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Showing posts from March, 2009


Sometimes God doesn't make sense. Sometimes He is working on your heart one way, and then a moment later He turns your attention to something else entirely.

When I wrote about complacency, it wasn't because I was necessarily struggling with it, but because it had caught my attention while reading Proverbs. I thought perhaps there was a good lesson in there, and I did try to think about where I had become too satisfied and needed to seek God more.

But as I was going about my day, I heard a voice say, "I have you where I want you." It was strange because in my post I had talked about the danger of becoming too content in your relationship with God. Yet I felt that He wasn't telling me not to keep striving to grow; He was simply speaking to me about my circumstances. It was as though I had been punching endlessly at the air, and He told me, "stop."

Today I picked up a little volume by Elisabeth Elliot called "Be still, my soul" to read in the metro.…

A word study on complacency

While reading a book which I will soon review, I learned that Ruth Bell Graham loved to read Proverbs. As I hadn't done an in-depth study of the book of Proverbs for a few years, I decided to give it a try.

In my first sitting, I reached this verse:
"For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;" (Pvbs. 1:32)
It makes sense enough, but I wanted to investigate just what was meant by "complacency." Was it present in my life?

I have heard the concept of complacency pop up at various times in Christian messages. "Christians need to stop being so complacent...we need to get out there and preach the Gospel." Something along those lines. Hearing it in this context, I often associated it with apathy or inaction.

Merriam-Webster defines complacency as "self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies."

Although the word complacency has negative connotations, t…

Calling the rescue squad

When I returned from the spooky hotel, my roommate had been locked out for 2-3 hours...not because she didn't have a key, but because half of it had broken off in the lock. I have to admit that I wasn't too surprised, since the door had been giving us trouble for the past few months.

But here we were at 10 pm, waiting for a locksmith to come and get us out of this mess.

A short while after I arrived, around the corner came 3 young men in blue jumpsuits, adorned with helmets, ropes, and other rescue gear. Here was our "locksmith." Very macho.

After a brief examination they explained the options to Zhenya, which were to 1) break the door (less expensive) or 2) break in through the window and open the door from the inside (more expensive, but sparing the door). We chose the second option, although the price was exorbitant.

Then the rescue guys went to meet the neighbors upstairs and explain why they needed to make use of their balcony. The 5th floor occupants weren't ho…

Roaming dark alleys

In a deep, dark, wood, there was a deep, dark house. In the deep, dark house, there was a deep, dark closet.

I can't remember exactly how the children's tale goes, but it suddenly popped into my head when I was looking for a certain address one evening (and it is a great text for teaching definite and indefinite articles, but this is not going to be a post about teaching).

When I first emerged from the metro onto Nevskii Prospect, it was still light outside. I knew where I was going. It was on a street I knew, but a little farther down then I had been before.

I passed the doughnut place, which was still open. But my goal was to take care of my errands and get home while it wasn't too late.

I reached the general area where the hotel was, and stopped under the sign. I had once again encountered a common problem in St. Petersburg: I was standing at the address where I needed to go, but could not figure out how to get inside, although the entrance may have been perhaps 10 feet fro…

Joy in the journey

These words of Michael Card were a nice reminder of God's grace that is there for us to enjoy every day.

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who've been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin

Forget not the hope that's before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And freedom for those who obey...

Someone's engaged

It looks like we are going to have another family wedding before the year is over...

Congrats, Emily and Mark!

A Tale of Two Passports

I picked up my new passport at the U.S. Consulate. It was painless. I told them that I would prefer not to cancel my old passport, as it contains my Russian visa, and they obliged.

Now that I have that taken care of, I can use the new passport number when I apply for my next visa.

I'm not quite accustomed to the new passport yet. I'm normally wary of new things, and it has a different feel.

They also managed to turn a perfectly decent photo into a monstrosity. I'm a little irked about that.

But I'm thankful.

More about seekers

Last fall, I wrote about my frustration over seekers not wanting to come to church events. I wondered what the problem was.

Six months later, the situation that prompted me to write the post has taken an interesting turn. One of the girls who had been promising to come to church (but didn't) asked to meet with me. And she told me about her journey over the past few months.

"I realized that church is something you have to make time for," she said. She had read a book I had given her from cover to cover. It was about what to do when you've become a Christian. She was seriously pondering some of the advice, such as reading the Bible and becoming a part of a church.

While meditating on these things, a man approached her one day in the metro and shared the Gospel. He told her that God had a special calling on her life, and prayed for her. Then she called me.

"Come to church tomorrow," I said, when we met. This time, she came.

But what she said about commitment was in…

The apple of my eye

I was goofing off and looking at my roommate through a pretend telescope, when she suddenly announced, "I can see the apple of your eye!"

I froze. Had she read my mind? How did she know what I was thinking about?

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I can see this part of your eye," she said, pointing to her own eye.

"Ummmm, the apple of your eye is the thing you cherish most," I said, confused.

"But this expression comes from the name of this part of your eye."

"What part? The eyeball?"

"No, here. The center."

