Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A study in metamorphosis

Misha was different at the beginning of the school year. He hugged and kissed me. He repeated everything I said in English, whether it was a part of the lesson or not. He dressed up in his Superman costume, especially for me. When I was getting ready to go, he would put on my coat and hat and run around while I chased him.

The farewell to the school year went a little differently. For the last few weeks, he had not come to class. He cried when pressured. Sometimes he came into the room and would watch with a scowl. Just before I left, he would beg for candy.

This time, he was slumped in a chair watching tv. He wouldn’t respond to my questions. For a few seconds his eyes became bright long enough to say, “Give me a piece of gum!” I was dismayed. “Misha, why don’t you want to do English? Do you get tired?” That was a mistake, because it prompted his next ingenious response: “The doctor said I shouldn’t.” “If you’re too sick to do English, then you shouldn’t be watching television. And you shouldn’t eat candy,” I said, not willing to baby him.

Nothing helped.

“So that’s it? You’re not going to come to class? Will you come next year?”

A nod. “Give me a piece of gum.”


“But you promised!”

“I didn’t promise. And you didn’t earn it, anyway.”

“You promised! I don’t want to ever see you again!”

What’s the problem? Institutionalization? Adolescence? Attachment disorder? Adoption anxiety?

Outside, I found Lolita, a girl from Misha’s group. “Let’s have English class!” she said. “Guess what, I found my textbook! It was in the playroom, underneath everything.”


We went inside to have a lesson. In the background, an old man began to express his views to a colleague. “If you ask any American nowadays, they will say that the U.S. won WWII….”


"Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name. "

-Ps. 86:11

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Wedding season

A lot of my friends are getting married this summer. Here are some photos from one wedding that I attended. This particular wedding consisted of: 1) a civil ceremony, conducted a week in advance 2) a church ceremony 3) a stroll around the city with the wedding party 4) a banquet

Here we are on the stroll....the single ladies. :)

Some more friends from church...

The traditional silly pose.

Finally, a shot of the bride and groom!

Another lovely bride....married the same day, but in Montenegro!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Language Acquisition

When you look in many foreign language textbooks, the first phrases are often, “Hello," "My name is," "I’m ________ years old," and "I’m from _________.” Now, why do students have trouble learning these phrases? Is it the teacher? Is it them? Is it the textbook? We’ll leave "Hello" because it’s fairly easy to demonstrate and incorporate into lessons. The others become problematic. The first reason is that they are abstract concepts. They may be key conversational phrases, but they are difficult to demonstrate word-for-word. They also contain fairly complex grammatical structures. Many of the textbooks teach “My name is,” and “What is your name,” but who actually says that? I’m pretty sure that I usually say “I’m……” and then wait for the other person to introduce him/herself. Or I might say “My name’s….” Students understand what "name" means, but how do you explain the " 's" ending? If you simply teach the phrase, students may memorize the collection of sounds without understanding how the phrase breaks down. Yet if you teach the separate words, you have to enter into a discussion of the verb “to be,” which may be too abstract of a concept.

The next problematic phrase: “I’m _____ years old.” Okay, we can just leave out the “years old” right away…how do you explain THAT?” “I’m _______” isn’t too hard, right? Say “I’m” while pointing to yourself and demonstrate the number by counting on your fingers. But then you've gotten into cases. In other languages, age is expressed by a different case than in English and sounds more like, “I have ______ years” or “to/by me are__________ years.”

“I’m from _____________” might be simple to point out using a map, but let’s face it, country names are hard to say and spell in your native language, let alone in a foreign tongue. You have to get your poor pupils to understand that they’re from Russia, not “Ross-i-ya.” And prepositions such as "from" and "to" may cause issues.

Having said this, however, I will still probably continue to teach these phrases, because they are important to conversation in English-speaking cultures. Although fluency may be a long time coming, it’s satisfying for both teachers and students to have a few phrases perfected. And for someone new to a foreign culture, having a few phrases may help them break the communication barrier and make some friends.

Although the default conversational phrases may be practical, I’m still not that satisfied with them linguistically. The best approach for learning to converse is clearly immersion, paired with grammatical instruction in an appropriate setting. One of the drawbacks to immersion is that the results are not immediately apparent, even less so than in other approaches in which the students are capable of memorizing long lists of vocabulary and rules but do not hone their deduction skills. The immersion approach therefore requires quite a bit of dedication and patience if results are to be seen. In one of the better curricula I’ve used, the students spend a lot of the first year simply listening and responding to verbal commands. They point to pictures, color, and gradually learn many everyday expressions. But they aren’t required to speak much or try to read words. They are simply absorbing information, and out of a natural desire to respond, begin to speak.

