Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why don't they come?

Why don't people go to church? I don't mean people who used to go and now have stopped; that's another topic. I mean those who are supposedly "searching." When I see people around me begin to believe, they often display an aversion towards attending any sort of organized meeting.

Problems in individual congregations are many. But there's a larger issue at stake. Sometimes it seems that the desire to be a part of a worshiping body seems to evade seekers or new believers. And it's not a cultural thing; I have seen it in many places.

What's the problem? Is it the churches themselves? Is it their reputation? Is it the way we witness? I rarely invite anyone to church on Sundays anymore. But I talk about my church all the time. People get interested and start asking when they can visit. But they never come. Some are interested in Bible study and different Christian topics. Bible study is okay, but a church service isn't. Holidays are okay, but regular services aren't. Why?

If God is truly calling a person to himself but the person is nervous about attending a Christian service, can't God drive away that fear? Can't God work despite the imperfections of a church service and reveal Himself irregardless? Is the hesitation an indication of the person's degree of interest?

But most people never even get as far as the church doors. Why is it so difficult?

Recently a "seeker" friend asked to come to church and we had even agreed on a time and place to meet. But then as usual, there was an excuse. Why? I wasn't even forcing her, she had expressed the interest on her own.

The phrase "bring the Church to them" rang in my head. Yet is it an answer? Are "outreach" events the same experience as regular meetings? By simply attending events where Christians gather, will a new believer be able to take root and become a part of the Body? Or will he continue to wander?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dangerous crossings

Crossing the street near my building is always really difficult. There are many forms of transportation moving quickly. Recently, a new crosswalk got installed. I did see a car stop once or twice, but that's a rarity.

The other day, I was looking at the crosswalk more closely, and I realized why it is so difficult to cross there.

1) The crosswalk is painted where the driveway comes out! That's right, if you are standing in the crosswalk on the driveway side, you are standing directly in the way of cars both coming and going (and usually there's not enough room for two cars and someone has to back up, also potentially flattening pedestrians). Or if you are crossing towards the driveway, you are walking right into the path of a car. See that silver car pulling out?


2) As pictured above, you have to compete with cars, buses, and trams.

3) Not only is one end of the crosswalk a driveway, but the other end overlaps with a bus stop. So if you are trying to cross the street from the bus side, like this brave soul pictured below (small dark figure), you might get run over by a bus!


4) Going partway doesn't work either. This pedestrian has to stop and wait since blue car decided to go ahead and make a left turn. He might be okay standing in the center. Maybe there won't be any trams for a few minutes. But there's always a wise guy who gets impatient and decides to zoom down the center aisle. Or someone pulling a u-turn. Anything's possible.





The other crosswalk on my block is at the intersection near the metro station. That one is even more dangerous. A red light doesn't mean anything, except that it's a chance for some cars to turn while the others are stopped. They turn left and right on a red light. And they don't care who's in their way.

My mother always told me, "We can get a new ball (doll/bicycle/etc.), but we can't get a new Elizabeth." Along those lines, I would rather be late than risk getting flattened. I'll wait 5-10 minutes to cross the street if that's what it takes.

Moral of the story: Always Never cross at the crosswalk.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Where were you?

As usual, the older kids at the orphanage weren't particularly interested in English. "I have A's in English," they all said. Riiiiight.

I could hear the counselor snapping at them to take the opportunity to get help from me while I was there. Eventually, 12 yr old Liosha approached with a textbook and reluctantly sat down at the table with me. As usual, he seemed very distant and spoke with his head down as if he were talking into his shirt.

"Where were you?" he asked suddenly.

"When?"

"All this time."

"I was in America visiting my parents, and then I came back."

"But why were you gone for so long? You weren't even here for September 1st (the first day of school)."

"I was waiting for my visa," I said.

He gave some grunt to indicate that he would accept that answer. Could it be that he had missed me? Or was he afraid of abandonment, even by a teacher?

