Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's raining meat

Nope, it isn't The Weather Girls. I actually have Psalm 78 on my mind. He rained meat down on them like dust, flying birds like sand on the seashore. (verse 27)

I discovered this psalm a few years ago. I suppose I had read it plenty of times, but never paid much attention. But one day while reading it, the truth of God's faithfulness and the tragedy of the human condition struck me at the same time.

There are so many years of history packed into this one psalm that if you stop to remember each event, you go through a roller coaster of emotions.

First, there is the promise of the people to never forget God's deeds. read more/-

We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done. (v.4)

But that didn't last very long...

They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them. (v.11)

They continued to sin (v. 17) and tested God, displaying their unbelief.

When the LORD heard them, he was very angry;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,

for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance. (v.21, 22)

It was around this time that they got the meat they had been longing for (see beginning of post). Then, even when God punished them for their gluttony, they still didn't believe.

In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. (v.32)

And so the cycle continued...

Whenever God slew them, they would seek him;
they eagerly turned to him again.

They remembered that God was their Rock,
that God Most High was their Redeemer. (v.34, 35)

And then, after some time of trusting in Him...

Again and again they put God to the test;
they vexed the Holy One of Israel.

They did not remember his power—
the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, (v. 41, 42)

It's so baffling to read, and at the same time it makes so much sense. We are in need of God. As we begin to forget, and stray from His path, we sooner or later run into trouble that makes us run to Him again. And He is merciful to welcome us back.

A lot of times in life we use the excuse "I forget" or "I don't know." We make our mistakes sound more passive than they are. But the thing is that even the absence of a right action or a right thought counts as wrong.

"Forgetting" God leads to sin! But remembering won't come automatically. We have to take steps to make sure it happens.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. (Deut. 11:18-21)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In the news

I am often pretty skeptical about various sources, but it's interesting to read about what is considered news here in St. Petersburg. You probably heard about the recent train "crash." :( I typed up this post before that happened.

Here are a few recent headlines, not quite as heavy:

Swine flu may have been invented for the sake of money
-Wow, really? Only about a year late (though I am not claiming that anyone suffering from the flu is making it up... you have my sympathy)...

Fur coats for little dogs
-To each his own, I guess.

In correctional facility #5, an internet shop has opened
-This was kind of an interesting idea. Relatives can order things for inmates via the Internet, and the packages are prepared right there and delivered. It saves them from standing in huge lines or waiting for mail to come from home with stale food.


Priests are joining the army
-(photo: big burly-looking dude with a priestly beard and headgear, in camouflage) Apparently there are new military schools opening which will educate young men for the priesthood and the armed services simultaneously.

The planned "Okhta" Center won't spoil the skyline of the city
-Yes it will! I find it interesting that the newspaper is promoting this project.

Porridge made from rice is the healthiest of them all
(photo: "happy" girl staring at a HUGE bowl of rice porridge... ewwwwww)

*SOURCE: "Metro" newspaper, Saint Petersburg, Nov. 26, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The fourth Thursday

What? Today is a holiday?

It was a regular working day in Russia. I actually found it a bit amusing when people asked how I was celebrating Thanksgiving, since I didn't get home until 8 pm. But at the same time, it was really nice how everyone was so thoughtful.

-I had lunch with an American friend who's in town for the week
-a Canadian friend (they celebrated in October) offered to take me out for tea so I wouldn't be depressed about missing the holiday
-the orphanage staff wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and presented me with a chocolate bar
-in the evening, my parents called on the home phone for the first time in two years (we usually use other means of communication:) )

So despite being absorbed with myself and my daily life, I still had plenty of reminders.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Early in the morning

Who likes to get up on a cold, dark morning? Not me...although in the summer I would probably find another excuse.

But as I was going about my morning routine, an excerpt popped into my head:

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance..." (The Gospel of John, 20:1)

What does morning mean to you? Perhaps it includes a lot of moaning and groaning before you begin your day. But how many wonderful discoveries have been made in the morning! The main one, of course, the discovery of our Risen Lord.

