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Showing posts from January, 2009

Advice for missionaries

I had been thinking of writing a missionary post anyway, and then missionary-blogs posted a writing assignment, so I decided to participate. In a few days (after Feb. 1st), their site should have some other entries listed, so that you can read about some different perspectives.

As a missionary in St. Petersburg, Russia, I’m writing this from the perspective of living in another culture. I’ve skipped the decision-making/preparation phases and moved right into how to behave after you've arrived. However, these tips could be used when choosing a mission to partner with, as it's important to find like-minded teammates. I also don’t have much experience with “unreached” people groups, so some of this only applies in cases where a local church is already established.

Here are just a few thoughts that immediately spring to mind:

1- Learning the language is a given in contemporary missiology, but there should be guidelines. Use discernment as to what situations are good for language p…

Meeting the TESOL participants

I actually got out of the house today! And before lunchtime!

I went to visit my trainer from my TESOL certification program that I completed in August. I got there in time to meet the current trainees before they went to lunch. On the way over, I had practiced giving "expert" answers to questions about teaching ESOL. I had been practicing in my head.

Unfortunately, they did not ask the questions I was expecting! Someone asked "Why Russia?" which gave me an opportunity to go back to the summer camp days and do a brief summary.

The trainer asked what paid jobs for foreigners can be found in Russia, other than teaching English. I drew a complete blank and started babbling about "90 days" and "visas." So much for encouraging future travelers!

Then a girl asked if having the certificate had opened up career opportunities for me. I didn't mention that no one has asked to see my certificate yet, but I said that it opened up more professional positions …

Getting ready to return

I will probably keep mentioning visa stuff on here, but I wanted to change the focus.

For the past year, obtaining a visa has been the major theme. And even when I finally get to go back to Russia in a month or so, I'll be spending a lot of time planning my next visa move. I guess it's the season that I'm in.

I feel a little bit like I've been robbed (or robbed myself) of the higher purpose. Just like finding a job, moving, dealing with illness, these dilemmas are the facts of life. We do have to pay attention to them, and we do have to sometimes put other activities on hold while we deal with them.

But I don't want to forget everything else. I feel like it's been pushed aside, but it's still there. I was watching a movie about a custody battle, and I could feel the compassion for the orphans rising up. I couldn't remain indifferent, television or not.

I might have to change my vision a little, but it will come back.

The economic crisis gets personal

The "crisis" has come around to my little corner of the universe. I'm going to give some background information, but if you know all this, scroll to the end for an update.

August 2007- I receive my usual 12-month multi-entry business visa (charity purposes) with no restrictions.

October 2007- New visa law is passed, but is a bit vague. Will I have to leave in November since I got my visa in September? Will it apply to our kind of work, since we're non-profit? Are there going to be any amendments?

Late 2007- Looks like it applies to us, although my current visa is still good under the old regime. Time to start looking for options before it runs out.

June 2008- I found a place that will get me a work visa sometime in October 2008. I just have to get a 3-month visa for the gap period.

August 2008- 12-month visa is expired. I'm in the U.S. getting another business visa, 3-month this time since I can't stay any longer than that.

September 2008- enter Russia, start new j…

Introductions, part 2

It's time to continue with my list of favorite blogs and why I read them. Read part 1 here.

The following are a few sites in Russian that I personally recommend. They provide an opportunity to get a taste of Russian culture from the perspective of Christians who live there.

1) Mimohodom is the website of my church in St. Petersburg. Features include movie and book reviews, articles on matters concering the church, observations about society, and helpful links.

2) Andrey is one of the contributors to mimohodom, and has his own blog, where he writes book reviews, discusses philosophical and theological questions, and recommends interesting tools for personal discipline.

Here are a few sites maintained by adoptive parents:

2) Jill is the adoptive mom of Lolita, one of my former students at the orphanage, and blogs about Lolita's new life in the U.S.

1) I forget how Annie and I found each other's blogs. We must have a mutual blogging friend or something. Anyway, Annie is a Catholic …

Epiphany/90 days is a whole season

90 days is a long time. I was doing the math, and if I do have to stay out of Russia for 90 days, then I can go back around March 1st.

Do you know what March 1st is? March 1st is the first day of spring in Russia. That means that I, in effect, skipped winter in Russia!

