Thursday, October 30, 2008

On a positive note

The umbrella is an excellent invention.

What happened to Wednesday?

Today I woke up and thought, "I really need to ask the Lord for energy today!" Then I wondered what day it was. How could it be Thursday already? What happened to "Worrisome Wednesday"? Yesterday among my prayer requests there was nothing about motivation. Strange! I think that I was too busy yesterday to think about whether or not I was motivated enough. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. I suppose a day without lethargy, especially in the dreary days of fall, is a triumph.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Orphanage update

Whenever I visit a certain orphanage, I feel like I'm going into a battlezone. Yesterday I prayed throughout the day before going there and Mary said she had asked various people to pray as well.

Lately I've had this feeling that I've been doing everything poorly. Quantity without quality. I just barely get everything done but all I can think of is how I should have done it better.

I wanted to prepare well for the orphanage visit, but the classroom situation is so unpredictable. The kids' mood can be thrown off by the smallest thing. At the last lesson, the counselor had yelled at them for not taking the lesson seriously enough, and she snapped, "You're not going to play any more games in English class! It's going to be just like a school lesson! You'll sit and repeat words after the teacher and write in your notebooks!"

You can probably guess how the lesson went after that introduction. Things were complicated further by the fact that the first graders adoringly follow us into the classroom, and that angers the older kids. First graders...fourth graders...a slight difference. There was one little 7-yr-old I hadn't seen before. "She's the worst," the older kids whispered. Little Katya grinned up at me innocently with her pigtails bouncing. And was in a fistfight soon after. At one point during the lesson she was lying on the floor, and towards the end she was in the hallway screaming and crying (the counselor took care of it at that point).

Meanwhile, I tried to split the remaining kids into two teams to play charades with the new vocabulary. Games are fun, right? Well, unfortunately I couldn't split them into teams. It involved a complicated sort of mathematics: No older kids want to be with younger kids, girls don't want to be with boys, and a certain trio of girls doesn't like to be split up. It was hopeless.

So I had prayerfully gotten ready for yesterday's lesson, wondering what could possibly happen to make the lessons go better. When we got there, the kids were getting ready to go to the museum and couldn't have an English lesson. They invited us along. On the way there, they were suddenly sweet, and very eager to learn English. They pointed at everything, wondering what it was called.

I stood hugging some kids while the elderly museum curator gave us a tour. Somehow I always feel guilty snuggling with one child; I can feel the others all analyzing. Sometimes all I want to do with the children is wipe their tears, listen to what they want to say, and teach them something useful.

But I can only be there for a few hours each week. And I despair as they grow older and unreachable and any help feels like it's too late and too little. But even if I could be there all the time, it wouldn't be enough. It's hard enough just to love one child in normal circumstances. I'm not meant to be the savior of a whole orphanage. Only the Father's love is sufficient to save. And it's not too late for Him to help. So I have to just keep praying and hoping that He will reach His hand down into the miry depths and grasp the small fingers and pull them up out of the darkness.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wonderful love

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!-

1 John 3:1 (Read more)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Learning from kids

It was the end of a 3-part Sunday school series. First we weren’t clean enough to come before God (Moses and his dirty sandals), then Jesus became the bridge, then we received a gift that we hadn’t earned ourselves. It sounds funny described that way, but those were the main points given in that book I’m not so crazy about.

After going over the third part, we reviewed the whole unit. Then we learned the verse, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” –Eph. 2:8,9.

After that, the kids had a drawing assignment. They were supposed to draw the true path to God. I had drawn some false paths on the paper with works, money, etc. At the previous lesson we had talked about Jesus being “the Way” and at this lesson we had talked about salvation coming through faith, so I expected the answer to include those concepts, although I wasn’t sure exactly how the kids would draw them. I made the drawing assignment challenging on purpose because I wanted to make them think, not just regurgitate what they had heard. They’re smart kids, and I know they can memorize anything, but can they apply it?

