Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmastime is Here

Or rather it was.
Russians don't celebrate Christmas like the west. Here, the big holiday is New Year's and when people do celebrate Christmas is pretty much a religious holiday and is celebrated on January 7th. (The Orthodox church still goes by the old calendar) however people here are aware of the Western Christmas tradition.

I told Joel the other day that the last time I was in Russia I felt like I had no holidays because Russian holidays are different than American holidays and I didn't have tradition for Russian holidays. He made the good point that I now have the advantage of being able to celebrate all the holidays. This means that my holidays started December 24th and extend until January 7th. I know you're all jealous.

So how did I pass American Christmas? Well, it was interesting times, that's for sure. I had decided that since December 24th was Christmas eve, I was taking the day off to celebrate.  (When you work for God you can do that sort of thing. You know, decide when you're going to have time off and such. Yeah it's pretty much awesome) The only problem was, I wasn't sure how to celebrate. You know, since stuff here doesn't start for another week. Usually when I have a day off I'll do something like wander in the city or go window shopping or something but since this was Christmas eve, I wanted to do something...well... Christmas-y. Like watch a Christmas movie in English or something. The only problem: I have no idea where to do that sort of thing in St. Petersberg. I was rescued however from complete Christmas blues by having connections.

There are three nice young computer guys who attend the discussion club I lead at American Corners. The last time I lead discussion club, they all left me their email addresses in case I ever had some technical problems. I had gathered from things they'd said that they are all three very interested in English and have been to many English events in the city. So I pulled out their email addresses the week before Christmas and basically said "Hey, I'm looking for something to do for Christmas eve. Any ideas?"

Not long after sending the email out, I got a reply saying the American Council for Education (Or something like that) was having a Christmas party, they were going and I was welcome to come. I agreed and I also invited Marina from church. So on the appointed day we met and off we went.

It was epic times. We watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and played getting to know you games and other silly little games and it was just fun. I had been a little worried that I would still have to feel like I was "on" or "working" but I didn't at all. I got to relax, kick back, laugh and almost forget that I'm in Russia. Afterwards, our little group wandered around looking for a suitable cafe in which to hang out. We settled on Pizza Hut which turned out very well. I hadn't had "real" pizza since coming here and so it was nice to have some. We all shared a pizza and I complemented it with "Unlimited Lemonade" Yeah, it was a good night. Not only that, but it was great to just hang out at the cafe and talk about all kinds of different subjects. Even though I was in a Pizza Hut in Russia, speaking Russian, and surrounded by foreignness, it just felt... normal. Like "This is what I do, it's just in a different place and language now."

I find it a lot easier to reconcile into one person who I am this time around. On exchange there were times I felt completely Russian. Here, I know that I'm different. But it's okay. I'm not an American. I'm not Russian. I can operate with ease in both cultures. I'm a Christian woman with a U.S. passport who lives in St. Petersburg and speaks Russian. But also English. That's who I am and honestly, I think I have the best of both worlds. Actually, being in St. Petersburg makes me feel more like a "citizen of the world" rather than of one country (Maybe it's cliche, but it's true)

Christmas day, our Choir performed at the end of the church service. It was my first experience actually performing with the choir and so that was fun. After church, I was invited for Christmas dinner at the Petty apartment. That was a lot of fun and again, I could kind of kick back and embrace my American self a little more. We were also visited by Grandfather Frost who brought presents for the three Petty children. Here in Russia, children kind of have to earn their presents. Grandfather Frost comes and the kids have to guess riddles, sing and recite poetry for him. It's really cute. To my surprise, Grandfather also had a present for me. It was a heart pillow with huggy arms to remind me that I am loved by God and by people here. It was the perfect present.

After our meal (which was also attended by Zhenya, Sergei and baby Varya) and some fun conversation, we all returned to our respective homes. I spent the rest of the evening watching "A Christmas Story" and crocheting.

All in all, I would say it was a very successful Christmas and I immensely enjoyed it. Now I'm gearing up for round two as I'm attending the New Year party that's taking place at the Church on Saturday. Then after that it's off to Ukraine! Busy busy times! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Everyday Life

I walked to the Gulf of Finland today. I know, right? Let me say it again. I walked to the Gulf of Finland today. Why? Just because I could. Well that and because I drank half a liter of Coke at McDonald's and wanted to walk off the caffeine. Speaking of McDonald's it's always crowded in Russia. I was sitting at a table enjoying just being by myself when three teenage boys asked if they could sit there too since there was no room. I am not exaggerating this either. Each boy had on his tray a Big Mac, A Big and Tasty, Six Chicken Nuggets, a Medium Fry and a medium drink. And those sandwiches are about the same as they are in the states. Yeah. It was ridiculous. I told them so too. Or rather I told them we didn't even eat like that in America (And Americans stereotypically eat a lot) The one young man's reply was that this was Russia. Can't argue with that.

I feel like my point in writing all this is that living here is a place of contrasts. I'm not just talking about the culture, but my point is that on the one hand it's everyday life. I brush my teeth, I buy groceries, I do laundry, I go to work. On the other hand, I'm doing it in Russia. Not just in Russia, but in St. Petersburg. So the contrast is you have things like "I went walking on Nevsky prospect today, I went to Kazan Cathedral, Oh yeah, that's the Palace Square where the Hermitage is. No biggie."

I don't always write about the big things that go on, because honestly for me it's more about the every day stuff. It's about working with Sergei, Galina Mikhailovna and Marina to prepare dinner for Poisk. It's about sitting with Sasha, baby Ilya and Marina just having a nice conversation. The little everyday things. And it may sound cool because it's happening in Russia but people are people and somethings never change.

For example, yesterday I was leading a discussion about American Christmas Traditions at the American Corner (Which is a place where people interested in learning and practicing English can go and attend different events such as movie showings, reading clubs, singing clubs etc. to help them practice) At the end of said discussion I had one gentleman inform me that his son was 26 and basically told me I should marry him. And I thought that sort of thing wouldn't happen once I left the states. Guess I was wrong. ha ha.

I think maybe that's the whole point of my sporadic blog posts. I feel like when I was on exchange, I tried my best to show not only the awesome cool parts of exchange, but the seamy underbelly as well. It's the same with this mission work. Yeah it's so cool to be like "Hey! I'm serving God overseas and look at all the cool stuff I get to do!" But a lot of times missionaries don't talk about how hard it can be. How lonely. As I told one of my friends from college the other day, I have never felt so close to God yet at the same time so far away from him. It's kind of a weird feeling.

Anyway, I don't want to end on a depressing note. Feeling down isn't something that happens everyday. And it's something that happens a lot less here than it did in Yakutsk. Not only that but I'm a lot better at handling it this time around. I just have nice long chats with God and try to find the good in being here. Honestly, this experience so far as been an amazing one and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Midsummer Night's Dialogue Reading With Pasta Salad and Strange Little Girls

Yup, the title says it all. It was just a really good day.

It started with me going to Natasha's school. I've been showing up there about once a week to interact with different English classes, usually Natasha's. The first few times I went, I gave presentations. Now, I read out loud and do dialogues with the kids so they can hear a native speaker. It's always interesting times. Today however, I was invited specially.

The 8th grade English class was putting on a short version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Alla Vasilevna, one of the English teachers called me over the weekend to invite me. I said I would come and was so glad I did. You could tell the kids put a lot of effort into memorizing their English lines and practicing the emotions and things. Although sometimes they smashed the English words together so they were hard to understand, they did an amazing job. It was hilarious and I really enjoyed myself.

After the play, I had tea with Natasha and then I attended her 5th grade class. We read about "My Favorite Town" they were really excited to get to read with me. The best part about class today was that the classroom we were in is one of the math classes and the math teacher was sitting in the back grading papers. Afterwards, she came up and was talking to Natasha and I, asking about me. The woman wasn't sure why I wasn't properly interacting with the students and things. Natasha explained that I was a guest. The woman didn't get it. Finally Natasha explained that I wasn't a teacher. I was a guest and friend from America who was helping in class today. The woman thought this was interesting. She said that she thought I might be foreign but then she wasn't sure because I said a few things in Russian. So that made me feel good.

The day was also good because I successfully made an interesting sort of macaroni salad. I've been experimenting with cooking since coming here and am surprised how much I enjoy it. I think because if I were cooking at home, I'd follow recipes all the time. Here, I don't so it gives me a chance to be creative and see what does and doesn't work. My salad was macaroni, cucumber, crab and mayo. I was pretty proud of it.

Finally, the day was good because of this evening. On Tuesday nights a group of Christian Businessmen meet in our church building. Generally, they meet in the room that's my "office" so I have to be out before they come at 6:30. Today on my way out, I forgot to take the tupperware with me to put salad in to take home to eat tomorrow. So I was waiting for the meeting to get done so I could get salad and go home. The thing is, they were taking forever. There was a little girl there this evening with her mom and she was wandering up and down the halls and playing in the nursery. At one point I was like "Hi!" but she didn't say anything. So I went about my business.

The next thing I know, I'm in the kitchen playing Bejeweled on my iPod and I feel these eyes on me.  The little girl is literally standing in the doorway just staring at me. And Staring. So I look up and smile. She smiles back, I go back to my game, but I can feel her continuing to stare at me. It was really awkward. I was finally like "Can I help you?" She didn't respond.

