Friday, August 27, 2010

Making progress

Thank goodness for good friends! Some girls from church came over and helped me with priming and spackling.

No need to judge, we're only amateurs...:)
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Home sweet home?

I think my room needs a little more work...


The truth about taking offense

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain

-Michael Card, “Why?”

This isn’t meant to be a sad post, just some reflections on conflict in relationships.
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Jesus was betrayed by Judas, a friend. Anyone could have done it; He had plenty of enemies. But God chose a friend.

It’s painful to reflect upon, and yet at the same time, an indicator of how Christ lived his life. Knowing He would be betrayed, knowing His time was short, He still sought deep, meaningful friendships.

Only people close to us may betray us, yet there is a positive side to the vulnerability, for it means that we have truly loved. They will not all betray us, but they may hurt us in a number of ways during the process of getting to know each other.

There are times when seemingly harmful words from friends can be upsetting, and we wonder what it was that made us so sensitive. But the fact is that the same words from someone on the street wouldn’t have mattered. A stranger's words don't hold as much power.


"Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." -Proverbs 27:6

When we are humiliated or lash out at friends, it’s because they are important to us.

We want them to approve of what we do and how we look (just being honest here), so we wait for words of affirmation.

We want them to take an interest in our lives, so we wait for them to ask questions.

We want them to accept our gifts to them and other displays of affection, so we wait for some positive response.

We want them to accept us, with all our flaws. Is it egotistical? We were made to be relational.

With all our different “languages of love” and other factors, it’s pretty hard to guarantee that the words coming out of our mouth match up with what our friend wants to hear at that particular moment. And it’s hard to guarantee that we won’t say something harsh when we ourselves are wounded.

Criticism is hard to take from a friend, but it indicates an interest in the other person; an investment. There wouldn’t be anything to criticize if we didn’t pay attention enough to make an observation.  We hear "I want to fix you" when all they want to do is help. In fact, pretending nothing is wrong might be worse than saying something potentially painful. Confronting a conflict is so important for the friendship to deepen.

So during the times when I feel wounded and think “why is this person so insensitive?,” I realize that I am reacting because I love him/her. And when a friend reacts to something I’ve said and I’m annoyed by what seem like unnecessary emotions, I can remind myself that our friendship has reached the point where words can do a lot of damage, as well as encourage.That means progress.

As for that person on the street who ruins your day, well, I am not saying that a stranger’s insults can’t be unpleasant. Certain forms of speech would be hurtful to anyone. But it’s not the same as when it comes from someone you care about.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Whitewash

This is a message from the Lord through Ezekiel to the false prophets. It compels me to test my heart and my witness. Do I speak the whole truth, or do I gloss over serious situations? Do I offer advice that is rooted in this world rather than eternity? How will I be able to face the people I led astray? And how will I be able to face the Lord?
" 'Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, "Where is the whitewash you covered it with?"
-Ezekiel 13:10-12

Friday, August 20, 2010

House-calls

Sometime last week I got a call to go sit in a friend's room until some guys came to deliver new furniture.

I've never ordered furniture in the U.S., so I'm not sure how the timing of the delivery usually works out. Here, you sometimes get a specific time and sometimes just a general window, like 10-2 or 2-6. This can apply to deliveries, doctors' house-calls, maintenance jobs, etc.

My friend kept calling and calling until she got a more specific time from them. Then she called me,"They'll be there in an hour." I was still at home.
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She had drawn a map, and luckily it was accurate, because I had very little time to spare. I found her room in the communal apartment and made myself "at home."

The callbox rang and I answered it.

"Something something furniture." (I can't always understand Russian by phone or intercom). I let them in.

It was just one guy, with pieces in boxes. He left them and then I left, too.

A week later, the friend called again. This time, she needed me to sit there for a few hours while another guy came. She said I could sit in the kitchen and read a book. Strange, I wondered why she mentioned the kitchen.