(This photo was taken at the end of February a few years ago. Doesn't exactly look like spring is approaching)

So thank you, Russian government. It was very kind of you. However, I don't want to skip summer. So hopefully I will have a long-term visa by June!

My desk is getting cluttered...

Yes, that's a nativity set I have out. I hit the after-Christmas sales on Amazon and finally found one I liked.

The only problem is that I wanted to take it to Russia, but I'm not sure how I'm going to fit it in my suitcase! As you can see, it's not exactly miniature...

P.S. See that little door behind the nativity figurines? That's where the animal lives. There's another door next to my bed and two more in the corner. Today I woke up at 3am to lots of noises. It sounded like a feeding fest or something.

Misha gets adopted

I received confirmation that Misha's adoption went through and that he is already with his new family. Praise the Lord! I know that the wait can be hard. When kids are waiting to be adopted or are unsure of their status, they sometimes become withdrawn. It's like they don't want to invest any more energy in current relationships or activities since they are going to be leaving (I can relate!). When you have a clearer timeframe, it is easier to treasure your last moments with people. But when you don't know, it can be very confusing.

Welcome to the U.S., Misha!

Dobson and Bundy

As January 23rd is the 20th anniversary of his interview with Ted Bundy, Dr. James Dobson will be appearing on Fox News tonight (Friday) to recall that conversation, in which they discussed pornography's role in Bundy's life.

I wasn't aware that this interview had taken place, but when I did a quick search, most of the articles I initially found actually disputed Dobson's claims and said that Dobson had either lied about the interview or been manipulated by Bundy.

I was surprised to find comments denying the existence of porn addiction and opposing Dobson's attempts to limit the distribution of porn.

Dobson has been quoted as saying: “No, not everyone who uses pornography becomes a murderer, but there are serious consequences to pornography addiction. Studies done since my conversation with Bundy have documented corrosive effects on marriages and families, such as increased marital distress and risk of separation and divorce; decreased marital intimacy and sexual sati…

Introductions, Part 1

I decided it's about time to introduce my favorite blogs. There is a reason I read each one, so I will dedicate a few posts to explaining why they are interesting to me.

1) Leaves and Seas. Mary and I met through my blog and then we met in real-life when she came to St. Petersburg to volunteer in a transitional "family" home for orphans. She accompanied me to one of the orphanages during her stay. Now her blog continues as she decides what to do next.

2) I met the Bulls through my blog as well, and they spent about the same time period as Mary in another of the transitional homes. The Bulls have four kids, and the husband and wife were able to procure student visas in order to extend their stay in St. Petersburg. They share a lot of fun cultural observations as well as their heart for orphans.

3) Pastor Steve is the pastor of my sending church. Although he was installed when I was already in Russia, I enjoy listening to his sermons when I'm home and expe…

Impressions of the inauguration

I was touched by the inauguration today overall, but certain aspects left me thinking...

-The kids that are little now won't remember a time before we had a black president. Imagine that!

-I hadn't seen a lot of coverage of Obama during the campaign. He strikes me as reserved; very hard to read. That could be a plus as he seems good at holding his tongue. But I hope he will loosen up a little too sometimes.

-Everyone seemed amazed by the speech. I think it was well-written but I didn't really hear anything new. He basically reiterated what he had said a lot during his campaign.

-I'm sad about what is going to happen with abortion laws now.

-I think for raising national morale the inauguration was a success, and Americans are generally in a state of euphoria. But I'm wondering about foreign relations. I care about domestic policies too, but as I live overseas a lot of the time, I think more now about how the U.S. is regarded abroad. I think that people in other nations a…

The effects of having lived in Russia

Here are my most recent observations, continuing the series which you can find here and here.

These are my own observations...

-Your cursive r's come out looking like p's.

-When someone asks if you want something, instead of saying, "Yes, I do," you say, "Yes, I want." (At least, that's how it comes out in your head as you translate from Russian to English)

-You can't remember how to write a check (I suppose that could be true for an ex-pat anywhere).

Things I miss about Russia

The other day I was going downstairs and someone said, "Oh, you're done with your shower." Yes, I was. But suddenly I wanted to be in Russia and hear someone say to me, "S'lyokim parom!"

That's my own transliteration, by the way, for С легким паром.

