Photos courtesy Юлия Рахматулина :)
Monday, February 26, 2007
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Our lesson was a theatrical performance featuring live action, puppets, and flannel-graph. I played the part of Jacob, wearing a wig, beard, and robe. My 12 “sons” were puppets, engineered and voiced by Olya. Yulia was story-teller and flannel-graph engineer.
So I came in, pretended I was a visitor from a far-off land, and told about my sons. I told about my son Joseph’s dreams with the help of the flannel-graph. After that it got tricky. We switched to a scene with the brothers and I went behind the curtain and helped to make sheep noises. Olya and I got a little confused about which puppet was which. Then I went back out again to play Jacob. The brothers came to deliver the sad news, and the puppets then threw a “bloody cloth” towards me. This was problematic in two ways: 1) the blood consisted of magenta colored paint. 2) The cloth didn’t make it to me but sort of dangled on the edge of the puppet-show curtain. I laughed out loud and had to try to turn it into grief. Then as I “grieved,” the kids giggled. Yulia told them not to laugh because my “son” was dead. One of the older girls yelled, “I know what happens later! He’s not really dead!” Finally I stumbled out of the room saying goodbye.
I changed out of my Jacob outfit and was standing in the hallway trying to decide when to go back in. Suddenly I heard one of the little girls ask to go to the bathroom, and I rushed further down the hallway to hide. But she came right up to me. I thought she was going to say something about the costume, but she said, “Leeza, what’s ‘perfect’?” Like the great teacher that I am, I said, “Ummm, didn’t Yulia tell you?” I didn’t know what point they were at in the lesson anyway. I went back into the room and Yulia was trying to explain to the kids about God’s perfect love. I think they got it. Then we closed in prayer and did a craft.
Maybe it wasn’t the “perfect” Sunday school lesson. But it was memorable!
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Let’s define the word “order.” There are kinds of order that serve people’s needs and make life easier. Order means justice; a punishment to fit the crime. Order means everyone knowing what they are supposed to be doing; and fulfilling that responsibility. Order means honesty and straightforwardness; with no skewing of the truth that will cause confusion and division. There are also kinds of order which can be harmful: the forcing of unreasonable standards that do not take into account the differences between individuals. Punishments dealt out rashly. A disregard for people’s feelings. Treating people as machines.
If not democracy, then what kind of government? How do these “order seekers” suggest that this order come about?
Another question I have is: What definition of “democracy” do Russians have in mind when they formulate their priorities? Is it a judgment of what they experience in their own country or based on something they have witnessed abroad? Has Russia ever really employed democracy?
The word “democracy” breaks down into “rule by the people,” wherein power is kept either in the hands of the people or in the hands of officials who have been elected.
Here are a few comments on democracy from Wikipedia:
“Aristotle contrasted rule by the many (democracy/polity), with rule by the few (oligarchy/aristocracy), and with rule by a single person (tyranny/monarchy or today autocracy). He also thought that there was a good and a bad variant of each system (he considered democracy to be the degenerate counterpart to polity).”
“Research by the World Bank suggests that political institutions are extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption: democracy, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of the press are all associated with lower corruption.” (emphasis added)
Looking around, I don’t see a lot of people modeling this order that they supposedly seek. Are they waiting for a leader? We already have one. Jesus Christ already came and set an example for us.
Someone might say, “But it’s hard to live an orderly life in a country that has seen so much suffering in the midst of upheaval.” But Jesus knew suffering. And he lived in a society that was by no means perfect politically. I am not saying that it is easy to ignore or change the “system.” I am just saying that it starts in our hearts, and that God’s word gives us the wisdom for living an orderly life, regardless of what is happening around us.
A visiting missionary gave me this word for Russia: Ps 90:15-"Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble." May this be a prayer. May Russia find gladness, if not in this life then in the hope of eternal life.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
THE DISCIPLINE OF SPIRITUAL TENACITY
"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire. Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off. Tenacity is the supreme effort of a man refusing to believe that his hero is going to be conquered. The greatest fear a man has is not that he will be damned, but that Jesus Christ will be worsted, that the things He stood for - love and justice and forgiveness and kindness among men - will not win out in the end; the things He stands for look like will-o'-the-wisps. Then comes the call to spiritual tenacity, not to hang ton and do nothing, but to work deliberately on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted.
If our hopes are being disappointed just now, it means that they are being purified. There is nothing noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of that will not be fulfilled. One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God. "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience."
Remain spiritually tenacious.
