Friday, November 30, 2007

The Second Coming

I usually associate Advent (which begins on Sunday) with the birth of Christ. However, during Advent we are meant to not only remember the First Coming, but prepare our hearts for the return of Christ! I was reminded of this as I read Revelation 5 this morning.

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits
of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." (Rev.5:4-10, NIV)

You are worthy, O Lord!


Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped. (11-14)

Just as the shepherds and wise men came to worship the newborn King, so we will kneel before Him in heaven.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A boy and his cat

I arrived at Seva's house and there was a big box sitting on his bed.


"What's that, Seva?" I asked. "A robot?" (He wants to be a robotic engineer)

"Kitten house!" he announced proudly.


I looked inside, and sure enough...


Marcelle poked her head out to see what was disturbing her slumber.

And Seva checked up on her periodically...


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The return of Zina

I've waited for months to be able to write this post. I hadn't seen Zina (mentioned in an earlier post. ) for over a year. When I visited the orphanage, the kids always said "She ran away," or "She's in the hospital." Sometimes they said she had been in the orphanage, but that I had missed her. It was all very strange and I prayed for her safety. Then today I arrived at the orphanage, and I saw her. We couldn't talk because we were rushing in opposite directions. But now I know that she is alive.












Here are the younger kids whom I now teach. Aren't they beautiful? :)







Today my new roommate Zhenya came to help with the lesson. She's of Korean descent, and the kids weren't sure if she was Russian or not. So we pretended that she spoke only English, and the kids were incredibly well-behaved! They tried hard to speak English, or when speaking Russian, tried hard to "help" her understand.





(We were only slightly in pain when the photo above was taken.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Music


Last Saturday, our church hosted a music outreach. We worked together with friends, both Christians and non-Christians, to put on a concert. The invitations read, “Music for the soul.” We kept the content uplifting, but not necessarily preachy. It was meant to be a neutral zone where performers and spectators could enjoy music together in a friendly atmosphere.

Below: Igor, the coordinator, puts together the final song list. Lida and I played a classical piece. We were accompanied by Lena, who teaches music in one of the orphanages I regularly visit. It was quite a feat for all the musicians, us included, to find the time to practice. But the rehearsals provided a chance for fellowship, and the results were quite pleasing!



Later we had the "cafe" portion- a time for refreshments and conversation.

Below, I chatted with an employee from the children's hospital where Sveta from church works. Sveta faithfully prays for her co-workers and witnesses to them. In the summer, we washed windows at the hospital and had a chance to get to know the nurses. With events like the concert, we continue to have personal contact.




Hymns #2

Today I was searching my Bible for the book of "Hezekiah." Sigh. In my defense, I was looking at a table with people in one column and scripture references in another, and I got confused.

Meanwhile, one of the hymns I've been listening to from cyberhymnal.org is "More love to Thee, O Christ." The words were written by Elizabeth Prentiss, the author of the book "Stepping Heavenward."

More Love to Thee, O Christ

More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest;Now Thee alone I seek, give what is best.This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Monday, November 26, 2007

When it pays to be a packrat

Making Christmas decorations is easier when you never throw anything away! Here we decorated our doorway with old greeting cards. They don't even have to be Christmas cards, but we picked more colorful ones. The difficult part was getting it to stay up with paper-clips and Scotch tape.





Later my roommate walked in and asked, "Do you know what I can do with my old socks?" And I pulled out a book of instructions for how to make stuffed animals out of old socks and gloves.

It's not hard using old things...but it is hard to keep from acquiring new ones!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Update on the Crying Boy

Yesterday's kids were difficult, but today's kids were angelic. I will focus on today's kids, because I'm just not sure what to think about yesterday's.

Liosha (from last week) was smiling and cheerful today, even chatty. That is, until the hairdressers came and he hid in the closet. I wonder what makes him so afraid of people? Although, I'm afraid of the hairdresser too.

Denis, also timid, was eager for English today too. And he kept making this show of pulling my chair out for me.