When I went around monitoring, some of the kids didn’t recognize the other paths as false. It seemed that they were confused about what kind of things please God, such as good behavior, and what agent actually opens the way to fellowship with God. Some of the older kids were already drawing, and I saw a pattern. I don’t know if one started and the others copied, but almost all of the drawings had a cross, a church, a Bible, and a person praying. They had drawn what to them represented Christianity. It seemed like they had answered the question, “What should Christians do?” Go to church, read the Bible, pray. We hadn't talked about those things at all during the lesson. All I had been looking for in the answer was the cross. But maybe they were simply drawing what to them was the manifestation of having faith.

Ironically, the Adult Sunday school lesson also dealt with grace. It seems to be the eternal question!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A sidenote

My posts have been sparser lately not because of a lack of time or material, but because of a lack of purpose.

‘Meaningless! Meaningless!'
says the Teacher.
'Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.' (Eccl.1:2/NIV)

Lately I have started many posts and then refrained from publishing them. They didn’t seem edifying enough: too depressing/cynical or just plain stupid. It seemed like every topic I started writing about was pointless.

I do this with speech, too: if I feel strongly about something, I wait a few days before verbalizing it; make sure it wasn’t just a certain mood. And many times when I return to it, it doesn’t seem worth the time.

This blog is about “Life in St.Petersburg,” but sometimes life is just life. Nothing glamorous to find here.

Blogging is not a vice for me, and I don’t feel a need to quit or fast, but I do stop to reevaluate the content sometimes.

Right now a lot of things are “pending.” I can’t put a check-mark or report about them just yet, but I intend to keep publishing updates here.

Stay tuned…

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October skies

This is what the sky looked like at 9 am yesterday.

Pretty, but doesn't really entice me to go outside and begin my day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Worrisome Wednesdays

Today was my first Wednesday without a headache! Hurrah. The last few Wednesdays I have had bad ones and I’m wondering if it had something to do with the Tuesday commute. Last week it took me 3 hours to get home! Yesterday, Mary and I decided to try taking the train instead of the bus, and it was a lot smoother. No traffic jams and plenty of seats! And I only got yelled at once; that was for going to the wrong ticket counter (she yelled at me as she took my money and tore off the ticket; apparently it wasn't such a big problem).

I have another problem with Wednesdays, though: apathy. I really didn't want to get out of bed this morning. When I did, I looked in my prayer journal and saw that the one prayer request from last Wednesday was: "motivation."

Hmmm. So what is going on here? Is it a midweek thing or a long-term case of lethargy? I decided to investigate a little further. On several Saturdays in a row I had written "diligence" or "discipline." Then on Sundays and Mondays I often wrote "energy." Apparently, each day of the week has its own trials!

Tomorrow is Thursday. I skipped several Thursdays; apparently I either didn't pray that day or couldn't think of anything to write down.

The conclusion is that I have no conclusion. But despite the ongoing struggles that keep finding their way into my prayer journal, God has answered a lot of specific prayers this week: for my documents (at least on my end), for no more headaches, and for a friend to successfully deliver her baby.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Russia and The Rock

Some missionaries are criticized for giving up and leaving. Others are asked, “Why are you still here?” Both are legitimate causes for concern. In some ways I am glad that Russia is getting stricter about foreigners; it makes it clearer who should stay and who should go. But the Lord helps me overcome obstacles to living here. When I pray for guidance, I pray, “I need a sign bigger than finances. And I need a sign bigger than visa laws.” Because God is bigger and if it's His will He can make any problem melt away. I don’t have a family to care for, I don’t have a house, and I don’t have a specific “program” that I’m tied to, so my decisions are not dependent on those factors. As for health problems or family emergencies, I would rather not think about those. I have committed them to the Lord.

When I first visited Russia, it was 1996. A time of turmoil. But even now, a lot of Russians live in a state of instability. That is not meant to be a criticism, it is just something the Lord put on my heart. I see people struggling with daily questions: When will my rent go up again? Where will I live if I can’t afford it? When will I receive my salary? How much will the pension be when I retire? How will I get to work if the metro station is closed and I don’t have money for the bus? That’s not even mentioning the orphans and all of their uncertainties.

