Monday, August 31, 2009

More on document timing

This post is part of my "red-tape" series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I always wondered why people applying for residency were always trying to do it in 3 months. Well, now I understand...the Russian government doesn't like to accept any documents that are older than 3 months. This includes apostilled birth/marriage certificates, criminal background checks, etc.

So right now I am just getting some things ready to be mailed out and making sure I've put my signature wherever necessary. And then I will plan to have someone send them out in October or November so that I will get them in time but they won't have expired already.

It's tricky with the background check because it could take from 1 month to 6 months, and you also have to get it apostilled. I think I will enclose an expedite request. I don't think the FBI at least officially expedites, but I have heard that it helps if you write something on the envelope.

If you are exempt from the quota (have Russian spouse, etc.), then you have a little more flexibility with the dates. But you should still try to have all your documents ready around the same time, and start the process immediately afterward so that nothing will expire in the meantime.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Setting Christian standards

"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

(1 Cor. 10:23, 24)

I have to limit time spent on Christian forums, because I find it easy to become upset and act self-righteous. I have been surprised in the past that even among members of the same congregation, opinions may vary greatly as to proper conduct in certain situations.

It has been a dilemma for me to face questions that I was sure I had figured out, only to realize that not all Christians share the same view. It is hard for me to accept that God convicts different people in different ways. But I believe He does, because He's an attentive God who knows our individual experiences and what we need personally. +/-

It is great when we are in tune enough to the Holy Spirit to receive His instructions for us specifically. But what about when you get four-five Christians together who all believe they have heard from God about something? Maybe they have, but God also has a message about how to respond to brothers and sisters, and those instructions are no less important. For example, Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

The question of alcohol is an obvious application. You know what I mean...to drink, or not to drink? And if so, in what situations? And if you decide to think about others around you, what if there are alcoholics or recovering alcoholics present? Or someone whose relative or friend was killed by a drunk driver? Or if you never drink, how should you respond to the older and wiser person next to you who happens to be having a glass of wine? Or someone from another culture who has never thought twice about it because it has never been a problem?

Our pastor made a point recently that a brother who seems adamant about enforcing restrictions might be struggling with a weakness or sensitivity. "How can you watch that?" this person asks, as though you are doing something wrong. But you feel no guilt about the movie you are watching. In fact, it is he who is struggling with something in his heart, and the movie brings up those issues for him.

Romans 14 has a good discussion of this. 1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

If someone you know seems to be too uptight about something, maybe he knows something you don't, and you should consider what he is saying. Or maybe it's an area of weakness, and you should protect him, as his brother.

It goes the other way, too. If it seems like everyone around you is living too loosely and you really think they should be throwing out their television sets or unholy literature or whatever, you could be right. Maybe the others just haven't gotten the message yet. Or maybe God has just made you sensitive to this one thing for some reason, because He wants to use this weakness in your life. And by "weakness" I don't necessarily mean temptation to sin, but a certain conflict where others feel at peace. You will have to decide how to protect your convictions in a way that is non-judgmental towards your brothers and sisters.

To get back to the Corinthians excerpt from the beginning, I think there has to be a distinction between legalism and caution.

I see legalism as the misconception that salvation can be earned by following a set of rules. Well, that's the way it used to be. Not anymore.

However, setting guidelines to protect ourselves from sin is not a bad idea, as long as we realize that we are never really free from the temptation of sin, no matter how many rules we make.

When I see a group of people who all follow a particular rule (like women wearing dresses/skirts all the time), I don't automatically assume it's legalism. Of course, it could be that. But it's also likely that a few people felt that it would be more edifying this way, and the others decided to submit to that conviction.

Our circle of submission with regard to personal convictions might not extend to our entire congregation. Maybe it's within our family or group of families. Maybe it's a missions team we are serving on. It could be for a season; it could be for life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Prayer focus

Ramadan 2009 takes place from August 22-September 20th. Some Christian ministries have put out guides to praying for Muslims during this time.

Religious fasts and holidays are times to not only observe tradition, but to evalute one's commitment; to ask oneself, "Is this really my faith? Is this what I want to adhere to?"

From The 30-Days Prayer Network:

The name Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ramida or ar-ramad, denoting intense scorching heat and dryness, especially the ground. From the same word there is ramdaa, meaning ’sunbaked sand’ and the famous proverb Kal Mustajeer minar ramadaa binnar – to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Some say it is so called because Ramadan scorches out the sins with good deeds, as the sun burns the ground.


Although it's a little late to order prayer booklets, the following links will take you to sites that give a prayer focus for each day during Ramadan.

http://www.30-days.net/category/ramadan/

http://www.awm.org/get-involved/opportunity/praying-arab-world-during-ramadan/

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Communal life

I found a rather interesting site that calls itself a "virtual museum" dedicated to communal aspects of Russian life, in Soviet times and continuing into the present.

Some of the articles give a sense of nostalgia, while others portray a present reality.

The texts have a choice between Russian and English. You can view photos and videos, take a look at original documents related to communal life, read essays on various aspects of life, and more.

The site is very well-organized and user-friendly! Check it out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The narrow window

This is a part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia (look at posts labeled "residency").


When I heard that it was often a scramble to get all the documents for temporary residency, I thought...not me! I decided to try to get some of them done ahead of time.

However, it has taken me all summer to figure out that the background check will not be accepted by the Russian government if it is more than 3 months old. So it would be premature to get it done now.

I guess I'll have to hang on to my fingerprint card for a few more months, when it's closer to January.

I did order a copy of my college transcript, which might not be necessary, but is still good to have if you're planning to work or study abroad.

Of course I will be getting everything apostilled so that the Russian government will recognize it as official.

Even though I haven't been able to check off very many boxes, I think the research will pay off later.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Women's Rights: A Flawed Manifesto?

This weekend's New York Times magazine has a special issue devoted to women's rights. One article even claims to be a "21st century manifesto."(in the print version) The main idea of "The Women's Crusade"* is that the biggest moral issue of the century is women's rights. This is a bold statement.

In the print version, the word "Liberation" is enlarged on the title page, as though this is the main issue at stake.

Perhaps it is. But the kind of liberation referred to in the article (and in the magazine issue overall) has feminist undertones that I'm not comfortable with.

Liberation from abuse is one thing. But I believe that complete liberation from gender roles leads to confusion, making certain situations worse. +/-

I would even venture to say that many laws being used to oppress women were once intended for their protection. Covering up their beauty was an act of modesty so that women could be kept holy for their husbands and for the Lord. Differences in education were meant to reflect a woman's role in the home, not to withhold information from them. After all, there is plenty of head knowledge involved in running a household. Now that women may hold a variety of jobs outside the home in today's changing world, they still need protection. Throwing acid in a girl's face as she walks to school demonstrates complete misunderstanding of this principle.

While no one could deny that abuse and poverty deserve attention, the authors of "The Women's Crusade" fail to mention another important element in human rights, which is reconciliation. Without this key, I feel that "empowering" women simply alienates men further.

