August 30th: Or, On the Plane In the Twenty Minutes Before My Battery Dies a Slow Death that I hope Daniel Can Someday Bring Back to Life

I am going to have carpal tunnel by the end of these twenty minutes. Thanks to the man in front me and his desire to sleep, thanks to the darkened cabin that is making everyone but the children sleepy, thanks to the short tray table and the seat that has leaned back and thus pushed my computer forward, thanks to the awkward angle of my wrists… I am going to get carpal tunnel. But it’s okay, because it’s genetic, and I have tiny wrists which is also a bad sign: so I suppose it was inevitable.

I haven’t much to say about my trip right now. It was good, although, it was entirely different from what I expected. I have never been on a half administrative-half mission trip. Not to mention I am struggling to understand what role I think short term missions should play in the church. Not to mention I am wandering around in my faith a lot lately.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not losing faith.

I think I’m gaining it.

But this has always been a hard spot for me. My faith goes through plenty of ups and downs. IN eighth grade I tried Atheism on for size. It didn’t stick past Easter. My sophomore year of college I was barely clinging to hope when I came home for the summer, not really sure what God was doing on his big throne with flowing robes that fill the temple. This summer I graduated college, was a little unsure of what my plans would be, and then God sent me packing to Russia. I was protesting with my dad about writing, and now I’m sitting on the plane, going back to a place I can finally call home, and all I want to do is write. I feel like my life is all over. There’s not straight path through the woods, just a big field with lots of beautiful flowers and I’m traipsing around.

I’m reading a book right now called Confessions of an Amateur Believer. I’m only half way through, but I would recommend it pretty strongly. Patty Kirk is telling me where I am. Or at the very least, she is hitting the surface and putting words to lots of things I’ve felt but haven’ been able to explain to people. I have so many questions for Jesus. What’s the church supposed to look like? What’s the point of the “sinner’s prayer”? Why are Protestants so angry about works when James is all about works and the Christian life seems to revolve around works too? How does salvation really work? Because most of the atonement theories seem to leave something out… I only really like Ransom Theory because it makes Satan out to be a moron and Jesus wins by a sort of righteous trickery.

And my faith is still all over the place. I can pray to the Holy Spirit, I can pray to all three, because really it’s praying to one. I don’t understand God’s timing, though I am learning a sort of disagreeable contentment with not understanding him.  Jim said he thought that God would give me an answer if I just asked. “I don’t like to keep things from my daughter, I don’t think that God keeps things from us, either.”

Which is weird. I felt like I was being rebuked for saying that I am trying to learn patience and just wait for God… for whenever he feels like showing up. The in between times are a little crummy—but I’m learning that like Patty Kirk says, God is closest when life is crappiest. Life isn’t crappy right now, it’s actually pretty good. Confusing, but good. I just wish that Jim would understand: Abba works with me like an old Jewish Rebbe (maybe that’s why Jesus became a Rabbi). He’s asking me questions, leading me to the answers in a circular, exasperating manner. We’ll get there, but he’s taking a circuitous route because he wants me to answer my own questions,  and he’s just leading me there.

So they handed us lunch, or dinner, or some meal that was meant to be pasta. And I thought about what Patty Kirk writes. I dug past the grey-ish brown green beans to the mooshy pasta noodles and scraped a few together onto my fork. I chewed them over thoughtfully, wondering about the disciples, and Moses and Paul and Abraham and so many other heroes of the faith. They started out pretty unsure, fairly skeptical, didn’t they? I’ll sleep with my slave then send her away, I will say I have a lisp, I will say I don’t know him, I’ll kill people who follow him… These aren’t the type that we think will be great leaders of religious movements. But they are. Because Jesus’ Ransom covers us. God’s grace does something weird when we believe, and it’s all figured out. The Spirit takes up some kind of residence inside my flabby little body that has had to pee for an hour but is still waiting for the lavatory line to calm down.