The scripture reference at the end of the reading is from Rev.3:10. The Greek word for patience used in this context is “hupomone,” which according to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon has two possible meanings: 1) “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty.” 2) “the act or state of patient waiting for someone or something.”
I noticed that the patience listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit is a different Greek word, namely, “makrothymia.” I wondered what the difference was. I found a commentary that deals with this...but I didn't quite find what I was looking for.
There are four Greek terms for patience: anechomai, kartereo, makrothymia, and
hypomone. These are strictly military terms and are used as metaphors referring
to the battles of life. (“Militant Patience” by Elsa Tamez in The Scandalous
Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead. (NY: Crossroad Publishing
The author of the epistle uses two of these four Greek terms to refer to
patience: hypomone and makrothymia. Although these can be used synonymously,
they have significant differences. (Tamez)
She then goes on to explain what she thinks the difference is, but I didn’t really get it. They seem to be quite similar. Anyone else have any thoughts?
Here is an example of hypomone: Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (James 1:3)
And here is makrothymia: With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; (Eph.4:2)
But the meanings are not exclusive to those contexts. If Tamez is right about patience having a militant connotation, then it confirms what Chambers says, that the patience of the Bible is something to “work on” actively, not a tranquil or passive state in which we are simply “hanging on.”
P.S. Speaking of Greek, I’m using “The Basics of Biblical Greek” by William D. Mounce. There is an accompanying website (teknia.com) with handouts, grammar charts, audio files, downloadable tools, etc. I can’t say that I’ve made a huge amount of progress with my irregular study habits, but I find the textbook enjoyable.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Of the three older girls pictured, Zhenya was adopted by Americans; Masha is still at the orphanage; and Zina (bottom) ran away last summer. I don’t know if she ran away to a specific place or is living on the street somewhere, but please pray for her safety.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.(Jn.14:18)
Monday, February 19, 2007
These are the official requirements for adoption, translated from the government website (http://www.usynovite.ru/), which has a lot of advice and FAQ (in Russian):
The initial documents needed: a short autobiography of the adoptive parent(s); a document from his/her place of work detailing work responsibilities and salary, or a declaration of income; a copy of a payment receipt, or some other document proving ownership of a home; a background check that will prove absence of criminal record; medical records; marriage certificate if there are two adoptive parents (must be married); and a home study.
Not unlike U.S. requirements. But obtaining each of these documents can mean standing in line all day, or perhaps more than one day, and that means taking time off work, and you can see how it gets complicated.
People who are restricted from adopting:
-individuals who are disabled or limited in their ability to function (?)
-a couple, if one spouse is disabled
-individuals who have been barred from guardianship or custody because of failure to meet legal requirements; or adoptive parents who have had a prior adoption be cancelled by their own fault
-individuals who have lost their parental rights, or whose parental rights are limited by law
-individuals who at the time of applying to adopt do not earn the minimum income required by law
-individuals who do not live in permanent housing or whose housing situation has been found to have inappropriate sanitary and technical conditions
-individuals, who at the time of applying to adopt have been found to have previously committed a crime deliberately endangering the life and/or health of another person
-couples living together but not legally married may not adopt a child
That’s all pretty straight-forward, but here are some obstacles facing Russian adoptive parents:
1) Social stigma. Nowadays, social awareness of orphans is growing and a lot of people show concern or a desire to help, but adoption is still pretty much an oddity, I would say.
2) Isolation in society. Even if friends and family react positively to the adoption, the rarity of the occasion makes it hard to find support when there are questions or behavioral issues.
3) Financial difficulties. Having one child in Russia is barely affordable for most people. With the exorbitant cost of living (St.Petersburg has been ranked among the top 15 of most expensive places to live; and Moscow #1), aspirations to add more children to the family are stifled by lack of financial security. The government is beginning to introduce stipends for foster or adoptive families. If they get serious about it, perhaps this will not be as much of a problem in the future, but it will also create the temptation for wrongly-motivated adoption.
4) Housing problems. I don’t understand it myself and won’t attempt to explain it all, but basically there is a lot of red tape involved with finding affordable housing, without some sort of inheritance or special help.
Further interesting information: in Russia there are 3 more forms of custody, in addition to adoption:
2) Foster care
3) Patronage. This differs the most from the U.S. system. It is a form of foster care in which the orphanage retains custody of the child. The parents become “employees” of the orphanage and receive a stipend. In some cases they even live on the grounds of the orphanage, in family-type housing. It is advertised as a chance for receiving professional experience and career growth while providing love and care for children. This form of custody has not been introduced in St.Petersburg yet.
