Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The implications of inheritance


He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for -that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the LORD. (Ps. 105:43-45)

This is one of those "happy ending" Psalms. Their journey is complete; they have reached the Promised Land. Praise the Lord.

But.

There is one tiny little assignment left....remain faithful to the Lord's precepts.

Have you ever received a great honor, only to realize that with it comes great responsibility?

What a privilege to be called the sons of God! Our sins are washed away, and we are justified by FAITH. But how convicting at the same time!

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. -Eph. 4:1


Monday, December 28, 2009

Advice for educators

It is interesting alternating between teaching English and attending Russian classes, because I can make observations from both points of view. For example, I have more motivation to do homework because I know what it's like to be a teacher. ;)

There was certain advice we were given in training about teaching adults, but I haven't been able to apply it all yet. However, I was able to test it out while being a student, and found that there are a few areas where teachers really do need to plan carefully and pay attention to students' needs.

1) Making lessons "fun"

I always have a dilemma when planning for Sunday school because I know the kids like to get up and move around, but I hate the kinds of games that have just one winner. So I look for activities that have an "everyone wins" objective, which aren't always so popular. more/-


But that's with children. Adults, of course, can handle a little competition. But as far as making the lesson "fun," I find that teachers sometimes mix up relevance with entertainment. Making an assignment personal is an important step in developing conversation skills, but it doesn't have to mean letting go of rules. Just because a student is sharing about his family or participating in a "get-to-know-you" game doesn't mean a teacher should be afraid to correct errors. That's what teachers are for! There are ways to correct errors subtly so as not to interrupt the flow of conversation.

2) What to do when only one student shows up

We were told not to say "Where IS everybody?" when one student is in the classroom. It is as if you are ignoring him. Somehow, something similar often pops out of our mouths to break the silence. We want to state the obvious.

But it really is insulting from the student's point of view. My teachers this semester were pretty good at getting started and acting interested in me even when no one else showed up or if the others were really late. Of course a few times we stalled or switched to an alternate topic for class, but they never made me feel like they had wasted their time to show up just for one student.

I think it's important not only for teaching but for any kind of gathering, to thank the people who HAVE come and to make them feel welcome. It's usually not necessarily to draw attention to the empty seats or to make an announcement about needing to change plans since so few people have come. If you are concerned about the others' health or whereabouts, you could ask someone who knows them, AFTER the class...rather than taking away from the class time.

3) Grading and expectations

I don't know about you, but I'm more motivated to work harder when the teacher expects more of me. If I know she isn't going to collect or check the homework, why bother to do it? If I know she's an easy-grader, why should I give 100% effort? I could work just a little bit and get a satisfactory result.

Students need honest feedback about how they are doing. It isn't just the donkey-carrot theory about getting them to work hard. If you want them to succeed, they need motivation to work hard, and they need to know what they can do differently. And as far as respect, they need to know that their effort doesn't go unnoticed.

4) Giving clear instructions

We practiced and practiced phrasing instructions so that they would be understandable to learners of English. We practiced checking for comprehension before beginning the activity. But I have to admit that I usually get lazy and give instructions in Russian, or just start the activity without any explanation and see if any questions come up.

But as a student, with all other factors being in order, I found that I felt a little panicky when we started an exercise without complete instructions. Or without a simple question from the teacher about whether or not we understood.

As a student, it's important for me to know:
-how to know when it will be my turn, or how to express that I want to answer the question
-how exactly to answer the question (i.e. a model)
-what resources are available to me (new vocabulary, a grammar chart, etc.)


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas myths and legends

Christmas legends...some of them are harmless; others, not so much.

I finally watched "The Nativity Story" recently. I had bought it after the holidays last year and waited the whole year. :)

The film provided some interesting material for meditation, although there were a few pieces of story that felt like they were placed there out of tradition rather than through careful research.

For example:
-The wise men arrive at the same time as the shepherds (this doesn't count as a spoiler:)). I had liked the portrayal of their journey, but why ruin the chronology?
-Mary rides on a donkey. For some reason this is in all the Christmas stories, but is not actually mentioned in Scripture!

Then, on Christmas Day, I opened up a news site to find the following headline: Was Jesus Wealthy?

