Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Tour of the Subtropics

It's school vacation week!

My colleague Katya and I took a group to a greenhouse exhibit (botanical gardens, as they call it....sounds more exotic). Last year we had taken the same group there, only to a different exhibit.




A little background on this group of girls: I met them when I first arrived in St.Petersburg over 2 years ago, and many of my partners in ministry have had a steady friendship with them for longer than that. The kids have changed so much! They are beautiful young ladies, but unfortunately have become more and more depressed and hard-hearted; forlorn children who have grown into deeply wounded teenagers. Their counselor is dear and welcomes attempts from various Christian mentors to reach out to them. Katya visits regularly. But time is not slowing down. The director of this orphanage agreed to work with us to help Russian families become involved in foster care. We hope that it will happen soon. These girls deserve a loving home.


(I ruined the picture with my dopey American smile)

Anyway, back to the botanical gardens...we strolled along for about an hour, taking in the beauty of the lush vegetation and sniffing the glorious scents.

Then we took the kids to McDonald's, where we experienced a different kind of scent. I wasn't going to admit that we went there, but while dining I caught sight of an acquaintance of mine, Valya, who's from a rough situation herself. I had lost track of her, so it was good to see her and catch up. God orchestrates these things. Even fast food plays a role in the big picture. :)

After that outing, I met up with Sara to plan a curriculum for our new class at the school. While walking along, we ran into a little girl that Sara and I both knew from camp and whose orphanage we visit, Sara more regularly than I do. This girl was with her grandmother and I was able to translate while Sara got acquainted with her. It was a pleasant conversation and another miraculous example of God bringing people across our path. Since many of the kids we work with do have living relatives, it's a blessing when we are able to make a positive connection with the family members and meet face-to-face.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Addendum

In an earlier post I included a list of ways you can tell you've been in Russia too long. I received an e-mail with another version and have included additional comments here. I apologize for not knowing the original source.


YOU KNOW YOU'VE BEEN IN RUSSIA TOO LONG WHEN...

-You hear the radio say it is zero degrees outside and you think it is a nice day for a change.
-You ask for no ice in your drink.
-You change into tapki (slippers) and wash your hands as soon as you walk into your apartment. -You begin to refer to locals as nashi (ours).
-You have to check your passport for an arrival-in-Russia date.
-You've been to Tallinn at least a dozen times for extending visas.
-Cigarette smoke becomes 'tolerable'.
-You think metal doors are a necessity.
-You changed apartments 6 times in 6 months.
-You no longer feel like going to your 'home' country.
-You speak to other expats in your native language, but forget a few of the simplest words and throw in some Russian ones.
-You no longer miss the foods you grew up with, and pass them up at foreign-owned supermarkets.
-You look for kvas and kefir in the supermarket, and ask to buy half a head of cabbage.
-You don't feel guilty about not paying on the trolleybus.
-The elevator aroma seems reassuring somehow.
-You can heat water on the stove and shower with it in less than 10 minutes.
-You know the Moscow or St. Pete Metro better than you know the subway system back home.
-A weekend anywhere in the Baltics qualifies as a trip to the West.
-You catch yourself whistling indoors and feel guilty.
-You never smile in public when you're alone.
-You are in awe that after 3 days home your shoes are still clean.
-(For those from the US or the UK) A gallon of gasoline or milk seems like a foreign concept.
-The word 'salad' ceases for you to have anything to do with lettuce.
-Mayonnaise becomes your dressing of choice.
-You begin paying attention to peoples' floors and can distinguish the quality of linoleum and/or parquet, and thus determine social status, taste, and income e.g. embezzled, earned, pension, unpaid, etc.)
-You do all your shopping at kiosks.
-You voluntarily take a stroll in the park, ice-cream in hand, on a sub-zero day.
-You laugh at Russian jokes.
-You actually get these jokes.
-You actually spend time writing these jokes!
-You think it's too hot, no matter what season you return to your home country.
-You realize that all the above and the other messages on this subject posted here are what you love about Russia, that you've been here long enough to feel at home and wonder whether you'll ever able to fit back in the old country...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My big sister

This is my sister Emily, although I usually call her something else. :) She's 6 years older than me.


