Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Questions about tentmaking

I recently did a piece on missionaries and working, in which I challenged the use of certain terminology and noted some pros and cons of various options.

At missions' prayer the other evening, we had an interesting discussion about "tentmaking." Again in some ways I dislike how it's been made into a catchphrase, and I don't necessarily agree with taking one example (Paul) and making it into a rule. I think the situation is a little more complex than that.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, there are plenty of good arguments for missionaries to have a career aside from their church activities in the field. The question is, how does one go about becoming a missionary with a job? Is it actually possible to take what many people have theorized about and put it into practice?

Here's one scenario. At 18, a missionary hopeful already knows where he would like to serve, as well as what his gifts are. He chooses a college major that will give him the education to work in his gifting. He gets a degree or two, as well as Bible training. He finds himself a wife, who, lo and behold, is also perfectly suited to the task. Since the country where they want to be missionaries is "closed," they use their job skills to enter the country as professionals and start their ministry.

That is really great for someone who is young and has a clear sense of what he/she wants to do. But what if the person is older? Should he still go through 4-5 years of training, before entering the mission field? What if someone has a skill that doesn't translate very well? Is an artist going to find work in the jungle? Is there a place in the mission field only for doctors, teachers, engineers, and computer technicians?

I suppose I have a question of what comes first. Do you choose missions and then decide what exactly you will do? Do you choose a profession and then see which country will accept you? Do you choose a country and then see what professions would be appropriate, and then start all over again with your education? Do you move to a country and study in their institutions so that you have both an education and a profession that are locally acceptable? For that you will need language training.

And where is your missionary zeal, while you are thinking about practical things like schooling?

What do you do with something like Bible translation? If you have to work full-time as well, the translation is going to take a long time, and in the meantime, people are waiting to read the Bible in their own language.

One issue we discussed was the necessity of being genuine and not hiding under a "mask." People do notice if you have hidden motives. I've seen English language curriculum for missionaries that involved "sneaking" little Bible truths into the lessons. I don't think that is effective. It is proper to say materials are Bible-based, if that is so. As I also wrote about one time, I do have an agenda, since I want people to get saved. I pay attention to what they have strong feelings about. I might bring up certain topics on purpose, to make them think more about it. But it's not an agenda in terms of having a schedule. I don't want to manipulate hearts, and only God can change them anyway.

At the prayer meeting, we also talked about tentmaking skills needing to be well-developed and not just a job that you pick up to gain access to a place. I have mixed feelings about this. I believe that we should do things in excellence, but I don't know how much you have to love the work itself. The passion is in knowing that our lives are hidden in Christ, but there's not anything romantic in living that out. Sometimes it is just a lot of daily perseverance.

If the point of tentmaking is to live like the people around you and be financially independent, then it's more an issue of practicality. I think Americans are more introspective about the "career" search than in other cultures. It's great when there's a choice, but that's not always the case. When it's a matter of survival, you take the job that is available to you and will support your family. If you're not qualified, then that will become evident in the quality of your work, and you'll have to try something else.

The issue is that, for most of these questions, there are no answers. First of all, you can't learn it in a classroom (the principles). Even if you do hear it somewhere, like at a conference, or read it in a book, it will not sink in until you've lived it, and by that time you have discovered it independently, it's just that you are able to confirm what others have said. Also, the world is changing, and we have no idea what it's going to look like in 5 years. How can we know how to prepare for it? And we don't know what God is going to do in our hearts. It's hard for me personally to imagine myself at age 18 knowing what I wanted to do. And what will He want me to do at 30? I don't know. I can only take certain steps of faith.

Missionaries have to make the same sort of life decisions as everyone else, especially when it comes to jobs. I greatly respect those who have faithfully worked in a certain field for many years, as well as those who have realized that their term is up and have left the field. It takes obedience, in either case. These are practical decisions, though not void of emotions and passion. And they affect others, depending on how long and how strong your ties are. When I think of all the people I love in different places, I have to remember that my devotion is to Christ.

Christmas withdrawal

It's over. Doesn't it always seem sad that after weeks of preparation, Christmas just...ends? I was used to the clock radio waking me up with a Christmas hymn (or "Dominick the Donkey"). And now it's back to the same old rock music and silly morning shows.

People are already throwing out Christmas trees and taking decorations down. It seems as though Christmas never happened, although if I look around, I see the pile of presents, or turn on my digital camera, and there's the evidence.

Even if it's a feeling of relief that the cooking and entertaining is over, doesn't it feel surreal? Anticlimactic, perhaps?

It seems that Faith Hill's "Where are you, Christmas?" would be appropriate here. The song was first sung by a little girl in "How the Grinch stole Christmas." I guess everyone knows that, but I never actually saw the film since I was kind of loyal to the book and the old animated version.

Just like a child may be disappointed by the gifts and treats ending, the passing of a holiday can always leave a feeling of emptiness, if there's nothing permanent left for everyday life.

I like the end of the song, where it says, "The joy of Christmas /Stays here in silence /Fills each and every heart with love." That seems like the right idea to cling to. When the chaos is over, joy and (more importantly) love remain.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Love languages and Christmas gifts

A few years ago, I tried taking the "Five love languages" test by Gary Chapman. It didn't work very well since the test was aimed towards married couples and I had trouble answering questions like "Do you like it better when your spouse buys you chocolate or washes the dishes for you?" (Okay, I made that one up). I also tend to sabotage the results of such tests because I overanalyze the questions.

So I never did figure out whether my love language was "words of affirmation," "quality time," "receiving gifts," "acts of service," or "physical touch." (Brief explanation here).

Human beings are complex, and I'm not going to endorse this as a fool-proof system for living in bliss with all your friends and family members. But it's always good to be reminded that people are different, and that there is a difference between misunderstanding and insensitivity.

I remember scoffing at the "gift" option, thinking, "I do not need THINGS to assure me that I'm loved." But then I remember the piles of objects I have stored away in...hmm, 1 house in the U.S. and 2 locations in Russia. Every time I try to minimize, I think, "_________gave that to me for my ___________ birthday! I can't get rid of it!"

Looking around my room now, I see a calendar from my sister, turned to Dec. 2004, as well as a hand-painted cross and other knick-knacks from Russian kids. Yes, I can see how objects play a role in love. But I don't know if it's a priority in my life.

How different people prefer to express love can be just as perplexing as the expressions that they expect from others. Someone said to me a few months ago, "I don't think gift-giving is your love language." Apparently I had given a disappointing gift. Keep in mind that this was in Russia, and cultural can also play a role. I hope that I haven't offended too many people with inappropriate gifts. But it was a good reminder to pay more attention.

Christmas morning is an interesting time to observe communication patterns, especially if people take turns opening presents (as in my family). Even when everyone's getting along great, it is clear that gifts mean different things to different people. Someone exclaims over each gift, someone pays close attention to the wrapping, someone prefers to cross the room and give a thank-you hug. Someone breaks the ribbon with his hands; others use a knife or untie it with their fingers. People react to the attention differently, too, when receiving gifts. Some people love the experience of having everyone watch, while for others it's more of a private moment. And as senders we all react differently as well. Along with the public/private preference, we may have varying degrees of sensitivity to whether or not our gift is appreciated.

So many variables! And relationships are fragile. So if I don't even know what my own "language" is, how can I begin to understand everyone else? One clue is to watch how they relate to me. Have you ever bought a gift for someone else because it was interesting to you? Maybe people express love in a certain way because it's what they wish to receive.

