Sunday, October 07, 2012

12 Hours

Twelveish hours from now, I will be on a plane leaving Russia.  Today was my last day at church. Yesterday was my last day in the city in the sense of walking around and seeing things.

The last couple weeks have been interesting. I don't know if I can really do a good job of describing the emotions that go along with it. Or lack thereof. 

For about a week and a half I was depressed. I didn't want to be social, it was difficult to even be at the church because it physically hurt. I spent the last year getting to know people and becoming part of the church family here and leaving them is really hard. 

I wasn't feeling numb exactly. My best friend told me that I sounded "dull" not dull as in "Oh gosh Abigail are you going to whine about leaving some more? how dull!" but dull as in my emotions exist but they aren't quite sharp or bright. 

I think some of the reason for this feeling is I feel like I haven't really had a chance to process it, or grieve. Every time I feel like I want to cry or get upset about leaving, I find myself controlling it. I imagine once I get home I'll feel like I can afford the luxury of being upset. 

People ask me what my next step is. Honestly, I have no idea. I have a better idea of what I want to be doing than before I came, but I still don't know what's going to work out. All I know is that I want to sleep for a while. Not the sleep of jet lag. That's a given. But I just feel weary. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. Sleep sounds really good right now. Especially since I haven't been sleeping well nights the past two weeks, although that has gotten somewhat better. It's weird to think that this time "tomorrow" i.e. Eastern Time. I'll be home. Weird to think I'll be back in "my" culture, although I know it won't feel completely like mine. Not for a while. The past month or so, I've realized that people will post references to things on Facebook and I don't get them. I just look at it and am like "What in the world are they talking about." In a way it's kind of nice. Facebook "connects" people, not getting the cultural references makes me feel not connected. I actually don't mind the feeling. The world is too noisy sometimes.

Anyway, I guess that's really all I have to say about that. I feel like I didn't do a good job explaining my state of mind, but since I'm feeling a little surreal and a little dull, perhaps I can reflect on it better once I get home...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Friend Peter

Throughout the course of the year because of my various English students I have had the pleasure of reading the Gospel of Mark twice, John once and selections from Luke and Matthew. Throughout this year, I have come to realize that one of my all time favorite Bible characters is Peter.

Often when we say the name Peter, several things come to mind. The first is Peter the Saint. The guy with the keys to the kingdom who is responsible for letting people into Heaven. Another image is the guy who was insisted he'd never deny Jesus, only to do so quite effectively several hours after his statement. Sometimes his name also evokes the image of the guy who was brave enough to get out of the boat but didn't have enough faith to keep walking on water, or took his eyes off Jesus, and started to drown. Peter has been an object lesson for Sunday schools and sermons for years and years.

And I am pleased to tell you that since I have been following his escapades throughout three of the four gospels, I've gotten to know him in quite a different way the past year.

Peter suffers from the same terminal condition we all do -- humanity. I think sometimes Peter gets a bad rap in some of his stories because we don't look at the whole picture. Here was Peters issue. I think he was a guy who often spoke before he really thought things through. Look at the examples and it makes sense.

Jesus: "Hey you! Yeah, you! Come with me and you're gonna be catching some men."
Peter: "Okay!" *drops nets; follows Jesus*

On a mountain with James, John and Jesus:
*Elijah and Moses Appear. Everyone Shocked and Awed*
Peter: "What in the world?! Dude, we need to build these guys some shelters!"

Last Supper:
Jesus: "You're all going to abandon me"
Peter: "I'm never gonna leave you, bro!"
*Open mouth, insert foot.*

Deciding to go to Jerusalem:
Peter: "Are you insane?! You're gonna get killed if we go to Jerusalem!"

Sea of Galilee:
Peter: "If it's really you man, let me come out to you!"

By the way, this gave me a whole new perspective on the Bible lesson about taking your eyes of Jesus. The book of Matthew talks about Peter seeing the wind, and becoming afraid. Honestly, I think what happened during this event was all of a sudden, Peter realized what he was doing and started freaking out which shook the faith that was keeping him on the water in the first place. That seems pretty likely to me. I mean, that's how I'd feel anyway.

From what I can tell, Peter was a man of action. Look at how he reacted when Jesus was arrested. He cut off a guy's ear first thing. I think he tended to react before really thinking, before really taking the time to process. As a result, he was often sticking his foot in his mouth. But at the same time, deep down his intentions were good. Which is part of the Lord's patience with him I think. I mean never once does Jesus rebuke Peter for being so quick tempered and thoughtless. For being so passionate. Instead, I see their relationship almost as like someone teaching a child. "Well Peter, you are going to deny me. Three times actually." It's not like Jesus is like "Hey, you're an idiot. You have no idea what you're talking about." I mean not like Jesus would do that anyway, but it just amazes me the patience Jesus had with him.

And I can see why Jesus was tight with Peter, why he changed his name to "rock" in the first place. He saw Peters passion, his zealousness, his willingness to do what it takes, his desire and sure, Peter could be impulsive at times, but there were times it served him well. Besides, I imagine Jesus constantly teaching him lessons when he would burst out saying things for three years did a lot to temper Peter's reactions. Or maybe not because he and Paul did have that argument some years later. And I imagine, that could've stemmed from some of Peter's "speaking before thinking" nature.

I think that's why Peter's become one of my favorite characters. The same reasons Jesus probably chose him to deal with the Jewish expansion of Christianity. The guy has passion, drive, good intentions and just the fact that the things he says stem from his human nature, just make him more relateable. He's just an all around cool guy. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Learning to Love

I was thinking about love the other day. I never knew it was possible to feel so full of love. I think real love was something that was missing from my life back home.Not that I didn't love, I just didn't love then like I love now. Love that's a giving, a taking, a deep seated feeling. I was thinking about the love I have for the sisters here. Things aren't always good. It's been a rough time in St. Petersburg lately. Yet, things were talked about, discussed, dealt with and I find myself coming out of a distressing situation full of peace and love. Peace, love and contentment. We all make mistakes, we all fall, and there's this point where you have to recognize that everyone is human. We're not perfect. Sure, a situation might cause anger, pain and hurt and those are valid feelings. But if you work through them, on the other side you'll find a deep sense of calm.

I feel full of love in these days. The power and beauty of it makes me want to weep. The problem with the English language is that we only have one word to describe love, and that one word isn't a very good description in the first place because of the way our culture defines it. For our culture, love is a feeling. It's butterflies, roses and unicorns. It's flowers, chocolate and kissing in the rain. It's sex and orgasm. In our culture, love is a fickle thing. A feeling we become addicted to and then when it's gone we feel empty, lonely, broken and try to pursue it elsewhere.

But that's not true love. True love isn't just about a man and a woman. True love is still a feeling, but it's a feeling of calm, of security. It's loving people in spite of their faults. True love is a glue that binds people together. True love is not the same as compassion, though they are connected in a way. True love grows, multiplies and flourishes. It makes better whatever it touches. True love is warmth and light and shared experience. It's wanting what's best for those around you, though it isn't something that makes you feel put down and used. If you have true love it will make you better; make you want to reach out and share what you have with others. They always say that the more love you give the more you have, which is true in a sense. Love is not a selfish thing, it's meant to be shared. Yet I like to think of it a little differently. I've discovered that the more love you give, the deeper and more profound your own becomes. Perhaps bigger is a good word to describe it.

I think of it as an underground spring, bubbling from down deep and coming up to spread out and create a lake. That's how it feels inside of me. And you just want everyone to come and jump in and experience the same thing. To have their own spring of love inside of them. 

True love connects people. 

True love is Joy. 

True love is a Son sent to die for all of us. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philosophies of Cranberry Gathering

I went to gather cranberries on Monday. It's a Russian thing to do, gather berries. It's cool actually, there's this whole aspect of Russian culture where it's a big deal to go out to the forest and gather berries and mushrooms. Everyone knows all the types of mushrooms and berries, everyone knows places to find them outside of the city and everyone is shocked that we don't do this sort of thing in the United States.

In some ways it's really sad that we don't. I know a little about berry picking and wild plant picking. As a child growing up on the family farm I remember mom showing me where to find the raspberry bushes, picking mulberries and sucking on clover as I wandered through the fields. Although, I definitely wasn't super intense about it. I remember one time I picked and picked mulberries only to realize it would never be enough to make a pie. I make ink instead and that combined with an opened paper bag, gave me several hours of entertainment.

So I went with some of my church family to the woods outside the city where Dima knew of a cranberry bog. My favorite part was tromping through the woods too and from the bog.

Russian nature has a wildness about it, a lot like places in America's west or in Alaska, I imagine. In any case, being a nature person I was eating it up. I was felt like a five year old, tromping behind Dima and Sergei, stopping to occasionally pick a berry and eat it. Pausing to take a picture and make sure Oleg and Natasha were still following behind me.

