyline of the city
-Yes it will! I find it interesting that the newspaper is promoting this project.

Porridge made from rice is the healthiest of them all
(photo: "happy" girl staring at a HUGE bowl of rice porridge... ewwwwww)

*SOURCE: "Metro" newspaper, Saint Petersburg, Nov. 26, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The fourth Thursday

What? Today is a holiday?

It was a regular working day in Russia. I actually found it a bit amusing when people asked how I was celebrating Thanksgiving, since I didn't get home until 8 pm. But at the same time, it was really nice how everyone was so thoughtful.

-I had lunch with an American friend who's in town for the week
-a Canadian friend (they celebrated in October) offered to take me out for tea so I wouldn't be depressed about missing the holiday
-the orphanage staff wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and presented me with a chocolate bar
-in the evening, my parents called on the home phone for the first time in two years (we usually use other means of communication:) )

So despite being absorbed with myself and my daily life, I still had plenty of reminders.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Early in the morning

Who likes to get up on a cold, dark morning? Not me...although in the summer I would probably find another excuse.

But as I was going about my morning routine, an excerpt popped into my head:

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance..." (The Gospel of John, 20:1)

What does morning mean to you? Perhaps it includes a lot of moaning and groaning before you begin your day. But how many wonderful discoveries have been made in the morning! The main one, of course, the discovery of our Risen Lord.

That is my encouragement for the day. :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reading in the digital age


Ahhh, books. We were inseparable once. I still occasionally fall asleep with a few books near my pillow.

But let's face it. As we move further in life, it gets harder to stop and sit down with a book. After all, once we get home, there is the computer...

I try to keep technology to a minimum. I have a cell phone (with no internet), and a digital camera that goes with me occasionally. But sometimes I wonder if I am missing out by not having a little screen where I could read books while on the go. I'm physically unable to carry a lot with me, and the light in the public transportation is often too dim for proper reading. more/-


A few electronic books came my way recently, and I thought...hmmm. Is it likely that I'm going to sit at my computer and read them? Maybe a few pages a day?

One of the books is a free download of Gary Thomas' Pure Pleasure. I liked his Sacred Marriage. I don't recommend Googling the term "pure pleasure;" there's some appropriate information here. :) The book sounds suspiciously similar to Desiring God. If I ever read it, I'll let you know...

I don't know what will happen to my reading habits with the rise of technology. I suppose I will eventually give in to modern trends.

But something about reading books on a screen is so...unromantic. :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Stained glass" Christmas decorations

This is going to be a picture-less post, but here's a link with some examples if you're visually-inclined: http://www.windowbutterflies.com/FreeChristmasPatterns.html

I had never thought of fake stained glass as something that could be nice to look at. However, once I tried it, I learned that any picture you can draw or trace can be made into a window decoration using special paints. They are translucent when dry, which gives it a more natural look. We are using it as a Christmas craft. I'm not suggesting that you leave them up all year round. :)

The process is really simple and low-tech (for those of you who are doubtful about your craft abilities):

+/-
  • 1) Ask for window-cling paints at your local craft or toy store. You will also need some kind of clear plastic surface to work on.
  • 2) Make the outline of your drawing with black paint (or the color of your choice) by placing a pattern underneath your plastic sheet, or by drawing free-hand. * Let dry 1-2 hours, depending on how thick the paint is, etc. You want it dry enough to not run into other colors.
  • 3) Fill in all the areas with the colors of your choice, being sure not to let them touch. ** Let dry overnight.
  • 4) Peel off and stick to a window pane. Can be removed and reapplied several times!

*Tip: Think about how you want to break up the space into shapes.
**Tip: Keep in mind that any pieces left isolated (such as "floating" facial features) will be detached from the rest of the picture once you remove it from the plastic.

The contour drawing from my tester can be found on this post. I liked the way it came out once I had filled in the different colors. But it was a very small picture, and the ones we are doing with the Sunday school are meant to fill up a whole window! Of course there are more technical difficulties as you get bigger, the main one being that as you use more paint, the drying time is longer. Try not to move them right away.

Concerning age: Even preschoolers can participate, if they can be taught how to regulate how much paint they are using (squeeze some out, then spread).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wagging tongues

We had an interesting topic for conversation class recently...gossip and slander. It was interesting timing since I had recently been thinking about that side of personal relationships.