The article highlights the story of a Pakistani woman and her family. The example is used to illustrate how a little bit of aid (here, a microloan) can lift a family out of poverty, thereby changing its fate.

"A round-faced woman with thick black hair tucked into a head scarf, Saima had barely a rupee, and her deadbeat husband was unemployed and not particularly employable. He was frustrated and angry, and he coped by beating Saima each afternoon."(Kristoff)
After receiving a microloan and developing her own business, Saima's "quality of life" has improved, but I honestly don't envy her marital situation.
"She exudes self-confidence as she offers a grand tour of her home and work area, ostentatiously showing off the television and the new plumbing. She doesn’t even pretend to be subordinate to her husband. He spends his days mostly loafing around, occasionally helping with the work but always having to accept orders from his wife. He has become more impressed with females in general: Saima had a third child, also a girl, but now that’s not a problem. 'Girls are just as good as boys,' he explained."(Kristoff)
Women are very emotional creatures. If my husband were beating me, I think I would be just as upset about his failure to love me than about the fact that he wasn't seeing me as an equal. Would it make me feel better to become financially secure and make him proud? Maybe a little. But it's a rather superficial solution.

Here's a little more about Saima:
"As for her husband, Saima said, 'We have a good relationship now.' She explained, 'We don’t fight, and he treats me well.' And what about finding another wife who might bear him a son? Saima chuckled at the question: 'Now nobody says anything about that.' " (Kristoff)
I doubt that's the whole story. Is Saima genuinely satisfied while her husband 'loafs around'? Is he secure as a husband? I doubt it. I wonder why they labeled him "not particularly employable." Was he disabled? Uneducated? Could he have been trained to do business just as Saima was?

As I read the stories of women's lives who have "improved," I can't help but feel a hopelessness that is perhaps reminiscent of a "house built on the sand." What happens when the fairytale ends? Young women who have fought hard to win scholarships and become first-generation college graduates may face countless challenges later on. What if Saima's family should fall into financial ruin again? Would her "good relationship" with her husband withstand more trials?

The aid workers have good intentions, but their message to the world is incomplete. A manifesto without the hope of Christ is flawed.

*Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn. "The Women's Crusade." The New York Times Magazine, August 23, 3009

Panic!

The bunny on the left was made by my mother, and I love the way it is posing as if lying on a therapist's couch.

Speaking of therapy...well, not really...but it just hit me that I have less than a month before leaving for Russia.

It's funny that there should be any stress at all since I have gone back and forth so many times. But I suppose when the trip is longer, you have higher expectations. Therefore, I suddenly thought...but I have SO much to do! I'll never do it all.

So I now have an official to-do list. Of course I still have time, but there is still a wedding before I go, and my brother arriving from Congo.

Oh, and I have to apply for a visa. Minor detail. I'm still waiting for my invitation and hoping and praying that all the information will be correct...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Awkward

Hilarious yet accurate depiction of the notorious "coffee date."


Dog days of August

The heat wave came kind of late this year.




Max knows how to keep cool....pass out in front of the fan.


Friday, August 21, 2009

A child advocate

I recently finished reading a book called "Too Small to Ignore" by Dr. Wess Stafford (with Dean Merrill)*, president and CEO of Compassion International (I mentioned it already here).**

I seem to have picked out a lot of excerpts for review, so apparently this is going to be long...

What I found refreshing about this book was that although it's written by the representative of a specific ministry, he does not spend a lot of time calling attention to what his ministry has accomplished. Although Dr. Stafford shares a lot about his personal testimony, he manages to do it in a way that highlights problems and solutions, not a lot of numbers and lists about all the great things he has done. That is hard to do... +/-



The Book

A great portion of this book is autobiographical. As an introductory statement, Dr. Stafford notes,

"this book explains why it has been the cry of my heart for three decades to champion children to the Church. As you will see, poverty and abuse whisper the same destructive message into the spirit of a child: 'Give up. Nobody cares. You don't matter.' "(inside cover)
The book is very readable, and the description of the missionary child growing up in Africa is fascinating. I hardly wanted to put it down. The author mentions that the village life was difficult for his mother, a "city girl," but paradise for a little boy.

Sweet Childhood

He describes the village life so lovingly that you almost want to live there. At times I felt torn between wanting to criticize American culture and at the same time thinking that some practices are just cultural and not necessarily right or wrong.

One interesting cultural note is the contrast between the "gentle flow" of childhood in other countries and the forced age categories of American culture.
"Childhood in most non-Western societies, like the village where I grew up, is a constant, gentle flow that moves from infant to toddler to child to youth and on to adulthood in a steady, integrated progression. In each phase of childhood, the child is allowed to be as much a part of the ebb and flow of daily life as his or her capabilities allow. The fun and games we experienced as children in Nielle were mostly a child's lighthearted spirit being applied to the duties and chores of daily life in the village...'play' just happened as we lived our lives in the village." (30-31)
Sounds nice, right? Include your children in all your daily tasks and they will have a great time of it and learn in the process. But what if that's not possible? Not everyone can work from home, nor can they bring their children to the office. And in the demanding schedule of modern life, involving children in every household task would greatly diminish the amount of production, so goals would need to be adjusted accordingly. So how could we apply this "integration" of children into today's society?

I have heard the outcry about neglected children from many Christian speakers. But I like what Stafford says about the youth not being given enough credit for how capable they are. Instead, they are sometimes ignored or given fake tasks to do.
"I found teenagers my age who were frustrated, bored, and bitter at always being excluded, as if they had been placed on a shelf to wait out the adolescent years...for littler children, it was the same or worse. In parents' great love for them, they lavished toys on their children that would allow them to pretend they were grownups. Sometimes adults would get down on the floor and play along as if they were baking cookies in the toy ovens but would then stand up and return to the 'adult' world, feeling pretty good about themselves and their little excursion." (32)
Although he criticizes the toys that mimic "real life," he does suggest to adults that they "become like children" and enter a child's world, to encourage their make-believe play.

"If you are invited (okay, begged) by your children to join in their imaginary world, you have indeed been honored and should jump at the chance." (45)

Would these principles work in the U.S. or not? Stafford seems to think they are universal...

"I'm convinced that although the values and conditions in a remote African village were conducive to such child-focused development, the same is still within reach of today's Western society."(43)

Dr. Stafford shares many great memories of helping his father as a boy. At a young age, he was made to feel as though he were a partner in work and ministry. Indeed, giving children and teenagers responsibility for something is a way to put your love for them into action. Instead of telling them all the time how important they are, why not give them a chance to see that they're needed?