So then I smiled at her a few more times and went about my business. At one point she was kind of following me around and so I turned around and teasingly scared her. Then I felt bad. I wasn't trying to make her go away, I was just playing.

Eventually, I asked her if she'd found the toys in the nursery. She said yes. I asked her if she wanted a cookie. She said no. Finally, she got up the nerve to ask me what my name was. I told her. I then asked her grade and name. She told me. Then she ran off. I continued getting my stuff together. A few minutes later, she was back asking me to repeat my name. I did and she ran off again. By this time I was pretty much ready to go and had successfully gotten my salad packed up. As I was walking past the business men, the little girl was talking to her mom and was like "That's Abigail"

So I stopped to talk to the mom and she remarked on the uniqueness of my name. I explained it was a Bible name and then she must've heard my accent because she was like "Oh, you're not Russian?" "No, I'm American. I work in the church." "Oh, I see. Your Russian is really good." "Thank you." We said it was nice to meet each other and then off I went to find Luka and Natasha with whom I usually walk home.

On our way home, we found ourselves behind a group of the businessmen including the woman and the little girl. The woman again complemented my Russian and asked how I knew it so well. I explained that I had lived in Yakutia. "Oh. Wow." Yeah. Saying that usually gets interesting comments.

But in any case, all of these things combined put me in a really good mood. I felt the need to share it because I feel like I'd been kind of "blah" of late. I'm also kind of excited because I'm working from home tomorrow. I have to do a presentation about Christmas for the American Corners on Saturday and I'm using Prezi which doesn't seem to like the wi-fi connection at the church. So am going to do it here. This also gives me an excuse to continue to rest my bruised knee which I hurt on Sunday. But anyway, life is good.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Touching God

I can't pinpoint one event. Maybe it's because I've been praying more. Maybe it's because I've been reading mass amounts of Bible every day. Or maybe it's just because. But I can tell you when it happened. Last night.

I've had a rough couple weeks. I've been sad, missing home, God felt far away. I got to the point where I was writing psalms asking God why he brought me here only to leave me. I daily questioned why I came and what I was doing. I figured if David could question God, so could I.

Last night I felt it. It wasn't like a thunderbolt realization from on high, but all of a sudden there was this deep sense of God's presence. I could feel him surrounding me, next to me like an actual person. A sense of fullness like I have never experienced before in my life. Words don't do it justice.

I weep from the beauty of it though. Because all my life I thought I'd given it up to God. All my life, I thought I had a good relationship with him. And in a sense, I did. But everything I ever thought I had pales in comparison to what I have now. It's like all my life I'd been satisfied eating vanilla ice cream and suddenly I learn there are other flavors. Once I've tried them, I never want to go back to plain old vanilla.

Suddenly these things I've been hearing my entire life make much more sense. "Taste and see that the Lord is good." I have truly tasted his richness. I truly understand what it means to say "He's everything I need." because he is. I feel warm and I feel safe. It's like he's permanently got his arms wrapped around me.

And now everything is a lot easier. It no longer matters if I miss people back home. If something were to happen and I would never hear from them again would I be sad? Yes. But it would be okay. Because of this richness. Because of this feeling, I have been able to deal with some things that I've needed to take care of for a while but hadn't truly given up to him. It no longer matters that I'm far away, if I'm not married, if I'm doing something different with my life. Because of his Spirit, I am able to face anything. It's no longer something I'm just reading about in the Bible. I'm part of it.

I never want to lose this feeling. I know, there are up and down parts of life. There are times when things come and go, but now that I've experienced it, I thirst... no... I ache for more. For that living water. Because if this relationship is like this now, imagine what it would be like in a few months or a few years.

I have briefly touched the presence of God. I have tasted heaven. If I had joy in him before, my joy is now tenfold. If I had peace in him, my peace is now a hundred fold. I would gladly go through this again; This loneliness, this wondering, a thousand times if it would mean that I would be able to remain like this, in the presence of God. Because that is all I truly want.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

2 months?!

I'm starting my third month here. Which is kind of weird for me actually. As Zhenya N. put it at the women's meeting yesterday. "You've only been here two months? It seems like you've been here a lot longer. You're already one of us."

When Americans come for example it's kind of interesting. I do things like help interpret and such, but I'm not actually one of them because I live here. I belong here. I know people,  I work here, I'm part of the rhythm of life. It feels like I've been here a lot longer, but not in a bad way. I keep busy. For the most part, things are going pretty well. I mean, I have down times of course. I'm at that point. The point where I get tired of people, tired of giving, tired of not always understanding, tired of not getting jokes, tired of sometimes being treated like I don't know anything. But this too shall pass.

What's been happening? Well, generally the same old same old. I study English with a few people, the other day I did a transcription of a clip in English for a woman who's a Christian and teaches English. It's the same woman whose class I visited during Thanksgiving where I had a great time. I'm going back to visit them again on the 12th. Hoping to make some connections that way.

I volunteered to lead a discussion group at the American Corner this Saturday and next. Basically, people who want to practice English come and participate in the various events they have. This week I'm doing a presentation about myself. Next week I'll probably present about Christmas. Again, trying to find ways to make connections with people.

I'm going to be taking a trip to Ukraine for purposes of visa acquisition in January. Going to leave right after the holidays and have a little holiday of my own. Honestly though I'm rather stressed about having to go. It's traveling on my own in a foreign country I'm not used to. For two weeks. Hoping to find some people to connect with through the church who will help me out with a place to stay. We shall see how that goes.

The good news is that I'm not too terribly upset about not being home for the holidays. I mean, yeah it's kind of sad that I'm not going to be there, but it's also okay. I mean, I'm on my own, don't have a family or anything and honestly in some ways I'm not much of a holiday person anyway. So it doesn't really feel like they're coming. And the holidays are a little different when you're an adult anyway.

That's the other thing. It's fun being an adult, but sometimes it's just a pain. Today for example. I realized that I'm out of food pretty much. It's like "Aw man, now I have to go shopping and then I have to fix myself food" Sometimes I just don't feel like it's convenient to stop to eat. Unfortunately, eating is kind of a necessity. It would be nice if I could get some kind of IV or drink so that I wouldn't have to stop and fix something.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Who Are These People Anyway?

In the almost two months I've been here, I've found myself with what at school I called an "Urban Family" although here it's definitely more of a Family in Christ. In any case, it's a group of people with whom I have mutual love and support in absence of my own relatives. God has been gracious and blessed me with getting to know some awesome people so far in my time here. So I wanted to take a moment to explain who some of these people are and what they mean to me.

Joel, The Mentor
Joel is like the Obi Wan Kenobe of my apprenticeship. He's also a major player in the reason I'm here. I am extremely thankful that the day I talked to Dr. Green about the WorldWide Witness program he was about to go have coffee with Joel and that he mentioned my name. Joel has been working with the churches in Russia for something like 14 years. He knows tons about Russia and the history of the church here. Learning about this history and about being a full time missionary has been a great experience. It's been a blessing to be able to learn from him.

Luka, The Big Sister
Luka is the director of our choir as I've mentioned in several places. I would be completely lost without her. She is a woman who is on fire for God and is passionate about serving him through music. Not only that, but she's very giving of herself and her time. Without her, I wouldn't be living where I am now. I am so grateful that she took time out of her busy schedule to look at rooms with me. She has been a source of comfort when I'm missing home, lets me complain when I'm frustrated and has prayed with me often. Words cannot express how thankful I am that God has allowed me to get to know her. She is an example to me of how I, as a single woman, can serve God wholeheartedly.

Lena, The Mother
She would hate this label, but it's not like a mother mother, Maybe "Oldest Sister" is the best term to describe Lena. She and her husband, Brad, opened their home to me and I was blessed to be able to live with them for a week. During that time, I got to know Lena and I really look up to her. She always checks in to make sure I'm doing well and also to make sure I'm eating enough. She has done a ton to help me with my visa stuff and if I have any questions that I might not feel comfortable asking other people, I know I can ask her and she'll give me sound advice. Because her husband is American I feel like Lena understands better than most what it's like being a foreigner in Russia. It is very apparent that she and Brad love each other deeply and strive to be a Godly couple. Lena is a great example to me of how one can serve God as a Christian wife.

Natasha, The Good Friend
Natasha and I spend a lot of time together, partly because we both live here on Vasilevskii Island and because we're both young single women. Also because Natasha teaches English and I speak English. Natasha is a little hard to get to know, but it has been awesome getting to spend time with her. She keeps me grounded when I need it and always encourages me, reminding me that even if it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything here, the small stuff definitely counts for something and sometimes for more than the bigger stuff. I recently was blessed to get to visit her home for an afternoon and it was a great time. I am so thankful that God has put a friend like Natasha in my life.

Dima, The Big Brother
Dima is the Encyclopedia of Culture and the Master of All Aspects of Serving in the Church. He explains Russian culture to me and gives me an interesting perspective into how men in Russia think. He has been an endless source of general cultural help, word explanation and theological discussions that stretch my Russian skills to the limit. He also has me learning about all the different ways one can serve God. From answering letters from people who want to know more about the Bible, to helping count the offering money I'm learning about leadership and responsibility in the church in a way I never did back home. I am so thankful that because of Dima encouraging me to do these things, I am able to more effectively serve God.

