Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paradoxy

Sometimes God doesn't make sense. Sometimes He is working on your heart one way, and then a moment later He turns your attention to something else entirely.

When I wrote about complacency, it wasn't because I was necessarily struggling with it, but because it had caught my attention while reading Proverbs. I thought perhaps there was a good lesson in there, and I did try to think about where I had become too satisfied and needed to seek God more.

But as I was going about my day, I heard a voice say, "I have you where I want you." It was strange because in my post I had talked about the danger of becoming too content in your relationship with God. Yet I felt that He wasn't telling me not to keep striving to grow; He was simply speaking to me about my circumstances. It was as though I had been punching endlessly at the air, and He told me, "stop."

Today I picked up a little volume by Elisabeth Elliot called "Be still, my soul" to read in the metro. I had already read it, so it qualified for the kind of "easy reading" that is good for traveling. But the book is not short on substance.

Elisabeth Elliot touches on some of the major issues that touch the human heart. I like what she says about surrendering.

"The One who has the keys is the One who is in charge. And if we have given our lives to Him, we are able to accept everything that happens to us as from his hands." (p.33; see also Rev.1:12-18, about keys)

It's as simple as that. She then goes on to talk about the difficulties of waiting, relating a story about Amy Carmichael.
"She and a missionary couple were delayed on a journey because of a boat that did not arrive. Not just hours but days went by, and the young missionary began to fret because of the time lost and the consequences to others who counted on them. The older missionary said calmly, 'God knows all about the boats.'" (pp.33, 34)
I was struck by this concept that "God knows." It isn't that He has overlooked the fact that other people are counting on you to be on time, or that if you are sick on Sunday you will have to miss church, or that if the printer doesn't work it's going to be an interesting English lesson. It's just that He has a different plan.

And so, while I was thinking yesterday about the dangers of complacency, the theme for today is acceptance.

Elisabeth Elliot mentioned a poem on this theme which I was able to locate on the Internet.

"In Acceptance Lieth Peace," by Amy Carmichael

He said, "I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places—
They shall be filled again;
O voices mourning deep within me, cease."
Vain, vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace.

He said, "I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction
Shall stir my spirit to flame;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood, cease."
Vain, vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavour lieth peace.

He said, "I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life's riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease."
Vain, vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

He said, "I will submit; I am defeated;
God hath depleted
My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings; why will ye not cease?"
Vain, vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.

He said, "I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God to-morrow
Will to His son explain."
Then did the turmoil deep within him cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in acceptance lieth peace.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A word study on complacency

While reading a book which I will soon review, I learned that Ruth Bell Graham loved to read Proverbs. As I hadn't done an in-depth study of the book of Proverbs for a few years, I decided to give it a try.

In my first sitting, I reached this verse:
"For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;" (Pvbs. 1:32)
It makes sense enough, but I wanted to investigate just what was meant by "complacency." Was it present in my life?

I have heard the concept of complacency pop up at various times in Christian messages. "Christians need to stop being so complacent...we need to get out there and preach the Gospel." Something along those lines. Hearing it in this context, I often associated it with apathy or inaction.

Merriam-Webster defines complacency as "self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies."

Although the word complacency has negative connotations, the Hebrew word in Proverbs 1:32 is actually used in different contexts. The word can mean either genuine OR false security, peace, quietness, prosperity (used in the Russian), abundance (definitions from Strong's Concordance).

For example: "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife."-Proverbs 17:1. The word for peace and quiet here is the same as in 1:32.

It seems that the problem is not the prosperity itself, but the source. For the next verse in chapter one reads, "but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (v.33)

Those who reached a kind of false security will be destroyed, while those who seek the Lord find a genuine sense of security.

There is a similar word used in Isaiah which can also be translated "complacency."
"You women who are so complacent, rise up and listen to me; you daughters who feel secure, hear what I have to say! In little more than a year you who feel secure will tremble; the grape harvest will fail, and the harvest of fruit will not come..."(Is.32:9,10)
Here the women are warned not to feel too secure, as danger is coming.

Using the same term, Amos 6:1 warns, "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!" Later in the chapter, the Lord rebukes Israel's pride. Not even the "foremost nation" should find satisfaction in something other than in the Lord.

Where do we seek satisfaction? Is it in wealth, fame, academic success? Many of us shake our heads at those, but another stumbling block is religiosity. For it is easy to feel that we are at a good place with God and can relax a little.

