Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hospital #3

If you ride the train about 40 minutes from Baltiskii railway station, passing through the President’s estate in Strel'na and the beautiful fountains in Peterhoff, then you will come to Old Peterhoff. It’s a part of town that is getting built up, but still has a feeling of isolation.

If you walk around the pond and down the windy road into the woods, and keep walking for about 10 minutes, you will come to Hospital #3, the Psycho-Neurological Facility for adults. One might even say that the area is pretty, if it weren’t for the fact that many patients have been abandoned to the isolation of this institution for the rest of their lives.

We originally were introduced to this place when we were seeking to adopt Nastia, whose mother Lena was institutionalized after being beaten by her now-deceased husband and having received permanent injuries. Nastia now has built a new life in the U.S., and her mother remains in Russia. We visit Lena from time to time and bring news of her daughter and now grand-daughter. Below, Lena enjoys looking at photographs.

Some of Lena’s roommates have also befriended us. Clockwise from left below are Yulia (with Cerebral Palsy), my mom, Sveta (who has gone blind), me, Larissa, and Lena.

This is Olesya. She was just transferred here recently to spend her adult life. She is 22.

The main goal is to let them know that they are not forgotten, not by us, nor by God, their Father in Heaven.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back to the books

I have a new NT Greek textbook! Hooray! So far it has only covered the basics, but I'm remembering the words better.

Rom. 8:37 is translated in the NIV like this: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

The Greek verb that is translated "to be more than a conqueror" is formed by combining "to conquer" and the prefix "over." (as in "overcook") Considering that the idea of conquering is already a rather mighty concept, adding the prefix to make it "overconquer" or "more than conquerors" sends it over the edge into the realm of amazing Biblical truths that we just can't get our minds around. How can you "more than conquer" something? Someday we will see this all clearly.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The essence of Rossiya

This photograph didn't come out very well, but hopefully you'll get the idea.

The white letters read "No Swimming."

Below is a detail from that photo.

No further comments are necessary!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Karavella, where it all began- 11 years later

Earlier this week, we traveled out to the camp where our ministry in Russia began 11 years ago. This year is the first since 1996 that a team has not traveled to Camp Karavella from our church in Massachusetts. But the friendships that began there live on, and we visited with some of our camp friends.

As we drove in the gate, the first person we caught a glimpse of was Lyudmila the librarian, a believer who became our friend and always welcomed us every year. She was babysitting for her great-grandchild when we arrived.

As we neared the administrative building, other friends awaited us and gave a warm welcome. They asked for news about all their American friends, and then spent some time with us, catching up.

The lady on the left in the bottom photo is Irina, the assistant director. She was one of the first people whom we met, on our first visit to the camp. “It’s terrible that you aren’t here this year,” she said. Irina grew up going to Karavella in the summer, and now her grandson is a camper. Next to her is her daughter Nastia, who has been receptive to the Gospel message. Though now in college, she continues to come out to camp for her summer vacation. To the right of my mom is Vanya, one of our interpreters from our first year. We are still in contact with him and his family too. He took a day off work to drive us out to camp and spend the day with us.

While at camp we were noticing how the years have gone by and children have grown up. There are different kids at camp now, but many of the staff have remained throughout the years, and now proudly show off their children and grandchildren. We shared with them news about our family too and how we have all grown.

Sergei, above, is a former camper. He graduated from one of the orphanages I visit regularly, and now coaches soccer.

Camp life goes on. There are always little changes being made, but as Irina proudly noted, “It’s one of the few camps that remains a true camp.” Kids come here to be kids; to play sports and sit around campfires, and to make memories. We pray that the Holy Spirit will inhabit this camp, so that those memories will include an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Visa Run to Estonia

This time I renewed my one-year Russian visa in Tallinn, Estonia. I had already done it in Finland a few times and was ready to try a new location. I collected the same documents as I had done the previous times, not completely sure what they would ask for, but having a few copies of all possible documents, just in case. Just before I left I also received some advice from someone who had just renewed his visa there, and that was very helpful.

I’ll describe the trip below for anyone interested in renewing his/her visa there, or for anyone interested in Tallinn as a possible vacation spot.

