Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dwindling Days

We have 15 magical days remaining in our semester abroad and my heart is so full of emotion. I have truly come to appreciate and love the people of Tomsk. I have also come to slightly accept the bitterly cold weather of Siberia and always having to wear leggings under my jeans. Always. In the last week or so we have been spending a plethora of time with our friends. Friends all the time. These friends are why we came to Tomsk and such people are why it is going to be an emotional goodbye.

Spending any amount of time in another country allows you to experience the roller coaster that culture shock and culture struggle. As I reflect over the last 5.5 months there were some definite highs and lows. There were struggles, trials, and lots of snow. However, through it all God was faithful. He was faithful to work out our visa situation and return to Russia in September. He was faithful to continue bringing  people to our classes, English Club, and random get-togethers. The Lord was also constant in uniting Allie, Alissa, and me, as we worked together, lived together, and generally spent every moment together. God has been teaching me so much about communication.

Having a pre-existing timeline placed on your life really affects your communication. Knowing I only have 6 months to say what I need to say in Tomsk has lead me to pray for a lot more boldness in every conversation that I am a part of. Please join me in praying for our last 10 days here and the many conversations and meetings that we will have that will be Christmas themed! Speaking of Christmas: it snows so much here! There is snow everywhere! On the rare days that it is not snowing and the sun is shining it can only mean one thing... -30 temperatures. Yay!

It has been hilarious hearing everyone's response to our disdain towards the bitter cold. Some of our friends poke fun at us and remind us that it is still autumn but others are honest and will sadly admit to us that -30 is really cold. OF COURSE IT IS REALLY COLD!! I know you are Siberian (or live in Siberia) but when you have friends going to the doctor to treat mildly frost bitten cheeks there is a problem. By the way, it is currently -29 C outside. Just let that sink in for a moment. The barely freezing weather of Moscow in 10 days is going to seem like summer!

Enough about weather, let me tell you a story. Last week we went and saw a movie in theatres for the first time here in Tomsk. We joined our friends Emil & Jenny and a few others from English Club for an evening of madness entitled Interstellar. If I am being honest, I understood only a little bit of the movie but it was so good!! Not knowing what was going on almost made it more fun and I laughed more than anyone should at such an intense outer space drama. It also provided plenty to talk about at our English group!

In our English group we have been going through the Old Testament once a week and we just made it to the Ten Commandments. It has been taking some time to get through but I am so thankful it has. Those who stick around for our post-lesson Bible lesson come ready to listen and ask questions. This last week we were discussing the connection between the Ten Commandments (following the law) and Jesus (free grace.) Over and over again I am reminded of words spoken by Jesus to the twelve disciples in Mark. He gently reminded them that sometimes you just have to speak in parables because they do not yet know the Truth. This is truer than ever here in Russia. I am ever thankful that God has given us the ability to be creative in the ways in which we share our lives and faith.

...alright, alright, alright. Thanksgiving just happened here in Russia and we actually had friends to celebrate with. It was my first experience getting to host the meal and my first experience having chicken instead of Turkey. I am thankful that we have made friends who actually want to spend major holidays with us and share their lives with us. My heart is so grateful and content that we are united as the Body of Christ and it is our Saviour that brings us together.

I have written a lot already in this post and I wish I could write so much more. I wish I could tell all of you all about everything that God is doing in Tomsk. I wish I could convince you all to come here and meet my friends. I wish I could start raising support again to come back after graduation. Tomsk is not a perfect place but I can tell you that God's plan for Tomsk is perfect. I pray that someday I can return. (Who ever thought I would say that?!) And I pray that Jesus grabs a hold of every heart in Tomsk and claims this city as a stronghold for the Kingdom.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Party Time

As we are winding down and getting closer tot he end of our semester in Tomsk it seems that we are becoming busier than ever. People are realizing that we will be leaving soon and are trying to squeeze in their fun with us and their goodbyes. It is so fun to spend so much time with people we have come to know so well through our classes, English club, and church. It also turns out to be the holiday season which means that it is time to party!! A couple weeks ago we even had a Harvest Party on Halloween, we've been hosting more movies, we will celebrate Thanksgiving with some American friends, we're going to have a couple Christmas parties, and finally our Farewell Party. 

On Halloween we invited over some friends to join us in playing some fun games and eating lots of food involving pumpkin. Alissa and I cooked up some apple cobbler, pumpkin dump cake, and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. We had our guests bob for apples (which was hilarious!), eat doughnut shaped crackers off of hanging strings, we played Halloween-themed  Heads-Up, and played charades. It was an evening filled with laughter! 