It is a little hard to understand the process through which children are placed in these arrangements, since in the U.S. we normally omit the middle step of living in an orphanage.
Concluding thoughts: In the United States, “foster care” sometimes comes with a negative connotation because of the many cases in which children are abused or constantly moved from place to place. In Russia, the foster care system is still being developed, and it is going to be a complicated transition after many years of the orphanage system. It’s possible that there will always be orphanages open to house children who are waiting to be placed in families. But foster care seems to be sparking interest. In the midst of all the attention given to changes in regulations and paperwork, it’s important to be mindful that the children, whose well-being is at stake, do not suffer and get placed in the wrong hands.
Lo, children [are] an heritage of the LORD: [and] the fruit of the womb [is his] reward.
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Tanya: “I don’t know why I’m sick. I haven’t been cold.”
Liz: “Don’t you work in a preschool?”
Tanya: “I always work in a preschool, but I don’t always get sick.”
Liz: “But if the kids were sick, couldn’t you catch it from them?”
Tanya: “I know what it was! I was sitting on the cold floor doing a puzzle last week.”
Maxim: “Why do people in California get sick? It’s warm there!”
Liz: “Maxim, did you know that Americans don’t believe that you get sick from cold weather?”
Maxim: “Why not?”
Liz: “Because you don’t!”
Katya: “But what if a person is in the middle of the forest in cold temperatures? Won’t he start sneezing and coughing?”
Liz: “No, he’ll get hypothermia.”
Katya: “What’s hypothermia?”
Liz: “It’s what you get when you’re in the middle of the forest in cold temperatures.”
So why do I have a cold right now?
Friday, February 16, 2007
A little background: in the summer of 2006, the College Church team introduced sock puppets as a camp activity while visiting Camp Karavella near St.Petersburg. That summer, “Vince” came into existence.
When I started teaching English lessons in the fall, I needed a prop. And so, Vince came along to help children learn English. This is especially helpful when you are working with only one child and need to present various conversational models.
Vince liked working with Katya, Maxim, and Ruth, and even stayed there over Christmas break. Now there are a lot of Vince jokes and theories circulating. “What IS Vince? Is he a sock? I think he looks like an eel.” “Vince ate too much chocolate again. He needs to go on a diet.” “If Liz is Vince’s mother, who is his father?” “Is Vince a boy or a girl?” “Why is one of Vince’s eyes bigger than the other?” “Why doesn’t he have any hair?” “Vince missed Christmas! I will make Christmas for him.”
We love Vince.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
"What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for the truth of the worship of God consists in the spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage. And here again it must be observed, that truth is not compared with falsehood, but with the outward addition of the figures of the Law; so that — to use a common expression — it is the pure and simple substance of spiritual worship." - Commentary on John - Volume 1 by John Calvin
President Putin was quoted recently as criticizing U.S. foreign policy, saying, "The United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres - economic, political and humanitarian, and has imposed itself on other states," he said. Putin also “accused the US of establishing, or trying to establish, a ‘uni-polar’ world.” -quotes from BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6350847.stm
" 'The message I got from his speech was that Putin wants Russia to have the same position in the world as the former Soviet Union,’ a senior European official told Reuters.”
“U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman said the speech was provocative and marked by ‘rhetoric that sounded more like the Cold War.’” (Reuters)
What if Russia closes its doors? What then?
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Mt.24:6
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
One of my youngest ESL students decided that she knew just how to spell it (evidence shown above). “Don’t worry,” she assured me, “I can translate everything for you.” See the Russian translation that she added underneath. Then she asked me how to spell her name. :)
In case you question my pedagogical methods, this class is still learning their ABC’s. So I’m not too worried.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The day went like this: at 9:00 I met up with a friend from Canada (James) and we got on the bus to leave for Estonia. We drove for 3-4 hours and then got to the Russian border. I was a little nervous going through passport control because I had reason to believe that my documents might not be in order. I was praying for mercy. Then when I stepped up to the window, the officer looked at my passport and said “Do you speak Russian?” Uh oh. I said in English, “Yes, a little.” Then he said, in perfect English, “Take off your glasses (I’m not wearing glasses in the photo).” Then he confirmed it was the same person, stamped my passport, and I was free to leave. Now, why did he ask me if I spoke Russian, since he spoke perfect English? Just a test?
After we drove for a little bit, we began to cross the Estonian border. James told me to look out the window for where the line is. I said, “What does it look like?” He said “You’ll know. Watch the sidewalk.” I looked out the window. After a few minutes, the snow-covered sidewalk turned into neat and tidy, shoveled sidewalk. We had entered Estonia.