We all remember the Golden Rule,"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
" (Matthew 7:12) But if we only give the kind of gifts that look good to us, we might not be listening well enough to others around us. The one thing we really all wish for is to be understood. Paying attention and learning from diversity in expressions of love around us might help us speak other "languages."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A family for Christmas?

I suppose I'll have to wrap up my unofficial "Misha" series, now that he's being adopted.

I've never actually met the family that's adopting Misha, but Misha said they lived in Texas. Then another adoptive mom did a little research so Misha could stay in touch with his other orphanage buddies who've been adopted. She found the organization through which Misha was hosted and is likely being adopted. I noticed from my own research that the agency had to stop Russia adoptions temporarily as the Russian government was requiring many adoption agencies to be reaccredited. Perhaps that explains the delay in Misha's case.

When I left Russia a month ago, Misha was waiting for his adoption to be finalized. There's a possibility he's already with his new family for Christmas. That's a happy thought.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The work permit problem in St. Petersburg

Well, this is interesting. All this time I've been researching work visas, when it turns out the main problem is the work permits themselves.

Back in the summer, the quota was reached. I'm not sure if my application got in before that or not.

"Effective immediately, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) of Russia will no longer accept Work or Employment Permit applications for foreign nationals seeking employment in St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad region in 2008. The 2008 quota established by the government for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region has been reached."
-From "2008 Work Permit Quota Reached for St. Petersburg." Fragomen Global Immigration Services. Published online 8/13/08.

A St. Petersburg Times article about illegal immigrants observes how the new visa laws of 2007 have changed things. "In 2007, due to a tightening up of the rules regarding migrant workers, a number of companies decided to legalize their foreign personnel, leading to a 700-percent rise in the number of work permits issued to foreigners in comparison with the same figure for 2006, according to Daria Novikova, spokesperson for the St. Petersburg and Lenoblast Federal Migration Service Agency." -from "Firms Cut Costs Using Migrant Labor." March 25, 2008

Apparently, more work permits were needed in 2008 than companies had predicted. I fall into the same category as migrant workers, being a foreign national without resident status. I'm not sure if the quota was increased or not. It's one of the questions I will ask my boss. We are planning to speak by phone next week.

Christmas presents

I found a vintage set of blocks from Russia for my niece! So cool! It says "Made in USSR."

I suppose I could have bought them in Russia, but that would have weighed down my suitcase quite a bit!

My brother and I did a quick inspection.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Misheard (Christmas) lyrics

I went to my town's Messiah "sing-along" this evening. They had scores to borrow at the door. I'm not very good at sight-singing, but I hit a few (correct) notes. I wished more that I was in the orchestra than in the choir.

A couple years ago, I got my own recording of the complete Messiah. It came with the full set of words and scripture references. It adds so much to be able to appreciate the production as a worshipful piece. I like how it tells the whole story of Christ's coming, from the prophecies to His death and resurrection.

If you like listening to the Messiah, I would recommend looking closely at the text. I, for one, often mishear lyrics, and I honestly had no idea what most of the songs were about, aside from the Hallelujah's. Here's one of them I misheard:

"He's raising...the lucky ones."

Real text: "the dead shall be raised incorruptible." (1 Cor. 15:52) Wow, talk about the wrong idea. That would make for interesting theology if it had anything to do with luck. :)

Of course, that may or may not be worse than thinking that Michael W. Smith was singing about "loose fatties" rather than "lux venit." Glad I got that one straightened out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Anti-americanism and civic activism

I was tagged by an acquaintance of mine in a video on the Russian version of Facebook. I ignored it for awhile because the videos are often composed of things like pictures of kittens put to a song about friendship. Then I decided to check out this latest video. It's called "The American Show," and it's in the political category.

I might be a little late tuning into this, but I don't normally follow politics.

In the beginning of the video, "President Bush" begins enlightening us on how the American Empire got so powerful, beginning with World War I. You could say the film is in a Michael Moore "exposee" style.

Since the version I was watching was dubbed in Russian, I decided to go hear what the English sounded like. I found an English version on Youtube, and lo and behold, the George Bush impersonator is in fact Russian.

Meanwhile, a lot of people (mostly college-aged) were leaving comments like "This is so true!" "This is a great video!" "People need to know the truth!"

I watched about 2 minutes of the video. I got tired of reading articles in Russian, trying to figure out where it came from, so I finally found something in English.

"Whoever created this movie is not just against the Bush administration, but
absolutely anti-American...After some research online, the red thread runs all through the movie and via Alexey Filonov leads to "Putin's children", a youth movement "Nashi" ("Ours!")."*

I left some comments on my friends' (more than one person had posted it) pages asking what they thought the point of the movie was. I don't always understand the tone of commentaries in Russian. Perhaps, for some, it's just a joke. But, I wonder, why joke about it?

The fact is, we are just as distrusting of Putin as they are of Bush. When it comes to the politics of our own country, or country of residence, we do have a responsibility to practice discernment and try to be aware of what's going on. It also helps to know what kind of relationship our country has with others. But on the other hand, we don't need to go running after every conspiracy theory. It's hard to find a balance.

*To read the explanation in English and watch the clip:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Politics

I don't know about your town, but in many places it isn't too common to hear "Merry Christmas" anymore. It's been replaced with "Happy Holidays."

I suppose I would be irritated as well if someone congratulated me on a holiday that I don't celebrate.

Yet, it seems wrong not to hear the words. It isn't right to neutralize everything. If you really don't want to offend someone, wouldn't it be better to show an interest in his life and ask what holiday he celebrates, rather than just playing it safe?

My friend Ashley is involved in the "Campaign for Christmas." Pictured is one of their pins. My dad and I both wear one. My mom thought it seemed provocative, but isn't that the point? Our war isn't again the cheerful folks who say "Happy holidays." Our war is against the principalities that want to silence our attempts to honor our Savior's birth. After all, the Good News is for everyone. If we congratulate only our families and fellow church members, then the message stops there.

A light still shines, if you look for it. USA Weekend (Dec. 19-21 issue) featured an article on U.S. towns named Bethlehem who share a strong spirit of community. I didn't see many references to Christ in the article, which can be read here. But maybe the reference to the Biblical story will inspire people to refresh their memories about the original star.

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. -The Gospel of Matthew, Ch.2, verses 1-12

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A trip to the library

The last time I went to the library, I didn't prepare myself beforehand. Normally I have a list of authors or some topic I'm currently interested in. This time I was starting from scratch.

After determining that there was nothing to help with Greek study (except a Greek-English dictionary), I headed for non-Fiction. I ended up with a pretty random selection of biographies (well, most of them are people of faith).

My favorite one so far has been "Take my Hands" by Dorothy Clarke Wilson. It's the story of Dr. Mary Verghese, an Indian woman who, despite enduring a car accident in which she became a paraplegic, went on to become a surgeon, mainly treating leprosy victims.

I like the straightforward and positive tone of the book. It's inspiring without making you want to gag over the saintliness of the people described.

Without giving away the story, here are a few observations I made:

1) Mary often recalls the words of "Take my life and let it be..." and constantly thinks about how she can be useful to God and everyone around her.