1) Getting there

I decided to take a Eurolines bus to Tallinn from St.Petersburg. In St.Petersburg the Eurolines office is located near Baltiskii Railway Station, to the right after you exit the building. They charged me about $30, but that’s the full price, so I think there are discounts for students, senior citizens, etc. There also might be cheaper bus companies. Eurolines is pretty convenient and runs 5 times a day, in the summer at least.

They asked me for my last name to print the ticket, and after looking at my passport, ended up printing something like “Mensfeld,” which is my middle name spelled wrong. I went back to the ticket office and asked if that was okay. They said it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

The buses leave from the sort of traffic island, also to the right. They didn’t check for ID when I got on the bus, so I guess the guy was right that the name didn’t matter. I think they just use the names for compiling a passenger list.

2) The journey

The bus trip took about 7 hours total. We made several short stops at various bus stations along the way. Crossing the border was a little confusing because whether you get on or off the bus seems to depend on what kind of vehicle you’re on and which border crossing you come through. When leaving Russia, we had to retrieve all our belongings, including suitcases from the baggage hold, and take them with us through passport control. It wasn’t too difficult. Then we got back on the bus. Sometimes they check your passport again afterwards. In entering Narva, the officers got on the bus, collected our passports, and took them somewhere to be processed. I kept waiting to get off the bus, not realizing that it wasn’t necessary. Eventually I fell asleep, as I was rather tired and a bit nauseous. Suddenly someone hit me on the shoulder and it was the guard giving me my passport back. I couldn’t find the stamp and was still confused about whether we had actually entered Estonia or not. We started driving through a town and I thought it seemed to be a fairly large settlement for No Man’s Land between the borders! So finally I realized that I was in Estonia.

Stops weren’t particularly announced. I was fairly sure that Tallinn was the last, but was slightly nervous that I would miss it and the bus would go on to Turku. Then I saw a sign saying “Tallinn Bus Station” in Estonian, and knew it was time to get off.

3) Arrival

At the bus station, I spotted an R-kiosk, which had been described to me as a place where bus tickets are sold. I bought a ticket to use to get into Old Town, where our hotel was. After wandering around for a few minutes, I finally asked an Estonian youth to point out a bus stop where I should wait. I didn’t know what bus to get on, but asked a pair of tourists who seemed to be speaking Spanish if they knew where to go. As we boarded the bus, we helped each other figure out the ticket puncher. There’s no conductor, but you do have to punch your ticket yourself. The fine is $600 kroons for not doing so.

The other tourists got off, so I did too, not knowing where I was. My map was only for Old Town and I didn’t know if I was in Old Town yet. I wandered around reading street signs. Nothing was as charming and elegant as had been described, so I assumed I wasn’t in Old Town yet. I can read maps if I know the language and have a landmark. In this case my head was aching from scanning all the Estonian words and trying to find something recognizable. Finally I saw a park and used that to get oriented. After crossing a few streets, I entered the cobblestone zone…Old Town!

4) Navigating Old Town

Dragging a suitcase on cobblestones wasn’t much fun, but it was doable, and Old Town wasn’t huge. I managed to locate some of the street names on the map, but not all of the little alleys were included, which called for some trial and error to find the way. I reached the hotel just as it was getting dark. Perfect timing.

5) The Consulate

I had received detailed directions to the Consulate. Nevertheless, as I left in the morning, I turned the wrong way going out of the hotel and ended up exiting Old Town and ending up on a main street. I did find an ATM, there, however. Hansapank, I think it was called.

I went back the other way towards the consulate, and still managed to get there a few minutes before it opened. On one street is the Russian Embassy, and around the corner is the Consulate. There were two cars sitting outside for security. The Consulate opened and there was a line, but I wasn’t in a hurry. Somehow everyone immediately arranged themselves into lines at various windows, but I missed the instructions. At any rate, I had to take a few minutes to finish filling out my visa applications. I heard a lot of Russian being spoken. I didn’t see other foreigners, and I didn’t see visa applications similar to the one I had filled out.