Complacency may be linked to inaction, or faith "without works," but the answer, as I can tell, is not to go out and begin "doing," although it is natural to feel stirred up to act. The answer begins in the heart. What characterizes the fools in Proverbs 1? They have not set their hearts on seeking wisdom. They have found satisfaction in "self" and haven't looked outside of themselves.

I'm sure there are many other places in the Bible that relate to this topic. I haven't even touched on anything in the New Testament.

I think it is going to take me a long time to get through Proverbs...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Calling the rescue squad

When I returned from the spooky hotel, my roommate had been locked out for 2-3 hours...not because she didn't have a key, but because half of it had broken off in the lock. I have to admit that I wasn't too surprised, since the door had been giving us trouble for the past few months.

But here we were at 10 pm, waiting for a locksmith to come and get us out of this mess.


A short while after I arrived, around the corner came 3 young men in blue jumpsuits, adorned with helmets, ropes, and other rescue gear. Here was our "locksmith." Very macho.

After a brief examination they explained the options to Zhenya, which were to 1) break the door (less expensive) or 2) break in through the window and open the door from the inside (more expensive, but sparing the door). We chose the second option, although the price was exorbitant.

Then the rescue guys went to meet the neighbors upstairs and explain why they needed to make use of their balcony. The 5th floor occupants weren't home, so they had to use the 6th floor, adding another 1,000 rubles to the bill. I felt a bit taken advantage of, but what else could we do? We wanted to sleep in our own beds that night.

One of the guys stayed with us while the other two did their rappelling. Then a second guy came down to join us in the corridor, and pretty soon we heard a noise from inside the apartment as the third guy had successfully broken in through the balcony window. He wrestled with the lock for a while, and finally another of the guys went to bring him more tools.

And then, the door clicked open. We were in. And now that we were in, we were there to stay, because the lock was rendered useless and we could only lock the door using the little hand-operated button on the inside.

We juggled our plans for the next day so that one of us would be home to lock the door from the inside. In the afternoon, a regular locksmith (no jumpsuit) came to install a new lock.

In the end, the "rescue" and new lock cost about as much as the original door. It's not my apartment, so I can't really comment. It's one of those details of life that seems unnecessary. Not the door, but spending the time to deal with it. But we are really thankful to have that experience behind us. No one got hurt, and life goes on.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roaming dark alleys

In a deep, dark, wood, there was a deep, dark house. In the deep, dark house, there was a deep, dark closet.

I can't remember exactly how the children's tale goes, but it suddenly popped into my head when I was looking for a certain address one evening (and it is a great text for teaching definite and indefinite articles, but this is not going to be a post about teaching).

When I first emerged from the metro onto Nevskii Prospect, it was still light outside. I knew where I was going. It was on a street I knew, but a little farther down then I had been before.

I passed the doughnut place, which was still open. But my goal was to take care of my errands and get home while it wasn't too late.

I reached the general area where the hotel was, and stopped under the sign. I had once again encountered a common problem in St. Petersburg: I was standing at the address where I needed to go, but could not figure out how to get inside, although the entrance may have been perhaps 10 feet from where I was standing.

I peered through the locked iron gate into an alley. The signs for the hotel continued. Evidently I needed to enter, but how? To the left there was a list of codes, but I didn't know what to do with them. I began to go around the building, to see if I could get into the alley from another direction.

Meanwhile, the sun had gone down. I went a little ways down the side street and stopped. It didn't seem like a good idea to continue. I returned to the gate with the signs and codes.

After a few minutes, the gate opened and a woman exited, so I slipped in before it closed. Now I was on the other side, and it felt like I had entered a fortress. There was no one around, just the hotel sign to guide my way. I made my way to the door that was directly under the sign. It said that the hotel was on the 6th floor.

I opened the door, which was unlocked. It felt like I had entered a regular apartment building. The entrance hall was old and rundown as if no one had lived there for a long time. After a few minutes, I found an elevator and selected "6th floor."

I don't normally suffer from claustrophobia, but each time I entered another locked area, I felt like I was going deeper and deeper into a fortress and wouldn't be able to get out.

Now I had reached the 6th floor. A young hotel clerk was walking around and invited me to enter, as I explained that my friends were staying there. "But I don't even know the room number," I said. She looked it up on the computer and told me where to go. I found it interesting that once I was in the fortress, security seemed fairly relaxed.

