Thursday, April 30, 2009

Classroom management and teaching abroad

There are times when I have to realize my limitations as a foreigner. Part of me wants to just blend in like a normal person, but the fact is that I will always be different in certain ways.

As a foreign teacher, I do have limitations. One of the challenges is in the area of disciplining students. Although I try to take on the Russian culture as much as I can, classroom behavior is one mentality that is very ingrained and difficult to alter! Even though they behave badly, it’s certainly not the children’s fault that I’m an oddball.

It’s funny, because a lot of Americans teach abroad, namely children. Do any of you other teachers have trouble trying to get your pupils to remain in their seats?

Teaching is a big responsibility. We are called to strive for excellence. However, I don’t think this means that we are not allowed to show our humanness. When I teach Sunday school, I sometimes have misunderstandings with the children. But in general we are teaching about God, so if there is a serious issue, I can always talk with the children or his parents privately, and get to the heart issues.

But it’s harder with language teaching because 1) I have not been given the authority to talk about God and 2) the point of the lesson is to stick to English.

I’ve felt conflicted recently because my desire to be a good language teacher does not always complement my desire to have relationships with the children that lead them to Christ.

If I discipline in Russian, the children get used to my speaking Russian and use it as an excuse to not speak English. Plus, most of the time for language learning is then used up. If I discipline in English, they pretend they don’t understand, and it falls short of reaching the heart. It’s a battle of wills.

The kids recently told me that they like their other English teacher better because she translates everything and teaches in Russian. Meanwhile, I had painstakingly prepared visuals and set up a scenario in which they would learn unambiguous definitions of words in context, not in translation. But I wasn’t about to explain methodology to an 11 yr old. I understand that they like everything systematic: the chart with the English, Russian, and transliteration. The triangles and squares representing different parts of speech.

My point is not to criticize teaching methods but rather to question my own approach. Is there a way that I can balance communication in the heart language (Russian) with quality and relevant instruction in a new language (English)?

Since discipline is not as much of an issue with adults, maybe I should focus more on teaching adults, and find a different way to connect with children. It feels hard to be accepted as someone who works with children, since I have a different way of relating to them. But it doesn't mean I can't be an advocate for them. I can't throw that desire away.

Although I think it is easier to be accepted as a foreigner in the U.S. and develop one’s career, I can think of a few teachers whom we laughed at because of their accents. And yet, there were others who earned our respect.

There was a husband-wife team from South America who led our orchestra and chamber ensembles in high school. I remember their accents and eccentric ways of instructing us through sound effects. Yet we deeply respected them. And they really taught us something.

Maybe I should go back into music…

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

His coming

Heaven. Now there is one thing it's okay to daydream about.

One of my favorite worship CD's is "Hymns 4 Worship." It's a two-CD set that contains a lot of traditional hymns by contemporary artists. Some of them are redone with a slightly different melody, but they are still tasteful and uplifting.

On the second CD, one of the tracks is "It is Well with my Soul" (by 4Him). They've changed the rhythm a bit, but the message is still there.

My favorite part is how they create a climax. As the group sings "the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend," a sudden burst of applause can be heard in the background.

Have you ever been in a situation where the guest of honor entered after much anticipation, and the room exploded in applause? That's what it felt like to me, although when Christ comes we will likely fall on our knees at the glory of His presence.

Still, it's nice to imagine.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My lumpy friend

This episode could also be titled "Spring cleaning guilt meets pack-rat tendencies."

I am not sure what prompted me, but I decided to put a book my mom gave me to use. Instead of getting rid of some old socks, they became a part of my new project.

I'm sure one day soon it will sink in that sock animals take up more room and are harder to throw away than the little bag of odd or damaged socks in the bottom of the closet. But the message hasn't gotten through to me yet.

Did I mention that I don't know how to sew? Actually, I technically know how, but it's not, shall we say, my "gift." I like the designing and constructing part, but I'm lacking a little on the execution. That's why I thought a sock animal might be a good project for me. After all, you can say that a stuffed animal "has character," instead of a "sloppy stitching job."

The book I was using is Japanese. Origami is Japanese. When I do origami, I sometimes get stuck between two steps. I can't figure out how one picture morphs into the other.

Guess what happened when I was making the dog? There I was, in the middle of shaping his face. And I encountered the dreaded missing step. No matter what way I twisted his face, it would not end up like the picture. So I ended up with a dog "with character."

What, you wanted a close-up?

(One of his eyes fell off after I took this photo)

For photos of what other people have made, check out the book review on Amazon.

I think I will try at least one more. Maybe I just need practice?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A sermon for single Christians/missionaries

My friend Melissa recently posted a link to a John Piper talk directed towards singles. There is an audio here, but no transcript.

From that website:

Questions include:

  • How is singleness better than marriage?
  • How can singles help foster a relational culture at church?
  • How do I deal with the intense longing to be married?
  • What are the trials unique to singleness, and how do you recommend combating them?
  • What would you say to someone who thinks their sexual sin has disqualified them from ministry?
  • What do you think about masturbation?
  • Is it OK for a single woman to pursue a career?"
Early on, Piper makes a good point that singles should seek out mixed company (varying in age, gender, marital status, life experience...) as far as friends, Bible study, etc. I agree with this.

Nevertheless, he goes on to grant some good advice for singles specifically, as well as to answer questions from the audience.

I was struck by what Piper said about loneliness and idle thoughts. I love my alone time, but thoughts of peace and contentment can so quickly turn to something unedifying. Even when I'm reading the Bible or praying, I find myself looking out the window and thinking of something else entirely. Then I look at the clock and a significant amount of time has passed in this idle state.

