Monday, March 7, 2022

Forgiveness

 Let the blogging continue.

Easter Sunday in the two church calendar traditions has just a 1 week difference this year. Ash Wednesday happened during Pancake Week in Russia.

Yesterday was "Forgiveness Sunday" in the Orthodox Church, marking the final day before the Lenten Fast. You can look it up, but it's meant to be a day of repentance and asking other people for forgiveness. Sometimes I might get a text from an Orthodox friend saying "I'm sorry, please forgive me if I've wronged you." In the age of social media, people make general posts saying they're sorry if they've offended anyone.

I like the idea of making relationships right. I don't like ignoring the elephant in the room. I mean, there are generic apologies and there are specific wrongs that no one acknowledges. I did see some of my local friends lamenting publicly. But we are not really allowed to comment at this point, so, I just pray that those who are repentant for their part will follow their convictions to act accordingly, and receive the gift of forgiveness.

I have a mom friend in the neighborhood. Lena is her name. We bump into each other once a month or so and actually talk to each other! I can't take credit for the friendliness though, because I noticed that she knows everyone and asks how each person is doing. 

But anyway...Lena is a bit older than me and has a new baby! I was excited to spot them recently with a baby buggy instead of burgeoning belly. She even let us take a peek, which is a no-no sometimes in Russian culture due to superstition. No showing the baby's face initially.

Lena told me about her disappointment visiting church a few days before. She paid the offering amount to get a few candles and light them, with the understanding that her prayer requests would be voiced. But someone extinguished her candles after just a few minutes. Then she was trying to pray and meditate and another member of the church staff approached and invited her to give another offering. And she said she just never got that peace of feeling that her prayers were actually heard.

Trying not to sound prideful, I said that at our church, needs are prayed for right away, out loud. So we do get that feeling of our burdens being shared and lifted up to God. We also have quiet time for repentance at each service. So while I mentioned Forgiveness Sunday, it's something that we incorporate each week. 

In Russia, it's against the law to proselytize. But I can at least share my own faith journey. As we said goodbye, Lena asked me my name. We parted knowing each other's names, for the first time.


Friday, March 4, 2022

Border trips in the time of Covid, part 2

Traveling to Armenia...(part 1 here)


Public transportation was already running by the time we left the house, so we opted for the metro instead of a taxi, since we were traveling with just carry-ons. It was kind of a long trip, 90 minutes or so. Sophia starting throwing up when we were almost done with the metro ride, not sure why because she hadn't had breakfast and hadn't really been tossed around much. But at least that meant there wasn't much to clean up.

Back then, the delta wave of Covid-19 was still in progress and omicron hadn't started yet. At the airport, certain seats were roped off so that people wouldn't sit too close to each other. On the plane, of course, all the seats were occupied and many people wore their masks on their chins.

The flight was about 3 hours, and it was dusk as we were landing in Yerevan. I looked out the plane window and saw a snow-capped mountain peak. This was pretty exciting since there aren't any mountain views in St. Petersburg. Come to find out, we were seeing Mt Ararat. I made a big deal out of this being a "field trip" since we were skipping school and hadn't been able to go to any museums due to the pandemic.

Anyway, the mountain against the setting sun was absolutely beautiful!

After landing came the confusing part, one of those situations where you can't tell if you've actually exited or if there's something yet to come. We weren't sure if/when our PCR tests would be looked at. We also needed to withdraw some cash and get new PCR tests to use for re-entering Russia.

Even though I'd read about the diagnostics labs in advance, it was still pandemonium. In the testing area there was a crowd of people, a gatekeeper of some sort, and a "take a number" system. But one of the perks of visiting Armenia was that we could use Russian, so Andrei could do the inquiring. After a few false starts, we sorted out which lab we wanted by looking at the information boards, determined which testing station corresponded to that lab, and were able to get a number to be admitted to the testing area. There really wasn't much of a line, just not straight-forward. Since the PCR tests have to correspond to passport information, it took a long time to get our information entered into the system, figure out payment, etc.

We also went to withdraw some cash and had a hard time getting familiar with the exchange rate. I kept finding a good point of comparison (rubles to drams? drams to dollars?) and then forgetting right after. We got enough so that we could at least pay our way to the hotel.

