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Showing posts from November, 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 t…

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

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 l…

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 "…

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 churc…

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)

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 fi…

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 ba…

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'…

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: ""

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…

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.&qu…

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…

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 w…

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.

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 …

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 und…


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 conten…


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 supp…

St. Petersburg and economics

In a local newspaper I picked up recently, an economic update included personal tips about what to do when times are tough financially. The following comments are from local deputies as well as voters.

“My wife and I are modest people. We don’t smoke, we don’t drink, we don’t play cards. And with the surplus we feed our dog and cat well. Of course, I do collect books about icon-painting, and the prices on those are a concern. I’ll probably have to moderate my passion.” -Igor Rimmer, local deputy

"Maybe no one will believe it, but deputies don’t especially have anything that they can give up: They live like regular people, from paycheck to paycheck. But I would advise everyone to give little trinkets; things that just show how rich you are." -Oleg Nilov, deputy

"As it is I already live completely ascetically-that’s the charm of the KPRF. This year I went on vacation in my own car, traveled around Russia. I don’t go to restaurants-when I can afford to eat well, it’s only at …

A tribute to my alma mater

William and Mary had its Homecoming last weekend. The Russian department sent out an invitation to an alumni reception, and per tradition it started a chain of responses from various alumni about their current locations and fond memories of Russian class.

The e-mails persisted to the point where I even dreamed about Russian Studies! And I began to do my own reminiscing...

I started taking Russian during the second semester of my freshman year. It seemed like it would be useful since I traveled to Russian in the summers and had one (of two) new adopted sisters at home. I had been interested in Hispanic Studies, but then I found out that everyone else took Spanish too. Russian seemed a little more unique.

Soon after I began taking Russian, I started getting "Russian Club" e-mails inviting me to various functions. I didn't know exactly who or what the club was involved with, but I wasn't so sure I could join another organization as I was already fairly busy.

Meanwhile, I di…

A setback

My plans, my plans, my beautiful plans! I even posted them in my sidebar. And now they've changed...

The attorneys handling our work permits apparently have changed their minds about the date and are now saying December. Instead of October. So instead of getting a 1-yr visa which I thought I would have within a month, I have to leave the country anyway...and come back in on another temporary visa.

I suppose it doesn't make a huge difference, except that I will have to make another visa trip to Finland or somewhere in a few months when the work permit is finally ready. I had planned on my current visa ending at the same time the work visa was ready.

The work permit, by the way, has been in progress since June.

I think I need to buy myself a mobile home that I can just park in whatever country necessary.

The Greatest; Personified

Sometimes I dislike 1 Corinthians 13 for the same reason I dislike Proverbs 31: it puts forth a standard that I feel I can never live up to.

Do I resent Jesus for His example? No. But somewhere in my sinful nature I lose the connection to Christ. "Love" in her perfection becomes that holier person who receives more compliments than you; like the Teacher's Pet or the Other Girl who catches the eye of the guy you like. "Wisdom" plays the same role. And just like I fall short of domestic perfection, my shortcomings in love glare up at me from the text. Patience? Failure. Kindness? Failure. Jealousy? Failure. Everyone talks about how great these virtues are, but in life, they are accompanied by trials.

I seem to forget that the embodiment of God's love in my life is Christ, not a report card. And that while loving God and others is a command, it's also a fruit of the Spirit. That means, it's not something I can produce myself. It's the fruit of a rela…

Another positive note

Yesterday I came out of the metro just in time to catch a spot of sunlight hitting this church.

Thank you, Lord, for that small blessing!