I found the hallway where the rooms were. My contact had come with a team of Americans, and I assumed that they had the whole row of rooms. But the hallway was silent and no one responded to my knocking. Surely if there some jolly Americans nearby, I would hear them. I hung out in the hallway for a bit, wondering if I was being watched via security camera.

Eventually, the door at the other end of the hallway opened, and they had arrived. They were friendly and seemed excited about their task, putting on an English camp for Russians in a town outside of St. Petersburg.

I got what I had come for and made my way out: down the silent hallways, down in the small elevator, through the dilapidated entrance, through the dark alley, and finally, through the gate, which opened with the touch of a button.

The doughnut place was still open even though it was past closing time. An elderly lady in an apron with a broom informed passersby that it wasn't too late to stop by. But my roommate had called saying she was locked out. So I had to hurry home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Joy in the journey

These words of Michael Card were a nice reminder of God's grace that is there for us to enjoy every day.

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who've been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin

Forget not the hope that's before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And freedom for those who obey...

Someone's engaged

It looks like we are going to have another family wedding before the year is over...





Congrats, Emily and Mark!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Passports

I picked up my new passport at the U.S. Consulate. It was painless. I told them that I would prefer not to cancel my old passport, as it contains my Russian visa, and they obliged.

Now that I have that taken care of, I can use the new passport number when I apply for my next visa.

I'm not quite accustomed to the new passport yet. I'm normally wary of new things, and it has a different feel.



They also managed to turn a perfectly decent photo into a monstrosity. I'm a little irked about that.




But I'm thankful.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More about seekers

Last fall, I wrote about my frustration over seekers not wanting to come to church events. I wondered what the problem was.

Six months later, the situation that prompted me to write the post has taken an interesting turn. One of the girls who had been promising to come to church (but didn't) asked to meet with me. And she told me about her journey over the past few months.

"I realized that church is something you have to make time for," she said. She had read a book I had given her from cover to cover. It was about what to do when you've become a Christian. She was seriously pondering some of the advice, such as reading the Bible and becoming a part of a church.

While meditating on these things, a man approached her one day in the metro and shared the Gospel. He told her that God had a special calling on her life, and prayed for her. Then she called me.

"Come to church tomorrow," I said, when we met. This time, she came.

But what she said about commitment was interesting. When I worry about people not coming to church, it's not that I think that my kind of church is best or even that it has to be Sunday. Arrangements can always be made for someone who has a difficult schedule.

My problem is that when a person says "yes" to Christianity but "no" to church, I question the level of sincerity. Oh, how many times I had a friend who was seeking, who promised to be at the bus stop on Sunday morning...and didn't come.

When a person says, "I'm okay just reading the Bible at home," I say "fine," because I know that if he/she is really going to read the Bible and seek God, then the Holy Spirit will convict that person of the need to become a part of the Body. But just sitting at home with the Bible on a shelf isn't going to do much good.

So, perhaps, part of the answer is that a person who isn't able to make the time commitment hasn't really had a change of heart yet. And the solution is to pray for his heart to be changed. Maybe the right time just hasn't arrived yet.

And one more thing. I mentioned God being able to work in a seeker's heart despite a church's imperfections. I still believe this is true, but with an added perspective: when a visitor sees some of the "human" moments: the instruments being out of tune, the latecomers arriving, a baby crying....he sees how we as a church handle these moments and relate to each other (hopefully) in love.

This doesn't answer all the questions. It is still difficult to find the right avenues for evangelism and the best way to welcome newcomers into a congregation. But it is a piece of the puzzle.

The apple of my eye

I was goofing off and looking at my roommate through a pretend telescope, when she suddenly announced, "I can see the apple of your eye!"

I froze. Had she read my mind? How did she know what I was thinking about?

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I can see this part of your eye," she said, pointing to her own eye.

"Ummmm, the apple of your eye is the thing you cherish most," I said, confused.

"But this expression comes from the name of this part of your eye."

"What part? The eyeball?"

"No, here. The center."

"The iris?"

"No, the white."

"That's called the 'sclera,'" I said, positive that we hadn't covered "apple" in biology class.

"It is just a name for the middle of the eye," she insisted. "We have it in Russian too."