Then Roma surprised me by also being willing to do English. Normally he is stand-offish.

Finally, I went to the younger group and tutored another Roma, the sweetest boy. I always scold myself for thinking kids are sweet and letting them manipulate me, but he truly is. It was very pleasant.

So basically I spent the day surrounded by angelic English students. Was it all a dream?

And now I've written the most boring post ever, all because there is nothing negative to analyze!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hymns #1

I recently signed up for a Hymn-a-day at Cyber Hymnal . You can read the text and background information while listening to the Midi file. At first I wasn't too crazy about the Midi files, but you can listen and sing along while reading the text. I haven't been looking at the hymn each day, but I'd like to learn 1 or 2 "new" hymns a week. They have great teachings in them.

While I was browsing and waiting for the hymns to arrive by e-mail, the tune for the first song I looked at was composed by a man (George Kingsley) in my hometown!

And the words are by Harriet Beecher Stowe. You can go to the main page and find this hymn in the title list.

Abide in Me, O Lord

Abide in me, O Lord, and I in Thee,
From this good hour, oh, leave me nevermore;
Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed,
The lifelong bleeding of the soul be o’er.

Abide in me; o’ershadow by Thy love
Each half formed purpose and dark thought of sin;
Quench ere it rise each selfish, low desire,
And keep my soul as Thine, calm and divine.

As some rare perfume in a vase of clay,
Pervades it with a fragrance not its own,
So, when Thou dwellest in a mortal soul,
All Heaven’s own sweetness seems around it thrown.

Abide in me; there have been moments blest
When I have heard Thy voice and felt Thy power;
Then evil lost its grasp; and passion, hushed,
Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.

These were but seasons beautiful and rare;
Abide in me, and they shall ever be;
Fulfill at once Thy precept and my prayer,
Come, and abide in me, and I in Thee.

Has Seva met his match?

After Seva's pet rat passed away, a cat soon joined the family.

Recently during a lesson, the cat was lying on the bed and Seva jumped on top of him. I was nervous that the cat would jump up and bite someone (like me), but the reaction went no further than snarls and hisses.

Today with mild reluctance, the cat endured yet another torture session.

Note the tv in the bedroom. Sigh.

The child is creative, I will give him that.

Church

Last Sunday at church, we gathered to take a group photo. Some amateur photos were taken as we tried to assemble ourselves!

(Note: the little girl in the orange is holding her craft from our Sunday school class! We are almost done with Creation. :) We made sun, moon and stars mobiles. The kids were more interested in running around shouting "it's flying!" than the lesson itself. Oh well.)






The next photo is more of the same, but I have to point out that some of our Sunday school props made it into this photo as well.



Photos by Gena

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Misery

I was in the orphanage again and the kids were misbehaving. In every group I visited, they were running around and the counselors were yelling. In group 2, there were struggles to get homework done. Some were fooling around and others were having trouble with Algebra. Liosha, 12, sat slumped over with his head on the desk. He was usually subdued, but today was especially listless. A bad day at school? Or had something from his past resurfaced?

Later we all stood in the hallway talking and I could heard Liosha weeping. The counselor closed the door so he could be alone. No one seemed particularly upset, but I couldn’t bear to hear him crying.



After a tour of the orphanage for some of my co-workers who were there for the first time, the head counselor invited us into her office and gave us lists of the kids and told them all about them. She’s a very kind lady. She will help us identify kids who have no one left, so that we can connect them with local families. We have had a few excursions, but have some paperwork to complete before families can visit the orphanage grounds or take kids home.


I walked home, blinded by tears. My heart was broken by the misery I had witnessed. But then I remembered the meeting with the head counselor. There is hope that the kids will find families. They are not abandoned.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Middle school

Oh, how I dreaded middle school!

A friend recently asked me to visit the school where she teaches English as a foreign language. The school is public but specializes in English. I said I would visit, but didn’t know when. Then this week a morning freed up, so told her I was available. She called me at about 10:30 pm on Monday night and I was going to visit on Tuesday.

