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Showing posts from May, 2009

White Nights 2009

I'm leaving for the States in a few days! But the weather in St. Petersburg has been just tantalizing lately. I suppose it is best to leave with pleasant impressions!

Here are a few photos I took around 10pm last night, after worship practice (okay, my friend took them).

I asked Vanya to capture some of the blue sky, and this was the result:

A Psalmist to sample

A few years ago, my mom introduced me to the music of Marty Goetz, a Messianic Jewish musician. His tunes are set to Psalms and other scriptural themes, and are quite pleasant and worshipful.

But what drew me in was watching his concert DVD. With some artists, what you get in concert isn't going to be much different from what you get on CD. But Goetz has a gift for storytelling and interacting with the audience. As he imparts knowledge about his Jewish heritage, it is clearly something he has not just memorized, but lived. I get choked up hearing him speak of holidays like Passover and Chanukah, and there is a reverance in his voice that testifies to his love for Yeshua.

Please note that I don't consider perfomance skills to be a mark of godliness. But if they are present, why not use them in ministry? God took a secular career and used it for His glory.

Check out Marty Goetz on YouTube, or buy the DVD, if you have the opportunity!

No more pencils, no more books...

My Russian visa expiration coincides with the end of the school year. The kids are feeling antsy and packing their bags for camp.

I was trying to plan a final lesson for the orphanage, and felt lethargic and uninspired all morning. I didn't want to embark on a "what are you doing this summer" kind of topic.

With an hour to go, I had a few ideas, and went off to the orphanage armed with a birthday snack, a board game for reviewing all the old material, craft supplies, and certificates for finishing the course.

Thankfully, I left the house in plenty of time. When I got to the train station, my train was leaving 13 minutes earlier than usual, and the next one was canceled. I was in time for the first one, and used the train ride to finish writing questions for the board game.

The kids were in the playroom watching MTV (or a Russian equivalent, I don't know what the channels are called). The boys were in there too, and they hadn't been coming to class, so I decided to sc…

Glad I didn't take the tram today...

...there were about 10-15 of them lined up on my street as far as the eye could see, waiting for some sort of maintenance (you can see 5 in this photo. Or maybe it's 3 since a couple of them have 2 sections).

When I left the house again about 20 minutes later, they were gone, as mysteriously as they had appeared....

The busy/idle seesaw

I was crying out to God about getting everything done, when the thought came to me: "This is a blessing."

Indeed, when I recalled my worries about idle thoughts, loneliness, and just laziness, it was an answer to prayer to have so many opportunities surface. It did not leave me a spare moment to think about all the questions I will have to figure out eventually.

I think it is part of God's mercy when He "distracts" us sometimes, even if it is through the development of new problems and cares.

As I've mentioned before, I don't think the mere act of keeping busy is necessarily an effective tactic for righteous living. Sometimes there really are issues that we have to wrestle with before we can move on. Sometimes we really do need to observe a time of stillness, so that we can learn patience. And I don't think that agreeing to every opportunity that comes along is good stewardship of our time and gifts. But as John Piper mentioned in his sermon for single…

Made it

I'm not sure how, but somehow I managed to fit a 4-day conference into the past week along with substitute teaching, regular teaching, and church activities. It makes me wonder how I could have thought my normal life was busy...

I wanted to just share some impressions of the conference. The theme was on teaching lifeskills to teenage orphans and graduates. Two ladies came from a church in Ukraine to lead the seminars. One of them was originally from Mexico. She brought some interesting cultural elements to the atmosphere. :)

The conference initially left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, here we were talking about all the familiar issues: how children end up in the orphanage, how they suffer developmentally, what all the consequences are. I didn't need a conference to remind me of that. But at the same time, there was a sense of everyone speaking the same language. Anyone can visit an orphanage a few times and make some generalizations about life there. But everyone at th…

Back to reality, part 2

This post is going to sound like the one from last summer, when I emerged from the fog and thought I had everything figured out. However, I haven't quite emerged from the fog yet this time. If you get lost, scroll down to the bottom and read the summary of my plans.

I am facing a situation of too many variables. I keep waiting for there to be something constant.

How I abandoned the first plan

I arrived in March on a 3-month visa. The plan was to look for a job immediately so I could get a work visa. But "looking" quickly turned into simply waiting for something to happen. It was a red-light situation that I faced after considering the fact that I could work for either a big-name company or something related to Americans and missionaries. For example, there was a missionary school that I could apply to, but I'm not sure if I want to live in Russia and teach Americans and other foreign children. That seems a bit ironic. I'm also not sure if I want to work for a big co…

Back to reality

It's time to blog about the other side of life....all those questions that I've been avoiding. The reality is that I'm leaving for the U.S. in less than 3 weeks.

But before I explain further, here is the story about my plane ticket.

My visa expires June 1st, so there is no flexibility about when I have to be out of Russia. However, I have been very busy lately. I can keep up with daily commitments, but it is very hard to find time for things that require a lot of thought, like travel plans, e-mails, and phone calls.

So I had grabbed a few minutes here and there to look up plane tickets on Expedia, but didn't have time to sit down and order them.

About a week ago, I found a nice price on tickets through British Airways. But I didn't purchase them. I'm not a "right away" kind of person, especially if a large sum of money is involved. I also do not like to abandon prior commitments just because something else has come up.

So I put "order plane tickets&q…

Dangerous pleas

Jeremiah 42 started out innocently enough, with a prayer request. This sounds promising, I thought. I am always looking for ways of praying more effectively. Johanan and some other officers asked for some instructions from the Lord, due to the fact that their numbers were dwindling and they were scared.