We arrived in Narva, which is just over the border and has about a 95% Russian population. We were waiting for an Estonian guy whom James was meeting, and I tried to take a photograph. I couldn’t get my camera to work, though I had tested it the night before. I thought “oh well, there will be time later.” The man pulled up and signaled for us to jump in the car. Then he took us to lunch at a local shopping center. I found out that he’s a pastor at a local church. They have a lot of youth and do programs for orphans/street kids.
I tested my camera and it worked after all, but… after lunch we spent awhile exchanging/withdrawing money, and then did a little shopping. Since I hadn’t been expecting to go to Estonia, I didn’t have a wishlist or anything. The groceries were a lot cheaper than in St.Petersburg. I got some brown sugar, chocolate, and coffee. Then we waited for Marko (the pastor) to buy something. There was a complication with that, and we ended up getting back to the bus station with no time to spare.
So I left having done little exploring, but I accomplished what I had come for…to obtain a newly stamped migration card! Now I just have to register and I’ll be good to go.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Ecclesiastes 3:11"He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:"
In His time, in His time
He makes all things beautiful
In His time.
Lord, please show me every day
As You’re teaching me Your way,
That You do just what You say
In Your time.
In Your time, In Your time
You make all things beautiful
In Your time.
Lord, my life to You I bring;
May each song I have to sing
Be to You a lovely thing
In Your time.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
My reaction? I’m not shocked. I’m dismayed and saddened, but there’s nothing surprising to me about the situation. 1-2 overworked and under equipped adults+dozens of screaming babies leads to desperate measures. What would you do?
This particular article made reference to the nurses having a medical degree but lacking knowledge about how to cope with the babies’ emotional/psychological needs. Honestly, I don’t think you need a degree in psychology to care for babies. Otherwise, a lot of mothers out there are in trouble! It’s a BABY. You pick it up, hold it, love it.
Why are these babies abandoned in hospitals for their first year of life, and what can be done about it?
According to the article, “the main reasons why mothers give up their babies are lack of money and living-space along with problems such as alcoholism.” Fair enough.
What is to be done? A solution suggested by the article: Open more orphanages. " 'We simply do not have enough children's homes in Sverdlovsk [the region around Yekaterinburg] and Russia in general.’ " Not ENOUGH orphanages????!!!
I’m tired of orphanages. I spend a lot of time there. I’ve seen a range of living conditions. In some of the best St.P. orphanages, the kids win prizes in regional competitions in sports, arts, etc. They study in public schools with other children and may even go on to get a higher education. Photographs and artwork of the children are hanging everywhere. Graduates sometimes hang around, or return to show off their diplomas and their own kids. The counselors proudly welcome guests and show how they, on their meager salaries, have made the rooms look beautiful.
It’s not the orphanage that is the problem per se, but rather the fate of those who leave it. According to the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund (ROOF), “Each year in the Russian Federation approximately 15,000 young adults 'graduate' from the orphanage system utterly unprepared to support or to take care of themselves in a country where, at present, it is difficult for even the most privileged to find gainful employment.”
So how do we stop the vicious cycle in which more and more children are orphaned and end up unable to achieve successful independence?
Upscale orphanages (or “children’s homes”) are not the answer.
Foreign adoption is also not the answer. But it should not be prevented. I encourage foreign adoption because it is a way to affect the life of an individual child, and it is a way to raise awareness. But it will not save the children. And it will not save Russia, with its declining birth rate.
Charity work is not the answer either. But it should not be prevented. The Bible encourages us to visit orphans. If those hospital workers had a few helpers who held the babies, would taping their mouths be necessary?
Abortion and birth control are not the answer. Preventing “unwanted pregnancies” doesn’t guarantee that children will not be abandoned later on.
The best answer is a family. Adoption whenever possible; anchor families for when adoption isn’t possible or a child is too old; halfway houses or transitional homes for orphanage graduates.
Another answer is repentance. Most of these children are neglected not due to death or tragedy, but because of someone else’s sin. Having sexual relations outside of marriage is a sin. Not performing your work to the best of your ability is a sin. Drinking alcohol to excess and otherwise engaging in self-indulgence is a sin. Oppressing people and not paying them a suitable salary is a sin. Being irresponsible with your finances is a sin. Ignoring your own needy neighbors is a sin. Not taking care of children, who are an inheritance from the Lord, is a sin. All of us are guilty of one or more of these. And all of us will be held accountable.
What do you think?