I think it might be okay to wander around. Maybe that’s why my favorite hymn acknowledges that I am prone to wander. But I still come back. I am here, and I’m not leaving the trail. Just wobbling from side to side as I stumble along.

And I think that might be okay.

August 27th: Too Many Titles To Choose From

“Jim, your face is really red”   or   “Taylor, I finally did those shots”   or   “Throw it back!”  or  “chootchoot”   or   “Dear Grandma, I’m Sorry, It was Cultural”   or   “Cognac Isn’t So Bad After All”

What should I call this post? Well, I could have gone with any of the above titles. Today we went to three orphanages. The first two were potential places that The Boaz Project would like to work. A rehabilitation center (where they work with the child’s family to keep the family together), and a baby house (infants to toddlers 2.5 yrs). Finally we drove to Morem, where we went to an orphanage of older children. Here, David was greeted with delight and hugs from all of the girls, and cheerful nods from the few boys that we saw. We met with the director, Martin and then took him out for lunch in town to continue the meeting. Boaz has been working with Martin for many years, so the lunch was in some ways a celebration of that partnership.

We went to a restaurant where we ate in little old fashioned houses that squeezed in a table and 7 chairs. We had roasted eggplant, peppers and tomatoes to start. Then we were served labash (like tortillas) and herbs: purple oregano, green onions, cilantro and dill which we rolled into the labash. Nothing like garnish for lunch! Then came the Shashleek. This was very good meat with a tiny kick, garnished with onions. It was pork, so I didn’t eat much, but what I washed down with my thick apricot juice was surprisingly delicious. And then there were the toasts.

One to parents, those still alive to guide us, and those gone on ahead.

One to the partnership with Boaz, the children will live well, and so will we, and we will always work together.

One to the children, that they might live well, and how proud we are of them.

And of course, one to the Russian people.

Don’t worry. I didn’t take four shots. Victor was very kind and only filled my glass a little bit each time.  (chootchoot=a little) By the end, Jim’s face was bright red and his eyes looked like they were on fire. David managed quite well. Svetlana was a bit giggly. Victor and Martin didn’t feel a thing. (And the driver turned his glass over when Martin ordered the cognac. Thank you! I didn’t want to play, “passing the slow truck in front of us with an oncoming semi” with a driver who is a little tipsy….)

Tonight we had another meeting with the women who teach Bible classes in the orphanage. It went fine. I was quite proud at one moment, the girls were looking very confused by Jim’s question and he couldn’t understand why. Without even asking the girls, I explained to him why they were confused—because I had been listening and watching and knew what he had said that was so confusing, and I was right! I was so happy! I also gave a devotion tonight and they all seemed….at least interested. Artom had to translate for Katya and they smiled and nodded a lot from the other end of the table.

After our session, we handed out some gifts and then Katya pulled me aside. “What are your plans for evening?” she asked in her soft, sweet voice. I smiled so widely she must have thought there was vodka in the borscht. “I don’t have plans. Do you have plans for me?” “Yes.”

So we went to Katya and Artom’s flat in Dobre—a district in the city. Yulia (Russian pronunciation of Julia), a friend from when David lived here, came and met us. Kolya came along as well—which is so cool because he’s not a Christian and we talked a bit about God. We had tea (obviously) and some chocolate wafer cake things, tiny grapes and mushy little plums that are shaped like oversized almonds. Katya showed us the whole flat—which isn’t difficult as homes are much smaller here. It is gorgeous. There is green everywhere, so I am in love! She also has an aquarium with snails that she is very proud of—they just got it last week and Artom just finished the cover and the light fixture.

Katya asked me on the bus if I was having “shock.” I laughed and said, yes, yes,yes. I have never had culture shock like this before. I don’t know if I’ve ever really had culture shock. But I am getting to the part where I can deal with it. I also said it’s hard not knowing the language. She smiled and said, “you come live in Vladimir, I think, one month, and you speak Russian. Iss not very hard, and you have no choice.” So I nodded and said I am praying about it, praying, praying. Always praying.