I don't think the answer is to avoid being alone, or to simply keep busy (although Piper suggests that pouring oneself out for others makes some of our own troubles disappear). I've noticed that in orphanages kids are often kept busy at all hours so they'll stay out of trouble. This may work for a time, but once they graduate and don't have anyone making sure they stick to their schedule, they quickly get lost. We all need the discipline to manage our time and thought-life wisely.

I wouldn't want to live alone, but I am very productive when by myself, and find it refreshing. But what about the temptations? Piper's main advice is to draw close to God.

If you need something to fill the silence, I suggest putting on a sermon. Then you can engage your intellect more than you would just listening to music. In addition to John Piper, there are some Elisabeth Elliot talks online.
And I'm sure there are lots of other resources.

I also find it helpful to write things down. I suppose blogging is part of that. But God is the only one who really understands and can meet every need. It's important to go to Him first. When I find myself daydreaming about something, I try to stop and tell God my dreams. And likewise with cares and worries. If I write it down, I'm forced to form coherent thoughts rather than to go on and on. I can be finished with that thought and move on with my day. In addition, when I address God in writing, I can look back and see that I have already trusted something to Him, and need worry about it no longer.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I had taken one too many sets of flashcards with me to the orphanage, and my hips were giving out by the end. I boarded the tram and quickly grabbed the last seat.

I was almost at the end of the ride when an elderly woman got on. I always hesitate for a moment because I don't want some middle-aged woman to think I mistook her for elderly.

Anyway, this woman was elderly, and I stood up. "Don't stand up," she said. I didn't argue. "I'm not tired, and you are," she said, putting her bag down. I smiled at her appreciatively. She continued talking. "I know how women get tired. You probably work, study, and have kids?" "Well, not my own, but I was just in the orphanage," I said. "And what do you do there? Work? Teach? Are you a believer?" "I'm a believer," I said. "I thought so. Where do you go?" I explained where my church met, and she said she attended a Baptist church nearby.

"I can always recognize believers," she said. "There's something in their gaze." I agreed that sometimes that was the case. "Even Jehovah's Witnesses," she said. "They just love the Lord, and they tell about Him in their own way." Oops. What do I say now? It was her stop and she was getting off, offering blessings as she went. I was saved from answering.

In the meantime, another elderly women had boarded, and I started to get up. "Don't stand up," she said. "My stop is next." I remained in my seat and breathed a sigh of relief.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Resources for lazy ESL teachers

One of the catch-phrases in my TESOL training program was "lazy teacher." The idea lies not in the teacher's inactivity but in the delegation of responsibilities to students so that they become more competent. For example, they help with generating visual aids for class; they help write things on the board; they explain the homework to each other or fill in someone who is late.

Besides, it's the students who need the chance to talk, not the teachers. When the teacher leaves the room while they are talking in pairs, s/he not only gets the chance to take a break and assess how the class is going, but the students can feel more at ease conversing without someone hanging over their shoulder.

The other "lazy teacher" time happens during lesson planning. At first I was against this idea because I find that lesson planning fulfills a need for creative expression that I don't always have time for outside of teaching. I love making visual aids.

It is certainly worth it to make some nice visual aids (or generate some on the computer), and keep them in good shape for the future.

But let's face it, there are times when the simplest materials do just as well (like store-bought flashcards). And besides, your students may not appreciate all your hard work.

Another dilemma is that my classroom has to be portable, for the most part. I travel around daily to different orphanages, offices, and homes. In general I have to keep all classroom supplies with me (pencils, paper, scissors, tape, markers...), including the study materials! A few students have textbooks, but they are the exception.

I've thought about investing in textbooks for the other students a few times. I believe that if the textbooks are good quality and I use them frequently, they are a good investment. However, I cannot carry textbooks around with me, and they get lost frequently at the orphanage, so relying on a textbook is not an option at the moment. It's just as well since at my training we learned NOT to rely on textbooks for lesson planning.

So for the sake of time, I do take shortcuts, and on occasion (gasp) use ready-made lessons.

The Internet is full of resources for teaching ESL. Many of them are free, and others allow membership for a minimal fee.

I don't spend much time browsing, and rely mainly on recommendations or the first few search results. But here are a few sites I've found that are free and useful...

1) For children and beginners, "Handwriting for Kids" offers a variety of printable tracing sheets on different themes. You can choose cursive or manuscript. A bonus is that you can generate your own worksheets. Just select "make your own 8-lines text worksheet," type your words and phrases into the prompter, and a worksheet pops up with your words entered into lined paper that you can print out.

2) For conversation practice, "Breaking News English" will give you stories from the news, along with a wealth of printable activities for each story, including pre-reading/listening, during, and expansion activities. There are worksheets for doing vocabulary, gap-fill activities, discussion questions, groupwork, etc. You can choose from two different skill levels.

There are also podcasts, although I haven't tried to download any. I normally just read it aloud myself if I choose to make it a listening activity.

*Note: The stories are "based on" the news. These are real current events and should generate lots of discussion. However, as far as language development, authentic sources, of course, are superior.

Pre-missions life

This isn't really part of the series, but I ran across an old journal entry from when I was in my second year of college. I hadn't decided on a concentration yet, but I was thinking about the future.

One evening, a missionary couple serving in the Middle East (under aliases) visited our girls' Bible study. It prompted some reflection on my part.

Oct. 29, 2001

David and Joy gave me clarity on a few reservations I've had. In terms of missions, David mentioned being interested but not yet feeling a specific "calling." He said that one of the criteria is that it be your heart's desire. Joy is introverted, like me. She seemed so much like me! And she had a baby over there and said it was fine.

...David talked about getting to know people other than Christians. I need to think about my major and how it would serve God in the future.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Missions #2-culture and ethnocentrism

Just a few thoughts on culture prompted by some missions discussion!