Is my life so stable? Is U.S. culture so superior? Americans face just as many uncertainties. Maybe they are hidden, but they are there. Or perhaps, their confidence is based on the wrong kind of stability. I wish that people from other lands would go and tell them that and help them see where to put their trust. There are unreached people in the world, but there are other lost ones who could use a fresh perspective.

Meanwhile, what do I have to offer? The only thing I have is a solid foundation.

The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. -Matthew 7:25

At camp this year we sang, “Jesus is the Rock and He rolls my blues away.” But in Russian it goes, “Jesus is my Rock, and I will build my house on Him.” I always had a little trouble taking that song seriously because it reminded me of Rock n Roll (bop shoo bop shoo bop WHOO!). But I like the Russian words better. And I hope that the children received the message that we were singing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hymn #11

In the apartment where I’m currently staying, there is an old upright piano. I've missed my piano! Sometimes I sit down and play for an hour or two. The girl who lives here has a Russian language hymnal, and I discovered that many of the songs that are translated include the original title and text. So I have been rediscovering some old favorites. I had to laugh though because they had translated “America the Beautiful” into Russian.

I found one hymn that I don’t actually remember singing much in childhood, but for some reason it sticks with me. I remember hearing it on tv while watching President Reagan’s funeral. But I don’t really associate it with death; even if it is a glimpse of future glory, I associate it with Jesus daily calling us to Himself.

Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling by Will L. Thompson

1) Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

2) Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?

3) Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.

4) O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

In search of taboos

My beginner students requested conversation etiquette, so I decided to teach a class on appropriate/inappropriate conversation topics. We had done this in Russian class, but I don’t know where my textbook is that had that lesson, so I had to make my own.

Of course I was speaking from an American point of view, but if they have to speak with British partners, they will certainly need to be mindful of conversation topics. I’m not sure about Italians, who visit the company often.

There are certain topics I listed that are considered too personal in American culture, but that aren’t as rude in Russian culture:

-asking a woman’s age
-commenting on someone’s weight (I’ve been told that I’ve lost weight as well as gained weight. Thanks for telling me, I hadn’t noticed)
-asking someone how much he/she earns or how much he/she pays for rent
-complaining about something/offering your opinion or advice if you haven’t been asked

Unfortunately I only had one student, so the discussion wasn’t quite as lively as I had envisioned! She said that the above topics wouldn’t be appropriate in a business relationship, but were okay between friends. She also said that you can talk about anything in the kitchen.:)

We also mentioned religion and politics as topics to be careful with. As for taboos, the only one she could think of was talking about death.

It is only now that I’m realizing that apart from conversation topics, there are a lot of non-verbal customs in Russia. Perhaps that should be my next lesson, although I can’t think of many for the U.S... Shaking hands? Personal space? Putting your napkin on your lap?

Russian taboos are strongly tied to superstition. The explanation behind most of these traditions is: “It’s bad luck.”

-not whistling indoors (Russian reason: you’ll lose money. U.S. reason: it’s annoying)
-taking your shoes off indoors (Russian reason: something about icons. U.S. reason: you’ll get your host’s floor dirty)
-not sitting on cold surfaces if you’re a woman (Russian reason: something about health and fertility. U.S. reason: ?? we don’t care??)
-not giving baby presents before the baby is born (Russian reason: it’s bad luck. U.S.: taboo doesn’t exist, we love baby showers!)
-not congratulating someone before his birthday (Russian reason: it’s bad luck. U.S.: celebrate whenever you see the person, on the day closest to his birthday)
-number of flowers you give to someone (Russian: must be odd. U.S.: ?? how does this relate to anything? 1 dozen roses will cheer anyone up!)
-response when someone sneezes (Russian: Be healthy! How does that help anything? As if the person can control his/her health. If he’s sneezing, it’s probably too late. U.S.: God Bless You. Is it superstitious or sincere? At least it will help if the person is already sick!)
-knocking on wood whenever you say something that you hope will either continue to be true or come true in the future (Russian: deafen the gods so they don’t hear and ruin everything for you. U.S.: “Knock on wood” said in passing, but not strictly enforced)

I try to adhere to the customs in public so as not to draw attention to myself, but with friends I am less cooperative. Why should I encourage superstition? It’s silly. Why should I avoid cold surfaces if my feet hurt and I need to sit down (here the Russians offer a newspaper or plastic bag to provide insulation, no thank you!)? I need logic!