The book includes a poignant story of how the Stafford family gave their sponsored child a chance to be a part of their lives, though she was far away and living in a poverty-stricken situation.
"We asked everyone to pray for her, including Mercedes, to whom Donna wrote, 'Our little baby has been born much too early, but we believe God can spare her life. Will you pray for her? Her name is Katie.' "

[Later]...When we arrived at one of our projects, a little girl jumped up from the back corner of the room and ran toward me. It was Mercedes. She recognized me from the pictures we had sent. Wrapping her arms around my legs, she blurted out, 'How is Katie? I pray for her every day.' "(49)
More on Culture

One of Dr. Stafford's points on how the "gentle flow" of growing up is hindered is demonstrated by age segregation at church services.
"We may even enter the building through separate doors, regrouping only when it is time to go home two or three hours later. Our Sunday schools and activity clubs are tightly stratified by age and interest. Three-year-olds go here, ten-year-olds go there, senior high teens go to another place, and adults breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of being free from kids for a while." (64)
This is another of those moments when I wonder what is cultural and what is true about human behavior in general. What if all churches did away with "Sunday school" and had children and adults together all the time? What would the dynamic be? Is it possible to transition to such a model when everyone is already used to being separate?

Another good point is to keep the motive for your mission clear. He mentions both missions that neglect relief work in favor of more "spiritual" undertakings, as well as missions who do humanitarian work but are "afraid to clarify their motive." He explains, "Our official tag line at Compassion International is this: 'Releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.' "(76)

Here's another cultural aspect: how time is divided. Dr. Stafford remembers the chief making a long speech about how outsiders (the Frenchmen) focus too much on the future without appreciating the present.

"The Frenchmen cannot wait for the future to arrive. They crane their necks to see around the bend in the river. They cannot see it any better than we can, but they try and try. For some reason, it is very important for them to know what is coming toward them."(85)

Here's the last cultural example I'll mention. Stafford mentions how while attending primary school in the village, they would get in trouble for giving answers to each other. This is something I have noticed in Russia as well: sometimes your primary motivation is to help your friend, for the good of the group. Honesty is not the number one priority. Our way seems selfish.

"Now with a PhD in education, I realize teachers would call us world-class cheaters. But it felt entirely right to us." (111)

A sizable portion of the book involves Stafford's memories of being abused and manipulated in a boarding school for missionary children. This part is fairly upsetting, but contributes to his becoming an advocate for children.

Taking Action

Along with telling his own story, Stafford describes some approaches for ministering to children. Some of these are meant specifically for children in poverty.

Like other authors writing on similar topics, Stafford mentions Maslow's hierarchy of needs and gives a few tips on how to helping people meet their needs. For example, appropriate guidelines for clothing donations. This is something I've thought about myself.

He tries to get to the root of why poverty is so destructive.

"More than anything, the poor feel overwhelmed. Without financial resources, shelter, food, education, justice, or skills to address their plight, they succumb to the downward spiral that leads to hopelessness and despair. That, my friend, is the essence of poverty." (184)

Dr. Stafford also defends his stance as a child advocate, challenging those who might dismiss his compassion as merely being soft-hearted.

"If throughout this book you have discounted my passion by saying to yourself, 'Well Wess Stafford is a sentimentalist toward children; he's the kind of guy who gets all mushy around little kids, ' let me tell you, it's a lot more than sentiment." (192)

I appreciate this comment because I sometimes feel like people have that attitude toward helping orphans...that is, they imagine that I have fallen under a spell of adorable Russian children. It isn't hard to fall in love with wounded children, but it is hard to stay in love with them, and to bear the load of loving them.

Next, Stafford explains what he believes is the biblical model for relating to children. He includes a lot of stories such as the one I mentioned in my preview post. I will admit that I skimmed over this section rather quickly. Of course the biblical basis is important, but as I'm already a child advocate, I don't need to be convinced any more than I already am that children are valued in God's kingdom.

Several chapters of the book are also dedicated toward visionary statements. For example, this comment:

"I consider it a partial victory when I hear Christian leaders speak about children as 'the church of tomorrow'...Maybe in time these leaders will come to see children as part of the church of today, too." (209)

And, a series of "What if" statements (from p.231) imagining what the world would be like if children had all their needs met (Maslow's), were given a voice, were given a place in the church, etc.

I realize as I come to the end of this review that I paid more attention to Dr. Stafford's personal testimony than to his suggested solutions for ministering to children "in Jesus' name." I think that the conclusions he has drawn directly from his personal experiences are enough. He didn't necessarily need to present lists of ideas for reform.

I have highlighted some thoughts here, and I wholeheartedly recommend the book if this kind of thing interests you!

*I am going to refer to Dr. Stafford as the author, simply because it is told from his point of view.
**Stafford, Wess, with Dean Merrill. Too Small to Ignore. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2007.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tetris syndrome and life

I was a little surprised when I entered "tetris syndrome" into the search engine and it actually gave me results. Apparently I'm not the only one who couldn't get the "floating Tetris pieces" out of my head back in those days.

Similarly, when I took art lessons, we often talked about composition and shapes. We were taught to "see." I remember the teachers paroling the classroom, often commenting, "You need to draw what you see, not what you THINK you see." And I would leave the classroom and walk across the campus, seeing not trees and people, but triangles and squares and areas of dark and light.

But what reminded me of this concept wasn't computer games or works of art. It was the topic of problem-solving and how we get used to thinking in a certain way.

I lay awake in bed last night planning an ESL lesson, even though I probably won't be teaching for another month. The wheels started turning and before I knew it I was visualizing handouts and role-playing and having imaginary conversations with my students (I keep a notepad by my bed for such moments). If you're in a profession where you constantly need to plan and come up with ideas, your brainstorming skills might be "triggered" easily.

What you apply your mind to will often stick with you, whether it's a visual occupation or not.

I wonder what people in other professions dream of.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Apostilles, notaries, and more

This is a part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In case you haven't noticed, I tend to do a LOT of research for what amounts to fairly simple actions. So a lot of my posts thus far have more to do with looking for answers than actually getting results. Time will tell...

-I've added some links down below in the left column that have some information for ex-pats.

-I visited the "Ex-pat" forum again to see what others have had to say, and found something useful: The "Official Dummies Guide" to temporary residency in Russia. If you don't mind being called a dummy about every other sentence, it has some good information.*

The basic idea of this portion below is "ATN": Apostille first in your home country, then translate it once you get to Russia, and get the translation notarized. +/-

An excerpt:

A) IMPORTANT!!!! Certify Certify Certify Remember: A-T-N

Special Note: Expat Dummies love to debate and question everything. I will bet a month of my small salary that 10 idiots will debate whether or not Apostilles on various documents are required. Take my advice. Stop your whining and just do it! Apostille everything. Which in our case is the Criminal History Report, and Marriage Certificate. Which is nothing!!!!! Just do it!!!! This way there is not question as to the authenticity of a document. Duh!!!!!


-If the doc is not issued from Russia it needs to be certified as genuine.
To "certify" a document as genuine the Russians require that it is:
BIG WORD here - "Apostilled" or for you Brits "Legalized"!

Note: Read my post on Apostilles here for a more detailed description of the Apostille or Legalization Process: American only! TRP official answers Re: Apostille

B) Translations - Duh, yFMS needs to read your doc! If it ain't written in Russian it has to be. Need I say more?!

