Monday, June 28, 2010

Suitcase mood

When someone's getting antsy to depart, Russians say that he is in a "suitcase mood."

As usual, my approaching trip has manifested itself in sleepless nights, cold symptoms, and mountains of laundry. Plus a giddy fit or two of gladness over seeing my family soon and having a new apartment to move into when I get back.

I had one final class today, which ended rather anticlimactically. I got home and moved approximately two items in the direction of my suitcase before gravitating towards the computer and breaking down in tears over this blog. You should check it out; just keep some tissues handy as it is a quite raw and poignant account of a missionary experience.

But blogging and the IKEA site must wait; it's time to get organized...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A fear

Have you ever been afraid to be happy? I mean, afraid to let your guard down?

Sometimes I fear that if I have too much, I will forget God. And when I receive something I want, I murmur to Him, "Are you sure you want to give me that? Don't you want to test me a little more first?"

Or I'm struck by thoughts of guilt: somebody out there is saying the same prayer, and getting a different answer.

Why me?

read more/-

What if all my dreams come true someday? What will I strive towards then? Of course the pursuit of His heaven will always keep us busy...but in this life?  Where does this feeling come from that it's wrong to be happy? And I don't mean rich. I mean, content, satisfied.

I think sometimes the Enemy tries to take our thankfulness and turn it into uncertainty and guilt. But if we strive towards "piety" and somberness, to try to prove that we have denied all earthly pleasures...then we miss a chance to acknowledge the One who holds our lives in the palm of His hand.

And to get back to my fear...I know the Lord loves me, and I believe that He "disciplines those He loves." I just have to pray and believe that He will not let me be content, fully content, in anything less.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The housing search

Renting an apartment in Russia is a little different than in the States, but I don't have much experience with either one...so at any rate I was bound to learn something...


I had always found housing via friends and acquaintances, and tried to go that route this time as well, but it was harder because I was looking for an apartment to rent, not just a room or corner of a room. read more/-

The initial attempts were fruitless. Apartment #1 looked promising, but the current tenants decided to stay. Apartments #2 and #3 were in bad neighborhoods. Apartment #4 went to a married couple instead. But the other problem was that it felt like living in someone else's home. Apartments often come fully furnished, and you are often not allowed to change configurations. Or, for example, a family has purchased the apartment for themselves or their children, and are renting it out as they pay off the mortgage. So every hole in the wall, every piece of decor, affects them personally.

The other options here in St. Petersburg are real estate agencies or the Classified ads. Something didn't feel quite right about scanning the newspaper and calling up strangers, so I decided to use a Realtor. Well, they were practically strangers as well, but qualified ones, at least.

The search dragged on much longer than I had expected. I expected the Realtors to produce a list of options fairly quickly. Then I would look at them, make a comparison spreadsheet, and choose the best one.

Agent #1 produced a single option that didn't even fit my criteria. I called a second agent, and she never even called me back. Did they not need my business?

I took a risk and contacted a third agent (supposedly Christian) whom I had found on the Internet. He did get in touch with me and asked a lot of detailed questions about what I was looking for. It sounded more promising. But then another week or two went by, with no word...

Meanwhile, Current Roommate's mother came to visit. When hearing of my trouble, not one for wasting time, she grabbed the phone and called her friend, another agent. She asked for a 2-room apartment for me, reasoning that if I wanted a roommate, we ought to each have our own room, being adults. Within a few minutes there were 4 apartments available for viewing.

I called a potential roommate and let her know, and she was all for looking at a 2-room. But...she needed a different neighborhood. None of them would do.

Back to square one.

A few hours later, Agent #3 called. Did I still need his services? Yes. I told him the new criteria and he promised to take a look.

But I was leaving in 2 weeks. I kept reminding myself about my residency application and other last-minute developments, and I knew that God would provide at the right time.

Another week passed and Agent #3 called and asked if I could go look at apartments. I suggested we meet the next day, and he said he would call back.

At 3:30 pm the next day I got the call that we could go look at a few apartments. Future Roommate and I met up at the appointed meeting place, but had no time to discuss our game plan, as Agent #3 arrived at about the same time. I had no idea how this was going to go.