That is my encouragement for the day. :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reading in the digital age

Ahhh, books. We were inseparable once. I still occasionally fall asleep with a few books near my pillow.

But let's face it. As we move further in life, it gets harder to stop and sit down with a book. After all, once we get home, there is the computer...

I try to keep technology to a minimum. I have a cell phone (with no internet), and a digital camera that goes with me occasionally. But sometimes I wonder if I am missing out by not having a little screen where I could read books while on the go. I'm physically unable to carry a lot with me, and the light in the public transportation is often too dim for proper reading. more/-

A few electronic books came my way recently, and I thought...hmmm. Is it likely that I'm going to sit at my computer and read them? Maybe a few pages a day?

One of the books is a free download of Gary Thomas' Pure Pleasure. I liked his Sacred Marriage. I don't recommend Googling the term "pure pleasure;" there's some appropriate information here. :) The book sounds suspiciously similar to Desiring God. If I ever read it, I'll let you know...

I don't know what will happen to my reading habits with the rise of technology. I suppose I will eventually give in to modern trends.

But something about reading books on a screen is so...unromantic. :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Stained glass" Christmas decorations

This is going to be a picture-less post, but here's a link with some examples if you're visually-inclined:

I had never thought of fake stained glass as something that could be nice to look at. However, once I tried it, I learned that any picture you can draw or trace can be made into a window decoration using special paints. They are translucent when dry, which gives it a more natural look. We are using it as a Christmas craft. I'm not suggesting that you leave them up all year round. :)

The process is really simple and low-tech (for those of you who are doubtful about your craft abilities):

  • 1) Ask for window-cling paints at your local craft or toy store. You will also need some kind of clear plastic surface to work on.
  • 2) Make the outline of your drawing with black paint (or the color of your choice) by placing a pattern underneath your plastic sheet, or by drawing free-hand. * Let dry 1-2 hours, depending on how thick the paint is, etc. You want it dry enough to not run into other colors.
  • 3) Fill in all the areas with the colors of your choice, being sure not to let them touch. ** Let dry overnight.
  • 4) Peel off and stick to a window pane. Can be removed and reapplied several times!

*Tip: Think about how you want to break up the space into shapes.
**Tip: Keep in mind that any pieces left isolated (such as "floating" facial features) will be detached from the rest of the picture once you remove it from the plastic.

The contour drawing from my tester can be found on this post. I liked the way it came out once I had filled in the different colors. But it was a very small picture, and the ones we are doing with the Sunday school are meant to fill up a whole window! Of course there are more technical difficulties as you get bigger, the main one being that as you use more paint, the drying time is longer. Try not to move them right away.

Concerning age: Even preschoolers can participate, if they can be taught how to regulate how much paint they are using (squeeze some out, then spread).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wagging tongues

We had an interesting topic for conversation class recently...gossip and slander. It was interesting timing since I had recently been thinking about that side of personal relationships.

When it comes down to it, living without gossip is very hard. I mean, it is a very hard habit to quit! When was the last time you had a conversation that wasn't about some absent 3rd party? Maybe the discussion started out innocently enough, but led to some kind of judgment...

In class, we agreed that it was hard to find other topics to talk about. The weather? Even if you try to stay with your own life and that of your conversation partner, many of life's problems are related to other people. For example, what affects your family members or roommate affects you as well. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We are made to live in community. continue reading/-

I find it hard to even discuss the topic of gossip without bringing up some example that I'm not at liberty to share.

My teacher tried to prompt us by asking how we would react to someone who has a reputation as a gossip. "Would you be friends with that person?" she asked. "Doesn't labeling someone as a 'gossip' count as gossiping?" I replied.

While it's difficult to pin down any "rules" for how to speak kindly about other people, I suppose it is possible to reflect on how you personally can respond.

1) What to do when a conversation leads to gossip

I can think of three solutions:

- Keep silent and offer neutral answers, thereby killing others' interest in the topic.

- Change the subject subtly or change the tone by bringing up a positive trait of the person in question.

- Declare your discomfort openly and explain why you think gossip is wrong.

I suppose it all depends on the situation, your personality, your role in the group, etc.