Eventually, what seemed like a long time of wandering, the trees thinned and we started spotting cranberries. Eventually the trees disappeared completely and opened out into a large field. A cranberry field. Bog. Whatever. Let me tell you, this isn't like the cranberry bog on the ocean spray commercials either where the guy in waders is standing up to his knees in water with cranberries floating all around him, just waiting to be scooped up. This was a field of, well basically swamp. There were cranberries, but you have to find the patches. The water wasn't too deep, but you had to be careful because if you stood in one place too long, it would make movement difficult. You'd have to pull your feet out and risk the chance of loosing your balance.

But let me tell you what, bending over in a cranberry field with water over the ankles of your rubber boots focusing on nothing but the little red berries in front of you can make you think some pretty philosophical thoughts.

I decided it's kind of sad we don't do this sort of thing in the States. Because getting out into nature feels really good and it's an earthy feeling. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but gathering cranberries connects you to people, if that even makes sense. Even though the people I was with were spread across the field and we didn't talk while we gathered, I still felt connected. Connected to them, to the strangers along side us, who were engaged in the same activity we were and connected to people I've never known. Connected to Babushki who supplement their pensions by gathering berries and selling them, connected to people from past years and past times. Though my ancestors weren't Russian, there was a connection to them as well. A connection that something as basic as gathering berries creates. I thought about how important this activity was to past generations and how it's important to Russians now, though maybe for different reasons. It's connected to tradition, connected to survival. It was a good feeling.

I was quite philosophical about the whole thing for the first two and a half hours. After that, I was ready to go do something else (wander the woods anyone?) we actually didn't stay much longer than that as everyone was getting tired. So we tromped back through the woods and headed back to the city. I gave my cranberries away to friends as I didn't really know what to do with them, and customs wasn't going to let me bring them home in a preserved state, but it's alright because just having the experience and the connection was an experience in itself.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

40 Days

Okay, actually it's 38 days. I'm a little behind. But 40 is a much more Biblical number than 38. How many years did the Israelites wander in the desert? How many days and nights did it rain during the great flood?

See what I mean?

Anyway, so with not quite a month left, I'm in this transition phase. Let me tell you, it's an awkward phase too. I go through stages where I feel torn in two. It's like I want to stay here but a part of me really needs to be home for a while. I'm tired spiritually, mentally and physically.

I have trouble focusing. There's a part of me that's disengaging from events and happenings here because I'm not going to be around to see their completion, but there's a part of me that also doesn't feel engaged in the events back home because I've been gone so long.

Although it's not like I'm just completely going to disappear and never talk to people here again. The visa laws are changing. As of September 9th, I'll be able to get a Russian visa that's good for something like three years. I've already determined to apply for one when I get home. That way if I want to come back to Russia, all I have to do is buy a ticket. I told Igor today I'd be happy to continue helping to translate/edit the English articles for ITCM and the newspaper "In Christ" even when I'm back in the States. In addition, I'm planning on taking some more courses with the Institute (They have one on the first five books of the Old Testament starting on the 10th of September). Plus I'm trying to figure out a way and means to come back and visit maybe sometime next summer.

Russia's part of me, these people are part of me. I can't just up and forget that this year ever happened (I tried to do that as a coping strategy for leaving Yakutsk. It was interesting times.) It's hard to when people come up to you and say things like "When are you coming back?" or "Why don't you just renew your visa, raise some more support and come back." They mean well and I love them for it because it's a sign that they're going to miss me, that I'm part of this family. It's hard though too because they bring up good points. I honestly don't know what I'm doing when I get back home. So when they talk about these things a part of me goes "You know, that's a really good point."

But at the same time I'm like "Yeah, but you need to be home for a bit, need to figure out what the next steps are."

The whole situation is just confusing and honestly, makes me a little crazy. You can ask my best friend who has told me talking to me on the phone is a little like being at an amusement park. Happy. Sad. Happy. Sad. Annnndd... we're back on the roller coaster.

I was reading through my reverse culture shock posts from the first time I came back from Russia. It was a nice reminder of what I have to look forward too. At the same time, I was sitting there thinking "I don't think I'm going to have the same feelings about some of this." So that'll be interesting to see.

I guess that's all I really have to say. It's kind of funny because my calendar has switched from Russian events to American events. It's no longer "Well on such and such a date I'll be studying with so and so" Instead it's, "Well on such and such a date I'll be giving my mission presentation to such and such a congregation." I've already been working on that too, which feels weird. I want to get it done so I don't have to worry about it that first week back because I'll be super busy, but at the same time it sometimes feels really strange to be working on it and thinking "I'm going to be back in the States."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Adventures in Cooking

I don't cook.

That's what I tell people.

It's not that I can't. I can read a recipe, I can figure it out.

Okay, there was that time mom asked me to boil eggs and I freaked out because I'd never boiled an egg before in my life and was terrified of messing it up somehow. But that was last year a long time ago.

Anyway, I think part of the reason I don't cook a lot, is because I've never really had to do it to survive. Also because I'm lazy.

Part of it is that it's really hard to cook when you don't have your own kitchen. In college, I wanted to cook more so I got a set of pans for Christmas. It was a pain however, to haul them down to the communal dorm kitchen every time I wanted to make something and so more often than not, I just at those epic frozen meals from Amy's Kitchen.

I cooked exactly once at the apartment where I lived here in Russia. See, the thing is that I learn by watching. Especially when it comes to cooking. If I see the process that goes into making something. I can pretty much duplicate it. But here's the other thing. When I'm unsure about practicing something new, I don't like other people to be around. I guess I'm just weird like that. So part of the reason I never cooked when I rented that room was because more often than not my landlady would be sitting in the kitchen crocheting away like Madame Defarge, except instead of watching the trials of the French Revolution, she was watching the Russian News. Okay, so there's not really a difference.

So that combined with the fact that the few times I made tea there, I fumbled with turning on the gas stove's heat and my landlady reached over and just did it for me. (The worst thing she could do to someone who learns by experience because then I felt stupid) Made me decide I just wasn't going to cook there. Cue the "Ten months of eating at various cafes" montage. Okay, I did *some* cooking at the church.

It wasn't until just before coming to Russia that I realized how much I could get to enjoying cooking. Plus, since being here I've discovered more about the joys of not really following a recipe and that's fun too. Maybe I oversimplify, but I have this feeling of if you know the technique the food just kind of cooks itself. Weird, I know.

The other exciting thing is when I make something that tastes pretty decent. Okay, I've had my share of sticky noodles, or tortillas that weren't fried quite right and I definitely don't cook like my mom but I am quite proud of the results. Even if it looks a mess.

Actually, that might be the most entertaining thing. To look at me in the kitchen you'd probably think I'm insane. You know those people who are super awesome at cooking and hardly spill anything and then say they do spill salt, it's like the salt just piles right up in a nice neat little pyramid, waiting to be cleaned up. Yeah, that's not me.

Today for example (And what prompted this post in the first place) I made baked chicken. So there I am with these four boneless skinless chicken breasts that I wasn't even sure were chicken in the first place because they were just labeled "BIRD" with a word underneath that I didn't understand (Yeah, the other reason I don't always cook in Russia is because every time I do, it involves a lot more thought than it would in the states. "Wait? Is this ground beef? Why isn't it labeled ground beef? What do you mean this could be lamb?") that was definitely not the word "CHICKEN." Anyway, I'm staring at them trying to figure out the best way of coating them in mayonnaise and the breadcrumby things I bought.

After a while of staring them down, waiting for them to just do it themselves, I poured the breadcrumbs on a plate and got to working. There was mayo on the the chicken, mayo on the cutting board, breadcrumbs in the sink, me trying to figure out what exactly I'm doing, bits of chicken that needed to be cut away and me stopping every five seconds to wash my hands because I'm terrified I'm going to spread ebola e coli on to every surface of the kitchen and throughout the entire church and we're all going to die or go blind or something. (This weird quirk to my personality started when I was a young impressionable child and my mother was attempting to teach me the womanly skill of cooking. The first time I handled meat I remember her saying "Now make sure you wash your hands and everything real good after you handle raw meat because you don't want to get sick" which my brain heard as "IF YOU DON'T WASH DOWN EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TOUCHED AFTER HANDLING RAW MEAT AND EVERYTHING THE RAW MEAT HAS TOUCHED IN A CHEMICAL BATH AND BLEACH, THEN SEAL IT IN A VACUUM AND IRRADIATE IT, YOU AND THOSE YOU LOVE WILL DIE A TERRIBLE DEATH!" This was then followed by an ominous soundtrack in my head accompanied by a montage of me wandering the wilderness as a pariah after single-handedly destroying all of known civilization because of the mishandlement of a raw beef patty.)