I learned about ethnocentrism in an Ethics class in college. I suppose at that point I had already noticed that we had made some mistakes in Russia in terms of culture. Take, for example, this simple contrast: Americans belong to a group of cultures who do business first, while Russians socialize first. Imagine how much confusion that can cause! Or how many problems could be smoothed over by a simple cup of tea.

But it is still a bit of a shock when you learn that some of the kind gestures you viewed as part of evangelism were simply your own cultural traditions; that your primary associations with "church" are something invented by man and not found in the Bible. And, perhaps, that your view of other traditions as unbiblical do in fact have a scriptural basis upon closer examination.

I like this quote, found in the Perspectives reader. "To require people to embrace anything beyond what is found in scripture puts a yoke on them that they should not bear. Anything more than scripture is too much."

Using scripture in missions

So what does this look like? One way of looking at it is to think of scripture as the raw material. There is so much you could do with it. If someone wants to know what Christians do when they meet together, you could offer up a verse: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph.5:19, NIV)

More raw materials

Sometimes I have an idea for Sunday school or a holiday, but it isn't my turn to lead, or I'm not sure how to execute it. But if I give it to a Russian friend, he does a much better job than I could have. In another culture, your cherished traditions often seem silly, while something you thought boring suddenly takes a new light.

Similar to above, I think it's important not to regard projects or ministry as our "baby." Typically, we want to see it through from start to finish. We don't want it to come out differently from our initial vision. Whether or not we would admit it, we want our name on it. I think it's important to ask ourselves, "Have I contributed enough? Am I doing a job that could be done by someone else? Am I trying to lead where I could step back and just be a helper?"

Yes, a major character trait to foster is being teachable. This is more obvious in a rural environment where you need to know how to survive. Yet in many places it's possible to come over and set up a little "mini-America" and never learn anything new. This is a mistake, as our life can be greatly enriched through learning a new culture. In addition, learning in humility can bring glory to God.

Cultural Exchange

Even with the importance of downplaying one's own culture traditions, don't underestimate the value of cultural exchange. Not discussing culture is like ignoring an elephant in the room. It's obvious you are different, so why not talk about it?

Sharing traditions can be fun as well as meaningful. I always found the cultural portions of Russian class to be fascinating. Traditions come out of our approach to life: how we keep healthy, show others we care, show courtesy, how we deal with the unknown.

It is interesting to explore linguistic traditions, and even superstitions. Why not introduce your culture's crafts and recipes? Or maybe some music traditions? Introduce, not force. After all, in a culture that highly values their own traditions, this will encourage mutual respect. The point is not to produce a "love affair" with American (or other) culture, but to open up lines of communication.

I'm not quite sure what role cultural exchange should have in sharing the Gospel. I think we need to be careful not to manipulate people.

*Thomas, M.R. The Turning Point: Setting the Gospel Free. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, p.143

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The homework

Okay, I promised to share how Min Joon's happiness assignment turned out. When I asked him about it, he asked, "I have to write about kind people or happy people?" I said "happy," and he quickly changed a word in his paper. Apparently I am not very good at checking for comprehension.

Translation: "I think happy people is all Christians. I don't know why, but I think so. And I think skinheads (in Russia) are very unhappy people because skinheads hit or kill black people in Hitler's birthday. I think this is very strange."

I'm not sure what to make of this assignment considering he mixed up "kind" and "happy." I wonder if they are similar words in Korean?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back to the orphanage

It was snowy and freezing this weekend, but I did catch a glimpse of some buds. Spring is here, somewhere.

My father and I took the train to the orphanage on Saturday...the orphanage that I was exasperated with just a few days ago. He couldn't go with me on Wednesday, so we made a special trip.

I had never been on a Saturday. It was a little more relaxed with no school the next day, although the kids are preparing for some exams next week.

My dad has been to this orphanage many times, but enough years have passed that there isn't much overlap, and the youngest kids he might have met are now graduating.

I took him to the group where I have English lessons most often. This is the group where I was robbed. Since it was a different day of the week, the counselor that was working was not the one from Wednesday, but the one that I saw weekly in the fall. She started explaining what the different kids were up to, and I said that we were just there to visit, not necessarily to have a lesson.

The kids started pulling on my arm and asking when we were going to have a lesson. Yeah, right! As if they wanted to sit down and study. My dad had some family photos, and that broke the ice and helped put everything into context. The counselor and the kids haven't been there long enough to remember Nastia and Masha, but we shared about them.

The counselor instructed the kids to give us a tour. In the hallway, we ran into a counselor who knew Nastia and Masha. She looked right past us and said "Look who's here!," greeting someone else who had arrived. She made no indication that she knew us. I used to hold English lessons with her boys, and they once told me that she told them I was trying to proselytize in the orphanage. I suppose she is very protective of them. But it's a strange feeling to be given a cold shoulder when you think you're friends with someone.

We tried to peek into the girls' bedroom, but they squealed and shut the door to do a quick clean-up. Then they let us in and got out their albums to show us. As we sat on the bed, I caught one of the girls opening the purse and I quickly took it and put it out of reach. I may have found my culprit. I hadn't wanted to go to the counselor when I didn't have any evidence, but I was praying for whoever it was to repent. I didn't say anything at the moment, but maybe I will question the girl next time.

A young singing instructor came in to meet us. She is a student in St. Petersburg. After we talked for a few minutes, she offered to share some bananas and cola that her parents had brought. This was a blessing since neither of us had had lunch.

As we all sat around the table, the counselor asked us many questions about Nastia and Masha and our experience with adoption. She wanted to know if they had learned English quickly or been homesick. It was a bit of a loaded question, as the Russian orphanage workers are often afraid that their kids will forget the Motherland. We explained that the kids assimilate well, but still have vivid memories of their childhood in Russia. Of course, it partly depends on the age.