2) Mary knew what her calling was. When I was reading this I was thinking about how I have never wanted to be a doctor, but I find their stories inspiring and I'm so glad God called others to this vocation. How great that we all have different callings! :)

3) Disabled people in other countries have a different experience. I didn't actually notice this in Mary's story until she traveled to the States and the comparison was shown through her eyes. It had just been taken for granted that she would need several aides for the rest of her life. No one had ever helped her try to learn to walk again. The American approach is more towards teaching skills for independence. I saw a woman in a motorized wheelchair recently in the grocery store, and thought of all the dear grannies back in St. Petersburg.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke: Take my Hands: The Remarkable Story of Dr. Mary Verghese. New York: McGraw-Hill ,1963

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter and other arrivals

Winter's here. We don't have much snow yet, but the transformation is underway.

My youngest brother got home (in the middle of night) just in time for some snow clean-up.

My oldest brother and his wife are flying in from Africa tomorrow and we're thinking of ways to keep them warm.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Purposeful attitudes

A few mornings ago I woke up to the radio blasting, "Ain't that America." It wasn't hard to remember where I was! I switched to a Christmas station and a song was playing about "gratitude" being the "right attitude" for Christmas. I don't know what the song was called or who sang it.

It's not a bad idea to look for reasons to be thankful around Christmastime. "It's better to give than receive," people always say. It's a good time of year to look around and give thanks for having family, food, and a warm place to be, as well as God's gift to us of His son.

But this is beginning to sound a lot like Thanksgiving Day, which we celebrated not too long ago. In addition to Thanksgiving, there are many qualities, specific to Christmas, which we can focus on. For example, there are the four candles of the Advent wreath: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy (not necessarily in that order.)

The hope of the people as they waited for the Messiah. Our hope that He will come again.

The peace and reconciliation with God that Christ brings.

The love that God displayed toward us when He sent His son.

The joy of the accumulation of all these blessings! There are many reasons to rejoice.

I was in church the other day and someone said, "You seem so happy." I don't know what made her say that! I guess I was happy to be in church. But the point is that it wasn't like I got up in the morning and reached for my "joy" costume or "peace" hat and put it on. I receive these gifts when I focus on the Source. They are the result.

How can I hope for anything if I don't know what God has promised? How can I be filled with peace if I haven't approached God for reconciliation through Christ? How can I model God's love if I don't know what He did for me?

This is why we celebrate Advent. To refresh our memory about these truths. Without this knowledge, Christmas is meaningless.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More pieces of the puzzle

I hadn't heard from my boss in over a month, so I decided to try emailing her again, even though I already emailed her two weeks ago and she hasn't responded yet.

Today I got an email from work, but it wasn't from the boss. It was from one of the other teachers, who recently volunteered to take over some of the organizational responsibilities. She sent a spreadsheet with information about all the teachers and travel dates. I was curious to see if I was even on the list.

Next to my name, it lists the company I had been teaching at and says "New contract for 2009 to be signed." So maybe that means I'll have my old students back! That would be nice. I was already preparing myself to start over with new students. Or maybe it means they are supposed to invite us back and haven't yet?

For the travel dates, I obviously have a question mark as my return date. The other teachers are all going home for Christmas and New Year's and coming back for the next semester, which begins sometime mid-January.

My boss is going to be in the States for 5 weeks. So she won't be in St. Petersburg working on the visas. But maybe she'll contact me once she's in the U.S. and has gotten a little rest. Let's hope.

December sunshine

The sun was being a tease today. It kept darting behind a cloud every time I tried to take a picture. It's hard to believe that it will be getting dark in an hour or two. Tonight it's supposed to be 13 degrees (-11 Celsius).

Jesse Tree reading, Second Thursday

1 Samuel 8 (New International Version)

Israel Asks for a King
1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."

6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a king."
Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Everyone go back to his town."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

NT Greek self-study

I've been working through Mounce's "The Basics of Biblical Greek" on my own for the past several years. Hmmm, I think it is only supposed to take one year. I do like the presentation of the book. I think I've mentioned this before, but there are a lot of accompanying study aids, as well as a constantly-developing website.

I registered for the online class at teknia.com, and now I can listen to free lectures with accompanying slides.

The problem with self-study is of course no accountability. The website offers quizzes that I've done a few times and then corrected myself. But in general I don't learn the material well enough and end up having to do the exercises with my book and notes open. And then if I try to translate something, I have to go searching through my book again.

But I do like Mounce's grammar explanations. I don't like the way that a lot of books for "laymen" or whomever tend to oversimplify the grammar. Yes, it can be easier to remember if you have lot of little "tricks," but the tricks don't always work!

Meanwhile, my mom was helping with a project to redo the church library, and gleaned for me "Teach Yourself New Testament Greek" by Ian McNair. I decided to give it a try.

This book claims to apply "contemporary language learning theory." The promotions all describe it as "new as exciting," not "dry like most grammar books," etc. Sometimes "not dry" means that they skip important concepts (see above), so I was skeptical.

I find "Teach Yourself New Testament Greek" challenging in a refreshing way. I opened up the middle of the book and found it confusing, so I started at the beginning, expecting to be put to sleep by reviewing the basics yet again. But I found that it drew me in.

As far as I can see, the book uses more of an inductive approach. That's how it differs from the other textbooks. Instead of dictating the rules and then assigning appropriate exercises which encourage regurgitation, you aren't given all of the information right away. You use a few knowns (such as cognates) to figure out the rules yourself. This is what they taught us to do in the ESL classroom, although I still have my reserves that it is always the best way.

While I was doing some exercises, I realized that the book was actually making me THINK. And I even felt myself retaining some of the information! It's similar to the way I learned Latin. We started from Day 1 with a text. There was an accompanying photo, which helps fill in the gaps (with NT Greek, you have your background knowledge of the Scriptures to help). There was a list of vocabulary words, and the rest we just figured out from the context.

Our first Latin teacher told us that we would always remember the first words of Ecce Romani, and I do! Ecce! In pictura est puella, nomine Cornelia. Cornelia est puella Romana quae in Italia habitat...

Time to get back to the books.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Around Town

I took some pictures of the night lights a few days ago. I was sitting in a car for some of them, so they didn't come out very well.

The center of town. Sorry it's blurry....

A jewelry shop, all spruced up.

Can you spot my parents?

Some other shops...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Animal

My room is in the attic. There is a storage tunnel on the outer perimeter, and little doors are placed here and there to grant access to the storage.

Late at night, when the lights are out and all is silent, The Animal comes out. I begin to hear a series of scrabbling, squeaks, and the pitter-patter of a living creature. I can hear him as he makes his way from one end of the storage tunnel to the other. I can put my hand up and touch the wall where the noise is, and imagine who is on the other side.

I stuck a camera in and snapped a picture during the daylight hours. I don't see anyone there, do you?

Once, I heard a thump against one of the doors. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened the door a crack, to see an injured bat flapping around inside the storage space.

I read somewhere that a bat colony can live in the same house for up to 100 years. It can be almost endearing to think of a lone creature; a solitary mouse or bat or even some bigger creature. But a colony? Yuck.

Sometimes I imagine flinging open the door and poking my head in just when the noise is at its loudest, to finally see who my neighbors are. But the thought is too frightening. Lately I have entertained thoughts of making use of a hidden camera.

About once a year, a bat makes it way into the main part of the house, and we think, finally, The Animal has been roused from its roost. But then night comes and the signs of life can be heard once more.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

2nd Sunday of Advent

My Jesse Tree looks a little better now that it has some ornaments on it!

Today's passage is Isaiah 9:2-7.

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.