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Obviously not, you say. But apparently certain churches follow a different teaching, and this made the news.

The article mentions, "[Pastor] Anderson says Jesus couldn't have been poor because he received lucrative gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- at birth."

Again...this is incorrect, at least chronologically.

And this: " 'Mary and Joseph took a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the finest transportation of their day was a donkey,' says Anderson. 'Poor people ate their donkey. Only the wealthy used it as transportation.' "

What?!

So American churches are teaching that Christ was wealthy. Does this seem ironic to anyone else?


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

(Just modeling some Christmas gifts!)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On spending the holidays "away from home"

Spending your first holiday in a new home? Or overseas?

This is my first Christmas in Russia. But I remember my first Thanksgiving here very well. Some missionaries invited me over for dinner. My hosts had cooked a turkey and mashed potatoes, but many of the Russian guests brought Russian salads that they had purchased on the way to the party. It was good food...but not what I was used to.

Even if you haven't moved, everything changes as seasons of life change. One year everyone is fighting over the decorations; the next year no one wants to help at all. One year everyone is up until 2am drinking eggnog; the next year they are all tired from the work week and want to go to bed early.

Therefore, it's important to adjust your expectations, and, even better, to come up with your own traditions that you can add to and change as you like, because they're yours! more/-


Recently, I watched "The Nativity Story" for the first time. As I watched the camels making their way across the sand, I thought to myself, this doesn't look at all like our Christmas scenes. Our traditions are all made up. We like them because we have taken ownership and made them personal.

There is nothing material that you absolutely HAVE to have in order to make a nice Christmas tradition. Wherever you are, in whatever circumstances, you can come up with your own idea and say "THIS is how I choose to celebrate Jesus' birth."

This may seem a little late, but...

For Advent, you can start on whatever date you like. Maybe 4 Sundays before Christmas, maybe Dec.1st, or maybe you don't have time until one week before Christmas.

Don't have time to physically gather together for Advent? You could leave Advent messages for roommates to find or send electronic messages to family and church members.

Who says you have to have a huge fir tree for Christmas? Decorate your houseplant, or make one out of paper! Or skip the tree altogether. Make up your own Christmas visuals. What images help you to meditate on Christ's birth and the events leading up to it?

Want to take a more serious approach and fast for some time before the holiday? Also an option.

Who cares if you can't buy an Advent calendar, Christmas lights, or the "right" colored candles? There is no right or wrong here!

A lack of molasses for gingerbread men doesn't have to spoil your Christmas. Make (or buy) your favorite treat that IS within limits.

With a little motivation, you can keep fond memories of the old traditions, make some new ones, and lose nothing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The calendar...

Oh well, I'll have to post this without the other photos...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been working on a new kind of Advent calendar this year, and I finally got caught up recently. This happens every year: I get behind and then end up finishing it after Christmas so that it will at least be done.

Now, a few days before Christmas, I am finally on track.




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I have liked the pattern I'm using this year. The pictures are Medieval in style and I'm using paper collage with bright origami paper that might never be used for its intended purpose. It is fun to just make a few simple cuts and end up with a colorful picture.

Also, the tape I'm using is really weak, so it creates an interesting pop-out effect as it loses its stick.

Some of the figures aren't easy to recognize, but we do the Scripture readings, so we understand what they mean; that's the important thing.

Unfortunately, I will probably have to look for a new idea for next year. :( I just can't seem to use the same idea twice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The weather report

Grrrrrrrrr. Blogger is loading my pictures for my other post sideways.

I will have to resort to Plan B and write about the weather. :)

I scoffed a bit when people were talking about a "blizzard" in St. Petersburg. But we did, in fact, get several inches of snow, which actually stuck. It is looking pretty wintry around here!

Of greater significance is the fact that today is December 22, which means that YESTERDAY was the shortest day of the year.

Spring is coming! :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Defense of Russian Medicine

I read an interesting blog post recently challenging someone's advice to those traveling in Russia.

She advised foreigners to avoid Russian hospitals; he suggested that she was being a little too judgmental, and went on to defend Russian medicine.

I reviewed a book last year that offered great insight into the Russian approach toward medicine.

I would agree that we are too quick to judge, and too quick to fear what for many people here is considered normal. In many ways the conditions are less comfortable than desired. But is the care any less effective? Mistakes are made, but do they exceed the mistakes made by U.S. doctors?

