Thursday, January 31, 2008

The gift of life

Last Tuesday marked the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which deemed the choice to have an abortion a constitutional right during the first trimester.

A lot of Christians featured this anniversary on their blogs recently. I avoided looking at photos or videos, but I still managed to dream about dead babies last night. :(



The sanctity of life is a major issue. I am strongly against abortion and yet no one I've been close to has had one, to my knowledge. What I mean is that I've never had to make the choice, and I've never been close to anyone who has had to make a choice. So I don't pretend to know what it feels like, and I won't cast judgment on people. But I believe abortion is wrong.

I don't want to focus on lives that have been lost, but on those that have been saved, and are being saved. I am very thankful that the children whom I work with were not aborted, even though they have gone through painful circumstances. Each one is precious to his Heavenly Father.




This morning I read Psalm 139.



"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. "

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Weather

January 30, 2008. I carefully dressed, from long underwear to a sweater to my scarf and hat. As I departed the building, I was hit by warm air, sunshine, and chirping birds. Could this really be January in Russia? I didn't look at the thermometer, but it must have been nearly 40 degrees. Incredible.



I was late to the orphanage. I got to the first group and the little girls came running. I took out their lesson...which wasn't there. I had accidentally printed it twice, and then left both sets at home. Hmmm. Thankfully I had remembered to bring the girls' new copybooks, which I had been promising since September.

I only had one copy of the assignment. "We can make a photocopy!" the girls shouted in unison, and scampered off. I was saved.


Galya has matured a lot in the past year.


I have a new student! This is Nastia, ten years old. She took English at her previous orphanage, and is doing well.





Katya and Nastia, innocently doing their assignment:







Don't I look thrilled to be having my picture taken?





When I got to the next group, I had to compete with both the tv and the Nintendo. Sigh.

Look at those intent gazes. Stop poisoning your minds!


I hate that machine.

We did eventually sit down to have an English lesson. Once again my lesson planning proved inadequate. I had wanted to have them draw weather maps. This involved drawing a map of the world and labeling major cities and their current weather conditions. Moans of "This is too hard!" filled the room. I couldn't blame them. I can't draw a map of the world either.



Here is someone's rough draft:

One young man spent a long time coloring and managed to get away without writing anything in English:

These next two did a good job.

Every once in a while, Misha would wander into the room. Often, one of the other kids would whisper some nasty words. At one point after this happened, Misha flew into a rage and ran out of the room crying. I took his picture to print for his "English passport." Maybe it will motivate him to come to English class. I'm not sure what I see in those eyes. Is it shyness or pain?


Katya was withdrawn today too, as she has been lately. She was wearing new glasses, and I made sure to tell her that she looked nice in them. She was too timid to join the group at first, partly due to my map assignment, but then she began to participate. When I left, I gave her a hug, and she lit up.


Ilya is from another group, but comes to English class because he wants to learn.


The counselor was doing a lot of hovering today, which always makes me nervous. She kept saying how "interesting" the lesson was, and I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. I thought maybe she was exaggerating a bit to motivate the kids who were being idle. She also kept pressing for information about my work. I told her that I work for a non-profit organization. "Do they pay you anything?" she asked. I didn't understand what she wanted to know. Did she think I was running some sort of business? Or did she simply wonder how I supported myself? "Yes," I said, not elaborating. "Good," she said. Lately I have been thinking of her more and more as a person. Not that I didn't consider her human, but I sometimes lumped her together with the general stresses of visiting the orphanage. And I always expect her to be suspicious of me, but of course it's her job to protect the kids' welfare.


I don't know her name. :(





Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sunday school update

Our Sunday school class has finally progressed to...the New Testament! While the Sunday school teachers try to incorporate the salvation message into every lesson, I was privileged to be present at this second lesson about the character of Jesus.

At the previous lesson, the kids had learned about how Jesus loves children. This time, we talked about how Jesus healed the paralytic by the pool. Our message was that 1) the Lord heals and 2) He is near even when others do not seem to care.

