Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Holidays

We carried out the first of several holiday events in the orphanage last week. At first we wanted to put on a Christmas performance, with gifts and entertainment. But the orphanage said that they had their own plans and would be celebrating the Russian Orthodox Christmas in January. They did agree to letting us organize a craft and decorating session.


We planned many crafts and brought all the materials. It didn't go exactly as planned, but we managed to decorate some of the main rooms...





...and ourselves.









Even some of the older kids got involved.


We hope that the kids will get used to having us around and that long-term relationships will be formed between adults and kids.

Update: We've been given permission to put on a Christmas program in the orphanage next Sunday, December 23rd. This is wonderful! Our project team as well as church members are busy preparing some music, skits, and games, as well as gifts for the kids and orphanage staff.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dreams

What is a dream? I don't mean the kind in your sleep, but that longing for something specific to happen.

There was a time when I didn’t believe in dreams. Someone asked me, “What do you dream about?” and I said “I don’t dream.” It seemed too fantastical to me, to spend time and energy indulging in thoughts about a plan that may never be realized.

I hated the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. My life is not my own. What if I answer the question and then things happen differently? Why verbalize something uncertain? When I tried to picture myself in the future, I could see only a black nothingness. Was I going to die? I couldn’t imagine what career I would have. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Why should I answer if I don’t know? If God has not revealed it to me, why should I make a guess?

I also dislike the wishes that come from other people. “I wish you well.” What does that mean? Am I obligated to say thank you? If they simply desire for me to have a good life, what does that do for me? Is there any action that accompanies the words? “I wish you love, happiness, success.” As if I weren’t already seeking those things for myself. “I wish you a Merry Christmas.” It sounds pretty, but is it effective?

It’s not that I’m superstitious. I don’t think that spoken wishes are in danger of remaining unfulfilled just because they have been publicized. However, timing does have importance.

13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit."
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are {just} a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15 Instead, {you ought} to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
(Jas.4:13-15)

The word “dream” sometimes has a lofty, ambitious feel to it, but here is the meaning it once had:
From Webster’s dictionary (1913):
“A visionary scheme; a wild conceit; an idle fancy; a vagary; a revery; -- in this sense, applied to an imaginary or anticipated state of happiness; as, a dream of bliss; the dream of his youth.

There sober thought pursued the amusing theme, Till Fancy colored it and formed a dream. -Pope.

It is not them a mere dream, but a very real aim which they propose. -J. C. Shairp.”

Meanwhile, my non-Christian friend was shocked that I didn’t have any “dreams.” I felt a little guilty for sounding negative. After all, I do have hope for the future, and I must tell others about it. God does make promises. Sometimes they aren’t as specific as we’d like, but they are enough to keep us looking towards the future. There are perfectly Biblical “dreams” we can have: dreams that our loved ones will turn to Jesus, dreams for our lives to glorify God, dreams that our children’s lives will glorify God. They are godly goals to strive towards.

I do have dreams. There are a few things that I strongly desire to see come about. I don’t know if the Lord wills it, but I will pray and ask Him about it. And maybe someday I will find the words and tell about it.

Advancing

The other day I was in the orphanage helping kids with English, when suddenly a girl needed help with her Science homework. The teacher sent her over to read it aloud to me. I was like, ummm, did she forget I'm not a native speaker?

So Vika came over with her book about "The World Around Us" and started to read to me a text on mushrooms. Surprisingly, I understood every word! We memorized the names of six mushrooms in Russian, three edible and three non-edible. We also memorized guidelines on how to pick mushrooms and learned the three parts of the mushroom and the role of mushrooms in the environment. I'm pretty sure American school curricula don't go into this amount of detail on mushrooms, although there was a mycologist living down the street from the house where I grew up.

So my Russian has now passed third grade. Pretty exciting!

Overheard recently

Mother (referring to old cartoon): "This is from my childhood!"
3-year-old: "No, it's MY childhood!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hymn #4- Speak, Lord, in the Stillness (The Quiet Hour)

This hymn can be sung as a prayer.

I like the line "blissful, glad surrender." Sometimes it is such a struggle to surrender, and we battle with our own flash, but then we feel the sweetness of the fellowship with Jesus.