When it comes down to it, living without gossip is very hard. I mean, it is a very hard habit to quit! When was the last time you had a conversation that wasn't about some absent 3rd party? Maybe the discussion started out innocently enough, but led to some kind of judgment...

In class, we agreed that it was hard to find other topics to talk about. The weather? Even if you try to stay with your own life and that of your conversation partner, many of life's problems are related to other people. For example, what affects your family members or roommate affects you as well. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We are made to live in community. continue reading/-


I find it hard to even discuss the topic of gossip without bringing up some example that I'm not at liberty to share.

My teacher tried to prompt us by asking how we would react to someone who has a reputation as a gossip. "Would you be friends with that person?" she asked. "Doesn't labeling someone as a 'gossip' count as gossiping?" I replied.

While it's difficult to pin down any "rules" for how to speak kindly about other people, I suppose it is possible to reflect on how you personally can respond.

1) What to do when a conversation leads to gossip

I can think of three solutions:

- Keep silent and offer neutral answers, thereby killing others' interest in the topic.

- Change the subject subtly or change the tone by bringing up a positive trait of the person in question.

- Declare your discomfort openly and explain why you think gossip is wrong.

I suppose it all depends on the situation, your personality, your role in the group, etc.

2) How do you respond when you learn that someone has spread rumors or gossip about you?

This is a tough one. I noticed that a popular answer, even among Christians, seems to be that you need to refute the rumors and make sure everyone knows the truth about you, so that your reputation will be protected. I am not sure if this is necessarily the most loving thing to do. In fact, I think the initial desire to defend oneself is born out of pride.

But here is what comes to mind:

- Could there be a reason for the gossip? If it is something that circulates often, could there be something in your behavior that is causing a reaction in people? It doesn't justify their speaking poorly of you, but it could still be a warning sign.

- What is the strongest witness of your character? Hopefully even if several people speak against you, there is still ample evidence as to what kind of life you lead. And your response when wronged will be a greater witness still.

-Do you have something against your brother? I don't think confrontation is always necessary, but gossip is sometimes motivated by a personal disagreement. Maybe it could all be solved by a simple apology or confession of offense. I find it hard to confront someone when I'm upset, without sounding accusatory. And if my motive is to argue, then maybe it isn't worth it. But if it can help the relationship to bring something to light, then go for it.

I haven't fully meditated on this topic to the end, so let this be a disclaimer. :) To be continued... perhaps.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Visa time

As you may recall, my current visa is good for 90 days. But since it's a student visa, I don't have to leave Russia to extend it.

Sometimes everything is just a little too casual for my liking. For example, I was told that my visa would be changed from a single-entry to a multi-entry when I arrived. But I recently found out that the switch was never made. I guess they had forgotten and I hadn't asked. This happened with a few other documents as well. I usually know enough to ask questions, but I wonder what happens to people who are here for the first time and/or don't speak Russian!

So this is what I had to do to extend my current visa...

Day 1

"I'm here to extend my visa," I announced. +/-


"Through December?" she asked, referring to the original dates.

"Ummm, no, my visa should already be good through December...I wanted to extend it for another 6 months beyond that."

This seemed like new information for her even though we had originally agreed on 9 months.

"Hmmmmm. Let's see." She had to think about what to do with me. The university has recently started requiring that you pay immediately for your classes per the number of hours you will study, then use that to sign a contract which you use to start the visa process. However, the university does not yet know their schedule for the next semester, so they couldn't determine the number of hours I would be studying. :)

After twiddling her pencil and making a few phone calls, the administrator said that we could make an educated guess about the number of holidays in the next semester, and subtract those hours from my tuition. Then if it ended up being more hours, we would have to draw up an additional contract. If less, I could have a few private lessons.

Day 2

I didn't have time to pay the fees that day since I didn't know how long it would take. I wanted to try paying with my VISA debit and not cash, since the sum was large enough to have required several trips to the ATM.

The next day, using the map from Elena the administrator, I entered the main grounds of Herzen university and began to search for the building where I could find the cashier.

After wandering around for about 15 minutes, I determined which building I needed to enter, and eventually, found a working entrance. A few babushkas immediately accosted me and asked where I was going. "The cashier," I said, flashing my student ID.