Surprise! After all that, we still weren't technically clear yet. At the very end of it all was a checkpoint, where they collected our PCR tests for entry to Armenia. Otherwise, we would have had to self-isolate.

We walked over to the traffic island in ground transportation, to wait for the bus. I had read that it came on the hour and had free Wi-Fi. I pictured something pretty modern and comfortable, with big windows. The taxi drivers started taking turns coming over and trying to haggle with us, claiming their rates were the best and they'd give us the best service, etc. The same thing happens in Russia and we prefer to book through a more official route. The taxi drivers were friendly, but some haggling definitely would have been in order. The bus came after awhile. It was not at all what I expected: it was a crowded mini-van similar to the route taxis in St. Petersburg several years back (which have since been converted to mini-buses). It was also NOT an express route, with people getting in and out every few blocks and yelling out where to stop, and somehow we were in rush hour. It was also dark at that point; so much for getting to know the city. It reminded me of arriving in Kinshasa! We started asking fellow passengers where we should get off, and they gave us some advice and agreed to talk to the driver for us. Armenian hospitality!

Thankfully the kids didn't get carsick. We eventually got to a neighborhood where the nice couple advised us to get out, so we found ourselves on a street corner...somewhere. I don't think I would recognize it now! I had grabbed a few free maps at the airport, but the street signs were in Armenian, which actually uses a different alphabet. Beautiful, but completely foreign. So we started off on our way, asking for directions every few minutes. It felt like many other similar trips. 

Did I mention we had skipped lunch? All I could think about was food, and thankfully I'd made sure the hotel we booked had a restaurant. We stopped to grab some lavash at a bakery, and then I noticed that we were getting farther away from downtown and all the little cafes were shutting down, even though it was only around 8 pm or so. That always feels so different after living in St. Petersburg! Our flight had landed close to 6pm, so despite the smaller scale airport and urban area, it had taken a long time to get everything sorted out.

When we stopped to ask directions, people were starting to tell us to go "up" or "down" the street. That felt so funny to me. What about "left" or "right" or a compass direction? I knew we were in a mountainous area, but it was too dark to see any sort of topography. Supposedly the hotel room would have a view of Mt Ararat. 

Eventually, we got to the hotel, dumped our bags, and headed down to the restaurant for some FOOD. The hotel was cheap, by the way. Much more reasonable compared to Europe, Scandinavia, the U.S., etc. The food wasn't very exciting, but palatable, and my son was excited about the plain hot dogs...lol. That sold him on Armenia as a destination.

And so we had made it out of Russia in time and were able to rest our heads on the hotel pillows, ready to wake up the next day and see Yerevan in the daylight.


Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Picking and choosing

In these tumultuous times, hug your Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian friends. If you have friends of Slavic descent in your community, ask them if they still have family over there. Everyone needs to know that they are loved. 

Even though we are called to pray for peace, part of me resists. I don't think my heart can catch up, nor my mind...what would a "ceasefire" look like, in this situation? What would the conditions be? Of course I hope that even as you read this, maybe by the time I'm posting this, a ceasefire will be on its way. I pray for an end to bloodshed.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)

Yes, I pray for my adversaries, but I don't want to gloss over anything. I pray also for misinformation and lies to cease, so that the truth can be made known. And I pray that all victims of violence would be believed and shown compassion. Even without being a victim, I don't want this part of history to be buried yet.

I read a few sobering articles about how Ukrainian refugees are getting so much more attention compared to those from other (non-European) countries. This was especially noted in Europe, where no one wants to be the Good Samaritan and open their doors to refugees of certain descent. For various reasons, it's easier for us to love certain groups than others. However, I'm sure that this plays out in the U.S. also in a similar way. 

The fact is that only certain stories make the headlines. On social media recently, I pondered the disappearance of Kazakhstan from the news, as Ukraine became the main story. I don't have any special interest in Kazakhstan, other than as a neighboring country, fairly large, and the birthplace of a few of my friends. However, when I brought it up on social media, a friend asked, "why should I care?" And indeed, some countries simply lack strategic importance and therefore will not be reported on in Western media. 

I think that we should pray as our hearts feel led and not feel pressured to either jump onto a trend, OR find something unique to care about. Pray for the big story, and pray for the forgotten ones. Done with my soapbox for now, but I do think we have to be aware of how much our emotions can be driven by the media and not by the Holy Spirit. 


June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...