In her own words, this photo "kind of says it all."





But it's also from about 5 years ago, so here's a more recent one.


Notes on John 7

John 7 has come up twice in the past week, so I guess I should blog about it. (How's that for an introduction?)

But what to say? The first time was at Bible study and I had read John Calvin’s commentary.

Here is one excerpt that I noted:

On verse 7, Calvin remarks,“When he says that the world cannot hate them, he reproves them for being altogether carnal” If this is a correct observation, it is fairly convicting. Obviously our "righteousness" pales in comparison to Christ’s standard, but the Bible instructs us in leaving behind our carnality. How? The example Christ gives here is that of avoiding “friendship” with the world by condemning the sinful lifestyles of the people present. Do we approve of the sin around us by keeping silent?

Other than that, the verses that everyone seems to quote are 37 and 38. "...If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

This is a beautiful passage of Scripture, but the drawback to its being quoted often is that in looking at it I have almost no initial reaction. And I have trouble understanding whom this is addressed to. Looking at the original context, we see that Jesus was addressing a crowd, among whom there were were mixed reactions upon hearing his words. Some people did seem impressed, but no one ran right up and asked for Jesus to quench his thirst.

So what is our response to be? When I read passages like this that are invitations, I often think, “But Lord, I’ve already come. You called and I answered. I’ve already made that decision. I’m not one of the thirsty ones who haven’t found You.”

Calvin says about verse 38, “to come is nothing else than to believe, at least, if you define accurately the word believe; as we have already said that we believe in Christ, when we embrace him as he is held out to us in the Gospel, full of power, wisdom, righteousness, purity, life, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Have I really embraced all of that? Have I claimed it for this specific day, not just in a general sense? When I read further about the living water of the Holy Spirit, I’m not certain that it’s flowing in me. That is, I believe the words of Christ, but I don’t necessarily feel the effect. The Holy Spirit may already be in me, but I need to be refreshed, or perhaps simply be made aware of it moving in me.

Calvin remarks on verse 39, “We are destitute of all the sap and moisture of life, unless when the Spirit of God quickens us, and when he waters us, as it were, by secret vigor” (that doesn't seem like a complete sentence, but I'm quoting it correctly)

I may not be thirsty as a new Christian is thirsty, but I have certainly felt ‘destitute’ and in need of ‘secret vigor.’ And that refreshing of the Holy Spirit is something that Christ offers us here as believers.

I’m not trying to claim something doctrinal about the Holy Spirit, but I want to understand this whole passage in context. It’s nice to imagine lovely things like waterfalls, but Scripture holds more power than simply pleasant imagery. Following Christ is not about good feelings. It’s about your life being transformed.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My big brother

This is my brother Nate! He's three years older than me. He lives in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.





Nate works for a non-profit micro-finance NGO, if that makes any sense. Here he is with some colleagues (back right):







A recent Women's Day (March 8) celebration:





And here is a goofy pic, which make up the majority of my collection:


Continuing the Africa theme, here are my younger brother and mother in their Congolese outfits!!!

(btw, they're not really short and fat-the photo just got a little squished)

Three things

I never wanted to:

1) Be a missionary.

2) Be a teacher.

3) Work with teenagers.

Funny how things work out. :)

Friday, March 23, 2007

When Jesus wept

Just when reading through the third Gospel account in a row was getting a little tedious, I was struck by Luke's description of the triumphal entry...

At the time when Jesus should have received glory as the heir to the throne, those who wished him dead interrupted the celebration with their scorn. The joyous moment was cut short by those who were too blinded by self-righteousness to recognize the long-awaited Messiah.

As the shouts of praise were reaching a climax, the Pharisees cried out, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" -Luke 19:39

Jesus grieved over these lost sheep, knowing what future they had.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." -Luke 19: 41-44 (emphasis added)

We can miss out in two ways: Firstly, by failing to recognize the message of the Savior's resurrection; and secondly, by failing to keep watch and make ready for His second coming.