We set off on foot to look at the first apartment, Agent #3 getting turned around a few times before we found it.

Apartment #1 had potential, but something wasn't quite right. We weren't in love.

Apartment #2, however, charmed us immediately. Older...high ceilings...large rooms.

We planned to think it over, but Realtor lady (who was showing the apartment) said that the Owner was about to leave town that very evening. I was trying to keep my guard up in case anything suspicious was happening, but we didn't want to lose that apartment.

So the next thing we knew, the Owner was on his way over and we were signing some papers.

I hadn't brought money with me because it seemed a bit foolish to be bringing large amounts of cash into an uncertain situation.

I'm not really sure what Agent #3's job was, other than to lead us to the right address and try to get the price a little lower. But oh well, it was extra moral support.

Realtor lady said that we could bring the money to her office the next day and she would give us the keys.

But alarms were going off in my head...I imagined her giving us fake keys and the "office" disappearing from existence.

I suggested meeting at the apartment so that we could try the keys right away, and everyone else agreed. Of course, they could have always changed the locks later if they wanted to trick us, but I felt a little more in control, at least.


So less than 24 hours later, we had the keys and were standing in the middle of our new rented apartment. Lots of adjustments to make (with the owner's permission), but it has a lot of potential!

I looked for almost 2 months and then found something in less than 24 hours...how is that for crazy? I guess it is common for your name to just sit on the Realtor's list until you get a phone call and go on an apartment-search marathon. Good to know...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer sights

It comes from the poplar tree and looks like little tufts of white cotton.

At best, the wind picks it up and swirls it around, creating an effect of dandelion fluff in a beautiful meadow.

At worst, the wind sends it into your mouth and nose and open windows; several pieces settle in your hair.

We noticed this "pukh" as students in St. Petersburg one summer and were amused by this summer "snow." Unfortunately, it does not always seem so charming...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

One

During the Christmas/New Year's season, our church has everyone write down 3 prayer requests on paper flower petals, and the next year, we look at them again to see how God helped us in those areas throughout the year.

I’ll admit it, I haven’t participated. It seemed a little too formulaic and I was afraid if I wrote something too personal, it would somehow be discovered by someone else…I brought the “flower” home, but never ended up writing down my main prayer requests, even though I had a few in mind.

This morning I was leaving early and grabbed an envelope to use for cash, because I was going to pay the deposit for a new rental apartment.

I thought the envelope was empty, but when I opened it to put the money inside, a flower fell out… Continue/-

Still blank, but my need for housing definitely would have occupied one of the petals. It was a reminder of who my Supplier is.




Monday, June 21, 2010

Journey to the land of Elama ("life")

If you've been following Mike's blog or the Bull Herd, you might have heard of Elama. If not, by way of explanation, it is a piece of land containing an old campground that we've been allowed to use free of charge for ministry purposes.

Taking care of a piece of land 2 hours away is a big commitment, but most local churches around here wouldn't even be able to come close to purchasing something like this, so it is a blessing not taken for granted.

The time investment has been very rewarding, as summer camps have been run here for the past few years and families have been able to come out for a weekend or short vacation. Continue reading/-


I hadn't been there for two years, when we had a work day out there shortly before I left for Africa. I mentioned it briefly here. 

I don't have too many pictures from the early years, but I went out there last weekend, and, wow...what a difference! It had previously been all overgrown and run-down. Now there are lots of details that make a difference: new paint jobs; pictures on the walls; dishes; long tables for eating; a sandbox to play in...

 And, best of all, friends to have fellowship with!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One-room Sunday school

I've probably mentioned this before, but wanted to pose it more formally as a discussion topic. What do you do about having different ages in one Sunday school classroom?

We used to gear the lesson toward school-aged children and have older kids be helpers and toddlers color quietly or play with blocks if they were unable to sit through the lesson. When we've tried to have an additional, more "active" lesson for the toddlers, it has been too disruptive for the older kids.