“You can talk about yourself and about America. Then in the second half, you can talk about Jesus. Eighth grade is studying Ecology and seventh grade Education systems, and with the fifth grade you can talk about anything.” Ummm, okay. Panic attack! I managed to grab some photos from various albums before drifting off to sleep.

As we entered the school, I felt the familiar stress from the school days: social hierarchy, too much homework, sleeplessness, godlessness….my friend didn’t seem too thrilled about it either. She is from a Baptist church and they are very strict about contact with the World.

When the kids came in, they had to stand up and say “Good morning” and remain until the teacher told them to sit down. Then she introduced me and told them that they now had an opportunity to listen to me and ask questions, and that they should use the time wisely.

I passed around photos of my life in America and fielded questions from the students. The younger kids had been instructed to prepare questions as homework, and had 10 each. Some of them were interesting and others were obviously written in haste. From the Ecology group I got questions like “What do you use water for and do you waste water?” Or, “What ecological problems exist in America?” From the Education group I got questions like “How many years do American children study?” and “Does America have a good school system?” Then of course there were the personal questions about why I’m in Russia and what my favorite color/book/film/t.v. show/magazine is.

There were a few teen questions as well.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.” (giggles from the kids…)

“What are your favorite colors?” “Black and red.” (excited whispers…) “Do you like pink?” “Yes.” (rumors went around the room that I was an Emo fan….)

“What kind of jeans do you like? Low-cut or high-cut?” "Ummm, I like them to fit me and not fall down."

I was nervous as to what Natasha had said about telling them about Jesus. Was that allowed? What should I say? But some of the questions made an easy transition. It was natural to talk about my favorite holidays as relating to my faith. Even questions about the environment provided an opportunity, as I explained how I don’t know much about science, but believe that God created the world that we see around us. I also talked about how God had led me here to Russia.

The 9th-graders were not surprisingly the most challenging. Whereas the 5th-graders had jumped out of their seats to ask questions, the 9th-graders were apathetic. Their lesson was meant to be computer-based, making today an exception. Some of them sat at computers and logged into Facebook while others chose to listen to what I had to say. We talked about fastfood and learning foreign languages. I found myself lecturing about university being more interesting, but that they needed to do well in school so they could be better prepared for university. :)

The five classes went by fast, but I was tired. I admire school teachers who are with their students for the whole day, every day. I can barely manage two or three classes in a row. I do think that teaching a foreign language is a little more straining on the vocal cords because you have to annunciate very clearly and repeat the same words endlessly.

And so, I enjoyed being a special guest…but I’m not sure if I could handle the regular position!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The next generation?

I should have known it was a bad sign that Seva was making bombs when I arrived for his English lesson.



I was bitten and put in a headlock before we even began. After about 20 minutes of waiting for him to stop playing and get ready for English, I was getting irritated.

"Okay, I'm going home," I announced, and made my way towards the door.

"Noooo, one minute," he said.

"Nope, I've been waiting for 20 minutes already. I'm going home."

Seva body-slammed the door shut.

"Sit at your desk then."

"You first."

"No. Sit down."

"You first." (still blocking the door)

I called his mom and explained the situation, and she talked to him a bit over the phone. His eyes narrowed to slits and tears seeped out. We decided to give the lesson another try.

After the phone call, both of us sat in our places. It was a stalemate.

“Okay, we can have the lesson over here.” Seva said. He brought all the materials over to the bed and we began to make a game for review.

I wrote question cards while Seva did his part. He managed to write one half of "finish" and then got tired.

But he wrote "next level" with no problem. Video games, perhaps?

I enjoyed his next attempt. "Oh no, it's a monster!" At least he wrote in English.

What will the next lesson bring? Will Seva's room still be intact after his bomb tactics?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Signs of winter

I was shocked to see this Christmas/New Year's tree the other day. Isn't it a little early? They're being installed at metro stations throughout the city.