Needless to say, the point I'm trying to make here is that I'm not exactly neat when it comes to cooking. One of my favorite things to make at home is blini which are the Russian version of crepe or pancakes. That's always an interesting endeavor because it involves flour, eggshells, milk, a blender and in the midst of the carnage, me wildly flipping blini right and left so they are cooked to golden perfection.

Add to that, the fact that chicken is one of the most difficult things for me to cook and it's always an interesting time. It's not that chicken is particularly hard to cook, it's just that it's one of those foods that I have trouble telling when it's actually done. The result is that by the time the chicken is ready to be eaten it's in about twice as many pieces as when I started and looking like it's been through the war. But my goodness, it's better for it to look like it's on the way to becoming baby food than for me to serve up anything raw, right? *Grabs the Clorox and wipes everything down once more just for good measure.* Although even with the chicken being cooked, I can still hear Gordon Ramsey screaming expletives in the back of my head because of the way the blanking chicken wouldn't even be fit to serve my blanking grandmother who has blanking Alzheimer's. Or something along those lines.

The good news in all of this is that despite the way the chicken looked, it turned out to be quite tasty and I will be eating chicken for the next several days which will hopefully satisfy the craving that started this all in the first place. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The following videos are proof of the singing school. Not that you all doubted, I just thought it would be fun to share them with you. The first is my favorite song that we learned that week and the second... well... the second is what really was going on during the week. :)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Strangers and Foreigners

I moved out of my little room today. I was going to be house sitting for the Joel's family while they were in the States but their daughter has been having seizures and so they cancelled. This event has changed plans and my life is a little bit uncertain right now, since I've moved, but am not sure where exactly I am going to be living for the next month. As I told friends and family on the phone last night, I'm not really worried about having a place to live. God has provided in the past, He's never left me in the cold (literally) so I know it'll work out. I'm just very concerned about Donna so I ask that you keep her and the family in your prayers as tests are being run and the doctors try to figure out how to help her.

In light of these events, I was thinking about the uncertainties of life, of being a gypsy and of what the Bible says about being foreign. I guess it all kind of connected in my head, but I apologize if it comes out sounding disjointed here.

The ten months I have been in St. Petersburg have been filled with uncertainties. I mean life has uncertainties anyway, but I feel like living here on my own has given me more uncertainties than most. While the place I lived was generally fine, there were times I didn't feel like I could completely relax. There were times, where I haven't known what I'm doing the next few hours let alone the next day. Russia has a tendency to change plans on you.

But you know, Jesus was the same way. In Luke 9:58, Jesus talks about how he has no place to rest his head. And talk about giving up everything. I mean, even if you don't believe Jesus was the Son of God, you've got to give the man credit. At 30 years old, he left the family carpentry shop and gave up his lifestyle to spend the next three years wandering around and proclaiming what he believed in. How many people today would actually do that?

Then you have Paul. This guy had it all. He was a Pharisee, well educated and then he has this experience on the road to Damascus and he gives up everything to spend the rest of his life spreading the news that the Messiah had come and being persecuted for it. I could go into detail here about Paul's sufferings but that's not really my point here.

If Jesus and Paul could learn to live by wandering, so can I. I'm not saying I'm anything compared to them. Not by any means, but what I am saying is they are examples to me and I feel like these ten months have led me to better understand what it's like to have no place to rest one's head. For ten months, I have been living in a state of limbo.

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household" ~ Ephesians 2:19

You know, it's funny. Sometimes we read the scriptures so many times that they become rote. I was thinking about this scripture today and it's taken on a new meaning for me. Paul wrote this to the Gentiles. The people who even if they converted to Judaism, would never be completely Jewish. Think about how much hearing these words meant to a people who were excluded.

I have spent two years of my life as a foreigner. It is one of the most confusing feelings in the world. You live in a place that is not your own. A culture that is not yours. Oh sure, you can try to become one with the people of your adopted country, but you never will be. I've had moments where people say things like "You don't count as American, you're one of us." But then the next moment you turn around and it's like "Well, you wouldn't understand because you're foreign."

You are never completely at home living here, but when you go back to your "real culture" you don't feel completely comfortable there either. And I'm just saying this based on my limited experience. I'm sure people who've lived overseas longer could tell you a lot more about it.

My point is that I can understand this feeling. The feeling that people in your adopted country don't completely understand you and the feeling that the people back home don't completely understand you either. My point is that I can understand this feeling of a people looking for acceptance and finally finding it in Christ. I can understand the feeling of being a wanderer and finally coming to a place of security and rest. Praise God for that. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Joys of Traveling

I have come to a realization. I hate traveling.

I'll pause a minute while the laughter dies down.

I agree, I think it's funny too, that the girl who has constant wanderlust, frequently goes walkabout and lives in Russia hates traveling. But I really do.

I like adventuring. I like seeing new places and doing new things but what I don't like? Getting there.

I feel like I'm pretty well versed in traveling. Especially since I've had to travel a lot for my visa this year. Planes, trains, cars, buses. Pretty much the only way I haven't really traveled is by boat. I'll have to remedy that situation.

I used to absolutely loathe flying. It was my least favorite way to travel. You sit for eight hours breathing recycled air and watching bad movies while the guy next to you snores away and keeps invading your personal space by taking over the armrest on that side. (okay, this is actually a problem I've noticed on other transportation types as well.) If you're lucky you get an aisle seat that allows you to kind of stretch your legs a bit. If you're not, you're crammed in by a window for all that time which would be cool except this is an airplane we're talking about and so it's not like there's anything to see out the window anyway. That's one of the worst things about airplanes. You spend eight hours feeling like you aren't going anywhere. Yet the advantage is that airplanes are relatively fast. So after eight hours of this joyful journey, you stumble into the light of day in a completely different country, completely confused by what time it is (And if you're like me, you run panicked to the gate where you're next flight is because you think you're late when in reality you really have a four hour layover) and completely dead tired because between the guy next to you and the can of coke you drank, sleep on the plane did not happen.

As bad as the airplane is though, it has recently been replaced in my mind by something even worse... the train. Now I've traveled on the train before and it's not been too terrible, but honestly, the worst time to travel on the train is summer. I recently got back from a trip to Donetsk, Ukraine and train travel was involved. The ride down was absolutely terrible. Stuck in a wagon for 18 hours with no air conditioner and only one open window in the entire wagon. For some reason, everyone else thought it would be a great idea to not open their windows and so I spend 18 hours melting and dehydrating. It was definitely a unique experience. Especially when you combine it with the way Russians travel. You have babushki setting out picnics and people running around half naked. I mean, what else are you supposed to do? Not to mention the lovely toilet experience which is ridiculously scary.

I've developed a coping strategy for traveling. Especially because I travel alone a lot. Basically, I put in my music, and mentally shut down for however long it takes to get where I'm going. Actually, mentally shut down isn't quite the word for it. It's not like I'm not thinking or anything, but I kind of shut down to the outside and think very philosophical thoughts. Okay, Okay, I'll admit it. I'm usually just daydreaming.

One of my favorite ways to travel in this part of the world is by Luxe Express. Now Luxe Express is a bus, but I call it by it's name because it's not your ordinary Greyhound. Luxe Express is a company that runs buses through the Baltic States. When I go to Estonia I take Luxe Express. Why? Well because they are comfy, roomy, I can drink all the coffee, tea and hot chocolate I want absolutely free and they have free wi-fi on the bus. Yes, that's right. Free wi-fi.

None of this applies of course if I'm traveling *with* someone, because let's face it, having a traveling companion or companions is what turns a trip into an adventure.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I feel like I owe you all a more substantial post. During my last post, I was all set to write everything out and make a point, but I got tired halfway through so it was like "eh." I haven't felt much like writing of late. I think it's because the unordinary has become ordinary. Or something.

Summertime is a slower time and I've enjoyed that. Most of the evening activities at the church have slowed down for the moment, so I've been engaged in a lot of individual studies. There are lots of people wanting to learn English, but it's difficult to get them going from English to Bible, even though the texts we use are Biblical. Even though I like interacting with people, I've discovered that my least favorite thing to do is study English using Biblical texts. Maybe because it just feels weird to me, or maybe because I feel like I'm not doing a good job. What I do when I feel that way, is focus on the little things. A particularly good conversation, gifting a Bible, making people think. This last one especially is what I strive to do every time I meet with someone.

I've also gotten the opportunity to do some traveling this summer. As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a week at camp in Estonia and tomorrow I'm heading to Donetsk, Ukraine where I will be participating in the annual Singing School held there. It's a chance for Russian Christians to learn new songs, singing in parts, and music theory and practice. It should be an interesting experience.