Just as in the U.S., times are changing and Russians are superstitious in varying amounts. But, it is still a major part of the culture.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ups and downs

Time for the work update. That is, Business English. About a week ago, my boss sent me a list of paperwork that I had to have ready within a week. I think it’s related to my work permit. Needless to say I was not thrilled about this assignment. I had plans for every minute of the next few days. But I suppose there’s never a convenient time to do paperwork.

Lo and behold, when I finally attacked it a few days ago, the paperwork actually ended up being….easy? First of all, I didn’t have to fill out any forms. That’s a task that normally reduces me to tears. I’m sure a few of you out there have been witnesses. I initially didn’t know where to go for the documents, but once I got the address from someone, I arrived, and there wasn’t even a line. They knew exactly what I needed since they daily process documents for non-Russian citizens who need work permits.

The next day, I returned to pick up the documents and get my photo taken, which was also really quick and painless. The photos came out decent except that one of my earrings was turned, so it looks like I only have one. Oh well. As I was leaving, I found a bakery with lots of tasty things for lunch before going to work. Perfect!

On the teaching front, it’s been so-so. For one thing, I got a bit burned-out with the lesson plans. Also, I remember how the lessons used to fly by during the first few weeks. Now, they drag a little bit and I race out of there.

I’m getting to know my students better and we had some helpful discussions about what topics they would like to study. Although I asked them the same thing on the first day of class, communication wasn’t exactly smooth since we didn’t know each other. This time they were more receptive.

After getting some ideas from them, I was newly inspired. But the next day, only one of the beginners came to class. That was a little disappointing since I had tried to plan some really interesting conversation exercises, according to what they had requested. The lone student and I went through the material really quickly since it was just the two of us. We even went though the assignment I was going to give for homework, and then I had to improvise.

On the one hand, I understand that they have a lot of work. But on the other hand, if you want to study a foreign language, you have to come to class. It’s not like some other class where you can get the notes from someone else.

I have one tutorial that meets 3 times a week, more than the other classes. She is pretty faithful about attendance and homework, although she is sometimes late or gets called away for work. I honestly admire her because she is a single mother and works in a highly demanding job and is also trying hard to learn another language. Today she asked me, “Am I making progress?” Well, how was I supposed to answer that? It’s not that easy to make an impromptu evaluation, plus I obviously wasn’t going to say “No.” I said “Yes, you are getting better.” And that is the truth, because she does remember the concepts that we’ve covered in class, even though it’s hard to assess her general progress over the last month. I made a mistake the first week with her because I used Russian sometimes and lately I noticed that she was using Russian too much and waiting for the translation. So I have been trying to be firmer about using English most of the time.

“I used to use Russian more with you,” she said. “But now I use English. And I like using English now, even making phone calls.” Hooray!

When I was reflecting on the paperwork process, and other daily challenges, I realized that I sometimes expect the worst. But I don’t think I’m a pessimist. In general I expect good outcomes, I just expect there to be challenges along the way. I think that imagining possible challenges is my way of letting go and putting everything in God’s hands. I acknowledge that the result I expected might actually be very different. I prepare myself for disappointment. And God’s provision, though faithful, is often surprising.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two readings

Yesterday I opened up Oswald Chambers to see if the day’s reading was anything useful. I had to laugh when I read the title.