With the s, l, and y there it's quite the consonant cluster and pretty hard to pronounce. Then after a brief vowel sound there are a g and a k together. Impossible!

The first word means "light" and the second word means "steam," and you are basically congratulating someone after he/she comes out of the bath. The Russian banya (which is like a sauna, but different) had (has) a lot of steam, and that's where the term comes from.

I still haven't been to a banya. Hmmmm, I'll have to remedy that sometime in the near future.

When we were at camp we used to say it because the communal shower rooms there get pretty steamy with the heat from the boiler. We made up our own translation: &…

Girly stuff

My sister Anastasia is getting married this summer, and I spent the day with her at a bridal expo. We don't get to spent a lot of time together, so it was fun. Nastia got to wear a sticker that identified her role in the wedding.

We went around to all the booths collecting information and free gifts. I dutifully sampled all the cakes while Nastia looked at brochures and interviewed potential videographers.

There were tons of products and services that I never would have even thought of. We saw dresses modeled on a runway, dance demonstrations, caterers, tooth whitening services, ring cleanings, midwife services (not kidding... but no demonstrations, thankfully), honeymoon tour agencies, fancy chair covers, hair/makeup artists, dj's, etc. We checked out a few limousines as well as a "party bus."

We also sampled a photo booth that you could rent for your wedding. You get instant photos of your guests which they can then potentially paste into the guestbook accompanying a …

What the world needs

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. "Peace, peace," they say, when there is no peace.(Jeremiah 8:11, NIV)

Sometimes I wonder, what is this thing called "peace" that everyone is talking about? What do people mean when they say they wish for "world peace"?

Have you ever been to a peace rally? If so, why? And how did you feel, standing there with everyone else? Did you feel united? If so, united by what? And for what purpose?

Since I watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy recently, I have been thinking about war and all the different dynamics. One of the things that strikes me about the story is their clear goal and how much they will risk to fight for it.

But another thing that strikes me is that each side is fighting in earnest. It's easy to hate the orcs or the goblins, those scary and ugly creatures, while rooting for the cute, furry ones.

But Sam (or Faramir in the film version) makes an interesting observation about a souther…

Prayer rooms

My church held a 24-hr prayer rally this weekend. The goal was to come together in prayer. People signed up for time slots or just dropped in when they were able. The point was for it to keep going.

The prayer rally started on Friday evening and I went in on Saturday afternoon. There was one room set up to be the room where you prepared your heart, whether you were coming from work, home, etc. There were a lot of little touches like cds of worship music to use, Bibles and books on prayer, paper for taking notes or drawing, curtains for privacy, etc.

After the preparation room, one could wander into a second room to join others. There wasn't a lot of conversation going on, just continual prayer, but some participants were sharing quietly about what God was putting on their hearts. There were lists posted of possible needs to focus on: Global and local issues, church issues, individuals, healing, guidance, and others.

As people finished, they just got up and quietly left.

I like that th…

What's in the news

Christmas is over; time to move on to other interesting topics! Our local newspaper today featured a piece on the theory of evolution. The front page was devoted to a story about a local college instructor who is campaigning for awareness about evolution. He's concerned that his native country of Pakistan and other Muslim countries are missing out by not making it a regular part of the school curriculum.

He comments,
We simply cannot afford a mass rejection of evolution by 1/6 of the world’s population. Muslims are already behind in contributions to science and technology. If they reject evolution, there goes the hope that they could catch up. How many geniuses in this large population could we lose because of a culture that rejects evolution?* (A1)
I was a little confused by what this man meant about not being able to "afford" it and "losing" geniuses. What does he think is at stake? Another of his comments was interesting, though. Part of his rationale behind de…

A look back at Soviet medicine

I figure a trip to the library is a success if at least one book (out of 5-6) is a good read. This time I enjoyed "Inside Russian Medicine: An American Doctor's First-Hand Report," by William A. Knaus, M.D. (New York: Everest House, 1981)

The book is an autobiographical account of an American doctor who is sent to Russia to accompany an envoy of Americans traveling with an exhibition. Since a delegate once died on the trip, they now must have a doctor with them at all times.

From the inside cover: "When a member of [Dr. Knaus'] group fell ill, he insisted on accompanying him to the hospital, and thus became one of the very few American doctors to work in a Russian hospital and operating room. Fascinated by the contradictions in Russian medicine that he found, Dr. Knaus made several return trips to study the Russian medical system."