After telling the story, we encouraged the children to follow Jesus' example. Suddenly the toddler had to take a bathroom break with the other teacher and I was left alone with the rest of the group. Searching for something to talk about, I asked the kids to share about a moment when Jesus had helped them when they were sick or lonely. There was only one brave volunteer. Next we began to talk about school. Was there anyone at school who was often alone? Why might that be so? Maybe there was a problem at home? Maybe the person was shy?

As we talked, I remembered that the parents of two of the girls in class are potentially going to become host parents for one of our orphans. I hadn't heard the girls' reactions to this possibility, but there we were, talking about what it feels like to have a broken family. I wondered if they would now look at their schoolmates , or at orphan, with new eyes.

We don't have a preschool class right now, but I have to say, the 3-yr old did a fine job of following the lesson. "The man was sick and Jesus healed him," she explained afterwards. Does it get any clearer than that?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Future of Missionaries in Russia- Part II

Since I haven’t been posting regularly lately, it seems appropriate to write an update on the “state of things.”

A few weeks ago before my computer crashed (or rather it got infected and I made it worse), I had been researching options for foreigners living in Russia. I’ll explain the situation as I understand it.

There are several different options for staying in Russia short-term. You do have to register within 3 days of arrival, but other than that, no big changes. The recent changes that have come about apply to one-year multi-entry visas. Other than a working or student visa, the multi-entry visa has been the only option for presiding long-term in Russia, without having a green card.

Under the new rules, a foreigner with a multi-entry visa may stay in Russia for only 90 days out of 180. Then, he must be out of the country for 90 days. These days may be scattered throughout the 180-day period, but in total only 180 days may be spent in Russia during the 365-day period. It is almost like constantly getting 3-month visas with 3 months in between, although the days do not have to be consecutive. So imagine you have a teaching job and you teach those students for three months and then leave for three months. Or you are doing something relationship-based and are only around for half a year. After three months, relationships just begin to deepen, and then you leave. Not very convenient!

The reasoning behind the new law as I imagine is something like this:

1) It will help put Russia on an even par with European countries, many of whom have similar restrictions
2) It will help keep a tighter control on who’s in the country.
3) It will help cut down on illegal workers, many of them immigrants from other parts of the CIS.

So here are some options for foreigners:

1) Get a work or student visa.
2) Get a green card. For this it’s helpful to either own property or have a Russian spouse. Under temporary residence, you are restricted on how often you can leave Russia. You have to specially request permission to leave.
3) Get a multi-entry visa and either leave every three months or come and go constantly.
4) Get back-to-back short term visas. This would also require coming and going often, but you wouldn’t have to be out of the country for 3 months. You would just leave for as long as it took to renew your visa. Of course, if you do this often, there is always the chance that you will be denied a visa. With a one-year multi-entry, at least you are safe for one year.

Enforcement of the laws:

It’s not clear yet how they will enforce the 90-day rule. At the airport and border control they are hardly going to sit and search through all your passport pages counting the days. However, the visa will have the restriction printed inside. And we have heard that there is a new section in the Consulate that will specifically deal with overseeing the stay of foreigners in the Russian Federation.

For consistency and convenience, a work or study visa seems practical. A study visa would mean you would devote a lot of time to study. So, depending on your goal for being in Russia, you would be somewhat restricted. A work visa is challenging to get. Foreigners do not normally have trouble finding “work” in Russia, especially native English speakers. However, it is complicated for employers to hire foreigners, and they sometimes use a business or study visa to avoid the strict labor regulations.

Some of the labor regulations:

An employer of foreigners in the Russian federation should have a permit to hire foreigners, which requires some work to receive. Then, the employer needs to file a request to hire each individual foreign employee. The visa is strictly due to those terms. In the U.S., for example, a foreigner entering on a work visa can change jobs. But in Russia, a work visa is subject to cancellation if even the position or number of hours changes. And the employer cannot apply the work permit to another employee, but must start the process from the beginning. I can’t find the article in which I was reading about the requirements for employers, but not all employers will be able to meet the terms. For example, establishments such as schools or non-profit organizations may not have the resources to be able to hire foreigners, as it is a complicated as well as expensive process.