"The iris?"

"No, the white."

"That's called the 'sclera,'" I said, positive that we hadn't covered "apple" in biology class.

"It is just a name for the middle of the eye," she insisted. "We have it in Russian too."

"Okay, I just didn't understand because even if that is the origin, we don't actually use it that way. We use it to describe so…

Confusing Russia

At 6pm, the sun is shining. This is before setting the clocks one hour ahead. According to, my hometown has about the same times for sunrise and sunset. But it still feels different. Maybe I am just getting used to having missed a whole season.

Children and persecution

There is a boy at the orphanage who believes in God.

Danya has been living in this orphanage with his siblings at least since I started visiting it over 4 years ago. As part of our New Family program, a Christian woman has been spending time with the siblings, even taking them to church with her.

Danya has been hosted by a Christian family in the U.S. a few times, where he also heard about Jesus.

He has also been raised in an Orthodox orphanage and told about God for much of his life. Other children have had the same exposure, but Danya is different. He has had an encounter with God, and talks about his faith. He has been inviting his groupmates to read the Bible together, on their own.

I was shocked at how warmly I was welcomed while visiting the orphanage this week. The two counselors who were at the door when I arrived had been absent last week, when I also visited. They both exclaimed when they saw me and said, "Come here and let me give you a kiss!" One of them at least is …

Lenten family activities

I had stopped searching, but then while looking at something else on the Internet, I ran across a link to a free e-book with Lenten activities. These are the kinds of ideas I was talking about. They are simple and family (or small group)-oriented.

The e-book was supposed to be a one-day offer, but it looks to be still in effect, as I had no trouble downloading the PDF file here. It's only 15 pages.

Here are a few examples:

11. Take a nature walk and collect items that could remind you of the life of Jesus. For example, two sticks could be put together as a cross, a thorn could represent the crown on Jesus' head and a stone could remind the children of the big stone that rolled in front of Jesus' tomb.

26.Help your child understand why Jesus was called "the Lamb of God" (His role as the unblemished sacrifice: Ex. 12:21-24; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7-8). With your child, make a lamb. Glue cotton balls to a small paper plate, then add pink and black construction-paper eyes,…


I returned to Russia two weeks ago. I think I have been through all the emotions since then.

At first, I was so very low on energy. Then it got a little better and I was so happy to be back that I was willing to go anywhere and do anything. I didn't want to waste any time, and adrenaline kept me going. Now, after two weeks, I feel burned out.

Perhaps it is similar to a new school year beginning. Excitement is heightened by the scent of new books, the eagerness to tackle new assignments, the expectation that this year will be The Year for success. Memories of previous trials do not hinder because they have been mysteriously clouded. But that all changes...

How quickly we become bored with life. We wait and wait for something and then after receiving it, are no longer interested.

I want to learn how to better cherish each day.


I'll be honest. I haven't exactly been looking for a job in St. Petersburg. There are so many things to do and people to see that I would rather just wait a little while. I also still have some work with my job from the fall, although they won't be able to issue me a work visa anytime soon.

I've started to entertain the idea of trying to obtain temporary residency. I want to do research, at least. I want to find out the truth about what's required. I've heard a range of rumors, from "it's not that bad" to "you'll die trying" (paraphrase). I've heard that it is only open to certain people, and I've also heard that anybody can try, as long as you have time to stand in line all day over several days. One firm said that they would offer to do the whole thing for only $6000 (wait in line for you and take care of all your paperwork).

I don't doubt that it's an intense process, and it probably wouldn't be good to be pursui…

The forgotten fast

I was enjoying some refreshments after church yesterday and realized that I had completely forgotten about Lent.

I'm not fasting, but I had made a note of Ash Wednesday and intended to observe Lent in some way.

Somehow, I've never had ideas for observing Lent as I do for Advent. During Holy Week I try to meditate on what Jesus was doing each day, but that's about it. I've found a few reading schedules online, but the passages seem a bit out of context. If I had to pick a section of the Bible, I would be inclined to choose one of the Gospels, to remember the ministry of Jesus leading up to His death and resurrection. I might include some of the Prophets as well.

Any suggestions?

New friends

While I was in the States, a Russian girl asked to be my "friend" on the popular Russian networking site, We had a few mutual friends, so I accepted, and we began to write back and forth.

I normally look for opportunities to reach out to young women, so it didn't strike me as strange. I found out that she had a young daughter. When she learned that I was an American, she asked about English lessons for her baby's father (I didn't quite understand the status of their relationship).

Meanwhile, I arrived in St. Petersburg and had promised that we could meet in person. I found out where she lived, and when I was going to be in that neighborhood, sent her a message saying that I could pay her a visit.

So I got on the metro yesterday and traveled to the south of the city. Then I got on a trolley and headed towards my new friend's neighborhood.

When I got off the trolley, I called and was told to stay put. "I'll be there soon," she promised. …

Visiting the U.S. Consulate

I'm doing a lot better energy-wise, compared to one week ago. I am pretty much sleeping through the night now. After today I will need to start using my alarm clock.

