New Experiences Together

There was a line of cars in front of our church building as the sun began to spread its light.  Almost thirty young people from my church were headed to a youth conference in a city three hours away.  After a few pit stops for car repairs and other necessary things we arrived in Veronedj.  The day was filled with good fellowship, insightful messages and encouraging music but my favorite part of the trip was yet to come.  We stayed the night with families from the church and returned the next day to be part of the Sunday morning worship service.  Hi up in the choir loft our choir took part in the service through song.  It was the first Sunday of the month so we were celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

They prayed for the bread and then made the long trek up to the choir loft to distribute it to the choir first.  With the way we were standing, it happened that I was the first person in the whole church of a few thousand people to be offered the bread.  When I looked at the plate I was shocked and horrified!  The pieces of bread were as big as my fist!  I quickly searched for the smallest piece, to no avail, and bravely took a chunk.  The Lord’s Supper is such a beautiful time of reflection of Christ’s sacrifice and giving of thanks for what He has done.  A few seconds into my time of prayer and reflection I got the memo that we will be singing as the ushers continue to pass out the bread to others!  I began to stuff the mountain of bread down my throat but it was already too late!  The music had begun.  Still having half the piece of bread in my hand I frantically looked around and saw my friend behind me squeeze her left over piece into the palm of her hand, hiding the evidence.  I quickly followed suit, picked up my choir folder and hid my hand behind the music.  Latter, I heard from other choir members their reactions to the massive pieces of bread.  one of our tenors did not realize we were going to sing during the Lord’s Supper so was peacefully taking his time praying when he heard the accompaniment track to our song come on.  He opened his eyes to see our director posed and ready to begin.  What would you do in this situation?  In a split second my friend stuffed the whole piece in his mouth and sang the whole song with his cheeks full of bread!  During the prayer for the wine I managed to inhale the remainder of my bread. Someone leaned over and whispered, “Know let’s see if they bring us all individual liters of wine to drink!”  This, thankfully, was not the case.

That night as our caravan made its way back to Tambov we reflected on everyone’s experiences from the weekend.  But we just kept coming back to how big the pieces of bread were!  While we were pulled over, during one of our car repair stops, people got out of their cars to visit with each other.  One woman who was traveling with us, had not been in church with us that morning because she was visiting her friend’s church.  She shared how that morning they had taken the Lord’s Supper and the pieces of bread were so huge.  BUT, she asked the usher if she could just break off a little piece, and he replied, “Actually that’s what you are supposed to do.”  The people in my car fell silent out of horror and then burst into laughter!  OOPS!

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Also in Veronedj we were given New Testaments and went to give them to people who would want them.  I got to see many of my young friends who are just starting on their walk with God be bold and engage strangers in conversation.  This is a picture of us singing in the park after we had given out the Bibles.

   Two weeks in Europe 

I am blessed to be spending the next two weeks with my future team while they are applying for visas.  Every three months the team in Lipetsk has to exit to apply for new visas.  They found a very cost effective option in Vienna and invited me along.  Only two days into the trip and I am really enjoying getting to know my future team.

Last night we decided we wanted some authentic Austrian food.  So we stopped at a little pub down the street from our hotel and filed in, all eleven of us.  When the waiter came out with the picturless German menue we all prepared ourselves for an interesting meal.  We somehow got across the drinks we wanted and then worked through the options on the menue.  When the waitress came out we tried to ask about certain things.  She was great.  She started mooing and putting her fingers next to her head like horns to show it was cow.  For the dish that I asked about she began squwaking and doing her version of the chicken dance.  The best part was how serious she was about it, so none of us felt it was appropriate to burst into laughter.  It was very difficult.  

Success!!  Sarah was very happy with her “Viner schnitzel.”  

We didn’t all get what we thought we orderd but it was all very good!  We waited and waited for the last two meals that we thought had been ordered, until finally I tried to ask the waitres when their meals would come.  We all understood that the two children that had been waiting, actually did not have any food comming.  Of course we thought we had ordered them something… I wonder if she thought that we were just so cruel to have these two starving children sit there and watch us eat.  We had all shared with eachother and had more than we could eat so the children did not go hungry.  In the whole mix up I asked… No, I tried to ask, for the check to see if their meals were orderd.  She came out with the menue.  I tried again, drawing pictures in the air of a rectangle pice of something.  She came out with a pen and paper.  I finally took money out of my wallet and pretended to count it out and hand it to her.  She then understood.