Last week we also got the opportunity to join the young people of the church here in Tomsk on a Fall Retreat to the village. We spent one night in a small village playing games, studying Scripture, and worshiping together. After playing some introductory games we were split into two teams and had to go around the village on a scavenger hunt. It happened to be way below freezing and we were not on any ordinary scavenger hunt! this hunt was to find the "pilot" of a fake plane that had "crashed" in the village. We were in a great hurry to find the pilot and save him from the bad guys; this required a lot of running. Once we warmed up and watched a movie they decided that it would be fun to hold a wrestling tournament at 1 in the morning. There was a boy's division and a girl's division. Somehow, all three American were randomly chosen to participate in the wrestling tournament. It was the first and last time I will ever wrestle anyone. 

Aside from all the fun it was a great time of relaxation and bonding. It is still amazing to me that God loves us all and can be our Heavenly Father regardless of the language that we speak. AND He has allowed us to be brothers and sisters through Jesus Christ our Savior. 

Aside from having tons of fun, I can see that I am still learning more about the Russian people and language. I am able to pick up on many more words in conversations and reading the Russian language is becoming easier, However, Russian is still a very humbling language because it is so difficult to learn to speak. There are multiple cases that effect literally every word in any given sentence. Just when you think you are getting the hang of talking about something you will no doubt be corrected because you are speaking int he wrong case. Russians even tell us that their native tongue is much more difficult than English. I agree. Just take a look at all the ways that the root word of "run" can be written in different cases and forms. These aren't even all of them!

I may be able to read all of these words but please don't ask me to translate! However, I can tell you all about the film, "Hot Rod" in Russian. I am obviously learning the most important things in Russian. Another exciting thing is that I realized on Sunday that there are some worship songs that we sing at church that I can sing along to. How cool is it that we can worship in so many different languages?! It is truly beautiful. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Putting Down Roots

While I am not the biggest fan of how cold it can get in Siberia, I am falling more and more in love with most everything else in Tomsk. I love that I can go around the corner and purchase pumpkins from the old lady at the market and have my pick from the 30 pumpkins she has stashed in her van! I love that I can now speak to people in simple Russian, I love that I have friends. I love that people are coming to our English group consistently. I love that it snowed for 5 days straight. My heart is so full of joy!

About buying pumpkins: on Wednesday I took a field trip to the market near our apartment with the hopes of buying some pumpkins for my friend Jenny. Upon my arrival to the stand where I knew they sold pumpkins I only saw a few very sad looking, mushy pumpkins. I greeted the women and told them that I was wanting some pumpkins. They asked me what size and when I told them I wanted small pumpkins they told me to follow them around to the van. (remember this is all happening in Russian) At the van I was amazed! This jank, light-blue, Soviet era van was filled to the brim with ripe punkins! As I was picking out the right ones to give to Jenny one of the women remembered me from the first time that I bought from her and greeted me with a hearty hello. Then she got into her car and pulled out some garlic. She said a few words but that only thing I really caught was the word for "gift." She was giving me the gift of garlic. (I LOVE garlic) My day was made! Not only was I able to buy pumpkins on my own I was also able to make friends the women selling the pumpkins. This just proves that God has perfect timing and He is the giver of all knowledge. Without His provisions there is no way that I would be able to pick up on so much Russian and be able to do what I did.

I would like to now take a moment to brag on English Club. English Club is run by our good friends Emil, Jenny, and their adorable daughter named Leeza. These three have been an integral part to adjusting to living in Siberia. They have taken us in and called us friends. Spending time with this family is a gift and being able to join them in the work they do has been the most delightful experience. At English Club I think we (Allie, Alissa, and I) have been able to flourish as teammates and teachers. Jenny has helped us to come together as a trio and helped us to utilize our different gifts and talents. Saturdays are quite possibly my favorite day of the week because I get to see people I know and get to have tons of fun! We play games, have tea, learn/teach grammar, and participate in discussions. Last week we talked about Halloween and fears; I was able to be candid about my faith and share how I believe that "perfect love drives out fear." The perfect love of God takes our fears and erases them. That when we are so focused on loving God and receiving His love then we forget our fears. Then this week was super chill and I got to hang out with Baby Leeza and get to know some of the young people from church a lot better.

Playing a game at English Club and there's Leeza!

It is so fun!

I teach English sometimes

Our friends, and Russian teachers, Ivan and Katya

While living in Russia and learning to speak Russian is a marvelous thing I am finding more and more that knowing English really does open so many doors. Teaching and saying the same old things in English can get old, but the relationships it brings about makes me get over myself real quick. The work we are doing with English has led us to so many friends and tonight at English Club there were even some people asking about coming to church tomorrow. Hallelujah! We are also going on a 24-hour retreat this next week and another girl from our English group will be joining us. I am so thankful for these times to get to know people better and to share my heart with them. Seriously, I feel as if my heart could burst with joy! As fun as it to know that I am getting closer to seeing my family in America, it is even funner spending more days with my friends and family in Tomsk. God has planted us here and we are slowly putting down roots. I am comfortable living here and I am refusing to think of this as our final month in Tomsk because who really wants to see me become an emotional wreck. Let's be real... The people of Tomsk have stolen my heart. I have roots here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Ever Mysterious "Teek-vah"

Here is a little known fact: I love pumpkins! I love the little, cute ones. I love the big mama ones. I love the ugly, warty ones. And I especially love the ones that are pumpkins! I love how versatile the pumpkin is; you can decorate with it, carve it, smash it, chuck it, and eat it. To me, punkins represent everything that is right with the season of fall. Fall is so cozy! In the fall people come together to do things like carve pumpkins. Humans gather together to cut holes into vegetables, well actually punkins are a fruit, specifically a berry. What is not to love?! As an American I have taken for granted how we celebrate Fall in America. The Russians see fall as the time when everything gets colder and it rains and very few have discovered the exponential power of the pumpkin. 

When I first mentioned to a Russian that I hadn't seen any pumpkins here in Siberia they were very confused. Even the best English speakers in our classes had no clue what I was speaking of! So I set off to figure out the word for pumpkin and if it existed in this geographically secluded location. 
Тыква (which is pronounced [TEEK-VAH]) is the word for pumpkin. Now every time I speak of these amazing vegetab-b-berries I can refer to them in the proper term and tell of all of the glorious foods than can be created by them! 

Aside from pumpkins, our English classes have been going amazingly well. Tomorrow will actually be the last time we get to host the group in our home because it has gotten so large. Yay! Everyone always comes ready to speak and I really feel as if everyone who comes is willing to share something with the group. Each person has something valuable to contribute to the conversation. The English Club on Saturday nights has also been going swimmingly. The same people are coming week after week and we are able to build relationships with them. One couple, Katie and Vanya, are now coming over every Monday to teach us Russian. Score! They are a blessing and I am blown away by how patient they are with us as we giggle through each lesson. I really feel like I am learning! Even if my pronunciation is sometimes really horrible. 

Playing games at English Club
I have come to really love our Saturday night English Club. It takes some serious planning but it always ends up a lot of fun. Also, can I brag on my roommates, business partners, and friends? Alissa and Allie have been so vital to my survival. I am so thankful for who they are. I am so thankful for their perseverance and general cheerfulness. 

Alright y'all. Keep praying for us and all the things. Especially our insomnia. And paper writing. Thanks. Truly.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

A New Life

Press play then read.

If I ever needed a large dose of encouragement, it was after this weekend. For the last two weeks, I had been feeling relatively lonely and felt as if the only people I could relate to were Allie and Alissa. I was definitely struggling to love Tomsk and make time to spend with people. There was nothing especially difficult about this past weekend but I could tell that I was fed up with myself. I was fed up with the way that I had secluded myself and stopped reaching out to the people around me. I was fed up with how I was focusing all of my energy on myself and my life in America. I have felt as if I were doing nothing and everything all at once. We are teaching tons of English here in Russia and trying to learn a lot more Russian. I had been making everything about me. Even this paragraph revolved around me. 

Why am I so selfish?

Sometimes I think Satan feeds us lies and tries to get us to forget about the freedom, hope, and new life that we have in Jesus Christ. When I made the decision to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, have a relationship with God, and be led by the Holy Spirit, I died to my former life and entered into a life freedom. 

Galatians 2:20-21 says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." 

I had to let that soak in for a moment. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. It is futile for me to be caught up in my own misfortunes and to keep running in circles in my mind over how selfish I am being. Dwelling on my selfishness is still selfish! Duh. It is pointless for me to seek ways to fix myself. My seemingly selfless actions are in vain when I am trying to gain satisfaction from what I am doing. Christ died for a purpose. His purpose is all of us. His grace is for all of us. It was only through Christ that my sinning flesh was put to death. It was only through Christ that I was made whole; in Christ, I am forgiven and made righteous. 

Yesterday, at church, we celebrated Thanksgiving. It was such a joy to take part in giving thanks and praise to a God who loves us. It didn't matter that we speak different languages. God hears each of our hearts and calls out to us. No matter our background or our language, Christ is all and in all. This thanksgiving came at just the right time. I am so thankful for this opportunity to be in Russia: to be teaching English, to be learning Russian, to be making new friends, to be mentored by people like Emil & Jenny, to be living with Allie & Alissa, to be attending a church that is focused on reaching the community, to be eating new foods, to be learning how to live selflessly, and to be gifted with the means to share my life in Christ with others. Mm, praise the Lord!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The United Kingdom: the one with all the words

If you aren't up for reading  a bunch of words right now you have my permission to check out my other post on the UK which is all pictures. Or just go to my facebook and scroll through all of that. If you are taking the time to read all of this, thank you. Sincerely. I am so excited to share with you all that this last month has held. I spent most of the last month in the United Kingdom taking expensive trains everywhere. I never thought I'd ever see the day when I would be excited to return to the sketchy buses of Tomsk but I did. I saw that day. That day was last week right before our visas came in while we were still in London. It was strange but I know that it was reassurance from the Lord that Tomsk, Russia was the place that I was supposed to be. Tomsk is where God has established us and obviously where He wants now. I am delighted that we had leisure time in the UK but I was ready to be back somewhere familiar.

It has honestly not been the easiest transition back into Russia because I really liked the UK but our dear friends Emil and Jenny have encouraged us to live for the moment and the people here in Tomsk. They told us to envision our last day here and imagine all that God will have us do while we are here. So that's what I'm doing. I'm living in the here and now and letting God to the leading. Each day holds a new adventure and I can trust my Father to take care of me.

The last month has been pretty emotional for me because I have seen the other side. Being in Tomsk has been tough because our supervisor lives 6 hours away by car. There are very few foreigners in Tomsk and we have no real guidance in what we should be doing here. Our program is supposed to be like an apprenticeship and we have had to go out and find our own mentors instead of simply joining one (or some) that are already here. However, in the UK there were TONS of foreigners. Everywhere. And we had supervisors and people taking care of us everywhere we went. It was so nice not having to think about what we had to do and not having to make major decisions all by ourselves.

Enough about transitions and such. Let me tell you about some of the fun things we got to to while we were in the UK! First off we arrived and found out that when we weren't in Scotland we would be living in a house of some Americans who were stateside. Score!! this place had a backyard and a dryer. I could not have been more excited to be in a house after 3 months of apartment living. I guess I like houses... We spent two nights in Horsham, England before we set off for Scotland. The first full day in the UK we got to go down to the coast and see the Seven Sisters white cliffs and dip our toes in the water. It was so beautiful! Then we drove over to the small town Arundel where there was a huge castle and a quint little tea house. Talk about love. I love Europe. I love castles. I love pretty. I loved that Monday!

On Tuesday we caught a very early train to Edinburgh, Scotland. WOWZERS!! That city is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen (besides Prague) and was so worth the trip. As we emerged from the train station we saw beautiful old buildings everywhere. The sun was shining upon the Edinburgh Castle that sits on the highest hill in the city. At the foot of the hill was the greenest of parks and Princes Street where our hostel was located. For dinner we went to the upstairs of a nice pub and had some traditional pub food. I had the biggest fish and chips ever. Ever. And it was so good.

While we were in Scotland we walked 5 miles to the beach, toured the Edinburgh Castle, walked the length of the Royal Mile and Princes Street about 7 times, did some well deserved shopping, took a haunted night tour of the city, ate good food, hiked up an extinct volcano, and drank a lot of Starbucks. All in all, Edinburgh was a treat and a chance of a lifetime. It was a place I never dreamed of going and now I dream of going back. Three days was not enough and now I have the travelling itch again. Can someone pay me to travel and give speeches about what it means to serve the community? I could do that! I like travelling and talking and sharing my faith! Until that day comes I'll be satisfied with the places that God takes me.

When we returned to London we met up with Allie's aunt and uncle and cousins for a couple of days in downtown London. That place is massive, crowded, expensive, and has way too many trains. The sights were beautiful and being in a city was fun but my favorite place was Notting Hill. Alissa and I took a detour to Portabello Market in Notting Hill while Allie and the fam took a 3 hour tour of Buckingham Palace. It was a Saturday so everything was jam packed but it was so fun to simply walk the streets and see everything that London had to offer. Lastly we got to climb to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, take a tour of Hamlet's which is a huge toy store, and eat Chipotle. London was well worth it.