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir and you are all fully aware of these dangers. But no matter where we live, there are plenty of people around us who haven't woken up to the fact that the Savior is coming for His bride. And they may not wake up in time. How should this affect the way we live our lives?

I like this song by Casting Crowns (there are a few more verses, but I selected the relevant ones). I recommend listening to it to get the full effect.

Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we're sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we're lying in the dark
There's a shout heard 'cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night

America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My little brothers

Time to meet the fam.!


This is my baby brother James. He's six years younger than me. That's him in the middle, accepting his track award.






And this is my middle brother, Tim. He's 3 years younger. He's pretty easy-going.




Displaying our family's athletic prowess....:)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What keeps me going

The Lord was merciful today. I had a very calm lesson with the 9 yr olds. They still managed to get competitive and call each other "stupid" over a coloring assignment. But it was overall fine. Two of the girls were at their very first English lesson, but I didn't adjust the lesson any other than giving them some extra help and having the more advanced kids go first. I was speaking almost exclusively in English and they settled right in.

When the girls had left, I was talking to Misha (see earlier posts) about their school vacation coming up. I pretended to cry when he said they might not be here for their lesson. He came right over and gave me a hug to cheer me up. So sweet!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Easter preview

My Bible study is performing at the Easter service. A few photos of rehearsals...
















Fun times.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

New students

I have a new English class at a school in St.Petersburg. I've never taught at a regular school before, but they said that many of the kids there are orphans and/or have developmental delays, and that is something close to my heart.

The other day Sara and I went to the school for the first time to get acquainted. First we were ushered around to meet various administrators. They were so welcoming and genuinely happy that we had come! After settling on a schedule, we were led to a classroom. The teachers were saying that we had come too late because most of the kids had left for the weekend, but they went to gather the ones who were still around. First about 5 kids showed up, and that seemed manageable. We started introductions. Then 10 more came in. Finally we had about 20 kids. I initially panicked, not knowing what to do with 20 kids ranging in age from 6-16 and all with some unknown level of English. It turned out that most of them had about 0 conversational skills, but presumably know some grammar and vocabulary. Sara and I modeled a simple dialogue and had them try it. Then we played a game to practice numbers.

As usual I felt like I was a mean teacher because I made the kids talk (and by that I mean having them say their names and ages, letting them say it in Russian first). Some of them seemed on the verge of tears. But when it was time to go they seemed disappointed. When the teachers asked if they would like to see us again, they said "YES!"

We returned to the principal's office, where we met the former principal too. The ladies gave us kisses and candies and wrote out directions for us in order to find them next time.

Sometimes the adults in schools and orphanages can be hostile if they don't know you personally. But the Holy Spirit brings understanding and helps them see that we genuinely love the kids (even without having met them) and have come to help.

In other news, Vince the sock-puppet has lost his nose. :(





Friday, March 16, 2007

More to the story

I left out one part of yesterday's story. Perhaps the most important. The American family had sent a letter with the care package to the young boy, and the children clustered around, beginning to read it. They translated the basic conversational content and then handed it to me to read the rest.

A hush fell over the room as I read the next part (paraphrased here): "Be a good boy, and depend on God. He loves you. We are praying for you."

These are good children, but I would not describe them as quiet. Yet they fell silent as they heard words about God. They wanted to listen. They were hungry.

I didn't preach. But I delivered some Good News.

Two Sides

I was going to post about something else, but this needs attention....

Side #1: This week I visited a few different orphanages as usual. I already posted about one orphanage, and today I visited another. Everything was fine. As I approached the orphanage, some of my students passed me, jump-roping down the street. They joyfully greeted me and promised to return soon for English. Their counselor said that they were going to the post office.

They returned later with a package, sent all the way from America! The kids gathered around it excitedly. It had taken a month and a half to get there and was filled with Valentine's gifts for the whole group. The American family had lovingly chosen the gifts and had included a handmade card. I don't know the family, but how could a care package be anything but a gesture of love?