"Okay, I just didn't understand because even if that is the origin, we don't actually use it that way. We use it to describe something that is the center of your life."

I went to look it up on Google. She was right.

According to this site, the phrase originally referred to "the central aperture of the eye." Sir Walter Scott used the phrase figuratively in "Old Mortality," 1816: "Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye."

And it is also, of course, found in the Bible.

In Deuteronomy, the Lord cares for His inheritance:
In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, (32:10)

Another example is Zechariah 2:8.

For this is what the LORD Almighty says: "After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye-

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Confusing Russia

At 6pm, the sun is shining. This is before setting the clocks one hour ahead. According to weather.com, my hometown has about the same times for sunrise and sunset. But it still feels different. Maybe I am just getting used to having missed a whole season.

Children and persecution

There is a boy at the orphanage who believes in God.

Danya has been living in this orphanage with his siblings at least since I started visiting it over 4 years ago. As part of our New Family program, a Christian woman has been spending time with the siblings, even taking them to church with her.

Danya has been hosted by a Christian family in the U.S. a few times, where he also heard about Jesus.

He has also been raised in an Orthodox orphanage and told about God for much of his life. Other children have had the same exposure, but Danya is different. He has had an encounter with God, and talks about his faith. He has been inviting his groupmates to read the Bible together, on their own.

I was shocked at how warmly I was welcomed while visiting the orphanage this week. The two counselors who were at the door when I arrived had been absent last week, when I also visited. They both exclaimed when they saw me and said, "Come here and let me give you a kiss!" One of them at least is rather reserved, so this was a surprise.

Once in the group, the counselors announced, "Children, look who has arrived to see you! Aren't you glad? Now how do we greet guests?" (The kids had seen me last week and were bewildered. Who could possibly be there to see them? Oh, it's just her.)

After we had worked on English for a few hours, one of the counselors invited me to eat dinner with them. They don't usually feed me, but one of the counselors was absent, and there was an extra meal, which I ate gladly. Then Danya sat down next to me at the dinner table.

"Why you so love Russia?" he asked me in English. I leaned in close and whispered that it was God who sent me here. His face lit up.

When I was Danya's age (about 11), I remember being concerned about the salvation of my friends. What I mean to say is that a child's faith is real. He feels the presence of God and he feels the ache of knowing that not everyone shares this. It's more than a playground discussion about which holidays your family celebrates. Children recognize that if they are Christians, they are called to live differently.

Orphanage counselors are supportive when a child is baptized in the Orthodox church or shows devotion of that confession. But the adults are not so happy when a child becomes "tainted" by visiting a sect, and Protestant congregation are regarded as such. Though I cannot often talk to the children about God, opportunities do arise. But the Orthodox orphanage is their reality. And if I tell them something that is outside the boundaries of the Orthodox church, I introduce conflict into their lives. Is it worth it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lenten family activities

I had stopped searching, but then while looking at something else on the Internet, I ran across a link to a free e-book with Lenten activities. These are the kinds of ideas I was talking about. They are simple and family (or small group)-oriented.

The e-book was supposed to be a one-day offer, but it looks to be still in effect, as I had no trouble downloading the PDF file here. It's only 15 pages.

Here are a few examples:

11. Take a nature walk and collect items that could remind you of the life of Jesus. For example, two sticks could be put together as a cross, a thorn could represent the crown on Jesus' head and a stone could remind the children of the big stone that rolled in front of Jesus' tomb.

26.Help your child understand why Jesus was called "the Lamb of God" (His role as the unblemished sacrifice: Ex. 12:21-24; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7-8). With your child, make a lamb. Glue cotton balls to a small paper plate, then add pink and black construction-paper eyes, ears, muzzle, nose and hooves.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Down

I returned to Russia two weeks ago. I think I have been through all the emotions since then.

At first, I was so very low on energy. Then it got a little better and I was so happy to be back that I was willing to go anywhere and do anything. I didn't want to waste any time, and adrenaline kept me going. Now, after two weeks, I feel burned out.

Perhaps it is similar to a new school year beginning. Excitement is heightened by the scent of new books, the eagerness to tackle new assignments, the expectation that this year will be The Year for success. Memories of previous trials do not hinder because they have been mysteriously clouded. But that all changes...

How quickly we become bored with life. We wait and wait for something and then after receiving it, are no longer interested.