Then it got a little problematic. Johanan, et al added a little plea to their prayer....please, God, we'll do anything You ask, if only You'll give us an answer.

But the Word that returned through Jeremiah was a hard one to hear. God did tell them what to do, but they were prone to disobedience.
"O remnant of Judah, the LORD has told you, 'Do not go to Egypt.' Be sure of this: I warn you today that you made a fatal mistake when you sent me to the LORD your God and said, 'Pray to the LORD our God for us; tell us everything he says and we will do it.' I have told you today, but you still have not obeyed the LORD your God in all he sent me to tell you. So now, be…


As it gets closer to summer, my friends and I take advantage of the nice weather to go on various excursions. We look for new and interesting experiences.

Last weekend's exploration involved tree-climbing, roller-blading, and communing with ostriches in a mini-zoo. If you've never heard ostriches making noises, you're in for a surprise.

Yesterday after church we decided to visit the Oreshek Fortress, which was the site of many historical negotiations, as well as serving as a political prison.

To get to Oreshek, we took the metro, then a bus. Once we were in Shlisselburg, the final step was to take a boat over to the island. The ferry wasn't in operation, so we hired a motor boat to take us all over there.

To get into the fortress, you are required to join a tour group. While we waited for the next tour, we had a picnic lunch. The weather was nice; sunny for the most part, but with a few rain drops to settle the argument over whose weather forecast had been more accurate.


May 9 and my knight in shining armor

My morning commute was interrupted yesterday by a roadblock. I saw lots of policemen and a camera crew, but there didn't seem to be an accident. As I got out of the bus to continue on foot, I remembered that I was near the "Piskarevskoye" Memorial Cemetary, which contains the graves of about 470,000 WWII casualties, about 420,000 of those- civilians. I heard the booming of the loudspeaker in the distance as a memorial service was getting underway.

Today is May 9th, "Victory Day" in Russia. When I was young, I had never heard of this holiday, although I'm sure I memorized the date in History class.

It's a big Russian holiday, especially to those few veterans who remain. But it isn't my story to tell. If you want to know more (about the history, not just the holiday), there are plenty of resources on the the Internet. I published a YouTube video on here earlier accidentally, and there are others like it. Or better yet, ask a Russian friend what the date…

Russia-A Love Story

As I meet new people on here, I realize that a lot of you don't know my story. Maybe I have told bits and pieces of it along the way, but I have never told the whole story in one place.

The time has come. Of course, there is no way to capture it all at once, but I'll do my best. Then I'll file it under "key posts."

July 1996

I feel old, reminiscing. I was 14 that summer and heading to Russia for the first time. We had been invited to a place called "Camp Karavella." We were the first team to visit that camp, and our church had never sent a team to Russia before. It was a first for everyone. It was a curious meeting.

I don't remember much from that trip, although my teammates could tell stories of friendships that were formed. I experienced a lot of culture shock, as well as amazement that such an exchange could take place.

I didn't know any Russian, and I didn't particularly know how to use an interpreter. Besides, what was there to say? I am a r…

A glimpse

My roommate's mother has been visiting, and I haven't had much opportunity to blog. Not to mention, my computer is at death's door.

There has been a lot going on in the kitchen while Olga Borisovna is around....

She's trying to fatten us up.

Christian terminology

Do you ever hear a word used so often and in so many contexts that its meaning becomes obscure? This happens to me sometimes with words used frequently in Christian circles.

It happened to me recently when someone was praying. Bless this, bless that, we bless You, Lord.

Now there was nothing particularly wrong with this prayer except that I found myself wondering about the meaning and origin of the word "bless." Do we use it too liberally? What synonyms could we substitute to make our speech a little richer?

Here are a few of the phrases that I hear a lot among American Christians. I hear similar phrases in Russia, but this word study is going to be in English.

"I am so blessed." (expressing thankfulness)

"You are such a blessing." (acknowledging that God allowed someone else to be a positive influence)

"Bless you. "(wishing health or another good outcome in someone's life)

"We welcomed our newest little blessing...." (children as blessin…

My thirst for knowledge

I have mentioned before how everyone reads in the metro here.

I've run out of thinner books to read, and I can't bring any extra weight with me. And besides, sometimes I prefer taking a snooze (or rather, my body decides for me). But I was desperate for something to read the other day. I dug through my purse and found some Greek flashcards from one of my previous attempts at memorization. They were the usual mix of 1) nouns that I already know, 2) obscure verbs that I'll never memorize, and 3) articles that I can usually figure out from context. Pitiful. I thought wistfully of learning more.

The young man sitting next to me was looking over my shoulder. "Are you studying Greek?" he asked.


"Latin is easier." I agreed.

"But the easiest was Hebrew." That was surprising. I didn't ask for more information because it's too noisy in the metro and it seemed too intimate to be yelling into a stranger's ear. But I was impressed.



“Lament is the lost language of worship.” –Michael Card

I’ve been hoarding an old cassette entitled “The Way of Wisdom” by Michael Card. The tracks are all songs based on Psalms and the books of Wisdom.

One of the tracks is the “Job Suite.” Now that I have done in-depth studies of Job over the past few years (in my personal study and in my small group), I have a better understanding of the progression of discourse.

In Card’s rendition, there are clear pauses when a different person is about to speak (note that there are no direct quotes from the “friends.” Instead Job summarizes their part in his lament). Although the voices are the same, you can hear the difference in the roles.*

I am so thankful that Job is included in the Bible, and that the story is told from beginning to end.

In a 2006 article in Christianity Today, Card shares some great insights about what is missing in our worship. He notes how contemporary Christian music (namely American) has a lot of good aspects, yet is missing…