Meanwhile, their other English teacher came in. She said she had seen a tv show about foreign adoption that featured the non-profit organization where I volunteer. Uh oh. One of the boys in the room had been interviewed. Apparently they asked him on national tv if he wanted to be adopted by his American host family, and he had said "Yes!" with enthusiasm. He beamed as the teacher recalled this. Minutes earlier he had been proudly showing off his English, talking away and asking me for extra assignments. He's looking forward to joining his new family for good.

Side #2

I got home this evening at 11:30 pm and there was an email waiting for me. It described the tv program, which was apparently entitled "Mother America" and portrayed adoption of Russian children by Americans as corrupt. There have been other complaints here and there about Russian children going off to America and "never returning;" about evangelical "indoctrination" in summer camps, and so on.

Someone took an orphan's joy at finding a family and used it to slander an organization that is only trying to help. Someone doesn't want God's work to continue.

Yes, adoption scams happen, unfortunately. But the media is wrong this time.

We're not sure yet how this is going to affect future ministry. I don't intend to stop doing what I'm doing. Please pray for us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kids

I went to see my favorites again! I was a little late so I crossed paths with some kids I hadn't seen for awhile. Then I had fun times with the youngers.

For some reason Misha and Lolita are obsessed with wearing my clothing. Here's a picture of their antics (sorry for poor quality). That's Lolita wearing my coat and Misha wearing my hat and purse. Today they actually planned it out and off down the hallway wearing my clothes. I lured them back with the stickers they had already earned for doing their lesson.

Another day we had a visit from Superman.
We do get some work done in the midst of all that.



Evidently we need to work on handwriting.

Flashcards.



Sometimes they look so sweet and innocent. This is Galya. She's eight!


I had a lesson with the older boys too. They're fun. Today we learned the construction "I'm going to....(do something.)" Their answers were "I'm going to...sleep, eat, and do my homework." I confused them all with irregular verbs. Poor kids.
Tomorrow I get to see my other favorites! :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Spring Politics

It's spring in St.Petersburg.

In this reflection you can see a political campaign poster displayed on the new high-rise apartment building in the background.


Russia held legislative elections yesterday. The apparent "winner" was Unified Russia, the party most closely linked with President Putin. Big surprise.

Danger, Part 2

I’ll add a little bit to the thoughts from my first “danger” post. But it still doesn’t feel like a complete study.

“It’s always dangerous.” This isn’t just referring to Missions. It’s talking about the Christian life.

Some quotes, again from John Piper (this time in his book, “Let the Nations be glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions”)…

“The domestication of cross-bearing into coughs and cranky spouses takes the radical thrust out of Christ’s call.” (74, Piper)

“We must not domesticate the New Testament teaching on affliction and persecution just because our lives are so smooth. It may be that we have not chosen to live in all the radical ways of love that God wants us to. It may be that our time of suffering is just around the corner. But it will not do to take our own comfortable lives and make them the measure of what we allow the Bible to mean.” (76, Piper)

Here’s how I understand Piper’s statement: I don’t take it to mean that we should stop seeking God in the little details of life. He can glorify himself in any situation. I don’t take it to mean that we must be tortured before we can be worthy Christians. But the message I’m getting is that we should not be so quick to think ourselves heroes or martyrs. Most of us still have a long way to go. I know I do. And I sometimes wonder if I have chosen a way that is too safe.

I noticed that I seem to evangelize less than I used to. I know that I offended some people in the past. Have I grown more mature, better at waiting for the right time? Or have I just lost the courage? I might preach the Gospel less than other missionaries in Russia. Does it mean I’m more culturally sensitive? Or that I’m afraid of persecution? I want to help people be comfortable, but the Gospel is not about comfort. Should I go by the rules or take a risk?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Apartment Life

Today some friends came to visit. Yay! We had some funny conversations about culture. For example, my friend Katya said that she had thought of me and my Russian-ness earlier in the day when she needed a plastic bag and didn’t have one with her. A big mistake in Russia!

Then I asked Katya to pour off some water from a package of mozzarella cheese.

“You don’t need to use it for anything?” she asked.