There are of course other people in my Russian Family. It's interesting the way relationships are built and the ways you interact with people. For example, Yana, my little sister. She is fascinated by American culture and hopes to one day visit there. I love getting to not only help her practice English, but also listen to the stories about her daily life as a teenager. And then there are Sasha and Zhenya, sisters and young mothers. Through interacting with them and their babies, I've been learning about what it means to be a mother and to give of yourself to your family. That's a powerful lesson right there.

I could go on, for several more paragraphs, listing people I've met here and why I'm thankful for them. But I feel like this kind of gives you an idea. I know for me, just sitting down to write this blog post has given me an opportunity to reflect on my time here so far and really see how God has blessed this work. He truly is a powerful and almighty God!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Schools, English and the Hare Krishna

So I feel like I haven't updated you on what I do with my time for a while. Why? Because there's always something going on ha ha.

This week was busy. I feel like I'm starting to get more of a routine and find some opportunities to connect with people.

Last Wednesday and this Wednesday, I've spent the day at school with my friend Natasha. She teaches English and German and thought it would be fun to have me go speak to a couple of her English classes. The whole thing kind of exploded. I went in to speak to one or two classes and ended up doing a total of four presentations. I was there for five periods. The one class was fifth grade so I read dialogues with them. During my time there, I spoke to classes taught by a woman who lived in the States for ten years so that was interesting. I think I'm going to see about going back.

This week, I was asked to come in and speak to another teacher's class. This turned into another all day thing. At one point, the foreign language teachers were having a planning meeting and I was told to come in and was then introduced to the group. The teachers were told to make use of my English skills. Entertaining times? I think so.

Yesterday, I went to our Bible in English study group at the church and then had a quick lunch before heading to metro Sportivnaya. There is a yahoo group for Christians and missionaries in particular who work in St. Petersburg. A woman who teaches English was looking for some English Bibles to gift her students as well as a native speaker (Missionary) to come and talk with her students to give them practice. So, Joel told her he could get her Bibles and I told her I would come chat. So I went to the University of the Ministry of Finance and Economics and spent like two and a half hours with the students. Let me tell you, it was one of the most entertaining times I've had with a group of English students. We would just crack up about stuff. I can't even tell you what. But it was epic. I told the woman that I would love to come again so we'll see what works out.

Today my weekend started. I spent most of the day getting groceries which was exciting for me. I've become more interested in cooking whilst here and so am going to attempt to make myself some tastiness over the next few days. I showed up at the church about 5, which was a couple hours early for Search but actually ended up working out really well. I got to talk to Lena for a bit which is always fun and she told me she had something for me. I was like "what?" She goes "A little bit of Thanksgiving"

Brad's mom and her friend are visiting them for a week or two. Yesterday they had a Thanksgiving dinner and Lena was kind enough to bring me some leftovers. It was just wonderful! Little bit of turkey, stuffing, cornbread and cranberry sauce. I was super excited and relished every bite.

I then had chai with Marina which took us til the Hare Krishna came. Oh yes, I forgot to mention. Tonight was a very special night at Search. Why you ask? Well because we had some special guests. The Krishnaiti. Which as I mentioned are Hare Krishna in English. Apparently one of the guys Dima plays football with is one and Dima went to one of their meetings. He then invited them to come to our discussion group. Which they did. I would've enjoyed it very much I think if I'd been able to understand anything they said.

Actually, it was kind of funny, I was sitting there listening, and okay I admit my attention wanders sometimes. It happens. But often during sermons or discussions I can eventually pick it back up. Not so much with the Hare Krishna. I thought it was me, but then I didn't feel so bad when we were cleaning up afterwards and Dima was like "What did you think?" And I was like "Well, it was really hard to understand what they were saying..." And Dima goes "Yeah, it was really hard to understand. They were talking a lot about deep spiritual stuff in their religion" So then I felt better. As far as I know, the discussion went well and we were invited to go to visit the Hare Krishna at some point. So that could be interesting.

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. Tomorrow is my free day. What am I planning on doing? I honestly have no idea. I may read, I'll probably try cooking something at some point, I'm definitely sleeping in. Oh and I may go wander around the area of Mikhailovskii Sad. I want to go be a bit touristy I think. Maybe I'll take some Gnome Pictures. I haven't completely decided yet. I just know I'm looking forward to it. :D

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Daddy-Daughter Dates Part 3: Scripture and Journaling

When I've finished meditating, the next step is Scripture Reading. This is different than my daily Bible reading plan. I feel like this is kind of a chance for God to speak to me. So normally what I do is page through my Bible until I find a place that looks good and start reading at random. Generally what happens is a scripture will pop out at me. It's really amazing actually how often doing this has lead me to scriptures that I've found very applicable to what's currently going on in my life. I'll usually read the scripture or the section several times and think about it for a few minutes.

Finally, the last step in my date is Journaling. This part is kind of like when you're being dropped off at home at the end of the date. I keep a paper journal for the daily stuff, but I keep a separate journal for Daddy-Daughter Dates. This journal is more like a prayer journal. Generally what's been happening is that I start writing like it's actually a letter to God. It gives me a chance to thank him for what he's doing and has done in my life. A lot of times in my journaling, I will talk about the things in my life I'm trying to overcome, or aspects of my spiritual life I'm trying to work on. I also reflect on things God has been teaching me. Generally at the end of the journal entry I'll copy into it the verse that really spoke to me during scripture reading.

An additional note about the journal I use for this last step. Generally, I'm a straightforward, plain blank journal kind of person. However, when I was preparing to come to Russia, someone gave me a "Missions Journal" and I've found it to be an invaluable aide to my journaling. It has the general blank pages, but it also has scriptures and devotional pages for meditation and sections with questions that help me explore thoughts and ideas. If you're going to be taking up journaling as a spiritual discipline, I definitely recommend finding a journal that has some devotional type elements to it.

So there you have it, the end of my Daddy-Daughter Date. As I mentioned in the first part of this series, I've really come to enjoy these times. Afterwards, I feel much more focused, and at peace. I find that it allows me to let go of the worldly things, the stress and the craziness of life. Best of all, I'm usually much happier after I've spent time with my heavenly father.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Daddy-Daughter Dates Part 2: Meditation and Prayer

So in my last post, I explained what Daddy-Daughter Dates are and why I partake of them. This post I'm going to go into the specific aspects of my Daddy-Daughter Dates and the significance of them.

The first part of the date is Meditation
The purpose of meditation is to center myself and let go of the noise and stress around me so I can focus. It's kind of like the car ride to the restaurant. You have small talk with the guy and look forward to getting into a little deeper stuff.

Meditation for everyone is going to be a little different, but here's how I usually do it. I combine aspects of the Jesus Prayer (See this link as well) with things that I've found work for me. I'd recommend using a portion of scripture while you meditate.

I find a place that's quite and where I can sit comfortably without distractions. I shut down the computer, silence the cell and hide the iPod (It's kind of rude to be distracted during a date after all) then I get comfortable, close my eyes and begin to breathe deeply. I'll breathe in for four counts and then out for four. During this time I recite Psalm 117 first in Russian then in English and alternate the two. . If I'm really distracted and having a hard time focusing I'll start by reciting the scripture out loud and then as I become more focused, I'll change to mentally reciting it.

I'll recite one line inhaling and one exhaling. In: Praise God All People Out: Praise Him All Tribes In: His Love is Unfailing Out: His Faithfulness Endures Forever. Again, you can use whatever scripture or phrase that works for you.

Once I'm nice and focused meditation leads naturally to the next part of the date: Prayer
If meditation is the car ride, Prayer is dinner at the fancy restaurant.
The prayer is my time to talk with God. To tell him what's going on in my life and bring up my thoughts, concerns, feelings and ideas.

During the prayer time, I continue my breathing rhythm of four counts in and out, but now I pray in phrases as I exhale. In addition, the phrases are only as long as my exhale. For example: In... Out: God, guide my path In... Out: I don't know where to go.

Doing this gives the prayer itself a kind of chant like rhythm after a while. If you're comfortable you can say it out loud, usually at this point though I'm more focused inwardly and saying it out loud would feel uncomfortable.

The prayer goes on as long as it needs to, generally until I feel like I've covered everything. After the "amen," I again recite Psalm 117 in Russian and English. This time I say the lines on the exhale like I did with the prayer. When I'm finished, I open my eyes and am ready for the next part which is scripture reading and journaling.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Love Daddy-Daughter Dates Part 1

One thing I've noticed in being here, is that sometimes I get so caught up in working for God that sometimes I forget to work with him. Or, to put it in a more straightforward, parable like form:

It happened that a man took a wife and they had several children together. The man was happy but it takes much to provide for a family. The man had always been a hard worker, but he began to work harder and more hours in order to provide his family with everything he thought they might need or want. He very rarely saw them, but all the same he had the satisfaction of knowing that he was doing great things for them. 

One evening the man came home to find that the house was dark. This was not unusual as he often came home long after his wife and children had gone to bed, yet for some reason this night the house felt particularly desolate and lonely. The man flipped on the light to discover that there was a note on the kitchen table. It was from his wife telling him that she could no longer be married to a man who didn't even know his family. She had taken the kids and left.

