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!