I sat in her room for about 30 minutes before the callbox rang. "Something something something." Okay, probably the right person. I let him in. It was a guy with a sports bag over his shoulder. I had thought she said the furniture was going to be collected, but the only old furniture was in the hallway, and he asked me the way to the room.

In the room, he turned his attention to the boxes containing the pieces of the new furniture. Oh! He was here to put together the furniture, not collect the old. Right.

"Blah blah which side? Right or left?" Hmmm, what could be left or right? A door? I didn't understand. I got my friend on the phone and she told him.

"Okay, I'll just change my clothes," he said. O-kay. Now I understood the kitchen thing. Time to get out of the way! I settled in there with my Kindle while he worked. When he was done, I took a look, pretending I knew how to tell if he had done a good job or not. And then I signed the receipt and he left.

My friend came home from work 10-15 minutes later and gave me some homemade pickled cucumbers that she had made. Yum! I could get used to this.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You said you were looking for a job?

This is what a job posting in St. Petersburg looks like:



What it says:
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Salesclerk needed! In this neighborhood!


-not on the street (in a building)

-female, 25-55 yrs of age

-1 yr experience in retail

-work schedule: 2 days on, 2 days off

-salary: 15,000 rubles/month (about $470)

-official salary; employee benefits

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shock and other emotions

When you experience life in another country, you lose your innocence.

A lot of times people say to me, "I would like to visit America....just to see what it's like." A voice in my head screams silently "Don't do it!" as I try to change the subject.

I know, it sounds hypocritical since I go back and forth myself. But it's like a Pandora's Box. You can't go back after you've seen it; made the comparison. The emotions either prompt you to act, or ruin you for life, or maybe both. The contrasts in wealth and poverty; the different levels of caring and not caring; the different political systems; the ways people rejoice or despair in life. They use the word "shock" for a reason.
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I met with one of my adult English students. She returned recently from her first trip to America; an orphanage counselor with a meager salary.

Starry-eyed.

But there was something negative, too. She sniffed at my large (relatively) 2-rm (shared) apartment, noting that some repairs were in order. "The other place was better."

We spent two hours looking at the photos of fun host family outings, meals in restaurants, cute kids and pets, comfy private bedrooms, free swimming pools. There it was, America. And she wanted to go back.

"Do Americans love the kids they adopt, or do they just have a lot of money?" What does THAT mean? As if the first thing people do when they have money is go and get a couple of kids, although I can think of worse things to do.

I assured her that there were good intentions, but I also mentioned the community aspect of it: churches and friends getting together to raise the money, helping out. She didn't think that would ever happen in Russia, but I mentioned the newspaper spreads with the infants needing operations. People are pledging a lot of money to those causes. They aren't apathetic.

It's just that adoption, maybe, hasn't caught on yet. But it could...later?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Theories-more specific

Sometimes I grumble about overanalyzing and then go and....analyze something. :) Sorry!

A visitor left a comment which let me to an article which was not only insightful, but hit on the word I was looking for:

Contextualization!
 
I was thinking about this question today, with regards to both domestic and overseas ministry:

In preaching the Gospel, should we try to put the message in a specific cultural context? continue/-

Sermons and marketing

A tough point in cross-cultural preaching is that the Gospel must be presented as relevant to everyday life, yet lifestyle among the congregants is more likely to be a variable and not a constant. The biggest worry on a listener's mind might be a completely strange notion to the minister if he is from another country or even a different generation.

Admittedly, I'm more conservative when it comes to using a lot of "modern" examples in sermons. I don't know if illustrations ought to include references to current TV shows, politicians, or sports events.Why? I think Dr. Sills offers a good explanation in his article, Reclaiming Contextualization:

"..much of what many call contextualization is simply an effort to be trendy and edgy. It may be effective, it may attract a hearing, it may not be offensive to the hearers, but that is not contextualization; that is marketing."

So while anyone trying to explain the Gospel must try to understand the specific trials and questions of those he is ministering to, using those interests to make the Gospel more attractive may lead to false conversions. Does that make sense at all?


Discipling new Christians

I'm going to avoid questions of Bible translation and skip to the issues of Christian conduct that sometimes come up.