"Okay. Wipe your feet."

I ascended to what I thought was the third floor and began to look for the office. There was a labyrinth of corridors with windowless wooden doors, labeled by black and gold placards with very long titles.

I found myself alone in a large corridor lined with huge portraits of the tsars. It was a very regal (and slightly intimidating) atmosphere.

I finally asked someone where to go. "You need the third floor," he said. I was only on the second floor.

On the third floor, I was supposed to take a right and then a left, but I couldn't tell what actually counted as a turn. I got lost again.

I entered an office with a lot of desks and asked if this was the cashier. "It's opposite," a woman said. I knocked at the door that was across the hall. "Try next door," they said. I tried the next door, but it turned out to be connected to the previous one.

"The cashier is right there! Can't you read?" I turned, and saw a window in the wall, with a small black label, "Cashier." Oh. All this time, I had been looking for an actual room!

I talked to the lady through the glass and asked if I could use my VISA card here. "Building 11, room 11. First floor." I was in Building 5.

I headed outside to start over. I had seen Building 11, but it was labeled "Department of Psychology." There were students milling about, and I looked for a different entrance. On one door, a sign read "for questions related to payment, go through the main entrance."

I walked past the students and into Building 11. I opened the door to room 11 and found...an ordinary classroom. No, this wasn't it. I eventually found a sign that said something related to payment, and followed the signs up to the second floor. Entering an office, I asked again where to go. "You want room 11b," they said.

I went back downstairs and headed towards room 11. A woman was guarding some textbooks for sale. She told me to enter room 11 and immediately turn left. When I did so, there was a door marked "terminal." Ummmm. Creepy? I opened the door and found a closet-sized room divided by a curtain. There sat a woman in a purple sweater, sipping coffee from an ornate teacup. On the desk sat one of those machines that you run credit cards through.

I had finally found the right place, and she began to process my payment right away. After the first try, she said, "No connection with the bank. We'll have to wait five minutes. Would you like a cup of coffee?" I refused the coffee, but took a few pieces of candy as I hadn't had lunch. Then I pulled a random pamphlet out of my bag and started to read. We tried about three more times made a few phone calls, and eventually had success.

Next stop-the bank, to pay another fee. This time I knew where to go, but didn't know what kind of line there would be. When I arrived, there were two windows in operation, but one had been abandoned, and at the other stood a young woman in a fur coat, buying lottery tickets and scratching them off one at a time. Finally someone appeared at the second window and took care of me.

Final stop-the administrator of the international department. She shuffled some papers around and then took me to the passport/visa department, where they did some stamping and photocopying. They handed me a photocopy of my passport and my migration card, saying to check back in a month. I looked back at my passport as I walked away...hopefully they'll take good care of it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What the new law means

Recently, a few people have mentioned the new law about foreign "laborers" in Russia. Here's an explanation on someone's blog.

The reality is that mass evangelism has been restricted for awhile. I have heard about things getting "tighter," but I think it depends on what you are doing. Every once in a while you hear of a Bible study somewhere getting broken up, but I think that's fairly rare.

I haven't participated lately in anything that would be against the new proposed law. I know that authorities are especially concerned about anyone that could be taken advantage of, such as invalids or children. They fear that children are "impressionable." (I think Orthodox education of children starts pretty early, but apparently that doesn't count.)

read more/-


Anyway, I can't think of a situation in which this law would apply. I attend a Russian church and there's nothing there that would draw attention to missionaries. I don't do any proselytizing in the orphanage or any other public places. What I do is all about life and work and the relationships along the way. But Christ is the foundation, and no law can change that.

I don't have too much contact with other missionaries, so my perspective might not be accurate. If any foreign-run ministries have had to close, I don't think it is an indicator that Russia is closed to the Gospel. It just means that people will be seeking the Gospel in other contexts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And so it begins


There is no Thanksgiving Day in Russia to count from. Christmas and New Year's decorations can appear at any time. My metro station has had a New Year's tree for about 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, Advent begins on November 29th. In order for the decorations to be ready for the first Sunday, we have to make them now...right?