I was recently doing some brainstorming, and took a look at the current ages of the kids. The age break-down has changed a little bit. We now have (approximately): 5 teenagers, 8 school-aged kids (grades 2-6), 6 preschoolers (aged 3-6), 3 toddlers (1-2 years), and an infant. read more/-

We don't gear lessons towards teenagers as they have their own meetings, but in general all the groups are growing in number and it's not like we have just one toddler to entertain. We could do a full-fledged lesson with the preschoolers, maybe even including the 2 yr olds.



If we were able to find another room, how should we do a split? 6 and up? Readers and non-readers? What about the non-verbal kids?

And if not, how can we make the lessons accessible for everyone? Is there some way to sneak in more action for the toddlers and deeper questions for the older kids?


Current status...

We are sort of "on hiatus" with it being summer, but we still get 5-10 kids on a Sunday morning, and try to keep them entertained.

Today there were THREE of us with the kids, and we still could barely manage! A craft with the youngers, a game with the olders, cleaning up after the 3 yr old...oh no, the 2 yr old is unattended! There she goes...got her!




Even the board game we brought out was boring for the older set, and they got a bit antsy.



They're good kids, though...thank God for kids!

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Russian citizens (do's and don'ts)

Moscow officials are working on preparing a little "welcome" packet for people newly settling in the area, explaining how they can assimilate more effectively.

The pamphlet will include "recommendations" on how to behave oneself appropriately in the nation's capital.

Apparently, such a codex had already been drafted in St. Petersburg, but didn't quite make it to print. However, various efforts to improve on behavior sometimes pop up in the form of public service announcements, reminding people to help the elderly and be polite.

The Moscow variant (as suggested by Mikhail Solomentsev) will include such advice as "Don't carve meat on the street outside your building, don't grill shishkabobs on the porch, don't wear your native costume, speak Russian..." (loosely translated by yours truly).

The question is, do all these people WANT to be integrated?

-source: Metro St. Petersburg, 17 June 2010

P.S. Apparently I'm not the first to pick up this story. Here's another version: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=moscow-prepares-controversial-integration-handbook-2010-06-17

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The new me

I have been challenged in some new ways this (school) year. There are certain things that no one else can do for you; times that no one can shield you from potential harm (or embarrassment) except the Lord. It's like going to the dentist. Someone can hold your hand, numb the pain, try to distract you, but it's you there in the chair.

Well, the new things that I tried this year did not turn out to be nearly as hard as expected.

As I stood in line to apply for residency, I questioned many times what I was doing there...not because of the decision itself, but because I was uncertain about my capabilities. God gave me SO many helpers along the way. But in general, my Russian friends couldn't answer my questions; nor could Americans who had been in my place, since the process had changed slightly. It was just a step I had to take, to see if I could go a little further in life. read more/-

While living in another country, you can have a false sense of confidence. Just because you can get into the "role" each day doesn't mean that you really fit in. It is good to have reminders of our weaknesses and of how much we have left to learn. But at the same time the fears can be false, too. Maybe the dreaded "bureaucracy" isn't quite so scary. Annoying, yes, but nothing to fear.

I found myself calling real estate agents for the first time, inquiring about apartments for rent. I had never really had the need to do it before, but it's turning out to be another learning experience, and a test of faith.

Those goals that seem unreachable may become a reality, more easily or quickly than we think.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Applying for a TRP in Russia-the summary post

Although I've yet to receive my actual residency permit, the majority of the ordeal is over. So here it is, the summary post on how to get through the application process.

This applies to the quota system, so if you are exempt, you will have to produce whichever documents prove you are exempt, and go from there.

6-12 months before beginning
-talk to people who have done it, plan out your steps (for example, what visa you will use to be in the country while applying)

a few months before applying
-look into what it will take to get your criminal background check, as well as appropriate authentication. This is by far the most time consuming as it requires waiting on several different parties and working with the policies of two different countries
Continue/-
-check the list of required documents (may vary); plan your moves; try to estimate about how much time you will need to have everything ready, keeping in mind that it will all have to be ready and NOT expired at the same time

getting in line
-the quota filled up in about a month this year (2010), so make sure you get there in the first week or two. The staff at the FMS is very helpful and informative. They may ask you to call at a different time regarding specific questions, but you do NOT need to pay a lawyer or any other "middle man" to help you get through. The exception would be a translator, of course. But there is no bribery necessary. Just do what they say; and they will tell you very clearly...

