Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Just a few words... never really means a few

I realized that its been almost a week since anything was posted here. I actually have a few posts in the works, but I reallllly want to include the pictures with them. But its not possible with the dial-up here in the apartment. I thought I would get the chance to use Mike's DSL, but not lately. So expect some good posts sometime in the future.

This week has been busy, and after a month (IVE BEEN HERE A MONTH!!!) I am finally starting to get into a routine. I still have a little more self discipline to work on before it gets to be the routine that I want it to be- but I am working on it.

Visited with many church members this week: Galina, Cathrene, Olga. Its been delightful to see how God is working in their lives, and the work that He still has to do in some that do not have a clear understanding of salvation. We try to encourage them and just point them to Christ. Its hard to say who is more encouraged though.

Never knew that my body had such a strong aversion to dill until I got here. Sadly, basically every dish is prepared with dill in it. Loads of dill. So I just have to be strong -- and drink alot of juice or hot tea with the meal.  I am trying to psychologically pretend that I dont hate it- but thats not really working. To my confusion- I DOOO like dill pickles. Tonight, Anya's mother prepared some blini for us, which are Russian pancakes similar to crepes. They are tasty, and the first real food I've had since yesterday afternoon's extraspecial dill-filled meal. They thankfully are not made with dill. They taste good sweet or savory- with everything from sauteed mushrooms, to nutella and bananas or jam in them. You have to roll them up.  LOVE THEM.

I have been preparing the English Language Club meetings by myself these days. Mike is still here, but the transition is pretty much complete into my hands. I get help when needed of course from Mike, Sally, and Natasha- praise God for them. This weeks scripture topic is Jesus calming the waves and having faith (Matthew 8). We are also talking about gardens, telling time, and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Regarding running this thing by myself- false thoughts have run through my head about my ability to do this- but... God definitely uses incapable people, and God is strong in my weakness, and He provides big faith when I have small faith- heck- he provides ALL faith.. Can I get an amen?

Tomorrow I am meeting with a 7th grader who I thought was 18. We are going to go for a walk and practice our English together. I met her tonight and "she really liked me."  I hope to share the gospel with her and encourage her. I have no idea about her life, but Im sure I will learn a lot tomorrow.

Ive been seeing Zavolzhye in a new light recently. This is mostly due to the fact that the snow and ice are melting- and I can actually see where roads are and have even discovered that Ive been walking across a lake to get to church! No more of that though- its all muddy.  I have a cinimatic experience coming your way towards the end of this trip if you can bear with me.

Today the weather was beautiful and as I glanced out the window I noticed so many people outside! What a joy I thought. The world is emerging from their dens, celebrating a spring day!  Well.. much to my dismay, upon returning from church and still seeing the same people outside my window- I realized that in the middle of all those people was a dead body. Now- In Russia they have special ways of remembrance. It is not uncommon to see open casket ceremonies happening in the most questionable places. Like-- outside an apartment building.

Ok ok enough from me. Time to go to bed. (and you know- work on that schedule and self discipline issue.)
If you have skype- feel free to chat: closingatnever
Love ya, miss ya, In Christ,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Think on These Things: 3

“It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it — I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it — I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like his.”

- William Temple

Monday, March 22, 2010

Russian Hospitality

I think my grandmother would fit in really well in Russia, and today I just couldn’t help but think she was raised by a pack of Russians.

I remember a time when my friend, an exchange student, and her Korean family was coming for a visit, and my grandma just prepared a whole beautiful spread of elegance. I was surprised and secretly delighted, because if it were up to me I would have just given them tea dug out from the bottom drawer and some Ritz crackers and called it a happy day of hospitality.

Many times while I was growing up, more so when I lived with my grandparents, I remember my grandma taking special care to make sure I left the house looking good, nicely bundled up if it was chilly out, and fully prepared for the day. Her unique attention to detail often opened my eyes to something that was broken or a pair of gloves or socks with holes in them, and she never lacked in her generous call to fix or even just buy something new. Living in Russia reminds me of her often.

Researching Russian hospitality, you will find the same answers over and over. Russians will give you their best, and everything of it. If you come for a visit, no matter the length, an hour or three months, there will be a full table of candy, cookies, biscuits, homemade jam and pickles, sausage, cheese, bread, and your pick of green tea, black tea, fruit tea, of coffee. There will even be a pitcher of cool water to pour into your tea to bring it to your desired temperature. Maybe you would even like some fruit juice?