I agree that travelers should avoid landing in the hospital, but not because the care is inadequate. The main reason is that it is different from what you would expect at home. It's hard to be sick and experiencing culture shock at the same time. If it does happen to you, the best thing is to cooperate with the doctors and try to "relax" as much as possible and let them do their job. Of course if you're not deathly ill, you could try to be patient and just wait until you get home.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The presentation


I might as well share about my presentation since I had asked everyone for advice. I needed to find an interesting cultural topic.

Well, I prepared a few ideas, and the one that my teacher approved was a description of the U.S. school system. She encouraged me to find interesting contrasts and bring in school photos.

I know, it sounds boring... but the school system in Russia, like queuing, is one of those key factors that serves as an instrument for studying culture.

On the day of the presentation, I was last to go...other topics included vodka, Russian rock music, an Irish film review, and a discussion about teaching English abroad. Yes, I had definitely chosen a "boring" topic. But it generated a bit of discussion. more/-


My conversation teacher and classmates, at our end-of-semester tea party:



We got our grades immediately after the presentations, and I could write a whole dissertation on the grading system alone.

1) She announced our grades ALOUD! A major no-no in American culture, at least. When I was in school I was barely aware of any of the grades of my classmates, except for some of my closest friends.

2) We had not been given any criteria for the presentation...just, talk for 20 minutes, make it interesting. Yet when she was announcing our grades, she made comments like, "_____, you made two errors...you get a B." So it turned out we were being graded on grammar.

3) She compared us to each other! ___________ did better, _________ did worse, _____________ did the best, etc. I took the opportunity to explain in my presentation that American students are not compared with each other, nor praised/criticized much in front of others. She wondered how students were motivated if they weren't constantly reminded of their need to perform in a group. I suppose we do have a ranking system in the U.S., but it certainly isn't used as a stimulus for daily performance.

The next day in class, the teacher took my idea and did the same thing with the Russian school system, describing each level from preschool to university. As usual, I was shocked by the differences! I don't really know how to put it into words, but it is just a difference in mentality, with the Russian system being more regulated overall. To me it is unusual for there to be so much uniformity. However, I know that their system has a good reputation. My classmates said that the Russian system is pretty much like the European one, so I was the only one wondering why I wasn't taught proper handwriting and grammar in elementary school.

I did find it surprising how proud my teacher was of her native school system. Of course, it does employ her, so she must like it. :) But I could never say that I support a certain approach 100%. There are always pros and cons. For example, the American system is rather disorganized in comparison to others, but the flexibility means that students' individual needs are better met.

Part of our group with our Lexicon/Phraseology teacher:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Whose nickname?

I was a bit taken aback a few years ago as I walked down the street and spotted a billboard saying "Russia-the land of opportunity."

Well, how would YOU react?

I think it's fair to say that this nickname more often refers to the U.S....

However, in class recently my Lexicon teacher noted that is it actually RUSSIA who was called the "Land of Opportunity" in the 18th century, more than a hundred years before the concept of the American Dream came into being. This referred not only to opportunities for foreigners to make a nice living for themselves, but to Russians who were close to the tsar and could receive many desired benefits. +/-


In a way, we are all looking for the "Land of Opportunity" when we move to a different city, neighborhood, or even a new position in our work or ministry. We try to make the best choice based on a number of factors. In general, we are looking for something better than what we have at the moment.

Stephen Curtis Chapman has a song about this concept. His conclusion? Matthew 6:33...

This is a world full of options
It's like a never ending buffet line
While all that I'm really needing
Is living water and the bread of life
So as I'm walking through this life making choices
There is one thing I must never forget
This land of opportunity has one God
If I seek Him first He'll take care of the rest

Perhaps you have heard this sermon many times... but does your life show it? Have the people around you heard it? As you look at their faces, do you think that they know and believe that there is something more in life?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to "build" a Christmas tree

I know where Christmas trees come from.

First, some big machines make a structure...



Step 2/-


Then it is covered with green material....all ready to be decorated!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trying new things

I have always been intimidated by the open-air market, for three reasons: 1) Having to speak Russian. 2) Unfamiliar hygienic conditions and business ethics (based on rumors I've heard). 3) The smell and sight of the raw meat.