Yulia, the first thing she said tonight when I said I liked Russia pretty well was “you are in shock,” and then moved right along with the conversation. Clearly, this is something I am supposed to have expected more than I did. Oh the problems of arrogance! I thought I’d never deal with this. But Kolya wanted to know what shocked me the most. So I told them, and then I told them about my family, and about Joshua being in the AF, and what my mother is afraid of if I move to Russia. They thought this one was very funny—I said my mother is “afraid I’ll move to Russia, and I’ll get married to a Russian man, and I’ll never come back to the United States and she’ll never see me again.” I think there may have been a few leg slappings at that moment.

But we had to leave too soon. The doors at the hotel lock at 10pm, and we didn’t leave the flat until 10.06! We walked up to the hotel, trying to look very somber and apologetic for the cameras. Unfortunately, David’s bag was caught by a “sudden wind” (otherwise known as his own clumsiness) and he bumped into a car as we went by—setting off a rather obnoxious alarm! I barely made it to the door without peeing my pants I was laughing so hard.

But, like any good Russian hotel guard, ours was watching a movie and didn’t care in the least. We breezed by with a “itz veeneat” and scrambled up the stairs towards our rooms.

August 26th: Multipurpose Towels and Borscht

I still get water all over the floor when I take a shower here. I am doing a bit better, and I actually kind of like being able to hold the shower head in my hand while I wash my hair. Keeping it from splattering the walls and onto the floor, well, that’s something I haven’t yet mastered. Every morning, after finishing my warm shower (which takes several minutes to heat up, but eventually comes!), I reach to the metal hook on the wall that is covered in a fresh coat of shower water that missed my head, and I grab a pink or brown or blue towel that hardly covers my body. I use it first, to wipe off my face, since I need to see. And every morning I am greeted with the sensation of sandpaper rubbing against my cheeks. It’s like when Joshua tries to kiss me when he has a few days’ stubble—only worse. At first it bothered me. My cheeks don’t need this daily scratching! But this morning, as I dried my feet, even while the scrapping sensation continued, a thought occurred to me. These towels are multipurpose! Not only do they dry one’s skin, but they exfoliate! No longer do I need Neutorgena’s expensive “daily cleanser with exfoliant”! Instead I can use bar soap and get the same effect when I dry off! Cheers to Russia!

Tonight at dinner we met up with the Bible teachers for the Boaz Project. These great women go in weekly during the school year and tell the children Bible stories. There were two women who spoke English, and one who didn’t (between them they cover 6 orphanages). For the woman who didn’t, we had Nickoli (Kolya), to interpret. As well, David had invited two of his friends from when he lived here: Artom (sort of pronounced Arteyom), and Katya. They are married now, they must have gotten married just after David left. And they are the most precious couple. Artom is the typical Russian, tall and gangly with a narrow face—but an uncharacteristically cheerful smile. Katya is sweet, with a trim little figure and a darling face framed in a cute bobbed haircut. She actually reminds me of Amanda. And she has this wonderfully sweet demeanor, but is a bit more jumpy and outgoing when she gets excited about something, which also reminds me of Amanda. (Kitchen Woman? Josh? Remember this?)

The meeting was fine. Mostly to check in, see how things were going. We had dinner at this place that was mmmm…. Okay, on food. We ate there the other night, and honestly, I don’t want to be picky, but nothing sounded good tonight. Until we found borscht on the menu. So I ordered a Caesar salad (unfortunate), and borscht. Artom looked at me from the other end of the table and said with his friendly grin, “borscht, Sada? You are going to have a real Russian meal?” I shrugged, giggled embarrassed as everyone’s attention turned to me, and said “I’m going to try it.”

Oh. My. Word.

It was delicious! I mean, I was freaked out at first when it showed up. I knew it had beets in it, but did it have to be so red? I was thinking: cabbage and beets: probably more cabbage than beets: probably greenish with red slivers floating. Nope. Red. But it was good. I’m getting it tomorrow night.