In the beginning, I could only handle about 1 activity a day, and now I can do 2 or 3.

I went to the U.S. Consulate the other day to see about renewing my passport. It was really quite easy.

First, I had to get passport photos. They require two for the application. I came out of the metro where the Consulate is located and looked for a sign saying "photos." There was one relatively nearby. However, it looked to be under construction. I wondered why they had advertisements up if they were closed. So I hesitated a few times, then decided to venture forth into the questionable building.

The stairwell was populated by construction workers, yet there were still signs pointing to various document services, and a sign excusing the mess. So I took that to mean that they were open. I wondered if they were losing business…

Prayer for the day

But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
"The LORD be exalted!"

The changing face of the metro in St.P.

Travelers to Saint Petersburg beware-the metro is changing!

When I moved here in 2004, there were 4 lines. Small, but easy to navigate! Over the next few years, some new stations opened at the ends of those lines. Meanwhile, construction was going on to create some completely new lines.

As I entered the metro today, I learned that the line had changed from orange to purple and would branch off in a new direction. The map inside the metro car hadn't been updated yet, so it took me a few minutes to get my bearings.

The metro plan above is projected for 2030.

This is what it looks like now, as far as I know (click to enlarge):

I found this site to have some good information, although it is in Russian.


I decided to go through orphanage supplies in preparation for visiting them soon. I ran across a lot of old work from our lessons.

The kids aren't normally organized enough to keep all their work somewhere, yet I hate to throw it away.

We try to glue papers into a notebook, but I'm not always able to carry the notebooks around. So I have piles and piles of artifacts like this:

I was wondering why they all wrote the Russian "I" instead of the English, below. But then I realized that the cursive "I" does look similar, if you're writing fast. They're probably just not used to the English cursive. In general, we focus more on verbal skills anyway, so I'm sure if I asked them, they would answer correctly.

And I am not sure of the meaning of this last writing sample:

Russian customs

There are certain customs pertaining to life in St. Petersburg that I have gotten used to, but nonetheless do not find intuitive in nature.

It all makes sense, yet I still have to think about it. It feels like there is a tape recorder in my head dictating instructions: "Do this...., don't do that..."

Here are a few examples:

-looking left and right (and forward and backward) about 5 times whenever walking anywhere where any sort of vehicle might be roaming
-dressing meticulously for whichever weather is and will be
-taking a plastic bag (or two) with me wherever I go
-polishing my shoes
-changing my clothes whenever I get home or get ready to go somewhere
-always having cash on hand for transportation or groceries

For a humorous version, see a list of symptoms testifying to one having been Russified...

When I was thinking about writing this post a few days ago, the list was longer. My observations were sharper when I first arrived, and now the cultures are merging...

Meanwhile, in the U.S....

My brother won the weight throw at the UAA championships at N.Y.U. I'm pretty impressed that someone I'm related to has the physical strength to throw a heavy object a long way. Good job.

I've probably mentioned this before, but my brother is pretty large.

Returning to Russia

It started to feel like Russia again when I was waiting for my plane in Heathrow and I could hear the buzz of Russian conversation around me.

I sat on the plane behind some Russians, and they were having a very loud conversation bemoaning the state of airport security. I couldn't stand the sound of their voices. I thought, this isn't a good sign if I am already tired of hearing Russian. (I wonder if people feel that way about Americans speaking loudly in English everywhere?) They kept talking and talking. Finally I reasoned that the man was probably drunk or otherwise under the influence. There was just no way a normal person could nag for so many minutes in a row.

Arriving in St. Petersburg was easy, and once I was talking with my friends, I didn't mind hearing Russian at all. It sounded nice.

I always have to go back and read previous jet-lag notes in order to assure myself that I'm not going crazy. I want to be busy and I want to do nothing simultaneously.

I do have to …

To and fro

I had a nice trip to D.C. over the weekend and caught up with some college friends.

Normally I wouldn't go on a side trip shortly before leaving for Russia. But in this case, I think it actually helped. I was able to relax a little bit and get travel anxiety out of my mind. I still feel pretty disorganized, but not too stressed. It's hard to believe that in less than 24 hours, I'll be on a plane again!

If we don't get another snowstorm, that is...

A parallel universe, or a small world

I had a funny conversation on the plane ride over to D.C. this weekend.

I was flying Southwest Airlines, and was going through the confusing process of trying to choose my own seat. About 1/3 of the passengers had already boarded, so there were no more aisles, and I was trying to decide who looked friendly enough to crawl over to get to the window. Some people had placed their bags in the window seat, as if hoping that the flight wouldn't be full and they wouldn't have to sit next to another person.

I saw a middle-aged couple sitting next to an empty window seat, and asked if I could join them. They cheerfully obliged.

When I was seated, I reached for the magazine to keep busy on the hour-long flight, but the woman in the middle started talking to me, asking about my destination. I decided it wouldn't be so bad to chat away the time, so I soon found myself telling her about being a missionary in Russia. She was very curious and asked a lot of questions.

At one point, the woman…