We practiced some dialogues together, and as I used funny voices for various characters, I saw the corners of his mouth begin to turn up in a smile.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A visitor and the return of Misha

People are always blogging about meeting other blogging friends in person. Now it's my turn. A few days ago I met Mary, a young woman who reads my blog and arrived in St. Petersburg recently to work in transitional homes for older orphans. She visited the orphanage with me to see what I do.

As with all visitors, I decided to have Mary act like she didn't speak any Russian, so that the kids would have a chance to practice their English.




Misha had come right out to meet us when we got there. I hadn't seen him yet this year. He told me that he's being adopted in a few months. I'm really happy for him because he had seemed to be really longing for a family. Some kids are less at-risk, but with how withdrawn Misha had been lately, I think a change of environment is going to be good for him. He seems to be pleased with the prospect.




The English lesson went okay. It was chaotic as usual. I suppose it would be boring otherwise.


On the bus on the way home, we had a little adventure. A pair of young men got on with all these bags, and started to hand passengers books to "look at and give their opinion." Then of course the men started quoting prices. I quickly looked out the window to make myself unavailable.

Mary asked me a question in English and I answered quietly. Suddenly the men approached us.

"Excuse me, do you speak English?" Oh no, here it comes. They probably thought we had money and would love to buy some souvenirs. We both just stared at them. I saw no reason to speak English when I speak Russian fairly well. Mary didn't exactly want to engage in conversation either.

The talkative guy gave a little speech about the books in English. He said he would even give us one as a "gift." What a lie! We continued to stare at him. Then he started naming languages to see which we understood. Mary had a straight face, but I started laughing. Then Mary suddenly started speaking to me in Spanish. The man looked at me and accused me in Russian of being her translator. Nooooo. Then I kept having to translate from Spanish into Russian, but my Spanish is pretty rusty. Even after I said Mary didn't want to buy any books, the man kept asking us questions. He was intrigued, especially after Mary said she was from Ecuador.

The guy said to me in Russian, "So you're just learning Spanish, huh? And you get to translate for her? You're lucky, it's a good opportunity for practice." Umm, yeah.

Moral of the story....I don't know what the moral of the story is. Don't speak English in public?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New

Life has just gotten a lot crazier. I started my new teaching job on Monday. I wasn't really sure exactly how it was going to go because a Russian woman had been teaching there while they were looking for a native speaker. So I didn't know how the transition would be.

I finally got an email at about 10pm Sunday night with previous lesson plans and instructions about meeting Sveta (the other teacher) the next day. I still wasn't sure about what to do the first day. Should I continue a topic that Sveta had started? Should I just stick to get-to-know-you activities? Should I pick something completely new?

I started to panic that I wasn't prepared at all. I was also really tired. So on Monday I woke up and had to spend the morning making four different lesson plans. It was rather frenzied.

I needed to have not only a written lesson plan for each class, but handouts for each student since they don't use textbooks.

Finally I had the papers ready and had to organize them all. I used my roommate's bed for collating.




I arrived at the meeting spot right on time, but I didn't know what Sveta looked like. I didn't see anyone around except a young women dressed in a sporty outfit making a lot of calls on her cell-phone. As people came up the escalator, a lot of them were making calls in order to meet up with people. I was holding my own phone, waiting for it to ring when Sveta got there. But everyone just walked right by. Then I got a text message. "Hi Elizabeth, I'm waiting at the top of the escalator. Are you going to be here soon?" I looked around. Still no one of interest. Did I have the wrong place? I went outside and looked at the sign. No, everything was correct. I went back inside and the sporty woman looked at me. And it turned out that she was Sveta. For some reason she hadn't thought I could possibly be Elizabeth, and I hadn't thought she could possibly be Sveta.

I was still confused about what was going to happen if we were going together to the company. Was she going to introduce me? Was she going to teach part of the class and then let me teach? Was she going to watch me teach? I really did not want to be observed on the first day of teaching.

Then she said, "Of course this isn't how I normally dress for work. It's just my day off, you see!" Now it was all beginning to make sense.

Entering the building, I had flashbacks to the first time I visited a Russian orphanage to volunteer there. It felt a little the same, a new beginning. It didn't feel quite as terrifying. Maybe because Sveta was with me, or maybe because I'm used to being in Russia (I knew God was with me, but He was with me at the orphanage, too!) We went through the orientation and I met all the necessary people. Then Sveta introduced me to the first student and left. I was so relieved that she didn't stay.

