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Showing posts from March, 2010

The tolling of the bells

29 March 2010. A normal day...or was it?

In my Culture class in late afternoon we talked about troikas and bell-ringing.

I remember being on a plane several years ago and finding myself resigned to reading the airline magazine. That particular issue featured a story on the nearly extinct art of bell-ringing, which is officially known as campanology. I remember reading about the complexities of the melodies and rhythms; about the physical strength required.

Fast-forward to our conversation in class. What associations do you have with bells? A church service, a wedding, a certain time of day...maybe even a school-bell.

Old Russian Orthodox culture (before Soviet times), as it turns out, had its own bell system. I highly recommend doing a little online research if you're interested in this sort of thing. In addition to different moments in the church calendar, the bells marked different seasons of life...much like in the rest of Europe, but with a certain Russian flair. continue/-


You write the caption

"It depends"

Sometimes I am torn between wanting to be "practical" by planning for the future and wanting to just focus on the moment, believing that "each day has enough trouble of its own." One such area is in the buying and consuming of goods. Should I plan and cook meals ahead of time? Or just take it a day at a time, trusting that God will provide the time and the means for further food preparation? Should I take advantage of a sale, or only buy what is on my list?

This also applies to time management. Should I complete just the top things on my list and go to bed when my body is telling me I'm tired, or should I stretch out that last bit of energy to get more work done?

I found it interesting to reread the story about the manna in the wilderness and to observe how God's instructions changed from day to day. continue reading/-

Principle #1: Take only enough for today

Exodus 16:18-20
...Each one gathered as much as he needed. Then Moses said to them, "No one is…

Fun language tools

If you will recall my "mushroom" post, I discussed the difficulties of translating idioms into another language.

There is a great little book of Russian idioms with English counterparts. Part of what makes the book great are its illustrations. In fact, it's a fun exercise to cover up the words and try to see what the idiom is supposed to convey.

Can you guess the one to the left?*

I don't currently own the book, but it turns out that there is an online version, the source of the picture (which I don't own the rights to.) You can read the entries and look at the accompanying illustrations. Each entry has the Russian idiom, an approximate English translation, and a related idiom in English.

The book is called Русские фразеологизмы в картинках (A Book of Russian Idioms Illustrated) by M. I. Dubrovin, illustrated by V. I. Tilman. It was published in 1987 in Moscow by Russky Yazyk Publishers.

Check out the book online

*Look at the text that accompanies the picture/-



It's school vacation week. No orphanage for me! But I did have a nice visit last week before leaving for Estonia.

Every once in a while I get acquainted with a new part of the orphanage. Recently, I've been having most of my tutoring sessions in a little room called "The Museum."


When we used to visit the summer camps, we would often bring several suitcases full of art supplies, so that we could teach some activities as well as leave supplies with the Russians who led workshops. It was always a delightful (and humbling) surprise when the counselors begged us for a scrap of this or that and then created brilliant masterpieces for a camp fair or theatrical production.

Isn't it amazing how different minds can make such a variety of works of art from the very same materials? I was mesmerized the first time I was in The Museum and saw all the different things the children had made: paper sculptures, drawings, paintings, dolls and stuffed animals, matchstick scul…

Back to the ex-USSR

Actually, that's misleading. Estonia still counts as the former USSR! But it is definitely a different world.

On Saturday, we met in a little neighborhood outside of Tallinn for a retreat with our ministry partners serving in Montenegro and Belarus. We all stayed in a little house, sharing meals and fellowship together.

Then it was back to "real" life. We were sad to say goodbye, but happy to get back to our respective "homes." I have to admit, it was a relief to get back to St. Petersburg after sleepy Estonia. And the bright evening sunshine was a nice welcome!


Greetings from Estonia!

As if in a dream

After class, I went to the visa department at the university to see if they cared that I was leaving the country.

I approached the same old dormitory reception area which I now knew led to the administrative offices. I took out my student ID and prepared to pass through the turnstile.

The man on duty shook his head and pointed to a sign: UMC (or some other combination of letters) dept, 2nd floor of dormitory. Like that was supposed to help me!

Um, and the second floor is...where? He gestured.

I walked to the end of the reception area and went through a different turnstile. Spotting an elevator, I entered and pushed “2.” I wondered how I was going to end up in an office and not someone’s living area .read more/-

I came out of the elevator. No one was in sight. I chose a direction and saw a sign which read “____ department, temporary passageway. “ Okay. I headed down a deserted, windowless corridor with a row of closed doors, and it hit me…how was I going to find my way back out? What …

Water, water, everywhere; but not a drop to drink

A taste of spring...

Thought for the day (Rev. 2, 3)

“Hold on to what you have until I come.” –Rev. 2:25“Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” Rev. 3:11
Some are wandering, and for them there is a different word. But what if you are on track, following God? Hold on.