signing up for your document review
-once you are on the list, you're on the list. You don't have to worry about getting bumped off because you're behind with your documents. Still, the sooner you hand them in, the sooner you will receive your residency permit. When signing up for an appointment after your initial consultation, keep in mind the calculations you've done already (see previous points). Is your FBI check still in the U.S.? Then you will need at least a few weeks. And so on...

pacing yourself
-once you've got an appointment and done some planning, you can start going down your list collecting everything necessary. If you are going to be waiting for any specific documents (background check), you may want to hold off on the others. Otherwise, you may end up like I was, worrying that my medicals were about to expire. Paying the fees, getting docs translated, getting your medicals, etc, are all things that happen instantaneously or take 2-3 days to accomplish.
-once you know there won't be significant delays, DO go ahead with everything, so that you will have as much as possible ready for your first appointment

your further appointments at the FMS
-make sure to be very organized when you go and have just the documents you need available. Even if you aren't able to have everything ready by your first review, you should still show them what you DO have so you can work on correcting any mistakes in your application, etc.

tips about documents
-make photocopies of everything! passport pages; migration card; registration; visa; application forms; etc. It can't hurt to have extras and it will save time.

tips about translations
-make sure to check names and dates very carefully. Transliterations vary, and the Russian "dating" system (date-month-year) does not correspond to the American one.

tips about filling out the application
-instead of just answering yes or no, expand the answer a little...I wasn't born in Russia , I didn't change my name (не менял), etc. (if you have specific questions, email me)

handing everything in
-when you hand everything in, they do a lot of stamping and stapling and have you fill out a statement. Then then give you a signed statement testifying that you have applied. You get your passport and visa and everything back, but everything you got specifically for the TRP (medicals, background check) are theirs.

Stay tuned for the next installment in a few months! For more details, check out posts labeled "residency."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Introvert and the World Wide Web

Perhaps this topic has been analyzed to death, but when I was getting acquainted with the Internet about 10 years ago, people didn’t talk much about the social effects. I am not going to go into pornography or anything like that; this is more about social skills and emotional intimacy.

I’ve come full-circle with some of the features of online socializing, and wanted to share some of my impressions.

For a shy person, the Internet was a life-changer. It felt like it leveled the playing field where before we would have had no chance mixing and mingling with a variety of people; getting past that first “hello;” jumping into a conversation amid the extroverts and loud talkers. read more/-

There were many opportunities that it added to my social life:

1)    Ease in initiating conversations

-who wants to make the first move? Not me! I don't even know where to start! What if the other person is busy, uninterested, etc? Don't even get me started about making phone calls. But online...shoot out a quick IM or email, and you can strike up a conversation pretty easily.

2)  Greater boldness in expressing myself

-the inhibitions were suddenly gone. I could joke, flirt, and make quick come-backs, as well as get into a variety of deep discussions which could last for hours. Somehow it didn’t tire me as much as social events in “reality” where I could only last an hour or two. The “real” me?

3)  More frequent contact between meetings

-who wants to wait until Sunday for the next youth group meeting? Or until third period on Monday?  It could take the whole meeting for me to warm up and then it would be time to go home. But with the Internet I could just hop on for a few minutes and check in with everyone. I could find out information and make social plans quickly.

-instant attention: In times when I wanted to talk to someone, I didn't need to wait until someone was free to lend a listening ear. Someone was sure to be online...

4) More contact with people who are far away

-how else could I stay in contact with those friends I met at a conference; the relatives on another continent; the friends allll the way down the hall of my dormitory? :)

5) Time to think (e-mail)

-while chatting required answering quickly, I could easily stall and avoid an awkward question. Emails, meanwhile, could be answered at my own convenience, when I had had the time to consider everything very carefully and create the best possible response.

Eventually, however I realized that the benefits themselves had the potential to become harmful.