2) How do you respond when you learn that someone has spread rumors or gossip about you?

This is a tough one. I noticed that a popular answer, even among Christians, seems to be that you need to refute the rumors and make sure everyone knows the truth about you, so that your reputation will be protected. I am not sure if this is necessarily the most loving thing to do. In fact, I think the initial desire to defend oneself is born out of pride.

But here is what comes to mind:

- Could there be a reason for the gossip? If it is something that circulates often, could there be something in your behavior that is causing a reaction in people? It doesn't justify their speaking poorly of you, but it could still be a warning sign.

- What is the strongest witness of your character? Hopefully even if several people speak against you, there is still ample evidence as to what kind of life you lead. And your response when wronged will be a greater witness still.

-Do you have something against your brother? I don't think confrontation is always necessary, but gossip is sometimes motivated by a personal disagreement. Maybe it could all be solved by a simple apology or confession of offense. I find it hard to confront someone when I'm upset, without sounding accusatory. And if my motive is to argue, then maybe it isn't worth it. But if it can help the relationship to bring something to light, then go for it.

I haven't fully meditated on this topic to the end, so let this be a disclaimer. :) To be continued... perhaps.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Visa time

As you may recall, my current visa is good for 90 days. But since it's a student visa, I don't have to leave Russia to extend it.

Sometimes everything is just a little too casual for my liking. For example, I was told that my visa would be changed from a single-entry to a multi-entry when I arrived. But I recently found out that the switch was never made. I guess they had forgotten and I hadn't asked. This happened with a few other documents as well. I usually know enough to ask questions, but I wonder what happens to people who are here for the first time and/or don't speak Russian!

So this is what I had to do to extend my current visa...

Day 1

"I'm here to extend my visa," I announced. +/-

"Through December?" she asked, referring to the original dates.

"Ummm, no, my visa should already be good through December...I wanted to extend it for another 6 months beyond that."

This seemed like new information for her even though we had originally agreed on 9 months.

"Hmmmmm. Let's see." She had to think about what to do with me. The university has recently started requiring that you pay immediately for your classes per the number of hours you will study, then use that to sign a contract which you use to start the visa process. However, the university does not yet know their schedule for the next semester, so they couldn't determine the number of hours I would be studying. :)

After twiddling her pencil and making a few phone calls, the administrator said that we could make an educated guess about the number of holidays in the next semester, and subtract those hours from my tuition. Then if it ended up being more hours, we would have to draw up an additional contract. If less, I could have a few private lessons.

Day 2

I didn't have time to pay the fees that day since I didn't know how long it would take. I wanted to try paying with my VISA debit and not cash, since the sum was large enough to have required several trips to the ATM.

The next day, using the map from Elena the administrator, I entered the main grounds of Herzen university and began to search for the building where I could find the cashier.

After wandering around for about 15 minutes, I determined which building I needed to enter, and eventually, found a working entrance. A few babushkas immediately accosted me and asked where I was going. "The cashier," I said, flashing my student ID.

"Okay. Wipe your feet."

I ascended to what I thought was the third floor and began to look for the office. There was a labyrinth of corridors with windowless wooden doors, labeled by black and gold placards with very long titles.

I found myself alone in a large corridor lined with huge portraits of the tsars. It was a very regal (and slightly intimidating) atmosphere.

I finally asked someone where to go. "You need the third floor," he said. I was only on the second floor.

On the third floor, I was supposed to take a right and then a left, but I couldn't tell what actually counted as a turn. I got lost again.

I entered an office with a lot of desks and asked if this was the cashier. "It's opposite," a woman said. I knocked at the door that was across the hall. "Try next door," they said. I tried the next door, but it turned out to be connected to the previous one.

"The cashier is right there! Can't you read?" I turned, and saw a window in the wall, with a small black label, "Cashier." Oh. All this time, I had been looking for an actual room!

I talked to the lady through the glass and asked if I could use my VISA card here. "Building 11, room 11. First floor." I was in Building 5.