They go above and beyond to offer comfort to their guests. Also, their attention to detail and kindness is sometimes overwhelming. The other day I arrived at the church only wearing a scarf. I left the church with 2 scarves, a hat, and a mitten. They wanted to be sure I was warm enough to walk home—and boy yesssss, I was warm enough, practically sweating. This week my boot had a hole in it, I saw it but didn’t really worry about it too much. Last night it was brought to the attention of my “roommate” and the next thing I know I must not leave the house, because she is taking it to get it repaired. Tonight it came back fully sealed and ready for action.

Sometimes all this hospitality, generosity, and attention to detail makes me a little uncomfortable. I am fine sitting on the floor, drinking rain water and having no boots at all. That’s just how I am, to a fault. I will politely try anything set in front of me, but I guess here it means that I want ten more portions of it. I truly appreciate everything done for me, and I hope that I am able to return their kindness.

Russian hospitality is something for me to learn from, and maybe it’s a good time in my life to start taking notes on this kind of stuff.

(Oh, and if you ever take someone flowers- make sure it is an odd number! Even numbers of flowers are for funerals only.)


Saturday, March 20, 2010

3 Things I Learned Today

I learned three interesting things about Russia today.

1. While at the post office trying to send off some gifts back to the USA, turns out that sending souvenirs is illegal. So that’s pretty neat. I searched the internet far and wide for this kind of outrageous law, but no such luck. I personally think its balderdash, and I know it wasn’t a translation error because I had my trusty English and Russian speaking friend with me. So when all your mailboxes are emtpy, know that I tried, and expect something around June. haha.

2. There is a giant flea market plus fruit market and mall, merely a block away from my flat, and it’s just full of glorious things. I’m sorry, can’t mail you anything. But that wont stop me from going there all the time.

3. Russian students would rather skip class and come to the English Club. Or at least Tatiana and Natalia would. This morning they showed up at the English Club, and we were surprised because they have school on Saturday. Well we were even more surprised to find out that they snuck out of their building and walked all the way from the school to the church (more than 25 minute walk). I told Pastor Sasha this and he just laughed and said “well that’s fruit for us.” True…. Haha.

Peace Out,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rice Pudding -For Breakfast?

A few weeks ago while staying at the ADC Gastinsza (a “Hotel” in Zavolzhye) we were served this delightful dish -actually, every morning for breakfast. I personally thought it was absolutely delicious, and reminiscent of something I have had before. So I consulted my Russian friend and she said that it was probably just rice boiled in milk.

I made my way to the Spar grocery store across the street and bought the best kind of rice I could come up with, as well as some good old 2.5% milk. Then something clicked- Holy moly! It’s Rice Pudding! So I looked for a recipe online to guide me and marched forward, excitedly anticipating the results.
Since they don’t have half the ingredients here that are called for in this original recipe (which I encourage you to check out HERE) I will give you my Russian interpretation:

• 2 1/2 cups of any kind of milk
• 1/3 cup of uncooked short grain white rice
• Pinch of salt

1. Put the rice, milk, salt in a pot, bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
2. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until rice is tender, continuing to stir.
3. Eat your heart out.

Can you say easy and cheap and delicious- and exactly what we were eating last week! Due to my low budget and lack of resources, I am literally going to make this weekly. (Can someone ship me some cinnamon or nutmeg? I will love you forever.) It’s almost as good as my grandma graham’s recipe.

Think on These Things: 2

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.
-Jan Goldstein

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nizhny Novgorod: ions better than the toilet in a Newport mansion

This weekend I went to Nizhny Novgorod, the fourth largest city in Russia. I have been there three times before, all at night, but really only at a train station to get on a train, or to get into a car going between Moscow and Zavolzhye. I described those combined ten minutes spent in Nizhny as going to a Newport Mansion but only seeing the bathroom.
In my wildest dreams I never thought it would be such a beautiful city, and it is a shame that I have not spent more time there.

The city is made up of two large regions, the Upper City and the Lower City, divided by the Oka River. It is said that the city is built on hills, and that it is. The Upper part is the oldest part of the city, and set up on a giant hill, where you can go to the embankment and see for miles into the distance. The Lower City is newer and less expensive to live in, but also still historic. As a city, Nizhny offers more than 600 unique historic, architectural, and cultural monuments in the city, which gave UNESCO a reason to include it in its top 100 cities of the world which are of great cultural and historical value.

Saturday I drove up with Mike (Sasha), Lena, and Mike Haynes for a day trip of sightseeing. We stopped at their favorite restaurant, in English translated to “Eater,” and enjoyed new Russian tastes. Then we drove around the Upper City, seeing the embankment, multiple churches, and the awesome bridges that the city has. We stopped into an art gallery and walked through the modern art showcase, which was so interesting. I am not sure of the artist being featured, but the colors and textures of his pieces were just so catchy. Then we walked around the Kremlin, which is the main government area. This is cool because it has kind of a castle wall going around it, and there are many interesting things inside the walls- like the eternal flame, beautiful church building, and cool views of the surrounding area.

