Sunday, November 16, 2014

His Words Are Strength - Russian Hearts

The last few weeks have been full of teaching English and activities with friends. Last Monday we went to a smaller town outside of the city of Tomsk, called Melnikovo. We went with friends from church to help out with a youth retreat. Allie, Hilary, and I planned out some fun games, but for the most part it was a night full of fun. We played a scavenger hunt game, where some of our friends were abducted by angry men. We went out into the bitter, Siberian cold and ran around for hours and hours. We had to find a bag of weed, documents, and people. Even though I was mostly clueless as to what was going on, it was still fun. Later that night we watched “Freedom Writers”.

After the movie, we went down in the church basement, and everyone was setting up for wrestling. I thought for sure it would just be the guys fighting, but then they called Hilary, Allie, and I's names. At first I refused, because the fighting rink was a bunch of mattresses that a bunch of sweaty boys had been fighting on. But then I agreed. (: For two years I did kickboxing and I actually really miss it. So, Allie and I fought, or rather danced. But then I got to fight a Russian chick, and she was willing to actually wrestle. I had not done anything physical for awhile, so it felt like a release.

You know how guys “bond” through being rough with each other, well I believe girls can too. When I use to do kickboxing with girls, I felt a bond with them. No small talk could ever have gotten the walls to come down like pounding at each other could. Or even running, climbing mountains, biking, or kayaking with people causes a bond. Talking with people can only develop a friendship so far. I appreciate the sincerity that develops in a relationship, when you experience something fulfilling together. I appreciate it when people are raw, and I think that doing these things together helps, but a bond a sister has with another sister in Christ must also depend on being active followers of Christ. Reading the Bible together is so important. Reading the Bible out loud is so powerful. I believe the enemy constantly wants us to believe that these simple tactics are of no use and that they are mundane. But they are not! They are powerful tools of which the Lord has given us. The Bible is a book, and you are not going to receive a miraculous message every time you read it. It is a book to be studied and read, just like you studied and read English Literature in College. But it is a book directly from God, it is a book to be studied unlike any other book. God's love becomes all the more apparent to me in all He does, the more I read and study. So, don't be discouraged, just simply open up to what the Lord has to say and store it in your heart. 

The first Sunday of November we attended the house church gathering service. Our friends, Emil and Jenny, go to this church. I am so grateful for how God has shown us His work in Russia. The way God makes people beautiful and how He has planned to use them for His plans is beautiful. I know that we are a part of that plan. Sometimes, the enemy wants us to focus more on our problems, than on submitting them to God. Nothing causes us to become more selfish, than trying to deal with all of our problems in a self-sufficient manner. No matter how small a problem you think it is, I have learned that releasing it to God by prayer is essential. You have to bring it all to God. Just like in our relationships with people, if you keep things suppressed and you don't share everything, it hinders the relationship. The same thing happens with our relationship with God, only on a more elevated level, because everything in our life is affected by our relationship with God. I have been very encouraged by God's people in Russia, in ways they would never know. God is near, He is very near. Praise Him!

I have been humbled a lot lately in regard to my prayer life. People's prayer is in God's plan. Resting in His words and His spirit fills me, like nothing else can or ever will. As I have been encouraged by people here, I hope to continue to be an encouragement to people who attend our classes and people at English club. Even though it can be hard with the language barrier, I still know God is powerful. I am praying for all the different Russian, Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, Uzbekistan, Korean, Chinese, and Ukrainian people. Certain faces stand out to me, and Hilary, Allie, and I hope to connect them with Russian Christians. I still can't believe that we only have three weeks left in Tomsk before we leave for Moscow and then to Amsterdam. But the reality of what God has shown me here still weighs heavy on me. So dear friends, please pray for revival in Tomsk. Pray for God's name to be magnified. Pray for strength for the Russian believers.

