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Showing posts from April, 2010

Seen and heard around town

Present at the annual inspection of the local police force was a pair of priests who blessed the squad cars with holy water to "protect" them from accidents...

(See the original here at


"Dear God, please meddle in our affairs."

Maybe it would have a good outcome, but doesn't it sound a little negative, asking God to do that? Yet I kept hearing my Russian friends voice a similar prayer.

You see, I had been acquainted with the verb when it was used in the context of "Don't meddle in other people's affairs."

It also sounds like the verb for "mix" or "bother." I imagined God getting in there with a big spoon and stirring things up.

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Of course I knew there had to be another translation, and sure enough, the alternatives "intervene" or "intercede" would make much more sense in this context!

Here's an example from Proverbs with the Russian verb that was confusing me:

Сердце знает горе души своей, и в радость его не вмешается чужой.

In the KJV it says this:

"The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy." -Proverbs 14:10
BUT the NIV is a bi…

Alone or together?

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community...let him who is not in community beware of being alone." -Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.77

I find this to be an interesting pair of statements because we often group people into introverts and extroverts by saying that there are those who like to be around people more, and those who prefer alone time (this is actually not the correct definition, but is commonly believed). They are naturally happy and thrive when in their preferred social zones.

So it is interesting to think that a person who prefers being with people would actually be a hindrance to the community, or that a person who loves solitude would actually be harmed by it.

But I think that Bonhoeffer was not talking about personality here. read more/-

He continues,

"...only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship." (77)

"One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words an…

Upside down and backwards

Here's a fun fact about Russia.

Take a look at these books. What do you observe (other than a Josh McDowell title that used to be seized by border guards)?

Exhibit A:

Okay, obviously the Cyrillic on the Russian book stands out. But if you will also notice, the title is going the opposite way...from bottom to top, as opposed to top to bottom. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough that I sometimes mistakenly open Russian books upside down...

It would be interesting enough to leave it at that. But to be fair, I decided to take a wider sample and check out a few Spanish books I have in my collection... continue/-

Exhibit B:

One title goes the "Russian" way, two go the "American" way! Now I don't know what to conclude! Funny, though!

Servant Leadership

Rehoboam was doomed before he even came to the throne (1 Kings 11).

If only he had listened to his father’s advisors, who clearly sought wisdom from the Lord…

They told him, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” (1 Kings 12:7)

This is in contrast to the advice of the younger generation, who said, “Tell these people…my father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier.” (12:10a, 11a)

In the first example, we see the qualities of a leader who wants to please his people; listen to their needs; perhaps even put their needs first, if this can be understood by “serving.”

In the second, we see a leader who rules by force and by fear; control and “order”…but a kind of order that led to rebellion.


This is a part of my series on pursuing a Temporary Residency Permit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In this episode: I officially hand in my application for review

I will write a more informative summary post later, but for now I will just tell about my own experience.

My appointment was on Friday, and I got my final document on Thursday, took it over to be translated, and picked it up on Friday morning.

I was really happy at the prospect of handing everything in, but at the same time I was nervous that I had forgotten something or made a mistake. I knew it would all work out in the end, but I really didn't want to have to go run around fixing something and then have yet another appointment at Immigration. read more/-

The queuing has been different each time I've gone. This time I wasn't sure of my number because I made my appointment over the phone. At 2:00, we were allowed to make our way to the back porch where the security guy was waiting. There were more people than I thou…


Today I can breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks... I was able to hand in all my documents for my temporary residency permit!

What a difference a day makes

In this episode: Fun with FedEx

I suppose it will be “fun” one day when my grandchildren ask, “Tell us about the time when a volcano almost stopped you from getting Russian residency.”

At least, that’s what I had been telling myself all this week.

My father received my FBI results just before leaving on vacation, and sent it to my brother in DC, who was able to get the apostille and immediately ship it out via FedEx.

That was last Wednesday.

With the help of the package tracker, I was able to see that by Friday the document was already in Frankfurt, and I would have no problem getting it by Monday  or Tuesday, with plenty of time to get the translation and make my appointment on Friday...continue/-

I have to admit, I wasn’t initially concerned about the volcano in Iceland or even about closed airspace. My loved ones were all where they needed to be, and no one was planning to travel through Europe. This is not to say that I felt no sympathy for anyone affected, nor concern for the mes…


Sent by my mom at 11:40 pm...


Making flashcards...

I HOPE this isn't an indication of how the lesson is going to go!

Comic relief

It's been awhile since I've truly felt "stressed." But this week, deadlines, presentations, and various emergencies have given me that tense feeling in my stomach.

On the other hand, now that I'm used to my instructors, I feel much more relaxed with them and my classmates. It reminds me how important it is for students to feel safe in the classroom, especially when learning a foreign language.

My grammar instructor takes an intense approach to teaching, but at the same time her emotional character provides moments of amusement.

Yesterday, for instance, someone in a nearby classroom was speaking rather loudly and boisterously, but not very coherently...