On our way out, the singing instructor had the girls sing for us a little. Many of the kids were being difficult and refusing to take part. "It's so hard to keep them under control!" the instructor sighed. So it's not just me!

Even though there was still some awkwardness, such as the cold reception of that one counselor, I felt encouraged about visiting the orphanage. I plan to go there again in a few days.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No filter

My Korean students don't have a filter. I'm not saying it's anything to do with their being Korean (although, maybe it is). They are more fluent than any of my Russian students their age, so maybe it's simply the difference of being able to express themselves freely in English.

During each session I receive some very interesting information as well as field unusual questions.

Emily (13), for example, told me that her mother doesn't let her sleep over at anyone's house because it is being greedy.

Min Joon (11) told me that when I wear glasses I look more like a teacher.

Emily said that her friends think she's rich for having been to China, although to Koreans it's a short trip.

Min Joon said that Koreans are the best at Math, that Americans "very well" live, and that more Russian women smoke than men.

We were in the middle of beginning a new topic when Min Joon said, "I just thought of something disgusting. I can tell you?"

Me: "Does it relate to the lesson?"
Min Joon. "No."
Me: "Then wait until later."
Min Joon. "So I can tell you?"
Me: "No, wait until later."

After we went over the last vocabulary word, he launched into his "disgusting" story, something about Chinese eating baby poop. I get a lot of bathroom talk from him. When he says "poo poo," I said "What?" in a shocked tone and he says "you know, dung." Then I put on my most serious face and tell him it's not appropriate language. But he doesn't believe me.

Anyway, the good thing about all this openness is that we talk about God, too.

Our topic for yesterday was "happiness." I remember my Russian professors torturing us with the question "What is happiness?" so I decided to employ it in my class as well. Min Joon and Emily seem perfectly capable of expressing their own opinions about things.

I gave Min Joon an assignment to write about someone in his life who was happy, and why.

"Can I write about you?" he asked.

"Do you think I'm happy?"

"You care for orphans."

"That means I'm happy?"

"You believe in God."

"You think people who believe in God are happy?" (It's my job to ask questions)

"Christians. Most people at my school are Christians, and they're happy."

"What about you?"

"I'm...55% of me....maybe in God."

"Hmmm, I don't think that's possible. I think it could be 100% or 0%."

"But you...I think you're 99.9999 %." (He likes Math)

"Why not 100%?"

"Because maybe you do something wrong."

"But if I do something wrong it doesn't mean I don't believe, I just have to tell God I'm sorry."

"I call my sister now?"

"Do you understand the homework?"

"Yes. I call my sister?"


We'll see how his homework turns out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Good Friday

Today in Russia, we remember the day when Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.

And we await His resurrection!

Lightening up

I have a few blog posts in mind, but they continue to be rather heavy, introspective commentaries. It is not my intention to bring everyone down. Although I enjoy wrestling with life's questions and getting input from others, I also want to be an encouragement.

I believe it's important to record struggles because it is a blessing to read about God's provision later on. Nevertheless, life is full of good news to share.

Today in Proverbs I read this:

A happy heart makes the face cheerful,
but heartache crushes the spirit. 15:13

and this: A cheerful look brings joy to the heart,
and good news gives health to the bones. 15:30

For all of you who believe, my prayer today is:

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, 'Let God be exalted!'
Ps. 70:4

God is good.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I have had a very difficult time with the kids in one of the orphanages lately. They behave quite badly. When I speak to them in English, they answer in Russian. If I offer them something, they always want a different color or flavor.

This time, I managed to have a good lesson with one girl individually. Then another two came in and it was difficult to keep all of them busy since they had missed the presentation of new vocabulary. I let them try the worksheet, but they copied the other girl's. They kept saying "da" instead of repeating the words. I was tired by the end.

I went out to the bus stop, and one of my former students was there. He was in an older group of boys who are now graduating from high school and moving on to college. He groaned when I told him which group I was working with. I remembered his group being better. They were probably my best group, despite all their practical jokes. I think they learned the most because we had our lessons in an actual classroom. In the playroom it's hopeless.

Dima told me I was wasting my time and should go somewhere where I was more appreciated. I could hear a bit of remorse in his voice, as he seemed to know his group had given me a hard time in the past.

I got off the bus at the train station and opened my purse to see how much money I had, because I had to go to the store as well. But my money was gone.

The exact same thing had happened the previous week, although that time, he/she had been gracious enough to leave me a few hundred rubles for the long trip home. But I was sure that I had dropped it somewhere. It didn't seem possible that I had been robbed, because no one has ever tried to go into my purse. I always notice if anyone gets close to me, and I never let my purse out of my sight.

Except, of course, when I'm teaching a lesson. The kids always go into my bags and spoil whatever surprises I have brought. I suppose it would take away the temptation if I simply emptied out all my bags upon arrival, but the whole presentation of the lesson is more interesting when props are brought out gradually.

Anyway, I was standing at the train station with no money except pocket change. I started counting it out to see if I had enough. Meanwhile, the train came and went, although there would be another one in ten minutes. I didn't have enough money to get back into the city. I looked around for an ATM, but it was a fairly run-down part of town. I was already too far from the orphanage to go back and try to get my money back. Then I realized that I had enough money for the bus.

I stopped taking the bus awhile ago after several 2-3 hour traffic jams and migraine headaches. At this point, I didn't care about traffic. I just wanted to get back to the city. The bus was mercifully uncrowded, but it cost more than I thought. I had just enough to cover the fare.

I got back to the city pretty quickly, and was able to withdraw some money from the bank. Everything was fine after that.