I had been instructed to go into the second room, to the left, and the second window in that room. I sat down in a chair, as that window had someone being served. Then that person went away and I saw that a sign said “visas” in Russian. It was strange to me that so much Russian was spoken since a lot of visa applicants don't know the language, but perhaps they deal mainly with Russian-Estonians who travel back and forth.

No one else approached the visa window, so I went up and presented myself. I had to speak in Russian by phone to the attendant. Instead of shoving all my documents at her at once, I waited for her to request each one. I did indeed need two copies of the application and two photos, along with the invitation and my passport. For some reason she rejected my HIV certificate, saying I would need that later for “registration.” So maybe it wasn’t necessary at all, or maybe showing it to her was proof enough and she wanted me to keep it for my records. She didn’t ask about health insurance.

I had apparently made a few mistakes on the visa application, but she corrected them herself with white-out. I was so grateful not to have to redo them. She asked if I wanted regular or rush processing, and I requested rush. It was Friday morning and she said I could pick them up on Monday. I was confused about the amount of days, having been told that regular was 10 business days and rush was 5. However, I wasn’t eager to stay a whole week and didn’t mind having it be ready that soon.

Next I sat down to wait for her to prepare my bill, which took perhaps 10-15 minutes. I then took the bill into the next room to the cashier, where there was also no line. I paid in cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM already. That is the only method of paying. Of course if I hadn’t known that, I could have gone to withdraw the money and come back, but the Consulate is only open 9-12, so there wasn’t any guarantee that there would be time, had it been crowded.

6) Exploring Tallinn

Old Town is small and it’s fairly difficult to get lost. There are cobblestones everywhere and few cars. As it was mid-August, there were a lot of tourists. I’m not crazy about being among crowds of tourists, but it didn’t feel out of control. We visited several local museums, dropping in as we came across them. Most of them had smallish collections. Some of the ones we visited were: The Estonian History Museum, the Chocolate Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. A little further away but still at a walkable distance were the National Library and the Occupation Museum. We also peeked in a few churches and took in a free concert at the Holy Ghost Church.

Dining establishments varied in price, service, and ethnicity. We had some tasty Italian food as well as Indian and Greek. Some places were clearly tourist traps, but there were also some cheaper, more local places to eat, and lunch specials were sometimes offered. Just beyond Old Town is a big shopping mall with an Internet café and grocery store along with a variety of shops, if Old Town isn’t serving all your needs.

We took a day to get out of Old Town as well, riding the bus to the newly opened Estonian Art Museum. Here finally was a museum with a full collection including permanent and temporary exhibits, and some authentic examples of Estonian art. We learned about Estonian art movements and how they related to events in history.

After visiting the art museum, we took a little walk in Kadriorg Park and then headed to the shore, desperate to see the water. There next to the shore we happened on the Rusalka, a memorial to a Russian ship that sank on its way to Finland. As I stood taking photos, an elderly Russian lady nodded at me and said “Good girl,” apparently thinking that I was a young Russian girl embracing my roots. :)

7) Retrieving the visa

I had been given a time when I could pick up my new multi-entry visa. Documents are generally dropped off in the morning hours and picked up in the Consulate’s afternoon hours. So I went in around 4 pm, handed them my receipt showing that I had paid, and they gave me my passport with the new visa inside. Very easy.

8) Re-entering Russia

We took the bus back to St.Petersburg, and the procedure was the same. Upon leaving Estonia our passports were collected on the bus and processed while we waited. The driver however did not realize we were Americans and therefore did not give us migration cards, so when we got to the Russian border control, we had to quickly ask for them and fill them out as the others were standing in line. We were the last ones. I handed the guard my documents and she became perplexed when she reached the new pages that had been added into my passport a week before. The pages clearly differed from the old ones, and she spent several minutes looking it over and eventually taking it into a back room to check with someone else. Meanwhile, the whole bus was waiting for us. Embarrassing! But we got back on, and a few hours later we were in St.Petersburg, even ahead of schedule. Success!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wedding #50,000

Okay, not 50,000, but I just attended my fourth wedding this summer and there were a few others that happened that I wasn’t able to attend.