One thing I've been trying to deal with recently, and maybe this is why I've not felt much like writing, is the fact that I will be heading home in 80 days, for those of you (Like me) who don't feel like calculating it out, I'm leaving October 8th. This is one thing I'm not looking forward too. Okay, that's not entirely true. I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but it's going to be really really hard to leave here. I've spent the last year integrating, building relationships and now it's like "peace out." Whether I were to go home or stay here, I'm disappointing people and so either way I feel kind of like a jerk. In addition to that aspect of leaving, there's the whole transition aspect. I'm not particularly looking forward to that either. I know it's going to be rough for a while.

So what do the next 80 days look like? Well when I get back from the Singing School, I'm going to be packing my bags and moving out of this room. Yes, that's right you heard me. I'm going to be spending a month house-sitting for a family from church and I am super super excited about that. Especially since there have been some things happening around here in recent weeks that have just made me feel like it's time to go somewhere else (nothing dangerous, so no worries). In September, I will be moving back into the church building and spending my last month there. Funny, but it's like I'm coming full circle.

As to other things happening, well we'll see what pops up. There are some events happening, things to organize, people to study with, so we'll see. The key is to make the most of these 80 days. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Adventures with Children Part 2

Those of you who read this post, you know about the relationship I have with children. You also may recall that back in May I went on a short trip to Estonia to relax for a few days. While I was there, I learned about Camp Balchyoca. This is a camp that takes place every year the first week of July. It is a Christian camp and is located just outside of Estonia. 

While in Estonia, I was invited to come to said camp in July and to herd counsel children. Now, knowing my previous experience with children I gave the most brilliant answer possible. "I'll think about it." And it was left at that. 

I really did think about it. In fact I thought about it on and off for weeks. Weighing the pros and the cons. I was like "It would be so nice to get out of the city for a week. " But then the thought of being a counselor for children just caused me stress. 

I then proceeded to talk about it with a dear friend of mine who coerced suggested I go. So I thought about it some more and one morning I quite literally woke up and decided that I should go. 

Let me tell you, it was an interesting experience. One thing about this camp is that a lot of Americans and Canadians come to help out with it. That was interesting, let me tell you what. The first night I get in, fresh off the bus and there's all these Americans and they're loud and they don't understand and it was just totally weird for me. It was also kind of funny. 

I was totally nervous about the whole thing before I left, but once I got there, the nervousness disappeared and I legit had no real expectations. When I asked about the kids who were staying in my cabin, Nicolaj, the camp director, informed me that I had difficult children and part of the reason I was assigned to them is because I speak Russian. I was like "Okay." All the while thinking They can't be that bad right?


Actually though it could've been a lot worse. Despite feeling like I did nothing but yell at people the first two days, it got better towards the end of the week. I hate feeling like I'm super mean and I feel like the girls probably hated me, but we survived and that's the important thing, right? 

Plus as an added bonus it was really nice to get out of the city and the daily grind for a while. Nice to be out in nature despite the massive amounts of mosquito bites and the sunburn. The camp was on the Baltic Sea and so even though it was too cold to swim, we still got to go and hang out on the beach every day which was awesome. It was a good time to hang out and talk with people, play games and play guitar. 

Generally, going to camp was a super good experience despite it not being something I would usually do. I'm proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and I hope to be able to return and help in the future. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Another Day as a Russian Missionary

I haven't done this in a while so I thought you'd be interested. This is actually what a more "typical" day looks like for me.

11:45am: Arrive at the church building and get ready for my first English student.

12:00pm: Study with my first English student, a 14 year old girl who is here because her mother wants her to practice English while she's off school. Yeah, that makes for interesting times. It's a lot easier to study with people when they want to be here.

1:00pm: Alternately make noodles for lunch/eat them while calling my mom because I had news to share with her.

2:00pm: Another English student arrives. An older retired woman. She's very excited about English and though we are reading Luke, she enjoys talking about her life, travels and asking me questions. While she likes to talk, I'm not sure how interested in the Bible she is other than culturally.

3:00pm: My last student for the day arrives. A young businessman who has really good comprehension. This is my second meeting with him and we've started studying John. He tells me that it's interesting so far and he thinks everyone should read the Bible. I tell him that Christianity isn't just about going to church but about having a relationship with God.

4:00pm: I lay out clothes that people have donated to the church's "Second Hand" so that people can come look through them and take what they want.

5:00pm: I take care of some secretarial things. Writing blog entries, emails, Facebook communications

7:00pm: Choir rehearsal. This is the last rehearsal before our recording session on Saturday. We're making a CD to use for evangelism purposes. Once we're done with the recording, our summer break starts!

9:00pm: Head to McDonald's because I only had a quick lunch, no dinner and I'm starving!

10:00pm: Arrive home where I read, hang out, talk to friends in the states and relax.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Those Random Spiritual Gifts

You know which ones I'm talking about. Or that moment when you're like "That's my spiritual gift?!" Let me just say, God definitely does have a sense of humor.

If you told me a year or a year and a half ago that I had a spiritual gift for children I would've laughed at you. A lot. Because honestly, I couldn't see it. I'm still not sure I can. Maybe it's not exactly a spiritual gift, but it's something.

The reason I laugh about it is because children hate strongly dislike me. The feeling is sometimes mutual. I've never been one of those young women who children just flock to. Let me tell you, those are the women with the true spiritual gift for children. The ones who are just born to be motherly and have like six kids. The ones who know exactly what a child needs the minute it opens its mouth to cry. You know what I mean. There's at least one in every congregation. So if you know me, you know it's not me. Children and I avoid share an aloofness of each other. This partly stems from several experiences during my teenage years when I tried to be one of those girls who played with kids. It went something like this:

Me: Hey! Come give me a hug!
Kid: NO! *runs screaming in the other direction*

So I decided it was best for all involved if I just stopped trying. In addition, because I do not seem to possess this innate automatic sense of motherliness that so many women my age instinctively have, children terrify me cause me anxiety. The words "Will you hold the baby?" or "Will you watch him for a second?" strike fear into the depths of my heart. Because I just know I'm going to do something terrible to little Johnny or Susie somehow in the five minutes that mommy is gone. Okay, so I haven't dropped anyone on their head yet, but it's still an anxiety.

This is the relationship children and I have: They do not know I exist and I tend to watch them from afar. It works pretty well. And back home that was all I needed. Yeah, I helped Mom in the nursery class but outside of that there were plenty of other girls ready and willing to step in and partake of the childcare. Then I came to Russia. Suddenly, here I am, the one with free time and I become a baby sitter. "Can you watch Varya while I'm at driving school?" "Will you hold Ilya while I put this food in the oven?" And suddenly it's like my superpowers manifest themselves. I must've had a radioactive pacifier as a kid or something...

Because here we have the girl who doesn't do kids suddenly doing kids. And it's really strange. A crying baby put into my arms will stop. Like it's uncanny. Once children who pay no attention to me realize I exist, I'm like the coolest thing ever. I actually don't understand it. Both Sasha and Zhenya tell me that their children love "Totya Abigail" and after playing with Joel and Yana's kids during the marriage group after church yesterday I think I've become their daughter's new best friend.

I guess what puzzles me the most about this curse gift is that I don't understand why it happens. It's not like the more time I spend with kids the less anxiety they give me. I mean, it gets easier and I'm more comfortable once I get to know a kid or baby, but then every time I have to interact with kids who I've never interacted with before, the anxiety starts up all over again. It's almost like being back in school. "I don't know how to act. What if they don't like me? What if I can't connect with them? What if I do a terrible job?" I mean, I understand that kids are pretty flexible but still, it all comes out.

I'm still trying to get used to this gift, or whatever it is. Honestly, I'm not sure what exactly I'm supposed to do with it. I thought about getting myself some tights, a cape and a utility belt filled with bottles and pacifiers, but I'm not sure how well that would go over in reality...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

God's Little Reminders

For those who don't know, my parents came to visit me last week. 

It was an interesting experience.

It was really fun to get to take a bit of a break and see things I've gotten used to through new eyes. It was also really nice to pretend that I wasn't in Russia and be a tourist for a while. I mean, obviously I'm still in Russia, but while they were here, I could kind of let go of the constant underlying stress that goes along with living here. 

I even got to stay at the hotel for a few nights, sleeping on the most comfortable rollaway bed I've ever experienced.(And trust me, I've experienced quite a few rollaway beds in my time.) But unfortunately, like all good things, it came to an end. 

Then I had culture shock. 

I know, right? It's really strange to think about. When my parents came it was strange because they were doing things that would've been fine in American culture, but were out of context in Russia. When they left it was like a slap in the face. *SMACK!* HEY! YOU LIVE IN RUSSIA DUMMY!

The hardest thing was going back to my room. Because now matter how you look at it, I'm living in someone else's house. What's even more difficult is that my landlady has had one of her daughters and two grandchildren staying there for the past week or so. This kind of changes the atmosphere of the apartment and strange people always cause me stress. 