Mike and Lena new of a concert going on, so we bought tickets. It was such a great performance. The main feature was a talented violinist from St. Petersburg, along with the Nizhny Orchestra. The musician was incredibly talented, and there were time when people clapped for ten minutes to try and get him to come back out and perform some more. In the crowd, there was a lady with purple hair.

Afterwards I met up with my friend Asya, who I met last week when the student team was here- she was our interpreter. We all split ways and I went home with Asya. Her family is so awesome, and it really was an encouragement to spend time with them. While she is the only fluent English speaker, I felt right at home with them. Her cute little sister put on a “concert” for me, which consisted of a Michael Jackson-esque dance to a Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. It was hilarious. Then we stayed up late watching Pirates of the Caribbean (in English!).
The next morning I went with her family to their church, a ten year old Vineyard Church plant in the Upper City, close to their home. Since the church is made up of so many nationalities with English and Russian being the common languages, the service is craftily combined using the two languages. The worship music is both English and Russian, and then the American pastor has a Russian interpreter. It was a good sermon, and the people were so kind and welcoming.
Asya, her friend Anya, and I walked to the embankment, where we could truly see the lower city in all its glory. It was soo cool, as there was a bridge that sits between two cliffs. So cool.

Then sadly, it was time for me to get on the bus to come back to Zavolzhye! Thanks to the bus driver for telling me what station to get off, and Pastor Sasha for picking me up=)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Think On These Things: One

It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit because there is no winter there. 
-John Bunyan

Double Your Breakfast, Double Your Fun.

A giant part of being a missionary in a foreign land is simply living. Other than ministry work, one must figure out how to get food, where to buy a backpack if yours breaks, learning the language, and how to get along with the people. Im well equipped to tell some of these kinds of stories.

I accidently ate two breakfasts yesterday. Lost in translation was the fact that Anya’s mom, a professional chef, was coming to the apartment yesterday to cook some food for me. So after I ate a hearty breakfast consisting of onions, potatoes, garlic and jam and bread, I hopped in the shower, only to hear someone walking through the house. Unusual I thought, as Anya was at work for the day. Maybe she stopped home to see how I was doing. I got dried off and took a peak into the kitchen, where most of the ruckus was, and was definitely surprised to see Anya’s mother cooking up potatoes and chicken, with a further spread on the table of cheese, bread, sausage, homemade jam, candy, chocolates and tea. She doesn’t speak English, and I didn’t want to offend, so I just ate. Ha-ha. Oh man so fullll for the rest of the day.

Mike and I have come to a conclusion that we didn’t remember how "intense" the food is here from last year. Everyday it’s fried, buttery, carb saturated, salt infused, and sugar coated. (What, am I in the Southern USA?) If it isn’t fried, than you probably have to fry it. If you seem hungry, they will offer cheese and sausage and bread. Even the cake seems greasy. The 3-8% milk does nothing for my system.

Don’t get me wrong, their food is delicious, and maybe it’s just because I am still a guest that they are heaping me up with such rich and delicious foods.

In my suitcase I brought Mexican and ranch seasoning packets, and hope they can be the start of some youth food parties! Or maybe I can make something for the English club. That would be great.

Some other observations about the food:
  • they do not have ground meat here, and turkey is not readily available. 
  • Peanut butter is not an option, unless you are in a bigger city. 
  • I can’t figure out what the Russian translation for cous cous is here. But I would love to know.
  • They love tea, and soup. The tea is great, and the soups are all delicious, my favorite being pickle soup. (Imagine a glorious soup made of pickles, with tons of other pickled veggies.) 
  • No one has coffee brewers, and that’s because their coffee is all instant, and surprisingly delightful. 
  • They don’t call what we call cereal, cereal. Their definition of cereal is more like a hot, grainy oatmeal kind of thing, and the stuff you get in a box and pour with milk isn’t really popular. 
  • Everyone here gets their potatoes, carrots, garlic, and berries from their garden (but since there are more apartment buildings than homes, I’ve yet to stumble on these gardens I’m told exist.) 
  • Everyone makes their own jam, from strawberry, raspberry, currant, cherry, etc. And it’s ALLL delicious. The Russian word for jam actually stems from the term “to boil."

I cant wait to try new Russian foods though. Their flavor profile is so interesting, and surely there are some recipes I can bring home.

In a little while I am going to trek across the icy tundra to the Spar grocery store and pile up on all of the produce available. I have seen avocado and pomegranate around, which would be a delight. Otherwise, I saw mushrooms, tomatoes, oranges, berries, and apples! I was also told that there is also a farmers market across the way, bring it on!!!!