I suppose the children's thievery doesn't surprise me. But what dismays me is their lack of conscience. After the money went missing last week, I half-expected a tearful child to approach me and confess. But I wasn't really even sure that it had been stolen. After all their whining and manipulating during the lesson yesterday, it was a spiteful end. I remembered Galina grinning impishly when I caught her cheating. Then she stuck an extra sticker onto her progress chart in order to get a prize, which I denied her.

They lie, cheat, and steal. You can blame their dismal fate, but they still have the freedom of choice, and it's not as though they live completely apart from adult supervision. I cannot imagine doing something like that as a child and getting away with it. My conscience would keep me from sleeping or even eating. I remember a few kids thinking it was cool to steal something from a store. Maybe that's what's going on here, a rite of passage. But it leaves me very disappointed.

I can't continue trying to have lessons if I have to constantly be looking out for my possessions. I'm not a policeman. I could lock my things in the counselor's office, but that's beside the point. The children lack a basic idea of respect, and apparently I'm not inspiring them much. Maybe Dima was right about it being a waste.

I guess I am still mad. I'm sure I will be calm by the next time I see them. I always calm down, but I lose motivation. I love the children, but apparently I haven't chosen the correct method of expression.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not sleeping

I don't know about big cities in other countries, but St. Petersburg is definitely a sleepy city. Sleepy in that no one ever sleeps. That's the way it seems, at least.

In the past, I associated all-nighters with the student life. Days were busy, and many assignments could only be done at night. We also used the night for socializing. I remember some great conversations that took place at 5 am. That was the way we lived. I also remember traveling home for spring break, in a plane or bus full of sleeping students who had not slept the previous week because of exams. During vacation I would sleep about 12 hours each night.

By the end of the student years, I was having problems with my health, particularly digestion. If I stayed up all night, I would throw up the next day, or simply have no appetite, or have bad stomach cramps. Not to mention, I slept during Sunday sermons, university lectures, and yes, even in the midst of drawing a portrait in art class. As graduation approached, I thought that I would begin the adult working life and get on a normal schedule, and everything would get easier.

That was before I moved to Russia. In St. Petersburg, it is common to see people doing their grocery shopping at 11pm, with kids in tow. Is it a weekend? No, it's a weekday. The next morning they may be getting up at 6. On the other hand, days off are days off. When I arrive to tutor Galina, an orphanage counselor, she is still in her pjs at 11am or 12:00. It's not the clothing that surprises me as much as the fact that she has just woken up.

Galina and I recently began a unit on the workplace environment. I asked Galina if she would prefer a 9-5 job (5 days a week). She said no, it's not enough days off. "But just think, you could be home by 6 every day and have the whole evening free!" No, she wasn't convinced. She prefers to work 14 hours just a few days a week.

We also read a text about a man who had been working every day from 7:30am to midnight. Then one day he collapsed and decided to make some changes to his lifestyle.

"What changes do you think he made?" I asked Galina. She suggested that he had decided to take some days off. My idea, of course, was that he work less hours each day.

Other people work in shifts of 3 days on, 2 days off, or something similar. If I ask a certain friend when she is free, we have to count this way instead of naming a certain day of the week.

At our recent church retreat, we discussed the practical implications of the 10 commandments. To my father and me who were present, keeping the Sabbath was as clear and simple as going to church on Sunday, with a few exceptions. It's a day of rest. But when you work in shifts, when is your Sabbath? It isn't so obvious.

A few years ago, I was having trouble getting on a regular sleeping schedule. I got enough sleep, but it was at odd times. I consistently found it hard to get up on Sundays, and felt sick to my stomach. I decided to attempt getting up at the same time everyday, so that no day would seem harder than others. It changes your attitude when you don't have to worry about whether or not you will be physically able to get up.

The Bible says, "Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare." (Proverbs 20:13, NIV) But it also says, "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves." (Psalm 127:2, NIV)

I take this to mean that sleep should not be an idol, but neither should it be the lowest priority. Although working hard may be a virtue, being constantly tired because of poor decisions does not bring you any reward. It's a very personal matter, and it's a matter of discipline.

I think that it is appropriate to count sleep as a part of our daily sustanance. When we ask the Lord for our daily bread, we expect Him to give us just the right amount. Maybe we won't eat like kings, but He will bless us with enough to give us strength. I don't know why it's harder for me now to live on less sleep. When I think of people who are up all night working or taking care of children, I don't understand how they do it. But I think that the Lord wants me to be responsible in my current situation. We are meant to be responsible with what we're given, but we're also meant not to worry about things we can't change, like noisy neighbors or big projects at work. I know that when a new season begins, He will give me my daily sustanance, as before.

Passion Week (by the Orthodox Calendar)

On Holy Tuesday, Jesus continued to teach using parables.

The Parable of the Tenants

"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

"The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said.

"But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

"Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"

"He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they replied, "and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time."

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
" 'The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes'?

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

-Matthew 21:33-46 (NIV)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Missions #1: Why go overseas?

When I recorded some insights about missions here, I mentioned that I do not like to set specific rules for missionaries. However, I can share more specifically about some of the factors that affect decisions and about my personal experience. A reader brought up some questions that I will comment on over several posts. Tentative topics are: Reasons for going overseas, Cross-cultural missions and ethnocentrism, Allocation of resources, and Overseas adoption vs. domestic.

I asked the Missions Committee at my U.S. church to comment, and my mom sent me a copy of the Perspectives textbook, which will give me some additional insight. But I’m looking for comments from you readers as well.

So today I will start out with the question...Why go overseas when there are unsaved/needy people all around you?

God's plan

In the case of individuals, I can say “I don’t know.” The Lord works mysteriously, and He certainly could have planned it another way. Starting with Abraham, God's people were always moving around, going on "missions." It certainly wasn't the most logical or easy thing to do, but it was pleasing to Him.