The groom was an American friend of mine from college who had lived in the Russian language house with me one year. He started dating his Russian bride back in high school when she was an exchange student from St.Petersburg.

So today I dragged my mom who is visiting to witness the “liberation of the bride,” as they called it. Our arrival was not without drama, since I had no idea how to get there and we got a bit lost. The street we needed evidently did not exist, according to everyone on the street as well as the street sign itself, but it was on my map. Eventually we had to go into a store to ask for help, and the store manager ended up escorting us to the right building. We reached our destination and then needed to go back down to greet the groom, while the bride was hidden. The first group of people to go down in the elevator got stuck. At this point, my mom and I went back into the apartment and sat down with a few of the guests. They had heard us speaking English to each other.

“You speak English or Russian?” a guy asked in English.
“English,” I said in Russian. “And Russian.”

Then I sat down. And I began to explain in Russian how I had studied with Mike. Then the others began to argue amongst themselves about whether I was Russian or American. It was quite amusing. All this time, the group remained stuck in the elevator, and we decided to take the stairs. At the bottom, we greeted the groom and the other guests.

Here I am with the groom, Mike, and our friend Natasha who also lived in the Russian house with us as our tutor!

The groom had to complete a serious of assignments which brought him closer to the location of the bride. He had to prove himself worthy by answering questions about his intentions, describing her character as well as his own. He also had to find her face among several baby photos, which he did with ease. Then he was asked to name several nicknames for her in Russian, all diminutives of the name Olga. I thought that was a pretty difficult task! But he got it in the end. Finally we entered the apartment and the bride’s father pretended to be fierce and defend his daughter, while the groom uttered the magic words that would free her.

And the bride appeared.

I thought it was all a bit cruel, but my mom found it to be a delightful tradition for some reason and is scheming about how to set up a similar scenario at my wedding. We shall see.

After some refreshments, we went on the traditional wedding stroll, taking photos at various famous monuments. At one popular spot, we were joined by a pair of gypsy children. They were there for money, but stopped to take in the scene.

At the final photo shoot, the bride and groom released a pair of doves. Unfortunately my finger was on the trigger when they said “three,” but there was a pause. So I missed the doves, but I captured the reaction.

P.S. Happy Anniversary to my parents, who were married on this date 34 years ago!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Out of time

Getting over various illnesses and gathering documents for my new Russian visa....with such things has my life been occupied in the last week. I have no idea how that sentence sounds grammatically.

Now I'm leaving for Estonia and out of time for blogging. In the meantime, I found a link to a cute e-card that I ran across for the first time in college. It's bound to put a smile on your face.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Next phase:Spain

Highlights from Madrid

-Arriving at the airport and searching for Customs/Passport control, and even inquiring of the security guard, who said we were free to go. What? This is the country that got bombed a few years ago? We don’t even get a stamp in our passports?

-Blowing a fuse in our hotel room and having to switch rooms at 1 am.

-Searching for “helados” every day when we got that ice cream urge.

-Trying not to eat the olives and bread and other appetizers that they put on our table, because it cost extra.

-Arriving at a restaurant too late for lunch and having the owner keep the place open just for us so we could try paella, the national dish!

-Trying desperately to remember Spanish, when all that came to mind was Russian.

-Finding out that Flamenco shows and bullfighting starts at 10:30 or 11:00 pm…past our bedtime!

-Riding the all-day hop on/hop off double-decker tourist bus!

-Browsing a big used/rare book fair.

-Searching for lakes and other bodies of water by which to relax, and finding out that a “lake” can be a man-made pond with paddle boats.

-Asking for directions and always receiving the answer “Go left.” “A la izquierda” became our Spain motto.

-Trying to be Spanish and trying “tapas,” only without the bar-hopping.

-Taking a siesta in the botanical gardens…just collapsed on the grass under the trees. In Spain we saw a lot of people doing this, and it seemed like a pretty nice custom. Hopefully nobody thought we were intoxicated.

(unrelated photo of Goya outside El Prado museum)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A face that only a mother could love

I have to leave the country in a few days to get a new visa. Today I got my photos in preparation.