The Key to the Missionary’s Work*

That sounds pretty good, right? I don’t have to look for answers any further. Here it comes…

"All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." Matthew 28:18-20

The basis of missionary appeals is the authority of Jesus Christ, not the needs of the heathen. We are apt to look upon Our Lord as One Who assists us in our enterprises for God. Our Lord puts Himself as the absolute sovereign supreme Lord over His disciples. He does not say the heathen will be lost if we do not go; He simply says - "Go ye therefore and teach all nations..."

Hmmm. That all sounds very nice on paper, but what does it actually mean? Is it wrong if the first (or last) images that cross my mind are of people in need, and not of the cross? What if people don't seem interested in the Gospel? Should I ignore their needs and look for people who are more "receptive"?

I decided to give Chambers another try today.

The Key to the Missionary’s Message

The key to the missionary message is the propitiation of Christ Jesus. Take any phase of Christ's work - the healing phase, the saving and sanctifying phase; there is nothing limitless about those. "The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world! " - that is limitless. The missionary message is the limitless significance of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and a missionary is one who is soaked in that revelation.

...It is easier to belong to a coterie which tells what Jesus Christ has done for me, easier to become a devotee to Divine healing, or to a special type of sanctification, or to the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Paul did not say - "Woe is unto me, if I do not preach what Christ has done for me," but - "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel." This is the Gospel - "The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"

This is a fairly provocative message, if I understand it correctly. Many times when limited in missionary activity we are encouraged to simply tell our personal stories of what Jesus has done. They can make a law against preaching, but they can’t make a law against telling about your own life.

But is it worth it to give your testimony without the full gospel? Is it worth it to tell about Jesus without saying, “He died for you too”?

*Note: although the titles are from an updated edition which I happened to be reading, the article excerpts themselves are from the original, with older English (it's the only version I could find on the Internet). Excerpts are from Oct.14 and 15 readings.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Holy ground

At Sunday school today we had 15 children ranging from almost 2 to 13. The “Focus on the Family” curriculum we are using goes through different themes like “Jesus paid the price.” And the one we’re in now is something about faith; I forget the exact description. I don’t like the book we’re using very much. It seems to take a theme and try to fit a verse into that theme rather than looking at a larger passage of Scripture. It does have interesting illustrations, though.

This time we had a little trail on the floor sprinkled with potato starch. Each person had to try to walk along the trail and get to the end without getting powder all over their shoes and leaving footprints. All the kids tried, it from the smallest to the biggest. And no one could do it without leaving a footprint. It was humanly impossible.

Next, we had a dramatization of Moses taking his sandals off before the Lord’s presence in the burning bush. I think the kids had a little trouble making the jump from a trail of white powder to Moses taking off his sandals to our own clean (or dirty) hearts. But they seemed to get it in the end. Somehow it will all tie in with faith next week.

When I was in college, I was praying one time and saw a vision of someone (myself?) walking around with gum on his shoe. Once he stepped in it, it went around with him everywhere, and trying to clean it off did no good. As he walked in different places, he kept leaving a little bit of the stickiness behind.

No matter our age or level of knowledge, we’ve all felt the burden of sin. It follows us around everywhere. Maybe no one else knows about it, but we know it’s there, and the Lord certainly does, too. Just like we wouldn’t walk into a palace with bubblegum on our shoes, it feels shameful to come before the Lord or to His House with sin in our lives. Just as Moses fell to his feet in the Lord’s presence, so a glimpse of the Lord’s holiness shows us our tainted our lives really are. Next to the aroma of His presence, our lives give off a horrible stench.

We told the kids that they would have to wait until next week for the rest of the story. “Repent, repent,” the older ones whispered, and the younger ones copied them. I guess they know where our stories usually lead...

Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
-2 Cor.7:1

Friday, October 10, 2008

Missionary work

When I teach countable and non-countable nouns to my ESL students, I often use “work” and “job” as an example. Work is something you do; a job is something you have. You can do work without having a job. As a missionary, it’s very confusing when people ask me if I’ve “worked” on a particular day. I don’t necessarily differentiate between work, ministry, and the rest of life. In the past, people would be surprised if I was busy and said that I was working. “What, you have a job now?” Would you ask a wife and mother whether or not she works?