After dinner some of us went for a walk. Artom and Katya had asked David for a walk (it’s what you do to spend time with each other here, like coffee in the states). Artom invited me “Sada, I think we are going for a—mm—walk. You like to come with?” I could have jumped on him and hugged him. A Russian! Wanting to spend time with me? Well, I hope David doesn’t mind my intruding on your time together, because here I come, dangit! And then David asked me himself if I’d like to come, and then Kolya was invited. So I grabbed a sweater (which they thought was funny, but it is quite chilly here after so hot in Denver!) and we set off.

I saw the town, again. I saw the Assumption Cathedral, again. I saw the lookout, again. I saw the Golden Gate, again. But this time I heard all the stories about these places. Katya was very excited to tell me about them when she discovered I like history. Kolya was only too happy to translate. (Which was encouraging, because we had a very awkward moment when we first met.) It was great fun to be included. It was so good to have an actual conversation with people, and to have people want to talk with me. I mean, it was wonderful! I had been feeling lonely, and really displaced. All I could see of a future life in Russia was dull and dreary grey skies, with no one to talk to; a bitter, lonely existence. But nooooo, not after tonight! If I lived here, I might have friends! Who would have imagined? And they were so excited to talk to me, it seemed. So who knows? This was very encouraging. And I’m not saying that I’m going to move here, I’m still not positive if God is calling me to Boaz. Please pray about  that. But tonight made it seem so much more feasible, so much more… possible.

Artom seemed very excited when he invited me for the walk and I accepted. When I told him I was cold, he smiled and said, “you know, David told us a secret. He said you want to come live here, for a whole year. So you must be prepared. This is not cold.”

Well, Artom, you made it seem much more possible for me to come. You and your wife were very encouraging. I think I could handle the cold. Now let’s just pray and see if this is really from God, or if it was simply something in the evening air. (or in the borscht? Teehee)

Today

Please pray.

THe language barrier is killing me.

This is a lot harder than I thought.

Cold cultures are not as awesome as warm cultures. Why doesn’t anyone kiss when they greet?

25 August Hippies in Russia

Today we visited a “village” on the opposite side of Moscow. It took us 5 hours to get to Orion, not only due to distance, but also traffic. Apparently we chose to travel through a section that has one of the busiest railroad crossings… or something. An actual operator in a house beside the tracks could only let 15-20 cars through at a time in between trains. Needless to say, there was a long line on either side of the railroad. The guard rails would come down to block traffic and out of the road would come a barrier, angled upwards towards the oncoming traffic so that one’s tires would be caught and severely impeded in any attempt to cross the tracks. Svetlana shrugged when Jim asked her about it “you can’t trust Russian drivers,” she said with a little giggle. Our driver climbed out into the misty grey weather to share a smoke with several others in the area. The birch trees shuddered in the chilly wind and we waited, occaisionally inching forward by a single meter or two.

We finally made it to Orion where we met with Katya. Marsha (?) the director, was gone to Moscow for the day, though when David called last week she said this was the only day she would be in Orion. But Katya spoke pretty good English, so Svetlana hardly had to interpret. We were given a tour of the 22 hectare grounds that make up the village the people have built almost entirely by themselves. They have a school for the 13 children, they teach the classes themselves, because there isn’t a government school nearby. But the childen are sent to Keetesh to a similar village where they are given their examinations (so they meet with government standards). Of Orion’s 13 children, 8 are orphans that are being fostered by those in the community. There are three permanent families and a building that houses volunteers who come from all over: Australia, New York, Montana, Littleton, Colorado. The people all take meals together in the kitchen, they share roles in the village, they have community chickens and recently purchased a goat. They live in log houses, most of which have running water and toilets, and electricity. But Victor says the windows are foolishly large and must give them a good deal of trouble in the winter for keeping the homes warm.