Lest you think I'm organized, I'm not even THINKING about shopping for gifts yet. In fact, I would like to make them, but somehow I can't see myself finding the time. more/-


For home decorations, I would like to try making this circular Advent calendar (see below). It's the same basic idea as a Jesse Tree, but with a slightly different design. I haven't decided yet which medium to use.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Warding off vampires (sickness?)

I tutor one of the orphanage counselors regularly. We were covering a certain topic and I asked her what she does to avoid getting the flu.

Her first response was that public events and social activities should be canceled for a time. Schools, etc. should be closed to prevent sickness from spreading further.

Then I asked her about her personal approach. She went to her room and returned with a little pouch on a string and explained that one of the other counselors had sewn a bunch by hand for them all to wear.

The woman whom I teach describes herself as "Muslim," but doesn't practice, as far as I know. Meanwhile, the counselor who sewed the pouches is Russian Orthodox.

"What do you do with it?" I asked, fearing some kind of witchcraft. Even among Russian Orthodox believers, some remedies border on paganism.

"You put garlic inside," she said. That wasn't as bad as I thought. If you can eat garlic as a remedy, maybe wearing it also does something? Not something I would try, but...to each his own.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On your side, Part 2

Read this one first.

I didn't mean to understate the importance of solid, supportive relationships. I just wanted to emphasize the one perfect source of comfort. Not only will He not disappoint, but He will always receive me when I've made stupid mistakes.

Today I read Psalm 62: "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. " (I immediately remembered the John Michael Talbot song.)

Of course we cannot overlook the friends in our lives who are a testimony of God's provision. But it takes wisdom to know whom to turn to in each situation and which words to say.

I will leave it at that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On your side

In the midst of conflict, there is often a temptation to run to someone who will take our side. And why not? There's nothing inherently wrong with the desire to be understood. This is the way we have been created.

The problem is that we don't always represent the whole story. Maybe we don't consciously think about escaping blame, but in crafting our story, we leave out certain bits of information and neglect others. We pick up the phone or sit down at the computer to "pour our heart out" to someone who doesn't really know the whole situation.

This is a bad idea on two counts: 1) Sharing about a situation can quickly turn to gossip. 2) We are not confronting the source of the problem. continue/-

As a missionary, of course, there is the temptation to run to one's home culture and seek sympathy there. But our lines shouldn't be drawn in such a way. The "us" should refer to the Church, not to culture.

Sometimes I realize that if I open my mouth, I won't be able to explain the situation without casting blame on someone else. Human pride is a strong force! And so, the only person left to run to is the One who created me.

When you were little, didn't you run to Mommy or Daddy in difficult situations, completely trusting that you would be comforted? I believe that God waits to comfort us in the same way. He is on our side.

"As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem." Is. 66: 13

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In which we take a creative pause


When we visited the far-off orphanage this time, the counselor was waiting for us with a drawing assignment. Their group's entry for a poster contest was due, and they hadn't started yet. It reminded me of a time at camp when our team showed up with all our equipment and asked what we could do to help, and the answer was the same...design a poster for the contest. Why not?

So we helped with the poster. I don't know that we draw any better than the kids, but at least we could boost motivation a little by getting into it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forecast

My grammar teacher said that St. Petersburg hasn't had a real winter for awhile. I suppose she is right. It has been pretty mild for the past few years.

And this year....will winter return?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Russian teacher's wisdom

Valentina is not your typical substitute teacher.

She fills in for other teachers, but she is actually quite experienced and the author of our textbook.

Today I had planned to do a presentation that was originally due Monday. Somehow our presentations have a habit of being postponed. This time, my classmate had agreed to help, and even brought her elephant prop (long story).

But when we walked into class, there was Valentina, instead of our regular teacher. And she quickly got down to business. She has a great sense of humor, and I enjoy her teaching style.

Here is one Valentina-ism:

She was putting the word “bench” into context. +/-

“In St. Petersburg, the mayor ordered that metal benches be put in at the bus stops. They used to be wooden, but now they’re metal. The first reason is that no one sits on metal. This way, they keep moving instead of loitering. The second reason is that no one will be able to break them.”

Meanwhile, we had a 10-minute break and Valentina and I were alone in the room.

“What church do you attend?” she asked. I can’t remember when I told her that I attend church.
“It’s a Russian Protestant church,” I said.
“Where?”
“We meet in one of the rooms of the Christian university. We don’t have our own building.”