Why does it happen that some wander? I don’t think it starts out intentionally. We don’t consciously plan to walk away from God. Maybe it starts out with looking for a little fun or even romance within the wrong company; an effort to try new things outside of His leading; an attempt to be more tolerant and expand our worldview.

Just wait, be patient and hold on. To what? To your family in Christ; to what you know; to your values and the boundaries that you have set; to the time you spend with God. If you believe what is written in the Word, then you have what you need. So hold on to it.

Off with her head!

The first adventure that happened was that I found out one morning last week that we were going to have a house-guest, and by the evening I had grabbed some things and made my way through the snowy streets to a friend’s house to stay so that we would all be a little more comfortable.

I think that was Tuesday. The next day I had a head cold and between that and getting accustomed to my new surroundings, felt a little bewildered.

Thursday was an almost normal day, and so on through the weekend.

Meanwhile, a new week began and I was thinking about two details:1) My FBI report, which hadn’t made its appearance yet. 2) An upcoming trip to Estonia that I hadn’t quite figured out.

The connection is that I needed the FBI report to apply for my residency permit, and without turning in those papers, I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed to leave Russia and retain my place in the quota.

I was aiming for March 26th for Estonia, until yesterday, when I learned that the departure date is actual…

Curious and curiouser

I decided to take a look at Revelation since I hadn’t read it on my own for awhile and we were thinking about doing a Sunday school unit. I like that right up front the purpose of the epistle is stated. But after that, it’s no ordinary epistle. :)

If you take verse 9 of chapter 1, for example, the wording is rather unusual.
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.This is like that game, What Doesn’t Belong?

Suffering and patience…yes, go together.

Kingdom and power (and glory)…go together.

But suffering, kingdom, and patient endurance? Doesn’t it seem like an odd juxtaposition? To me it is so interesting how the different Gospels and Epistles have different associations with Christ. To some He is the Shepherd or more often the King or the Son of God. Here, He is the One for Whom we suffer, from Whom we inherit the Kingdom, for Whom we …

Revisiting ruination

Last week I commented on the idea of feeling “messed up” or “ruined” for God. The problem with this concept is that if taken the wrong way it implies that we should shun the ordinary moments in life and/or the people who don’t feel “messed up.”

You know, I used to feel very awkward giving my “testimony” because I felt that in order to have a great story, one had to have been living a life of tragedy or great sin in order to really experience deliverance.  And now I realize that I need not feel anything but awe and thankfulness for having received the Gospel when I was young. There would be plenty of moments for the supernatural later on.

When we come across these ambiguous Christian terms, it’s always a good idea to return to the Bible. When we are always talking about divine appointments, spiritual attacks, hating the sin but loving the sinner, God being awesome, etc., it is easy to become lost in ambiguity. continue/-

I think it is a great skill to be able to present God’s Word in a…

Children and worship

Sometimes they are trained to sit quietly; sometimes they run around. Sometimes they go straight to Nursery; sometimes they stay with their parents.

What do children think of church?

Do children recognize when we’re worshiping? It doesn’t seem to bother them when parents have their eyes closed or are busy singing. I’m thirsty, I’m hungry, I want to ask you a question. The need for interaction doesn’t stop.

So at times it would appear that children are oblivious to that fact that we are “entering in” to worship.

Is this good or bad? On the one hand, maybe they are so comfortable with our praising the Lord regularly that our beginning to sing does not feel different, but like a natural state for them. On the other hand, shouldn’t they be able to recognize a sacred moment? What is it about worship time that makes grown-ups stop talking and take on a different posture, while children go on playing? Is this something we learn as we grow in the Lord, or is it a ritual that we have forced u…

Goodbye to a good and faithful servant

When you come to Russia for just a short time, it is like a treasure hunt of meetings with different interesting people.

I was in St. Petersburg with my father in the summer of 2004, before I moved here to live. One of our quests was to meet with a man named Kenneth. I didn’t understand what the connection was, but my dad had something in mind. We were searching for a place called “Agora.”

What I didn’t know yet about Russia was how within those huge apartment buildings many different things go on, and the neighbors don’t necessarily know what is happening at the other end of the building or on a different floor. When we couldn’t find the entrance, I asked some men in a business on the first floor if they could tell us where “Agora” was. They couldn’t. We ended up calling someone, who came down to find us and lead the way. Nothing was as simple as it seemed.


Inside was a rambling, open staircase that went up and up. As we ascended, I felt like I was in a Tolkien-esque land.…

Loving my brother

Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not desire direct fellowship with them.*

Bonhoeffer reminds me a little bit of Oswald Chambers in that when I first read something he wrote, I think, "What is he talking about?" And I have to meditate on it a little bit in order to decide whether I agree or not.

More of the passage (with added spacing and emphasis):

"As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love. The other person needs to retain his independence of me; to be loved for what he is, as one for whom Christ became man, died, and rose again, for whom Christ bought forgiveness of sins and eternal life. continue/-

Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him on…

Which came first?