One piece of the puzzle is that God is glorified when different cultures put aside their differences and come together.

The Missions pastor at my church writes, “I agree that if we aren't sharing Christ here there is no point in going there. But since God is building His multicultural Church there needs to be cross pollination or our American church could become even more monocultural, insular and narrow. We need input from many cultures and I believe we need to be here and there.”

A new perspective

Another piece is that people are sometimes more open to hearing the Gospel from a fresh source. It is sometimes our relatives and closest friends who are hardest to reach.

As to the people back home whom we've "abandoned," they will be curious about our choice, and this provides an opportunity to witness.

A missionary who makes frequent trips to Haiti writes: “Part of the value of cross cultural missions is demonstrating the love of Christ to people in our own back yards. In our case, we get considerable support from non-Christians who witness and participate in our Christian witness to others through medical clinics. One of the best way to reach the 'inoculated' non-Christians in our culture is to engage them in mutual activities, build relationships and shine the light of a Christ-lived life, until they are perhaps, willing to reconsider their own lives in this perspective, through the working/calling of the Holy Spirit.”

How I changed my mind about going

I went to Mexico on my first missions trip when I was 14. I didn’t like it very much. It was a teen mission trip. Everything was very controlled, and I felt like a tourist. In addition, it was a "service" trip, with construction work involved. And I wanted to be interacting more with people. Of course we had good times, but in general I felt useless.

After the trip, we had to fill out a “debriefing” form about our impressions. There was a question about whether or not we saw ourselves serving overseas long-term. I said “No.” I wrote that I saw plenty of needs around me. I could witness to people in my native language and ask them what they needed. In another country, I was completely helpless.

I also felt this way about politics. Why were we always sticking our nose into other countries’ business when the situation in the U.S. was going downhill itself?

A few weeks later, I went on my first trip to Russia. To be honest, I didn’t like that trip very much either. But obviously God did something in me if I’m sitting here 13 years later. It would have made more sense to go to Mexico, which is a lot closer and has an easier language. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a mystery.

Something kept calling me back to Russia. Certainly there was a growing familiarity about it and a beauty to the camp that attracted us. But something bigger was going on in my heart.

Eventually my heart was broken because I saw how a thirst for God was awakened in people, but then we left. Yet I didn’t think the work was in vain. I prayed for God to send people to help those who were seeking.

In the meantime, I was studying Russian. Gradually, I realized that while I was praying for workers, God said “YOU.” It wasn’t like I considered myself the best person to do the job. I just realized that I could have a part in it.

God answered my prayer by leading me here, but at the same time a lot of the Russian pastors I know now were growing in faith and becoming equipped to lead the churches in St. Petersburg and elsewhere. God sees the whole picture and coordinates all of this.

I don’t feel that I abandoned the people around me in the U.S. In school and college, I always felt that my time was short, and it gave me a sense of urgency to reach people around me. But at a certain point I had to let go and pray that others would take over. People often come in and out of our lives, and we are never sure when they will leave. We must try our best to make each day count.

If it seems that Christians are more subdued in their own countries, it may be because missionaries are not the “super-spiritual” people that they are sometimes perceived to be. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, "I sure don't look like a missionary." No halo here. There is no magical transformation that happens when you go abroad. If anything your behavior looks worse because you are in completely new surroundings and don't quite know what to do. Even missionaries with mainly evangelical aims have to deal with the unromantic realities of daily life.

Yes, people probably do go abroad with the wrong motives. But I don't think it's as simple as looking for recognition or being charmed by cute orphans. A lot of times it relates to having misguided notions about other cultures, which I will write about in another post.

Your turn

Why do YOU think missionaries seek to go so far away? If you are a missionary, how did you end up where you are? Are there reasons for NOT going, besides there being unsaved people in your own culture?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back to life

Resurrection greetings to those of you celebrating today!

Maybe it's a good sign that I wasn't eager to turn my computer on after being away for the weekend. Life seemed fine without it. And now that I've turned it on, it seems that I'm glued to the screen (although my dad said he wished for me to nod off while sitting here and sleep for 10 hours so that I can get caught up).

On the other hand, I missed writing. And life has continued in my absence. So I'm ready to be back.

I want to write a few missionary posts over the next week, as time allows.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I have felt uneasy lately about using the word "plan," especially while reading Proverbs. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Nevertheless, here's what I expect to be doing over the next few days, in case I don't have time for a longer post:

Thursday: my dad arrives in St. Petersburg
Friday: lunch with Dad; English lessons
Friday evening through Sunday evening: church retreat intermingled with spending time with Dad in the city

For our church retreat we are once again visiting a small conference center outside of the city. It has become a tradition with us. We'll enjoy being together for a few days, having some lessons about Biblical foundations, discussing church business, and relaxing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blessed are the peacemakers

When I'm discouraged from preaching in the orphanages, I think, "that's okay, there has to be some other way to influence the children." I pray for them to be placed in Christian families. I spend time with the orphanage staff, dreaming that the director and eventually the whole orphanage will come to know Jesus.

But maybe it will start with the children.

When I was visiting last week, a fight broke out between two boys after playing a game led by some university psychology students. I was there during the aftermath.

One was in tears, the other indignant. Having witnessed the conflict, Danya looked at me and said, "don't worry." And proceeded to try to make peace between his two groupmates, urging the offender to apologize and the offended to forgive.

I was touched by his example.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The face in the mirror

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
–James 1:23, 24 (NIV)

This verse came to shouted at me one morning recently as I finished up my Bible reading. The cares of the world were already infiltrating my thoughts, and I felt as though I had been studying the Word in vain. I had to approach the Lord all over again and ask for forgiveness.

What does it mean to forget what one looks like?