We keep on keeping on! (:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Faith in this Cold Season: A Burning Fire of Grace and Mercy

The past week and a half has been full of more Siberian snow! I woke up this morning to it snowing hard outside and the temperature is – 8. All of this cold weather is reminding me of the fact that I come home in mid-December. I'm looking forward to graduating University, meeting my baby niece, Tenley, and enjoying Christmas with my family. Even so, by God's grace and mercy I continue to stay in the present. Each day since being here has been a learning experience and a gift, even if at the time it was a struggle. My heart aches more and more for the lost. I only have two months left to be here, and so I choose to be present. Each day I choose to start my day with Him and He rests my heart. I choose to rest in His presence and ask for His love to shine in all that Hilary, Allie, and I do for the next two months. I am so thankful that Hilary and Allie are the girls I get to experience all of this with. We have learned how to be bold and yet understanding at the same time with the Russian people.

I realize that so often I ruin the present by becoming so focused on the future. Every season is beautiful as we flow with God's plan and purpose. One thing is for certain: no one gets to choose the seasons of life. God has appointed the times. I recognize the blessing of teamwork, teaching, and the opportunity to serve with Russian Christians. So often, we think the grass is greener on the other side, but God is whispering to us: “Child, I have a purpose for this season in your life. Trust Me.” I just have to take the time to rest in Him, in order to hear Him. And I do. I trust Him with all my heart and soul. I keep on guard and choose to walk with Him, not against or away from Him. For me the unknown of the future can be daunting, but my soul holds on to the promise that no matter what I do, if I do it in joyful submission to the Father's will and in faith with my Father, that NO TIME IS WASTED. And so I quote Proverbs 31:25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come.” I have no need to be anxious about the days to come, because God is my rock. All is grace, how could I not live fully with Him right now in that present grace?

As I sit and reflect on my time here and the days ahead, I must ask for prayer. Please pray that Hilary, Allie, and I would be faithful servants and receptive to the people God has placed in our lives. Pray for the lost people of Tomsk. Pray also for the believers to see the importance of making disciples. Pray that the Russian Churches here would be able to see the big picture of their community and be able to look outward. Thank you for reading my blog and for praying.

And now let me tell you a bit of what we have been up to. Last week some of our Korean friends from church invited us to make sushi at their apartment. I could not contain my excitement! Sushi is the best!! And Russians in Siberia love sushi! So that makes me very happy. It was Korean style sushi called “Kim-Pap”. Basically, you can put anything in the sushi rolls you want. We put tuna, sausage, egg, cheese, crab, cucumber, squash, and lettuce. You smooth out sticky rice on the dried seaweed roll, place your long strips of ingredients, and roll it up tightly. You then cut it into bite size rolls. They are basically edible pieces of art, that explode with a mesh of flavor in your mouth. Vkusnyy! (Delicious!)

This Korean family has lived in Tomsk for ten years. We got to talk a lot about Russian culture and about what it is like being a believer here. I have noticed that in some ways I have become like a “Russian”. In order to fit in on the streets, you put on a “Russian” face as some would say. Our Korean friend said that she does the same thing, but now she can stand her ground and even yells like a Russian Babushka would. I was very glad for our talks.

After making Sushi we had movie night at the church and watched “Radio”. We had a small gathering, but many of the people that come to our events attended a recent English camp at the church in September. They all seem very motivated to learn English. That same night, Allie stayed in our apartment to help Emil lead a discussion night about the meaning of life. All of these university students come to English club on Saturday night. The discussions have been going well. One girl said that she has been wanting to talk about Christianity to Americans for awhile, to get their perspective. I am hoping that we can talk more with her soon. Tonight we will have “Not a Simple Question” discussion night again with Emil and we will be discussing Google inc. We will also be asking: What source of information can you really trust? Who or what is your source of information? I'm looking forward to tonight. Tomorrow night we will have English club and we will discuss why people are fascinated with fear and the history of Halloween.

This past Sunday we visited Central Baptist Church and invited members to be involved with our English classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights. We also went to youth night at Central to invite more Russian Christians to be involved. We are visiting Emmanuel Baptist Church this next Sunday. We have had strong, committed friends at the church, who see the worth of this outreach, helping us. We are not just a bunch of Americans doing things are way, but we work closely with the church here. God has been at work here for a very long time, long before we got here. 