C) Notarizations - Russians would notarize the lable to your toilet cleaner if it was important. They Notarize everything. The Notary will only notarize your doc if it is Apostilled. That means you need to get it Apostilled first before you can get it Notarized. Got it?!?

A-T-N = Apostille then Translate then Notarize and your life is easy!!!!


*Note: This person was evidently exempt from the quota due to having a Russian spouse, which doesn't change much except that things like "marriage certificate" might not apply to you. From other portions of this account it also seems that the person was not in St. Petersburg, but in another city, possibly Moscow.

Into the bat cave

This has nothing to do with the last post! It's an update on a different topic.

Work to get rid of the bats continues...

In the meantime, my mom went into the "bat cave" recently to change the lightbulb. She wore plenty of protective gear. The black veil (mosquito net) was very becoming on her.




+/-



The bats probably won't be gone until September. Maybe even after I leave. But now that it's lighted in there, if I so desire, I could crawl in there (in this 95 degree weather) during the day and try to organize some of my things.



That would be fun.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jesus and the children

In a book* which I will soon review, the following passage is noted.

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
Sunday school 101, right? Jesus is so gentle and cares about everyone, even the little teeny babies.

The author holds a slightly different view. +/-
"This is where every sermon I've heard depicting this moment falls short. Jesus did not lovingly and quietly coo, 'Oh, just let the little children come over to me for a moment.' This strong, powerful man, this brawny carpenter, filled with exasperation, anger and even rage, apparently raised his voice with great passion. 'Let the little children come to me! Don't you dare hinder
them! My kingdom belongs to such as these.'

Never in my research of the world's artwork have I seen this Jesus. He who not long afterward would wield a whip in the temple to drive out the moneychangers and turn over their product-laden tables was now equally incensed at this corruption" (Stafford with Merrill, 198-199).


More on this later.


*Stafford, Wess, with Dean Merrill. Too Small to Ignore. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2007.
Images: Web Gallery of Art





Monday, August 17, 2009

Cool blog for learning Russian

I've never really searched for blogs on learning Russian, but I sometimes check my spelling and grammar online (which can be risky since Russian-language websites aren't necessarily flawless!).

A recent grammar check led me to the website of Josefina, a Swedish (?) woman who has put together a fantastic site. She shows great insight into Russian culture and language, delving into the uses of various colloquialisms. Her Russian isn't 100% flawless, but there are some native speakers who leave minor corrections in the comments area. She writes well and her posts are entertaining. I haven't explored much yet, but you might find it interesting. It helps to know a little Russian to get the full use out of the grammar points, but it is all in English and not all of the posts are grammar-based. http://www.transparent.com/russian/

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Please, Mr. Postman Automated Postal Service

Have you ever mailed anything using the automated machines in the post office? I tend to trust people rather than machines. But I got to the post office the other day and it was closed, so I had to to the newfangled route.

I was mailing some letters to Russia and didn't really know what would happen. However, I started pressing buttons on the touchscreen, and was pleased to see that there was an "international" option. I hadn't swiped my card yet, so I had nothing to lose, although I was a little nervous that the counter beneath the scale would open and swallow up my letter without it being stamped.

After going through the weighing and pricing process, I told the machine that 98 cents was okay with me (that's the standard rate for a letter to Russia). But I was then informed that since I was paying by credit card and the minimum was $1.00, I could not go ahead with the stamp purchase as totaled. I could either...

+/-

-buy a 98 cent stamp and a 44 cent stamp
-buy a 98 cent stamp and a book of stamps
-cancel the order

The machine did not ask me if I wanted to weigh and stamp the other two letters I had in my hand, which would have added up to more than $1.00.

So I ended up swiping my card and paying $.98+$.44 three times. I'm sure we'll find a use for the $.44 (x3).

So the good news is that you can walk into the post office at any time and mail a letter, regardless of whether the counters are open. There are, however, a few kinks still to be worked out.

I wonder what I looked like on the security cameras.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Camp and St. Petersburg

No camp for me this summer! But I hear that St. Petersburg camps have been buzzing with life, as always.

Around the Internet I've seen reports of fellow laborers who've been at camp with the orphans I work with. I am so glad that they got some attention this summer! The orphans are often rather isolated at camp, so it's great for them to meet some new friends for a change. Better yet, they may have heard the Gospel from visiting teams. Maybe I'll return to see some changed kids. But as another school year in the orphanage begins, life hasn't gotten any easier.




+/-






Another "camp" has recently risen out of the ashes of an estate on former Finnish territory that had become overgrown. It's been offered to local Christians in St. Petersburg, to use at least for a time.



My church is one of the groups that has been breathing new life into the camp and using it for running summer camp as well as family vacation times.




A colleague of mine has some more information about the camp on his blog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Christian movie classics

Today while doing chores I watched The Robe for the first time. It's commonly featured on lists of the "best Christian films," so I had been curious about it.

The Robe (1953) reminded me a lot of Spartacus (1960) and Ben-Hur (1959), which makes sense, given they were produced in the same decade. I love the 1950's style and the way that it makes togas seem attractive. :)

The account of early Christians in The Robe is fictional enough to be non-offensive. What I mean is that some books or films seem to put on an air of being "true," so that any deviance from the Bible seems to be a deception. The Robe is just a story, the same that you might find about modern (fictional) followers of Christ. Inspiring, even believable, but not pretending to be something it's not.

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Of course, there are real people and events depicted in the film, but not without plenty of little historical incongruities. For example, it is mentioned several times that the followers of Jesus are "calling themselves Christians," although the term "Christian" was probably not in use yet.*

The amorous relationship between the protagonist and his lady seems to contain too much public display of affection for Ancient Rome. But like I said, the film is so obviously fictional and outdated that these details don't matter. You can just sit back and enjoy it.

My favorite part is the dialogue between key characters at the end. If you watch it, you'll see what I mean. Each argues his part cleverly, and the ending is satisfying.

*"The Robe" is supposed to take place in 34 A.D. According to Acts 11:26, the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch in 43 AD (Blue Letter Bible).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What children learn from us

Though not explicitly biblical, I ran across this poem for the first time recently, and wanted to share it.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight
.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

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If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.




Excerpted from the book CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE
©1998 by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris
The poem "Children Learn What They Live"
©Dorothy Law Nolte
Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., New York
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Christian women's babble, Part 2

I think that the most useful piece of information found in any book on relationships, whether romantic or otherwise, is the reminder that men and women think differently.

It's not necessarily good news to note that your actions are "typically female" or that a guy's mysterious behavior is "typically male" (or vice versa). But when viewed in light of the fact that we are created by a loving God, and that He orchestrated all of this to His glory, it all starts to make sense.

"Lady in Waiting"* accomplishes this goal. It presents the ways that a woman can be feminine in Christ, developing the qualities that her Creator designed for her.