My first class was just a tutorial with a 31 yr old woman. It was such a blessing that she was my first student. She was very pleasant to work with. Next I had a few rather ornery guys who claimed they didn't know anything and kept mumbling to each other (and to me) in Russian. When I asked them what they liked to do, they said "drink beer" (okay, maybe the question is childish, but with beginners you have to start somewhere). While I was trying to get them to have a basic conversation, one guy asked me (in Russian) "So your task is to determine our level of English?" As if he had everything figured out. "Today's theme is 'getting to know you,' " I said.

Then I had a guy and a girl, more advanced, but the guy had one of those earphone pieces, and it annoyed me. He kept saying "yesofcourse" to everything and not responding when I corrected his grammar.

My last class was a tutorial with a guy who was at intermediate level. He seemed bored. But I asked him (and the others) to make a list of the topics that they would like to study. That will help me personalize the lessons.

Here I am blogging and there is lesson-planning to do...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday afternoon

Today I spent time with some teenage girls from one of the orphanages.

On the way home, we stopped for doughnuts. Yum!




I met this group within a week of moving to St. Petersburg in 2004. It is one of my first memories of living here. Now the older girls have already graduated and the younger ones are not so little anymore. Time flies!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bags

I can tell that a new school year has begun, because my bags are starting to pile up again. For some reason I've never gotten into the habit of unpacking my bags at the end of the day, and then I'm always in a rush and start a new bag each time. So I have a separate bag for each orphanage and all the other places I visit.


Below: purse, flute from Sunday morning, Tuesday's bag with orphanage/Bible study materials, Wednesday's bag with documents and a notebook (Monday's bag has either gotten lost or actually got unpacked).




I also haven't gotten completely unpacked since arriving from the States about 10 days ago. That's mostly because I don't have any more empty shelves. Thankfully some of the things are for other people, so I won't have to keep them for long.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Copying from Word and pasting in Blogger

Lately I've had difficulties with copying texts that I've written in Word and pasting them into Blogger. I'm no expert, but if you look at the "Edit Html" tab, there is all this extra code that comes with the text when you paste it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I don't know why.

In the meantime, I found a workaround. If you paste the document into Notepad first and then copy from there to Blogger, you seem to get rid of the code problem when pasting from Word.

Blogger in general is giving me a lot of problems today, particularly with Autosave. I'm not sure what is going on.

Pronouns

At some point in my school years, I remember being taught to use he/she for a singular subject. Many English speakers incorrectly use the pronoun “they.” Other variations were offered, such as “a person,” “a student,” etc.

It had been the tradition in the past to simply use “he.” By default, the pronoun is left masculine. This is true in many languages and has never bothered me. In my politically correct hometown, however, that is not an option. In my recent teacher training we were even advised not to teach students words ending in “-man.” That includes mailman, fireman, policeman, businessman, etc. We should teach a gender-neutral form such as “mail carrier, firefighter,” etc. My trainer described a MEN WORKING (construction site) sign that left her steaming every time she passed it.

All this pretty much went in one of my ears and out the other.

Meanwhile, I opened up some textbooks that I bought recently for teaching. Each has an explanation in the introduction of their (the editors’) approach to personal pronouns.

“…in this book you will find instructions such as: If a student touches the wrong color, they have to sit down. The reader may disagree with our solution, but we ask them to blame us, the publishers, not the author. Languages do change, and the English language needs to change its usage of gender-marked pronouns when they are clearly inappropriate. This is our solution.” (copyright 2002)*

Now for the next book.

“Apologies are made for the generalized use of the masculine pronoun. It is meant to be used for simplicity’s sake, rather than to indicate a philosophical viewpoint. We feel that the s/he, her/him, his/her forms, while they may be philosophically appealing, are confusing.” (copyright 1983)**

I think I can see the progression here. In the 80’s an apology was enough. By 2000, proper grammar must be thrown out in order to sound “appropriate.” I attended school in the 90’s, so I suppose we were in a transition period: “He” alone was not appropriate, and “he/she,” while wordy, would both satisfy all parties and retain grammatical precision.