One thing Christians and especially missionaries argue about is whether it is necessary to allow certain cultural practices to continue once Christianity has taken root. For example, polygamy, use of narcotics, etc.

One problem I see with this question is that in discussing what will be "allowed," the authority is often on the missionary or whomever's shoulders. How about involving the new believers, asking them what their temptations are, and considering that when making church guidelines?

Some say that we shouldn't mess with culture, such as gender roles (Dr. Sills touches on this as well).

But consider the opposite: restrictions may need to be greater because of the temptations that arise for new Christians as they continue to live, surrounded by these practices. For example, a new church community with recovering alcoholics may completely outlaw alcohol, even wine for communion. No compromise.


What about my culture?

To be honest, I don't see these questions as ones that only missionaries deal with. It is more a question of conversion and raising disciples in general. How should Russians minister to Russians, or Americans to Americans? How should anyone witness to his neighbor?

Are we trying too hard to control young believers, depriving them of a chance to discern for themselves?

Or are we afraid to condemn certain sinful behavior, not wanting to seem prejudiced or old-fashioned?

Are we being too general or too specific when putting the Gospel into context as we witness? Too general meaning lacking in examples from everyday life; too specific meaning using plenty of examples, but without relevancy.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You know it's hot when...

One thing Americans and Russians have in common is that they both like to complain about the weather, hot or cold. I have a friend from the extreme north of Russia, and she’s always cold. However, when I was in Congo, I didn’t hear any of the locals complain about the heat. But then again, I didn’t understand most of what was said. :) I would say it’s characteristic of all humans to worry about physical comfort, but I haven’t polled everyone yet…

As you know, it’s been a warm summer in Russia. While we often wish for “real summer” in St. Petersburg, we forget that hot weather is only fun if you can hang out on a beach and jump in the lake, not if you are required to go to work, do remont (home renovations), cook anything that requires heat, get a good night’s sleep, ride the public transportation, go outside at all, wear anything long-sleeved…
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It’s been interesting observing how the extreme weather uniquely affects life in northern Russia. If in Massachusetts the warmer temperatures prompted us to get our first air conditioner (instead of the usual assortment of fans), St. Petersburgers are buying their first fans, ever.

This humorous list has been circulating the Russian web. If you’ve been here at all in the summer, you may appreciate it.

You know you've survived Summer 2010 if:

-when choosing a restaurant, you don’t consider the menu, you consider the air-conditioning (McDonald’s!)
-you could care less* about the hot water being turned off (this happens for 3 weeks every summer)
-you think that showering twice a day is too little
-you now like to go out only after 11 pm (that’s when the sun finally goes down)
-you think 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) is chilly
-you think that the best food is okroshka (chilled soup) with ice cubes, and the thought of a barbecue makes you gag
-you tried buying a fan in 10 different stores and failed (see: snow shovel shortage, Winter 2009-10; rubber boot shortage, Spring 2010)
-you’ve thought for the first time about buying an air conditioner for your home
-you sleep on the floor with a wet bedsheet and that is just fine with you
-your windows are covered by foil or other reflective material, and you don’t care that it’s dark in the room
-you’ve practically forgotten how to boil soup and fry meat or potatoes
-you’ve forgotten how to iron and what an iron even looks like
-the three most frequented websites on your browser are weather sites, and you look at them at least 3 times a day (okay, 10 in my case)
-you longingly look at travel guides for Norway and Finland…
-the words “come here, let me give you a hug,” can create a scandal (agreed…a handshake is almost TOO much contact at this point)
-you eagerly jump out of bed in the morning, “to work, to work!” because in the office there is air conditioning (or “to the grocery store!”)
-you take off for Egypt, because it’s cooler there

*meaning, you couldn’t care less. I was going to fix the grammar, but then it wouldn’t be conversational. I came across a lot of forums calling Americans stupid for saying “I could care less” when it means the opposite. So I decided to use it anyway, just to exercise my patriotism.