Because of this confusion, I am going to talk about missionaries and jobs in this post. That is, I will talk about missionaries holding paid positions other than church-based ministry funded by their home churches.

So should missionaries have jobs or not? What about this model of missionaries doing fund-raising, finding regular sponsors, and then going out into the field, fully supported by people back home? Is it Biblical? Is it effective? To some, it seems like the holiest thing to do: deny a regular salary and rely completely on the Lord. To others, it seems lazy to not do anything "with one’s own hands."

I am not going to talk about what is “right” or “wrong,” but I have some ideas about why people do things the way they do. Note that my observations are mainly of American missionaries.

Some reasons why American missionaries often prefer a “support-based” ministry lifestyle:

1) Spiritual reasons: it’s a step of faith. Have you ever read in a missionary biography how God took care of everything right down to the last penny, at exactly the right time? God takes care of those who are serving him. Paul even says that they have a right to be paid for their labor for the Lord, and I see nothing wrong with this if it is approached with the right attitude. 13Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor.9)

2) Cultural work background: It can be difficult to develop competitive skills to work in an everyday job in another culture. In order to have marketable skills, a missionary must a) have superior skills in a trade AND speak the language, or b) be able to do something that the natives aren’t. Note that I’m talking about working legally, not simply joining a construction site or starting one’s own business without proper documentation.

In general the “job search” is taken fairly seriously in the U.S. People receive educations that will help them in a job, but people do not usually learn a trade in order to do business. For example, I’m trained in art and music, but I don't know how to make a living off either one. Skills are not as easily transferable across cultures as at the time of the first missionaries. You can't just arrive and do things the way you have always done them.

3) Time commitment: A missionary’s job description can vary, but in general his/her ministry is considered a full-time job, and he/she is being held accountable by the sending organization to be completely devoted to the tasks that he/she was commissioned to do.

4) Effectiveness: Missionaries are often less effective and have less energy doing a job than indigenous people, because it takes so much energy performing everyday tasks in another culture. This is true at least for the early stages, and may change if/when assimilation occurs.

5) The nature of the task: Missionaries are often called to tasks for which they do not expect to be paid by the people whom they serve. This includes medical work, church planting, and translation work, to name a few. To take on another job would mean a doctor would treat less people in a day, or that the translation would take longer. Receiving financial support means that the missionaries’ appointed tasks can receive their full attention. It also means that they can serve people who aren’t able to pay and otherwise would miss out on such services.

6) Legal reasons: It can be difficult for missionaries to get work permits in other countries. The American attitude is fairly strict towards the paying of taxes and other business ethics (in my opinion), so to take on a paid position is not a light matter, and the difference in legal status that a job offers has to be considered. A lot of Russian organizations simply do not have the right registration to be able to hire a foreigner under the right legal covering. Therefore, choices are limited.

And here are some reasons I’ve seen as to why it can be beneficial for a missionary to have a job:

1) Witness: How the missionary is perceived in the indigenous culture. Charity work is not always interpreted positively. In the U.S., non-profit work is perfectly acceptable even among non-Christians. But abroad it is not always recognized as a legitimate form of work. It’s great if you help someone in your free time, but people can be suspicious if you do it all time and receive money from mysterious “sponsors” in another country. People can sometimes relate better if you have a job that is similar to theirs.

2) Financial needs: Although I don’t think it costs that much to support a missionary, there are plenty of reasons why missionaries have financial problems. Therefore it sometimes is wise to have a steady source of income, especially if a person has a family or a team of people who are dependent on him.

3) Spiritual reasons: Living on the same salary as indigenous people can be as much a step of faith as counting on money from sponsors back home. In addition, a person may feel convicted to not be a burden to anyone. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is prompting him or her to not receive financial help, in order to keep motives pure, as Paul experienced. 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. (1 Cor.9)

4) Having a job can help a person to avoid sloth and other vices. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, but a missionary’s schedule can be very loose, and for some it may cause bad stewardship of time and other resources. I don’t believe that keeping a child busy is the best approach to discipline. He should be taught how to make decisions, including what to do with free time. In the same way, having every minute of one’s day planned may not be the best way to discipline oneself, but having a job can add a needed measure of structure for someone easily distracted.