I headed outside to start over. I had seen Building 11, but it was labeled "Department of Psychology." There were students milling about, and I looked for a different entrance. On one door, a sign read "for questions related to payment, go through the main entrance."

I walked past the students and into Building 11. I opened the door to room 11 and ordinary classroom. No, this wasn't it. I eventually found a sign that said something related to payment, and followed the signs up to the second floor. Entering an office, I asked again where to go. "You want room 11b," they said.

I went back downstairs and headed towards room 11. A woman was guarding some textbooks for sale. She told me to enter room 11 and immediately turn left. When I did so, there was a door marked "terminal." Ummmm. Creepy? I opened the door and found a closet-sized room divided by a curtain. There sat a woman in a purple sweater, sipping coffee from an ornate teacup. On the desk sat one of those machines that you run credit cards through.

I had finally found the right place, and she began to process my payment right away. After the first try, she said, "No connection with the bank. We'll have to wait five minutes. Would you like a cup of coffee?" I refused the coffee, but took a few pieces of candy as I hadn't had lunch. Then I pulled a random pamphlet out of my bag and started to read. We tried about three more times made a few phone calls, and eventually had success.

Next stop-the bank, to pay another fee. This time I knew where to go, but didn't know what kind of line there would be. When I arrived, there were two windows in operation, but one had been abandoned, and at the other stood a young woman in a fur coat, buying lottery tickets and scratching them off one at a time. Finally someone appeared at the second window and took care of me.

Final stop-the administrator of the international department. She shuffled some papers around and then took me to the passport/visa department, where they did some stamping and photocopying. They handed me a photocopy of my passport and my migration card, saying to check back in a month. I looked back at my passport as I walked away...hopefully they'll take good care of it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What the new law means

Recently, a few people have mentioned the new law about foreign "laborers" in Russia. Here's an explanation on someone's blog.

The reality is that mass evangelism has been restricted for awhile. I have heard about things getting "tighter," but I think it depends on what you are doing. Every once in a while you hear of a Bible study somewhere getting broken up, but I think that's fairly rare.

I haven't participated lately in anything that would be against the new proposed law. I know that authorities are especially concerned about anyone that could be taken advantage of, such as invalids or children. They fear that children are "impressionable." (I think Orthodox education of children starts pretty early, but apparently that doesn't count.)

read more/-

Anyway, I can't think of a situation in which this law would apply. I attend a Russian church and there's nothing there that would draw attention to missionaries. I don't do any proselytizing in the orphanage or any other public places. What I do is all about life and work and the relationships along the way. But Christ is the foundation, and no law can change that.

I don't have too much contact with other missionaries, so my perspective might not be accurate. If any foreign-run ministries have had to close, I don't think it is an indicator that Russia is closed to the Gospel. It just means that people will be seeking the Gospel in other contexts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And so it begins

There is no Thanksgiving Day in Russia to count from. Christmas and New Year's decorations can appear at any time. My metro station has had a New Year's tree for about 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, Advent begins on November 29th. In order for the decorations to be ready for the first Sunday, we have to make them now...right?

Lest you think I'm organized, I'm not even THINKING about shopping for gifts yet. In fact, I would like to make them, but somehow I can't see myself finding the time. more/-

For home decorations, I would like to try making this circular Advent calendar (see below). It's the same basic idea as a Jesse Tree, but with a slightly different design. I haven't decided yet which medium to use.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Warding off vampires (sickness?)

I tutor one of the orphanage counselors regularly. We were covering a certain topic and I asked her what she does to avoid getting the flu.

Her first response was that public events and social activities should be canceled for a time. Schools, etc. should be closed to prevent sickness from spreading further.

Then I asked her about her personal approach. She went to her room and returned with a little pouch on a string and explained that one of the other counselors had sewn a bunch by hand for them all to wear.

The woman whom I teach describes herself as "Muslim," but doesn't practice, as far as I know. Meanwhile, the counselor who sewed the pouches is Russian Orthodox.

"What do you do with it?" I asked, fearing some kind of witchcraft. Even among Russian Orthodox believers, some remedies border on paganism.