Now I have a new language I want to learn!  We’ll see how long that desire lasts.

Grandma Loobov (love)

It was a wet, cold day in November and Lisa (my roommate) and I were headed to the hospital. We entered the campus and made our way to the last building in the first line. After handing in our coats to the coat check (because they are dirty from outside) we put on our plastic shoe coverings called bahili. Off we went to the corridor and were met with a nearly suffocating stench of medicine and other such things (not sure what all the smells were, not sure I want to know). There was no front desk or anyone to ask where our friend’s grandma was so Lisa tried to remember from her visit the day before. As we waited for the elevator (lift) to the second flour we wondered if the four people waiting would fit in the regular sized elevator. We all squashed in, with Lisa and I stuck in the back and us exciting first, of course. After wandering around the second floor for a few minutes we peeked our heads into a little room and found the tired smile of Sergei. He has been sitting with his adopted grandmother all week. Feeding her through a tube, running after nurses for medicine and changing her pampers. His adopted mom had come once the day before but pregnant with twins and often in a drunken state, she can not be bothered with caring for her mom. So Sergei has asked for help, because he can not sit with grandma Looba twenty-four seven. There is no bed or food for him here. He needs his rest, he already has a bad cough. So Lisa and I came in, wide eyed and nervous. Sergei showed Lisa how to give babushka Looba water through her tube and to hold her hand so she wouldn’t pull out the injection. As Sergei was leaving I handed him a bag of food insisting that he eat. He kind of promised and went off to his doctors appointment for the cough.

Looba had a stroke and is left without speech and strength. I believe the three other grandmas in the room have suffered from the same thing. We have a husband sitting with his wife, a woman who looks very healthy actually, and the third one (with purple hair) has a nurse that her family pays to sit with her.
A nurse just came in to put needles into babushka Looba’s stomach while she was sleeping. Lisa had to hold the cotton over the poke when she was done, I guess it saves on bandaids or tape.
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Please pray for  grandma Looba that she would regain strength and be able to go home. Pray for my church that people would come and care for this dear boy and his grandma. And pray for Sergei to understand the love God has for him and accept Jesus’s free gift of holiness and receive an amazing relationship with The Lord.

Fear of Men

Asking wisdom from godly friends is so important. Following their advice has been difficult but I know it is wise. So I have been trying to be faithful in following their wisdom.

But I realized that it had begun to turn into fearing men. Deep down in my heart I would wonder if my friends saw me acting this way would they approve? Would they think I was following their advice? It was steeling my joy and freedom in Christ. I realized that my actions should not change (I do not need to stop following their advice), but my heart, somewhere deep inside, had to change. I needed to call myself out on fearing men and live a godly, holy life blameless before God.

Praise The Lord, He gave me opportunity to clearly see this in my heart this week. I acted in a way that was not according to the wise advice I had received and was convicted to apologize to our camp leader. I purposed in my heart that the first time I saw him in the morning I would tell him. I saw him, and hesitated, but praise The Lord my feet just started taking steps towards him. Before I knew it I was standing before Igor and offering my apology. And as God’s grace would have it, turned out that Igor did not say that he disapproved of what I had done. Even so I knew my heart had been wrong before The Lord but it proved to me that I am not to fear how men view me. I am to stand before God in blamelessness. This does not mean I should not apologize for wrongs I do before men, but my motivation is not to gain approval, it is to remain right before God. Does that make sense? Anyway, it’s a little hard blessing that God has been teaching me during the past camp.