After our time in London came to an end we spent the next week and a half living in our house in Horsham and commuted to Kingston to help out the International Society at the university. In Kingston we got to experience the beginning of the school year at a British University and meet students from all over the world. I loved getting to talk to hundreds of people and use English to do so. It was a great change of pace from the work we have been doing in Tomsk and the vacationing in London ad. Scotland. Something I did notice about the people in the London area was just how friendly they were. People were smiling and laughing and having a good time everywhere they went. It was familiar and I loved it!

The family who took care of us while we stayed in Horsham was the coolest! Tina and Jerry are Americans who live and work near London with their three children. It turned out that the Barnwell family had lived in Russia for a couple years as well as Prague. WHAT?! It was fun to be able to relate with them about life in Russia and be completely understood. Then I found out that I lived in Prague while they were living there and we even attended the same International high school graduation. I was in the same building, the same room, with this couple 5 years before I ever met them! I am always so amazed at how small this world and the people that God will place in your path. Tina and Jerry have the sweetest kids and it was a blast to spend so much time with them. We got to play games, eat pancakes, watch movies, and learn all about Minecraft with Brennan, Reegan, and Karis. Those three kiddos will always hold a special place in my heart. I pray that someday I will be able to have my own children who are super chill with living in different places and that they will be as kindhearted as the Barnwell's. Lastly, did I mention that Tina is the greatest cook ever? Well, she is. If you would like to know more about this blessing of a family you should check them out at

It has taken me a while to actually complete this post because my mindset and my heart were not in the right place to share my experiences with you. I was feeling slightly bitter about returning to Russia after experiencing such bliss in the UK. This was definitely my flesh trying to win over my desire to serve and live for God. It took some time of prayer and chatting with God but I can now say that I am so glad that we are back in Russia. We have been going nonstop since we returned to Tomsk. God has blessed us with amazing friends and I love being able to share my life with the people here. Please keep us and our friends in your prayers. The weather is getting colder and we are getting busier. I ask that you pray that I would keep my focus on the Lord and find time to rest in Him. Also, that I could stay motivated to serve selflessly and give 100% to our English courses. I am so thankful to have such lovely supporters

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The United Kingdom: the one with all the pictures

It has been nearly a month since my last post and it has been the busiest month of my life! I never thought doing a semester abroad could be so jam-packed with so many places and faces and castles. The last month has taken me to three different countries and brought a few new friends into my life. At the beginning of our trip to Russia we realized that our visa was only good for 90 days. For a minute this posed a problem because we had a visa that could not be renewed or prolonged so we had to get out of dodge or run run the risk of being detained. Yikes! I like Russia but I'd rather not be detained here. After some deliberation a decision was made to send us to London, England to help some folks with the work they were doing there. So for two and a half weeks we hung out in the UK and served the people there as we awaited word on a new Russian visa. But first we had to catch a flight. 

After being awake for way too long we met up with some lovely American who took care of us while we were in the UK. They took us on adventures to see the sea.

After seeing the sea we hopped on a train and headed towards Scotland! It took us a little more than 5 hours to get there and another hour to find our hostel but it was worth it. We stayed in the quaintest of hostel right downtown and for three days we lived at the foot of a castle. We wandered the streets of a city that was built before my homeland of America was even conceived. Just check out Edinburgh for yourself!

For the record: that is FIRE!

It was a bit of a culture shock to go from Siberia, Russia to London to Scotland in less than 72 hours but we managed. We couldn't help but love every second we spent in a new location. Even train rides were amazing to us. After a few days in Scotland we spent a couple days in downtown London with Allie's extended family. They drove up to see Allie and we loved meeting them! It was so fun to kinda be a part of a family unit again. 

AND THENNNNN we spent time with one of the coolest families I have ever met. The Barnwell clan will always have a special place in my heart and prayers. Tina and Jerry are parents to the coolest kids: Karis, Brennan, and Reegan. They love the Lord and are raising their kids to be fantastic young people who love people, love the Lord, love good food, and love movies. They were totally my kind of people. Tina took good care of us and made sure that we were fed well. Like, so well. I ate like the queen when Tina cooked. Also, I chopped nearly 10 inches of my hair off while we were there. Sooo yeahhh....

Then, praise God, our visas came back to us and we hopped on another plane to Russia. I hope you enjoyed these pics and if you would like to know some of the stories behind the pics you can check out my other post, The United Kingdom: the one with all the words.