In my experience, the decision was made for me. The Russian authorities passed a law, and a charity visa would no longer allow me to live in Russia full-time. So I got a job.

I used to feel guilty sometimes about having “spare time.” Although my days were fairly full, there was a lot of time spent simply in fellowship with people, and this was different from having a “9-5” job. If I had a day off, I felt that I was being inadequate. On the other hand, I remember having time to do things like pray more, read, study various topics, play musical instruments, cook dinner for guests, etc. It wasn’t that time was wasted, it was just hard to measure what I had accomplished.

Now, I can’t see people as often. Lately, I have heard myself saying “I can’t, I have to work.” I can count my hours and follow my schedule, but is it as fulfilling as what I did before?

I feel at peace about where I am right now. It’s a new phase. I have a job which gives me legal status, but I’m also able to continue visiting orphanages and church meetings. God has really answered my prayers in that regard, and I am content with that.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mistaken identity

For those of you who don't know, I have a sister named Emily. We're 6 years apart and don't look that much alike (in our opinion), but people mix up our names sometimes. In school I even had a teacher who gave me a dollar each time she did it, because she felt so guilty!

What I find amusing though is when people who don't know I have a sister call me Emily. Sometimes I respond to Emily even when it's not directed at me (and in Russia I now respond to "Lida" as well as any Russian or English variation of Elizabeth).

Anyway, I applied to an MA program a few years ago and got rejected because I didn't have 1) 2 yrs' "job experience" or 2) a TESOL certificate.

Now I have the certificate, but I don't know if I'm interested in that particular program anymore. However, they apparently remember me. Sort of. Today I received an email with the following introduction:

Hi Emily…

I noticed on your previous application to the MA TESOL, that your end of mission term in Russia is slated for this December 2008. We remember your interest in completing an MA, and we would like to inform you of the options -- now available.

Hmmm. Maybe it's because my email address contains an "M" for my middle name. Recruiters, if you want to woo your applicants, get the name right! :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Aches and pains

I’m beginning to feel slightly human again. I’m staying in a different apartment for a few weeks, and I moved during the busiest part of the week. I didn’t even turn my computer on for a few days. I think that I’ve been over-stimulated from trying to get to know a new neighborhood and schedule along with everything else.

Last night I went to bed feeling a little depressed, but when that happens, I always have hope that I’ll feel better the next day. No matter what the problem, the passing of the night always seems to take the edge off. I went to bed praying for the Lord’s joy to meet me in the morning.

The “joy” that met me in the morning was a lingering headache that had been with me since the night before. I had tried to just shake it off, but it had turned into the sort of headache that doesn’t go away until I take a pill and/or throw up (sorry to be graphic). After finding some Ibuprofen, I went back to bed and propped myself up with pillows. I didn’t want to fall asleep and get off schedule. But I did eventually cancel my first appointment of the day, even though the headache was going away.

You know, it's funny how feeling sick can make you forget about all other woes. Canceling the appointment lightened my load and I was able to eat something, finish my lesson plans, and get to work in plenty of time.

So that was my exciting day. I’m on dial-up right now, and I have a few posts underway, but don’t expect anything fancy like photos anytime soon!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Making investments

Last week one of the teachers from my group was sick, so I substituted for a few of her classes.

The classes were in a different company and the facility was very fancy. I had to pass through several security checkpoints and I got a badge that said I couldn’t walk around without an escort.

The woman leading me to the classroom opened a door and said “here it is.” All I saw was a spiral staircase. I had to go up the staircase to get to the classroom, which was sort of a loft. All the students were already waiting, and I wondered what they thought as my head came bobbing up the stairs, followed by the rest of me.