After that, we had a moment of confusion. She asked how my church differed from a regular Protestant church; I said it didn’t. She asked why we couldn’t just meet in the same building as other Protestants, who do have a building. I described our weekly meetings and tried to explain that we have a common faith, but still have separate fellowships. To me it seems odd that Orthodox believers can just pop in to any Orthodox church when they feel a need to attend. It makes Protestantism sound more rigid that we are bound to a certain time and place. To me, the relationships are obviously important, as well as the idea of accountability. If you attend different congregations, who will know how you’re really doing spiritually?

But still, it made me think.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stop-start life


Poor bunny, that carrot doesn't seem so appealing to him right now.

As much as I've tried to get on a regular schedule this fall, I seem to get bursts of energy and then crash.

One of my textbooks pointed out that this is part of Russian culture and is a remnant of peasant life: periods of quiet, alternating with intense periods of labor, due to the harvest season.

Last week was school vacation week, so I didn't have to go to the orphanage in the afternoons. Not to mention, November 4th was "Unity Day," so I had a whole day off. I was planning to spend the week catching up with friends whom I haven't seen since getting back to Russia. But I got sick right after the church retreat, and had very little energy to do anything other than attend class in the mornings. more/-


I was a bit nervous about this being a full work week. It sounded so daunting. I realize that for most people, this is normal life, but it felt like I had had a lot of false starts and then got interrupted by sickness or other distractions. So a whole new week stretching out before me seemed like a mountain too big to climb.

But the week is actually going fine. And with two days behind me, the end is in sight!

I still need to do my homework, but my energy burst has ended. Oops!

Monday, November 9, 2009

An evening in the "Cultural Capital"

A friend and I went to a concert in the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Paul. It's one of those familiar buildings on Nevskii Prospect that you may have walked by several times, but never entered.

read more/-

Or you may have peeked inside, but did you continue up the winding staircase into the sanctuary?




During Soviet times, churches were remodeled to serve secular purposes. This one was a swimming pool, as is still evident from the bleachers. It was restored after the fall of the Soviet Union, and gets plenty of use as a church today. Some of my friends were married here.

Oh, and the concert. It featured a combination of brass and organ, with such composers as Bach, Stanley, Telemann, Pachelbel (you can guess which piece), and Vivaldi. Lots of old favorites.


The path of life



If the LORD delights in a man's way,
he makes his steps firm;

though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

-Ps. 37:23,24


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Faux pas

Some of my Russian friends recently brought up the topic of reading your Bible in public transportation. Apparently, in Orthodox culture, it is frowned upon.

Various arguments:
-you are doing your spiritual works “before men” (as the Pharisees)
-you are not giving proper respect to the Word of God, by opening it in such a place
-you have clearly not set aside a separate time for reading and meditating on the Word, since you are reading in while in transit

I was a little surprised by the discussion, but I realized that Americans are very casual in general about such things. I never think twice about where I place my Bible, how I write in it, when/where I read it, etc. Obviously I think about what works the best for me, but it is rare that I consider how it looks to others or to someone from another culture. I was chastised once by a Russian friend for putting my Bible in the bag with my change of shoes on the home way from church. Oops! more/-


It’s possible that Russian Orthodoxy is closer to the Jewish culture in this regard. But in American Protestant churches, ritual purity is rarely observed.

I was riding in the metro recently and the man opposite me opened a book and was reading intently. As far as I could tell, it was a Muslim calendar or book of prayer. “That’s it,” I thought. “If the Muslims can do it, so can we.” And I decided that I was going to read my Bible after all. Why shouldn’t I use the time to receive a little edification?

Today I was reading 1 Timothy 4 and came across the following (verse 13): “Give attention to public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and reading.” AHA. I opened up my Russian Bible to the parallel verse, and found…it says only “reading.” According to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon, “Anagnosis” does in fact mean public reading-but in the synagogue.

I am not sure what I learned from this little exploration, but at least I dusted off my Greek NT. :)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Otherwise occupied

I was going to write an interesting post today, but I had a visit from a friend who has been absent much too often lately! So I wouldn't have traded it for anything...


We are making a surprise for someone. Shhhh....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Russian language help

I was doing a search recently for something related to St. Petersburg, and ran across a Russian language podcast.