Much can be learned about language acquisition by watching young children. They listen, take everything in, and then begin to repeat it back. This is a wonderful way to learn a foreign language as well. I try not to force my beginner students to speak when they’re not ready. But I also do not encourage them to speak their native language. That way, when they wish to express themselves, they have to use English.

I have some questions about how to incorporate pronounciation into lessons. Correcting pronounciation may lead to self-consciousness. However, if you let it go, will it correct itself or will bad habits build up? For example, I notice that a lot of my students do not pay much attention to intonation, which can make a big difference later on in communication. They may pronounce individual words correctly, but apply the intonation of their native language to English. For a toddler learning a native language, it is nearly the opposite. A toddler mimics intonation, while uttering sounds almost unrecognisable. By piecing together the intonation and the one or two recognisable words, it is possible to understand them. I wonder if this would be practical for second language acquisition as well.

P.S. I just remembered another of the obvious, yet deadly beginner phrases: "How are you?" Try getting that one across without translation! I find it very hard for beginners to remember this phrase without a lot of conversation practice. They either look at you blankly or mix it up with "What's your name?" and "How old are you?"

Thursday, May 24, 2007


"Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God."

-Romans 8:5-7

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Prized pupils

I recently endured a tutoring session at which this boy insisted his pet rat must be present...on my lap. I managed to put up with it for several minutes until the rat crawled up my neck and into my hair. Not okay. We did avoid tears this time, though.

I also had my last lesson at the public school. We practiced "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" about 20 times for their final concert.

As I was leaving, one boy came up to me with some flowers to say thank you. He had been carefully coached...

Holding out the bouquet, he said, "This is a present...for me!"

Monday, May 21, 2007


Since meditating on the verses about helpful words, I’m actually finding it difficult to write a longer post. The words all seem extraneous.


The problem with paying more attention to these issues is that trying to do right can turn into an obsession, turning the focus away from Christ our Center.

Then you get questions like this which sound deep and insightful but cause hours of unnecessary debate: Does every article have to be a dissertation? Does every spoken word have to be a sermon? Every thought a revelation?

Or am I missing the point altogether?

First of all, the verses I included were mainly referring to spoken word. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." -Ephesians 4:29

Since a website is written form, I think it requires even more careful thought since we have the option of editing and are presenting material that may be read by many for years to come.

To “build others up” is just like building a work of architecture. You want them to have a strong foundation. You want them to be sturdy and not fall. That’s all.

Online journals can do both harm and good. Harm can be caused in the form of careless words when a post includes something that can bring someone down: gossip, ill-directed humor, criticism, prejudice. Or just an unhealthy focus on something that should not be given priority in a Christian’s life. It’s not healthy for us to think about it and we could cause someone else to stumble.

When I look for a blog that could be edifying to me, I like the ones that 1) Relate to my situation and/or interests (missions, cultural issues, Christian ladies, Americans in Russia, teaching English). 2) Present Christian values from a real-life viewpoint. 3) Are updated regularly and show a progression of thought.

Where's the edifying part, you may ask? Reading about someone else's trials and triumphs provides inspiring examples for me. Either that or it points me back to a certain place in the Bible. Or encourages me to ask questions and challenge myself to do better.

I don’t think it’s necessary to be extremely profound in each blog post, simply because everyday life doesn’t consist only of profound moments. Why attempt to portray something that isn’t there? Yes, sermons are interesting, but the average person reads it and thinks, “My life isn’t made up of sermons as his is. Where did I go wrong?” On the other hand, I also don’t see a need to publish all the intimate (or possibly boring) details. Those should either be filtered out or reserved for friends and family. It is necessary to cultivate those real-life relationships and not neglect them for virtual ones.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Together with all the saints

Pictures from a picnic hosted recently by members of St.Petersburg church "Christ to the World."

No special effects used!

Friday, May 18, 2007

The sunset

I was trying to take a picture of the sunset the other evening and it didn't come out very well. However, I did get a photo of Damir instead.

This is Damir.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Helpful words

The Bible has much to say about words and speech, but instead of doing a whole study, I will share a few of my favorites here.

I will let the verses speak for themselves.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. -Matthew 12:36, 37

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. -Deuteronomy 11:18

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pleasant journeying

Recently while riding in the metro, I witnessed my first Russian mass giggle attack. When I first rode the Russian metro several years ago, the wagon starting moving and I immediately fell over. It was a humorous event, and naturally I began to laugh. At that point our interpreter whispered sternly, “Do NOT laugh in the metro.” I am sure that she meant to protect us. But since then I have tried to affect a more stoic expression as I travel.