I assumed she was concerned about letting it go to waste, and thought about it for a good 30 seconds before saying no.

Then after another 30 seconds, I realized that she was just joking.

Later…Sara remarks to me, “I wonder if I lived here as long as you have, I would start speaking English like you.”

WHAT? Speak English like me? What does THAT mean? What has happened to me?

So Sara and Katya were getting ready to go (Vova left earlier) and when they opened the door, we could hear the sound of rushing water. I assumed it was rain.

“Is that rain?” they asked in disbelief.
“I hope so, what else would it be?” I said. And I offered them an umbrella. But they were still confused about where the sound was coming from.

“Well then it’s just my building about to explode,” I joked. “Hurry and escape while you still have the chance!”


After they left, I went to the window to look at the rain. But I realized that it wasn’t raining at all. I went out into the hallway to investigate. There was still the sound of rushing water and steam rising up from the basement. I was home alone. Hmmmm, what to do? What if the neighbors hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong?

My cell phone was out of minutes. I got online and talked with a few people who gave me advice.
Then I went to check again and some neighbors were out there.
So I let them take care of it.
I should probably find out what the emergency numbers are. For next time.


I went out later and it was finally quiet. Hopefully they fixed it.




Friday, March 9, 2007

Tea with hedgehogs

Some friends and I went for a stroll the other day and found this cute cafe with a hedgehog motif...


































































(Just for fun)

"Funny" Jokes

I wasn’t looking, but someone else’s blog had a post about humor in different cultures.

Go here to read the “world’s funniest joke,” according to an experiment done in Britain.

Go here to read popular jokes from selected countries.

Some findings on humor around the world (emphasis mine):

"One intriguing result was that Germans -- not renowned for their sense of humour -- found just about everything funny and did not express a strong preference for any type of joke. (Full story)

People from the Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand most enjoyed jokes involving word plays.

Many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, displayed a penchant for off-beat surreal humour, while Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where there was a strong sense of superiority -- either because a character looks stupid or is made to look stupid by someone else.

Europeans also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that make people feel anxious, such as death, illness and marriage.

Wiseman said: 'These results are really interesting. It suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour. ' " (from CNN; original source: LaughLab.co.uk)

P.S. For some reason I liked the joke from UK the best. I didn't get the "world's funniest joke," nor the jokes from the other countries listed. I don't know what that means.

Evaluation of current events

NPR (National Public Radio) is doing a series called “The Resurgence of Russia.” You can go to the website and either read the reports or listen to the broadcast.

Here's an overview:

"As a newly stable Russia prepares for the post-Putin era, NPR examines what kind of country it has become, and whether there is a real chance for a new Cold War between the aspiring energy superpower and the West.

New Cold War: Part 1 examines Russian foreign policy, the motivation behind anti-Western rhetoric, and whether Russia can pose a true threat to Western countries' security. Moscow has flexed its muscles by hiking gas prices and cutting energy supplies to its neighbors, while Washington has accused the Kremlin of using energy as a political tool to blackmail and threaten pro-Western rivals.

The Soviet Union: Part 2 explores the extent of Russia's new authoritarian culture — and its similarities to the old Soviet Union. Although critics say Putin has brought back many of the old dictatorship's traits, Russians today can travel freely and read what they want, and the country is undergoing a huge consumer boom.

Dissidents: Part 3 takes a look at some of the country's leading human rights activists and whether they are part of a new generation of dissidents. The government has recently cracked down against rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations, while the recent murders of some of the Kremlin's top critics has drawn comparisons with KGB practices under the Soviet Union.

Democracy: Part 4 assesses the reforms of the 1990s, during which post-communist Russia embarked on major changes meant to transform it into a capitalist democracy. Putin is often praised for bringing an end to what's seen as the rule of chaos and corruption under former President Boris Yeltsin. But many of the officials who ran the government under Yeltsin say that's not the case. They say Putin put an end to a period of dynamic democratizing reform and allowed corruption to balloon since he came to power in 2000.