It's absurd. The only time I didn't recognize myself was after I got contacts and looked at myself in the mirror the first time. I had only seen myself in glasses for most of my life. I think one would have to be literally blind to not know oneself.

It's sad. Being uncertain about one's identity can be heart-wrenching.

It's careless. I am not promoting vanity here, but not being familiar with one's appearance may say something about character. Maybe it's a lack of organization, lack of attention, or lack of purpose.

I believe that the Living Word often works in our hearts undetected. We don't always experience an emotional or otherwise conscious reaction. Yet when we test our hearts, I believe we will find evidence as to whether or not the Word has taken hold.

The passage in James is talking about action. Good deeds testify about one's faith. We could also talk about bearing fruit. But there are also simple commands in the Bible such as casting all our cares upon Him. Surely this also is an act of obedience, and a starting point for other acts of faith. If I can't emerge from my prayer closet with an attitude of trust, perhaps I haven't paid attention very well to what I've just read in the Bible.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Marriage (a book review)

I whisked away my roommate's copy of "25 Surprising Marriages"* before she had a chance to read it herself.

It's not a study in "happily ever after," although the couples involved are bound for eternity with Christ. It's a collection of stories about the family lives of 25 famous Christians.

As a woman, I often wonder about the perspective of the wives of famous Christians. As I mentioned when writing about missions, I wonder about the practical details. I don't see any problem with the wife being behind the scenes, yet I wish that someone would shed a little light on the situation. Just how do you "run a school"? It seems like missionaries' wives were always doing it, yet it seems like quite a daunting task. How do you keep house in the jungle? How do you deal with your husband rarely being home because he is out "furthering the Kingdom"? How do you feed and clothe your family when there is no steady salary to depend on?

And this book answers many of those questions, not with step-by-step instructions, but with inspiring examples.

And now, for the details:

This book features not only clergymen, but musicians, evangelists, missionaries, and others. Since I read the book in Russian, it was a bit laborious at times and I cringed at various aspects of the translation, thinking about how awkward it sounded. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it.

As you read the stories, you get the feeling that you are reading excerpts from biographies, and not original works. Indeed, each story cites 2-3 sources. It would be worth it to read the more extended biographies. However, having the marriage stories in one volume is equally informative and helpful for the sake of comparison.

The format of each story is a bit of a teaser. It starts out with a preview of the couple's married life: what they accomplished together, what was unique about their union, etc. It begins to tell the story of how they met and fell in love...and THEN goes back to their infancy to begin at the beginning. I suppose it is interesting to hear about their childhood, but after the preview, you want to go forward, not backwards!

I'll admit, I skipped a few stories. Some of them I had read elsewhere, such as C.S. Lewis and Hudson Taylor, and I didn't need to struggle through them again in Russian. There was also a section which seemed to be about UNhappy marriages. The other stories seemed challenging enough without tragic endings, so I chose to skip the depressing ones. I can always return to them another time.

But overall, I was encouraged. Whenever I read a story about Christians who served the Lord passionately, I honestly do not envy their lives. I don't strive to become a martyr, to give birth on a ship with no one but my husband attending, or to visit him in jail every day....if it isn't my calling. But seeing how the Lord sustained these women (and men) as they responded to His call is inspiring. It encourages me that He would do the same for me.

Some of my favorite parts:

-A weary Charles Spurgeon falls asleep before preparing for the sermon, and instead of waking him up, Susannah Spurgeon writes down what he says in his sleep, and it becomes material for the sermon!

-George and Mary Mueller are so busy rushing about ministering in orphan houses that they barely spend time at home together. Yet they often run into each other in the street unexpectedly, as if the Lord is granting them those few minutes together.

-the wives of both John Bunyan and Adoniram Judson remain faithful to their husbands who are in jail; Elisabeth Bunyan appearing before the court to plead before the judge (but refusing to lie and say that her husband will stop preaching); Ann Judson visiting her husband daily and even relocating to a different area with her infant when Adoniram is transferred to a different prison.

-Ruth Bell Graham, when she realizes that the man she is marrying will be absent much of the time due to speaking engagements, takes it upon herself to make the most of the situation. She moves their family back in with her parents, knowing she can live cheerfully there while her husband is gone, and makes an effort to "keep busy" so that she won't fall into depression.

*Petersen, William J. 25 Surprising Marriages Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fun with tongue-twisters

Some of them are harder than others, but all of them are fun!

A few samples:

• Tiny Timmy trims the tall tree with tinsel.
• Chilly chipper children cheerfully chant.
• Two trains travel together to Toy land.
• Double bubble gum bubbles double.
• A cup of proper coffee in a copper coffee cup.

How old are you for real?

I forgot a piece of the story. When Emily saw something her brother had written, she noticed that he had put his age as 13, which was older than I expected.

It turns out he is actually 11 (or 12?). In Korea, they count ages differently. Emily said she's 15 in Korea but 13 everywhere else.

It might be easier to remember that they're in 6th and 8th grade, but the problem is that the grades in Russia are different from in the U.S. Kids are generally older when they enter elementary school.

I think someone should invent a calculator to translate ages between different cultures...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More adventures in tutoring

I went to the Korean family again. This time I managed to get through the gate myself, by pressing a silver button. I wondered what the point of the gate was if they let everyone in. Did someone see me on a security camera and decide that I looked trustworthy?

The boy (Min Joon) greeted me again, along with his mother. They were both smiling and showed me down a hallway instead of into the kitchen. I tried not to gape as I saw more of the apartment. Most of the doors were closed, but I caught sight of a big hot-tub as we passed the bathroom.

We entered a newly modeled bedroom, which Min Joon said belonged to his sister. We sat down to have our lesson.

"I write in my diary," Min Joon informed me. I didn't know what to say. "Is it for me or for school?" "You," he said. "Can I read it?" "Yeah." "Did you write it yourself?" "Yeah."