Imagine my surprise the other day when the Russians began to giggle in the metro. I am not sure what happened; perhaps an old lady acting up or a small child saying funny things. It started down at one end of the car and spread to my end, where people began to giggle, not even knowing why. It was contagious. I was amazed.

Today, however, started in a mood of melancholy. I felt a heavy burden and asked the Lord to show me what I should change in my heart. Sometimes you just want to find the answer; to simply perform a certain action and receive the desired result. But at that point I knew that there wasn’t anything I could do. The Lord would comfort me in His own time.

The surprise blessing was a friendly and competent marshrutka (taxi? bus? bus-taxi? mini-bus?) driver. I didn’t even get carsick. The driver was so kind; when he inadvertently went past my stop, he said, “I’m sorry, I misunderstood you.” I wanted to hug him! Well, not really.

On the way home I had a nice driver too! I only got a little carsick from sitting sideways. As the passengers piled in, I felt a sudden surge of love for them. This is not something that you feel every day when you ride the public transportation. :) And then I realized that the release had come.

Note: On CNN recently, there was a story about Miami having the worst road rage. As examples, it cited drivers talking on cell phones and running red lights. After living in Russia, it sounds pretty tame to me. :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Only you

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

-Ps.73:25, 26

Monday, May 14, 2007

Taking the tram

Something prompted me to take these photos of the tram the other day while I was walking home. When you see something every day, you forget that it was once new and strange.

When I first arrived, I had a system for keeping everything straight. The bus is just a bus but if you have to pay more then it's a special route bus. The vehicle that goes on the road but has a wire at the top is a trolley. The vehicle that is attached on top but has its own track is the tram. Now I don't have to think about it too hard. :)

I like the tram because it goes nice and slowly and I don't get motion sickness. On the other hand, if you want to get somewhere fast, you're out of luck. Another feature of the tram is that the route sometimes goes across different metro lines and is therefore more convenient than going all the way down one metro line and up another.

Call to praise

Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.

Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Amen and Amen.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mommy Day 2007

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." -Proverbs 31:27-29

Can you believe she is a grandmother?

White nights

I lost my camera, so cell phone images will have to do for now. Here is the usual scene, seen through the kitchen window. For some reason I always take photos from this perspective. I guess it's the best "view" from the apartment.

Anyway, as you can see, it's bright and sunny out today. I took this photo at 7:30 pm and it's still just as light an hour later (but I'm too lazy to take another photo, so you'll have to believe me).

Summer is on its way!!!!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Charming pupils

This is Ruth. This morning she greeted me with, "Hel-lo Liz. You-beautiful."

Must have known she was having a test today!

One section on the test consisted of responding to verbal commands to put on and take off various outer clothing. We had fun learning "!"

Ruth has a slight problem with stuffing things into her mouth, like any food in sight and non-food items such as my pen cap. But I'll forgive that, because when I was getting ready to go, she tied my shoelaces for me (without prompting), due to our lesson about tie/untie. It got me thinking...maybe I should teach all my students to put my shoes on for me! They could also learn to open doors, make me tea ....maybe answer my phone too and take messages. All for the sake of learning English, of course. :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A rough summer

I have been rereading an old prayer journal. The summer I was 19 was a challenging one.


"Oh, I am so sick. Help!"


"I'm well, thank you Lord. But I am still getting my strength back. I need help with that."


"I seem to be caught in a cycle. I can't find a verse about that, so I'll look at some verses about freedom since that is what I hope to gain with Your help.

O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains. -Ps.116:16

In my anguish I called to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. -Ps.118:5

...I give this day to you now. I'm going to go out and make myself available now, but I don't want to just plunge into it. I want to go into it being in you, prepared to do your work. Be with me. "


"Oh, Lord. I need to talk to you. I'm in one of those low spots..."

(Date unknown)

"Lord, I want to yearn for you with my whole being."

And a quote:

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a crossroads and doesn't know which road to take. The Cheshire cat asks, "Well, where are you going?" "I don't know," Alice replies. "Well, if you don't know where you're going," the cat wisely answers, "any road will do very nicely."

If our lives are not repeatedly dedicated to the glory of God, then any choice we make is as good-or bad-as the next."
-Haddon Robinson, Decision-Making By the Book


The word discipline brings to mind two different meanings: 1) self-control associated with restraint/order/obedience/etc. and 2) regulation enforced by an authority figure, which includes instruction, correction, punishment (There is also the meaning referring to a subject area, but that’s not related to the discussion here).

The form of discipline that seems to cause the most trouble in our lives is the area of self-control. Sure, we can blame our problems on inadequate/parents/teachers/pastors/etc, but ultimately we will be held accountable for our own actions, and our own actions are the ones that bring us troubling thoughts.