5 Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, [b] Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Divisions and confusion

I'm about to give away the climax of a story. I liked the way that this Jewish man's realization of his conversion is described:

I was not a praying man, but I opened my mouth. “Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe. I thank You for the fellowship and friendship at this table. I thank You for what we have learned at this meeting. I ask You now to bless this food, and I do so in the name of Jesus, the Messiah.”

For a moment I sat there amazed. I had prayed in the name of Jesus, the Messiah! It had not been planned by me. But the words had come from my heart.

The others at the table could have missed it, but they didn’t. They all knew of my inner struggles. Their faces were suddenly jubilant.

“Stan, you’re a believer! Praise God!” They got up in turns and hugged me. Several cried with joy.

And then I too began to cry.*

The story goes that one of the daughters in a tight-knit (American) Jewish family tells her parents that she has accepted Jesus as the Messiah. In shock, but out of love to her, the parents embark on a search to see if they can prove her wrong. Through slightly different paths, the husband, wife, and other daughter all find Christ and joyfully reunite.

While reading the book, I noted to myself that this was the story of a stable, loving family. To be honest, I sometimes associate broken families with lawlessness and stable families with Christian values. But in fact it's not always the case. In many cultures and religious traditions, the family unit is the focal point. Many relationships are marked by love. Maybe it's not God's love, but it is a love regarded by the world as genuine.

I decided to check one thing on Google before finishing this post. While searching, I was surprised to find that the story depicted in this book has in fact been refuted, by the author's own daughter (the one who reportedly accepted Christ later). She challenges her father's story, exposes his wrongdoing in his ministry, and is estranged from him. She has even set up a website to make sure everyone knows the truth.

It would seem that the Gospel has divided the family, not united them. Or is it a departure from the Gospel that is the source of the problem? I don't even know what the truth is, but it's very sad.

I'm not even sure now what to say about the passage that I originally quoted. I just thought it was just a beautiful description of how surrender to Christ can be manifested in someone's life.

There was a question that I had wanted to ask, before the scandal came up. I wondered if this was a good depiction of how any non-Christian family feels when a member surrenders his life to Christ. Close to my heart, of course, are Russians and Russian Orthodoxy. I wonder how Russians feel about their friends and family members attending non-Orthodox Christian churches. Is there dislike because it's not Orthodox? Does it feel like a betrayal? Or is there simply prejudice, fear of the unknown?

*Telchin, Stan. "Betrayed." Chosen Books, 1981. Quote from page 99.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy times

Mary sent me some photos she took from the last time she visited the orphanage with me. After that I only visited one more time before leaving for the States.

There were two pictures and this was the silly version. The kids look like themselves. :) The girls looked especially cute that day though, because they were dressed up for some sort of dance recital.

Misha, center, on the floor, is on the brink of being adopted. He probably won't be there when I get back. I didn't manage to get his new address, although I doubt he knows it anyway. So I'm not sure how I will be able to get in touch with him. All I know is that he was hosted by a family in Texas a few years ago, and now he's being adopted by a family from Dallas. I'm not sure if it's the same family or not. But I'm pretty sure they're Christians.

I got my picture taken with the counselor, Raisa. It was supposed to be a group shot with the boys, but for some reason this boy was shunned and the others ran away. Hopefully he didn't mind getting his picture taken with me instead!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Russian work visa FAQ

No visa news, but I finally found a helpful website that explains the process in steps.

I'm going to paste some excerpts here.

Justification for obtaining a work visa:

-In general, a foreign employee assigned to work in the Russian Federation should have a degree of appropriate knowledge, specialized skills or managerial/executive-level skills that are not available in Russia's labour market.
[native English speaker will suffice]

-A foreign employee may not convert her/his immigration status from a "Visitor" (travelling on the basis of a tourist or business visa) to "Work" status while remaining in Russia. [this just means that you have to leave the country to get the new kind of visa. So, even if my invitation had been ready in October as expected, I still would have needed to make a visa trip somewhere]

Here's the process. It's pretty long. I'll try to break it down.

1) What is required of the employer (the company where I teach): In order to sponsor a work permit application, a Russian company sponsor must first be formally registered in Russia. That sponsor must then obtain an employment permit; this process involves an evaluation of the application by three different Russian government agencies: The Local Employment Service, the Moscow Department of Federal Employment Service and the Federal Migration Service.

2) More requirements for the employer: Obtaining the employment permit is a three-step process.
-First, the corporate sponsor must obtain approval to employ foreign employees from the Local Employment Service. This step generally requires a processing time of 21 business days.
-Second, the sponsor must obtain approval to employ foreign employees from the Federal Employment Service (Moscow Department). The approximate processing time for this step is 10-14 business days.
-Third, the employment permit is obtained from the Federal Migration Service, a process that requires approximately 30 business days. Please note that in some regions of the Russian Federation, obtaining the employment permit requires the additional step of obtaining an opinion from the local Trade Union authorities. This process requires roughly 10-12 business days.

3) Then, what pertains to me, the employee: Once the employment permit is successfully obtained, the work permit is obtained by submitting an application to the Local Migration Service (Migration Service of the Central Department of Internal Affairs in Moscow). This process requires approximately 21 business days.

4) And finally, the visa application: The next step towards completing the process is obtaining separate invitation letters allowing the employee and each accompanying family member to apply for a single entry visa for the purposes of work from the Russian Consulate with jurisdiction over his or her place of legal residence. The sponsoring company should apply to the Passport and Visa Department to obtain the invitation letters on behalf of the employee and each family member. Upon issue of the invitation letters, the employee and family members can apply for her/his single entry visa. A personal appearance at the Russian consulate to obtain this single entry visa is not required.

5) For some reason you are supposed to get one kind of work visa first, and then you can change the length of it once you're in Russia. Once the single entry visa for the purposes of work and residence is obtained through the Consulate, the employee (and family members, if applicable) may enter Russia and immediately commence to work. However, immediately upon arrival, the employee and family members must undergo the formalities of registering with the Passport and Visa Department, and converting their single entry visas into multiple entry visas valid up to 1 year.

Then, just to make your head spin, here are some of the documents required for various steps in the process.

Russian Corporate Documents Required for Employment Permit

The sponsoring Russian employer must present the following documents:
1. Charter (3 notarised copies);
2. Certificate of Registration;
3. Certificate of entry into the Consolidated State Register (3 notarised copies);
4. Licence (if any, 3 notarised copies);
5. Statistic Committee Certificate (3 notarised copies);
6. Certificate of registration at Tax Inspectorate (3 notarised copies);
7. Draft of labour agreement with the foreign employee;
8. Lease agreement on premises occupied by foreign employee (a copy);
9. Power of Attorney (to be drafted by local vendor);
10. Balance-sheet for the most recent quarter, if applicable (a copy and the original);
11. Bank reference (funds on account);
12. Original of receipt for payment of the state duty (3,000 rubles and 1,000 rubles for each foreign employee);
13. Original of documents proving the payment of deposit, which is required in case of employee's departure from the Russian Federation

Employee and Family Documents (Most Commonly Requested)

The following personal documents are required to obtain work permit:

1. Passport copies of a foreign employee's and each family member's passports. Passports should be valid no less than for 6 months.
2. Copy of Certificate proving the foreign employee's professional education, obtained in the foreign state or equivalence of such a document to a Russian certificate of the professional education.
3. Medical examination by a registered physician in a Russian State clinic certifying that the applicant is free of tuberculosis, leprosy, HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and genital chancres. For those persons applying for a Residence Permit in Moscow, an additional test certifying a negative result for the presence of narcotics is also required. Medical Certificates cannot be issued for more than 90 days from the exam date.
4. 2 photographs 3x4 (mat, colour) of the employee and each family member;
5. Notarised copy of the spouse's Marriage Certificate.
6. Notarised copy of each child's birth certificate with names of both parent's evidenced.