We recently had our last English class in our apartment, and now they will all be in the kitchen at Central Baptist. There is a true desire by some of our Russian friends from church to continue these English classes even after we leave. Our friend Anne, came to know Christ by going to English camp, and she sees how it is such a great way to reach people. Even though there are a lot of struggles, I remain hopeful. It is a new day, and I choose to actively pursue Him through all of this. My heart is praying for the hearts of the believers here to break for the lost. That they would want their life to make a difference. We have been raised to a new life, but we have also been sent back into the darkness to free others.

Lamentations 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

 I got to Skype my sister the other day. It had been awhile. So thankful for our talk! I love you Lin!
                                                               Making Kim-Pap (Korean Sushi)
                                                                               Cutting the Sushi.
                                                                          The finished product.
                                               Hilary about to enjoy a very large piece of sushi. (:
                                                           Allie enjoying the fruits of her labor.
                                                               Walking to movie night at church.
                                            Putting snow pants on a two-year old can be quite fun!
                                                                       At Central Baptist Church
                                                                     I made some apple cobbler.
                                                               Walking to Central Baptist Church. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vibrant Discussions and a Feast of Thankfulness!

Another week has gone by and we are in full gear! This past week Hilary, Allie, and I have readjusted to a busy schedule here in Tomsk. We started our English classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights. We have learned that instead of formally teaching English, it is better to play games and have discussion. In this way, the Russian people still learn English, and we can become friends as well. In Russia, there is usually a strong distance between the teacher and the student. We have been making some new friends since being back. We met a couple last weekend at English club on Saturday nights. We invited them to dinner and had Taco soup. We ended up having a GREAT time! They agreed to come over on Monday nights to teach us Russian for a couple hours. We are excited for our first Russian lesson with our new friends Kate and Ivan tomorrow. It has been somewhat difficult getting back into speaking Russian, after traveling to England. I so enjoyed the English accents!! But we are still having our weekly Russian lessons, and hope to get back on track with our Russian speaking skills.

This Friday we had discussion group at our apartment with Emil. We help Emil and Jenny, a Christian couple, with English Club on Saturday nights. Last Saturday we spoke about culture shock, our trip to England, and we played games. At the end of club, we handed out “question slips”. Everyone was asked to right a question they would be interested in having a discussion about. From those questions, we have now formed a discussion group in our apartment on Friday nights. This past Friday we discussed how English has become the international language and how it helps mankind answer universal questions. We also discussed differences between Russian culture and American culture. It was funny, because many of the Russians wanted to know what we would bring from America to Russia if we could. Hilary, Allie, and I all agreed that one thing we would love to bring is SMILES. All the Russians thought it was really funny. Russians smile if they have a reason to smile and our dear friends at English club are the nicest people. But out and about on the streets people do not smile at you. The store clerks barely acknowledge you, which has taken some time to get use to. But we have been told that in many places up in Northern Tomsk, if you smile and laugh on the streets, you run the chance of getting beat up. In the poorer communities you will be heavily questioned for why you are happy. You might be asked “Why are you happy? What is there to be happy about?”. The discussion was very vibrant and I enjoyed the laughter. This next Friday we will be discussing the meaning of life and some very heavy topics. I was really encouraged by the people that showed up to discussion group. There were fourteen Russians in total. Most of them were from Kazakhstan. I am praying that these discussion groups will help us build meaningful friendships and that it will open people's hearts to Christ.

Today, we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving at Evangel Church! It was a big harvest celebration. The whole church was decorated with autumn colors and everyone had brought a TON of food for a HUGE FEAST! There was singing, poetry, games, and a sermon from our dear friend, Peter. He talked about sharing our harvest with other people. God has given us many things, but we need to share it with others. There was also a couple who did the most precious skit ever!! She was a happy tree and he was a sad tree that hated everything. She kept saying, “Ya le-blue 'this'”! Which means I love...! She had green leaves and his leaves were brown. She encouraged him to try and love the sun, rain, and life. She shared her happiness with him and he ended up becoming a green tree also, full of joy and thankfulness!!