So I'm at this point where I'm like "How am I going to be able to go back to living here for the next four months?" I don't *want* to live here for the next four months. I was really cranky about it the last two days too. *Grumblegrumble*yeahit'sherapartmentbutIwanteveryonetojustgoawayandleavemealone.

Yesterday I'm hanging up laundry in the hall and the little boy is playing with the silverware and his mom is alternately cooking dinner and screaming at him. You think I'm exaggerating. It's like the woman has two volumes. Screaming and super quiet. I mean, I can understand her being frustrated with the kid, but first he's just little and second your screaming is really unnecessary. 

I had an appointment this morning and when I came back my landlady and the guests were up. The little grandson stared at me as I came in and took off my jacket. My landlady reassured him and was like "Say hello to Auntie", but it was clear he was rather terrified of me. In Russia, any unknown man or woman are automatically called "Aunt" or "Uncle" by children. Older men and women are "Grandmother" and "Grandfather." I really enjoy getting to be an aunt of sorts.

In preparation to go to English group I pulled down half my laundry and put it away and was coming back for the second half when the little boy kicked a ball at me. I spent the next few minutes kicking it around with him while he just giggled and giggled. Apparently he got over his terror. (I'm also beginning to think God gave me a weird spiritual gift for children which is funny 'cause I'm not a huge kid person) So there we are playing a bit until his toddler attention span kicks off and away he goes. 

I finished getting ready and I leave my room to get my jacket and shoes on. While I'm standing there my new little friend shows up again, babbling incomprehensibly. The next thing I know, he pulls his jacket off the shelf and holds it up for me to help him into it. Little guy wanted to go with him. I explained that he needed to stay home and he disappeared into my landlady's room. I finished getting my stuff and just as I was closing the door behind me I hear a little voice go "AUNTIE!"

Today was a reminder. Even though I've been frustrated with the people in the apartment and living there, as I was pulling my laundry off the line there was something very comforting about my landlady's daughter greeting me as she came out of the bathroom, the sound of cartoons from the TV and people just getting ready for the day. There was joy in just taking a few minutes to play ball with a little boy. I don't know the details of his family or home, know he's probably too young to even remember me when I leave, but I do know that maybe, in a tiny way today I made an impression on his life. A young woman who took a moment to play with him. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Victory Day

I can't exactly explain why, but Victory Day (День Победы) is my favorite Russian holiday. Perhaps it's the events or the atmosphere that hangs over the city and the people. I don't know, but I know it's a thrilling experience.

Victory Day takes place every year on May 9th and is a celebration of the end of WWII. Perhaps I like the holiday because people seem to really appreciate it. Not that we don't appreciate and honor our veterans in the States, but Russia lost so many people during World War II and I feel like people here still really strongly think about and remember it.

In any case, I was blessed to get to experience the parade honoring veterans that ran along Nevsky Prospekt with Luka, Natasha and Ira. Below is a four minute video of clips I took that day.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Youth Exchange Club

Because of various connections, I've gotten the chance to interact and share my knowledge with several students who are planning trips to Russia. It's something I very much enjoy. It's kind of funny though because I was thinking about how, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student it's like you're part of this exclusive club.

Like being a Freemason or something.

I mean we have our secret greetings we use:
Person 1: "Yeah, I was a Rotary exchange student."
Person 2: "Really!? Me too! 6650 to 5010, Russia 07-08"

The District you came from, the district you went to, the country and years.

We even have our own little signs and symbols in the form of the pins we collect for our jackets.

I guess I never fully appreciated what Rotary has created with their exchange program. The goal is to make people more aware of the global community. This is accomplished when you spend ten months living with a new family, in a new country with a new language. Yet it's so much more than that.

I will never forget a trip I took to the chiropractor last summer. After getting my adjustment I found myself in a massage chair next to a woman slightly younger than my mother. Before us was a TV showing scenes from France. The woman and I struck up a conversation about travel and I mentioned that I was getting ready to move to Russia. She thought that was interesting and then mentioned she had been an exchange student with Rotary to Brazil in the 70s. Just like that we had a connection.

So how do I express it in words? It's about culture. Of course it is, but in creating this program Rotary has, in fact, created a global community. A global community of shared experiences. I can travel anywhere, do anything, meet people and as soon as the words "I was an exchange student with Rotary" cross their lips, no matter the language, an understanding passes between you. An understanding that says "I've been there too, I understand." An understanding that transcends not only cultures, but transcends generations, economic situation, profession, religion, race or family background. An understanding born of shared experiences.

And only now, four years after my exchange, have I fully come to appreciate and realize this. I am proud and honored to be a part of it. Thank you, Rotary!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Leavings and Comings

I've been thinking a lot lately. I mean, I think anyway, but in this case I'm talking about thinking in a philosophical sense. Maybe I should've used the word "Philosophizing..."

In any case, I've been having these thoughts. See, it's like any time you go overseas you get to this point where you're comfortable with where you are. The unordinary becomes ordinary. You're able to live, survive, continue. You're comfortable and content. There's also this point where you hit the "downhill" of living overseas. Because I have spent a year at a time living in Russia, these two events usually somewhat coincide.

Then you also have this point where you've been gone long enough that big events back home have occurred that might make it slightly strange to return. What's really fun is when this happens at the same time as the previously mentioned events.

The result is a kind of neurotic feeling. Okay, not quite.

Six months.

That's when everything has come together and started falling apart this trip. Six months to get used to the city. Six months to feel comfortable here. Six months for things back home to change. Six months and you're leaving. With six months to go all these thought were triggered by a phone call from my parents, telling me the preacher from my family's church and his family are moving. In July. I won't be home.

Suddenly a deluge of questions pours from you. "What's it going to be like when I go home? What about my life here? Who's going to do the things I'm doing? What about my friends here? What about my friends back home? I only have so much time left, how am I going to make the most of it? Should I come back? Should I do something else? It's going to be so strange back home. How are people going to view me? Will I feel alienated? Isolated? Alone? What about the reverse culture shock?"

And even though you've been through this before. Even though your brain tells you logically "Things change but some things don't. They won't understand but you'll survive. You'll figure out what you need to be doing. It will all work out, it always does." Your emotions get all twisted up and start sucking you into this strange, almost panicky black hole of void within yourself. So you keep yourself busy and decide not to think of it. Sometimes avoiding is the best way to deal with things.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Two Sundays ago, my phone rang in the middle of Bible class. I quickly grabbed my purse and dashed out of the zal, trying to figure out who would be calling me since pretty much everyone I speak to on the phone on a regular basis were sitting in the zal I had just vacated.

When I looked at the caller ID I discovered it was a woman I met when I was doing presentations at the American Corners. I had walked with her a bit and even had a semi-spiritual conversation with her so I was quite pleased to see her name come up.

"Allo?" I answered.
"Abigail? I'm calling to find out where exactly on the 6th line your church building is."
"Ah! It is yellow building. There is written "Church of Christ on Neva." Door at back."
"Do you enter from the courtyard?"
This confused me because we don't have a courtyard like some buildings do.
"Entrance at back."
"So you enter from the courtyard?"
"Yes. Third floor"

A few minutes later I saw her coming and was waiting for her when she came up the stairs. We greeted each other.

"I'm sorry, we change time of starting. Now is 11 not 12."

That didn't seem to bother her. In fact as we began to chat, I became infinitely disappointed that she had not actually come for church, but instead to track me down. She told me that she wanted to work on her English more and asked about an English group. I explained about the group we have on Thursdays at noon.
"That's no good" she said. "I work on Thursdays."
"I do individual study"
"When is convenient for you?"

I then invited her to come to Bible class. She agreed but "only for a few minutes."

We went into the zal and sat in the back where she proceeded with a deluge of questions. I did my best to answer them. They included things about what kind of church this was, who these people were, why were they gathered. She wanted to know if there were other Americans and I pointed out Joel. She then wanted to know if he had Russian citizenship. My favorite question by far though was
"Why bother coming together when you can just read the chapters at home?"
"Well, that is point. We read chapter at home then discuss here because many peoples have ideas and it help to discuss them."

After maybe ten or fifteen minutes in Bible class, she said she needed to go and we made an exit from the zal. She then asked a few more questions about the building and so I took her on a tour, explained about the institute, the kitchen and so on. Even though I knew she was big into English I still was hoping she would come for some of the events we have here.

"We have study of Bible on Monday" I told her.
"Is it in English?"
"No, Russian. We also have discussion group Fridays"
"Is it in English?"
"Why is everything here in Russian."
Mentally I was like "Seriously?" However, I handled myself well.
"Because most peoples in church are Russian. So we are speaking Russian Language."

We chatted for another couple of minutes and then she headed out.