Documents Required to Apply for a Work Visa

Following are the documents required to obtain the work visa, which should be provided by the foreign employee to the Russian Consulate:

1. Application form;
2. Passport copy (necessary pages) of a foreign employee. Passport should be valid no less than for 6 months;
3. Copy of employment permit with grant of original;
4. Copy of work permit (a plastic card) with grant of original;
5. 3 photographs 3x4 (mat, colour) – for re-registration of a single entry visa into a multiple exit-entry visa;
6. Required application fee.

And finally, the time-frame.

According to the site,
the approximate time to assemble all corporate and employee's personal documentation is approximately one month. The term for obtaining the employment permit is 2 months. The work permit is obtained within 21 working days. Single entry work visa can be obtained within 12 working days, the multiple entry one – within 21 working days.

My employer started the process in June. The first step should have been completed in July and the second step in September. I submitted documents to my boss sometime in October, so I assume the work permit is underway.

But, I haven't actually been notified if any of those steps have been completed. For all I know, the company is still probably trying to obtain the employment permit. That means it will be another 21 days to get the work permit and another 2-3 weeks to get the actual visa.

I have started looking for other options, but I don't have any ideas right now!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My career

I wrote a Russian friend recently telling her about my visa situation, and she wrote back saying that she wished me luck, whether I returned to Russia or decided to "stay home" and start my "career."

That made me wonder, just what have I been doing all this time if I haven't started my career? Just what is a career, and how do you know when you've started it? And why is it important?

The first word that comes to mind when pondering the meaning of career is "profession." People in Russia are always asking me what my profession is, and I dislike answering. I suppose for simplicity's sake I'm a teacher, but I really dislike putting my life in a box like that. I've been teaching informally for about 8 years; what difference does it make if I earned money from it or not?

If career relates to education, I have studied many subjects. Why does it matter what degree I've earned? I've poured out passion into subjects that I only studied for one semester, and I could earn a Master's degree in something I'm not passionate about. Why does it matter what's on paper?

There is also the question of calling. How does calling relate to career? If I'm called to show compassion towards orphans, do I have to have that on a piece of paper? Can I write it on a resume?

Many missionaries consider Missions to be their career. When they say this, I believe they mean that it is their life's calling. When investigating further, you find out that they're church-planters, Bible translators, humanitarian aid distributors, etc. But tasks and assignments change and grow, even when your goals in life remain the same.

I don't want to split my life into pre, during, and post-career. And I'm glad that God doesn't either. I sought Him when I was young, and I hope that I will find ways to serve Him when I'm old and feeble.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Russian adoptees in the news

A few people so far have alerted me to the recent 20/20 series on Russian adoptees which can be viewed in its entirety (in 5 segments) on ABC's website. You can read the text here or go directly to the first video segment, linked here.

The series focuses on adopted international children who have been found to have Reactive Attachment Disorder. I found the program fairly accurate in its portrayal of the struggles that families and children face in such cases. Any of the children portrayed could be children whom I know.

I had a little trouble with the presentation. I didn't appreciate the way that 20/20 overdramatized everything, such as the family's disgust at the lack of hygiene that their newly adopted children displayed. The narrator emotionally announced the family's horror at seeing the bath water turn black. There was another scene in which an adopted girl from Russia ran around crying for an hour, captured on home video. I didn't like the way that the report talked about "these children," as if they are a different species or a lesser part of society.

I wanted to empathize with the families and children and say, "yes, this happens." But at the same time I wanted to ask what the ABC television network had to do with it. How was it doing any good for them to go and make a news story out of it? Are they helping to break a taboo? Will there be more support offered for families? It felt like they were treading on personal territory, as if you turned on the tv and saw that in a foreign country your personal traumas were being analyzed by the public. I wondered if the reporter had ever been to Russia.

The "intriguing" development that 20/20 offered was a report on a special camp that adopted kids can visit, run by a woman who seems to get along well with them. I liked what I saw of her on the program. I could see how the camp could be therapeutic. It had a fairly regulated daily schedule, including chores, which may more closely resemble orphanage life and therefore help a child calm down. It also had plenty of outdoorsy activities to help release some nervous energy. And we saw the kids being coached to love and respect their adoptive families.

The only thing that bothered me about the camp portrayal was that I wondered if it could be run by Christians, but nothing was mentioned. I wondered what could possibly give someone the heart and the stamina to reach out to children in such a way. But on 20/20 there was no mention of God. We only saw a brief scene of people saying grace before a meal.

After watching all 5 parts, I looked up the camp lady, Joyce Sterkel. She has apparently received much commendation for her work serving international adoptees. I skimmed a few articles about the ranch and didn't see Joyce mention her faith anywhere. But then when I went to the site itself, it did describe the ranch as a Christian home, and it said in very careful language that children were encouraged to attend church and improve their spiritual lives. I just wish that God could be given a little glory in the news. The problems are real, but the solution is more than just another program.

The next holiday...

I don't have the emotional energy to write an intellectual post. So this is a "show and tell" sort of update.

After the last of the Thanksgiving guests left, I decided it was time to make my Jesse Tree for Advent. That took the majority of the afternoon.

I made it out of wire.

I had a picture in a book, and my mom had some ideas, but as usual I ended up not following instructions.

After making the wire frame, I wrapped it in colored paper.

And then some more colored paper.

Now how am I going to make the ornaments match? Hmmm....

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit...
-Isaiah 11:1

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Today and forever

I will praise God's name in song

and glorify him with thanksgiving
. Ps.69:30

The flight

It took me just under 24 hours to get from the apartment where I live in Russia to my house in Massa- chusetts.

My flight was at 6am and I did not bother going to bed before leaving at 3:00. I have found that this method works best. In times when I tried to sleep for a few hours, I ended up with migraines.

I was thankful that the weather had calmed down enough for both the drive and the flight out of Russia to be smooth.

I'm not sure how the first flight went because I was asleep. After that I had a 5-hr wait in Frankfurt. During that time, I received a text from my boss-once again a little late. I'm not sure what is going on, but I'm praying for better communication. She was texting to tell me about the teacher training this Saturday, in St. Petersburg.

When I found my seat on the second plane, I had the window, the aisle seat was occupied by a Russian lady, and in the middle seat was a woman somewhere around my age. The Russian woman turned out to not speak English. I kept leaning over to see if I could help, but the woman in the middle seemed to be making do with sign language and a little German. The flight attendants came around with food and the middle woman acted out "chicken," flopping her arms, and "beef," making little horns. It seemed like they were getting along fine.

Later, we had to fill out Customs sheets while still on the plane. It seemed like the woman in the middle was having trouble getting across "surname" or "nationality." I leaned over and asked which question they were stuck on, then starting translating it into Russian. "Oh, you speak Russian! That's handy." Then we both helped the Russian woman fill out the rest of the form. After that, we all got to know each other a little bit. The Russian woman was going to visit her daughter who had moved to the U.S. recently. The American woman in the middle worked in Germany and was going home for Thanksgiving. I talked a little bit about what I do in Russia. That all helped the time pass a little more quickly.