Thursday, February 8, 2007
According to a great article about missionary adaptation, many missionaries still in the preparatory phase go through a time of reading missionary biographies and developing romantic notions about the mission field. I didn’t really experience that. But I do read the biographies now. I look for stories about situations that ring true in my own life. I think that if we’d met in real life, we’d have a lot to talk about. But at the same time, we are all so different. I have no desire to practice medicine like Hudson Taylor, or open an orphanage like Amy Carmichael, as much as I like children. And I don’t want to live in the jungle among headhunters. But I can relate to statements like the one above.
In other news…I found out today that I have to make an impromptu trip to Finland. They’re kicking me out of the country! Just kidding. I did get a text message starting with “You need to leave the country,” but it was followed by “and come back with a new migration card and we’ll register you.” So I guess it’s related to the form of registration I have. I thought I’d be able to just renew my registration here, but apparently not.
I wonder how cold it is in Finland right now?
Update: So it turns out I’m actually going to Estonia, not Finland. Should be exciting!
Afterwards we were talking about the current situation and general attitude toward foreigners, and what kind of needs exist. Even the orphanages that are “open” often seem to have a wall up, figuratively speaking. You’re welcome to spend time with the children’s, but good luck trying to change anyone’s way of thinking. When you can understand Russian, you notice these things more. Of course God is bigger than these obstacles and of course he can soften the hardest director’s heart. But is it actually effective for foreigners and other volunteers to continually pour their effort into ground that isn’t necessarily fertile? Or if there was a time when this was effective, has that time ended?
Then there is the question of how to prioritize the needs. To be more specific, there are ways of meeting an immediate need, such as humanitarian aid, and there are more carefully thought-out solutions that both treat and prevent a problem. Russia needs a well thought-out plan in order to tackle problems like orphanhood, AIDS, affordable housing, etc. And it could take several years of research to find a solution. But in the meantime, there are those who won’t live to see a solution reached. How do you help them?
We might look at Christ’s example. Though he performed miracles and touched the multitudes, he also was observed spending his time with individuals. But his witness, and willingness to point people to the Father, changed society.
The Epistles contain examples of Christians who were not only faithful followers, but were educated about the problems and controversies in the surrounding society, and were able to address these issues.
I don’t think that we can say which is more important, serving individuals or seeking to make a difference for society as a whole. I don’t want to say that feeding the homeless is ineffective. A hot meal is an act of kindness that could turn a life around, yet how likely is that? What about getting the homeless off the street and giving them a home and a job?
In Russia there are issues like: Do you help the younger orphans, who might still have a chance of overcoming the odds and leading a normal adult life? Or do you help the older ones who don’t know how to live on their own and are at risk for abandoning their own future children to orphanages? Do you change the orphanages to help them better serve children, or do you work to prevent orphanhood in the first place?
It’s hard to know where to start…but what we can do is pay attention to our individual callings. Some older missionaries encouraged me with the reminder that our primary assignment each day is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” It’s important to have compassion and to be knowledgeable about the needs in the society around you. But it’s also important to give these observations to the Lord, and to ask that He who is all-powerful and all-knowing might grant the tools and the wisdom to be His instrument.
At this stage in my life I’m serving immediate/practical needs by visiting orphans and teaching, and at the same time working on research for helping Russian families become involved with adoption and foster care. This second aim will have amazing results someday, but it is a lot more complicated and going very slowly. It’s possible that God will call me to do one or the other full-time, or do something else entirely. But for now these are my priorities.
If this post sounds awkward it’s because I’ve been communicating in Russian all day and am having a hard time switching back. :) I tried to proofread…
Monday, February 5, 2007
Today we practiced our letters and sang “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Then I noticed that the kids weren’t matching the hand motions to the words at all, so we had to stop and do a little review. Then again, one of my college professors (Thanks, Bella!) tried to teach it to us in Russian one time, and we were probably just as clueless. :)
The older boys had fun today with prepositions of location. I need to remember to bring a treat for them next time. They’re a little old for stickers. Their counselor who works on Mondays is warming up a little. She sneaks into the lessons sometimes to try to learn a little English. And she lets us go past five even though it’s officially homework time.
Today I read: “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” -Ps. 140:12
At the end of the day, I was heading into the metro again. A little boy got confused going down the stairs and grabbed my leg for some extra balance. His mom scolded him, but I thought it was cute.
Sometimes I think I waste too much time on public transportation…but then I think, nah, it makes life more interesting.
Can't find a recent photo of myself that doesn't include an elbow or chin of one of my 3 giant brothers. I could always find one from high school or college and no one would know the difference...