Okay, so maybe this is an extreme and very cheesy way of explaining it, but my point is that relationships take work. When couples are dating, they spend time together in order to get to know each other and find out if they would be compatible marriage partners. After a couple is married and their lives become busy, they have to remember to make time for each other. To continue their relationship, strengthen and grow it.

Thought God is... well... God... It's the same kind of thing. I mean I'm not saying that God is going to divorce you for never spending time with him. But what I am saying is that every relationship, even one with God takes work.

So here's how it works. I spend most of my time here working for God in one form or another. Talking to English classes, attending Bible Studies, drinking tea and building relationships with my sisters, writing letters for the Russian Bible School, helping people practice English and so on. Suddenly after a week or so of this, I'll realize that I've been so caught up in dealing with everyone else's spiritual needs that I've been neglecting my own.

I know it's happening because I'll come to a point where there's this build up of noise inside of me. That's the best way to describe it. You know how on the old TVs with antennas, if you couldn't get a channel there would just be static and a fuzzy noise? Yeah, it's like that only inside.

I pray a lot throughout my day and week, but many times it's more like when you call someone to check in with them. "hey God, I'm hanging in there. Hey God, I don't know what I'm doing, can you help me out?" That sort of thing. And as many of you know, a relationship can only go so far with quick chats and texts.

So I've had to come up with a way to rebuild my spiritual reserves. My roommate back home would call it "Jesus Time." I'll freely admit that I used to kind of laugh inwardly when she would compare it to a date with Jesus. I have been humbled however because honestly that's exactly what it is and I've discovered that I really look forward to my "Daddy-Daughter Dates" with God.

Like any date, it's a chance to spend time with God, talk to him about what's going on in my life, bounce ideas off him, tell him about my concerns and fears, de-stress, debrief and regroup for the next onslaught. I try to be in the word and searching but Daddy-Daughter Dates are different than just reading the bible and praying.

Daddy-Daughter Dates firstly involve quiet. They also require setting aside specific time, which again is what a date is supposed to be. Generally they start with meditation, go into prayer, involve scripture reading and finally journaling.

In the next blog post, I will go into more detail about the structure and working of the date itself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Life is a Russian Sitcom

So I should probably tell you all about my visit to Natasha's school and how I'm a super star. Instead, I'm going to tell you about a small even in my life that amused me.

I was standing in the washroom, taking out my contacts when suddenly the door was flung open. I half expected to see my neighbor Alyosha who happened to open the door on me during the same process once before but no. There in the doorway stood Tatyana Gavrilovna my landlady. "Abigail!" She said urgently. "Can you get this sim card out of my phone? We can't get it out!"

"Just a second," I replied. She seemed to realize then that my hands were wet and so she disappeared back into the kitchen. Just as I was putting the last of the solution on my contacts, there came a scraping sound  of a key in the lock. It was my other neighbor, Dima. Tatyana Gavrilovna must have heard the same sound I did because she came bustling out of the kitchen again. "Dima! Are you alive?" She asked before the young man could remove his coat or shoes, or even really have a chance to set his stuff down.

"Yes," Dima answered and before he could say anything else Tatyana Gavrilovna had thrust the phone into his hands.

"We can't get the sim card out, I've tried and it won't come. Can you get it?"

Dima proceeded to attempt to get the sim card out. He pulled on it and slid it all to Tatyana Gavrilovna's commentary. "My old phone doesn't want to give it up. Alyosha tried and couldn't get it out either." Finally, Dima had it most of the way out but couldn't get it the last bit. Tatyana Gavrilovna finally took the phone back "Let Abigail have a turn, she hasn't tried yet." So while Dima closed and locked the door (He hadn't had a chance before the cell phone assault) I took the phone and in about half a second, had finished sliding out the sim card. Tatyana Gavrilovna was ecstatic.

"See? We all had to have a turn to try and get it out."

And so, life continues on. Never a dull moment in Russia, I tell you what...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mission Epiphany

Question of the Day: Do one's spiritual gifts change depending on where you are and what you're doing? Maybe not your spiritual gifts per se, but maybe the way in which you use them?

So, I had an epiphany the other day.

Sometimes it's hard being here, because sometimes I don't feel like I'm using my skills. Or that I'm not doing anything. I know of missionaries out there planting churches and building houses and taking care of people's health needs. What do I do? I help people with English. I listen, I show up to events. I feel like I'm just here and not really doing anything worthwhile.

Then I volunteered to wash the floor of the zal this week. So after Search on Friday at about 10:30 I started the process. It was good to do some physical work that also gave me some time to think. So here's the question for you. So I'm mopping the floor, and thinking about how I must've paid more attention than I thought
when mom showed me how to do these things when I was younger, because I'm doing a decent job. Then, I started lamenting the fact that I'm here not doing any great things. You know, nothing like winning those heroic spiritual battles that you read about in the Bible. I'm not amassing thousands to the Lord, or doing miracles.

Then I thought about how my days don't always turn out exactly how I planned them. I suddenly realized two things. One, being a missionary is not a 9-5 job. I mean, maybe that seems obvious, but it feels more like it's a little bit here, a few things there, a couple hours doing this a couple hours doing that and not just sitting at a desk for 8 hours. I kind of like the flexibility but at other times it can be a pain. There are some times I have to be "on" when I'd rather be "off".

I also realized that it's not really about fighting giants, or gathering thousands to the Lord. I feel like in God's kingdom it's not about numbers or projects. Sometimes we get caught up in that. It's about building relationships and doing what you can. Most importantly it's about being willing to serve with your whole heart. Sometimes I feel like the widow who gave her two coins to the poor. It was a heart issue. She had nothing, but she wanted to give and serve the Lord with everything. My job is to have that kind of attitude and do what I can.

So what is my job? It's rather abstract, but my job is to be here. I know it sounds strange. My job is to go speak to an 8th grade English class, to help watch a baby so her parents can have time together, to jump in and fake a bible class lesson for pre-teens, to listen to women who need to talk, to pray, to help people study English, to mop the floor at 11pm on a Friday night to participate, to encourage, and most importantly to love. It's not about me. It's not my job to personally save the world. Someone else already did that and boy am I ever glad he did.

I was talking to my friend Natasha about this Sunday evening. She agreed, that it's all about the small things and told me that I came at just the right time. She also said something that really stuck with me. She told me she didn't want me to leave after this year and be like "Oh yeah, I was in Russia" and have life go on. She's right. I already feel this way.

I already feel like it would be wrong to just continue my life the way it was, this is different than exchange. I have family here, friends, mentors, brothers, sisters. Just like I can't come here and completely forget about my family, friends, mentors, brothers and sisters back home, I can't go home and just forget about the people here. I need to take what I learn and discover here, and apply it to serving God back home. I need to pray and discover where God wants me and how he wants to work in my life. Then, I need to take my skills and my spiritual gifts and wholeheartedly serve him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My Testimony -- Russian

Я написала мое свидетельство, чтобы рассказать людям о том что Бог сделел для меня, и что он мой спаситель. Я его написала и на русском языке и на английском языке. Это русская версия. English Version

Я выросла в церкви. Мои родители верующие, и бабушка, и дедушка тоже. Я крестилась 13 августа 2000 г. Я верила в Бога и хотела жить с ним на небесах после смерти. Все было хорошо, а потом, когда мне стало 17 лет, я начала задавать себе вопросы о том, во что я верила.

Я сидела на собрании каждое воскресенье, слушая проповедника. Он говорил о том, как стать христианином. Я видела, какими были братья и сестры, и по-моему они были христианами только по воскресеньям. Я была разочарована Я продолжала ходить каждое воскресенье в церковь, но только из-за того, что мы так делали в своей семье.

После окончания школы я стала студенткой по обмену. Я поехала в Россию, где жила один год. В первой половине поездки я мало думала о Боге и о церкви. Я все еще верила в Бога, но думала о нем только когда ездила на природу. Хотя я почти все бросила, у Бога были другие планы.

Я люблю читать, и когда я собиралась поехать в Россию, то взяла с собой несколько книг на английском языке. Но через пять месяцев я уже все их прочитала, кроме одной книги. Библия осталась. Я сильно хотела читать по-английски, поэтому начала читать Библию. Всю жизнь я слышала свяшенное писание в церкви, но первый раз читала его сама. Я большему научилась, когда сама читала, чем когда сидела в церкви каждое воскресенье во время Богослужения.

Бог многому научил меня через этот опыт, но самое важное он научил меня скромности. Я думала, что была лучше, чем другие христиане, потому что считала, что все делала правильно. Мой грех – гордость. Бог научил меня, что не мое дело судить сердца других людей. Мне нужно быть уверенной, что все в порядке в моей духовной жизни. Мне обязательно нужно рассказывать другим о том, что Бог сделал для меня, а он сам будет судить, что у них на сердце.

Я об этом расказывала, потому что, у всех есть страдания и духовные крисизы даже, когда человек вырастил в церкви, но слава Богу у нас никогда не будут слишком много испытания. Наш Отец всегда верный, и он нам помогает.