Tatiana's eyes widened.
"Girls,...that person...that intonation!" She teaches Phonetics too, so she listens for these things.

The talking went on. The speaker was presumably Chinese since there are many of them in the department.

"Oh, how I would love to give that student a lesson in i…

Turning into my mother?

...taking bread out of the oven at 11pm...

....just in time to do dishes and check e-mails before bed!

Wading in the kitchen

4:30 am.

Why am I awake? I'm not hungry, thirsty, cold, or hot. Everything is silent. I don't remember any dreams.

I roll over...

WOOSH...or was it CRASH? Something is happening, but I don't know what. Zhenya is out of town, so it's a good thing I invited my friend to stay the night.

Neither of us know what is going on. Did I leave something on in the kitchen? Is there a fire?

I walk towards the kitchen in dread. It's coming from the bathroom, but I'm afraid to open the door.

I open the door and a spray of water hits me in the face like a geyser. I don't even know where the water is coming from, but the neighbors upstairs have "flooded" us twice before, in the middle of the night. It's hitting the walls and ceiling and me, and the floor is already covered. continue/-

I panic, wondering what to do first...rescue everything on the floor, or find the source of the leak? While moving shoes and rugs to safe territory, I send Lida upstairs to tell t…

It's here!

Evidence of spring...

(Russian) rules for life

While waiting for my pupils in the orphanage the other day, I amused myself by looking at the bulletin board set up in that particular group.

Along with birthdays, awards, and other announcements, there was a list of rules displayed prominently in one of the sections.

I found the phrasing of the rules intriguing, as well as the juxtaposition of moral standards with rules meant to preserve order. Of course, the orphanage is a place for academic pursuits as well as a home, so it’s natural that classroom rules and rules relating to family life would be combined.

First, a sample of American classroom rules for comparison (found in a forum here):
1. Raise your hand.
2. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
3. Walk.
4. Treat people the way that you would like to be treated.
5. Follow directions.

The rules posted in the orphanage: (loosely translated)
1)    Respect yourself and others.
2)    Listen to your elders, for they will not lead you astray.
3)    Help the younger ones, wh…

On not taking "no" for an answer

In Russia, you often get a "no" answer, but it doesn't always mean No.

Yesterday after reading Ruth, I kept thinking of the verse where Naomi says, "Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens." (3:18)

Meanwhile, I had to call Immigration to see if they would change my appointment to next Friday, when I'll have my last document. Well, I wasn't going to ask, more like request...or plead...

I called them yesterday and they said to call back today during a specific time window. I would have to call them between class and the orphanage.

After class, I realized that I hadn't taken the phone number with me. Uh-oh. I got in touch with my friend from Canada and she was able to send me the number in a text.

Phone calls are a big deal for me... I feel more comfortable now in Russian, but it is still a big ordeal each time, if it's an important call.

After a few tries, I got through to Immigration and they transferred me to the referent, or "re…

"Nature" and the problem of sin

Charlie Allnut: A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature.

Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.

- The African Queen (1951)An article over at Boundless (referencing Mohler) tipped me off to something that I hadn't completely come to terms with before.

As Christians, we often condemn a particular sin (often homosexuality) for being unnatural. That is our argument.

"Why is it wrong?"

"Because it's unnatural."
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By unnatural, perhaps we mean that it isn't a God-given desire. We were created to be attractive to the opposite, not the same, sex. We were made to love one another and not to commit murder. When a gruesome killing occurs, we shiver in's so unnatural. It's perverted.

But this argument is not entirely correct. To say that "non-traditional" sexual and other desires are unnatural is to ignore the Fall of Man.

Unfortunately, since Adam, these u…

No arrest record

This is a part of my series on applying for a temporary residency permit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In this episode: The FBI takes its time

Since I couldn’t get my original criminal background apostilled, I had to start a new one back in February, for which I made a little trip to Moscow.

I was optimistic about getting the results back in 4-5 weeks, as I had the first time, but no such luck. I don’t know if the FBI had more requests because of recent policy changes, or if they just weren’t working as quickly, or what. They don’t guarantee a specific turn-around, although I had written URGENT all over the place.

So it was getting down to the wire as my medical test results are only good until April 28th. As you can probably guess, I don’t really want to redo them. That means the last day I can submit my paperwork is April 23rd, since they’re only open on Fridays.

Then I found out that my parents were going on a trip, leaving Sunday (the 11th). If the document came while they were gone,…

You know it's almost summer in in St. Petersburg when...

Yes, the 8:30 pm sunshine would be a clue. Ahhh, basking in the glory. Well, it's maybe not so glorious from a productivity point of view. So hard to make myself sit down and do something when the sun is shining outside.

What, how did it get to be bedtime already?

Yep, that's one aspect of summer coming.

Another is that the schedules for turning off the hot water have already been posted! I didn't take a photo for fear of freaking out the security guard, but I walked into the building this evening and read that they have already chosen the three weeks during the summer when our building will not have hot water. This is an annual procedure in St. P., done for maintenance purposes.