I prefer the way I was taught. Although, I suppose everyone does. Old habits die hard.

* Kealey, James and Donna Inness. "Shenanigames." Brattleboro, Vermont: Pro Lingua.
** Allen, Virginia French. "Techniques in Teaching Vocabulary." New York: Oxford University Press.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back in St. Petersburg

My poor blog hasn't had much of a chance to live up to its name lately. For the better part of the last 6 months, I've been either located somewhere else or trying to figure out what I'm going to do next. Now I'm back and ready for "normal" life in St. Petersburg to begin again...

This week I will resume visiting orphanages. At one of them I have an open invitation, at the other...well, I wasn't sure. I'm invited by certain people, and others are not so excited to see Americans.

So I was supposed to call this second orphanage today. I even put it on my prayer list this morning, because I knew that if I offered it up to God, I would feel more motivated to follow through. After attending training for my new teaching job, I arrived home and reviewed my to-do list. There was that phone call waiting to be made. I decided to put it off for a little longer. In fact, I wasn't really planning on calling at all. I thought maybe I would just go to the orphanage and try to make negotiations there. Somehow that seemed less stressful than calling.

I turned on my computer and sat down to check my e-mail (okay, procrastinate). Then my cell phone rang. It was the orphanage counselor. "Are you going to be visiting us this year?" "I was just going to call you," I said (well, I was at least thinking about calling!). And we set up a time for me to visit. Now I can check that off my list. Praise the Lord!

Friday, September 12, 2008

What would you do?

When I was in the TESOL program, I had to teach a lesson on the “Unreal Conditional.” My trainers suggested using the phrase “If I had a million dollars…” to start out. Logically, it is easy to use this example to show the meaning and formation of the grammar point. The person obviously doesn’t have a million dollars at the moment, so it is clearly unreal. I didn’t really want to use that example, however. First of all, I didn’t know if it would be culturally appropriate with our foreign students. Also, I think it is difficult to predict what you would do if you were in a situation that is highly improbable. Why should I make plans for non-existent money? It’s just a waste of time and will fuel desire for something I might never have.

I think that a lot of times, hypothetical situations just aren’t worth thinking about. Sometimes in high school we had “moral debates.” The teacher would read out a moral dilemma and ask us to argue about it. I suppose this could be an opportunity to witness about my faith, but it can also produce unneeded anxiety or conflict. What would you do if you had to go back into a burning building and had to choose which of your children to save? What would you do if you knew about a crime that had been committed? Many of our exercises had to do with honesty. It frustrated me because I wanted to defend the existence of absolutes, yet we were given extreme examples. One question regarded whether or not as doctors we would tell a terminally ill patient about his/her disease.

There are, however, times when it is worth it to think ahead. And it is important to have a position on certain moral issues. Sometimes “it depends” is not an option. Preparedness is a good idea for moral as well as practical issues. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the weather report and being prepared in case of rain. There’s nothing wrong with noticing that a financial crisis may be imminent, and coming up with alternate plans. There’s nothing wrong with taking a course in CPR. Do I need to imagine all the bloody/scary/life-threatening accidents that could occur? No. But I can acquire the skills for dealing with them, just in case. And I can prepare my heart for facing difficult spiritual matters, even if I can’t imagine which of them I will have to face.

My standard answer for untimely hypothetical questions is “I don’t know.” Maybe I have an idea of what I would do, but I don’t like to make assumptions. Life is full of surprises, and only God knows what the future holds. I think it’s perfectly fine to have a measure of uncertainty about the details.

If you answer too quickly, you may simply have to change your mind. If you had asked me several years ago if I could imagine myself living in Russia, I would have said no. If you had asked if I wanted to teach ESL, I would have said no. I definitely didn’t think I would ever have an excuse to go to Africa.

I don’t know how long I will live in Russia. I don’t know if I will ever marry. I don’t know what I will be doing in 5 years. I don’t know if I will ever have a terminal illness. And I don’t need to know right now. And I'm not going to worry about it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

For Russia/the U.S.