U.S. Foreign Policy: Part 5 examines U.S. foreign policy toward Russia. In 2001, President Bush famously said he had looked into Putin's soul and liked what he saw. But now, relations between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest level since the Cold War, and Washington faces the need to adjust its attitude to Russia's re-emerging role in global affairs. "

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Riding the bus

Sometimes my mood for the day is affected by how the morning bus ride goes.

Today I was running late and crossed the street on a red light (shocker!) to make it on the bus. The bus was pretty packed, but I didn’t want to be any later than I already was. I was the last one on, teetering on the steps. I squeezed my way into the crowd and looked for something to hold onto.

Suddenly a voice to my right said, “Don’t worry, I’m holding on to you.” It was the conductor. She was a very pleasant young woman. I immediately relaxed. I heard her giving helpful comments to other passengers too.

At the next stop, an elderly woman got on. But not so elderly that she couldn’t do some pushing. She was swathed in bulky winter clothes with only her eyes showing (it’s 40 degrees outside) and had a big bag and tried shoving her way into the crowd. The conductor said gently, “Let’s not push.” The babushka answered unkindly.

After ranting and raving for a few minutes, the old lady asked,
“Are you the conductor or something?”
“Yes.”
Then instead of apologizing, she said, “We used to have better conductors. I remember a good conductor who would always stay in his place and not get in the way.”
The conductor said calmly, "Yes, sounds like a good conductor." I wondered if she was a Christian.

Everyone immediately began to defend the conductor.
“She’s a good conductor!”
“I like her! She’s a splendid young lady!”
“She’s just doing her job!”
To which the old lady replied, “She is doing her job for her own comfort and not to make other people comfortable.”

Still no apparent remorse felt by her. She continued, “You all don’t know how to behave yourselves in a crowd! You should learn something from the Chinese! They know how!”
“Then why don’t you move to China?”

And so on. I felt like I was back in elementary school where you choose sides and keep arguing even when you’ve clearly lost.

I was encouraged that people behaved positively toward the conductor. But I was sad about the babushka. I prayed for her as we finally arrived at the metro and burst free from the bus.

She walked away still arguing, but no one was listening.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Danger

In Dec. 2003 I attended Urbana, the student missions’ conference. We saw a skit there about preparing for a missions trip. It was embarrassingly true-to-life, depicting Americans gathering all their comfort items to spend a few weeks in another country. One of the participants wondered….what if it’s dangerous? And the answer came: “It’s always dangerous.”

And that line will always remain fixed in my memory. It’s always dangerous.

Fast-forward to yesterday when I was listening to a John Piper sermon online. The message was about missions and situations like the persecuted church and martyrdom. One thing that was particularly convicting was what he said about Americans and comfort. As an example, he mentioned potential missionary families who asked about how safe their children would be on the field. It may seem like a sensible question, but the way he phrased it really made a certain self-centeredness come across. We really do live in a protective bubble sometimes.

But what is the next step, when we realize that we are living in a protective bubble? To go and seek danger?

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A message to myself

Lately I've regressed to my college days as my bedtime gets later and later. One day last week I went to bed and woke up at a reasonable hour and had quite a productive day. Unfortunately, for the rest of the week that wasn't the case. And yes, I'm writing this at 12:30 a.m....but my target bedtime is 1 am. And that's early for college!




Need...more...discipline.......

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Camp Karavella-where it all began, #2









Global warming and other "worries"

In the light of some of the discussion about The End, I recently read this verse:

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Ge.8:22)

It was comforting to me. To think that I could find something new in Noah's Ark! Yes, there will be signs of the end. But each day there are also signs that God is with us and that He cares for us. The end will come, whether we're ready or not...but in the meantime we can keep our eyes open to the evidence of our Creator, and be reminded of our reason for living.

Friday, March 2, 2007

A Slow Week

It’s been a slow week. Everyone has been taking turns getting sick. My turn was last week, but this week there were people with colds, the flu, chicken pox, etc. I did have some English lessons. Yesterday I went to one of my regular orphanages.