My Testimony -- English

This is long overdue. One of the things Joel had me do in preparation for coming here was write out my testimony. So I did in English. Then, I got to translate it into Russian so Dima could send it to people interested in the Bible school and so I can tell it to people. Below is the English version of the text. Русская Версия

I grew up in the church. Sometimes I think that's more difficult than becoming a Christian as an adult. When you come in as an adult, you make the decision to believe and be baptized and you are committed to making that change. When you grow up in the church I think sometimes things aren't always so clear or firm.

I committed my life to Christ when I was 11 years old. I believed in God and I wanted to make sure that I would spend eternity with him. So I was baptized and began my Christian walk. Things went pretty well until high school and then I started questioning. As I got more into reading the Bible and better understanding of what Christianity is, I started to become disenchanted with it. I was reading what a Christian should be Biblically and looking around my church, suddenly realizing that the two didn't match up. I started to feel really down. Here I was, wanting to live out the faith and I felt like I was surrounded by hypocrites who showed up on Sunday morning because that's what good people do. By the time I was ready to graduate, I no longer cared. Force of habit and my parents' expectations were what kept me going to services.

I went to Russia as an exchange student right after high school. The first half of my trip I didn't really attempt to find a place to worship. I thought about God in the context of things I was seeing and doing, but most of it was brief and in passing. But God was working on me.

After I had been there about five months, something interesting happened. You see, I love to read and about this time, I ran out of things to read in English. The only thing I had left was my Bible. So I opened it at random one day and the next thing I knew, I was devouring the word. Reading for myself, I learned things that I never learned just sitting in worship every Sunday. I suddenly realized that I really missed being with other believers and so I made an effort to find a place where I could worship.

God worked on me and made me realize that it isn't my place to judge the hearts of men. It's his job. My job is to make sure that I''m right with him and that those around me can see the light of Christ within me. My journey since then has been filled with highs and lows. I am after all human. But God is always faithful to me and because of the sacrifice of his son, I can live with hope.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Why I Love Fridays

Fridays are my favorite day of the week. Perhaps because for a lot of people it's the end of the work week so things are more relaxed, perhaps it's the dynamics. In any case, I love Fridays. They make me happy.

I think maybe it's a combination of things. Fridays is "Search," our discussion group. This in itself is always an interesting experience. We come together, eat dinner and have a discussion about more in depth spiritual topics. I'm not talking about hot topic items we discuss to death in the church (What is the Holy Spirit anyway?) I'm talking about stuff the world wonders about too. This week it was the differences between Christianity and other religions. It takes a lot of concentration to follow these discussions, but they're always interesting.

I also love the conversations that go on before and after "Search," we joke around a lot, chat and just have a general good time. Sometimes afterwards a group of us will take a little walk, last night some friends and I just kind of hung out and chatted.

I also have some English lessons on Friday. I've been working with some of the people from church who want to improve English skills. Yesterday, I met with Luka. Her English is pretty decent and so we're working on a lot of vocabulary building. For hour hour lesson yesterday we took a walk, went to a bakery and just chatted. I really enjoyed that.

On Fridays I also meet with two teenage girls from church. Now that's an interesting experience. I'm not sure how much English they've actually been learning but it's always a good time. Yesterday our topic was Justin Beiber. We read a little about him, watched the music video to "baby" (Singing along) and then read the lyrics and made sure we understood what the song was about. A conversation I had with another church member a little later went something like this:

Me: "I met with Sonya and Yana today. We were practicing English"
Them: "Yes...I heard you singing..."

What can I say? It was really fun though. They told me that they wanted to talk to some Americans, so I told them I was trying to arrange a Skype visit with some teenagers from different youth groups. I'm not sure how they feel about it, but I think it would be a cool opportunity.

So, all around, Fridays generally put me in a good mood. People make me smile. With some of the church people I feel like I can relax and be myself. It's really great because that weird identity crisis I've been mentioning seems to disappear when that happens. I'm American, but I'm not. I'm Russian, but I'm not. It's a cool feeling. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Consulate

Last Friday I spent a good hour at the consulate. I turned in paperwork and have found a way to deal with the visa stuff. However, doing that involves going back to the consulate in a week to ten days and picking up some stuff and then calling a place that will get me a letter of invitation. All of this has to be done by the middle of December.

Why? Well, because my time on my visa is up at the beginning of January. Now this wouldn't really be a problem except there's this lovely little thing here called the holidays. It's a ten day period from the end of December through the first week or so of January. During this period pretty much the entire country of Russia shuts down. I imagine it's similar in Ukraine. Plus, I'm hoping to avoid the mass amounts of people traveling on the train during said vacation times. Oh. Yeah. did I mention I'm going to be taking the train? It's definitely going to be an adventure, I can tell you that right now... I'm kind of nervous about it, but God's got my back.

I feel like one of the big things He's teaching me through this whole process is to relax and he'll take care of it. Was I upset when I found out my visa would only let me be here for 3 out of 6 months? Most definitely. But I don't know. I've had kind of a sense of peace about the whole thing. Not just visa stuff but being here. Just kind of like "Well, God seems to want me here, so I'm sure he's got a way it's going to work out." Now if I could only be that calm in other aspects of my life, everything would be great.

I'd like to take a moment and talk about the consulate experience because it was interesting times. You see, you can't just walk into the American Consulate. You have to have your ID checked. Once you actually get inside, you have to have several scans and x-rays and things to make sure you aren't going to do anything drastic.

I got inside and the nice Russian officer explained that I needed to take all of my electronic devices out of my backpack and purse and put them in a bin. Now, normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but please let me explain. I went to the consulate on a Friday. Friday is generally one of the days I go work at the church. By work at the church I mean go and sit at a desk and write things and such. When I do this, it requires a computer so I take it with me. Basically, my backpack is where I keep all of my electronic devices.

So the man set out a blue plastic bin and I proceeded to unload my phone, my ipod, my computer and my camera. Then apparently I didn't hear him say to turn everything off, so I turned off the phone and the ipod. Then, I remembered I had more stuff in my backpack, so I pulled out my hard drive and my electrical converter. Yeah, it was embarrassing.

As if that wasn't bad enough. The guy swept a wand over me and I went on to the next stage. You have to walk through a metal detector and your stuff (But not your electronics) gets x-rayed. So I started through and the guy manning this station asked if the stuff in the blue bin was all my electronics. I said yes and he proceeded to x-ray my bag. Then he politely informed me that I still had electronics in my bag. I proceeded to pull out my computer cord and my headphones. I felt really bad. I kept explaining it was because I was on my way to work. The guy was really nice about it though.

The kicker though was that while you're in the consulate they store all your electronic stuff in little cubbies. I mean little cubbies. In retrospect it was really funny to watch him fit everything into two cubbies, but at the time I was horrified. Eventually, he gave me the tags to retrieve stuff and I went on my merry way.

Visiting the consulate is the ultimate identity crisis. Most everyone you interact with there is Russian and I was never quite sure if I should be in Russian mode or American mode. So I went with a little of both. I am so grateful though that we're going to be able to get this stuff worked out! Hooray!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Apartment Hunting, Commuting, Fitting in and Connecting

So I'd forgotten what it's like to live in this weird limbo of expat-ness.

That weird place where you're not exactly Russian but you're not exactly American. I think I'm working on trying to reconcile the two selves into one American-Russian-Christian-Glob of Globbiness. I'm not really sure.

A woman and her mother are staying at the church because the woman is trying to adopt a child from here. I call them Americans. "The American women came. We didn't recognize the Americans" and so on and so forth.

Yet, when I called about an apartment yesterday the woman asked where I was from "I'm an American." She promptly hung up on me. When I called back I was informed that they would only rent to Russians.

I'd forgotten how strange this country is.

For those of you who don't know, I moved out of the church. The aforementioned women needed a place to stay. So I'm now living with a young couple, Brad and Lena. I'm really enjoying it here so far too. They make me feel really welcome.

The only thing I don't really enjoy is the 50+ minute commute to the church. Although it got better when I started taking a book with me. My mother reminded me that I used to drive that far often over the summer. I replied that at least when you're driving, that far you're constantly moving. My city commute involves me walking to the bus stop...and waiting for the bus. Then I walk to the metro, drop in my token, get on the escalator...and wait to get to the bottom. Then you have to wait for the train...Once you're on the train you have to wait for your stop... Then I have to change lines so that's another wait...one more stop and you finally get to get off. But then you have to go up the escalator... Finally I leave the metro and walk several blocks to the church. Oh yes, it's good times indeed. Plus, I would be really cranky by the time I got to the church. Taking a book along helps me feel productive while I'm waiting and also gets me some escape time. So now while I don't know that I necessarily look forward to the commute, it's definitely not as terrible as it was the first couple times.

In other news, I'm looking for a room to rent. As I mentioned, I called about one yesterday. I also went with Luka and Natasha to go look at a room last night. Yeah that was interesting times... we're not going to be renting that room. The man and his wife were rather strange and the atmosphere was...eh... we looked around and promptly left. Luka is putting me in touch with an agent who can help me find something. In the mean time I've had several conversations with God about it and I know a lot of other people have been praying about it as well. I'm not too worried about it as I figure God's always got something in the works.

By the way, the best part about going to look at the room yesterday was hanging out with Luka and Natasha. We went to a cafe afterwards and hung out for a bit. It was good times.