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.
-Psalm 33:16-22 (NIV)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Airport notes

While I'm getting over jet-lag, here are some observations from spending a lot of time in various airports over the past few days.

Logan airport, Boston

-right by my gate, people are sitting in a restaurant eating what appear to be very heavy meals, and drinking alcohol. Aren't they thinking about what effect this is going to have on their stomachs during the long international flight? (note: my last meal was McDonald's, so maybe I'm not the best example. But, it was still a few hours before my flight and I did not overeat).

-an elderly man with a hearing aid in front of me is holding a piece of luggage on which the first name on the tag is "Slug." I wonder if he plays baseball?

-pet peeve: insufficient updating of flight announcements. Once I was in some airport, I think in Philadelphia, and my flight was delayed until further notice. There weren't any seats in the waiting area, so I sat in the adjacent one. All the announcements sort of mingled together. I assumed my flight was still delayed. I heard a last call being made, but I didn't pay attention to what flight it was. Then I went up to the counter to check on the status and the screen was flashing "departed." Uh oh! They let me on after all, though. The plane hadn't actually taken off yet.

Anyway, since then I've been nervous about delays. You have to stay in the boarding area to listen for announcements, but you could end up waiting for hours. This time, my flight was at 4:15, but they said we wouldn't board until 4:00. At about 4:00 I got in line even though there had been no announcement yet. Then I looked up at the screen and it said "departed." I think they must have the screen programmed to flash the scheduled times rather than the actual times. That seems illogical. I thought the whole point of having the display is so that people can see the latest information. Anyway, I had a mini-heart attack until I asked people around me and confirmed that the flight had not yet left.

When we were still waiting in line, they said, "This is the final boarding call. We're ready to depart." There were still 50-60 people in line ahead of me. Hopefully they weren't thinking about departing with 100 people still not yet on the plane? It all seemed rather disorganized.

Frankfurt airport

-When I managed to locate the security checkpoint for the section of the airport where my connecting flight was, an airport staff member came over and tried to make some of us go in a different line. It turned out that one of the lines had no female attendant available to frisk people and therefore they were separating us by gender. However, a lot of travelers didn't know this and didn't understand why they were being separated from their husbands/mothers/etc.

-After I got through security, around the corner came a man that I've seen on television. He's a dwarf and stars on TLC's "Little People, Big World," a show that I had been watching while at home. It's interesting to learn about them trying to lead normal lives with dwarfism. Anyway, it was definitely unexpected to run into this guy in Germany! I thought about saying something like, "Haven't I seen you on tv?" but he had already zipped away on his motorized scooter.

-A little while later, I ran into someone else I knew. It was my new boss at the language center where I'll be teaching. I had known she was flying back to Russia, but I didn't know that we were on the same flight. I had also only seen her once in person, a few years ago, but somehow I recognized her and went over and introduced myself. Then we waited out the rest of the layover together.

Pulkovo-2, St.Petersburg

-nothing new here, just the usual Russian charm. :)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Aftermath

The storm left a little gift for us after all.
















You don't have to lie and say this is a pretty photo. :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Not anymore

Just thought I would add that we're not waiting for rain anymore. It's here.



But Tropical Storm Hanna isn't looking too fierce at this point. I think she's on her way out.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Storm season

The U.S. mainland hasn't been hit too hard this year from hurricanes, and we're still waiting for rain in Massachusetts.

But Haiti has taken a beating. Friends of ours from church go to Haiti regularly and have heard some first-hand accounts of the after-effects of the successive storms. In the sidebar, you can see some options for donating money or finding out more.

Pray for the people of Haiti!

Campaigning

First, there was the Democratic National Convention. Now, the Republicans are convening, or whatever it's called.

I've never been to any sort of conference that didn't have something to do with worship. So I don't really get it. What is there to get excited about? What could such a crowd of people have in common?

Okay, I watched the Olympics. It's exciting to see displays of talent. But the convention is odd. I haven't found any of the speakers to be very eloquent. And I don't understand why the crowd chants things like "U.S.A."