Some of you have asked about my “typical schedule,” so here is what yesterday’s visit went like:

Background: I arrive at the orphanage, and most kids have returned from school. They have a little free time before their study session begins. I usually go around to the different groups, either helping with homework or leading some English conversation practice. But I can’t lead a large group because it supposedly interferes with their other lessons.

Group 1: The counselor tells me that the girls are on a field trip. The boys are more interested in playing a board game. Okay, moving on…

Group 2: There’s one boy who is getting adopted soon. His English is really good already. We chatted casually and played a few games in a textbook I have for teenagers. We read a text about competitive eating contests. I was a little embarrassed by the topic but thought it would make for an interesting conversation. I began to ask comprehension questions… “How many hot dogs did the man eat in 12 minutes?” How many hot dogs can you eat?” Then I heard a voice from the other room imitating me “How many hot dogs…” A girl had overheard and thought it was amusing. She came to join our conversation.

Group 3: I helped one boy with his English homework for school. Last week I helped him and he did really well, but this time he seemed totally clueless, for some reason. Well that’s not true, he understood a lot but wasn’t able to answer basic grammar questions. He may have just been nervous. He’s new to the orphanage and also maybe at a new school, so that could cause some discrepancies in development. While I was still sitting there, one of the administrators came in. She’s really friendly and had been on vacation recently. She greeted me and gave me a hug. Then an older girl came in who had been in the hospital and I caught up with her too.

Group 4: I went up to the second floor to see if anyone wanted to do English. It used to be my favorite group, but the kids often get redistributed and sometimes the counselors say that the kids are too busy. So I went in and the kids all said they wanted to do English, and the counselor said they could after they finished their homework. So I sat down to wait.

Interlude: Suddenly my friend the music teacher rushed in and asked if I could help them down in the kitchen with a translation. So I said I was free and she led me down to meet one of the kitchen workers, who apparently through a relative has made contact with a famous actress in the U.S. who has promised some financial help and even offered to come visit. So the kitchen lady wanted me to look at the correspondence and see if it was for real or if she was being deceived. She said she was ashamed about asking a famous person in America for help. I didn’t really know how to react and said “Don’t worry about it” and said I could translate something, and I guess they’re going to bring it to me next time.

Back to Group 4: The kids were done with their homework and I went up and did some conversation practice/games with 5-6 of them. That was okay, although they got a little competitive during the game and one little girl became withdrawn and sat in the corner. Her name’s Leeza :) and she’s extremely shy, sometimes afraid to talk. I always pay special attention to shy kids. She perked up at the end.

Meanwhile, another girl had been in the U.S. on a hosting program, and her host family made her some flashcards for learning English.

So she was practicing:

Little girl: “Butterfly, flower, table, chair, Baby Cheez-us…”
Me: “JE-sus, not “cheez-us.”
Little girl: “My host mother said ‘cheezus.”
Me: “Where’s she from?”
Little girl: “Georgia.”
Me: “Okay, no further questions.”

No offense to Southerners. :)

After that I usually tutor one boy in the other building, but it was already getting late and evening activities were beginning, so I decided to go home.

So that was a “typical” day at the orphanage…not a lot of time spent on English lessons, but lots of good times with people who have become friends.

On the other hand

In contrast to my previous post on needing to remain in Russia longer to understand the humor, here are some signs that it has actually been long enough…(disclaimer: I got these from a website, so they’re not necessarily things that I do myself…but I can relate).

You know you have been in Russia too long when ...