Monday night, Oleg and I were talking about people being interested in English before Bible study. I told him this story and expressed my thoughts on her questions. He then explained to me that some people associate missionaries at churches only with English. He then told me a story about how he was preaching at a church in the 90s and a man stopped him and asked who he was. Oleg repeated his name. The man said "No, I mean are you the interpreter or what?" When Oleg explained that no, he was the preacher the man was astonished. I guess the church had been around for five or six years and in that time, the man had never heard a sermon that wasn't being translated from English.

He also told me about a man who preaches at a Baptist church. His sermons are translated into English for the foreigners in the audience. Yet there are still people who think the translation is going the other way.

It's just kind of interesting. It's an issue you don't see in American churches. I think it also says something about how important it is that there are training programs and such for the leaders of Russian churches. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

See Abigail Sing: A Children's Story

Meet Abigail.
Abigail lives in Russia.
Russia is a big country.
See Abigail sing.
Sing, Abigail, Sing!
Abigail sings alto.
Abigail sings in Russian
Abigail does not know alto.
Do not ask her to sing alto in a song she does not know.
Do not ask her to sing alto for any songs in English.
Abigail does know Russian.
Yay Abigail!

See the choir.
Abigail sings with the choir.
Abigail used to be the only alto who came to choir regularly.
She sang and sang.
See the choir prepare for their performances.
The choir will go to Minsk!
Abigail wanted to go to Minsk.
But she needs a visa.

See Abigail look up consulate information.
See Abigail try to get help with documents
See the time pass.
See the choir try to help Abigail with her visa.
Abigail is tired of thinking about visas in any country.
Some people think Abigail needs a letter of invitation.
Some people think she does not.
Does Abigail need a letter of invitation?
Yes! Yes she does!

Abigail finds this out ten days before the choir leaves.
Abigail decides not to go to Minsk.
But people want Abigail to go to Minsk.
They continue trying to help her get a visa.
Abigail needs stamps in her passport proving she has left Russia.
They do not do stamp passports at the Belorussian border.
Abigail will not go to Minsk.
She will go to Estonia.
She does not need a visa for Estonia.
Abigail is kind of okay with that.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The World Premiere

A month or so ago Luke pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to sing alto for an ensemble that she and Igor (One of our preachers) were trying to create. Apparently all the other altos they'd talked to were busy or weren't in-shape singing wise. I was quite honored to be asked and so I agreed.

It was a very interesting life choice.

I actually enjoy the ensemble more than I do choir. I'm not sure if it's the music, or the people involved, or the challenge. Let me tell you what, the ensemble has been a challenge. For those of you who don't know, singing as one of four people is completely different than singing with a group. Just saying. If I thought it was hard just being in choir, this is more intense.

Again, not only do I have to memorize songs in Russian, Alto parts, and correct singing posture and breathing, but also some of the songs we sing in ensemble are a lot more complex than what we sing in choir. In addition, (This is partly because we only had a month to prepare for the Easter season) we had to learn the parts quickly and we have to make sure they sound good. In choir if you don't know the part, you can just not sing as loud and it's okay, but in the ensemble, every part counts.

Having said all that, today was a big day for our little quartet. It was our first performance. We were invited to go to a hospice for children with cancer and sing for them. Originally there were supposed to be five children there, but some were away so there were only two. We thought about rescheduling but then decided since we had planned on it, we should go. So we did.

It was worth the trip. At first, it was a little awkward. I think the staff and kids were a little wary of us and I know, I was a little wary of them. I'd been nervous ahead of time because I'm not good with very ill people, hospitals, nursing homes, things of that nature and so I wasn't quite sure what to expect at the hospice. It was a nice place though, a big three story house that felt nothing like any of the above-mentioned places. It was even hard to believe that the kids we met belonged in hospice.

My adrenaline was up as well because of the whole performance thing. There were some places that I messed up, pretty badly. But the important thing was that we were there and we were singing. By the end of it, I was more relaxed and the singing came easier.

We sang for about twenty minutes, then we took pictures and then we had chai. One of the kids who was there today was a 14 year old girl named Sasha. It was really fun to get to talk with her. She seemed interested in the fact that I was American and had some questions for me. I forget that it's kind of an interesting thing to be a foreigner since the people at church have gotten to know me, and I've gotten used to being here so I don't really feel foreign. We took gifts for the kids as well. Little candy bouquets and Easter Chicks that Luka's roommate made, and then we took them each a little craft kit as something fun for them to do.

Our little group was very well pleased with the way things went and we hope we were able to bless the kids and the staff at the hospice. I know being able to sing for them was definitely a blessing and encouragement for me.

We're planning on going back next Friday when hopefully the rest of the kids will be there.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Trip to Gatchina

Yesterday was kind of rough. I was soooo tired. By soooo tired, I mean a lot more tired than usual. Part of it was because Sunday night I did a really smart thing. I started a book at midnight. You'd think I'd know better by now, not to start books late in the evening because what happens? Well, the night stretches onward and I think "oh I can finish this" and then I stay up until 3:30 in the morning doing just that. Which is what happened Sunday night. This phenomenon is especially bad if it's a shorter, or YA novel. But I digress.

So, I already had that working against me. Then there was the fact that I had to be up early to go out to Luka's for our Monday-Wednesday Bible study. Usually we meet at the church on Mondays, but Luka had a day off yesterday instead of Wednesday and so we met at her apartment. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem for me except that Mondays are the days I have like four back-to-back English studies from 3-7pm. Then Bible Study. Add in the morning metro trip and Bible study and it was like "ugh"

On top of all these factors, I was tired from the weekend as well. On Sunday, our Choir traveled to a town about 40 minutes south of St. Petersburg called Gatchina. There is a congregation there and so we went and sang. It was a good time and I really enjoyed getting to see somewhere new and meeting new people.

Actually, the whole trip to Gatchina was an experience in itself. Originally, Natasha and I were going to leave from the island and meet a group of the girls at the Moskovskaya metro station. From there we planned on taking an hour-long bus ride out to Gatchina. Natasha called me about twenty minutes before we were supposed to meet and asked if I'd rather go by car. I said sure and thus the adventure began.

We traveled with Sergei Y. This is why I love Russia, because even the simplest thing is an adventure.

I get in the car and we start to drive.
Me: "Yay! We're going to Gatchina! This is so exciting!"
Natasha: "Well actually, we're not going to Gatchina yet. First we have to go to the train station, then we have to go to Brad and Lena's then we have to stop at Sergei's. Then we're going to Gatchina."
Me: "Why are we going to Brad and Lena's?"
Natasha: "To drop off Misha and Tanya"
Sergei: "We're picking Misha and Tanya up at the train station."
Me: "oooh... Cool!"

Tanya and Misha are Russian missionaries. As in they are Russian and they are Missionaries. While I had never met them, I had heard of them. They spent the last two years on a ship sailing around Africa distributing Bibles, literature and I'm not sure what else. They finished what they were doing back in February and came to St. Petersburg for the week to visit and take care of some business.

So we went to the train station to meet them which was fun (Again, the whole meeting new people thing), then we drove them to Brad and Lena's where they're staying this week. After that, we went to Sergei's where his wife fed us some amazing borsch and chai. After that we finally left for Gatchina.

All this stopping and whatnot made our arrival at the church later than we were supposed to be, which probably gave Luka some internal stress, but it worked out and we sang and then had church service. On the way back, I gave up my seat in the car to Luka and took the bus. Again, another adventure. I got home around 9 and it was strange but I felt like I'd only just left. But it was a good time.

Oh and another reason I was kind of groggier than usual yesterday is because I was awoken at 8am to the sounds of my landlady and a strange man discussing something very loudly as the stood in my neighbor's room. I found out later she's getting the apartment windows replaced. Which led to me waking up earlier than usual today. But that is a story for another time.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Lover's Quarrel

So as many of you know, since coming to Russia my relationship with God has completely changed. He's much more real to me now than in my previous 22 years of God experiences. Which is a good thing. Now, I don't know where you stand or how your relationship with Him is, but I increasingly see my relationship with God as that of a lover.

Now maybe that sounds a little weird. I know it feels a little weird to admit it. Maybe it's because of all of the connotations that go along with the word "lover" that makes it feel a little odd to define it in this sense. But that's how I see it. I think part of the reason I have this view of our relationship is that God fills a hole and a longing that I was previously trying to fill with the company of boys. So it makes sense.

Also, since God is infinite and omnipotent and so much higher and wiser than I, defining him like this is a way for my puny human self to put Him into a sort of concept that I can understand. So weird as it may sound, this relationship with God is kind of like dating someone. And this brings us to our parable.

Naturally when you date someone, you have ups and downs, times when you feel closer and times when you feel farther apart. Russia, as you may also have gathered, has been very much full of spiritual ups and downs for me.

Several weeks ago, I sort of got into a fight with God.

There were some things that I'd witnessed that didn't make sense to me. I was very upset about them and I didn't understand how God, in this infinite wisdom he supposedly possessed, could allow such things. The injustice of it filled me with anger and broke my heart. So, I told God off.