Here is a picture from the Lipetsk children’s camp, with the theme of Alice in Wonderland. My ministry was crafts, teaching English Bible songs, doing English club, and trying to serve the staff whenever I could.
Please pray for the upcoming Yezidi children’s camp.
– team unity
– health and energy
– creativity and clarity as we teach the Word
– salvation and spiritual growth of the children

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Family camp

I was sitting in my favorite place at camp, facing a young man who was here on a mission trip from another city in Russian. His name is Misha and we were serving together the youth at our family camp. Every day we met with the youth and had a short lesson. Each day Misha and I had a planning meeting where we bounced ideas off each other and we developed a rough outline. I sat in amazement as He understood what I was saying and was thanking me for help! Help?! I am helping someone develop their discipline skills?

I was standing on stage leading musical worship in Russian, and praying for strength the whole time. Everyone in or meeting probably knew he song better than I, but God had put me up there in my weakness. And in my weakness He was made strong! Everyday we sang 7 or 8 different songs, some I knew well, some I had only heard a few times, and some had so many words! 🙂 I made many mistakes, some words I just could not pronounce. But I was praising The Lord with my brothers and sisters and so thankful that they were cheering me on and knowing they were not judging me.

In short, what a cool thing it is to have last summer to compare with this one. Such a difference! Praise the Lord for the amazing work He has done in me in giving me greater understanding, broader vocabulary, and deeper friendships. Thank you Jesus!

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Pray for Nikolai

I was speaking with my friend in English on a city bus. We always get looks, (for many reasons) but this time, the way the man across the isle kept peeking over, I could tell he wanted to talk to us. My friend got off at his stop, but I still had a few more stops before I was home. It took the man a few minutes but eventually he came over and asked if I was speaking English and were I was from. I told him and he began to practice his English with me and said he would like more practice. So I told him about our English club run by a bunch of Americans that live in this city. He gave me his name so I could befriend him on a Russian social network. When I got home I sent him the address and time of our the club.

A little over a month ago I learned that he had begun to attend English club on a regular basis! One of the men who teaches built a relationship with him and I believe has had him over as a guest. In one of our recent team meetings I heard that Nicolai seams to be showing interest in things of God.

This weekend, being Christ’s Resurrection celebration, our church put on a musical at 10pm Saturday night. At midnight the room rang with shouts of celebration as we called out, “Christ has risen!” and the congregation answered, “He is risen indeed!!” When we began to mingle and greet one another with this joyful greeting who did I see but Nicolai! Later on, at noon on resurrection Sunday, we had another service followed by a time of fellowship. And again he was there!

Please pray for those of us here, that the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and boldness to say and ask what is needed. Also pray for Nicolai that God will continue to soften his heart and bring him to Himself.

I didn’t know it was okay to watch a movie while driving a taxi…

… but I guess it is.  🙂  Taxi rides are always full of stories.  There’s the time the driver was texting and changing the radio station at the same time.  Or the time I found an open bottle of something in the back seat and the driver smelt strongly of alcohol.  It is in these times that I suddenly become a prayer warrior!  Who needs books and studies to strengthen your prayer life; just take a ride in a taxi every once in a while and you’ll be set.  

Last night (a very busy night) was no exception.  The snow was whirling around the car and sticking to the slick roads.  (This is the most I have ever seen it snow here… it’s March… just wanted to point that out…)  I saw an icon stuck to the dashboard and remembered a story I heard of someone using this to begin talking about God.  So I tried to form a logical sentence in my head before opening my mouth, “кто это?” (who is this?)  I asked, pointing to the icon.  I said that I am a foreigner and I don’t know about these things.  He explained that if you have problems or need help the icon can help.  He said He believes in God and that God helps.  I asked him why he needs icons as well as God, why can’t he just pray to God.  He said that He has God too and showed me an icon of Jesus hanging on his windshield.  I asked if he reads the Bible.  When he said no I told him that the Bible has all the answers about God and life.  We were pulling up to my apartment when I invited him to come to our church if he would like to know what’s in the Bible.  But, I think I forgot to tell him when we meet.  