The book is a treat because while Dr.Knaus is an expert in his field, the account is quite personal. While he is clearly competen…

A day of answers

Yesterday I had a productive time at physical therapy (for hip pain). The only thing missing today was an answer to the visa question.

January 7th, Russian Christmas, is about the time when I'm usually back in Russia. Of course, if I were there instead of here, I wouldn't be going to physical therapy. But I was getting a bit antsy, wondering what I am going to do for the rest of the time and for how long. I didn't have any more answers than when I arrived, almost a month and a half ago!

I've been wondering if I should think of alternatives, but none really appealed. I did start a draft to another potential employer today, but I didn't send it. My brother suggested picking a time period ("say, 6 months") and just finding a way to occupy myself during that time. But I really didn't want to think that far ahead.

A few weeks ago I got a reply to my email (which had been marked urgent), with my boss agreeing to talk to me on the phone. However, she didn't…

Comment on comments

While I'm trying to fix technical problems with another post: FYI, I switched the commenting on this blog so that the comment box shows up right under the post rather than the pop-up window. I'm not sure why this should make a difference, but it seems more convenient.

I've noticed that blogger designs in general don't seem to encourage discussion, although I'm not sure exactly what the problem with the format is. Obviously content is the main thing, but I visit a variety of blogs and the blogger ones always seem a little low on comments. Anyway, I don't know enough to mess with coding, but if you have any tips or tricks, let me know.


I added a little tool to my sidebar for learning Russian. It's the "Russian audio word of the day." Even if you're not learning Russian, you can still have fun clicking on the arrow and listening to how strange beautiful Russian sounds. Of course, there are better examples of Russian, but this will get you started. I wonder if I can find a "Russian phrase of the day" application?

Simplicity: Myth or Reality?

I’ve read a few books recently about people visiting the Amish and being amazed by their “simplicity.” Somehow, I remain skeptical. I wonder, just what is this “simplicity” that seems so desirable and elusive?

We marvel about the simplicity of life when we go on vacation or visit another culture. Oh, how nice, they hang their laundry outside and it just dries in the sun. Oh, how yummy, a simple meal of rice and beans. Oh, how luxurious to turn off my cell phone for a few days.

We can learn from others’ ways of life, but does that mean it is better? Or is it merely a case of “greener grass” on the other side? Maybe what is actually attracting us is their contentment, not the way of life, which may be just their calling.

One of the books I read recently is “Plain and Simple.” As the author observes Amish farming life, she is enthralled by its “simplicity.” But I’m not convinced. It sounds fairly laborious and stressful to me. One of her examples is being able to appreciate nature:

“It was a…

Notes on Russian notes

I miss Russian paper. I remember the days when we communicated with Russian pen-pals whom we had met at camp. Receiving a letter in the mail was doubly special because it was so interestingly wrapped.

First, the airmail envelope was nice and light. The address, if we could decipher it, seemed to be written backwards! Region, then city, then street, then house#, etc. The paper inside was equally light, and contained flowery Russian script on a grid like the kind you see in Math class. If the paper didn't have lines, then lines had been formed carefully with a ruler, and then erased.

At first, I found the Russian graph paper hard to write on. All the extra lines got in my way. When I went to Russia, I even took my own college-ruled paper with me. I once bought little notebooks for my English students, with fun designs on them. I didn't pay attention to what kind of paper was inside, and the kids complained that they didn't know how to write without the little squares.

But even…

The Preposterous Claim

While reading the local newspaper today, a piece on Christmas caught my eye. It was entitled "Whose Child is This-The Philosophical Shortcomings in the story of Jesus' Birth." I prepared myself for an attack on Christianity.

The article did indeed question many aspects of Christ's birth. They seemed like the usual arguments as to how illogical the incarnation appears. I was a bit annoyed at both the author and the newspaper editor for publishing what seems like a weak redundancy of the same old protests against Christ's divine nature.

But I have to admit, the article speaks the truth, if you are measuring by human logic. It concludes,"The claim that the babe of Bethlehem contained the energy that created the universe defies understanding. To take that claim seriously upsets all our calculations." *

Whether it is meant to be provocative or not, I have to agree with this statement. We would be doing the Lord a disservice if we tried to contain him within our…