He had written an essay about his new tutor. "I have a new tutor her name is Elizabeth. She from America (I'm not sure about city). She Christian. She help orphan. About her character. I think she smile every day. And she composure."

Well, that pretty much knocked my socks off for the day. How had he gotten an impression of me after only one meeting? And how did he remember the orphan part? His mother must have taken very careful notes during the "interrogation" the previous day!

I was a bit conflicted as to how the journal should be corrected. As it is "free writing," I feel that correction marks should be at a minimum so as not to hinder the freedom of expression. Yet uncorrected mistakes lead to more mistakes. I might try to note the frequent errors for myself and use them for a lesson later.

We sped through my lesson plan in about half the time. I had forgotten how much material can be covered in tutorials (and when discipline or tardiness is not an issue!). We did some ad-libbing at the end, and then it was time for the next lesson.

As Emily sat down for her lesson, Min Joon came in with a glass of orange juice on a tray for me.

I asked Emily how she liked her room. "It's okay," she said. "A little small." I bit my tongue. I wondered what kind of home they had in Korea. Maybe I will make them do a comparison activity at some point.

Emily went through the material quickly as well. She converses in English easily, but with mistakes. It's a little hard to correct someone who is so confident, as opposed to someone who pauses all the time and is waiting to be corrected. It is also apparent that she hangs out with teenagers quite often, as she is a big fan of "stuff," "kind of," and the like.

Time to go work on lesson plans again...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Adventures in tutoring

The company I had been teaching through has lost most of its corporate clients for now. But tutorials are still in demand, and some group lessons may begin soon.

I told the director that I was fairly busy in the evenings, but that if she had something in the morning or afternoon, I would be interested.

I'm not overly excited about tutorials after being trained to teach in a classroom situation, but it's always a good opportunity to build relationships. So when I was offered a tutoring position 3 days a week that didn't interfere with orphanage visits or church activities, I accepted.

Then the director called to give me a little more information. She informed me that it was two people, who would be studying individually. And she gave me the address.

As the first lesson approached, she called me again. "I just wanted to talk to you a little about the students," she said. "Do you know anything about Korean culture?" Ummmm...what? "My roommate's Russian-Korean," I offered. "Okay, that's good." And then I learned a little more about my students who were children in a Korean family, none of whose members spoke Russian. I also learned that the mother had asked about my education, career, and which state I was from. I suddenly wondered if I was going to be approved for the job, even though it is technically our director's right to make that call.

I felt a bit nervous going off to the first lesson with the Koreans. I also felt a bit deceived. There are a few international schools that I have considered working in, but I feel that I have come to serve Russians and not bury myself in an ex-pat environment. Yet, it's hard to be in Russia as a foreigner. It can't hurt to reach out to someone who might be experiencing culture shock.

I panicked as I was going out the door. Maybe my outfit and hairdo were inappropriate. Should I put on something more formal? A skirt? Too late, it was time to go. The metro took longer than I thought, and I felt sure I was going to be late as I exited onto the street. I had left no time for the potential of getting lost.

A bus had pulled up, and I jumped on, hoping it would get me a little closer to my destination. I didn't know the area very well at all. Lo and behold, the bus continued in the direction I needed, and I got off across the street from the address on my piece of paper.

I approached the huge apartment complex, which was the size of a small village. I circled it as usual, looking for an entrance. Two of the doors were on the street, but the apartment numbers didn't match. The rest of the entrances were in a huge gated area. I slipped in as someone was leaving. Then I found the correct door and punched in the apartment number. Pretty soon I heard a voice, but I couldn't understand anything. It definitely wasn't Russian, and sounded a little like, "Who's there?", but it also could have been Korean. "It's Elizabeth," I said. "Who's there?" "It's your teacher." The door opened.

A smiling boy in glasses greeted me when I reached the apartment, and we got acquainted. He said he was 13, which was older than he looked. He called his mother so that she would return from wherever she was. The apartment looked pristine and luxurious. I took off my shoes, which seemed expected. He didn't offer to take my coat, and I couldn't see any other coats around. So I took it with me into the kitchen. This was definitely not a Russian home. I felt as though I had stepped into another country.

"Would you like a glass of water?" the boy asked. "Yes, please." It would kill time, and besides, drinking water while teaching was always a good idea to keep my voice in shape.

We sat down at the table and started a lesson. Pretty soon, the mother, also smiling, entered. She had a notebook with her and asked me several questions. What was my degree, where had I worked in the U.S., and why I had come to Russia. I was glad that I had known about her inquisitiveness ahead of time. Besides, she was smiling, so it couldn't be something bad. Or was the smiling a part of their culture?

I did feel a bit perplexed when she asked for a copy of my passport. I was too nervous to ask why. I reasoned that she simply wanted to confirm that I was a native speaker, and ensure that I could be trusted with her children. Or perhaps her husband had a top secret position and they had to be careful. Still, it was odd.

After having a lesson with the boy, his sister came in for her turn. She introduced herself as Emily, because apparently she had been told that her Korean name was hard to pronounce. The mother came in a few times to ask questions, but didn't hover.

At the end, we confirmed times and procedures, all three of them looking at me and smiling and exchanging words with each other in Korean. I learned that they had been in Russia for only 5 months. When I said I would take the bus, the mother asked, "is it safe?"

I noticed that none of them were wearing slippers, and the floor under my feet seemed warm. Was it heated?

They asked if I wanted dinner, and I didn't know what to say. Was it a Korean custom to feed tutors? Would I insult them if I declined? I said that I had to get to a meeting and didn't have time. The boy offered me yogurt, and I accepted, taking it with me for the road.

I said goodbye and headed out into the elevator, then through the various gates, reentering Russia.

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:...