Remont

I like the Russian word "remont," which can cover anything from redoing your bathroom to fixing a hole in your shoe.

If you are trying to describe your current life to someone and you say "We're doing remont," then they know exactly what is going on at your house. I even use this term with my ex-pat friends because it is just so hard to sum up the situation in one word in English.

Maybe our apartment isn't exactly "under construction" as it is currently livable, but there is a lot of "remont" that needs to be done.

A guy from our church has come over twice now at 10pm (after work) to work on our leaky/clogged faucets. The kitchen faucet broke off, so we're doing dishes in the bathtub. continue/-

I've been slowly working away at the old wallpaper in my room, removing sections at a time.

But we can't put the new wallpaper up until the new windows are put in. And to put new windows in, we have to call around to a few different companies and ask them to come measure and give an estimate, and then tell the owner so he can choose.

To find a company for something it is best to ask someone you know. So we thought of all the people we knew who might have put in new windows recently, and asked them for phone numbers. Now we have phone numbers and can start calling and making appointments to get the measurements.

Meanwhile, I've discovered that the underside of the old wallpaper has some interesting old newspapers, like this one from Andropov's funeral (1984):




Monday, August 9, 2010

Fires

Yesterday I got a "taste" of what people in other parts of Russia have been experiencing.

I was coming home from church and noticed that my street was sort of misty, and it smelled like something was burning. This wasn't your typical house or car on fire...it was something bigger!

So apparently the winds had blown some forest/peat bog fires to certain areas of St. Petersburg. I don't know if you can tell from this photo, but those buildings in the background are usually much clearer!



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This is what they look like on a normal day.




It didn't seem like the smoky air was going away anytime soon, so I had to close all the windows, much to my chagrin, as it was over 80 F inside.

I checked the weather page incessantly for signs of rain or a drop in temperature. It seemed hopeful that the wind might change again. For the moment, I sat as if a sauna, watching a breeze tantalizingly rustle the trees outside my closed windows.

In the morning, I awoke, gingerly opened the window, and stuck my head out to sniff the air. No smoke! It had even cooled off a little and I let some air in the apartment until the sun came out to stay for the next 9-10 hours.

I am really thankful that our little episode did not last very long! And I really feel for those where this has going been on for several days.


Sunday pastimes

I'm reading "Little Men" (Louisa May Alcott) for the first time, and was struck by this simple description of Sunday afternoon relaxation:

" 'This is my Sunday closet,' she said, showing him shelves filled with picture-books, paint-boxes, architectural blocks, little diaries, and materials for letter-writing. 'I want my boys to love Sunday, to find it a peaceful, pleasant day, when they can rest from common study and play, yet enjoy quiet pleasures, and learn, in simple ways, lessons more important than any taught in school.' "
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What a great list of peaceful, uplifting recreational activities. Okay, I realize that someone might be more inclined to outdoorsy pastimes, but you get the idea. Sunday isn't the day when you're NOT allowed to do certain things, it's the day when you finally have the privilege of attending to some of those forgotten interests that bring you joy.

On Sundays I like studying something for fun, doing an art project, or catching up on correspondence. I also might practice an instrument or just listen to some favorite music. And I like doing a culinary project if it is relaxing and creates a nice atmosphere in the home, not one of stress.

The excerpt above doesn't mention God, although they do some hymn-singing together. It's not a description of how to worship. I think the important thing is to acknowledge that God WANTS us to rest, and gives us peaceful moments as a gift.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Russian flora and fauna

In the park we visited today, we saw lots of snails.

What else was lurking in these woods? A squirrel. Just one...

In Russia, the parallel universe, a common type of squirrel is red-haired, with rather pointy ears. Very cute, but different!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Foreign retail in the cultural capital

There is nothing like visiting IKEA in Russia.

Actually, I'll be honest. It reminds me of the scene from Veggie Tales' "Madame Blueberry" when the new store appears and the veggies hop along a trail through the woods, until they get to a clearing where a chorus of voices trills "Stuffmart!" and a billboard rises into the clouds.