I want to learn how to better cherish each day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thinking

I'll be honest. I haven't exactly been looking for a job in St. Petersburg. There are so many things to do and people to see that I would rather just wait a little while. I also still have some work with my job from the fall, although they won't be able to issue me a work visa anytime soon.

I've started to entertain the idea of trying to obtain temporary residency. I want to do research, at least. I want to find out the truth about what's required. I've heard a range of rumors, from "it's not that bad" to "you'll die trying" (paraphrase). I've heard that it is only open to certain people, and I've also heard that anybody can try, as long as you have time to stand in line all day over several days. One firm said that they would offer to do the whole thing for only $6000 (wait in line for you and take care of all your paperwork).

I don't doubt that it's an intense process, and it probably wouldn't be good to be pursuing any career/educational advances simultaneously.

The advantage? 3-5 years of not worrying about visas.

The forgotten fast

I was enjoying some refreshments after church yesterday and realized that I had completely forgotten about Lent.

I'm not fasting, but I had made a note of Ash Wednesday and intended to observe Lent in some way.

Somehow, I've never had ideas for observing Lent as I do for Advent. During Holy Week I try to meditate on what Jesus was doing each day, but that's about it. I've found a few reading schedules online, but the passages seem a bit out of context. If I had to pick a section of the Bible, I would be inclined to choose one of the Gospels, to remember the ministry of Jesus leading up to His death and resurrection. I might include some of the Prophets as well.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

New friends

While I was in the States, a Russian girl asked to be my "friend" on the popular Russian networking site, vkontakte.ru. We had a few mutual friends, so I accepted, and we began to write back and forth.

I normally look for opportunities to reach out to young women, so it didn't strike me as strange. I found out that she had a young daughter. When she learned that I was an American, she asked about English lessons for her baby's father (I didn't quite understand the status of their relationship).

Meanwhile, I arrived in St. Petersburg and had promised that we could meet in person. I found out where she lived, and when I was going to be in that neighborhood, sent her a message saying that I could pay her a visit.

So I got on the metro yesterday and traveled to the south of the city. Then I got on a trolley and headed towards my new friend's neighborhood.

When I got off the trolley, I called and was told to stay put. "I'll be there soon," she promised. I looked around, trying to guess if any of the people coming towards me were her. I didn't have much time, but I imagined that we could have a cup of tea together and that I could meet her daughter.

Suddenly, a young woman appeared at my side. "Here I am. We're in the car," she said, gesturing. As I got into the car, she didn't get in right away, and I had a sudden feeling of panic that something sinister was happening. Here I was getting into a car with a strange man at the wheel, in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

But I trusted Katya, and Dima, at the wheel, appeared friendly enough.

Katya explained that her brother had suddenly invited a group of guests to visit, so the flat was not available for us. We drove to a little cafe and ordered tea and pastries.

As I sat with Katya and Dima, I suddenly felt that there was going to be a business proposition.

"Do you like Russia?" Dima asked in perfect English. And I realized that they were going to ask about lessons. Dima dreamed of becoming an interpreter, including working for an Australian team coming in the summer. He said that he was self-taught, but I was impressed by his fluency and range of vocabulary. I've had many people approach me for lessons, but are unable to commit, and we don't continue beyond a few lessons. But I saw potential in Dima and wanted to help him. He spoke of having to give up his studies in order to support their little family.

"What is a stronger word than 'hobby'?" asked Dima, wanting to describe his feelings about English.

"Interest. No, passion," I said, after thinking for a minute.

"Passion. It's a good word," he said, before translating it to Katya.

I suggested that they visit an English-language church service in order to get some practice. And I promised to find out about private lessons or a conversation course for him.

Sometimes I wonder how I get so tangled up in other people's lives. But the added interaction is inspiring. Life would be dull, otherwise.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Visiting the U.S. Consulate

I'm doing a lot better energy-wise, compared to one week ago. I am pretty much sleeping through the night now. After today I will need to start using my alarm clock.

In the beginning, I could only handle about 1 activity a day, and now I can do 2 or 3.

I went to the U.S. Consulate the other day to see about renewing my passport. It was really quite easy.

First, I had to get passport photos. They require two for the application. I came out of the metro where the Consulate is located and looked for a sign saying "photos." There was one relatively nearby. However, it looked to be under construction. I wondered why they had advertisements up if they were closed. So I hesitated a few times, then decided to venture forth into the questionable building.