I’ve encountered an interesting dilemma in one of my Russian classes. In discussing Russia’s religious background, we observed that it began with Paganism and later switched to Christianity, which was a “natural” transition given the people’s long tradition with seeking divine help and the similarities between the “Christian” God and the gods of the Slavonic pantheon.

The thing is that I believe that Christianity was in the hearts of men before even Paganism came about. Adam and Eve fell from grace long before people began to invent their own gods. At this point they were already in need of a Savior.

While I realize Christianity may not have “existed” in Russia previously, people were already searching for it in their hearts. Therefore, if Christianity was the answer, it was not because it conveniently fit into a mold that man had created, but filled the place in their hearts created by God from the very beginning. expand/-

So it is not that Christianity became the solution to a known…


I’m just wondering how everyone is reacting to the recent earthquakes and other tragic news.

1)    Does it seem like there has been a significantly larger number of catastrophic events lately?
2)    If so, what kind of conclusions are you drawing or have you heard from other people?

First of all, on a personal level, I could not begin to imagine or put into words the pain of losing a loved one. I don’t think you can put it on a scale. Grief is grief.

But I want to look at recent events on more of a global scale. I’m not an alarmist and I don’t agree with spreading rumors about judgment or the end of the world. I don’t think it is even necessary to study trends from a scientific point of view. On the other hand, we are called as Christians to speak the Truth. more/-

The Prophets delivered words of doom, but they were called to do that. We have to be careful not to create roles for ourselves that are outside of God’s calling.

Are people living in fear, or are they desensitized to trage…

No going back

I like this thread by Motte Brown over at Boundless. He polls everyone about whether they’ve been “messed up” by a pastor, as in deeply convicted by a particular sermon, and moved to act.

While I can’t pinpoint a particular sermon, I can, of course, recall factors that changed my life. “Ruined for the ordinary” is another phrase that gets tossed around, although I can’t seem to find the original source.

I can remember a few times when I wished I hadn’t ever gone to Russia or gotten involved. I was in too deep and I wasn’t sure if I liked that feeling. I wanted to keep one foot planted on safe ground, but it was too late to go back. It wasn't that it was bad, just overwhelming. continue/-

Since I was receptive to hearing about missions during college, I suppose Urbana 2003 would have held some of those sermons that “messed up” my life. I will have to find my notes again the next time I’m home.  You can listen to some of the talks from that year in the archives.

Why is it that the …

Weather forecast

Did you know that in Russia it's officially spring? Judging by the snow coming down, I wouldn't have guessed it either!

Here's a little joke to lighten your mood, whether you're affected by the weather or not (received in an e-mail):

Spring is almost here. We can now see the deer moving around in our backyard.Click/-

Yep, won't be long now!

The Martha Syndrome

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." -Luke 10: 40-41
I don’t know about you, but this is one Bible story that has been in my repertoire since childhood. It’s pretty simple and has a clear message:  Pick Jesus over housework. Or maybe…worry about your soul before your earthly responsibilities? Or, be willing to drop all your plans if someone special comes to visit?

Okay, good lesson…but I have to ask the question…what about responsibilities? Don’t those have a place in the Kingdom? Wasn’t the Proverbs 31 goddess woman always bustling about, being productive? continue/-

One time recently I felt convicted about bei…

What about the NT?

Has anyone else noticed that Sunday school materials seem to be heavy on the OT heroes and scant on the NT?

I noticed that in our church we seem to focus on Christmas and Easter with some OT heroes in-between, and then maybe some general topics like friendship, the fruits of the Spirit, etc.

But what about the first church, the first martyrs, the epistles, ...Revelation?

I opened up my craft book to take a look at the repertoire. After the Resurrection there is a small section titled "Christian Life." That is the extent of the material pertaining to everything after the Gospels.

To be fair, there ARE selected stories that are usually covered: Pentecost, Ananias and Sapphira, Paul's conversion, and Paul and Silas in jail. Other stories might be used to illustrate more general topics such as church fellowship. But there is so much more!

We wanted to do a short survey on the books of the NT as an introduction, but it is hard to find materials on the General Epistles, for e…

Complex assignments

In one of my current classes, we discuss the syntax, lexical patterns, grammar constructions, and realms of usage of different writing styles in the Russian language.

I like the mathematical qualities of scientific writing, which we are covering now. In some ways it is easier to translate because so many words are universal or the constructions rigid. Just insert something here with the proper ending and you have an intellectual-sounding sentence!

But it is still hard to keep up. It’s one thing to look at the construction and see how clearly it is formed, and another to use it in your own speech and writing.

We are going waaaay too fast, in my opinion. I don’t want to just take in information, I want to use it!

Soon I will get my chance....more/-

In April there will be a student conference, and our articles are due next week!

At first we were told to choose a topic that was interesting to us. I chose orphanages because there were already people planning to write about theology, and …