1)    Ease in initiating conversation

-but what happened to someone calling you up specifically to talk about something, or to invite you to go somewhere? He/she had to find YOUR number and call YOU. The spontaneity began to depress me. Online we strike up conversation with whoever is available, whenever we happen to have the time.
It’s fun, but at the same time you can never be sure if someone is genuinely happy to “spend time” with you or if he/she is just bored. Which is not to say that chatting with friends is a bad way to cure boredom or loneliness. But it still drifts into the realm of “passive” relating.  Let’s sit here and see if anyone interesting will show up…rather than going after it, pursuing fellowship with a specific person.

-And besides that, how do you know if the other person is smiling when you’re smiling? What do the pauses mean? What if one person is multi-tasking while the other is seeking a deep conversation?

2) Greater boldness in expressing myself

-Boldness? I miss my “filter” that comes from being shy. I rarely fear saying something stupid out loud, but on the Internet it all “hangs out.” Everything is focused on drawing attention to myself.  I share extraneous details, pursue relationships that without the Internet would have seemed pointless. I jump into conversations where I should refrain from participating.

3) More frequent contact

-The frequency of the exchange of virtual words means that the real-life encounters stop being so special. You might even wish for them to be over so you can get back to your virtual life. Instead of developing my weaker skills, I was bypassing them for something that came more naturally. I needed to put away the stronger muscles for a little while and work on the weaker ones.

4) More contact with people who are far away


-I don’t want to sound like I regret being in touch with all of my beloved ones who are far away. And it is great fun to reconnect with people whom I haven’t seen for ages. But if I am focused on writing emails all day and trying to keep up with all the news, I neglect those who are close to me. This includes blogging. Dare I pour out my feelings to near strangers, if I haven’t shared them yet with those close to me? There is so much to learn from and share about with all my friends near and far, but I have to prioritize.

5) Time to think

-What if my first reaction is a smile, which a conversation partner will not see through the computer screen? Or what if it is a frown, or even tears? How will people know what upsets me if I can delay my response until I’ve calmed down? Being able to hide and calculate every word is not always a good thing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Slow

It's a slow spring.

As proof, I can testify that about 10 minutes passed after I typed the first sentence and before I typed this one.

Whenever I am confused about a season in life or time of year, I take a little peek back to the previous year to see how I was coping.

Amid the usually spring frolicking, it seems that I was keeping quite busy.

This year, with the kids leaving for camp and my being in-between bureaucratic processes, everything feels more laid back. Even my teachers have been canceling class on occasion...caught by the spring bug? Someone reading this might be envious. Judging from your Facebook comments about your exams, wedding plans, and house purchases, perhaps you would like to be in my place.

I like being in my place. I just don't know what it is for. But, I have a few more weeks to enjoy whatever it is, and then it's home for a new visa...my last one?

Monday, June 7, 2010

A measure of control

The "Tolerance" movement has come to Russia. At least, that's what they're calling it these days.

I suppose Man has always looked for ways to avoid absolutes and found excuses to live one's own way. Or, ways to appease others in order to live more comfortably.

It started a long time ago. Perhaps, one could say, it started in the Garden. Eve was just going to have a little taste...it's not like she was going to commit murder or anything. And Adam, well, he took what his wife offered him. Wouldn't want to compromise the marital bliss.

But the interesting thing about certain movements coming to Russia is that they have the Orthodox Church to contend with. I suppose the religious right has some power in the U.S., but let's face it, there is not much unity among American churches, as a whole. There is no central organ that says "here is how we will address this issue." Read more/-

Unless, of course, people pay attention to the authority of the Bible...if they did that more often, it would be a different story.

No, the U.S. has always been pretty "free." Of course I didn't live in Russia during the Soviet era, but I think the level of freedom was slightly diminished.

But getting back to the point. I am not always at ease about the amount of power the Orthodox Church has. Maybe it's because I don't agree with all points of their doctrine, and maybe it's because I just resent being in the minority, as part of a Russian Protestant church. Maybe both.

However, when the Church has power, the Patriarch or even just a local priest can say "look at these hooligans trying to destroy order. Let's ban them." For example, Jehovah's Witnesses. And he gets his way.