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In part 1 of my review, I noted my disgust with the reference to single Christian women being desperate for dates. Throughout the book, we find charges not to despair over a dateless Friday, Saturday, or month gone by. The worst offense is the use of the term "datelessness" (p. 44). This is similar to the Russian word for a single person being "not married." It implies that the default state for any person is to be in a relationship with a significant other, be it dating, engaged, or married.

The book constantly refers to "dating," but doesn't mention actual guidelines for dating until chapter 9. While the point of the book is to address women's overall spirituality qualities, I think that not clarifying the authors' viewpoints at the very beginning was an oversight. Although the authors clearly love the Lord and live by Christian values, I felt that they were a little timid about enforcing boundaries, perhaps wanting to leave it up to the reader.

The Book of Ruth is used as the main Scripture reference for "Lady in Waiting." While I'm not completely in agreement with the way the Scripture is stretched to fit the framework of the book, I can't think of a better example of a woman in the Bible for the subject matter.

Another thing I want to mention is the inappropriate choice of examples to illustrate points. I already mentioned the "dateless Saturday" one as a bad example of woes that Christians face (there are lot of better examples that are more common). Here is another one: "Lisa even told her boyfriend she was pregnant so he would make a commitment to marry her." (p.94) This was used as an example of insecurity. Talk about worst-case scenario! I wonder what percentage of readers have ever been tempted to do what "Lisa" did? One day you're wallowing in a pit of despair because you don't have a hot date...the next, you're having premarital sex with your boyfriend and manipulating him? Were those the only scenarios they could come up with?

Or how about this one:

"A very attractive and popular high school girl was challenged to develop a list of biblical dating standards and to put them into practice. She carried a copy of those standards in her wallet for five years. Thus she dated more Boazs than Bozos because her conviction helped her clearly see the type of guys with whom she was relating and ultimately dating. " (127)
Well, how lovely for her. The unattractive and unpopular students clearly need not bother since they'll be sitting at home enjoying dateless evenings. Or on dates with Bozos. Improving the "case studies" would change this book from good to excellent.

The edition I purchased happens to have a study guide for the chapters AND a devotional guide in case you need more ideas for processing the information. The study guide includes assignments such as paraphrasing a Bible passage, saying what it means to you, and making lists on various topics. The devotional guide is based around the framework of the book and includes additional quotes and stories for reflection. In my opinion, you don't really need these sections.

"Lady in Waiting" touches on the most vital questions that a woman faces in her spiritual walk. I would recommend it mostly for young single women.

I've chosen an excerpt from each chapter that I feel best represents that chapter, or was the most interesting to me.

1. Lady of Reckless Abandonment
"A college professor...told a group of young women that when she was eight years old, her mother told her a secret that has guided her perspective on life. The most important thing her mother would ever tell her was, "No one, not even the man you will marry one day, can make you happy-only Jesus can." ...this secret allowed her to grow up following Jesus with reckless abandonment." (14)

2. Lady of Diligence
"The single woman can be involved in the Lord's work on a level that a married woman cannot because of the distractions and responsibilities of being a wife and mother. Ironically, some single women can be so distressed by their single state that they become emotionally more distracted than a wife and mother of four children." (26)
3. Lady of Faith
"You have nothing to fear except getting in His way and trying to 'write the script' rather than following His." (45)
4. Lady of Virtue
[Ephesians 4:30a] says, 'Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.' You grieve or hurt God's Spirit when you choose to think, say, or do something that offends God...from the time you wake in the morning until you go to bed at night, set your heart's desire on exalting Him.
5. Lady of Devotion
"If you want your devotion to God to be complete, don't merely brush at sin lightly. Get in there and confess it, clean it up, and clear it out. Be rid of it." (70)
6. Lady of Purity
"God intricately and delicately formed women with emotional characteristics that differ from men. A woman cannot separate her emotions from her physical state." (82)
7. Lady of Security
"When you see a woman going after the guys, you probably don't immediately say, 'Yes, I see that she really is insecure!' Insecurity dwells in the heart. What you see outwardly is a woman's age-old ability to manipulate and maneuver. When a woman manipulates a situation, she feels personal satisfaction because she believes she is in control." (97)
8. Lady of Contentment
"Why some males are unaware of their capacity to defraud is still a mystery. 'And that no man transgress and defraud his brother [sister] in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things...' (1 Thess. 4:6). To defraud is to excite physical or emotional desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled.' (108)
9. Lady of Conviction
"Once you have set dating standards and understand the significance of a constant motive check, (daily bringing the flutters in your heart to the Lord), you are ready to consider other guidelines for successful dating and relating. " (129)
10. Lady of Patience
"Wait patiently. Perhaps you are giving God time to prepare, not yourself, but your beloved. Let your heavenly Father accomplish His work thoroughly while your single man is undistracted." (144)

*Kendall, Jackie, and Debby Jones. "Lady in Waiting." Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, 1995

Missiology for Post-Soviet countries

I get a little tired discussing strategies for missions when all I really want is to be out there doing it. But evaluation is a necessary task of life that helps us be more effective.

A blogger in the Ukraine has written an article called "Toward Appropriate Missiology for Post-Soviet Evangelicals." It's quite a long article, and I haven't finished reading it. But you might want to take a look if you are serving in a Post-Soviet country (most of his posts are in Russian, but evidently he is quite fluent in English).

One of the author's points is that there is a lack of analytical material on this topic. "...multitudes of Western researchers and missionaries, who have been educated in seminaries and who have had the opportunity to conduct research in the best Christian libraries, over the course of twenty years of work in the former USSR have not yet written any serious analytical works." (Michael Cherenkov, in his article)

Do you find this is true? Do you know of any materials? I have honestly not read too many publications as I mostly rely on personal experiences and conversations.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Revisiting persecution

I never did write part 2 of this post. I finished reading the book, although I skimmed parts of it. It was well-researched, yet I had the sense of not knowing what to do with the information. That is why I never wrote the review.

Maybe Christians in America are persecuted. So what? Does this mean I should live any differently? My general reaction is that sometimes when facing adversity we should turn the other cheek, and other times we need to "shout from the rooftops" when we think something is unjust (Matt. 10:27).

Then this little statement caught my eye while reading the news today. It's towards the end of a small write-up. You could easily miss it.

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Earlier this year, [Ben] Stein withdrew as the University of Vermont's commencement speaker over complaints about his critical views of evolution in favor of intelligent design.*

I found the wording confusing, and it took a few readings to understand. A person had been invited to speak at commencement. This person believes in intelligent design, and not evolution. This particular view caused a conflict, and made him decide not to go through with the speaking engagement.

Maybe you all know about Ben Stein. I didn't really know much about him other than remembering his face from various films. I don't think he's someone whose views I would universally endorse. But about intelligent design I would agree.

Since intelligent design is a Christian view, I see this as a form of censorship against Christianity.