"You put garlic inside," she said. That wasn't as bad as I thought. If you can eat garlic as a remedy, maybe wearing it also does something? Not something I would try, each his own.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On your side, Part 2

Read this one first.

I didn't mean to understate the importance of solid, supportive relationships. I just wanted to emphasize the one perfect source of comfort. Not only will He not disappoint, but He will always receive me when I've made stupid mistakes.

Today I read Psalm 62: "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. " (I immediately remembered the John Michael Talbot song.)

Of course we cannot overlook the friends in our lives who are a testimony of God's provision. But it takes wisdom to know whom to turn to in each situation and which words to say.

I will leave it at that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On your side

In the midst of conflict, there is often a temptation to run to someone who will take our side. And why not? There's nothing inherently wrong with the desire to be understood. This is the way we have been created.

The problem is that we don't always represent the whole story. Maybe we don't consciously think about escaping blame, but in crafting our story, we leave out certain bits of information and neglect others. We pick up the phone or sit down at the computer to "pour our heart out" to someone who doesn't really know the whole situation.

This is a bad idea on two counts: 1) Sharing about a situation can quickly turn to gossip. 2) We are not confronting the source of the problem. continue/-

As a missionary, of course, there is the temptation to run to one's home culture and seek sympathy there. But our lines shouldn't be drawn in such a way. The "us" should refer to the Church, not to culture.

Sometimes I realize that if I open my mouth, I won't be able to explain the situation without casting blame on someone else. Human pride is a strong force! And so, the only person left to run to is the One who created me.

When you were little, didn't you run to Mommy or Daddy in difficult situations, completely trusting that you would be comforted? I believe that God waits to comfort us in the same way. He is on our side.

"As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem." Is. 66: 13

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In which we take a creative pause

When we visited the far-off orphanage this time, the counselor was waiting for us with a drawing assignment. Their group's entry for a poster contest was due, and they hadn't started yet. It reminded me of a time at camp when our team showed up with all our equipment and asked what we could do to help, and the answer was the a poster for the contest. Why not?

So we helped with the poster. I don't know that we draw any better than the kids, but at least we could boost motivation a little by getting into it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


My grammar teacher said that St. Petersburg hasn't had a real winter for awhile. I suppose she is right. It has been pretty mild for the past few years.

And this year....will winter return?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Russian teacher's wisdom

Valentina is not your typical substitute teacher.

She fills in for other teachers, but she is actually quite experienced and the author of our textbook.

Today I had planned to do a presentation that was originally due Monday. Somehow our presentations have a habit of being postponed. This time, my classmate had agreed to help, and even brought her elephant prop (long story).

But when we walked into class, there was Valentina, instead of our regular teacher. And she quickly got down to business. She has a great sense of humor, and I enjoy her teaching style.

Here is one Valentina-ism:

She was putting the word “bench” into context. +/-

“In St. Petersburg, the mayor ordered that metal benches be put in at the bus stops. They used to be wooden, but now they’re metal. The first reason is that no one sits on metal. This way, they keep moving instead of loitering. The second reason is that no one will be able to break them.”

Meanwhile, we had a 10-minute break and Valentina and I were alone in the room.

“What church do you attend?” she asked. I can’t remember when I told her that I attend church.
“It’s a Russian Protestant church,” I said.
“We meet in one of the rooms of the Christian university. We don’t have our own building.”

After that, we had a moment of confusion. She asked how my church differed from a regular Protestant church; I said it didn’t. She asked why we couldn’t just meet in the same building as other Protestants, who do have a building. I described our weekly meetings and tried to explain that we have a common faith, but still have separate fellowships. To me it seems odd that Orthodox believers can just pop in to any Orthodox church when they feel a need to attend. It makes Protestantism sound more rigid that we are bound to a certain time and place. To me, the relationships are obviously important, as well as the idea of accountability. If you attend different congregations, who will know how you’re really doing spiritually?

But still, it made me think.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stop-start life

Poor bunny, that carrot doesn't seem so appealing to him right now.

As much as I've tried to get on a regular schedule this fall, I seem to get bursts of energy and then crash.