Okay, that was my little confession. I get bored with the selection in modern supermarkets, and the conditions are probably not any better. A few days ago I was craving grape leaves, and decided to stop at a nearby market after class.

I didn't go near anything that would upset my stomach, and I actually liked seeing the bright arrays of fresh (?) fruits and vegetables. After inquiring about grape leaves, I was directed to the "pickled" section, where I found them without any problem.

I might have to return at some point for some herbs and spices.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One morning

It was another dark morning, but as I examined the sky, it was a shade of deep blue, tinged with turquoise-more colorful than it had been on other mornings.

I remembered looking at photos of the northern sky in a book, and it looked about the same.

When I emerged from the metro, the sky was a light pinkish-lavender.

I thought to myself, "I am going to see the sun today." And I did. Two days in a row...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Picture post

It's Sunday. Time to take a break from thinking and post some photos! Actually, that's not quite true...I have to study for a test. :( But nevertheless, it's good not to be glued to the computer.

Teaching English at the orphanage...



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A typical downtown scene.



A night scene with New Year's decor.



With church friends at McDonald's. Where else? :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ward 9 roommates

My mom and I went to visit Nastia's mother. As usual, the trip was a bit complicated, though not necessarily stressful. It was about 2 hours in each direction.

Since it was winter, it seemed to take longer than usual to get down the winding road to the hospital. When we got there, it took us some time going up and down the stairs (with bags of groceries) to find the right ward. We remembered approximately where it was, but flu quarantines and construction created some obstacles.

Lena and her roommates were glad to see us. Even the nurse commented that Lena has been more at peace than a few years ago, partly due to knowing that Nastia is safe and well-adjusted in the U.S. Because of the construction, they had lost our contact information, so that had created a little stress as they could no longer connect with us. But now that we had shown up, that fear was gone. continue/-


After saying hello to everyone and looking at photographs, we took the time to have tea with the nurse, whom my parents had met when they approached Lena about adopting Nastia.

Of course we didn't leave without taking our group photo, as well as a little video to send home to Nastia. (Lena is the woman in the wheelchair in front of me)



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesus and bureaucracy

Paperwork... wouldn't life be different without it? Sometimes I want to just throw it all in the garbage and get on with my LIFE.

But around this time of year, we can remember Mary's condition. Although she may not have given birth in December, if we observe the church calendar, we see Mary and Joseph getting ready to make a journey, all for the sake of paperwork!

Of course this isn't the earliest case in the Bible of people needing to travel for the sake of citizenship, land ownership, etc. But we know that at least this example of life's worries was not unknown to Christ. In human form, he wasn't exempt from it.

Scripture tells me, "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head."* Do I really have anything to complain about? Or, to look at it differently, is there any situation that the Lord does not understand? Does He lack compassion?

*Matthew 8:20

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baby shower

On Saturday we had our first church baby shower. It was fun because a lot of the guests and the mother-to-be had never been to one, so it was truly a surprise.



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Everyone decided that I should be in charge since it was an American tradition. But I have to admit that I felt pretty overwhelmed and ended up delegating most of the responsibilities to other people. We had found a lot of elaborate ideas online, but it was hard to actually make it come about.



First of all, you can’t just go to one supermarket here and find a party section with everything you need. I think I went to about 5 different stores looking for the right kind of balloons. Also, another girl and I were working on a scrapbook to give the mother-to-be, but we could only find a few hours on Saturday afternoons when we were both free. After two sessions, we only had a few pages done and were running out of time. So that remained unfinished…oops!


But it was a fun time, overall. :) (Don't try looking for me in this photo, because I'm the photographer!)




Monday, December 7, 2009

Progress

The quest for temporary residency continues...

My dad prepared a surprise for me. Some of my documents were ready and he was able to send them with my mom.

So now I have in my possession:

-my FBI background check
-my birth certificate

I wasn't even really thinking about it since it was out of my hands, so it was a nice surprise.

What next? I'm not sure. I feel a bit scattered. I need to get some advice since I am hoping to apply after New Year's!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A visitor

My mom has arrived! Here's the proof...


Saturday, December 5, 2009

By the way

I need your input! Scroll down* to read how you can help me with a homework assignment.