And my status? I received my visa in August, before the new restrictions came into effect. So I can be here until August 2008.

I’ve spent so much time listing rules that I didn’t get around to discussing how I think this will affect missionaries. Stay tuned…

Sunday, January 20, 2008

You know you've been living in Russia too long when...

...you eat caviar...



...for breakfast. It was leftover from the holidays, but still.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

When it pays to be a packrat, Part 2

I notice that I haven't written a new post for a week. But, it's a wonder I'm posting at all, since I managed to delete some vital system files a few days ago and render my computer useless.

Thankfully, I had the installation discs! Never knew what they were for, never thought I would have to use them, but the situation arose. I popped one of the discs in and within an hour had a functioning computer again (although still-infected).

You might argue that it was a common sense moment, but in the mind of a packrat there is no prioritization of things rarely used (operating systems disc vs. used wrapping paper). Anything that might come in handy is worth saving!*

I dread the next time I have to move.


*Note: I don't regard this as a life principle, but it's the way I think. At times it is a plus, and at times it complicates my life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Interviews" with God

There's a flash presentation on the Internet called "Interview with God" (click on "view presentation"). It takes beautiful Nature scenes and displays an inspiring poem about God. Supposedly it has "touched" a lot of people around the world.



Meanwhile, Ray Comfort's ministry put out another flash presentation in response, called "Another interview with God." This one attempts to be more straight-forward in presenting the Gospel message, while adhering to the same style.



I was looking for reviews and didn't find a lot online, so I'll give it a try myself. Check out the two links and then read what I thought of them.



My reactions:



"Interview with God":



1) Way too "warm and fuzzy" for my taste! It borders on emotional manipulation, in my opinion.



2) Along the same lines, the Gospel presented is too watered-down. It portrays some characteristics of God and paraphrases Biblical passages, but there is no direct mention to Christianity. So what is the point? To attract seekers gently? Stated vision: "Inspiring the world, one soul at a time." Then in the sidebar there is a verse from Isaiah and ads from Christian sponsors. Christian or not? I'm confused.



3) I'm not sure I even like the idea of guessing what God would say if he talked to us. I do believe He could talk to someone in this way, but fabricating it just seems pointless, and pathetic compared to the glory that shines through His actual words.



So from a Christian viewpoint obviously my reaction is negative, although the technical and artistic quality isn't bad.



"Another Interview with God"



1) I Immediately notice more of an adherence to Scripture than in the first one. Portrays God as God and not as a chatty old guy speaking through the clouds.



2) Technical and artistic quality not as good.



3) Although a lot of Scripture is quoted, it seems a little forced with all the verses strung together. The goal is clearly to present the Gospel and not to tell a flowery story.



I'm a bit torn here, because I think that Christians should aim for excellence in areas such as film production, yet at the same time the Gospel should not be dressed up merely for entertainment value.



I had already come to these conclusions, when I stumbled upon a third site, quite similar to the first two! In fact, I first thought it to be the original "Interview with God" that I had watched. But as I watched one of the films, it seemed to contain corrections that I had mentally made while watching the film from the first site. I even liked the music! Had they made an updated version? Upon closer look, I noticed a slight difference in the web address. It turns out it is made by a different organization, and this one proclaims the Gospel on their homepage.



Moral of the story: Investigate! There are a lot of messages being marketed today, especially on the Internet. Don't settle for a substitute "version" of the Truth. Go after the real thing!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dream sampling

Last night I dreamed I was kicking my brother. I woke up and I was kicking my computer on the desk. I managed to hit the disk drive and some other buttons with my foot by accident, and the computer turned on. I had to get up and turn it off. Violent!

I also dreamed that I was trying to put my flute away and there was this room full of flute cases and I kept getting them mixed up. Finally a man came over and said "Is this your cleaning cloth?" and it was my handkerchief with the yellow flowers on it. I wonder if this was related to having a stuffy nose. Hopefully I wasn't playing my flute in my sleep. That would be weird!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Jet-lag progress

Can lag and progress be in the same sentence? It seems to aptly describe the past few days. I went from waking up at 4am to going to bed at 4am.