Since IKEA St. Petersburg is a bit off the beaten trail, there are buses that go there. FREE buses. And we all know that if something's free you have to take it, right? So even though there are some route taxis that go there, everyone squeezes into the free bus. If they don't have a car, that is. Continue/-

If you're stuck without anything to hold on to, you might fly around the bus a bit during those final curves. Then, over the tree/building tops, the tall billboards emerge...IKEA and the MEGA mall. And I can hear the Veggie Tales tune cueing in my head as everyone starts to drool with anticipation of the shopping experience that awaits them.

It's not only the bus that's free. There are also free PENCILS and MEASURING TAPE at the door. After pocketing some of those, we move on and begin our tour. IKEA is a marketing genius, for Russia, at least. Cramped living quarters call for creative solutions, and it's even better if the products are already made with those conditions in mind.

We've taken the kids from the orphanage there on a field trip-yep, it's that fascinating-and then to buy something to make their living quarters a little cozier.

On a recent trip, I overheard a woman sighing over the displays, "Beautiful....but not realistic." She had a point.

I managed to boil all the choices down to a few purchases, and then I went home, bypassing the cafeteria. The Swedish meatballs and the FREE coffee/tea tempt some people (I even almost went for a hot dog), but I was ready for a home-cooked meal.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Christ vs. Christianity

So...is it possible to remain faithful to Christ while turning your back on "Christianity"?

A quote from a certain well-known author has been popping up in the media this week.

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else." -Facebook announcement, Anne Rice

My thoughts/-

In general, I see two sides to the issue. The first is that perhaps it is good to flee Pharisaic movements within Christianity. Sometimes it is helpful to distance ourselves from what we consider to be false teaching/falling short of Christ's message.

Another side to the issue is that we sometimes don't have enough grace and mercy to persevere in our Christian relationships. We are all flawed, and loving each other in spite of these flaws helps us to grow. There is no perfect church congregation.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Technology: Cyrillic problems and solutions (those exasperating question marks)

The software for my Russian Internet connection was coming up all ??????. I only got it to work because the word "PIN" was in European characters so I knew when to type in my number.

The most obvious solution was to install Cyrillic fonts, but I had already done that long ago in the regional/language settings.

The ?????? came up when browsing, or when I'd installed certain software.

I finally found quite a simple solution at the website maintained by the Slavic Languages department at GWU. All you have to do is choose "Russian" as the default for non-unicode languages. I had always avoided doing that because I thought it would mess up the English. Well, it might mess up Spanish or French, but English and Russian are both working like a charm at this point.

I just have to praise their website a little. They put up screenshots showing the exact problem and then describe the exact step-by-step solution. Way to go!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Theories

Is it possible to theorize on how to love? Are there methods that work and don't work?

I was pondering some different theories on how to "do" cross-cultural ministry. There are certain words that rub me the wrong way, like "effectiveness," "productivity," "results;" even seemingly fancy terms like "cultural sensitivity" and "going native."

And then I realized that the problem isn't that people sit around talking and analyzing missions, since some observations do hit the nail on the head. The Apostle Paul certainly did a lot of meditating and writing on the subject.
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The problem is when you try to fit it into a system of doing "A" for "B" to occur. Take a simple concept like conforming to the local dress. If you wear the native costume, then you will be more readily accepted by "them" and will be able to get better access in order to preach the Gospel, and will produce more RESULTS! But what is the focus or priority here? My program? My need to feel fulfilled?

In fact, when we focus on loving the people around us, we arrive at many of the same basic guidelines, yet in an attitude of serving rather than of striving.

When people are in love, they study each other; new friends inquire of each other's interests; teachers try to find out what their students are like. It is done genuinely and that is why it is successful.

And so it makes sense, that when you live among people, in any culture; and when you want to go deeper into their lives and get involved, you start to make some changes to your behavior. Or you find yourself going to the library getting on the Internet to search for more about a certain subject. Because you want to understand. And I don't know how much the level of conformity (or non-conformity) matters in the end; as long as we are submitted to the Lord.