Enlighten me?

Leaving/Arriving

All the relatives have gone, and it's almost my turn! My time in the States is drawing to a close and I'll be boarding a plane for Russia on Monday.

I guess I'd better "enjoy" the heat here...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Technical problems...

Hating blogger right now! I can't figure out how to get the font below back to normal, and meanwhile the template is suddenly punctuated by blue and purple! Help. :(

Back later to try to fix it...

Russian Christianity Retrospective

Earlier today I picked up a Christian magazine and read the headline, "The Church in Russia: What Does the Future Hold?" I thought the article might be one or two years old at the most, but when I found the publishing date, it was 1992. So I was holding an article that predicted the outcome of a time period that has already passed.

I knew virtually nothing about Russia in 1992. If I did know anything, I don't think it made a very strong impression. I didn't go there myself until 1996, and then my experiences were limited to summer camp. The author of the article, presumably an American, describes the situation as he sees it upon visiting Russia in 1992. One notable theme that he notes is how the question of theodicy applies to Russian history.

"Their suffering has become a profound treasury of hard-won experience that has quietly elicited spiritual growth and deepening reflectiveness. No one would wish another to suffer, but when it does regrettably occur, it is possible that it can bring one closer to God, who suffers with humanity in the incarnate crucified Son…Hedonistic narcissistic Americans do well to learn from that wellspring of arduous experience, and not presume to teach Russians an elementary course in Spirituality 101. Our own materialistic culture is far more deeply corrupted than theirs in many ways. There is little room for boasting. Those emerging out of 73 years of atheism may be more open to the address of God through the suffering neighbor than we in pious and secular America."(13)

With the above comments and elsewhere in the article, he seems to convey the idea that recent suffering in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union puts them in a position to draw closer to God. Missionaries believed that there was a deep spiritual hunger in Russia, and used that as a reason to begin massive crusades. As many of these crusades were still in their infancy, the author attempted to find out from Russian Christians what they needed most, so missionaries could better serve their needs.

“…we learned from our partners in dialog that they thought that food was not more important than teaching and learning, or eating more than receiving the bread of life. They need nothing more urgently than the opportunity to relearn to believe. Post-Soviet Christians told us it is incorrect to assume that they need material food more than spiritual food. That is a part of the materialistic determinism they are now disavowing”(14)

This passage confuses me. First of all, whom are the Post-Soviet Christians correcting? Were there missionaries going around saying "here's some food, but you probably don't want a Bible"? Or are they correcting fellow Russian Christians who were enticed by promises of wealth from the West? My feeling is that there was and still is a need for both material and spiritual food. However, missionaries do need to be careful not to promote materialism.

"When American Protestant liberals visit the Soviet Union, they sometimes echo the line that it would be unecumenical if they took part in preaching or teaching ministries, and that our efforts must be limited to charitable or compassionate ministries for the homeless and sick. That is a false dichotomy for Russian Christians, who do not see theological teaching as separable from charity or sacrament. (15)"

This excerpt surprised me as well. I wouldn't say that missionaries always excel at combining evangelism with charity. However, what interferes is not a fear of being divisive but rather a fear of breaking the law. If I can speak for myself, I would say that it's very hard to serve with an open heart when you have been told that you're not allowed to give out Christian materials or sing certain songs. If you try to do the evangelism subtly, sometimes it feels like you're manipulating people. And foreign Christians are received differently than Orthodox Russian Christians.

There's a lot of material for discussion here. I found a few articles assessing the effectiveness of Western Missionaries in Russia. There's a general consensus that the missionaries swept in and formed western-style fellowships, ignoring local churches and their customs. The following links are to articles that are themselves at least 10 years old, yet discuss problems that are still relevant to missions in Russia today.

Article quoted above: Oden, Thomas C. "The Church in Russia: What Does the Future Hold?" from Radix Magazine, Inc. Volume 21, Number 2. 1992. Reprinted from "Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America & Russia."