A lot of things happen in Russia "by the way." As in, "I forgot to mention that..."

BY THE WAY, my phone number doesn't work anymore.

BY THE WAY, the tram isn't running.

BY THE WAY, I'm getting married.

BY THE WAY, the bank is closed for lunch.

And this is how I learned about my latest assignment for conversation class. more/-


On Wednesday, the instructor suddenly said,

"BY THE WAY, you're having your final exam next Wednesday. You need to prepare a 20-minute presentation." Wha...? I don't mind presentations, but isn't this a little sudden?

*So I need to pick a topic by Monday. I need ideas!

These are some of the topics we covered during the semester: Russian hospitality, the meaning of hand gestures, Russian flags and symbols, gender theory, advertising, time, housekeeping, healthy lifestyles, and fear.

I need a topic that is fairly universal. Naturally, I will be presenting some observations of Russian culture and comparing it with my own. Then my classmates will have a chance to ask some questions and weigh in.

Any suggestions???

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scary

The conversation topic was "fear," and I was the only one in class, with a substitute teacher. She wanted to talk about the train crash.

The teacher knew I was a Christian since we had talked about Christmas the day before. She asked me what I thought about the role God played in such tragedies. Somehow we got to talking about predestination, and I realized that I am not very good at explaining it in Russian.

The next time we had class, our regular teacher was back. She asked us about our childhood fears and then each of us had to tell about a scary situation that had happened to us.

My incident took place a few years ago, but before I started blogging... read/-


I was going home from one of our first worship team practices that had lasted about 4 hours. It was late. The subway train stopped one station before mine, and there was an announcement that it would go no further. Since it was around midnight, I thought maybe it was the last train, and decided to exit the metro and get on a trolley, which would go straight to my house.

When I exited the metro, I saw the trolleys all tucked in for the night, and I realized that there weren't going to be any more. I thought about hopping on a route taxi, but as I looked down the street, I saw that instead of picking up passengers, they too were all turning into a parking lot. It was too late.

In Russia it is more standard to hitch-hike than in the States. But I had never done it on my own. Even though people do it all the time, I wasn't sure what would happen to me as a foreigner if I tried to hail a car. At the very least, they might charge me more money. It seemed safer at the time to continue down the dark road by myself, on foot.

That was before I came upon the cemetery. It was along the road in a wooded area. There was no one else on foot walking around, and the cars were coming along every few minutes. Sometimes they would slow down as they neared me. I was, essentially, alone in the woods, walking by a cemetery.

I can honestly say that I wasn't really scared, but it was one of those situations where I had to ask myself, "how did I get into this mess?" Otherwise known as "if my friends back home could see me now..."

After the 10-15 minute walk through the "woods," I reached a better-lighted intersection that I actually recognized. In fact, my friends lived in the building on the corner. I could have stopped by, but they were probably sleeping, and I wasn't really in trouble.

Down the block, I could see the metro station that I was SUPPOSED to be at. But the trolley wasn't running there either. I passed the metro and walked the rest of the way home.

I got home sometime after 1 am. No one was waiting or knew that I got home late, so it was rather anti-climactic. But all's well that ends well!

Epilogue: I later learned that my friends had actually called to make sure I got home alright. Only they got mixed up and called my friend Lida, who was home asleep in her own bed. "Did you get home alright?" they asked. "Yes," she answered. They wondered what was wrong with my voice, and she thought it was awfully nice of them to check on her.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nota bene

Without speculating too much, I do want to comment on the train crash that occurred last week between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Although this is no longer "front-page" news in certain places (such as the U.S.), keep in mind that this was a fairly serious event.

The BBC News reported today that an Islamist group has taken responsibility for the attack. Investigations continue. The injured are recovering; funerals are being performed this week.

It's uncertain what role the incident will play in future politics and relations between religious groups. But keep in mind that if you have friends in Russia, this might be something they've been thinking and possibly worrying about in the past few days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Events

Anybody out there? I haven't been able to write many long posts lately. Maybe that's true for you too if you've begun your holiday preparations.

There are lots of fun things going around here....along with the usual work and play. :)

Concerts...





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Decorating for Advent...




...and lots more to come this week. But I'll post when I can!