I then proceed to stomp off in fury and move on with life.  The days pass and I go through the motions like everything is fine. But deep down it's really not. A few days later, there's this nudge on my heart. As if my cell is ringing and the caller ID says "God." Good, maybe he's calling to apologize. But when I check the voicemail later (Because what girl is going to give her guy the time of day when she's angry at him?) he says "Hey, you were acting irrationally but it's okay. Why don't we go get dinner and spend some time together?" Well, he has some nerve! I think, and ignore it.

Thus it begins. Me ignoring him and every few days getting this little nudge being like "Hey, I'm still here and still waiting for you." But I'm stubborn and I continue on as I am.

And then suddenly, a few weeks have gone by and I realize that I feel dead inside. I've started to forget what it felt like to be loved that way. Things in my life start to fall apart. I try to handle everything by myself and realize that it was nice to have someone to share the load with. But all the same, it's become a matter of pride. And it gets to the point where, even though I know he was right, that I acted irrationally and that I should go back and apologize, I'm kind of afraid to call him back. So much time has passed at this point and what must he think of me?

So it's this place of total stagnation and then along comes a good friend of mine. You know, one of those friends who totally gets you and with whom you can discuss anything. So we have a figurative cup of coffee ('cause we're an ocean apart) and a chat. She shares her problems and I share mine and we realize we've been going through the same kind of thing. As we talk it through, I come to realize that I've been ridiculous. I shouldn't be afraid to call him back because this same infinite wisdom that God possesses is what makes him understanding. His ways aren't mine. He knows that. He knows I make stupid mistakes and suddenly, I realize it doesn't matter how much time has passed because He'll still take me back. I explain this to my friend and she totally gets it. I explain that it's not enough to call. I have to see him and I have to see him now. So I sprint out of the coffee shop, hop in the car and drive.

I'm crying by the time I get out of the car. Before I can knock or ring the bell, He opens the door and wraps me in a huge hug. I just cling to him, sobbing. "I'm so glad you've come home!" he whispers into my hair. The love in his voice makes me cry harder, but it's a good cry because suddenly everything's okay again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Love Feast

We did something a little different for church yesterday. I was quite a fan.
March 8th, Russia celebrated International Women's Day. Because of this day, Thursday and Friday were days off and Sunday became a working day. As a result, instead of our usual service at noon, the time was changed to 6:30pm.

The men prepared and organized a dinner. Tables were set up in the Zal and when it was time to start worship, we took seats at these tables with scrumptious food in front of us.

Assembling for the Love Feast

Brother Konstantin Zhigulin led us in a prayer and a song, then informed us it was time to eat. There was a rice/vegetable/chicken dish, juice and bread. We ate and talked.

After eating, we were led in a few more songs and then had communion and offering. Finally, Brother Oleg Yakimenko gave us the lesson, preaching about women and their role and importance.

I was a huge fan of the Love Feast, and not just because I like it when congregations mix things up once in a while. It wasn't just like a potluck, or a meal eaten together, it was more formal than that because the meal was part of the worship. Yet it wasn't so formal that it felt stiff like a ritual. It felt natural, right and good.

And there's something about sitting across from each other at tables for worship that makes you focus on your brothers and sisters, rather than just what's going on up front in a typical forward facing manner. And there's something more significant when you're passing communion trays back and forth across the table. It's more like family.

That's the way it's supposed to be. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sunday School Pays Off

Mondays and Wednesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week. Luka has a nephew named Anton who came to church with his wife a while back. He was interested in studying English and the Bible. So he, Luka and I started to meet last week. We're studying the book of Mark.

Our Bible studies are in the morning and on Mondays we meet at the church while on Wednesdays we meet at Luka's apartment. I can't tell you exactly why I enjoy it. Maybe it's getting together and having chai, maybe it's because in English, maybe it's because this is the one Bible in English group that I feel like I don't have to really prepare for. It just seems effortless. Or maybe because I'm just kind of a discussion moderator and the other two do the rest. Or perhaps it just feels like a "legit" Bible study.

You know what I think it is. I think maybe because it feels less to me like I'm "Teaching" and more like a group of friends just getting together to read and talk about the Bible. I like that. It's kind of like I can just relax and we can study together.

It's also giving me a chance to talk about my faith and what I believe and you know what I've discovered? It's not really that scary. Especially when you're already studying the Bible anyway. For example, Anton's friend Roma joined us this past Monday. He had a lot of questions about what we were reading. One was about sacrafice. He wanted to know about why the Jews were sacraficing things. It gave me a chance to explain Old Testament sacrifices and how Jesus came and was the perfect sacrafice for us and so we don't need to sacrifice animals anymore. Luka also explained how every action had a price and in the Old Testament the price for doing wrong was having to sacrifice an animal.

By the way parents, this is why you and your children should attend Sunday School. Biblically we are told that we need to study scripture so we can be prepared to answer questions. Part of the reason talking and sharing about Biblical things isn't as hard as I thought it would be is because I've spent a long time attending Bible class, youth rallies and listening to sermons. I'm not discounting self-study. Obviously that's a huge part of one's relationship with God, but I'm also saying that Sunday School and sitting through church are valuable as well.

Oh and all that time in an a capella church where my mom sang with me and my aunt sat with me, helping my  finger follow the notes as we went has finally paid off as well, but that's a story for a different post. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Justice and Revenge

When I first came to Russia, I bought and read a book about a murder that happened in a church community several years back. The person accused of the murder got off with what seemed like a light penalty. After I finished the book, I decided to do a little research on the Internets to find out, as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story," that is what has happened to the people since the trial.

I couldn't find out a lot about what happened once their fifteen minutes was up, but I did find out a lot about how the rest of the world felt about the accused and the penalty that was received.

Sometimes, I find reading the comments on news stories a lot more enlightening than the news story itself. In this day of blogs, and internet and globalization, everyone has an opinion on something. And they like to make those opinions known to the whole world. Which is fine in and of itself. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. But I'm not going to lie, there is a certain kind of comment I've started seeing on articles where people feel that "Justice" isn't being served, and truth be told it's kind of disturbing.

"She will answer for her sins,"

"He will get what he deserves"

"She played the system and walked freely...we all have our day in judgement"

"He's in Hell where he belongs"

"They'll get what's coming to them"

I mean, I'm not saying this isn't true. We all will have to face judgement and answer for what we've done( 2 Cor. 5:10) It's just the way that people state these facts like they already know the answers. Maybe that doesn't make sense. But it's almost like while they're saying "He or She will be judged" what they actually mean is "He or She will be judged, found guilty and sent to Hell to burn for all eternity"

When did we become such vengeful people? I mean, if you had a family member who was murdered or involved, I can understand that you'd be upset. People have a right to their feelings and I'm not trying to marginalize that. I mean, my goodness David, the man after God's own heart, often freely expressed his feelings of anger, loss, and revenge. And have you read the Psalms lately? Some of them are quite full of these sentiments. (Check out Psalm 94 for example)

But the difference is the Psalmists and David knew where they stood. A type of "God you are amazing and powerful and I want your justice to reign down on these terrible people. But I understand that you are God and have your own ways."

I think we can learn a lot from that.

Christ himself told us to love our enemies. (Matt. 5:43-48) I know, I know, easier said than done. Now this is gospel according to Abigail, but we're not talking "love your enemy" as in seeing Jim Bob at the church potluck and quickly running to the other side of the fellowship hall. Nor do I think he's saying we have to spend every waking moment with Jim Bob and become best buddies with him. Love takes work. Anyone who is in any kind of relationship (not necessarily romantic) knows that. You have to learn about the other party, you have to get to know them, and most importantly you have to see their faults and learn to live with and/or deal with them.

Again, I'm not trying to marginalize something like murder, rape, abuse etc. But what I'm saying is that loving our enemy means you have to let go, take a step back from how they've wronged you and see them as humans. As people. We are broken people in a broken world after all. That doesn't excuse what they've done or make it right. It can't change the past. But loving a person gives you the ability to forgive them and forgiving them gives you the ability to move forward.

Sins are not unforgivable and in the eyes of God, sin is sin. If you truly repent, God will forgive you. This covers everything from lying, drunkenness, sexual immorality, yes even something like rape. I know, maybe it's easy for me to sit here and say "love and forgive" with the safety of a computer screen in front of me, but I know that when I let things go, no matter what it is, when I strive to love God and love people, I am a happier person because of it.

There is a time for everything and perhaps it's time we leave the judging to God.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Another Slice of Life

My coat crackles and the snow squeaks under my boots as I make my way to the church. We've been having deep cold in St. Petersburg. It reminds me of Yakutsk. Back home my friends and family are running around in t-shirts. Figures.