That's the other thing I'm really enjoying. Just getting to know people. Learning about their personalities, their lives, making connections. But then after all that's what I love to do... make connections.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cultural Respect

I had a bit of a revelation the other night about cultural insight. This post is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my youth group explaining what I learned. I hope you blog followers find it interesting as well.

I wanted to tell you guys some things about culture that I think you'll find interesting. One of the most important things to remember if you ever go out on the mission field, or even just a trip is that things are going to be different. When I was an exchange student it was explained to us like this: It's not necessarily better or worse than in America, it's just different. 

Learning about other people's cultures is extremely important. Through learning about this, it's possible to connect with people on their own level, one that they understand. I include language learning in this. Language and Culture are intertwined and it's impossible to separate them. I encourage you all to, even if it's a short term mission, learn as much of the language as you can before you go. It will make you more effective and people will appreciate that you've taken the time to learn about them.

Also, don't be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. It's all part of the learning process. When I was an exchange student, I was often afraid of speaking up. I didn't want to sound silly or dumb. I was afraid of being judged for not knowing anything if I admitted I was wrong. This time around though, I'm much more open. If I don't understand, I'll say so. If there's a word I don't know, I'll ask what it means. In some ways, my learning experience here in St. Petersburg is a lot richer in only two weeks than probably half of my exchange just because I'm trying to open up and connect with people, even when my language skills are lacking. 

Let me give you another example. This time dealing with how things can be different. I recently had a conversation with one of the brothers here, Dima. He was explaining to me that a Fire Inspector was coming on Friday and how it might be necessary to essentially pay him what we Americans would consider a bribe. I said that things like that often happened in Russia and that I thought it was strange and dishonest. He then informed me that things Americans do seem strange to Russians. I asked him for examples and he cited things like taking each other to court all the time and whistle blowing if someone is breaking the law. An interesting cultural thing he pointed out was that often Americans will say "Maybe" when they mean "no" I was kind of mentally laughing when he said "It's dishonest." That made me stop and think. 

I like to think of myself as culturally aware. But I'm still American and embedded in that culture as well. Sometimes I think we (and I include myself in this) tend to look down on people because they don't have the same ideas that we do about life, freedoms, security, government and so on. We might say "Oh it's wrong for the Russians to have to pay bribes to pass fire inspections and they should have the same ideas about basic rights as we do" but if you stop for a moment and look at the historical events that have shaped each culture it makes perfect sense why each country feels the way it does. 

America was a state founded by people who were trying to escape oppression. When they set up the government, they wanted to make sure the oppression they escaped from wouldn't happen again. Because of this, they wrote out the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. The ideals that every man had basic rights and freedoms was extremely important to them and became embedded in American culture. They felt that the government's job was to serve the people, not the other way around. 

Russia has always been a country where the government was the be all, end all. The people were to serve the government not the other way around. In earlier times, the Tsars ruled. These monarchs were seen as fatherly figures whose job it was, as head of the "household" to make decisions. Father knows best as it were. Later on, during Communist times, telling on people meant you were working with the repressive government. It was necessary to pay bribes to get things done. Everyone was supposed to cooperate in order to build a utopian society. 

What I'm trying to say is that we, not just Americans, but everyone need to be respectful and understanding of other cultures. Does it mean we have to deny who we are culturally and take on characteristics of other societies? No. We just need to understand that people have different values and we need to be respectful of those values when we interact. Remember, it's not better or worse it's just different.

Keep on keeping on!
In Him,

Monday, October 17, 2011


I'm not even going to lie, it's kind of scary how much I'm loving being here. I'm really enjoying this time. I mean, is it lonely? Occasionally, when it's late and I should go to bed but don't feel like it. But generally I'm keeping busy and things are going well. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop because I feel like it should not be legal for me to be having this much fun.

Maybe it's because everything is sort of subconsciously compared to my exchange. This is completely different though. There was a part of me that never fully got used to living in Yakutsk. I mean, my goodness all I did was cry the first three days and then tried to make it through every day in order to get home. I learned a lot. There were some definite good times, but there were also some very bad times too.

I think some of my enjoyment of this comes from automatically having a family. I mean, you have host families while on exchange. But honestly, with one exception I never felt particularly close to my host families. This time it's different. As soon as I got here, I felt welcomed, loved and accepted. Oh, I still have awkward moments, you have those any time you live in a foreign country. But among my church family I'm not afraid to admit that I don't understand, not afraid to make mistakes with the language, not afraid to ask for help. It's a nice feeling. My host families were willing to help me, but sometimes I could tell I was a burden or that they didn't really want to be dealing with me. They accepted me to a certain extent because they had to. The church people kind of have to as well, but the difference is they don't mind. I feel like there's an attitude of "Great! You're here! What can you learn from us and what can we learn from you?" Because we are all trying to be Christ centered, we automatically have that in common and it makes things easier.

But I didn't start writing this blog post with the intention of preaching. There are other factors that are making this transition easier as well. For one, I already know the language an culture. My exchange took me through the difficulties of learning a language and adapting to the culture. The first few days I was in St. Petersburg were a little rough language wise. I wasn't used to hearing full-on fluent Russian spoken all the time. Last week as I believe I mentioned, however all of a sudden it was like I kind of slid back into it and now every day it gets easier. I'm understanding a ton of what people say. I'm speaking more too.

The one thing I regretted after my exchange was I felt like I didn't practice talking enough. Well, that's being remedied now. If exchange was Russian 101, this is the next level. I talk a ton more than in Yakutsk. Plus, I talk and listen to more in depth subjects. I guess I really am conversationally fluent. People tell me good things about my Russian which makes me feel good. I know that I don't speak perfectly, not by any means, but to have native Russians tell me that I sound good, or that I form my words well, or that it's good when I correct myself means a lot to me. It's like they notice I'm trying and that makes me feel good and want to try harder.

Another thing that is making this easier is the place itself. Honestly, sometimes it doesn't even feel like I'm in Russia. There's a McDonald's two blocks down and KFCs here and there. I mean, it's obviously a Russian city, but it doesn't feel like it. I don't really know how to explain it. It just has a different atmosphere. After living in Siberia, and Yakutsk in particular, this place is like a wonderland of joy and joyness. The stores don't have empty shelves and there's always a selection of at least two or three brands of whatever item you want. Yeah, stuff is more expensive here, but they also have what you want. When you want it.  I'm constantly surprised at the things they have in the store here. Pre-made dough for Pirozhki? What? Or a product similar to something we have in the states that I couldn't get in Yakutsk? Wow!

I can already tell that it's going to be really hard to go home next fall. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Missionary Part 2: Settling in

I thought it would be fun to do one of these posts while I'm still settling in so here it is. This was my day on Tuesday.

9:50 am: Wake up because I'm supposed to meet with Joel at 11. Check Facebook and discover he is going to be late. I lay in bed a bit longer then get up and get ready for the day.

11:00 am: I'm having Chai in the kitchen and reading Mere Christianity when Sergei walks in. He asks me if I can get Wi-fi in my room. I tell him no. He then asks if I need the computer that's in my room. I again tell him no and he says that he will move the computer out and hook my notebook up to Ethernet. I abandon my chai and we go take care of that.

11:30: After returning to the kitchen and finishing my chai, I go back to my room, where I have a message from Joel that it's going to be a little longer. I start working on fixing a topical study he wanted me to fix because I didn't quite understand what I was doing the first time.

Noonish: Joel shows up and I show him my flier for English conversation lessons. He tells me to take it across the hall to have Lena print it.

12:30: After Sergei and Lena mess with the printer and help me tweak said flier, I finally have five copies. Joel and I proceed to the dormitory across the street where Joel has a chat with the Kommandant (The woman who's in charge of the dorm) and she allows us to go through the dorm and hang the fliers on each floor.

1:00 pm: I return to the church to see that Luka has arrived. I stop to chat with her she asks if I would like to have chai but I decline and explain I have work to do but maybe later. I work a little more on the study.

2:00 pm: Luka comes by my room and tells me she has a song she wants me to listen to. I listen, then she tells me she's going to translate it and asks if I'll look at it when she's done. I agree.

2:15: Dima comes by and asks if I would like chai. I start to decline and then he says that there are blinchiki too. So I agree and off we go to the kitchen. Once there, we are joined by Galina Mikhailovna and Sergei. Conversation ensues.

2:45: Luka comes in to the kitchen and I go over the song lyrics with her, helping her clarify some things.

2:50: Immediately following, Dima brings in a letter he wants me to answer from a woman in Yakutia who wants to learn more about the bible.

2:55: Whilst putting some things away in the kitchen Dima grills me with questions. I do my best to answer. He asks how I came to God and the Church and so I tell my story in rough Russian.

3:00 pm: I return to my room where I sit down to finish my study when Joel IMs me and asks me to come by his office.

3:45 pm: I have a meeting with Joel.

4:45 pm: I am very tired from the lots of Russian and the meeting. I stop by Dima's office to find out exactly when I'm supposed to write this letter.

5:00 pm: Dima comes by with the main points of what the woman wrote in her letter so I can get a better idea of what to say in mine.

5:30 pm: I work on this blog post. Whilst doing that a girl calls about English lessons. She asks them in Russian and I do my best to answer. She says she will call back after thinking about it. I don't think she will.