Again, I'm not sure what to do this information. It seems like it is becoming commonplace to condemn certain public displays of Christian beliefs, since they might "offend someone." This is true of Christmas programs, forms of self-expression, etc.

I think it will be interesting to look back on these notes in a few years and see what has changed, if anything.

*(Associated Press, August 8, 2009 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090808/ap_en_ot/us_people_ben_stein)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Facebook and accountability

I've been avoiding this topic like the plague since it's been analyzed repeatedly for the past few years. But then I realized that most of the conclusions have been negative, while I have a slightly different perspective; a positive one.

I like how Facebook keeps me in check. That's a potentially frightening statement. Do I want Facebook to know everything about me and control my life? Do I want all my time consumed by online interaction? No. But the lack of privacy online makes me constantly evaluate my relationships and priorities. And this, I think, is a good thing.

The "potential employer" scare has caused some people to edit what they post on their Facebook pages. There are still plenty of pages that are fairly risque, and I find myself thinking "how foolish." But wait a minute. Who wants to live a double-life? The foolishness refers to displaying one's wild exploits for all to see, and not to the activities themselves. If that's the real you, why hide it?

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It might be a bit far-fetched to be out at a party and think, "I'd better not have another beer. I don't want this going on Facebook." No, the worry of our actions being publicized should not be the incentive to toning it down. Rather, we must ask ourselves why we would engage in such behavior that we would want to hide it.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous to have my blog posts show up on Facebook. Of course my blog was public before that, but being read mainly by some fellow missionaries, family members, and close friends. People that agree with me, for the most part. Now it shows up on Facebook, and can be accessed by former classmates, some professors, extended family, old family friends, etc. I don't know who reads it, but I am aware now that I might have some readers who don't agree with a lot of my standards. Am I ready to open up potentially controversial topics with them? I guess so.

I'm also aware that people see how I relate to friends and family through wall posts, etc. They see how I respond to helpful (and not-so-helpful) bits of advice. They see how I offer helpful (and not-so-helpful) bits of advice in return. They might notice how often I post and wonder about my priorities.

And I am in no way implying that I'm exceptionally popular or interesting, since the newsfeed publishes my updates to an audience, whether they care about my life or not.

My point is that, for all the vices of Facebook, some of the intimate details displayed give the world a little snapshot of your life. And this has some benefits. I agree that it's important to be careful about what you reveal to the world, but it's also important to think about what kind of life you're leading in the first place. Maybe you need more than a "facelift" to be on the path you really want to be on.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sleep aid testimonial

I've blogged about my sleep philosophy before. I don't think anyone would argue with me that developing good habits is the best strategy. But having a regular routine is more of a goal than a remedy. Sometimes we just get off-schedule, and even if we're meaning well, an attempt to "go to bed earlier" can result in lying awake for 3-4 hours.

Getting up earlier as an attempt at discipline doesn't always work because you end up being groggy and building up a sleep-debt, while still having the same trouble falling asleep at night.

In a recent post, I mentioned natural remedies. A few days ago I purchased a new sleep-inducing herbal tea. It's called "Nighty Night Tea" by Traditional Medicinals.

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In the instructions it says, "To encourage nighttime relaxation, drink 2-3 cups late in the day and 1/2 hour before bedtime." (reference http://www.herbsmd.com/detail/Nighty-Night-Tea-7432.htm) All I did was brew a cup and drink it while doing my final e-mail check before bed. I'm not sure how long it took me to fall asleep, but it was under an hour for sure, and I woke up feeling rested.

The two dominant herbs in the tea are passionflower and chamomile. I've tried straight chamomile tea before, with little results. The funny thing about passionflower that I've just learned is that it also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Not too sure about that one. :)

I've slept "through the night" (with minor interruptions) twice now, in spite of various aches and pains. In the past, I could spend several hours in bed, yet get up feeling like I'd never slept.

The nice thing about tea is that it's non-addictive and you can just use it as an aid a few times, and then your body should be able to adjust to the new routine so that you won't need a sleep aid.

As with all types of medicines, make sure you check the ingredients/side-effects and read the instructions carefully!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Also newsworthy

Every few days we hear the screech of a ladder being positioned against our house and realize that "Bat Man" (as we like to call him) is at work.

Today he was working on a hard to reach, yet heavily "populated" (by bats) area. I don't think he saw them; that's just judging from the evidence.

It's precarious work.



We're getting closer to being bat-free!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Journalism and exploitation

A recent New York Times article described the problem of male rape in Congo. The piece was accompanied by photographs of four of the victims, framed by striking blue backgrounds. The caption read, "... All are Congolese men who were recently raped and agreed to be photographed."*

I had to wonder...why was it significant that they had their photographs taken? And what was the incentive? Is this "good journalism"? Would the story have held as much weight without it?

At a conference on orphan ministry that I attended in the spring, they told the story of some orphans who had been visited by a team of Americans. The Americans quickly won their trust and interviewed the children. The children were eager to share their stories and agreed to be videotaped. These tapes were later aired on TV, and the kids eventually saw themselves on TV. Their personal lives became a sensation, something used to produce a reaction. It was traumatizing for them.

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This leads me to the question...when does an attempt at advocacy become exploitation? The U.S. journalists recently freed in N. Korea had been investigating the sex trade. Their research was surely a worthy cause. Yet I wonder how they would have chosen to publish the results.

Although I have shared about specific children here and there on my blog, I've been pretty careful about it recently. I avoid last names, addresses, and orphanage numbers. Not only do I want to keep them safe, I want to respect their privacy. I wouldn't write something personal about my closest friends on here without their permission, or without feeling certain that I'm not writing something that they would object to. I start to feel uncomfortable realizing that some of my ESL students will grow up and start using the Internet, and just may run across these posts someday. Would they approve?

So why write about it at all? Mainly I share the stories because they have become a part of my life, and this is my personal blog.

But there is an advocacy element, too.

"Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Ps. 82: 3,4)
When I do a presentation on orphans, I truly want people to get involved to help make a difference. And I use photos and personal stories to show that these are real, individual children.

But I don't want to manipulate people's emotions. Sometimes I really do face an ethical dilemma. In my heart, I believe that God is the one to call people to action, and that I should leave it in His hands. Therefore, I think it's better to avoid appealing to the emotions. When I'm speaking to a body of believers, I do want to speak from the heart, but I think there is a way to do it without misusing the plight of others, even if it is to save them.

*From "Symbol of Unhealed Congo-Male Rape Victims." In The New York Times August 4, 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Missionaries and health problems

In an audio commentary entitled "A Missionary's Expectation," when Elisabeth Elliot is asked to advise potential missionaries, one of her main pieces of advice is, "don't worry about your health." This is, of course, biblically-based (Mt. 6:25). The whole broadcast is actually quite insightful.

However, I believe that thinking about something is not the same as worrying about it. Of course you are going to plan and problem-solve, even while you know that God is in control.