Good thing we have a hot water heater! Not sure where I will be living in the summer, though...


I've never really been a fan of searching all over town to get that one special ingredient to make an American dish. Especially if it's something Western and expensive. I'd rather use what's more available and cheaper.

However, I do have a grasp of what is sold where, so that I can stop off to get cocoa on my way home from worship practice, for example.

Meanwhile...I have been doing a lot of baking lately, but sometimes I worry about all the white flour. Supposedly it is not great for your health, but giving up bread products is not something I see myself doing anytime soon.

That's why I recently started the search for healthier bread-making ingredients.

Like whole-wheat flour.

Here's the story: click to continue/-

One friend suggested a certain store that would have whole-wheat flour, and mentioned something about online bread-making forums. Hmmm, what juicy bits of information could I dig up in the forums? I found that there are ways to get wholesale ingredie…

Little man

An attempt to make a Sunday school craft...

Since I used ribbon instead of yarn, Zacchaeus was having trouble climbing that tree. I wonder how nimble he was in real life?

My turn

The first time I read about little Justin, my heart was troubled.

You see, for many children, orphaned life starts out this way: being left somewhere with a note or maybe a little backpack with some food, or even nothing at all.

But Justin had already been through all that...he was being abandoned for the second time.

Now that some time has gone by, I've been able to get away from the tragedy of the situation and think more about the logical implications.

Getting help- return to sender?
-How many adoptive families have the thought cross their minds to send the child "back" to where he/she came from? Let's face it, the decision to adopt is life-changing and anyone might find himself wondering whether or not he made a mistake, regardless of whether or not the child (or parent!) develops psychological problems. It is like any human relationship with its ups and downs. read more/-

There are certainly cases where the child should be removed from the home. However, I think…


I’ll be honest. The bullet-proof vests in the metro make me a tad bit uneasy. I’m not against “security,” per se. They are trained to notice things, act promptly in certain situations, manage crowds…

It just seems ironic that after a series of bombings, a new group of guys in uniforms pops up. Everyone is scared enough, and here is the added security to prove that their fears are not unfounded. Yep, it’s gotten dangerous around here. I suppose that’s the way it always is. I mean, one liquid-aided bomb and now we can’t carry our toothpaste on the plane.

Do I have a reaction to people who look like they might be Islamic militants? Perhaps. I’m not going to deny that certain thoughts cross my mind. But I also have a reaction to migrant workers constantly being pulled over for document checks. They just want to make a living. They are people.

So much of it is psychological. I don’t want my approach to life formed by what I’ve heard on the news. Life is too short for that.

Easter Monday

Easter may be "over," but today we finally enjoyed the Easter bundt kulich (a new invention?). The preparation was about a 12-hour process interrupted by lazy yeast and a trip to the store for missing ingredients.

(5th attempt to get both of us AND the cake in the photo)

A glimpse into Russian Orthodoxy

In class on Friday, one of the teachers poked her head into our room and said that the last class was canceled but that we could attend her church’s Good Friday service. Of course it wasn’t mandatory, but she knew that it was Easter all over the world, and that we might be interested.

I wonder if American college professors would be allowed to invite students to church. I suppose a plus of teaching foreigners is that you can call it a “Cultural”  excursion.

Valentina is an Orthodox believer and sings in her church’s choir. Even though it seems that attendance at Orthodox services is intermittent, they do have ongoing activities as in other Christian congregations, and the liturgy is read only once a day, so people have to be somewhat intentional if they are going to attend.

There is definitely a mystical side to Orthodoxy, but I didn’t find it as intimidating as I had in the past. continue/-

Perhaps it just doesn’t feel quite as “foreign.” I suppose that kind of fear is a social fear;…

Leaving again

You know you've been in Russia too long when...

-You stop at the store on the way home just to buy fermented cabbage sauerkraut. I really need to learn how to make my own...

Anyway, what I really meant to write is that I'm going away for the weekend. I'm not leaving the country, or even the surrounding region, but I am going out of town to a church retreat. It happens to fall on Easter this year, so that should be a blessing.

Just call me the Traveling Frog.

Typical day at the orphanage

A trek visit to the orphanage. Would it be worth it? It seemed like for the past few months I had often shown up at an inopportune time, when the kids were in bad moods or otherwise occupied. But I needed to at least fulfill my commitment, and I also had to get some information from the director, so that was another reason to go.

As I approached the orphanage, I went straight into the school/administrative building, in order to catch anyone that might still be in the office. I decided not to look for the director, because as friendly as he is, I couldn’t picture him sitting down and getting some information for me. I went instead to seek out the slightly intimidating, yet competent social worker.

Room numbers and street names are not always my strong point, and I usually rely on my visual memory. Walk into the building, turn to the left, then into the first door on the right, then a jog to the left. continue reading/-

There was a woman sitting at a desk in between the two offices. Was…