For the rest of the flight I slept on and off or just sat there. I didn't watch the movie or even get out a book. Every once in a while, we reminded each other of the time. Three hours left! Sigh.

Towards the end, I watched the plane's progress on the monitor. We were in a holding pattern and I watched the plane's path make loops on the screen. Finally, we landed.

Customs was gloriously easy. I think I had an officer who was in training, as they told him that if he got stuck, he could just turn his booth off and wait for help. He was pretty young and didn't ask me anything too intense.

Finally I got my bags and my parents were waiting. We got home around 6pm and I managed to stay up until 9pm.

Definitely a non-eventful trip. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Future of Missionaries in Russia-Part IV

I haven't written on this topic for a few months, but my perspective is definitely changing as rules come into effect. Last year it was "wait and see." Now we're seeing.

When we used to visit Russia back in the 90's, I remember people talking about Russia "closing again" someday. To missionary activity, at least. Get in while you can, they said.

Everything seemed calm for awhile. I'm always aware of things going on behind the scenes-churches being denied registration, having to pay fines, things like that. The occasional arrest of someone doing "illegal" missionary activity. But it hasn't affected me much.

And now, for the first time, the political situation is making me a little nervous. I can't even explain the feeling, but I sense something coming. Obama is going to be inaugurated about the time I will (hopefully) be entering Russia next, and I wonder what foreign relations will be like at that time. I guess it's the next "wait and see."

This is the first time I've had to leave because of the new 90-day visa laws. I might have gone home anyway in December, but it feels quite unpleasant to be leaving by force. I understand that in many countries (like the U.S.), laws are just as strict. Now I can put myself in the shoes of immigrants who've had to leave certain family members behind, or faced deportation. It's unsettling when the length of your visitation is dictated. Especially when that visitation doesn't feel like you're a guest anymore.

I'm trying to do everything by the rules, but they don't make it easy. It seemed to make sense to get a work visa, but it takes so long. I know that a lot of missionaries are choosing the "study" option, but I'm not sure if it's the right one for me. Maybe my Russian could use some polishing, but I don't devote a lot of time to studying it, so I don't know if that could be used as justification. And if I went to study some other subject... am I ready to be a full-time student again?

I know one missionary who got so frustrated with the visa situation that he's looking into getting temporary residence, which is a VERY complicated process. When you live in a place long-term, it makes sense that you have the proper documentation. But it helps to know what that proper documentation consists of. And the thing is, that most of the missionaries I'm acquainted with are fairly careful of their activity. That is, it's not even a question of carrying out a "religious" or "evangelistic" agenda. It's a question of foreigners being able to stay in Russia. Period.

Some activities go on as usual. Short-term teams come and go. But change is in the air.

And for me, change is a plane ride away. In 12 hours or less, I'll be sitting in the airport in Germany, waiting for my flight to the U.S.A.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The elusive Sabbath

I read an article recently that caused me to ponder anew-when is the Sabbath and how should I observe it?

I have two main thoughts about the Sabbath. The first is that it's a time to put life's worries aside and focus on the Lord and people I'm close to. The second is that it's an act of trust: I don't work on this day because it belongs to the Lord and I believe that He will provide.

There seems to be some confusion in modern-day life about whether the Sabbath is Saturday or Sunday or some other day. The Sabbath had always been Sunday for me. Whether I worked or studied, I tried to finish everything by Saturday night so that Sunday would be free. If I had exams or something and wasn't able to finish, I still tried to relax enough to have fellowship on Sunday and then rest a little before getting back to work.

That was in the past. Saturday recently became a very stressful day of the week for me. It was a marathon of cooking, cleaning, errands, preparing for church stuff on Sunday, preparing for teaching on Monday, and trying to catch up with e-mail correspondence. I began to resent Sundays because they "made me" work hard on Saturdays. And Sundays weren't exactly relaxing because I was so tired from Saturday that I could hardly hold my head up at church. Something seemed not quite right.

Then on a recent Saturday I was sick and was trying very hard to prepare Monday's lessons, but my head was just spinning and not generating any kind of coherent thoughts. I decided I was going to prepare exclusively for Sunday and forget about other work.

It felt like a great release to put everything else out of my mind and just get ready for Sunday. Of course, it meant that on Sunday afternoon I had to get back to work. But I felt more rested because I had taken it easy on Saturday.

Is the Sabbath supposed to be the last day, when you finally rest after working all week? Or is it the first day, when you rest as preparation for the next week? Or is it both?

I think that a lot of it depends on a person's individual work/study schedule for a particular period of life. But, as the Sabbath is meant to be "observed," fitting it in ought to be a priority when we are implementing a new schedule or considering which job to take.

I am left with questions, for now.

Devotion to Christ

So deeply did he love that any clouding of the Master's face was felt, and felt at once with anguish of heart...

It is the bride who mourns the absence of the bridegroom, not one who has been a stranger to His love.

(Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, p. 170)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Missionary Zeal

The word "zeal" used in the Bible can mean "fervent," but the literal meaning is to "be hot," even to "boil."

When you have that kind of faith, you can't sit still. As I read his biography, Hudson Tayler strikes me as someone who embodied zeal.

On the boat going over to China, he and his fellow missionaries pray day and night-not only for the Chinese, but for the shipmates. "Soul-winning" is always in their thoughts and hearts.

The book details the conversion of one of the shipmates.

"Had a special prayer-meeting for the conversion of Mr. Brunton is the entry in Mr.Taylor's journal for August 3.

And the following morning: Could not retire without seeing Mr.Brunton. Read to him at 12:30, when he came from his midnight watch, part of Mackintosh on Exodus xii. (the Passover). After much conversation and prayer, the Lord brought him into liberty."

In the own words of one of those present, more details on what happened:

By the first week in August, matters came to a climax, and it was felt that if he were to be saved it must be at once. He was wretched...it seemed a life and death question. The enemy was determined not to let him go, and the struggle was fearful. On the night of the 3rd his watch ended at twelve o'clock, Mr. Taylor went just after and had a long conversation with him, those who were up retiring to the stern-cabin for prayer. When Mr. Taylor came down and the answer had not yet been given, he and another continued in prayer till three o'clock. The Bible Class next day was turned into a prayer-meeting, another special meeting was called in the forenoon; and a third would have been held later, but bad weather prevented it. God, however, knew the longing of our hearts, and took the work into His own hands. Mr. Taylor again met Mr. Brunton at midnight, in his cabin; and while he was explaining to him the passage, 'When I see the blood, I will pass over you,' light broke! He saw the plan of salvation; peace and joy took possession of his heart; and he at once poured out his soul to God in praise and prayer-remembering us each one by name, all who were unsaved on board, and his own wife and children." (Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, pp.75-76)

How often do we really contend in prayer for specific people to be saved? How often do we look around as we're walking down the street, riding the bus, sitting in the waiting room...and think, here are people that need the Lord, in whose hearts a spiritual battle is raging even now? It sounds extreme, but when one gets to the point of boiling, perhaps it's hard to avoid extreme measures. At least, it should be that way.

I find it beautiful that the man's heart was convicted by the message of the Passover; by the blood of the Lamb. Yes, God's plan was revealed even then.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Doldrums and Answers

The snow has arrived. I'm glad to have a warm coat and boots to bundle up in. I feel disoriented in the mornings when I wake up and it is still dark.