-You have to think twice about throwing away the empty instant coffee jar.
-You carry a plastic shopping bag with you "just in case."
-You say he/she is "on the meeting" (as opposed to the more proper "at the" or "in a" meeting).
-You answer the phone by saying "allo, allo, allo" before giving the caller a chance to respond.
-You save table scraps for the cat(s) living in the courtyard.
-When crossing the street, you sprint.
-In winter, you choose your route first by determining which icicles are least likely to impale you on the head.
-You are impressed with the new model Lada or Volga.
-You let the telephone ring at least 3-4 times before you pick it up because it is probably a mis-connection or electric fault.
-You hear the radio say it is just at or below freezing outside and you think it might be nice day for a change.
-You argue with a taxi driver about a fare of 30 rubles to go 2-3 miles while it is snowing.
-You win a shoving match with an old Babushka for a place in line and you are proud of it.
-You hesitate to put on your seat belt to avoid offending the taxi driver and the impending 5 minute conversation to explain why you are putting it on.
-You look at people's shoes to determine where they are from.
-You plan your vacation around those times of the year when they turn off the hot water.
-You're offended when your American friend gives you a "dozen" roses.
-You don't notice that Sony sticker on the front of your TV.
-You are relieved when the guy standing next to you on the bus actually uses Kleenex.
-You are envious that your expat friend has smaller door keys than you.
-You ask for no ice in your drink.
-When you develop a liking for beets.
-When you eat hot dogs for breakfast.
-When you drink the brine from empty pickle jars.
-When you start shopping for products by their country of production
-When you start to "feel" public transport and bridge opening schedules.
-When you know more than 60 Olgas
-When you wear a wool hat in the sauna.

Why I don't get Russian humor

The title of this post may be misleading, since I’m not sure I can answer the question myself. I think the problem is either…my culture or my personality. :)

The scenario

Russian person: [insert anecdote here]
Me: [silence or fake laughter]
Russian person: You didn’t understand?
Me: I’m not sure.
Russian person: [translates joke into English]
Me: I know, I got it. I just…don’t think it’s funny?

Then I decided that none of you readers will know what I’m talking about unless I provide an example. After reading through several pages of jokes, I couldn’t find one that was funny. And then I remembered that their non-funniness to me was the point of my research in the first place.

So in the end I chose a few doctor jokes, which I found to be the least offensive to my American ears. Maybe it’s because I’m not a doctor…

From Wikipedia: “Medical jokes are wide-spread. Usually, they consist of a short dialogue of doctor or nurse and patient.
-'Doc, why is it that when I speak to God it's a prayer, and when God speaks to me it's schizophrenia?'
-'Doc, everybody ignores me!'/ 'Next patient, please...'
-'Doc, why you are measuring me!'/ 'I'm not a doctor, I'm a carpenter.'
-'Doc, where're we going?' / 'To the morgue.'/ 'But I haven't died yet!'/'Neither have we arrived.'
-'Nurse, where're we going?' / 'To the morgue.'/ 'But I haven't died yet!'/ 'Er, the doc said 'to morgue', so to morgue!'

The phrase 'The doc said 'to the morgue', so to the morgue!' became a well-known Russian cliché.”

So why am I bothering to write about something I don’t understand? Because the anecdotes are everywhere! Everyone is reading them in the metro, using them in sermons, interjecting them into conversation. And I can’t stand it. So what’s my problem? What am I missing?

Maybe I just haven’t been in Russia long enough. When I start to laugh at the jokes, I will know that it’s been long enough. I’ll let you know…

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Late-night Bible meditation

22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?
23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, [a city] of Sidon, unto a woman [that was] a widow.
27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
(Lk.4:22-28 KJVS)

I read this first in the NIV, but it’s not a huge difference. There are two things that strike me about this passage…

1) The way the mind-set of the people in the synagogue quickly changes. Contrast verses 22 (“all bare him witness) and 28 (“all…were filled with wrath). They admire Christ’s pleasant words (“good news”) and anticipate receiving the miracles that He had poured out on other places, but when He begins to rebuke them, their attitude turns sour. They are not able to humble themselves and receive His word.

2) Christ describes how His ministry has started among His own people but suggests that it will move to Others. Besides this being a fulfillment of prophecy, how can this be applied to our witness as Christians? I find Elijah’s example interesting in that he was called to go out and serve, rather than simply serve the needy in close proximity to him. I don’t see this as a command for us but rather one of the mysterious ways in which God works. And as a missionary it is comforting. Why did God call me to Russia? Is it a mistake? I had plenty of opportunities in my own country. It doesn’t make sense that God would call a person to serve one person far away rather than to serve many close by. It’s not efficient. But sometimes it’s in the Plan. We begin with serving in the obvious and practical ways, and God may lead us down a different path. Or not.