At the Bible study earlier tonight I heard stories of God working and changing lives, and I believe this gave me boldness to speak out about the truth.  I did not want to miss out on any blessing God had for me or my taxi driver.  So I encourage you to go and tell the life changing news of Jesus!!  I think a large percentage of you can speak the language of the people around you, so you have the ability to say so much more than I could.  So go, tell!  Also, go to church!!  And spend so, so much time talking with other Christians about how God is working in your life and the lives of those around you because this gives you boldness!  It is part of the cloud of witness that surrounds us.  Woohoo, I’m all fired up 🙂  

“We don’t like your cross”

A few weeks ago David was sitting in the home of Yuri and his parents. “Our son is in bad shape and needs rehab or he will kill himself” they said. David invited them to church the next day where they would meet the men from the rehab center and then Yuri could go back with them to the center. He gave them his card with his number on it, and in the corner was a little cross. But it wasn’t the orthodox cross. When David checked with them to make sure they would be at church they said, “we don’t need your help, we don’t like your cross.” David was shocked! Their son was about to die and they were worried that their crosses were different! He talked with them for a long time and finally they decided to come to church anyway. Sunday morning the whole family came and the mom and son even stayed the whole time. After the service Yuri went to rehab and stayed there for a few weeks, but he did not finish the program.
Last night I was sitting in a Bible study David leads for people who aren’t part of the church. Yuri (in the picture with the gray shirt) and his mom (with the zebra striped scarf) were there (as they usually are) with big smiles on their faces. When I see them in church they always greet me warmly and Lena (the mom) wraps me in a big hug. Last night was no exception. As we began Yuri said he had something to say. I was translating for a visitor…
“This Monday I was talking with a friend on the internet. This friend has been going to church for like 10 years. So we talked and talked. And then I said hang on I have to repent.” At witch point I said the words but only after I said them I realized what he was saying!!!
“After I prayed I got back online and my friend asked me how I feel. I said that I am just sitting here with a big grin on my face and don’t know why. The next day I read the Bible and it was so different. It was like a new book!”
It was so neat to be his voice to the woman I was translating for and tell her of another man whom God has brought to Himself!

Please pray for Yuri, Lena and the father. Praise the Lord for His amazing work!

In lesson today…

I read an article on family centers in Russia. The next three hours of the lesson flew out the window as we discussed families and marriage. I did nothing to instigate this prolonged conversation! Sometimes, I admit, that I add things or ask questions on a topic to get my teacher talking so I can have a break from all the grammar. This time I actually tried to get back to the textbook. But it was a very interesting topic for both of us and so we talked… We talked about families with only one child, families with many, how the centers help families in Russia, what life was like during the Soviet Union, and that there is still hope for me to be married (which is something I already knew)…
While we talked about parents and their relationship with their children it seemed natural to talk about our Heavenly Father and His relationship with us. I talked about how it is good for children to have responsibilities and learn through difficult tasks, and that is why God allows difficulties in our lives. He is working and shaping us to be better people (ultimately to have the best relationship with Him).
I truly am thankful for every difficult task I have come up against! I know my Savior in a deeper way because of how He held me and helped me through the struggle.

An evening with Alla

My friend Alla is an energetic cosmetologist who loves to sing and loves The Lord. I went to get a little trim today and asked if we could hang out afterwards. So we visited while she reshaped my locks and then we walked across the street to a classy cafe. During our time together I realized she wasn’t dumbing down the words she would use (because I hardly knew any of them). But she was always careful to talk slow and ask if I understood. We talked and ate and listened to the live music playing in the background. Then we decided to run to the “dollar “store for a few things. The man working there kept yelling at us for touching stuff (at a dollar store!). I think he wanted to go home for the night. We made our purchases, walked to the bus station and hopped on a bus together. Alla encouraged me that she understands me and thinks I am doing well with Russian. She said I am already a part of the family at church and when I am not there everyone notices. She is always saying a good word and it is sweet, like honey, to the soul. I dearly love this girl. It was also so refreshing to be together just doing normal things with another person. Tonight I didn’t have to eat alone or go shopping alone, or even ride alone on the bus.
I am now sitting in my room and hear my neighbor crying next door. I pray that God will provide a way for me to meet them and speak openly about Jesus!
Tomorrow I have my guitar and Russian lessons. I am praying for both my teachers, that God will continue to work in their lives to bring them to a saving knowledge of Him.