I looked up some old blog entries from last year at this time to see how I was doing with the change in seasons. I didn't find a lot of references to weather, but a year ago was when we were just hearing about the new visa laws and wondering what effect they would have.

From an entry that I wrote about a year ago: 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.

My boss finally wrote and answered some of my questions. First of all, she's out of the country herself and waiting for a new visa so she can come back in and deal with some of these issues. Also, she can only give me about 2/3 of the pay from October because the company hasn't paid yet! And finally, she confirmed that, yes, unless there is some urgent need for me to come back and teach in early December, I should stay in the States until at least the beginning of January.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boring teacher stuff

I passed exams! I mean, my students did. I spent yesterday and this morning preparing for these sudden final tests that were supposed to have a spoken and written component. I made study guides and squeezed all of the grammar concepts we had covered into a few pages. I made the written test based on classroom/homework exercises, and chose some of the more conversational concepts for the speaking part.

I was printing out the last copy, just in time, and decided to check my email. My boss had finally gotten the opportunity to write from Latvia or wherever she is, getting her new visa. In fact, here were some tips on how to prepare exams, just as I was getting ready to walk out the door. At least her advice was pretty much in line with what I had planned.

She also said she was going to reschedule our teacher training. It doesn't really matter to me at this point, so I'm going to write back and politely remind her that I'm not going to be in the country for training if I don't figure out how to get a visa!

My students seemed sad that the course was ending and they said they hoped we would have another course soon. The managers will be looking at the budget this week to see if they're going to keep English. It would be nice to continue teaching there, as I've gotten used to it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Polite politics

Recently I encouraged some adult ESL students to talk about politics, but it was only for an exercise in "polite" arguing.

First, we reviewed some phrases that might be useful in discussion.

Me: "If you disagree with someone, how can you answer politely?"

Students: "I disagree."

Me: "But politely."

Students: "I'm sorry, I disagree."

Me: "What else can you say?"

Students: "In my opinion...."

Me: "Okay, but that's about me, me, me."

Students: "I think....?"

Me: "Still about me. How can you show the other person you were listening?"

Students: "What?"

Me: "How...can...you...show...someone...you...are...listening?"

The students were stumped. I gave them the phrases "I understand what you're saying, but...," "Good point, but I'm not sure that I agree with you, " etc. As well as clarification questions.

Meanwhile, we tackled the question about how long a president's term should be. One student said 4, the other said 6.

Russia's presidential limit is being extended to two 6-yr terms. Imagine having the same president for 12 years!

The student in favor of a longer term said that 4 years is a very short amount of time to learn how to run a country. She also argued that in "most" countries the presidents serve for two terms anyway, so why not make it long to begin with?

The student in favor of a shorter term said that 6 years is a long time to be stuck with someone if you don't like him from the very beginning.

They both admitted to not knowing much about politics but agreed that it's important to keep up with current events.

That was about as far as we got. We're still at the pre to mid intermediate level. ;)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Russian/American Medicine

I was still lying in bed under a pile of pillows a few mornings ago. Zhenya came in and asked if I wanted some honey mixed with jam (to help me feel better).

"Sure," I said. I dragged myself into the kitchen when it was ready. She put a bowl of something in front of me and even through my clogged nostrils I could smell something strong.

"What's in this?" I asked.

"What do you think?" she replied.


"Yep. And honey, jam, and lemon."

"Interesting." I decided to eat it since when I'm sick I'm pretty much ready to try anything. Maybe I could even convince myself to start liking liver.

After breakfast...

Zhenya: "When you're ill, you must wash all dishes with soap."
Me: "What?"
Zhenya: (same thing)
Me: "Ummm...I always wash dishes with soap. You're supposed to do that BEFORE you get sick, as a preventative, not AFTER."
Zhenya: "I usually just use soap if it's really greasy."
Me: "Oh."

I'm on the road to recovery...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An early end

I found out earlier this week that the classes I've been teaching are over at the end of 2008. That leaves me less than two weeks before my visa trip, and then a few more weeks in December.

Then I got another message yesterday from our secretary with a list of requests. Keep in mind, today is Thursday:

"[Company where I teach] emailed me yesterday and they said that our planned hours with them run out this week.

They are asking you to please prepare an evaluation test for their students, which should include writing and speaking.

They want their test this Friday (November 14).

I emailed them back and said that it's more likely that the test will be ready only for Monday (November 17) due to this short notice on their part."

So my classes are, in effect, over already. I'm fairly surprised as they hadn't said anything to me about it and I still had several topics planned. And I hadn't talked to my students about it at all. So it seems a little sudden.

At least I won't have to find anyone to cover for me when I'm out of the country.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Laughing and coughing

I had fun at the orphanage yesterday. It was Mary's last day and she had brought some treats. I decided it would be a good day to do a little etiquette lesson so the kids could earn their treats. :) They know "please," "thank you," and "give me," but they don't know complete, polite sentences. So we practiced, "May I have...?", "Here you go," "Thank you," and "You're welcome" in the proper order.

Other than "Thank you," the other three phrases can be represented by one word in Russian. The kids just wanted to say "please" all the time, so we had to practice several times to get them used to using "here you go" and "you're welcome" as well. It was fine, though. I think the counselor was even impressed because they were speaking and learning something useful.

The group gave Mary a craft they had made, and they all signed it and wrote their address.

Today I woke up with a cold, and I was glad I had a busy day so I wouldn't have to think about it. My lessons all went pretty well. I was regretting having planned listening activities since I was losing my voice, but I think it was good practice for the students to fine-tune their listening skills.

My beginners made me laugh today. One middle-aged woman has trouble keeping up with her younger colleague, but she really tries. I don't laugh at her mistakes, but sometimes she laughs at herself and then I laugh too. Today she said something weird like "play the bills" instead of "pay the bills." I was just going to correct her when she was finished with the sentence, but the girl next to her was already giggling, and pretty soon we were all laughing until we were crying. It was good comic relief.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Real life

So what's going on amidst reading and movie screenings?

Yesterday: Prepared 9 lesson plans, taught 4 of them.
Today: Prayer meeting, orphanage, Bible study.
Tomorrow: Teach 6 lessons.


In other news, my visa is already reaching its end. I'm going back to the States in a few weeks. These 3-month visas are so strange!

I don't know yet how I'm going to get back in. No news on the new visa.

I also found out yesterday that our contract at the company where I'm teaching is up at the end of 2008. So where am I going to teach after that? Hmmmm. My momentum suddenly took a nose-dive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Seeking blessings

I recently got reacquainted with the movie, "Fiddler on the Roof." I hadn't seen it for a long time, at least not since I was old enough to understand what was going on. I did see the play about 5 years ago, I think. But my memory of that is blurred as well.

There are many powerful moments in the movie, but towards the end (or at least into the third hour), one scene stood out to me.

Daughter Hodel and her fiance approach her father and ask for his congratulations on their engagement. He protests the engagement, but they reply, "We are not asking for your permission. Only for your blessing. We are going to get married."

You can feel Tevye's shock and disappointment as his fatherly role is challenged. Of course it is the matchmaker's task to make a match, but the daughter's hand still belongs to her father. This should have been his moment to shine and make the decision that he had the right to make for each of his daughters. But instead, he is offered only the opportunity to bless a decision that had already been made.