6:45 pm: Dinner time

7:00 pm: The chorus practices in individual parts, so I went and sang with the sopranos

9:00 pm: We have chai after rehersal and the girls discover it is my birthday. Congratulations ensue. I manage to follow most of the conversations over chai pretty well.

10:00 pm: Luka is cleaning up the auditorium after rehearsal. I stop by to say goodnight and she asks me to sing a bit for her. Afterwards, she asks if I would be willing to help the altos sing because their strongest alto might not be able to come on Thursday when they are recording. I agree to learn what I can and help them on Thursday if need be.

10:30 pm: I hide in my room, play guitar and relax.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Sunday

I know, it's already Tuesday, but I wanted to write about my first church service. I was tired yesterday.

Worship was the same but different than at home. I liked a lot of what went on actually. When we got started, there was singing of course, but one thing we did which I think we don't do enough of at home, was scripture reading. Between every song, there were chunks of scripture that were read. Sometimes we read them all together and sometimes, one of the men would read them. We went through a good chunk of Matthew 5 which was pretty cool.

Another interesting thing, I knew all the songs but one. How? Well because they were all songs we sing at home, but (obviously) in Russian. We actually sang one of my favorite songs, "We Shall Assemble." I'm hoping to learn the Russian version. I guess it should be obvious that we sing the same songs, but I wasn't expecting it to be quite so many. Maybe because the Baptist church I attended in Yakutsk sang a lot of different songs. I've only been here one Sunday though, so what else is sung remains to be seen.

After much singing and scripture reading led by Igor, it was time for communion. Dima got up and said a few words and then we passed around the bread. It was much like home (Well, the bread was a little different. Was all crunchy) except that instead of eating it right away, we waited until everyone had a piece. Then Dima quoted Jesus "This is my body, do this in remembrance of me." And we all ate. We did the same thing with the juice after passing it around, then our little communion cups were collected.

Oleg, who I guess you could consider the main preacher, did the offering. Following that, they had all the children come to the front. It was cool because they asked the kids if there was anything they'd like to pray for and then they had a prayer for the children. After the prayer, the kids went to their respective classes.

Oleg then preached the sermon. It was pretty interesting, what I understood of it anyway. About halfway through it got easier to understand which was awesome. The lesson was about persecution.

Oh and apparently, worship here (like the scripture and stuff) isn't always the same. I just got done having tea with Dima, Sergei and Galina and they told me that the beginning part changes depending on who is leading that part of the worship. Dima also told me that this congregation is actually one of the more progressive churches of Christ in Russia. Which was interesting. It would be interesting to see how some of the more traditional churches run worship and interact with each other and the world.

There wasn't an invitation song or anything which was actually kind of nice. We just prayed at the end of the sermon. Then there were announcements. Igor got up and congratulated the couple who got married last Wednesday and then they introduced me and Joel talked a little bit about who I was and why I was here. Then we said a prayer and dismissed.

I really enjoyed worship and I've been enjoying getting to know people and getting involved with the stuff going on here. Doing this is one of the best decisions I've ever made...

Saturday, October 08, 2011

First Day in Piter

My day started at 5am. No lie. I went to bed last night at midnight and set my alarm for 9. I was like "this is going to be perfect."

At five I found myself lying wide awake in the room at the church where I'm temporarily lodged. My sinuses were draining down my throat so I took some medicine and went back to sleep. Or, I tried. See the problem was that I was tired. I could tell that my body needed more sleep but it wasn't working out so well. I alternately tried to sleep and journaled. Finally, about 8:30 I found myself relaxing enough to get to sleep. The next thing I knew, I was awake looked at my clock and saw that it was noon.

Now, this wouldn't have ordinarily been a problem except that Joel and his family were coming to get me at noon to take me to meet a sister named Zhenya. You can imagine my distress upon waking. Thankfully, things don't run as fast here so my ride wasn't here yet. I promptly jumped in the shower and probably coined a new record for the fastest shower. Ever. I'm talking two minutes max. (Good thing I have short hair.) As I was drying off I heard the buzzer downstairs which meant that Joel & Co were here. I answered the buzzing telephone, explained I overslept and that I would be down as soon as I was dressed.

Fifteen minutes later I made it downstairs. I did have a moment of panic tearing through my suitcases looking for socks before I realized they'd been packed inside my boots. It also took me longer because Russians love locks and I had to lock up the church behind me. Which took a bit.

Once in the car I was informed that instead of being taken to Zhenya's house as previously thought, she would be meeting me at the nearby McDonalds. Which is like two blocks away. The Pettys drove me there. Inside, Zhenya eventually came along and we proceeded to gulyat'. This is a Russian word that means walk. But not really walking to get anywhere. Just walking and talking basically. Which is what we did. All day. We ate at the McDonalds and chatted for a while. Then we wandered down the street and found a place where I could buy a cellphone. I was really glad Zhenya was with me because the guy at the store talked really fast and was really trying hard to upsell. It was kind of intense.

We wandered past pretty much all of the major tourist sites: The Hermitage, St. Issaac's Cathedral, Spas' na Krovi and had just gotten to Mikhailovskii Sad when Zhenya got a call from another sister, also named Zhenya. When she hung up she informed me (If I wasn't too tired) that we were going visiting. I was fine with this since the other alternative was to sit alone in the church and off we went.

We spent several hours visiting with Zhenya and her son Mark. He's just a baby and so it was kind of fun to get to play with him a bit. The two Zhenya's were awesome at including me in conversation, but I felt bad because quite a bit of it went over my head as I was getting tired. I was excited though because when I started this morning, I was able to have all kinds of conversation with Zhenya. We talked about family, church, history, boys all kinds of things and I did pretty well actually. I mentioned when we started that I was nervous about talking because my Russian isn't always the best. Zhenya told me a story about how she used to be really judgmental when people spoke Russian badly. Not necessarily foreigners even, but Russians themselves. But then God reminded her that it's not how you say it, it's what you say. I think she has a good point.

I really enjoyed the fellowship today. I think this year is going to go by pretty fast. Please pray that I'm able to be of good use here.

Tomorrow is the "general assembly" which means the worship time (General as opposed to the small groups and other Bible studies that go on here throughout the week.) I'm looking forward to it. It's kind of intimidating because I'm probably going to be meeting a lot of people all at once, but at the same time I'm super excited!

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Am I doing something extraordinary?
Right now, as you're reading this, I am on a plane thousands of miles above your head.
I'm going to New York. In a big metal bird that some how manages to defy gravity... Yeah I don't want to think about that too much either.

But back to my question. Am I unusual?
Because here's the conversation I've been getting of late:

Me: I'm going to Russia on Thursday
Them: Oh? What for?
Me: I'm going to be doing mission work there.
Them: Alone?

Am I strange?
Because apparently people don't normally do this sort of thing...
I used to get this in Russia all the time too.

Host mom: Where have you been?
Me: Out walking
Host mom: Alone?

In Russia I just assumed it was because I'm female. And most young women did go walking in groups. So I just assumed that's why I was considered strange. It's not that I don't like people. I just like alone time once in a while too.

But I'm digressing from my main point. Namely, that people find it odd that I'm going to Russia alone.
It's not like I'm going to wander around the city by myself attempting to preach the gospel on street corners. I explained that to someone the other day. "Well I have church people who are meeting me."
They still gave me a funny look.
What am trying to find out is, even in our "liberated" day and age am I defying a gender norm? Essentially that it's not typical for women to travel alone?
As far as I know no one ever asked my brother this question and he spent two years in China.

I think people sometimes wonder why I'm doing this. What possesses an (almost) 23 year old to run off to Russia for a year at a time? I have no idea. I get the impression that people admire the fact that I'm going, that they're super impressed. I don't know how many people have said "I couldn't do that" or something similar. Like I'm doing something so great.

I just want to set the record straight. Maybe it's not something everyone has in them, but honestly for me it's not a big deal. It's a natural thing that stems from the talents and desires God has given me. It's right and it's good to go back to Russia. There is nothing special about it or me. I'm not trying to debase myself, but I'm saying that just because traveling abroad is what I do, doesn't make me any better or worse than anyone else. Why? Because there are plenty of things I can't do.

For example, I greatly admire people who work with people who have special needs and people who work in hospitals. Why? Because I can't do that. I just can't handle it. If I had to, I suppose I would, but honestly I pray that I am never in that situation because it just makes me uncomfortable. Nursing homes are the same way. It's not where my talents lie. There are people I know who are great at that. They connect with people that way and are able to show love, kindness and compassion. That is where their talents are and they can use those talents for great things.

So my reminder for the day, as I'm flying above your heads, is to remember what Paul said. We are all parts of a single body. We all have different ways of dealing with things, different goals, different talents and we can all use what we have to glorify God.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

What If?

I woke up this morning and the first thoughts in my head were about fifteen "what ifs." I mean, it wasn't anything super horrible. It was just little things. What if I get super sick? What if I lose a contact? What if my passport gets stolen?

So much for my feelings of peace and non-concern about going. I think it's starting to hit me. I've felt kind of sad all day and out of sorts. There are things I need to finish, but I don't have time. And then there are some things that I was like "Oh wait, I can finish this in Russia. It's not like my life is ending."