Elisabeth Elliot's advice is to wash your hands, and that's what I would do, too. Wash your hands, boil your water, and trust in the Lord. You are going to face physical discomfort living in a new country. But since many health problems are caused by stress, stressing about the stress is only going to make matters worse. Once I realized that a lot of problems like stomachaches were caused by stress, it made me want to take better care of my spiritual and emotional health. I have a cluster of white hairs from my first year in Russia, but haven't gotten any new ones since then. :)

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My Approach

Stress and other factors do lead to certain illnesses, and often you just can't ignore them. My general rule for medication is to look for solutions that can be applied both in Russia and the U.S., the two places where I live about 95% of the time (with the rest being side trips to Finland, etc.). This means that I look for remedies that I can buy and have the time for, in various modes of living.

When I'm on leave in the States, I do try to take the opportunity to get treatment and improve my health. This is logical as there are health services available and doctors who know me. But what I try to avoid is building up a dependency on products that are not available overseas (I do the same thing with cooking, by the way. Aside from the occasional spice packet or kitchen utensil, I normally stick to what is available locally).

Of course in the beginning I used to hoard things like cough syrup and contact lens solution, simply because it was easier to bring it over than find a local remedy. I don't see it as a bad thing necessarily. It was just a part of gradually getting acclimated.


Home Remedies

I'm the kind of person who likes to research remedies and try new things. Sometimes they are just fads or folk remedies with no scientific basis, but I often decide they are worth a try, especially if it's something natural that can't hurt my body.

I especially like trying out home remedies. I'm fairly skeptical about using things like garlic when you have a cold. I haven't had results from anything like that. But there are a lot of ways to make use of ordinary products such as baking soda, salt, vinegar, and honey. I would much rather do some gargling than take antibiotics unnecessarily.

As far as supplements go, a lot of the ones described in health articles are rather exotic-sounding and not something I've run across in St. Petersburg. When I'm in the States, I'm not sure that I need to take a a lot of nutritional supplements since I have an adequate diet. I sometimes take a multi-vitamin while in Russia.



My Latest Project

Lately I have been experimenting with probiotics for digestive health. They're known as "good bacteria," and thought to be useful in a variety of ways. In Russia, they can be found in kefir and other milk products containing live cultures. I'm taking pills right now because they are so convenient: no refrigeration, so they're portable; and you can take it at any time of day, before or after a meal. Of course I would have to either stock up on the pills or go back to buying yogurt back in St. Petersburg. Maybe this violates my no-dependency rule, but it is just an experiment right now. It is still a better option that getting stuck with some fancy medication with yucky side-effects.

I haven't seen huge changes in my digestive health, but I have noticed that I don't get canker sores anymore. I used to get them regularly for as long as I could remember. It made it difficult to eat, brush my teeth, and even talk at times! So that is one small victory, at least.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A visit to the police station

This is a part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia. For previous installments check out posts labeled "residency."

Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the summary on fingerprinting.

Today I went down to the local police station to get fingerprinted for my FBI criminal record check. I called first and confirmed that it is a service that they offer for residents of the city (and college students). When I last called, they gave me the impression that I would have to provide the fingerprint cards myself.

But where to get fingerprint cards? I asked around a bit and nobody knew. So this time I asked again and they do have them at the police station, but were accustomed to people providing them themselves. Confusing.

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It was tricky finding a time to go in because the officers go out on calls and sometimes they are all busy. I was lectured about this by each person I talked to after innocently asking what time I could come in. As if I wanted to keep the police from going out and fighting crime! It was considerate of them to warn me, though. Finally the receptionist gave me the number of the station officer so I could call him before going in.

I printed out the FBI fingerprint card from online, although it wasn't on the right kind of paper. I filled it out so that I could just quickly transfer the information to the real card. I had wanted to make sure there were no surprise questions on there.

After calling ahead, I immediately went down to the police station and the lady in the records department confirmed that someone was available. I gave her the $10 and asked about the fingerprint card again and she said everything was computerized anyway. Then I went into the waiting area where another "customer" was sitting. He looked like he'd seen better days.

"Bet you love to spend your afternoon this way," he muttered.
"Yup," I replied (had no idea what he meant).
"Accident report?"
"What? Ummm, no, background check."

Just then I heard a voice call out "Fingerprints?" I was saved.

A police officer in shorts led me to a room and looked at my ID. Then we went to the fingerprint station, which was in fact computerized. No ink pads to be seen here. He typed in my information and then pressed my fingers to the glass panel. The prints were being rejected because they were too dark. "Your fingers are oily," he explained, grabbing a paper towel. Awkward!

After taking the prints all together, he then rolled each finger individually. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have the procedure done by a Russian policeman, because they are so different.

"You said you need the FBI one?" "Yes." He opened a filing cabinet and rummaged through some folders until he found the correct form. After printing it out from the computer, he gave it to me and I inspected it. "I think you're supposed to sign it, " I said. "Oh yeah. And you are, too."

He signed it and handed it to me to sign, but I noticed that he had signed on my line instead of his. We had to print it out again. This time, we did everything correctly. I hope.

So now I have the fingerprint card that I can send off to the FBI to get my background check. The tricky part now is when to send it in. I want the background check to be as "fresh" as possible, but I want to leave time in case there's something wrong with my fingerprints and the check doesn't go through.

I have a feeling that this whole thing would have been easier to do at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg! Renewing my passport there was so easy; no lines, and they knew exactly what to do. And there was no risk of the officer getting called away to fight crime!

However, I've gained new insight into the U.S. Criminal Justice System.

So here's the run-down on getting your fingerprints for an FBI background check:


1) Call ahead to clarify that the station performs the service you need, and that you are eligible.
2) Download a sample FBI fingerprint card and fill it out to practice (make sure you look at a current one).
3) Make sure the place where you are being fingerprinted has the correct form. If not, ask them where to get one.
4) Call ahead to confirm that someone is available to fingerprint you. Be prepared to wait if they go out on call.
5) Before leaving with your fingerprints, double-check to make sure everything is correct.

It might seem simple, but it took me a week or so to figure out. Of course trial-and-error is another option, but I like to do my research. ;)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What Christian women think about

Last week I was shunning books and going on a "sola scriptura" stint. Then I found myself at the bookstore with a friend, and hadn't done my research, and ended up walking out with a few Christian books on women's topics. Uh-oh.

As with the last book of this sort that I read, I think that the one I'm reading is going to be edifying, yet have some weak arguments that are going to bother me.

So I'm going to lift the veil to share a few thoughts. And then I will write a more complete review later. The book is called "Lady in Waiting"* and the subtitle is "Becoming God's Best While Waiting for Mr.Right"**...which sounds really corny, but is a worthy topic for a book.

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Problem #1-The opening. The roommate has just gotten married, and the poor single woman is crushed.

"As the happy couple drives to the perfect honeymoon, you sit alone in a empty apartment, drowning your envy and self-pity with a half gallon of Heavenly Hash ice cream." (13)

Actually, no. First of all, the stereotype is wrong. Not all women drown their sorrows in ice cream. I am more likely to lose my appetite and throw up.