We also gave a presentation on the history of Thanksgiving and how it is celebrated in America. We ended up spending almost the whole day at church! God has been showing me how much I truly have to be thankful for! I am encouraged by the hearts of God's people around me. I'm grateful for God's pleasure in Christ and how I can truly rest in His promises. I do what is right and obey the Lord, not to seek favor with Him, but because He is worthy and has declared me righteous through Christ. No matter what situation I am in, no matter how lonely I feel in Siberia, God is still good! He never changes and He is always with me. His love for me astounds me and all I can say is THANK YOU!

We will be starting our full week tomorrow of classes and social activities. We are having a movie night this Friday at church (Watching “The Ultimate Gift”) and we are holding a discussion group that same night in our apartment. Please pray for Hilary, Allie, and I to have strength and for the young Russian people to see Christ in us. I'm praying for an open heart for what God can do. Thank you all for your prayers and love. (: Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

P.S. It has been snowing! A lot here! SNOW! (: I'm excited for ice skating, sledding, snowball fighting, Snowman making, and Christmas movies with our Russian friends! Do you wanna build a snowman!? YESSSS!!! Lets go!

                                                       October 9th, our first day of snow!
                        A group of girls singing a Korean song about thankfulness at church.
  A couple at church performing a skit. She was the happy tree and he was the sad tree. Precious!
                                                Giving a presentation about Thanksgiving!
                                                          Preparing the food for our feast.
                                                                   Some of the decorations.
                                                This watermelon was almost too pretty to eat.
       One of our Korean friends invited us to her place to teach us how to make Korean Sushi. (:
                                                        Bogdan holding little baby Varvera.
                                                                     The feast at our table!
                                                      More snow mixed in with some rain.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

More Adventures; A Burning Fire, New Visas, Mr. Hyde and the UK!!

A lot has happened! We went to the UK for two weeks in September. We had to leave Russia in order to get a new visa. It was a rather long process, but we received our visas! I want to share with you all about our trip, but first let me catch you up on what us girls did before we left.

Before we left for the UK we were finishing up our teaching. We made an effort to see everyone before we left. We met three Russian girls at English club who invited us over to dinner at their apartment. One of the girls, Svetlana, I had talked to quite a bit. She loves to read and she works as the secretary at the Pentecostal church in Tomsk. I was so excited to have dinner with the girls. We brought cake with us and ate dessert first. Hilary, Allie, and I ended up sharing our testimonies and life stories. Just as we started eating the meal, Svetlana noticed smoke outside. At first, we thought it was garbage someone had lit on fire. All of a sudden the room started filling up with black smoke from the hallway. We realized that the smoke was coming from inside the building. We could not go out in the hall because the smoke was so thick. We ended up putting a wet towel under her front door and we all went out on her balcony to escape the smoke. Just as we went out to the balcony the fire department came. We called Oksana and she came with Emil. The fire was in an apartment on the second floor and we were on the fourth floor. The fire was put out quite fast and contained very well. As soon as Emil and Oksana got there, we exited the building with a fireman escorting us. It was definitely an unexpected, cultural experience. (: But we were very safe, and did not feel scared. We got a lot of laughs out of it and Hilary, Allie, and I grew stronger as a team that night. Praise God! 

Before we left we finished up our classes and met some new students. We helped out at English club with Jenny and Emil (I love helping them!). We also stocked up on some souvenirs and said some goodbyes, just in case we would not be able to come back. We had a lot of people praying for us and God definitely put my heart at ease. I did not feel the need to worry at all! God had it!

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”
Isaiah 26:3 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

So, off we went to stay in Horsham, UK. It is a small town an hour south of London. Our secondary supervisor lives and works in London, so we had a lot of people helping us. We met lots of people from the church willing to help us. We stayed in a cute, little home in Horsham. The family was traveling in the states, and offered to let us stay there. We also got to do a lot of sight-seeing. Some friends from church showed us around, and one family even cooked dinners for us. The food was amazing! I had missed Mexican food so much (And yes, we did eat at Chipotles in London)! For three days Hilary, Allie, and I went to Edinburgh, Scotland. We were so in awe of God's creation. I have a deep love for rainy and green places. Maybe I should just move somewhere up North.

