Friday, August 22, 2014

I Smiled So Much That My Face Began to Hurt

Many times I try to get creative with my titles but tonight that was the only thought that was running through my mind. This evening Allie, Alissa, and I took the night off to play tourist. We ventured around town with the intent of taking as many photos as we wanted, talking with whoever we could in stores and cafes, and having a jolly good time! I am at a point where I know just enough Russian that I can actually ask people for directions, order food at the store, and sing simple worship songs. We have been learning so much Russian but have had no place to practice. Most of our friends prefer speaking English and we are always teaching English in some form; tonight was all about taking a test drive of our language skills. 

It can be so easy to become overwhelmed by the busyness of life and forget to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes the stress can be so much and I forget to stop and thank the Lord for His grace and mercy. Sometimes I let the worries of this world overtake my thoughts and affect my attitude towards the ones I should be loving. This evening us girls purposefully decided to take a break from teaching and have a little fun. It was a glorious time of rest and renewal, as well as team building. It is so important for us to be united under Christ: loving, teaching, serving, and learning as a team. Tonight I felt that we were a united team. As we were sitting in a coffee shop -- making friends with our waitress -- I was struck with the realization that we are already in our third month in Russia and we are still getting along as a trio. We still like each other. We are still friends. So many people were concerned about three girls going to Russia together because someone might start to feel left out or we might turn on each other. As we were sitting in Traveler's Coffee I couldn't help but smile. I was so happy full of joy! 
After spending thousands of hours together we can still walk the streets of Tomsk as a team and have a good time. I know that it is God who has allowed us to maintain open lines of communication. It was God who placed phenomenal teachers in our paths; who taught us that it is okay to talk about the problems that we are having spiritually, emotionally, culturally, academically, and physically. When it comes to living and working in another country, communication is where it's at! If us girls were not able to communicate clearly then everything we do would be in total shambles. It we were not letting Jesus take the wheel then we would have crashed a long time ago. 

On another note, SBU is doing this new social media promotional thing that I can only imagine was based on Flat Stanley. SBU has developed a Flat Bearcat. Obviously we are in Russia and cannot get our hands on Flat Bearcat so we decided to make our own. This evening we took Flat Bearcat all over Tomsk (Mostly on Lenin Prospect) and took pictures. It turns out that Flat Bearcat is very photogenic and that SBU may have just chosen the corniest, yet most genius, propaganda item. He also provides plenty of stares from onlookers. Hopefully we will be able to get a real Flat Bearcat, but until then this little guy will do just fine! He is reminding us to take more pictures of our time here.

The Birds

Riding the Bus

At Traveler's Coffee

An Orthodox Church

Another big reason I was so smiley tonight was because I successfully asked a woman at the store for directions to an ATM. In Russian. YES!! And then she gave me directions to the ATM. IN RUSSIAN. And then we actually found the ATM...sadly it was inaccessible at the moment. But we were victorious in our original endeavors. Secondly, we became friends with our waitress and the coffee shop and even invited here to come to our English courses. She was precious and genuinely kind. When we tried to speak Russian she was patient with us and even helped us with our pronunciation. I'm sure I was smiling like some kind of nut. I was just so thrilled to be reminded of God's love through this girl, Leeza. She is why we are in Russia. It simply takes a smile and a little effort for walls to be torn down and bridges to be crossed. When we allow God to take the reigns He leads us to opportunities -- to the people. It is God who leads me to joy, everyday. I'll gladly accept hurting face muscles from smiling too much!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This is Real Life

The washing machine
I never imagined that someday I would come to
call Russia home. That I would love the people of a city located in the very middle of Siberia. In the past few weeks since we have been back in Tomsk we have been readjusting to life in the city and it has been, yet again, quite a whirlwind. We have settled into our apartment and made it our home. This includes having filtered water delivered to us every couple of weeks (after we order it for ourselves off of the website which is completely in Russian) and paying for our very own WiFi. We also make a point to cook most of our meals and even try out cooking Russian meals. We were also able to buy a washing machine and have the appropriate tools to air dry our clothes. This washing machine is a supreme blessing because handwashing is a chore. Living in Russia is our reality and each day it becomes easier but we definitely still have our moments!
Air drying clothes

For instance, yesterday we went to the grocery store to buy more groceries and as we were checking out it dawned on us that we didn't have enough money to pay... oops. Thankfully there was an ATM in the store so we were good. Then there are still times on the bus when things can get a little confusing. Like if we pay and then wait to get off the bus it severely confuses the bus driver because you are supposed to pay right before you get off. There have been a few times where the driver will try to talk to us and we don't know what to do because we do not understand what he is saying. Sometimes we are able to convey that we don't understand but sometimes we leave the bus driver angry. These are appropriate times to utilize idioms such as shake it off, laugh it off, and let it go.

Before we came to Russia we were told time and again to learn to laugh at yourself. This is easier said then done but often times we can only turn to laughter. For my sanity I need to laugh when we are placed in awkward situations. Just the other night we were meeting with some brothers and sisters from the church about various activities that we could do to get people into the church building. One idea they had was having a banya night. If you know nothing about banyas maybe the word sauna might ring a bell. Still nothing? Okay..I'll explain. For Russians, the banya is a treat. The banya is where you go to sweat away your problems. People go to the banya to escape the stress of everyday life and escape their clothes. If you still aren't picking up what I'm putting down I'll now take the time to really break it down for you. The church has a sauna on their property and thought it would be a great idea to have us host a girls night. Because nothing says bonding like hanging out in a 120 degree wooden room, stark-naked with people you have never met before! I'm usually down for whatever this life throws at us but the banya is not my cup of tea. And bless the pastor. Bless him. He was trying to understand why we did NOT want to banya. We just had to laugh because, at the moment, none of us could work up the nerve to tell that pastor that we would rather make friends with our clothes on... [For the record: We did take part in a banya experience at English camp. The banya is completely normal in Russia but we were not enthused with the idea of doing it again.]

In that same meeting we were able to plan some joint events with the church. Most of them involve exploiting us Americans and our ability to speak English. But hey, God can use anyone and anything to bring glory to His name. This includes making us "teach" English to every human we encounter in Russia. I love Russians, I love English, and I love teaching Russians Enlgish but sometimes it is great to break away from the role as teacher. I love being able to be a student of the Russian culture and language. It brightens my day to actually learn something new instead of teach something. Two Sundays ago we were able to attend the general meeting of a house church network that meets here in Tomsk. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by such loving Christians and stand witness to their heartfelt worship. Many of them speak English very well and were able to translate the sermon for us. The man speaking preached a message that each Christian needed to here in this fallen world that is filled with strife and war. He taught on how the Bible commands us to love our enemies and pray for them. We should not let the atrocities of this world tear the Body of Christ apart. We should not give the power over to Satan. Christ has already won! Hallelujah!

It is so easy for me to get caught up in my own thoughts here and concede to the lies Satan is feeding me. I am asking for your prayers that I would graciously serve the great King on High instead of myself. Please pray that I would find joy in the small things and not be too hard on myself when I fail. That I would remember that it is okay for me to become angry or sad because even Jesus wept and flipped tables. but pray that I would not dwell on the situations that cause such extreme emotions. Pray that I would stay level headed and have a servant's heart towards the people of Russia as well as my teammates. Lastly, it'd be pretty rad if you could offer up some words about our English classes; next week we are teaching a class every night for 6 nights straight.

Also, we're going to the UK in a little more than two weeks. Talk about some cool beans! This will hopefully be a short trip but we'll see. If you would like to know more details about this don't be afraid to ask in a personal message or talk to my mom about it. Now for your viewing pleasure: some pictures of a park near our apartment. This park is a ten minute walk from our residence. Here there are plenty of hiking trails as well as the most beautiful view of the river. We had some friends take us and we got to play frisbee. Thank the Lord for people who want to be our friends!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ya pony-mayo choot choot Roosky.

In case you don't know any Russian, the title of this post translates: "I understand a little Russian." It seems that I have not posted in a while and there is so much I have to share. On July 18 we left for the city of Kolpashevo to teach English courses twice a day for two weeks. Little did we know that the people of Kolpashevo, and our intended students would become dear friends. The family who hosted us in this tiny Siberian village consisted of Pastor Viktor, his wife Larisa, and their five children: Cyril-17, Leah-15, Sofie-13, Tihon-12, and Arsinia-8. They welcomed us into their family with open arms and cared for us as if we were a part of the family. Larisa cooked for us everyday and even taught us how to make a few traditional Russian dishes. (I cooked one all by myself, today!) The family loved on us, laughed with us, shared their life stories with us, and encouraged us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Lake


Old Military Base

Orthodox Church



Each member of the family brought so much to the table, figuratively and literally, and I miss them dearly. Pastor Viktor was hysterical and did the best impression of us Americans attempting to speak Russian, thus the title of this post. Each time he made fun of the way we speak Russian we all ended up in stitches and laughing til we cried. He helped us feel comfortable speaking in Russian and the whole family helped us to learn so much more. After practically living with the 7 of them for two weeks I can say with confidence that ya pony-mayo choot choot Roosky now. The eldest daughter, Leah, also taught me a ton of new Russian words and always made sure to slow down when she was teaching me pronunciation. She was great. Then there was the sweet baby child Arsinia! I may not have gotten to work with a million 8 year olds at CentriKid this summer but Arsinia made up for that. She was feisty, and funny, and became my best friend. Each day she greeted me with a giant manly sounding "HELLO" and we departed in the same fashion. And Tihon, oh Tihon. Talk about the coolest 12 year old boy who speaks just enough English to mildly understand your jokes. Also, his name. I will probably name a kid after him. (Pronounced Tea-hawn)

Teaching English is an interesting line of work. These last two weeks were filled with very successful classes and some classes that fell right on their face. I am learning so much about teaching and how to share my faith in the classroom. God uses my every breath to show Himself and it is so exciting to be a part of His bigger plan. He continues to prove His faithfulness in every situation. There have definitely been some trying times in the classroom and there have been many times when I have become so frustrated because I feel that no one is learning. I think that I am an awful English teacher in at least half of my classes but that I am reminded by the Spirit that it is not about me and it is not about English. The purpose of my entire life, all that I do, is to serve an almighty God who has invited me to join Him in the adventure of leading new people into His Kingdom. Wow. Ecclesiastes says again and again that everything is done in vain, it is futile, it is a pursuit of the wind; life is an endless cycle that gets us nowhere unless we fear God and keep His commands. I pray that what happens in my classroom is a result of this. That my love for the Father will create and overflow of love to those around me.

Speaking of love...we got to celebrate Christmas in July with the Russians! It was a special time because we got to share with the people why we (believers) this CHRISTmas is such a great holiday. Alissa read the story of Jesus's birth and we sang Silent Night. Russians really enjoy music and singing! Each song we sang provided a great opportunity to share the reason for the season! The reason for our joy. The reason for our lives. I love Christmas. By the way, I'm really excited for Christmas time in Russia. Can you say Chrsitmas cookies?!?!

Another thing that got celebrated in Kolpashevo was my 21st birthday! Oh heyyy. The day was filled with surprises and quite a few tears. I was so overwhelmed with emotions, especially thankfulness. The family and our friend Natasha surprised me at lunch with the birthday song in two languages, a skype call from my parents, and the most beautiful birthday cake I have ever beheld! It was huge, delicious, and covers in edible pink roses. Scrumptious. After our 2 pm class we all went to the most beautiful lake where we ate shashlik (sishkabob) and more birthday cake. By the by, Shashlik is the most delicious camping food you will ever taste. I'm sorry that you didn't get to eat with me on my birthday. I was given a plethora of great gifts for my birthday but the best one was the outpouring of love by those that I was with.

Kolpashevo stole my heart and I have so many stories I could tell but so little time. But I will try to cram a million things into one giant run on sentence. Let's go. In the last two weeks I have drank more black tea than ever before ever, I have eaten better food than I could ever cook for myself, I have sang worship songs around a dinner table, I have made friends to last a lifetime, I have been inside 2 Russian Orthodox churches, I toured an old Russian military base, I got abnormally close to quite a few cows, I have learned how to speak more Russian, I have learned how to speak better English, I have learned how to cook Russian cuisine, I have learned how to survive with minimal Internet, I have bonded with children in English class solely based on the fact that I can be a total goof and sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes" in my best tone-deaf voice, I have baked 300+ homemade chocolate chip cookies, I have played "Duck Duck Goose" with tiny Russian children, I have fearlessly sang songs for Russians at their every whim, I have played frisbee in the middle of a Siberian forest, I have toured a museum, I have shared the Gospel, I have witnessed the baptism of three young believers, I have shared my love of chocolate, I have shared family stories, I have shared American traditions, I have gained new friends, and most of all I have seen a part of the world that God loves with a love that I yearn to have.

God is movin' and a shakin' here in Siberia and it is inadequate to call being here simply a blessing. Living life in Tomsk & Kolpashevo with such amazing teammates and fellow believers is indescribable. I'm in love. I am learning to love the people in a way that could only be from the Father. I am learning to love a language that I'd never even dreamed of learning. God is teaching me to love teaching and is guiding my every word. God's provisions are innumerable. His faithfulness is unwavering. His grace is never ending. I am in awe. I am so excited to settle back into life in Tomsk and join the brothers and sisters in Christ who have already been loving the people for centuries. I may only understand a little Russian but I know that God understands all languages. He is calling all, even the Siberians, to Himself. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Getting Lost

Since I wrote my last blog post many exciting things have occurred. We moved to a new apartment with 2 other Russian girls named Anisa and Katya. They are very lovely and are helping us learn so much Russian! We began teaching our English courses and have have about 20 people show up in total to our first two classes. We have successfully figured out the bus system, how to cross the busy streets by ourselves, and how to buy groceries at the supermarket. These first (almost) three weeks have been quite the whirlwind but there is one even that sticks out in my mind quite heavily: I caused a pressure cooker to explode. That's right, I became one of the 100 goofballs who are seriously burnt by pressure cookers a year. Life is all about learning and I have now learned that pressure cookers are of the devil and should not be challenged to a fight. Ever. However, fret not! My injuries are healing flawlessly with no infection. My left hand suffered a slight 1st degree burn and just looks like a peeling sunburn but I suffered a 2nd degree burn on my chest and that was pretty sick nasty. Think blistered and oozing and peeling and yellow. Yuck!

Our new apartment with Anisa and Katya is a lot closer to the city center and it is truly a blessing. We can now walk almost anywhere and get there within an hour and our bus rides are much shorter. We're hoping to get our own apartment on this side of town because it is only a 10 minute walk from where we will be teaching English all semester. Our new roommates have taken it upon themselves to help us learn meany new Russian words and have been a great encouragement in our language learning. I personally am picking up a lot of little words here and there and can kind of understand some things in context through I have no idea what the literal translation is. It is definitely a gift from God that I had to learn Czech when I lived in the Czech Republic in high school. Knowing Czech has helped me grasp the language aspects that my partners are struggling in. Again, God's plans are far better than mine and He is putting my prior experience and knowledge to good use here in Russia and I am so thankful for this.

Our English courses. These courses have been quite the experience. ESL is my minor at school but actually teaching ESL is like being on a whole 'nother planet! We have dived head first into lesson planning and making sure that we are catering to the needs of each individual student. Our classes are not so much structured and focused on precise grammar as they are about providing a means for Russians to practice their conversational skills. Russians begin learning English in school but most have never been placed in a situation that required them to use their English. So we are constantly exploiting the fact that we are native speakers and that we would love to just chat with people! This seems simple enough but there are instances when it can be a real challenge coming up with new things to talk about. Thankfully, God's got our back and He always provides words when we are lacking.

Oh girl, the bus system. You have to pay EVERY SINGLE TIME that you ride a bus. You could be going 2 stops or 20 stops, you still have to pay the 15 rubles (approx. 50 cents). If the bus is crowded you actually have to talk to people and ask them to pass your money down the bus to the driver, who counts your money and gives out the change WHILE HE DRIVES! Y'all, these drivers are talented fellows. I was the first to muster enough courage to speak Russian on the bus and pay our fare. Now we have each done it and our friends are amazed that we can already ride the bus no problem and navigate around town. Tomsk only has about 700,000 people to transportation isn't that bad and living right by the downtown makes it all the better!

The grocery store is fun. We usually end up buying what we are familiar with based on the picture or if we can tell what it is by looking at it. The cashiers are always a little confused by us because we speak English and only know how to tell them if we do or don't need a bag, that we really don't want a "bonus card," and that we do indeed have the correct amount of change to pay for our stuff. Though sometimes they speak a little too fast and things have gotten quite confuddled. Since Russia has really cheap and really delicious ice cream we seem to pop into the same grocery store every other day for a little comfort food and the cashiers are getting to know us. Have I mentioned that there are little stores EVERYWHERE?! If we ever need anything we just have to walk across the street. Like, the other night I was craving potatoes so I went and bought some. Boom. No biggie! And our friends are very good about making sure we try lots of traditional Russian food.

Olga is quickly becoming one of our closest friends and she is so willing to show us the town and introduce us to new friends. She is so caring and fun and all around a great gal. For instance, today we wandered around for 5 hours and got to visit some amazing places. She is also really good about taking pictures! So I will close this blog with a praise for new friends, a request for you to keep us in your prayers, and a few pictures.
World War II monument with fellow Americans

My burn

The inside of an Orthodox church

Inside of a Jewish Synagogue

Rubbing Chekhov's nose for good luck

This is Olga. Our lovely friend!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Socks and Sandals

Anyone who knows me knows that I will find a way to wear my Chacos anywhere during any season. I will wear them to class, to go shopping, to church, to go on a hike, and just around the house. Since we've been in Russia, I have only worn my tennis shoes once. My feet are in heaven! Russians have no shame about their feet and will even wear socks with sandals. Well, the men will anyways. The women keep to their sky high heels. However, I have plenty of women wearing tiny little socks with their sandals and their heels so I guess my socks and Chacos combo (Sockos) isn't that terrible!

Last week we partook in the loveliest of English camps along the Ob River about an hour and  a half outside
of Tomsk. Including all of the Americans there were 62 people in total. Allie, Alissa and I were not just teaching English at camp, they were teaching us Russian. My personal vocabulary expanded from 5 words to 55 words. I was beyond encouraged by fellow believers who were present at camp as well as the generous students in my class. I got to teach the very basic, beginning, no prior English class. They had so much patience and were an absolute blast to teach. Teaching beginners English requires you to slow everything down and really focus on how you pronounce every single syllable. After camp on Friday I was still speaking slower than a turtle walks but man, was I so understandable! The Russians even told me that I was pretty decent at teaching pronunciation. This is only made possible by my professor, Mr. Sukany, and the Good Lord up in Heaven.

We were greatly blessed at camp with many new friends and cannot wait to start getting settled in here in Tomsk. We have found places to stay for the second half of July, all of August, and will be making our visa run in the very beginning of September. So for the next four weeks we are in a slight limbo and are still praying for a family, or multiple families, to take us in. Please join us in this prayer.

I could never express my gratitude towards all who have helped me get to Russia and the loving Lord who has allowed me to take part in His great work. Thank you for all of your prayers, encouragement, and time. Your love is felt, even if I am living 12 hours in the future!

By the way, Russians know how to make some good grub. Let me take a second to give mad props to the cooks at camp who cooked the meanest porridge and the best lentils I've ever had the pleasure of gobbling down. And the girl we are living with, Ann, she can cook a meal fit for a king. As Jimmy Fallon would say, "It's so great! My man. SO great!"

Friday, June 13, 2014

We Have Arrived

We have made it to Tomsk and it is lovely. We have just begun this journey and are still in the Honeymoon phose so each new thing is still very exciting. A young woman named Ann has taken us in for a few days before English camp and is taking great care of us. The trip here was very long and exhausting but we are slowly adjusting to the time change, the temperature change, and the fact that the sun doesn't set until 11. This next month is about to be crazy because thye have just informed us that we will probably be spending our homestay in a couple different villages outside camp and potentially going to help with a children's camp for two weeks in July. Heyooo! I love camp!

Please keep praying for Allie, Alissa, and me as we continue to adjust, begin to learn the Russian language, and figure everything else out for the next six months. We can't wait to start teaching English and make new friends. Lastly, our visa is only a 90 day visa so we will have to get another one in September. Please be praying that everything will go smoothly with our visaas and that we won't have to spend too much time away from our new home.

Peace and Blessings

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Simply Getting There

Alissa, Me, and Allie
The journey to Russia these past few months has been a long one. There have been mountains of paperwork, reading, writing, and packing. We are a week out from leaving and I couldn't be more excited to step on that plane with Allie and Alissa next Wednesday! These two girls have become a huge part of my life and we are still in the States. I look forward to learning a new language with them and growing in our walk. We have been preparing for these six months for the past three years. I cannot believe that the time has finally come!

Many people have been asking me if I am excited to be heading to Russia and I am still unsure about how to answer. I say yes because I am excited about the opportunity but it is all still so surreal. My suitcases are sitting open in my bedroom and my visa is still on its way via FedEx. This journey began 3 years ago but I feel as if it still has not started. I am trying not to have any expectations about anything and I think this is the biggest reason that I am remaining pretty ambivalent about the whole situation. Father has a plan and it is not reliant upon my feelings and emotions. What happens happens. For now all I can do is follow His will, stockpile everything I will need for the next six months,
and be a good teammate to Allie and Alissa.
Speaking of stockpiles, I'm pretty proud of all that I
have been able to amass these past few days! It may not look like much to some, or too much to others, but after spending my junior year of high school as an exchange student in the Czech Republic, I know that this is the perfect stock of amenities and treats to make it through culture shock and transition.

Our first month in Russia will be all about learning the language and culture. We will be living with Russians and acting as sponges in our new home. If you think about us, lift us up to Dad. Ask that we might become better followers, better listeners, better communicators, and better teammates. Ask that we might be able to remember all that we've learned and serve selflessly. These next six months are about to be crazy and I am so excited for the work that we get to join in while we are there!