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Showing posts from November, 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 unbe…

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.


Priests are joining the army
-(photo: big burly-looking dude with a priestly beard and headgear, in camouflage) Apparently there are new military sch…

One month old!

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!

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. :)

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 inf…

"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:

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…

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 …

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 ag…

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 …

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.

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 so…

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.

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 …

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 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.


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?

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…

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 int…

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

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 …

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....

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.

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…

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!

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 ourselv…

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.


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...


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 situat…