Pretty bad, but looks like my passport photo. Good enough for me. I also got my blood drawn already, but I won't take a picture of that because for some reason my bruise isn't very impressive this time around. Anyway, that's two of the more unpleasant tasks over with. :)

Innocence or stupidity?

Romans. 16. 19. Says…

As teens we were encouraged to chant it during our worship sessions, and I haven’t meditated on it seriously for quite some time, at least not without breaking into song. But the other day I felt led to meditate on it once again.

I suppose it started with thinking about excellence. I want to live my life in excellence to the Lord. But what does it mean to live in excellence? And the first words that popped into my head were, “Be excellent at what is good. Be innocent of evil.”

In studying this verse I first looked at a few other translations, because it often turns out that verses I have memorized have a slightly different meaning than how I understood them in childhood.

The KJV says, 19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all [men]. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

The NASB says, 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.

The original word for “wise” can also mean “skilled.” The word for “innocent” comes for a word meaning, “unmixed, pure.”

So as to be thorough, here is more of the passage: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (Ro. 16:17-19)

Paul encourages the church members to be on their guard against false teachings. God expects us to use discernment. But does that mean we have to be experts on every threat that we might come against?

I think it’s interesting that in verse 19, our wisdom about what is good is contrasted with innocence about evil. It seems obvious that as Christians we should strive to be “not guilty” of sinful behavior. But why are “wise” and “innocent” contrasted? It sounds as though, if we are “experts” on what is good, we should be “clueless” and “inexperienced” about those practices that are considered evil.

And yet, sometimes we get a different impression. In order to better reach out to non-believers, we should be familiar with their interests. We should keep up with popular television shows so that there is a common ground for conversation. We should be familiar with all religions and visit their meetings so as to know what goes on there and how to pray for them.

My main question is, how informed should we be about the evil in the world around us in order to lead a proper Christian life? The Bible tells us what kind of behavior is sinful. Do we really need to know the details of evil practices in order to know that they are not pleasing to the Lord? Is it harmful to be “sheltered”? Do we need to follow news stories about homosexuality? If a young Christian were offered alcohol and he said “What’s that?” would he be right or wrong in the eyes of God?

Perhaps many of us, when we observe Christians who seem a little naïve, pity them a little. And we may deem them unfit for ministry. But are they really? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could preserve our innocence and our holiness, and walk into a room, and have it fall silent because the presence of God has entered as well?

Thursday, August 2, 2007


I've received a few requests for a report of my recent trip to Spain and Portugal, so I will give a few summaries. I'll start with Helsinki. While we didn't count it as a vacation, it was our transit point and an integral part of the trip.

Highlights from Helsinki:

-While still in St.Petersburg: The Russian lady accosting us in the middle of the intersection on our way to the bus, offering a better deal on a Russian bus for 15 euros. We accepted.

-Having a panic attack on the bus because we were soon headed for Portugal and didn’t speak a word of Portuguese; leading us to laugh over a pronunciation guide that described one particular vowel sound as a “strangled ‘ow’”

-Arriving at Helsinki before dawn and wondering how we were going to wait another 30 minutes for stores to open. Then realizing it was only 4:30 in Helsinki and we would have to wait a lot longer than 30 minutes.

-Realizing that Sabrina’s book about Lisbon had been left on the bus, and traipsing around Helsinki for over an hour (what else is there to do at 4:30?), tracking the buses that went by and asking a myriad of people until we finally figured out where the Russian tourist buses were parked.

-Spending an eternity trying to operate the key to open the door to the Quaker apartment where we were going to spend the night. Knocking on all the neighbors’ doors and finally opening it ourselves.

-Falling in love with the Helsinki transportation system, particularly the tram, which we rode just for fun with our all-day pass. The metro’s interior couldn’t compare to St.Petersburg’s elegance, but we were in shock at the lack of crowds and absence of ticket inspection. They threatened a hefty fine for being caught without paying, but I didn’t see anyone get checked.

August babies-1

While I'm working on a longer post...

Happy Birthday to my brother Nate!

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:...