We watched a movie about the foundation of Orion and Keetesh. Basically, we thought it had a very “Woodstock” feel. Other than wanting to live in community and be near nature, we had a hard time understanding the driving purpose behind this village. They aren’t religious, though they mostly belong to the Orthodox Church. They don’t have jobs, for the most part they just work in the village and have sponsors from the UK and US. It was disappointing because we had been hoping there might be some possibility to work with these people or have something similar in Vladimir. But Svetlana kept shaking her head. “They are great people, but crazy. It is like taking a step backwards. Why would you do that?”

At least the apple jam was delicious and the green tea was great too.

So we climbed back into the van and headed out. We waited in that long line of cars and trucks that snaked around the hillside down to the railroad tracks. When we finally got up close to our turn, Svetlana kept repeating: “Will we make it? Will we make it?” Our driver wasn’t going to hesitate. He followed close on the tail of the truck in front of us and our van waddled over the uneven railroad tracks as Jim pointed out an oncoming train. “Is it going fast?” Svetlana asked in a surprisingly nervous voice. But our van stumbled forward and onto solid ground on the other side. David was still asleep, Victor was drinking his compote out of the old beer bottle, and I still had to pee really badly—but by golly we weren’t going to wait in that line any longer!

Now we’re back at the hotel, I have a new pair of socks on my little feet and I’m ready to take some sleeping pill that Jim gave me and doze off to sweet oblivion.

23 August (so, before my computer died)

Thank you all so much for your prayers. I’m sure some of you have heard the mess that went in to obtaining my visa on time. But after several hours on the phone Friday, and about $315 later, I had a changed plane flight and a visa that would arrive at DIA just in time for me to pick it up and board the plane. I met up in Atlanta with Jim and David barely 25 minutes before our plane was to leave. We jumped in the boarding line, and despite an issue with my ticket, we were on and home free! We even found a woman willing to switch seats with me so that I could sit in the row in front of Jim and David, rather than half a plane away.

Ten hours of flight, 45 minutes in a mob line for customs, and 2.5 hours driving to Vladimir, we arrived! What I remember of the drive was lovely, Russia is covered in birch along the highway that we bumped over. Driving on the shoulder to pass slower moving vehicles provided for an even closer view of the picturesque countryside.This evening we went to Victor and Svetlana’s flat for tea. It was a great 2ish hours. We saw pictures of their family, I got a tour of their sweet little home (with a green kitchen and dishwasher to boot!), and we dined on delicious homemade raspberry jam that we ate straight off the saucer when the bread ran out. The tea was good too, it reminded me of Grandma Irma’s house. I mentioned that when we were trying to figure out the herb that Svetlana had added to the tea. I said it looked like yarrow, and smelled like something my grandmother used to make. So, now I have homework for when we get to the states. Victor and Svetlana’s daughter came over to the flat with her husband and their toddler son. Misha was polite to me, but obviously talked to David since I couldn’t understand a word of what was going on. Andrushka was very excited about the new truck his grandparents had bought him, and was pushing it around the floor, and showing it to us will chittering on in a language I wish I knew. That, I think, is the most difficult part of being here. I know how to say ‘hello’ (privyet), ‘yes’ (da), and now I am trying to remember the words that David taught me tonight…. Please and Thank You. It is bewildering to sit through a conversation and have to have everything translated. I know my Spanish was never fluent, and Popi did have to translate some things. But I could at least get around, I could figure out a word by having it described or compared. Now I have to have Svetlana translate everything. Like Victor telling me that he made me more tea, because apparently I looked very distraught when I poured my self the last bit from the tea pot (which may have been culturally inappropriate). I also appeared very needy, or skinny, or just tired, because Svetlana kept pushing more and more food my way. Of course, that might because I was finishing off everyhitng she gave me, which culturally means she is meant to give me more… I just wish that I could communicate with people, and that I didn’t just smile and bob my head when we laugh as though I knew what was happening.