I'm oversimplifying here, but hopefully you get my point...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Paradox #2: Dueling natures

The next paradox deals with my identity in Christ. Am I a wretched sinner, or a blessed saint? Can I be both at the same time? Can I be one without the other?

How can I acknowledge my tendency to sin before God without dishonoring my status as a "new creation"?

The Apostle Paul refers to his sin and his weaknesses in many places. However, I doubt that he constantly wallowed in grief over his wrongdoing. In my opinion, that would not fully represent the Gospel message. He certainly wrote about love, faith, spiritual fruit, church life, and many other topics.

We are not called to be in a perpetual state of repentance. To me, that borders on asceticism. Faith is believing that Christ died for our sins and reconciled us to God so that we might live new lives. Yet, if we forget for one instance the depth of our need for Christ's sacrifice, where does that leave us?

What are we to do? Continue/-

If we say that we are washed clean and beyond sin, then we boast in our own righteousness.

If we say that we are the worst of sinners, then we ignore our new identity in Christ.

If we say that we will no longer sin, we make empty promises to God.

If we say that we expect to sin again, we express doubt in God's ability to lead us and protect us from evil.


I suppose part of the problem with these statements is that they are focused on ME. Christ is the one who is powerful to save, forgive, and heal. If I am going to boast about any aspect of my life, may it be in thankfulness to God.


Christ washed me clean.

While I was still a sinner.

I will face temptation in this life.

But the Holy Spirit has been sent to help me.

In my own strength, I can do nothing.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Literary findings


Russians have interesting ways of getting rid of old books.

Sometimes you see someone by the side of the road selling some books that have been laid out on a piece of newspaper. Just doing a little decluttering and trying to make some money...

Sometimes, they are in the stairwell of a house. And they might even be free!

If I had a bigger living space, I would be more tempted to collect these treasures. Indeed, many are even out of print! But I suppose they would collect some dust in my possession.

The other day, we paid a visit to a museum, which happened to be located in an apartment building. In the stairwell was a selection of books. We inquired of the museum and they said that the books were free for the taking. Read more/-


I almost didn't take anything since I didn't recognize any of the authors. But at the last minute, my eyes locked on the title of "Полезные советы." (Helpful Tips)

I knew that it would be not only an interesting cultural gem, but a fun housekeeping resource. It's interesting to note that the book was published in 1960, around the time when "Hints from Heloise" were appearing in U.S. newspapers.

Here you find advice on everything from darning socks to setting the table for lunch.

The funny thing is that in this case, the divide was more generational than cultural. I didn't even feel like I was reading a Russian book. I just felt transformed to the days when my mother was growing up and my grandmother would have been the housewife.

It's a pity that many of these tips belong to a lost art...



Friday, June 4, 2010

Teacher/Student relationships

"I think the teacher sleeps in school," said Mollie. "I think she stays there all night long."


"What a dumb idea," said Gary. "Teachers don't sleep in school."


"Mrs. Marsh does," said Mollie. "She's always there when we come. And she's always there when we leave. I think the classroom is her house."


-from "My Teacher Sleeps in School" by Leatie Weiss.
What should the student-teacher relationship be? What kind of boundaries should be observed? This was a question that we discussed during my TESOL training. Although we were referring mainly to adults teaching adults, teaching children should also be considered, of course. Continue reading/-

I remember in elementary school how odd it was to think of teachers having a real life. That is why the quote above seems so appropriate. Of course I was shy, but it seemed so unnerving to run into a teacher in the grocery store, or even in the hallway when I had moved up a grade. And this isn't because I disliked my teachers; on the contrary it was like running into someone you had a crush on and not knowing what to say.

In general, it makes sense when teaching children for the adult to set the boundaries, since the children aren't even aware of danger.

I remember being sick on Valentine's Day in second grade, and my teacher paying a "housecall" with my Valentines and a stack of library books. Very odd to think that the teacher had been at my house. Yet she knew exactly what I needed. These occasional kind gestures are still within the realm of appropriate behavior.