So when we talk about needing more discipline, we mean that we wish to be more obedient. Not that someone would slap us on the wrist more often, but that we would be able to restrain ourselves so as not to require chastening.

In the Bible, self-control is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit. Many church-goers learn to list the fruit of the Spirit in childhood, yet sometimes they don’t understand the full context.

Here is a song I learned in childhood (from the Agape story series):

“self-control should be our goal
Self-control will help us
Self-control should be our goal
To be more like Je-sus”

Even as an adult, I sometimes wonder how to access these manifestations of the Spirit that sound so virtuous. The fruit of the Spirit is what is produced when we live by the Spirit. It’s not our fruit, it is His. Without Him, we cannot make it come about. The way to live by the Spirit is to die to one’s self.

When you ask the Lord for more discipline, what are you really asking for? You are asking to be able to display more order and restraint in your life. How does this come about? The only way is by dying to yourself, by taking a desire that you have and cutting it out. If the offensive thing were not desirable to you, you wouldn’t need discipline.

When you find yourself unable to resist, the Lord may help in different ways: 1) By removing the temptation, 2) by giving you the strength to resist, 3) by enabling painful consequences to occur in your life to motivate you to learn from your mistakes and be more obedient.

I think that sometimes when we say we need more discipline, we mean that we have a sin problem in some area of our lives. Why not simply confess that sin and ask for forgiveness?

Other times discipline means not giving up something up, but doing something that is contrary to our nature, like showing compassion to someone we don’t like very much. Or simply being faithful in daily duties when we would rather be doing something more pleasureable.

It is possible to develop habits and routines on our own strength. For some people living a rigidly controlled life is even a natural and desirable option. But is this the same self-control that the Bible mentions? Oswald Chambers has some words about this.

“There are times when we are conscious of becoming virtuous and patient and godly, but it is only a stage; if we stop there we shall get the strut of the spiritual prig. The right thing to do with habits is to lose them in the life of the Lord, until every habit is so practiced that here is no conscious habit at all.”

“Your god may be your little Christian habit, the habit of prayer at stated times, or the habit of Bible reading. Watch how you Father will upset those times if you being to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes-I can’t do that just now, I am praying; it is my hour with God. No, it is your hour with your habit. There is a quality that is lacking in you.” (My Utmost for His Highest, reading for May 12…sorry to spoil it for those of you reading on schedule!)

I had a youth group leader once who used to pray for God to give us extra challenges in order to bring us closer to Himself. Think about praying that way sometime, for yourself or for others.

Asking for more discipline is a serious request, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just another way of letting God rule in our lives, to bring Him glory. And that is the reason we exist.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

My plot

Attitude toward the West in Russian media lately has included the suggestion that Western charities and missions efforts are all part of a plot to take over the world.

President Putin has been noted as saying that he’s displeased with the amount of foreign money coming into the country and manipulating the political agenda.

Honestly, I have never met anyone doing charity work with false intentions. Misguided, maybe. But I fail to see how it could be interpreted as a plot to dominate the world. Yes, there are some people with a lot of money who sometimes finance charity events for political reasons. But I do not see those pretenses in people who actual work in the field. Visiting an AIDS hospital for example day in and day out is very hard to do if it is not a person’s true calling.

When we are falsely accused, one thing that we may do is to examine our own hearts to see how we stand before God. I know that I’m not trying to force a certain political agenda. I know that my co-workers aren’t either. There isn’t a single charity program that I know of that is pushing democracy on people. An isolated event here and there, perhaps, but not the dedicated work. Regarding charity programs unfamiliar to me, I work mainly with believers, and it is hard for me to understand how a person could find the strength to do such work without faith in God, simply using the motivation of human compassion. But it happens. What's so strange about it?

However, I confess that I do have a deeper motive. I do have another agenda, and one that Russian authorities might not be happy about. I didn’t come to Russia just to do charity work. Is that what everyone thinks? No, I came to preach the Gospel. To speak the truth. To help find some of God’s sheep who might be lost. I want people to change their way of thinking and be freed from the slavery of sin. And my message might differ strongly in some ways from the traditions of the Orthodox church. I’m not going to apologize for that.

I’m not trying to raise dissent against the leaders of this country or against the leaders of other faiths. But should I be offended that onlookers are suspicious of me? Not if I have assurance that I’m following the Lord’s will. I hope that the leaders and authorities do get nervous….nervous about the state of their own hearts. I hope that they learn somehow that power over other human beings will not grant them eternal contentment. Before it’s too late.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...