But at that moment, I thought, isn't that how we approach God sometimes? "Lord, bless me." We want Him to bless our plans that we have made without consulting His guidance. We want Him to purify us though we haven't yet confessed our sin. We want Him to fix our mistakes that we made because we went wandering about the world without His counsel. We hurry along, thinking how independent we are. And then we come timidly back with a supplication. "Lord, could you help me out a little here?"

And He is merciful.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The inconquerable work

I have been trying for about the past 2 years to read Augustine's "Confessions." That doesn't mean I don't like it. Some of the best works are best read a bit at a time and savored. Sometimes I take that approach to reading the Bible. ;)

But I don't know why Augustine is such a struggle. I open a chapter, start reading, and the topic seems interesting, the words compelling...yet I can only manage about a page (if that) before I either get totally lost or fall asleep.

Maybe part of the problem is the translation. Though Latin, by definition, is made up of complex sentences in which you forget the beginning by the time you get to the end. In my opinion. It would be hard to preserve that in another language.

I can't remember how the topic came up, but I was explaining this problem to my roommate. I brought in "Confessions" to show her, and she began to read out loud. She's a non-native speaker, I might add. And as she read, I suddenly began to understand what the text was about. She put the pauses and emphases in all the right places, so that it sounded like someone telling a long story to someone else (which is the point of "Confessions," the author telling a long story about his own life). I was amazed.

So maybe the key to "Confessions" is to read it out loud. Or to listen to someone else. I made a prediction that all available recordings are probably done in a stuffy British accent (no offense to anyone British, but for some reason the languages of the Ancients are often dramatized with the help of a British accent). So far this prediction has rung true in the samples I've found online.

I haven't found a full version online, except for an offer that expired in August. I'm not sure if I want to download a whole book, but I thought I might be able to find it in parts or a streaming version like they have for the Bible. Any ideas?

Friday, November 7, 2008


There must be thousands of commentaries written on Paul's struggle in 2 Cor. 12:7. I'm not motivated to read them because I don't want my impression to be tainted. But it's clear that many have meditated on this passage throughout the centuries. "Thorn in the flesh" even has its own Wikipedia entry, and variations of the phrase are widely used in the English language to denote a persistent trial.

I opened my Bible to refresh my memory about this incident and to see if there was anything I could apply. I was surprised to read about Paul praying only 3 times. Maybe it is figurative, who knows. But it seems like very little. I think that after 3 times I would keep trying. I don't know if I would have heard God's voice or recognized it as an answer.

I wonder which is better: to keep hoping for deliverance or to accept a condition and move on. Sometimes it seems like people who adapt to life with constant difficulties (physical or otherwise) are more content than those who continue to wait for a miracle. Certainly this is true if the person is completely consumed by his/her waiting. When all emotions and energy are devoted to a specific problem, even if it is time spent in prayer, life can pass you by. Yet, if the problem is debilitating, adapting is not so easy.

As for God's answer to Paul, His power is always made perfect in weakness. And we can always give thanks that He is using our weak bodies as vessels. But does it count as an answer to prayer if God is simply revealing His character, but not giving instructions? Was Paul to regard this answer as a sign for that particular moment, or for the rest of his life?

I have never identified easily with Paul and I haven't envied his life. But I do envy his intimacy with God; his ability to hear God's voice and discern His will.

I am glad the passage is confusing. Imagine if there were more of an explanation. Christian bookstores would be overflowing with "self-help" commentaries on the topic. The key to seeing prayer answered would be to pray the magic words 3 times, turn around in a circle, etc. And if we knew exactly what the "thorn" was, we might limit the application, instead of being able to apply the passage to weaknesses in general.

I am also glad the passage is confusing because I don't find the answer in a human resource. I have to go to the Source. I have to pray about things until I hear an answer. I have to seek God so that I hear when He answers.

Sometimes I'm afraid that the answer will be right in front of my face and I'll miss it because I'm not tuned in to God. Sometimes He tells me gently and patiently, but I don't listen, and understand the answer only through painful (but helpful) discipline.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


It's school vacation week. It doesn't affect life that much, but the kids from the orphanages have been parceled out to different locations: some to camp, some to relatives. And a few are still in the orphanage.

I wanted to do something fun with the remaining kids, like we had done in the past. I'm working with a different counselor now though, so when I suggested going into the city for bowling or a movie, she didn't seem very enthusiastic. "I'll only have two kids here," she said. "The rest of them are going to relatives." I thought that was all the more reason to help the remaining kids have a fun vacation. Then the counselor suggested that we go to the movie theater near the orphanage, so I agreed. I wasn't sure it would be the fun excursion that I envisioned, but better than nothing. Maybe the counselor just didn't want to go to the trouble of getting permission to take the kids out and make the trip to the city.

On the day I was supposed to go, the counselor called and said, "I've only got two kids here. You don't have to come, you can have a day off. It's your choice. " Hmmm. Now what did that mean? I was already dressed. Did she mean she felt sorry for me and wanted me to rest? Or that the kids didn't want me to come? It was so tempting to stay home, and not go anywhere, and not have to deal with the depressing atmosphere of the orphanage. But I could picture the faces of lonely (or at least bored) children in my head. Maybe they were content to lie around and watch tv, but surely that would get old. I changed my mind several times and then decided to go. I grabbed Uno, Phase 10, Yahtzee, and Set. I also grabbed an English textbook in case anyone was feeling ambitious.

As I walked into the orphanage, I decided that I would spend time with the first lonely child I encountered. I stopped by the floor we usually visit. No first-graders came running. It would have been easy enough to play with the little ones, but they didn't seem to be around. The group that I had wanted to take to the movies also didn't seem to be around. I headed up to the next floor. On the way there, I met Roma. "Are you here for a lesson?" he asked. "No, I just brought some games," I said. "Okay, let's play."

Roma is the most friendly and the most difficult. He is sweet and helpful one moment and the next he is swearing profusely and laughing in my face. I managed to put off Uno and try to teach him Phase 10. But his attention span wasn't quite long enough and he eyed the Uno cards. Then some other boys came and joined us. I remembered why I hate playing Uno in the orphanage: All the American (Australian, etc.) teams that come teach different rules. There's Killer Uno, Crazy Uno, etc. I am really strict about card game rules and refuse to play if there's a rule dispute. Here the kids had learned new rules, like if there's a zero you switch hands or if you play a certain number, you can lay down all your cards with that number at the same time. I didn't want to play with those rules. I wanted to play with the classic rules, which were written on paper.

Roma went into a frenzy of playing numerous illegal combinations of cards and then shouting "It's my turn! It's my turn again!" When I protested, he swore at me, or spoke in some kind of "tongue" he had made up. He was either mocking me by pretending to speak English, or pretending to speak Russian so it would seem like I didn't know Russian. The other boys laughed.

Roma, however, is a success story when it comes to English. He remembers everything that was taught and also memorizes what I say, and then puts together sentences. I only taught his group for one year last year and that was infrequent. He doesn't have English in school, but somehow he converses.

At one point, a counselor came in to check on the kids. I wondered what she would think of my cards and dice. I waited for her to yell an instruction to me or the kids, but at that moment, Roma said something to me in English. A smile broke across the counselor's face. She seemed satisfied and left the room. I guess it looked like I was doing something educational.

After I confiscated the Uno cards, I managed to convince Roma and another boy to try Yahtzee, and we played a full round. Then it was time to leave. I walked by a room of boys, glued to a computer game. The corridors were quiet and empty as I left.

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...