Junior high, high school...no special relationships with teachers. Outside of the classroom, I mean. But I remember that I always wanted to talk about my family, or my church; bring in personal aspects of my life. In a way, I did want my worlds to overlap. If we had to pick a topic for writing or a presentation, I tried to choose something of personal meaning to me. Making projects personal is always a good way to motivate students. We think of teenagers as so uncommunicative sometimes, but have we really tried to find out what they're interested in?

University was a strange mix of huge lectures where the professor never learned my name (or face, most likely) and small classes where I met the professors' kids when we had department events.

Culture plays a role, too. My Russian instructors are far more likely to inquire after my health, how I'm dressed, or my living conditions, than any American. Oh, and marital status, of course. Of course, they are partly worried about us living in a foreign country, but I think it is a mentality in general. On the other hand, there have been very few tea parties or social events of that nature.

When I was in college, I tutored some immigrants in ESL. There was one Russian "bride" who seemed very homesick sometimes. The policy of the learning center was that they did all the phone calls and coordinating, and tutors/tutorees didn't have each other's contact information.

Olga suggested that we have class in a cafe sometime instead of in the learning center, but it wasn't really allowed. Of course, we could have arranged it on our own without asking for permission, but I didn't push it.

Eventually her husband wasn't pleased with her progress and didn't let her come anymore. But I always felt some regret that I hadn't tried to reach out more. What did it matter that we had a "professional" relationship? At the end of the day, a person remembers who smiled at him that day; who asked how he was doing, who noticed something that no one else did.

I tutor a Russian women here who works at the orphanage. I go to her home where we sit in her kitchen, and she is usually still in her pajamas.

When I taught for corporate clients, I had the same sort of regret as when I had worked with the immigrants. All the coordinating was done by a secretary; I didn't have any direct contact with the students outside of class. We sometimes talked about interesting life issues in class, but there was always a boundary we couldn't cross.

Now I think of them and wish that I knew what had happened to the single mother and her look-alike daughter, or the middle-aged woman who woke up at 4:30 am to get ready to go to the plant.

I don't really like the whole personal vs. professional concept. I want to share about my life with the people I work with, no matter how formal the situation. At the same time, if it doesn't feel appropriate for the workplace, then maybe it isn't so helpful for personal conversations either. Gossip doesn't get milder based on context.

Anyway, boundaries are good and serve a purpose. But sometimes you have to take risks, too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Paradox #1: Security

I'm starting a series on paradoxes of faith! You know, those aspects that are a little hard to express logically, yet fill us with wonder about God.

Today's topic relates to our life on earth. What kind of life does God promise us, and what type of behavior does He expect from us? Certain factors can be confusing.

The Lord tells us not to worry about earthly comforts, yet offers consolation when we DO worry.
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A Little Thing Called Housing

Raise your hand if you haven't ever worried about where you were going to live. I will include here any traveling, and even choosing a bunk at camp-hey, that can be a long week!

The Bible says that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). This can be applied in different ways, and is tragic considering that He was a king. Personally, I read this as illustrating the fact that he was born in humble conditions, and that His ministry required Him to give up many comforts.

When you don't know where you are going to sleep one night or sometime in the future, I don't think it is the time to point out that children in some remote country sleep outside, although thankfulness is a good character trait...and actually, thinking of Haiti does make me count my blessings.

But, getting back to the point...studying the life of Christ serves a few different purposes, among them: 1) To learn to follow His example, and 2) To be assured that He UNDERSTANDS.

When we pray the Lord's Prayer, which was modeled by Jesus, we ask about our daily bread-very much an earthly, practical need, but one that He himself deemed worthy to bring before God.

When we try to live as though we don't care about our living conditions, we are really just burying anxiety. We are either at peace about it or we aren't. There is no indifferent middle ground. And if anxiety is there, we must deliver it to the Lord. Though He tells us not to worry, He means that we ought to deliver our worry up to Him.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New project

Food! 

There are a lot of times when I find/create new recipes and want to share them, but I'd  been afraid that it would change the focus of this blog too much to post them...

...so I finally decided to create an online space for my favorite recipes.

These are the ones that I've tried, enjoyed, and found generally easy to make.

They're also made with simple ingredients that can be found right here in St. Petersburg. But please note that these are mostly reviews and not original recipes!

Go to cooking blog.