The stairwell was populated by construction workers, yet there were still signs pointing to various document services, and a sign excusing the mess. So I took that to mean that they were open. I wondered if they were losing business because of the mess or if everyone just dismissed it as a part of life.

I followed the arrows to photo services, and entered a room where there were several desks set up for notarizing documents, a cashier, and a photo station in the far corner. I needed someone to give me instructions, but no one looked up. I wandered over to the photo corner where there was no action, just a young man sitting at a computer wearing headphones. I hovered until he looked up.

"Should I go there first?" I asked, gesturing towards the cashier. He reluctantly pulled the headphones off one ear. "What?" I repeated my question. "What did you want exactly?" he asked. I explained that I needed photos for a U.S. passport. I showed him my current passport so he could get an idea of the size. The recommendations in the application form were in inches, and I wasn't sure how to translate.

"Get ready," he said. I went over to the little corner where there was a mirror and "got ready." After he snapped my photo, there were again no instructions, so I began to put my coat back on. Meanwhile, the zipper broke.

Another customer had entered the room, looking just as hesitant. The photographer told me that I could pay while I waited, so I went over to the cashier and paid, returning with my receipt. After a few minutes, the photos were printed.

I struggled with my coat zipper for another 5 minutes and then headed out the door. The photographer was heading out at the same time, on a cigarette break. Apparently, he needed to rest after serving two such demanding customers.

When I saw the American flag, I felt a rush for some reason. I think it's because of watching the movie "The Saint" several years ago. There is a scene where the heroine runs towards the American Embassy in Moscow screaming "I'm an American citizen!" and it saves her from being captured by the Russians.

There was a line at the Consulate, but it was Russians doing visa interviews. I got to go ahead. There were Russian guards working that day, and when they asked me what language, I said "English" for some reason. It just popped out of my mouth.

It took some time to sort out that I didn't have any weapons on me, since I had a lot of winter clothing on, including a coat that didn't want to unzip, and was carrying several bags. They took my cell phone and house keys, but let me keep everything else, which was a big strange since I had at least one other set of keys in my purse. Perhaps they just wanted to keep something as a deposit.

In the room for American Citizen Services, there was one other person waiting. I handed over my passport photos and the application form, which I had downloaded from the Consulate's website and completed at home. The staff member handed me a price list and told me to go to the cashier and pay for the new passport. When I got to the window, I was asked again which language I preferred, and I said "po-angliskiy," which must have sounded funny. I paid using my debit card since I didn't have any dollars with me.

When I returned to Citizen Services with my receipt, they told me that my application looked fine and that they would be notifying me by email in 7-10 days when the new passport was ready. At that time I can tell them that I prefer to keep my old passport as well, and they won't cancel it. Compare this with waiting 4 weeks in the U.S. for a new passport, and it's not a bad deal at all!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Prayer for the day


But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
"The LORD be exalted!"
-Ps.40:16

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The changing face of the metro in St.P.

Travelers to Saint Petersburg beware-the metro is changing!

When I moved here in 2004, there were 4 lines. Small, but easy to navigate! Over the next few years, some new stations opened at the ends of those lines. Meanwhile, construction was going on to create some completely new lines.

As I entered the metro today, I learned that the line had changed from orange to purple and would branch off in a new direction. The map inside the metro car hadn't been updated yet, so it took me a few minutes to get my bearings.

The metro plan above is projected for 2030.

This is what it looks like now, as far as I know (click to enlarge):


I found this site to have some good information, although it is in Russian.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Schoolwork

I decided to go through orphanage supplies in preparation for visiting them soon. I ran across a lot of old work from our lessons.

The kids aren't normally organized enough to keep all their work somewhere, yet I hate to throw it away.

We try to glue papers into a notebook, but I'm not always able to carry the notebooks around. So I have piles and piles of artifacts like this:






I was wondering why they all wrote the Russian "I" instead of the English, below. But then I realized that the cursive "I" does look similar, if you're writing fast. They're probably just not used to the English cursive. In general, we focus more on verbal skills anyway, so I'm sure if I asked them, they would answer correctly.




And I am not sure of the meaning of this last writing sample:


Russian customs

There are certain customs pertaining to life in St. Petersburg that I have gotten used to, but nonetheless do not find intuitive in nature.