Other articles:

http://www.georgefox.edu/academics/undergrad/departments/soc-swk/ree/Volguina_Proselytizing_June%201997.pdf

http://www.geocities.com/missionalia/reimer96.htm

Avoiding boredom

Do you ever feel totally brain-dead when listening to a sermon or reading your Bible, like it has no effect on you?

John Piper suggests praying Psalm 119:7. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

Another thing I can suggest is to try another language! I was totally tuning out during a sermon recently and I was realizing that it's because it was in English, and English sometimes sounds like "blahblahblah" to me. In your native language, you can skim books and still get the gist, and also tune out parts of conversations and still know what's being said (not that I would ever do that!).

So when I go to read the Bible sometimes...I know who's going to win and who's going to lose, and I'm not always interested in the journey to get there.

In Russia, I have to pay close attention to sermons and readings, simply because if I miss a few words, I risk missing the point. In another language, it makes a big difference if you miss key words like "not" or "but" or fail to identify the verb tense.

Pretty soon I will probably start tuning out Russian too and will have to find a new language!

Another idea is to simply read a different translation, but that can sometimes be distracting because you might focus too much on the words that are different stylistically but not tied to the main point. Still, I think variation is good.




Fall

The seasons are changing.




But it's still pretty hot here in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day at home

Sept.1st is "Knowledge Day" in Russia, along with being the first day of autumn. It's the first day of school and the students all come in their best clothes, and lots of flowers are exchanged.

But since I'm in the U.S. right now, I celebrated Labor Day instead, which happened to fall on Sept. 1st this year.

We had some guests over for tea and fellowship.



The first four guys from the left were all leaders in a youth group called Young Life that my siblings and I all attended while in high school. The guys were mentors and friends to my brother, who is the fifth guy.


With the four visiting families plus my niece, there were 12 kids at our house! First, we spent time outside....






Once we got tired of playing outside, we found indoor entertainment.





I tried to get my niece to sit still while she was eating her banana. She squirmed away about 5 seconds later.






I snuggled with my big sister, too.


Monday, September 1, 2008

It's over!

I finished my ESL training on Friday. After presenting final projects, our group tossed a ball of ribbon around and talked about our favorite moments, as sort of a closure.




I always used to scoff at those brochures that try to make a place look multi-cultural, with the token white, black, hispanic, and asian students. But this is a real representation right here:





Some of the countries represented below include Rwanda, Congo, Turkey, and Russia (oops, I mean the U.S.!):



Here are students reading their collection of stories that was published as a final project. There are some amazing pieces of writing in there!






These are our students who came to "free class" for our practice teaching. The three Turkish ladies, plus a girl from Congo! I have to admit, it was often hard to understand them, but we had a lot of fun!




My certificate's "in the mail." :)


The "Maul"

We sometimes refer to the mall as the "Maul," meaning that it can be a brutal experience. I wrote that yesterday's trip to the mall was tiring, but it wasn't really that bad.

The "crowds"? Nothing compared to a subway car in St.Petersburg. And the people are entertaining. Even the crying kids make an interesting study in how different people discipline their kids. I saw gentle parents, and I saw a frustrated 2 year old sprint away from her mother and hide in a store. One of the more amusing scenes was a multi-generational hispanic family gathered around as a tiny baby had her ears pierced.

I saw the occasional Russian as well. I always find it interesting that they seem to have been living here for awhile, yet have retained enough of their Russian mannerisms that it's quite obvious that they are Russian. I suppose I am refering mainly to their dress. I like that about the U.S., that there is freedom to do that.

It is so easy to spend money! In Russia it is not only expensive, but also not very tempting. It's pretty easy to save my money if I just remind myself of the lines, exorbitant prices, and questionable quality. There are plenty of times when I've walked into a store intending to buy something, panicked about what I was supposed to do, and walked right back out. Here, everything is wayyyyyy too convenient. No wonder consumerism is so rampant!

Then I decided to grab a snack at McDonald's. I took a bite of my fries, and---ewww! They were practically tasteless. But the fries in Russia are good. What happened?

Movie Review

I now pronounce "The Bachelor" the stupidest movie ever. I didn't even like the "happy ending." All of the characters in the movie had horrible values, except maybe for the priest.

There, that's my movie review.