Speak, Lord, in the stillness
While I wait on Thee;
Hushed my heart to listen,
In expectancy.

Speak, O blessèd Master,
In this quiet hour,
Let me see Thy face, Lord,
Feel Thy touch of power.

For the words Thou speakest,
“They are life” indeed;
Living Bread from Heaven,
Now my spirit feed!

All to Thee is yielded,
I am not my own;
Blissful, glad surrender,
I am Thine alone.

Fill me with the knowledge
Of Thy glorious will;
All Thine own good pleasure
In my life fulfill.

Like “a watered garden”
Full of fragrance rare,
Ling’ring in Thy presence
Let my life appear.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Looking for escape

This is Masha (middle), from one of the orphanages I visit. Today she was sitting by herself in the foyer as I was leaving.

"I haven't seen you around much," she said.

"I'm here every Wednesday," I replied. Masha said she has two brothers, who both got married recently. I asked her if she attended the weddings.

"No. The first one took place during the summer while I was at camp. And I had a fight with my other brother, so I didn't go to his wedding." I asked her if she had plans for New Year's vacation, and she said she was going "home."

"It's boring here in the orphanage!" she blurted out suddenly. She looks different now from the picture, which was taken three years ago. More make-up. More serious. Becoming aware of how dismal her life is.


As I left, I thought about the paperwork needed for adoption, and I wondered if Masha has a chance.

There is a group looking for ministry opportunities in orphanages, and this one is a candidate. Maybe by some miracle the administration will agree.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Elections

Last weekend, I went with my friends to the elections for State Duma (and to get a fresh-baked roll from the school cafeteria).


From most appearances, the elections didn't seem much different from those in the States. But appearances aren't everything. Who knows what was going on behind the scenes?

Putin's party won by a landslide.

Friday, December 7, 2007

...crazy teacher

In the orphanage the other day, I was helping one of the kids with the alphabet. He was fairly confident that he didn't need any more practice, so I handed him the flashcards and asked him to put them in order. We ended up with something that didn't quite resemble the alphabet. The other kids then helped, though, and we got things in order.

Meanwhile, I had a nostalgia moment and suddenly burst into Big Bird's rendition of "ABC-DEF-GHI" when he thinks the Alphabet is one long word.

And thanks to the Internet, you can watch it on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pr5er4ueWBQ

Here are the lyrics:

ABC-DEF-GHI
sung by Big Bird (Carroll Spinney)
Music and Lyrics by Joe Raposo & Jon Stone

ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
It's the most remarkable word I've ever seen
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
I wish I knew exactly what I mean
It starts out like an "A" word as anyone can see
But somewhere in the middle it gets awful "QR" to me
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
If I ever find out just what this word can mean
I'll be the smartest bird the world has ever seen!

It might be kind of an elephant Or a funny kind of kazoo
Or strange, exotic turtle You never see in a zoo
Or maybe a kind of a doggie Or particular shade of blue
Or maybe a pretty flower Naah, not with a name like that, Uh uh!

ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
It's the most remarkable word I've ever seen
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
I wish I knew exactly what I mean
It starts out like an "A" word as anyone can see
But somewhere in the middle it gets awful "QR" to me
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
If I ever find out just what this word can mean
I'll be the smartest bird the world has ever seen!

As transcribed by Jon Cooke and William Powell

The kids thought I was pretty strange when I sang it to them, but oh well. I'll blame it on being an American. ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Crazy kids

I got to the orphanage yesterday and the teenage boys approached me mumbling something in "English." Apparently they had heard it on the radio or something and wanted a translation, but I couldn't understand a word they were saying.

"But you supposedly know English!" they laughed.
"That's not English!" I said.

My hesitation led them to believe that I simply didn't want to reveal the true meaning of the words. I probably should have just made something up.

Lolita was alone today and we worked on her "passport." It's a little book with biographical information, which the kids can use to collect stickers. Lolita is getting adopted soon, though, by a Christian family from the U.S. The court date is supposedly in a few weeks. She went on our hosting program a year or two ago. Since then, her orphanage hasn't been very cooperative, especially as far as Americans are concerned. It's too bad because the kids there are fairly needy. Perhaps once our Russian hosting program gets off the ground, the orphanage will be more open to working with us.