One of my textbooks pointed out that this is part of Russian culture and is a remnant of peasant life: periods of quiet, alternating with intense periods of labor, due to the harvest season.

Last week was school vacation week, so I didn't have to go to the orphanage in the afternoons. Not to mention, November 4th was "Unity Day," so I had a whole day off. I was planning to spend the week catching up with friends whom I haven't seen since getting back to Russia. But I got sick right after the church retreat, and had very little energy to do anything other than attend class in the mornings. more/-

I was a bit nervous about this being a full work week. It sounded so daunting. I realize that for most people, this is normal life, but it felt like I had had a lot of false starts and then got interrupted by sickness or other distractions. So a whole new week stretching out before me seemed like a mountain too big to climb.

But the week is actually going fine. And with two days behind me, the end is in sight!

I still need to do my homework, but my energy burst has ended. Oops!

Monday, November 9, 2009

An evening in the "Cultural Capital"

A friend and I went to a concert in the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Paul. It's one of those familiar buildings on Nevskii Prospect that you may have walked by several times, but never entered.

read more/-

Or you may have peeked inside, but did you continue up the winding staircase into the sanctuary?

During Soviet times, churches were remodeled to serve secular purposes. This one was a swimming pool, as is still evident from the bleachers. It was restored after the fall of the Soviet Union, and gets plenty of use as a church today. Some of my friends were married here.

Oh, and the concert. It featured a combination of brass and organ, with such composers as Bach, Stanley, Telemann, Pachelbel (you can guess which piece), and Vivaldi. Lots of old favorites.

The path of life

If the LORD delights in a man's way,
he makes his steps firm;

though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

-Ps. 37:23,24

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Faux pas

Some of my Russian friends recently brought up the topic of reading your Bible in public transportation. Apparently, in Orthodox culture, it is frowned upon.

Various arguments:
-you are doing your spiritual works “before men” (as the Pharisees)
-you are not giving proper respect to the Word of God, by opening it in such a place
-you have clearly not set aside a separate time for reading and meditating on the Word, since you are reading in while in transit

I was a little surprised by the discussion, but I realized that Americans are very casual in general about such things. I never think twice about where I place my Bible, how I write in it, when/where I read it, etc. Obviously I think about what works the best for me, but it is rare that I consider how it looks to others or to someone from another culture. I was chastised once by a Russian friend for putting my Bible in the bag with my change of shoes on the home way from church. Oops! more/-

It’s possible that Russian Orthodoxy is closer to the Jewish culture in this regard. But in American Protestant churches, ritual purity is rarely observed.

I was riding in the metro recently and the man opposite me opened a book and was reading intently. As far as I could tell, it was a Muslim calendar or book of prayer. “That’s it,” I thought. “If the Muslims can do it, so can we.” And I decided that I was going to read my Bible after all. Why shouldn’t I use the time to receive a little edification?

Today I was reading 1 Timothy 4 and came across the following (verse 13): “Give attention to public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and reading.” AHA. I opened up my Russian Bible to the parallel verse, and found…it says only “reading.” According to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon, “Anagnosis” does in fact mean public reading-but in the synagogue.

I am not sure what I learned from this little exploration, but at least I dusted off my Greek NT. :)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Otherwise occupied

I was going to write an interesting post today, but I had a visit from a friend who has been absent much too often lately! So I wouldn't have traded it for anything...

We are making a surprise for someone. Shhhh....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Russian language help

I was doing a search recently for something related to St. Petersburg, and ran across a Russian language podcast.

It features a 20-minute lesson with background, vocabulary explanation, and a short dialogue (transcript included).

The podcast host speaks real-l-ly slowly, but at least she's a native speaker and her intonation and pronunciation sound natural. If you are at an intermediate level in Russian, this is for you. The topics are practical and if you are disciplined enough to practice the vocabulary, you just might see some improvement!

Check out the site.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The wrong exam

I prepared for the wrong exam.

But to rewind a little bit...recently, I was thinking about how happy I am. I feel almost guilty about it. My life isn't perfect, but what do I have to complain about, really?