Yesterday I got up fairly late. It was afternoon, I'll say that. I had thought it might be good to sleep in while I had the chance. Fast-forward to bedtime. I didn't get into bed until after 2, and even then I wasn't sleepy. At about 4, I turned the light back on and decided to read until I got sleepy. That didn't happen. I don't know when I actually fell asleep, 6 or so. Got up at 12. Notice I didn't say "woke up." I'm not sure what actually qualifies as being awake.



Brushed my teeth for the first time at 3pm. Got dressed at 4. Went to the store around 5 to get something to eat. Thinking about maybe taking a shower today. Or tomorrow. Unpacking at some point. I did a load of laundry, but I didn't put it away, I just take the clean clothes out of the dryer.



I feel like a college student. Except that I'm not.

Somebody help me find my pjs.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Accidental Evangelism

Have I mentioned I'm jet-lagged? Just lifting my arm to click on the mouse seems like a waste of energy. But, I'm gradually adjusting, and might even unpack my suitcases tomorrow. I only got them yesterday. And that is a story within itself...

When I arrived in St.Petersburg, I waited for about an hour at baggage claim after going through passport control. There was a short announcement apologizing for technical difficulties. Finally a crowd formed around the airport officers (think Russian ladies in army green suits and stiletto heels). No official announcement was made, but the officers were explaining to some people about filling out a Customs form and then going to the lost-and-found. We foreigners figured this out a lot later then everyone else. So all the passengers from the plane formed a line to first get their Customs form stamped and then to enter lost-and-found to fill out a missing baggage slip.

Oh, I forgot to say what happened to the baggage: they sent it back to Germany instead of unloading it.

Four hours after my flight landed, I was headed home, sans baggage. They had promised to deliver it, so everything was okay.

The next day I got a call that my luggage was at the airport in St.Petersburg, but they were having some difficulties in getting it to me (probably didn't have enough vehicles for distributing a whole flight's worth of baggage). So I tracked down someone with a car and made my way out there.

When I picked up my luggage, I had to go through the whole inspection process, which doesn't usually happen if you have nothing to declare. The guy checking my passport took a l-o-n-g time, longer than in passport control. I thought maybe it was due to the new visa regulations or something. I noticed that a small piece of paper had fallen out of my passport and I assumed it was a store receipt or some other junk from my purse.

When we got out to the car, I opened my passport to see if everything was in order. The piece of paper that had slipped out and been replaced by the Customs officer was one of my Bible flashcards! I wrote them out a few years ago, and stuck them in a coat pocket, and then transferred them to my purse. The one the guard had looked at happened to be in Russian! No wonder he looked at me strangely. He must have thought I planted it there on purpose. Funny.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Hymn #5: One for the bad days

Wow, it's been a while. I'm going to get back into blogging with a hymn called "My God, My Father, Though I Stray" by Charlotte Elliot. It's a bit heavy, but it seems to me that it's good to have hymns for when life is tough. Recently, singing hymns (silently) helped me get through a trip to the dentist. It was either that or hyperventilate.




My God and Father! while I stray
Far from my home in life’s rough way,
Oh! teach me from my heart to say,
“Thy will be done!”

Though dark my path, and sad my lot,
Let me “be still,” and murmur not,
Or breathe the prayer divinely taught,
“Thy will be done!”

What though in lonely grief I sigh,
For friends beloved, no longer nigh,
Submissive still would I reply,
“Thy will be done!”

If Thou shouldst call me to resign
What most I prize, it ne’er was mine;
I only yield Thee what was Thine;
“Thy will be done!”

Should pining sickness waste away,
My life in premature decay,
My Father! still I strive to say,
“Thy will be done!”

If but my fainting heart be blest
With Thy sweet Spirit for its guest,
My God! to Thee I leave the rest--
“Thy will be done!”

Renew my will from day to day,
Blend it with Thine, and take away
All now that makes it hard to say,
“Thy will be done!”

Then when on earth I breathe no more
The prayer oft mixed with tears before,I
’ll sing upon a happier shore,
“Thy will be done!”