The frost made this pretty pattern on the sidewalk:





Advent begins soon!

Orphan graduates update

I don’t really have any news about these young women other than to ask for pray for them.

Nastia is a vivacious girl who says what she means. She considers herself a Christian, but refuses to attend church, and we often argue about what it means to be a Christian. She is very open to fellowship with Christians from the U.S. and Finland, but claims that there are no Russians with whom she can have fellowship on the same level. She takes care of everyone, from pregnant peers to her beloved cat.



Vika, a graduate of the same orphanage, has a little boy, whose father died when the child was an infant. I was surprised to run into Vika recently in the metro since she lives outside of the city.

When spending time with orphanage graduates, they are on the one hand independent adults. We all grow up and become adults. But on the other hand, though beyond adoptable age, they still long for a mother and father. Maybe they are “managing” and going to their job every day and paying their rent. But there are still many of life’s milestones that are hard to face alone: birthdays and other holidays; falling in love; breaking up; having a baby. And even the smaller tasks that no one taught them: checking the expiration date on groceries, what to do when the electricity goes out. A young adult raised by loving parents is ready to face the world. But the fatherless live in an institution, waiting and waiting for someone to claim them. The institution becomes a substitute. And when the time comes to go out into the world, they leave behind both the dream of a family and the substitute that helped to fill the gaps. It’s like a second rejection.

Nastia and Vika both keep in touch with girls from their orphanage, and this helps curb their loneliness. They are both very social. But there is clearly a longing there to be loved, that hasn't been fulfilled.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

City sights

I did a double-take when I saw this drain-pipe. I found it quite amusing.


Ways to be rescued

We continue to wait for more clarification about new multi-entry visa limitations and how this will affect foreigners in Russia. I’ve heard rumors about people already getting denied one-year visas, while others say that Americans are exempt.

My feeling is that living here is going to become more complicated, but not impossible. But I'm not worried, because the Lord is with me.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. -2 Peter 2:4-10

Good news! The Lord knows how to rescue us. :)

And some more good news: If God is for us, who can be against us? -Romans 8:31


Here is Galina, a counselor from one of the local orphanages where I serve. As I may have mentioned in the past, she was unfriendly at the beginning, but over the past year, we’ve become friends.





When I talked about possibly needing a different kind of visa, she immediately tried to think of a solution, and was prepared to contact friends who could help me get the documents I need.

“I need you here,” she said. I am well cared for.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Challenges

Among the challenges of living in another country, I bet you never thought the following things would cause problems: doors, windows, and beds. But they do. Before I go further, I will say that I have trouble opening doors in general, so it’s not necessarily anything related to the Russian system.

In the U.S., I lived either in a house or in a dormitory. To leave a house in the U.S.: Pull the door closed. Take your key out, put it in the lock and turn until you hear a click. In Russia, you are faced with a variety of padlocks, deadbolts, and keyholes. I get pretty embarrassed if I’ve just been a guest at someone’s house and have said all my thank you’s and goodbye’s and then I can’t get out. Some of the doors you push, some you pull, some you push something up and then slide, or down and slide, or sometimes there’s a button that you push or a knob that you turn. When you get down to the main door, most houses now have an electronic system, so you have to press a button and wait for it to beep before pushing the door open. I am constantly forgetting this and often stand at the door for a few seconds searching for a handle and wondering how to get out. Sometimes I get confused and take out my key and try to stick it somewhere. I also do this in the metro trying to go through the turnstile.

I’m not going to try to explain about windows without a visual aid, but basically I don’t get it. In the U.S. the whole window went up or down, and in Russia there’s a handle that you turn some way, but which way? I always get it wrong.