Then Zina came in and tortured Lolita for a few minutes while we finished up the lesson. I still haven't figured where Zina was all that time. I asked her where she was and she said "I was out." I said "For a whole year?" and she just giggled.


I went on to the next group, where we finished up passports as well. Every single child, upon being given the gluestick, immediately took the cap off and sniffed the glue numerous times.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Preparations

Despite looking for ideas months in advance, it's now Dec.5th and I still haven't finished making the Advent calendar.



We're pretty much on track with the Jesse Tree though. Our tree may be sparkly silver and the ornaments made of paper, but it's still the same idea. We are enjoying the daily readings. Oops, I haven't done today's ornament...

Meditation

Reading the Bible and praying: obvious ways for a Christian to spend time with God, but there is so much variation in the way you could accomplish these two activities!

I have trouble reading the Bible and then praying as if they were two separate tasks. When I’m reading the Bible, my thoughts wander to the cares of life. I try to push those thoughts out, and then when it’s time to pray, I forget what concerns I have. And after praying, I forget what I’d read in the Bible just moments before.

While reading “Desiring God” by John Piper, I came across a quote by George Mueller about how his reading and prayer time went.

“The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; not for the sake or [sic] preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.” –from “George Mueller of Bristol,” quoted in Piper

I like this concept of natural progression into prayer, rather than trying to follow a schedule. Our hearts were designed to respond to God’s word, and what better response than to turn to Him in prayer?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hymn #3- What I know

Today's hymn grabbed me with its title: "I Know Whom I Have Believed."

At Sunday school (Adult) we are learning about the attributes of God: His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. There are so many things that are too great for our human minds to conceive! And yet, there are some things that we can be certain of, despite our lack of understanding. In this lies our faith.



I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

Refrain
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

Refrain

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

Refrain

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

Refrain

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

Refrain

At the bottom of the page on cyberhymnal.org, I noticed that there was a Russian translation. So I'll add that here too.


Не знаю, почему открыт
Мне благодати дар,
Иль почему спасенья щит
Мне дан от вечных кар.

Припев:
Но я знаю, в Кого я верю,
Ничто меня с Христом не разлучит;
И Он мне спасенье вручит
В день, когда опять придет.

Не знаю, как мой Бог дает
Мне веры слух живой.
И как та вера мир несет
Скорбящему душой.

Припев

Не знаю я, как Дух Святой
К греху внушает страх,
И как дает Христос благой
Прощение в грехах.

Припев

Не знаю я, что в жизни мне
Назначено нести,
И как меня к родной стране
Бог хочет довести.

Припев

Не знаю времени, ни дня,
Когда Господь придет,
Иль как чрез смерть иль Сам меня
В тот день Он позовет.
Припев

Winter activities

December1 marked the first day of winter in Russia. Last week, we took a group of orphans to an ice skating rink. For many of them, it was their first time on ice skates.







We also took some families along who are interested in adoption, so they could get to know the kids a little.










A fun time was had by all.




Saturday, December 1, 2007

Safety regulations

They say that Americans are obsessed with physical safety. I hadn't really thought about it before. I rather like our laws about safety(seatbelts, helmets, etc). It seems like common sense to me. But maybe that just proves the stereotypes to be true.

At any rate, here is a classic Russian example. The handpainted notice indicates that you can obtain the key to the basement by calling the listed telephone number. The door to the basement is padlocked. This raises all sorts of questions. Why is the basement locked? What is down there? What happens if there is an emergency? Whose number is listed, and is it possible to actually reach them? Yes, the great "key hunt" is a part of everyday life in Russia. Maybe it makes sense to them...




And here we have people playing with fire right near a crosswalk. The building burned down and the demolition guys decided to make some sparks fly with whatever that tool is called. Point, being, fire near people=dangerous. Or not? They did put a rope around the building...which doesn't exactly exceed the radius of the sparks shooting out. I don't think I've ever seen a "danger: hardhat area" sign in Russia. But maybe I'm just paranoid?


I do think I've gotten better at ignoring such differences. When I'm riding the public transportation, I just hang on tight and pray. What else can you do?