The funny thing is that nothing has happened the way I expected. I had imagined a different kind of life for myself. I went through life gathering little bits of wisdom for myself, intending them for a certain plan. It was a kind of American Dream...maybe not in the sense of wealth, but it still had the elements that young people often dream of.

And then I found myself in Russia and realized that the things that I had learned weren't necessarily helpful. more/-

In studying for exams, Russian students normally prepare answers for a number of topics, and then on exam day they choose a "ticket" containing the question that they will answer. It just so happens that I drew a ticket that wasn't on my list. In life, I mean. It's not that I want to exchange it, it's just that I got something I wasn't expecting. And I find myself pondering questions that I would have never thought would be relevant to my life.

I had to learn a new set of basic skills:

-how to dress warmly
-how to not be killed crossing the street
-how to find (and prepare) food
-how to greet people
-how to count change

And then of course there are the deeper questions, relating to the moral decisions, and the relationships, and everything that relates to the heart and spiritual matters.

But the nice thing is that God doesn't change, and if I can just lean on Him, I will hopefully be prepared for whatever comes along. :)

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Ps. 16:11

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful fall

We had about 4 days of stupendous weather! I felt like I was in heaven. No, it wasn't warm (it is November, after all), but the sun was shining!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Active and Passive

This isn't a grammar lesson. It is, perhaps, a life lesson!

I was talking with a friend about ways to avoid depression. I know I've mentioned it before, but one of my methods is to write things down. It forces me to identify just what it is that's bothering me, and give it up to God. And of course I write letters to people, too. Or blog posts.

And then I asked my friend...You don't feel sad when you're in the midst of DOING something, do you? Talking to a friend, going to church...

No, she didn't.

Loneliness is certainly a part of the equation. But when I thought about how writing helps, I remembered my teacher-training, and the various skill areas that we talked about. +/-

-Writing and speaking are active skills.
-Reading and listening are passive (and here you could include watching TV, browsing the Internet, etc.), in that we receive input.

The passive skills are an important part of life. But let's be honest...they leave room for idleness. We can lose ourselves in a television program, and perhaps even forget about our problems for a short time. But in the end we have not done anything productive, and our problems are still there. When we receive helpful information, we have to do something with it in order for it to be effective.

Writing and speaking activities let us get those feelings OUT so they won't bother us anymore. This comes easier for some people than for others. :)

Have you ever noticed how staying busy helps you to flee from certain temptations? This is a part of perseverance, which is right and good. But if there is an ongoing problem, it should be addressed, as actively as possible!

That is all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Annual retreat

This weekend I went on a 24-hour church retreat. It was a great way to spend Halloween weekend. No offense to anyone who went trick-or-treating, but Halloween is one American holiday which I don't miss! :)

It was a double blessing because it DIDN'T RAIN all weekend! It was sooooo nice to see the sun (even though the days are very short).

On Friday evening, everyone made their way to the retreat after work. A few church members cooked supper, which we ate before beginning the worship service.


Throughout Friday evening and Saturday until closing, we shared "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" and had lessons on various topics for the purpose of edification.

As usual, we went home tired, but happy...

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Looking back at previous blog posts, I noticed that I often post something from Oswald Chambers in October. I wonder why that is. Perhaps the autumn brings about a kind of desperation that makes me reach for something uplifting.

“The challenge to the missionary does not come on the line that people are difficult to get saved, that backsliders are difficult to reclaim, that there is a wedge of callous indifference; but along the line of his own personal relationship to Jesus Christ. 'Believe ye that I am able to do this?' Our Lord puts that question steadily, it faces us in every individual case we meet. The one great challenge is - Do I know my Risen Lord? Do I know the power of His indwelling Spirit?”*

I don’t have a problem asking myself “What would Jesus do?” I think it is a good idea to follow Christ’s example. However, we can get into a pattern of striving to make ourselves like Christ, by our own means. Maybe it's better to ask ourselves, “Do I trust God in this situation? Have I surrendered this to Him, or am I still trying to do it all myself?”

*Oswald Chamber, My Utmost for His Highest –reading for Oct. 27th

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...