Sorry for the delay in posting. Its difficult here with the dial up internet. Im tryin though=)
God Bless,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Experience of a Lifetime

Why Hello There!

Just writing to you all to quickly let you know how things are going
in the good old country o' Russia.

The trip with the JWU/GHCC team has been awesome. God has been at work
in Russia, and the whole week was one blessing after another, some
probably in disguise. Doors of opportunity were swung open as we
invited college students to church, and the gospel was preached to
students who have never before heard it.

Last night I experienced something that literally was the most
terrifying, yet amazing and awesome experience in my entire life. I
watched my team mates: Kim, Jake, Kevin, and Erica drive off on their
way back to America, and I was now in a place where no one fluently
spoke my native language. Riding in the car with Pastor Sasha and his
wife Galina, we drove to Anya's apartment, where I will be staying for
3 months. The drop off was full of broken English & Russian, but
that's how it's going to be for a while.

This morning we walked to the church, a brisk and icey 15 minutes,
where the English Language Club was taking place. I am "shadowing"
Mike for the next month, until it is time to take over the teaching!
This is a new outreach for the church, and people have been coming who
have not been to church in years, or never at all!

Zavolzhye Baptist Church has been incredible in their hospitality and
are committed and dedicated to teaching the bible. Pray for them, that
they stay committed and become bold in the Gospel.

Thank you all for your support, and I am incredibly excited about the
opportunity to serve God in this way. Let us pray for one another
faithfully =)

Love you & God Bless

p.s. feel free to write back anytime, and keep me updated on your lives!
Skype: ClosingatNever

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What Am I Doing Here?

It’s a question I like to think about a lot, because I’m still wondering myself sometimes. At the moment it relates to being in Zavolzhye Russia.

My visa says “business of religion,” but that does not exactly sum up the three reasons that I am here.

First and foremost I am here as a volunteer missionary to work with the Zavolzhye Baptist Church and assist in establishing their English Language Club. I am working with Mike Haynes, another missionary from Chattanooga, TN. This club is open to the public and is a means to practice, not teach, English. We do not go over grammar and we do not give out grades. What we do facilitate is conversation and comprehension using tools like bible reading and watching Christian based movies. This club takes precedence of my time as I learn the tools and equipment, get to know the people, and research different methods of imparting the English language to non native speakers. It meets three times a week and is an outreach method for the church, meeting a need in the community while hopefully spurring them to think on things above.

Second of all I am here as a student from Johnson & Wales University earning a trimesters worth of experiential education credit. I am documenting my experiences and will be completing multiple assignments that will bring me closer to a Bachelors degree in Travel and Tourism. JWU has generously allowed me to gain credit through this experience, and I am taking advantage as I cooperate with the International Missions Board.

Thirdly I am here as a writer, adventurer, and people lover. Mike Haynes started writing books about 2 years ago when his wife Phyllis died. Together we are co-authoring a book that will highlight our experiences in Russia and starting the English Club. It will be a quick read, but full of life experience, exciting stories, and history. This will be his third, and by the time I am graduated from college I will have a published book on Amazon.com.

There is not much documentation about this area of Russia available to Westerners, so I also want to photograph and record the amazing things here. Using my blog, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, etc, I hope to spur an interest in Russia beyond the obvious. There are amazing people and places nestled in the small villages and faraway towns, and being someone engaged in the tourism field, it is a great undiscovered land that we should discover. Also because we are more inclined as Christians to reach out when we know what needs exist.

I am only here for three months, and do not want to discount the long term work being done by missionaries and native born christians here, but it is definitely a blessing to be able to serve God in this way.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Hello From Russia

So here I am. Day 3 into this awesome adventure. We are all safe and sound, the plane ride was smooth, but oh man so long, the day in Moscow was exciting and exhausting and brought us to see the Kremlin and other new and exciting sights, good food, a flat tire, and the train ride was fast, because we slept (I slept… haha).

Yesterday we had church in the morning at Zavaolzhye Baptist Church, and Kevin shared his powerful testimony. We also were able to see the new additions to the church since last year, which include a floor in the sanctuary, English Club room, and nice kitchen!!!! They also have a legit door, instead of just a piece of steel. Last night we ventured into Gorodets, a small town about 20 minutes from Zavolzye. There we lead their Sunday night service by singing (haha, we sang), sharing about ourselves, and Kevin sharing his testimony once more. We were able to have some really good and encouraging conversations with some of the youth, and please pray for the 17 year old boy who came up to Jake and asked him how he could believe in God, since he had a mathematical brain. He was truly searching for the truth, and they talked for a good 35 minutes until we had to leave.
Pray that our time today in the schools, that sharing our presentation, is fruitful.