Tonight we walked back from Svetlana and Victor’s flat, about a 40 minute walk since we took a few wrong (ish) turns. The evening was gorgeous. We walked through fields (“this looks kind of like a trail!”), along the road, ran diagonally across an intersection, up alleys and down sidestreets, and through a wood that I was told wouldn’t be safe to be in after dark. It was great. We could see the cathedrals’ spires, the old communist building where youth were sent for indoctrination, the sky scrapers reaching hesitantly past the old boundaries, and the apartment buildings that are flying up, despite the slowing economy. I thought, during that walk, I could do this. I could be here. I could walk home like this, watching people draw water from a spring down the hill on the side of the road. I could do this. I just wish I knew the language. Because it is so difficult to feel like a statue, or an intelligent dumb individual who could have things to say if only she knew what was going on around her. But Victor and Svetlana are kind. He complimented me tonight, said I have hard working hands. I said they work hard on the computer and everyone laughed. Jim said he was just telling me I was a hard worker in general. And Svetlana is warming up to me, I think. So that is good. And between their patience, and Jim’s astonishment that I packed only one carry on (considerably less than him and David), and David’s chipper attitude and reminiscing about Illinois, I think this could work out.

And now I need to go to bed in my burgundy-red room with a desk and a shower and a window below which I can hear men talking.

Privyet!

I am in Russia!

I have been here for two days now. Yesterday we got to the hotel and then went to our interpreter’s house for desert and tea. I have a delightful post about my plane flight and meeting Victor and Svetlana. But that’s on my computer, which, as usual, is dead. Not sure how we’ll charge it, since it’s being grumpy.

Today we met with three directors from various orphanages/homes. It went well, although I must admit I had a hard time focusing when the director would be talking with Svetlana. It’s exhausting not understanding much of what is going on.

We also went to a children’s home today and played with the kids for just over an hour. It was great fun, though difficult as I can’t say anything to the kids. Conversations go like this:

Ever: Sara…… (lots of Russian in high pitched boy’s voice)

Sara: da?

Ever: Da.

Sara: da, da, da

followed by lots of laughter.

There was a good deal of pinching from some of the little boys who apparently don’t understand inappropriate touching yet. When I was yelling “nyet!nyet!” and running away, one of the teachers finally came up and snapped at them. I sat down, so as to protect myself and then was mobbed by children who wanted to sit on my lap. I had three on my legs at one point, all kind of shoving each other. And there were girls playing with my hair, boys trying to give me sunflower seeds straight from the flower, and more kids spitting the sunflower seed husks…. Jim shouted from across the yard (three time before I heard) “Sara, should I send some more kids your way?” Why not…. David came out finally after playing with Sasha who had a brain tumor and is now severely disabled (mostly blind, kind of deaf, etc).  He asked if I need help at one point when I was carrying two kids and one was pinching me. “Niyet–err–no,” I said and put them both on the ground. Holding hands we pranced off to play with some rusty climbing frame.

It’s great fun. Tomorrow we’re going to a “village” that has adopted or fostered several orphans as a community. It’s about a 4 hour drive…. woohoo for sleeping! I am sleepy so much the last two days. Call it the 10 hour jet lag, or the fact that I am trying to pay attention to a language I don’t know. Of course, with Russian drivers, the ability to sleep may be somewhat questionable. Yesterday we played this game that David calls “Pretending the Shoulder is Part of the Road.” I think we won, because we didn’t run into any pedestrians and we passed the bus that was bothering our driver. We also enjoy playing the “run through gaps in traffic to middle of the road, then wait for another gap” game. It’s one of my favorites, it’s even more high stakes than Mexico!

anyway. I should give David back his computer. I don’t know when/if I’ll be able to update again. We’re at a coffee shop right now, which is kind of Seattle-ish, and doesn’t do lattes correctly. 🙂 But they’re trying.

prayer requests: clarity from God, peace, safety, patience with language barrier, energy

love to all.