It all makes sense, yet I still have to think about it. It feels like there is a tape recorder in my head dictating instructions: "Do this...., don't do that..."

Here are a few examples:

-looking left and right (and forward and backward) about 5 times whenever walking anywhere where any sort of vehicle might be roaming
-dressing meticulously for whichever weather is and will be
-taking a plastic bag (or two) with me wherever I go
-polishing my shoes
-changing my clothes whenever I get home or get ready to go somewhere
-always having cash on hand for transportation or groceries

For a humorous version, see a list of symptoms testifying to one having been Russified...

When I was thinking about writing this post a few days ago, the list was longer. My observations were sharper when I first arrived, and now the cultures are merging...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Meanwhile, in the U.S....

My brother won the weight throw at the UAA championships at N.Y.U. I'm pretty impressed that someone I'm related to has the physical strength to throw a heavy object a long way. Good job.

I've probably mentioned this before, but my brother is pretty large.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Returning to Russia

It started to feel like Russia again when I was waiting for my plane in Heathrow and I could hear the buzz of Russian conversation around me.

I sat on the plane behind some Russians, and they were having a very loud conversation bemoaning the state of airport security. I couldn't stand the sound of their voices. I thought, this isn't a good sign if I am already tired of hearing Russian. (I wonder if people feel that way about Americans speaking loudly in English everywhere?) They kept talking and talking. Finally I reasoned that the man was probably drunk or otherwise under the influence. There was just no way a normal person could nag for so many minutes in a row.

Arriving in St. Petersburg was easy, and once I was talking with my friends, I didn't mind hearing Russian at all. It sounded nice.

I always have to go back and read previous jet-lag notes in order to assure myself that I'm not going crazy. I want to be busy and I want to do nothing simultaneously.

I do have to say that it's a LOT easier flying into Russia in March than in January. I remember on January visits curling up in a ball and wondering, "why is it so dark?" But since I've been back, I've been treated to spring sunshine and temperatures above freezing.

Even though there is a fair amount of daylight, I get confused at times by the darkness, or simply by the position of the sun. Even though it's perfectly natural for it to be dark in the evening, something about it feels wrong or apocalyptic to me. If you've ever had jet-lag, you probably know what I'm talking about.

I went to the store yesterday and also traveled to another part of the city to get registered. I was shocked by how expensive everything had become. There are also a few high-rise buildings around that I don't quite remember, so I'm wondering if it's just me or if they were built in my absence.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I'm in Russia!

Yes, it's true. But I don't have the strength to write more than a few words...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

To and fro

I had a nice trip to D.C. over the weekend and caught up with some college friends.


Normally I wouldn't go on a side trip shortly before leaving for Russia. But in this case, I think it actually helped. I was able to relax a little bit and get travel anxiety out of my mind. I still feel pretty disorganized, but not too stressed. It's hard to believe that in less than 24 hours, I'll be on a plane again!

If we don't get another snowstorm, that is...

Monday, March 2, 2009

A parallel universe, or a small world

I had a funny conversation on the plane ride over to D.C. this weekend.

I was flying Southwest Airlines, and was going through the confusing process of trying to choose my own seat. About 1/3 of the passengers had already boarded, so there were no more aisles, and I was trying to decide who looked friendly enough to crawl over to get to the window. Some people had placed their bags in the window seat, as if hoping that the flight wouldn't be full and they wouldn't have to sit next to another person.

I saw a middle-aged couple sitting next to an empty window seat, and asked if I could join them. They cheerfully obliged.

When I was seated, I reached for the magazine to keep busy on the hour-long flight, but the woman in the middle started talking to me, asking about my destination. I decided it wouldn't be so bad to chat away the time, so I soon found myself telling her about being a missionary in Russia. She was very curious and asked a lot of questions.

At one point, the woman started describing the family of a woman she worked with. "Her parents went to Russia and then went back and adopted a child. And her brother makes jaunts to Africa regularly and fell in love with a native woman there and they all went out to the village for the wedding."

It sounded so much like my family, with just a few of the details being different. So I described my family to her.

"Now, do you know Emily______?" she suddenly asked.

I stared at her in amazement. "That's my sister!"

So she had been describing my family after all! Of course she had confused certain parts of it, but apparently she and my sister had talked quite often about our family.

It would have been funny if there were another family like ours. I would have wanted to meet them!