It features a 20-minute lesson with background, vocabulary explanation, and a short dialogue (transcript included).

The podcast host speaks real-l-ly slowly, but at least she's a native speaker and her intonation and pronunciation sound natural. If you are at an intermediate level in Russian, this is for you. The topics are practical and if you are disciplined enough to practice the vocabulary, you just might see some improvement!

Check out the site.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The wrong exam

I prepared for the wrong exam.

But to rewind a little bit...recently, I was thinking about how happy I am. I feel almost guilty about it. My life isn't perfect, but what do I have to complain about, really?

The funny thing is that nothing has happened the way I expected. I had imagined a different kind of life for myself. I went through life gathering little bits of wisdom for myself, intending them for a certain plan. It was a kind of American Dream...maybe not in the sense of wealth, but it still had the elements that young people often dream of.

And then I found myself in Russia and realized that the things that I had learned weren't necessarily helpful. more/-


In studying for exams, Russian students normally prepare answers for a number of topics, and then on exam day they choose a "ticket" containing the question that they will answer. It just so happens that I drew a ticket that wasn't on my list. In life, I mean. It's not that I want to exchange it, it's just that I got something I wasn't expecting. And I find myself pondering questions that I would have never thought would be relevant to my life.

I had to learn a new set of basic skills:

-how to dress warmly
-how to not be killed crossing the street
-how to find (and prepare) food
-how to greet people
-how to count change

And then of course there are the deeper questions, relating to the moral decisions, and the relationships, and everything that relates to the heart and spiritual matters.

But the nice thing is that God doesn't change, and if I can just lean on Him, I will hopefully be prepared for whatever comes along. :)



You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Ps. 16:11


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful fall

We had about 4 days of stupendous weather! I felt like I was in heaven. No, it wasn't warm (it is November, after all), but the sun was shining!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Active and Passive

This isn't a grammar lesson. It is, perhaps, a life lesson!

I was talking with a friend about ways to avoid depression. I know I've mentioned it before, but one of my methods is to write things down. It forces me to identify just what it is that's bothering me, and give it up to God. And of course I write letters to people, too. Or blog posts.

And then I asked my friend...You don't feel sad when you're in the midst of DOING something, do you? Talking to a friend, going to church...

No, she didn't.

Loneliness is certainly a part of the equation. But when I thought about how writing helps, I remembered my teacher-training, and the various skill areas that we talked about. +/-


-Writing and speaking are active skills.
-Reading and listening are passive (and here you could include watching TV, browsing the Internet, etc.), in that we receive input.

The passive skills are an important part of life. But let's be honest...they leave room for idleness. We can lose ourselves in a television program, and perhaps even forget about our problems for a short time. But in the end we have not done anything productive, and our problems are still there. When we receive helpful information, we have to do something with it in order for it to be effective.

Writing and speaking activities let us get those feelings OUT so they won't bother us anymore. This comes easier for some people than for others. :)

Have you ever noticed how staying busy helps you to flee from certain temptations? This is a part of perseverance, which is right and good. But if there is an ongoing problem, it should be addressed, as actively as possible!

That is all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Annual retreat

This weekend I went on a 24-hour church retreat. It was a great way to spend Halloween weekend. No offense to anyone who went trick-or-treating, but Halloween is one American holiday which I don't miss! :)

It was a double blessing because it DIDN'T RAIN all weekend! It was sooooo nice to see the sun (even though the days are very short).

On Friday evening, everyone made their way to the retreat after work. A few church members cooked supper, which we ate before beginning the worship service.




more/-





Throughout Friday evening and Saturday until closing, we shared "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" and had lessons on various topics for the purpose of edification.








As usual, we went home tired, but happy...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Challenge

Looking back at previous blog posts, I noticed that I often post something from Oswald Chambers in October. I wonder why that is. Perhaps the autumn brings about a kind of desperation that makes me reach for something uplifting.