Second of all, I don't normally feel jealous when a close friend or family member gets married. I think the reason is that when you are involved in the ceremony or even just witnessing it, you can sense reality. You know a little about the journey and can rejoice with them for making it to this day. But you also realize it isn't a fairytale. And there is an air of mystery that reminds you that God's in charge.

It is when I'm watching a romantic comedy or looking at a long-distance friend's sickeningly sweet beautiful wedding album online that I may start to feel resentful, simply because the view of reality is missing. So I have to limit that kind of input sometimes.

Problem #2- The authors' assumptions about the audience.

"Rather than staying home worrying about another 'dateless' Saturday night, realize how much valuable time has been entrusted to you at this point in your life." (26)

This statement disappointed me because I felt that it made an assumption about the reader....namely, that she is a woman who adheres to a worldly concept of dating. I normally appreciate it more when the author assumes the higher standard...not because I think I am better, but because I feel more motivated when more is expected. Even though the authors make a good point here, I almost didn't want to keep reading because I felt that that particular situation didn't apply to me. What am I going to do if the entire book discusses dating principles for a model that I don't necessarily agree with? I guess I will find out.

Saturday night has never been associated with dating for me. The typical Saturday is usually a marathon of chores, errands, and trying to squeeze in a visit with precious friends. Then sometimes there's preparing Sunday school props until about midnight, and trying to get my clothes ironed, etc. so I don't have to wake up my roommate, who has Saturday church. If anything, Sunday is the day when you're taking the day off and wouldn't mind doing something special. But I really doubt that the average woman expects someone to suddenly invite her on a date, or that "this Saturday (Friday, Sunday) will be different."

Of course it's another story when you like someone in particular and sit around waiting for a call, text, anything that shows he is thinking about you. You have to keep focused and keep living life, which is probably what the authors meant.

Making assumptions about your audience is a risk. Sometimes you nail it, and sometimes you don't. I think this book is going to be correct about a few things, but it also brings up a lot of arguments, in my mind at least.

*Kendall, Jackie, and Debby Jones. "Lady in Waiting." Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, 1995

**An alternate is "Developing Your Love Relationships." I'm a bit confused as to which is correct as it's labeled differently in different places.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Testing Publisher

I'm way behind the times here. I don't normally experiment with fancy software, and I'm not always willing to listen when people make suggestions (in case you couldn't tell). But a recent newsletter from fellow missionaries inspired me to be more ambitious.

As I now own a computer with Publisher, I decided to finally give it a try. I had avoided it for awhile because it seemed incompatible with other software and redundant as far as the design capabilities.

But after trying to format a few things in Word lately, I finally went into the Start menu and loaded up Publisher for the first time. I like that you can download templates from Microsoft into Word, but I often find the search engine inefficient, so I can't really find what I'm looking for.

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With some tips from Microsoft Office Online, I was able to download an add-in for Publisher that allows you to "publish" things directly into a PDF file. That's one that you can send to other people. I am not sure about other publication possibilities. Other than e-mail, I haven't experimented too much with converting the files.

I think the templates are going to be really useful. There are layouts for newsletters, calendars, business cards, invitations, etc. It does take a while to decide what goes where, but I think there are more simplified templates for those who are not good at being decisive. I like that you can choose color and font schemes that automatically are applied to your document.

This could have come in handy when I was trying to make a last-minute wedding program. But then again, there wasn't much time for experimenting at that point.

Anyway, I'm just getting started, but I have good feelings about this software.

Next wedding: invitations

My sister came over this weekend so we could address invitations together for her September wedding.

Here we are, still full of energy, before we ran into questions about grammar and forms of address.



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Dad had to consult the dictionary at one point.


We worked together to make some informed decisions...


They should be in the mail on Monday!


Interior decorating

He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the walls. As I followed His gaze I became uncomfortable.*

When I was in high school and college, we often used a booklet called "My Heart, Christ's Home" as a little Bible study. The excerpt above describes Christ coming to visit a person's heart, as though it is a dwelling. And as He goes through each "room," His host feels ashamed of what is displayed there.

I always found the material very convicting. Just the thought of Christ physically being there and going through all my "stuff" was startling.

Illustrations have their limit, and they don't always work for me, because they are normally drawn from someone else's imagination. We don't really know what Christ would say in such a situation...it is merely hypothetical.

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But God's dwelling place is one theme that is often met in Scripture, and I was hit by one of those instances recently.

"And he said to me, 'Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.' So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel."-Ezekiel 8:9, 10
I know it's a little out of context, but to me this was another example of a holy place no longer being worthy as a place for God to dwell. And this can be taken literally and figuratively. Since our physical dwellings reflect our relationship with God, we have to make sure that they bring Him glory. And as Robert Boyd Munger pointed out in his booklet, if Christ dwells within us, then anything we use to "decorate" our lives should be pleasing to Him.

*"My Heart, Christ's Home," original text by Robert Boyd Munger (can be purchased from Intervarsity Press)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let's talk

What makes a conversation meaningful, or meaningless? I found myself pondering this question.

What makes us walk away feeling uplifted after conversing, and what leaves us with a bad feeling? When an exchange has been less than fulfilling, I sometimes feel as though I had been given a special gift that I squandered.

There are a few things in particular that make it go rotten.

-Laziness. You don't care enough to fully engage in the conversation. Or you know the conversation should end, but you are too lazy to cut it off.
-Selfishness. You want to take rather than give.
-Pride in arguing. There can be good kinds of discourse. But sometimes we cross the line into arguing for its own sake.
-Accusation/judgment. One person enters the conversation with intent to cast blame.
-Personality differences (or other causes of misunderstanding). This can't be controlled, but you can at least be aware.
-Malicious talk/rumors. You start out expressing "compassion" for a party not present, and it leads to gossip.
-Timidity. The conversation has gone in a bad direction, but you lack the boldness to redirect it.
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The Bible says, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." -(Col. 4:6)

I think that this could be applied in different ways in different situations. I don't think that every conversation necessarily has to have a lofty goal, humanly speaking. It would be exhausting if each time we wanted to talk to someone, we had to accomplish certain goals or stick to a plan. It would also be overwhelming if we had to go deep into our emotions each time. I'm not a fan of surface-level conversation, but it's not always appropriate to share all the intimate details.

As for sharing the Gospel, I definitely think that it should be evident from the way we converse with each other and with others that we are believers. The Holy Spirit should lead us, but I don't think that means we should throw a "Praise Jesus" or "God enabled me to...." into every other sentence. I do think that when something begins to worry us about the way a conversation is going, that it is often the Holy Spirit asking us to make sure we are speaking in love and grace. And then we can ask ourselves those questions...am I being lazy and not giving the complete attention that is deserved? Am I arguing for no reason? Am I saying something about another person that is none of my business?

It's a good sign when we make these realizations. It means the Holy Spirit is working. But it's only the first step. Stopping and adjusting our attitude has to follow.