Inside the church building, there is a trail of dirty, wet boot prints leading up the stairs. My white gloves are slowly turning black. Welcome to Russia. This is why I keep a pair of tennis shoes at the building. Well that and my boots get hot. I only wear them all day on Sundays.

Yesterday evening Luka and I went to meet a babushka at the metro. She's been having a rough time. We take her some money and a Bible. When we get to the metro stop she's waiting for us. Almost as soon as she sees Luka she starts crying and big tears roll down her weathered cheeks. I don't know what to do so I pat her arm and hand her a kleenex. Sometimes that's all you can do. Her eyes light up when we give her the Bible. I hope she reads it.

The internet randomly turned off in the apartment yesterday. Again. I could've played with the router and things. I would've eventually figured it out. Instead, I play the Damsel in Distress card on my neighbor, Dima. "The internet isn't working," I say. "Can you fix it?" He turns the router off and back on. It works. I feel dumb.

I am watching the men empty the dumpsters on my way home after choir practice. It is a giant garbage bag with a dumpster lid that they are putting into the frame. I don't see the patch of ice and I slip and fall. The garbage man stares at me.

When I peel off my jeans and leggings at home, I see my knee is scraped and bleeding. I am more upset about my jeans getting dirty. I literally just washed them.

Tomorrow we are showing the movie Groundhog Day at the church building. I worry no one will come.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Getting a Russian Visa in Kiev, Ukraine

So I was totally going to do a post about how to get a visa in Kiev, and my experience there, however when I was looking up a link to the visa application form on the Russian embassy website, I discovered that they have changed the process as of February 1st. So what this means is that I could give you the information, but it will be obsolete tomorrow.

Previously, you would fill out all your paperwork, take it to the consulate and stand in line until they called for anyone who was there to get a visa. As of tomorrow, however you will be required to have an appointment in order to get a visa. Not only that, but you also will have to fill out the electronic visa form and print it out to take with you (Much like when you're in the United States getting a Russian visa.)

The information about the change, and all of the information about the paperwork you need to have with you when you apply for a visa can be found at the Russian Consulate in Kiev's Website

One thing I will tell you that you should know before going is your visa fee is to be paid in cash and also must be paid in U.S. Dollars. The website does not list the fees for visa processing, but I feel like if you have $300 or so on hand, you'll probably be okay. (But I take no responsibility if it's not) I got a year-long multi-entry business visa and it cost me $250. Also, they say that visa processing now takes place within 7 days though it can be longer for U.S. Citizens. I would make sure that you plan for it to take 10 business days, so if you plan two weeks for the wait, that should be enough. Also, when you actually go for visa processing, make sure you go to the consulate and not the embassy. The consulate is located on Kutuzova street.

Sorry I can't be more helpful, but you gotta love it when all the rules randomly change. If any of you want more details about this process, you can leave a comment or send me an email and I'll do my best to help.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Grass is Greener

So here's the irony about my trip to Kharkov to visit with the mission team there.

Before I left there were some things that, I wasn't really complaining about, but that I would've liked to be different in regards to the mission work I'm doing.

First off, there was a part of me that at times thought it would be a lot nicer to be working with a church plant rather than an established congregation. Why? Because I felt like there would be more for me to do, more ways to reach out, to get involved. Not that I don't do anything at Neva, but sometimes you don't feel like you're being effective or really doing anything.

Secondly, I thought it would be awesome if there was a team here. Or, rather, that I was part of a team. It would be so nice to have the support of a group of same-culture people who had shared experiences and could be there when I got down. In turn, I could help and support them. And we could all work together to help the church here.

So I went to Kharkov because I wanted to learn about the work the team was doing there and one of the biggest things I learned is that the grass is always greener. I mean, we knew this already, but it's interesting in the way it was reinforced. I think God was trying to tell me something because I had several conversations with people that specifically addressed these specific things.

I learned that being on a team has its own set of problems. Sometimes it can cause you to want to stay insulated with the people who are like-cultured. Sometimes it can keep you from interacting more with natives. And as with any family, sometimes you have to do things you'd rather not  in order to accommodate your teammates. It's a give and take.

One evening, I was talking with some different people about what they liked and didn't like about working in Kharkov. One person specifically said "Sometimes I wish we were working with an established congregation instead of a church plant. I think there'd be more for us to do" which again made me stop and think. The irony was not lost on me. And I think I even said something about how sometimes I wished the opposite.

I'm not saying people who go on teams or on church plants are wrong or should do it a different way. Nor am I saying the way I'm doing it is the best way either. What I'm saying is that the most important thing I learned is to be content. God put me here for a reason and he put the team in Kharkov for a reason and though there are times we all want things to be different, the bottom line is that there are advantages and disadvantages to every situation. So we need to take a step back and look at those things.

Besides, at the end of the day the most important thing is that God is glorified and people come to know him. After all, that is our ultimate goal. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Great Ukrainian Adventure

Oi my hoodness.

I got back from the "Great Ukrainian Adventure" last night. Three weeks is entirely too long. However, it was a busy three weeks but not in a bad way. It was really great to have an opportunity to relax a bit and not have to think or worry about things. Once I got my visa application in that is. I'm going to be doing a separate post on the visa process when I get a chance

I felt very much New Testamenty because during my time in both Kharkov and Kiev I stayed with families in the church. Before my trip, I wasn't sure how I felt about doing that, but honestly it was a really good experience. I recommend doing it. It gets you connected to the church, you have people to hang out with and the common experiences of being a Christian and (in this case) being missionaries makes for good times.

I stayed with the Noyes family in Kiev. Since it was over Orthodox Christmas, we had an awesome dinner on the 6th. During this dinner, I met a couple of girls from the congregation and we hit it off. Since I had to wait for the consulate to open and the girls had time off work due to holidays I got to spend some awesome times hanging out with them. It was great to just kick back and have a great time.

On January 10th the consulate opened so I went in the morning to drop off my visa paperwork. As I mentioned, a more detailed blog post will be forthcoming. Despite my fears to the contrary, everything went smoothly and I was told to come back on the 24th to pick my visa up.

The evening of the 10th, I took a train to Kharkov to meet with a group of American missionaries there and spend some time with them. The first two days in the city, I did nothing but rest since I was trying to get over a cold. It was actually a really good couple of days. I read, and slept, and ate. I'm really grateful to the Price family for letting me crash at their place and for feeding me tastiness. Once I felt better, I got involved with some of the activities that the church is doing there.

It was great because there was no pressure. I could participate or not as I chose (As it turned out, I very much enjoyed participating in everything I was invited to) but there was no pressure to have to participate in anything. It was a great vacation. For real.

The trip also gave me some different life experiences. I became more confident with my Russian, I got experience riding on trains, and most valuable of all, I got to see how some other churches on this side of the world function and the things they're trying to do in order to reach out.

After spending about ten days in Kharkov, I headed back to Kiev. They were having a seminar for unmarried women about how to avoid problems on the path to marriage. In other words, how to make good life choices when it comes to guys. Even though I'd heard a lot of the information before thanks to my mom and the church people back home, hearing it in Russian put a new perspective on things. Plus I feel like now I'm at a stage in my life where the information is more useful to me and I'm more willing to apply it.

Through this seminar, I got to know some other girls from the congregations in Kiev and again, it was fun although by this time, I was getting pretty tired. Thankfully, Monday I had a chance to relax and recover. Tuesday, I gathered my things and in the afternoon picked up my visa from the consulate (again without problems). Then I took an evening train from Kiev to Moscow.

Let me tell you the one advantage trains have to planes is at least you feel like you're going somewhere. With a plane, not so much. But the train ride back was super super long. Too long. I left Kiev at 6pm. I arrived in Moscow at 9:30 the next morning. Then, at 1pm I took another train to arrive in St. Petersburg about 10pm. I was so ready to get off the train and just be done when I got in.

I was also really excited to get back to Piter. I'd really missed the city and more importantly, I'd really missed my church family here. It was a good trip, like I said, and I really needed the break but at the same time three weeks was too long. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Leaving on a... Choo-Choo Train?

Well, tomorrow's the big day. The day that I've been alternately looking forward and dreading since October. Namely my trip to Ukraine. During this trip I will be getting a second visa and hopefully this will keep me from having to go to Ukraine again. I will write about the whole visa process in more detail upon my return.

Anyway, so it's really strange to be thinking about this. On the one hand, I'm really looking forward to the trip. I get to have an adventure and meet new people and so I'm very excited about that.

On the other hand, I'm nervous. I feel like there are a lot of "What ifs." I also feel like I'm going to forget something. Maybe it's because I haven't completely packed yet. I have some stuff that I can't actually pack until tomorrow morning.

In any case, it will be an adventure, and for those of you who know me you know I like adventures. So please pray that the visa aspect of this one goes perfectly fine and I can enjoy myself.