Mom says I'm going through the stages of dying. Not that I am. But she says that anytime someone has a big change in their life death, divorce, moving, extended travel they go through stages. Apparently symptoms of this sort of thing is avoiding, holding on to stuff, or giving it away, and being angry and/or sad.  She's kind of right.

Even though I'm not completely avoiding, I still am. I'm not completely thinking about it. In fact through the course of writing this blog entry, I've been forced to think about it and therefore am feeling kind of sick.

As for the stuff. I don't know that I'm really holding on to stuff. Unless you count me trying to fit everything into my suitcase as holding on. But I'm definitely letting go of some things. I dated a guy this summer and had some stuff of his. Gave it back to him when he came to say goodbye on Monday night. He was like "Why are you giving me this back?" "Because." It just seemed like the thing to do.

Saying goodbye to people is weird as well. Half the time it doesn't seem like I'm even leaving. Monday night was just surreal. It was like an ordinary night all summer. The guy comes by after work, we sit around for a while and then he drives the rest of the way home. It didn't even feel like this was the last time I'd see him for a year.

Sunday night I went to my college church to say goodbye to all of them. I love those people. They are a tiny congregation but they've been so interested in and supportive of my upcoming journey. It was good to get to talk to a couple of my adopted moms and see everyone. But again, it was weird.

Everyone is like "Bye Abigail. Good luck on your journey, we're praying for you" But it didn't feel like an unordinary night. We had our potluck, and services and I stood outside in the parking lot for an extra hour talking to a couple interested in Missions like I usually do. And then it was like "Well, see ya."

Mom tells me that it's always harder for the people staying behind. I'm starting to believe it because I don't feel much of anything at the moment.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Four Days

I'm leaving on Thursday. This time on Thursday I'll be on a plane. Or, waiting in an airport. In either case, I won't be here. I'm having a really weird time of it as well. There are two suitcases, a backpack and a guitar sitting in the middle of my parents' dining room.

The suitcases have (mostly) clothes, and books and random things like vitamins thrown hither and yon into them. There is no rhyme or reason to it. I have clothes in the washer and a mental list that contains more items than Jewish Law.

I'm leaving on Thursday, but it doesn't feel like it.
I mean the good news is that I'm not avoiding. The above evidence of the suitcases and everything proves that. I know I'm leaving. It's looming over me.

But it doesn't feel like I'm going for a whole year.

I realized this the other day and it's been bothering me ever since.

I don't feel like I'm going to be spending a whole year in Russia. I feel like this is just a little jaunt. But it doesn't feel like I"m going to be back in a few weeks either.

Maybe it's because I know how fast it will go? Maybe it's because I've done this before? Maybe it's because I know life goes on after you go overseas. I mean, yeah you change and the people here change, but life still goes on.

I sure hope it doesn't hit me like it did last time. Last time, as soon as I left my parents in the airport I started crying and didn't stop for three or four days. That would be terrible.

What's nice though is that all my fears and doubts that I had when I first decided to do this, as well as the ones I'd been having in recent days, have completely disappeared. I feel a deep sense of peace about this whole thing. I have visa issues. So what? If God provided me funding to go and has been with me all this time, he's certainly going to provide me with the means of working out my visa. And if not? Well it's because he wants me to work in Ukraine or another country as well as Russia and who am I to argue?

That doesn't mean everything is peachy though. Although it doesn't feel like I'm leaving, I am. And while I don't feel finality that I did last time, I still feel rather weird. It's hard to explain. I feel lonely at times. So lonely I want to cry. I came home from seeing my church family where I attended during college and was just in this weird mood. Went right up to my room. Mom came by later and asked three times if I was okay. "I will be."
"So you're not now, but you will be?"
"Yeah, I guess."

I couldn't tell her exactly what was wrong. I don't know myself. Just an underlying sadness, with a weird combination of nostalgia and anger. It's an odd combination for sure.

Hmmm... perhaps I should be preparing myself for the bi-polarness that comes with living overseas because it seems that I'm starting now...

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Walls of Jericho

If you have attended Bible school at some point in your life, most likely you've heard the story of Jericho. If not, you can read it in the book of Joshua, chapters 2 and 6.

Jericho was a city with massive walls,

and right now I find myself staring at those walls.

What are they?

Lots of things.

Goodbyes, hellos, suitcases, clothes, visas, lists, documents, passports, airplane tickets, newspaper articles. 

Going back is weirder than going the first time. 

I wish I knew how to explain it better. 

You know what to expect which makes it better, but also makes it worse. 

And then there are the people around you...

No one who loves you really wants you to go. They didn't want you to the first time either, but they also understood wanting to be an exchange student. This however, is different. Compared to this, exchange was a lark in the park. 

Everyone reacts differently. Some people say things, some people don't. Some people avoid the subject altogether and pretend like everything's okay. Some overcompensate by trying to be helpful and some completely explode. Your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your significant other all react this way. Maybe they understand why you feel called to go do something like this. Maybe they don't. Maybe they admire you, maybe they're jealous that they don't have the strength to do what you're doing. Maybe they're afraid for you. Maybe deep down all of their good intentions are a secret selfishness. They know you are doing what you need to do, but they want you just to stay.

Whatever their thoughts, feelings and reactions, it places a lot of pressure on you. Suddenly you're bombarded with everyone's expectations. "Don't worry about it." "Have you done this yet? How about that? and that over there?" "This is me not caring" "Why don't you just settle down?" "You can't do that." "I'm not talking about this." "I'm glad you've finally dealt with that issue, now onto the next." "Why are you making this such a big deal?" "Let's talk about this more." "Let me tell you how I would handle it" "Why haven't you done this yet? You better plan on doing it before you leave." "Do you have enough money yet?" "I want to see you before you go" "When are you leaving?"  "Why haven't you left?" "When are you coming back?"  These are all things you hear on a daily basis, over and over until you can't hear the one thing that even matters in the first place -- the still, small voice of God. 

Add to that the way you feel inside. The questions and expectations you place on yourself. "What am I doing?" "Why am I doing this?" "Is this really necessary?" "What if, what if, what if...?" "How can I deal with this?" "How is this going to change me?" "Is this going to be effective?" "What do I want to do?" "What does God want me to do?" "How can I make them understand?" "I need to be good." "I can't let these people down." "What happens after this year?" "What are my goals?" "When am I leaving?" "Why haven't I left yet?" "When am I coming back?" And suddenly you're overwhelmed and you try to find a way to deal with that. You ignore your emotions or you break down and cry. You shut down or keep busy or stare blankly at the ceiling. 

It's true you know,
The Devil is in the details.

It would be nice if life had a large pause button so you could just take a breather. 
But time marches endlessly on...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What I've Learned About Myself the Past Week or So...

I'm officially leaving October 6th.

This has led to kind of a crunch time for me.

Which in turn has led me to discover some things...

I work best under pressure. Okay, not really pressure because I get really stressed. But I've discovered that I need to have firm deadlines if I ever hope to accomplish anything. In college for example, I knew when things were due all the time so I could start them ahead, work on them in increments and get them done. When I don't have firm deadlines for myself, I'm not working on things consistently and therefore nothing gets done.

I like to be organized. I'm not one of those obsessive-compulsive people where everything has to be perfectly neat. I get piles of stuff lying around and such. I tell people I'm not messy, my form of organization is just different. But actually, I've learned that there is this toleration point where I can't stand things being messy and so I have to clean before I can sit down and work.

Lists = Good. Sometimes I get overwhelmed. Therefore I am better if I sit down and write out a list. Sometimes it's a list of everything I want/need to accomplish that day and sometimes it's a list of what I have to do and when it has to be done. In either case, it gives me a tangible visible way to break everything down and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I cross things off.

I am more left-brained than I'd like to admit. I take pride in my right-brainedness and non-analyticalness. But honestly, the whole making lists thing is totally left-brained. I remember that question being on those little personality test things (that was before I started making lists). And honestly, being a little left-brained helps me get stuff done. So it's actually a blessing in disguise.

Being a missionary and being human are not mutually exclusive. I know, this seems kind of dumb, but I'm discovering something about being a church worker. There's pressure there. I mean, my goodness, people have paid good money to support me on this trip. They put a lot of faith and trust in me. It's quite a burden. Especially since we're dealing with spiritual matters. It's kind of terrifying. You sit there thinking "Oh my goodness, I don't want to mess this up!" But at the same time, it does get messed up. So here I am with a dilemma. I want to be as perfect as possible because I have an image to uphold, but at the same time I do a really good job of royally messing everything up. So the last couple of days I've thought about it and decided "This isn't going to work and so we're just going to forget it." Not that I'm not trying. We should always try to be more Christ-like. That is our goal as Christians after all. But the idea is that I try to grow in the faith and do my best and God's grace will cover the rest. It's hard for me to let go like that not even going to pretend and say it is. Because there's a part of me that's like "I've done some really dumb things and made some really bad mistakes in my life. How will grace ever cover what I've done?"

It's like the preacher at the congregation I visited yesterday said. "He will take you back. Do we deserve it? No. But it's okay because He loves us anyway and he will take us back. " That's encouraging to me.

Anytime you work in the church, there is a standard people hold you too. The key is understanding within yourself that the standard is man-made and you're no better than anyone else. Once you realize this, you can let it go and more effectively live life for Him.