Some things I personally enjoyed the most was walking through Edinburgh Castle, climbing Arthur's Seat (an inactive volcano), and going on a ghost tour of Edinburgh. I learned something about one of my favorite books on the tour. William Brodie inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". By day, Brodie was a respectable tradesman. He was the president of a cabinetmaking business, and he was rather skilled in repairing locks. He socialized with the higher class, and everyone had much respect for him. At night, however, Brodie became another man entirely. He used his skill during the day to gain knowledge of his clients. He would copy their keys using wax molds. He would steal the riches money and use it to live a second life of gambling and pleasure. Brodies story became legend in Edinburgh. About twenty-five years later, Stevenson wrote a crude play about Brodie, which later he revised. This became the famous story of good and evil residing in one man, known as "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". 

I'm going on a rant, but I started rereading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I love the imagery he uses to paint light (goodness) and darkness (evil). A man's ability to stand against darkness, while standing knee deep in it is impossible. Without grace all of our good works are like filthy rags. The Apostle Paul said "I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate." But Paul knew that God is patient with us, in spite of what we do. How rich would God's love be without experiencing the evil in this world? I am in awe of how much God's wisdom flows over in love towards us. "For God has deemed it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit evil at all." - St. Augustine 

We did do quite a lot of sightseeing and Allie had family come up from Germany to stay with us for a bit. While in the UK, we helped out at Kingston University. We welcomed all the international students and worked with the Connect UK club, which allows people to connect with internationals. I met students from all over the world! I made some good English friends who were working at Kingston as well. They took us to get Chinese and were quite funny. Sometimes I hate moving around so much, because I meet people I want to get to know so much more. But I am still thankful that I even got to meet so many of the loving people that I did meet, and hear some amazing stories of God's work.

Overall, the UK was a good break from teaching English. I am so grateful for the experience! I am glad to be back in Russia. I realize now how much I truly love these people. Tomsk, Russia will always be a place I pray for and it will always hold a special place in my heart. The ability to adjust here, in a place so different, is all because of God. He watches over me and guides me through this. HE is always with me. Praise Him! 

Now......enjoy the plethora of pictures I have for you!!!

                           The Barnwells were so good to us! Tina is a great cook and tour guide. (:
                                                   On top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.
                                                                 A park in Edinburgh.
                                                        Looking up at Edinburgh Castle.
              We walked to Portebella Beach in Scotland. We enjoyed burgers and shakes by the water.
                                        The viaduct in Horsham. We trespassed to take pictures. (:
             Fanny's Farm Shop in Surrey, England. We enjoyed some cream tea and biscuits with Tina.
                                I love Karis! She reminds me of a girl I use to babysit back home.
                                                       Bushy Park in Kingston, England.
                                     There were so many different kinds of birds in the park.
                                 A buck in the park. Allie and I listened to some mating calls.
                                                   A tree growing sideways in Bushy Park.
                                                    Seven Sisters Cliffs in Sussex, England.
                                     Hilary and Allie enjoying the pebble beach at Seven Sisters.
                           Tea, biscuits, and jam at the Moathouse Cafe with our friend, Elaine.          
                                                             On the train to Edinburgh!

                                                   Walking the streets of Edinburgh!
                                                           By the docks in Edinburgh.
                                                               I love the old churches.
                                                        Walking into Edinburgh Castle.
                                                             The cannons in the castle.
                                                   Looking out at the beautiful Edinburgh.
                                             The largest cannon was by St. Margaret's Chapel.
                                                           Look! There is Edinburgh!
                                                            Pretty flowers at the castle.
                                                            An arrow slot! Pretty sweet!
               The Tower of London. Each poppy represent a person who died for England in WWI.
                      St. Paul's Cathedral in London. I actually got to go inside. It is a massive church!
                           Landing back in Siberia! It's officially fall...but winter is probably tomorrow. (: