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.

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...