“The challenge to the missionary does not come on the line that people are difficult to get saved, that backsliders are difficult to reclaim, that there is a wedge of callous indifference; but along the line of his own personal relationship to Jesus Christ. 'Believe ye that I am able to do this?' Our Lord puts that question steadily, it faces us in every individual case we meet. The one great challenge is - Do I know my Risen Lord? Do I know the power of His indwelling Spirit?”*

I don’t have a problem asking myself “What would Jesus do?” I think it is a good idea to follow Christ’s example. However, we can get into a pattern of striving to make ourselves like Christ, by our own means. Maybe it's better to ask ourselves, “Do I trust God in this situation? Have I surrendered this to Him, or am I still trying to do it all myself?”

*Oswald Chamber, My Utmost for His Highest –reading for Oct. 27th

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cute baby girl

Hannah is one week old!

We haven't gotten too many photos of her awake and alert yet*, but Angelica was excited to meet her new cousin.



+/-


*Edit: More photos!



Friday, October 30, 2009

Russia and the H1N1

I was cold in class.

It’s so hard to figure out how to dress nowadays. The metro is unbearable if you have too many layers on.

So on this particular day I had left my warmer sweater at home and was cold. As soon as we had a break, I jumped up and grabbed my coat, which I had thankfully not left in the cloakroom.

In the middle of class, the grammar teacher stopped and looked at me.

“Are you cold? Why are you cold?”

I shrugged, burrowing deeper into my coat.

“I KNOW why you’re cold! You don’t eat meat! That’s it!” continue/-


Well, I suppose I don’t eat a huge amount of meat daily, but I doubt that I would have a substantial layer of body fat even if I did.

“You have to eat meat! Sausages, cheese, yogurt, sour cream…fatty foods! Then you won’t be cold.”

She went over the window, promising to open it just a crack. Then she began to speak again.

“PEOPLE! Swine flu HAS COME TO RUSSIA! It’s HERE!”

I stared down at my desk in the awkward silence that followed.

“I went to buy myself a mask, and can you imagine? They said in the pharmacy that every morning, people come and buy all the masks! They can’t keep them in stock. You should ALL have masks! Right, Elizabeth?”

I squirmed in my seat, recalling an article I had read recently on a U.S. news site, proclaiming the futility of wearing a mask.

“People, you need to be drinking tea with lemon. What you do is take a knife, cut the lemon in half, and share it with your roommate! If you don’t like eating the lemon with sugar, then you can squeeze it into your tea.”

I tried to be serious, but I could hear the corners of my mouth twitching. I didn’t dare look at anyone else.

She told us of the different stages of Swine flu and all the symptoms. Then we were back to grammar, and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

But I remembered that a small child at church has a lung infection, and I realized it isn’t so funny.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back for another year

I visited the difficult orphanage.

I know I should come up with a new code name that isn't so negative. After all, it is where Nastia and Masha spent a portion of their childhood.

Every school year, I pray about whether or not God would have me go there. Relationships haven't "gelled" as much as in other areas of ministry. At this orphanage I used to see some kids that I had originally met at camp, but many of those kids have already graduated. Each year there is always at least one person that remembers me, and the cycle continues. full post/-


I normally just show up when the school year begins, but I was nervous about doing that this year. Some orphanages have become pretty restricted, especially with the flu going around. So I was kind of procrastinating and wondering if this was the year that I didn't go back.

I tried to call and got no answer on one phone. Finally I called the other counselor in the group, and found that she no longer works there, and that the kids had been redistributed among various groups. But she told me where to find the counselor that does still work there.

Since next week is school vacation week, I decided that I really should try and make it this week, so I met up with Mary and we hopped on the train, not knowing how we would be greeted. When we entered the orphanage, we asked for the particular counselor. The security granny merely nodded and told us what floor to go to. No questions asked.

That counselor was just the person we needed to see. She opened her arms to hug us both simultaneously! We were ushered into the girls' bedroom and given apples.

Now, this group is one of the youngest. They are 8 years old and haven't studied English before. I had taken along a lesson that would work for a few different age groups. As the children gathered and began to write their names as instructed, I realized that we were beginning at the beginning.

I quickly consulted with Mary: "Worksheet or colors?" "Colors," she suggested. I dug out the markers, my all-purpose prop, and began a demonstration.

We didn't get much further than that. Pretty soon, the kids were drawing all over themselves before we could stop them, throwing their slippers around the room, and rolling around on the floor wrestling.

I guess I will have to do some strategic lesson-planning for next time. ;)

So one prayer request is answered: we made contact. But how the rest of the year will go is another question entirely!