I suddenly found myself in front of a class of 7 men. That was a bit amusing. I hadn’t had more than 2 yet at my usual work location. Tripping over power cords, I quickly tried to get the lesson underway. The students turned out to be a LOT more talkative than my usual students, and a lot more advanced.

When the classes ended, no one came to get me, but I needed to leave for the orphanage. So I made my way back down to one of the checkpoints. “Where’s Alyona?” I asked. The woman looked at my badge. “Where’s the person that is supposed to escort you?” she asked. “I don’t know, but her name is Alyona,” I said, thinking that they could call her. “And the last name?” “I don’t know, I didn’t know that there was more than one” (this is a HUGE company, so I probably sounded like an idiot). The lady reluctantly let me go out through the turnstile and I handed her badge #1. Downstairs, I handed in badge #2 and left. Later, I got a phone call that I was apparently “missing” and people were looking for me. Oops!

Normally I don’t mind being a “guest” teacher, but I have to admit that I didn’t care that much how the class went. I planned a lesson and did my best, but my heart wasn’t in it. After just one week, I looked forward to seeing my regular students each day, but these others were strangers to me. I didn’t exactly walk out of the room hoping that I had changed their lives.

That got me thinking about the investments that I put into my relationships with different people. Sometimes I put less effort into short-term contact, not wanting to waste energy on something that won’t last. In other circumstances, knowing that the time is short brings about a sense of urgency that allows relationships to deepen quickly. I can think of conferences, missions trips, and even plane rides where I found myself sharing a lot about myself almost immediately.

Long-term relationships can go both ways as well. Maybe I feel content enough in the constancy to share deep feelings. Or maybe I’ve gotten so used to seeing the person that I hardly even say hello. I may think “now I can finally share the gospel” or, the opposite, “It’s too late, if the person wanted to hear the gospel it would have happened by now.”

Some of it depends on the Holy Spirit’s leading. I feel compelled to speak to someone whom I wouldn’t approach in normal circumstances. And some of it depends on my human nature: I’m too shy or tired to speak, or else I’m relaxed and feel talkative.

Certainly it would be a bit strange to calculate the potential investment of each new relationship. But, it doesn’t hurt to always be open to opportunities. A stranger may be in need, or may help you unexpectedly. Or, someone you’ve known for a long time may have a change of heart.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)

I like this one, too: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lesson Plans for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

The teaching isn't so hard, it's the lesson planning that's the hard part!

I can come up with a lesson plan pretty quickly, thanks to my TESOL planning, but then I need another hour for all the copying, printing, formatting, etc. When I was in training, I couldn't wait to be independent so I wouldn't have to fill out that silly planning sheet each time and have the trainer check it. The joke's on me, though; my new employer wants me to email all my lesson plans to her at the end of each month. That means TYPING each one into a special form.

I visited another teaching location, and the teachers there have 3-4 classes a day, all the same level. That's one lesson plan a day. I have 4 classes, all different levels.

Being true to my tendency to make assignments harder than they are supposed to be, I just spent several hours editing all my September lesson plans so that they're in the right font, format, etc. And scanning all the worksheets.

I haven't even sent them out yet and it's already Oct.2nd. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I tend to be wary of ideas that are presented as "new." This especially applies in a church setting, where, it seems, History repeats itself.

Perhaps it wouldn't annoy me so much if they didn't call it "new."

Sometimes it seems that new projects and ideas and approaches to ministry simply distract us from the main thing, our relationship with God.

There are so many "movements" that come and go. New forms of "praise and worship." New ways to evangelize. New ways to "do church." New ways to pursue "purity." Do any of them have lasting effects?

In Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape instructs Wormwood on how to entice Christians through dissatisfaction with old things and a thirst for constant change.

"The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart-an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship...Now, just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty.(116)"

"The Enemy[*] loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions: Is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now, if we can keep men asking: 'Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?' they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. (118)"

To be fair, an obsession with Old things can be damaging as well, in the case of things that aren't worth holding on to.


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...