Now the bedding. My first experience with Russian bedding was at camp. You have some squeaky steel springs and then a mattress which is covered with a sheet. But the sheet isn’t fitted. And there is no top sheet. Gasp! The next layer is a blanket or bedspread, inside a duvet cover with a hole in it. I suppose it makes sense for the duvet cover to have a hole in it to be able to take the blanket in and out, but the hole is this big diamond shape in the middle, and I am always getting my foot caught in it in the middle of the night! Also, when Russians make the bed (if it’s a twin bed), they often fold the blanket in half. I was with a team of Americans at camp a few years ago, and they didn’t realize how to actually climb into bed. They were lying on top of all the covers and freezing to death, or trying to lie down inside the blanket as if it were a sleeping bag, not realizing then you could simply unfold it and spread it out. Silly Americans.

Probably the most maddening of all is when I’m trying to explain to Russians why I’ve been standing at the door/window/bed for 5 minutes paralyzed, and I tell them “things are different in America.” When they ask me “what’s different about it?” I blank out on what we actually do in America and find myself unable to explain. It’s like having amnesia. I know that somewhere in some context I was able to accomplish these tasks without looking like an idiot. But I don’t know if I can ever return to that level of confidence. Part of my brain has been deleted.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Addendum

Here are a few more political posters that I saw recently. Sorry I don't have time to write more.

1) A slogan I mentioned in an earlier post: "Putin's plan-Victory for Russia"



2) "You are part of Putin's plan." Then the bubbles show different parts of life that Putin's plan will supposedly help with. Retirement, working salary, government stipends, etc.







3) "November 4th-Unity Day." That explains why I had Monday off and got to sleep in! The new holiday occurs suspiciously close to Nov.7th, the former Communist holiday.








Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Campaigning

Parliamentary elections for Russia are coming up in December. Here are some ad posters put out by "United (or Unified) Russia," the party affiliated with President Putin.




Above: "In Putin's plan is the strength of Petersburg." Or "Petersburg's strength is in Putin's plan."





This one offers to help citizens help orphanages by collecting used items for children.



"Russia. Something to be proud of."

Some of the other ads I've seen are along the lines of: "We love our senior citizens," (with photos of smiling glamourous seniors) "Teaching is more than a profession," and messages about getting an education and protecting green areas of St.Petersburg. Public service announcements.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's that white stuff?

Yesterday I woke up to this sight.


It's our first snow! Nothing exciting, but winter is on its way, nonetheless.
Sunrise: 8:30 a.m.
Sunset: 5:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Excursions

Last weekend we accompanied a group of kids to Vyborg. It was our first get-together for the kids and the Russian families that may bond with them and become long-term mentors.


I was a little annoyed at having to go on a Sunday and miss church, but the situation was ameliorated by the fact that the kids were my own students from one of my regular orphanages.




When I got on the bus, the kids all shouted my name excitedly. But before I send the wrong idea here, let me just say that they do not shout excitedly when I show up for English class! :) They are pretty comfortable with me, but I don't usually come to entertain them, although they are happy to do English if they have a lot of homework in other classes. I'd rather be a caring (if boring) adult than a fun "babysitter"! But it was nice to have a chance to be in a more relaxing environment...


On the way to Vyborg we played games and chatted with the kids. The time passed fairly quickly. Once in Vyborg, it was a bit cold, so we huddled together for warmth as we explored museums and other sights. The kids especially enjoyed trying to shoot with a bow and modeling Medieval costumes.



I tried to interact with everyone, but one child who wouldn't leave my side was a 6th grade boy from one of my English groups. He's also one of the boys who was afraid of me last year! And now I have a little "shadow." These personal bonds are the ones I wait for. I would continue to do the work even if just for the sake of helping one of these kids or adults. But my heart aches to
see the kids find homes and not just friends with whom to spend a day or two.



Thursday, November 1, 2007

Learning my native language

Today I was quizzing a boy on his English vocabulary, using a book that the local school had given out. The topic was "parts of the body." After "chin" and "cheek" came the word "chap." I had never heard it other than as referring to a man. I asked the boy what it meant and he gestured at his face. Hmmm, okay. I got home and had to look in the dictionary. Can you locate a chap?

What is going on?

Does anyone else find this disturbing?

Some Christian Pastors embrace Scientology (CNN)