Friday, May 30, 2008

It Could Happen to Anyone: A Snake in the Suitcase

After boarding Delta 46 last Friday, the Atlanta to Moscow flight, I realized I'd made it through airport security with contraband. It was accidental contraband but still, contra it was. Got to admit, that wasn't the first time either. It's that Swiss Army knife of mine that's usually on my key chain. That the knife is pink and cute and small is beside the point. It's contraband. And you know, there can be consequences for being ditzy and trying to get through security with a weapon like that. So I'd just like to apologize here and now to my Dear Delta, to the entire SkyTeam group and to everyone on that plane because, I just simply goofed.

But because of that misstep, I had somewhat more compassion for a certain John Q. Public, the fellow who packed a 12-foot python is his suitcase and failed to indicate that on his Customs Declaration form. Like me, maybe he was just thinking about other things. Seems he picked up Polly Python - that really could have been her name, you know - in Nigeria and decided to bring her back to the US with him. But alas, the alert customs folks there in Atlanta caught on and, well, somebody - guess it was Poor Polly Python - lost her hide as a result. There are worse things to lose of course. (Like what, for instance?)

Evidence of Polly Python, a 12-footer.

See, John Q. Public could have simply completed this form. That might have made a difference, who knows, if the Dept of Interior team there at the border could have observed the snake. Whatever. Point being, there are official procedures for bringing in friends from overseas. And then there's the black market route. Not that I know anything about that of course. And of course this is really not anything to joke about. I'm just thinking about things from Poor Polly Python's Perspective (aka the 4 P's).

Just one of several displays in Terminal E there in the Atlanta airport. In another display were all manner of exotic insects and even a parrot, all things that folks have tried to bring in on the black market. Here's a video about wildlife trade on the black market.

US customs and border protection.

Just talking about this, I'm flashing back to February 1978, when I was flying from Papua New Guinea to Brisbane, Australia. Going through customs, out of all the passengers on the plane, the customs agents selected yours truly, yes me, as the person who posed the biggest threat. They went through every single item in my suitcases. There's a story there and it will take almost no persuasion for me to share it sometime. But one clue in advance. It had nothing to do with a pink pocketknife. Let alone a Polly the Python.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Today's the Day: Hug a Russian Border Guard

If you happen to be crossing into Russia today, count your blessings: This would be the day to greet Russian border guards with special warmth if not hugs. That's because today, May 28th, is the Day of the Border Guard, a professional holiday.

As you might be aware, most professions or occupations in Russia have a professional holiday. There are holidays for teachers, police officers, janitors and one for medical workers. And that's just the start. Yesterday was The Day of the Librarian and, silly me, somehow I completely overlooked it. Professional holidays are good days on which to show appreciation, present flowers, chocolate or simply be in the mood to celebrate.

As this video points out, the Russian border guards have quite a rigorous task, their border being the longest in the world. And, from Russia Today, an interesting clip, Dogs Sink Teeth into Border Duty. Sounds as though those border dogs should get some special treats today too.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Joys of Jet Lag, Jet Legs and Packing: Part 2

Hello from Rostov-on-Don. Here I am in the midst of jet lag -- or jet leg as several dear Russian friends have misconstrued that -- and I'm determined to stay up until after midnight tonight. See, over the years I've learned a thing or two about dealing with jet lag. Perhaps you've known this stuff but please allow me to pass along what I've learned or heard along the way.

For one thing, it seems harder physiologically to travel from west toward the east, than visa versa, something to do with clocks or some such. And they say -- whoever they is -- that it the body needs one day to adjust per time zone difference. So, crossing 9 time zones, that's 9 days. To me, that means 10 glorious days of taking things a wee bit slower.

One little tip from a smart international businessman was to get oneself into the local time as soon as possible. Whatever the locals are doing, get busy fitting in with their schedule. So when they're up and and at work, be up and working. When it's night, get yourself to sleep. So that's my goal. I do tweak that a bit and allow myself an afternoon nap for 2 hours. And you'd better believe that when the clock strikes noon, I'm flyin' between the sheets. The thing is, at night, the tendency is to wake about between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. and be ready to get up for the day. But the secret is to get up just long enough to take care of business -- which includes checking email, among other things -- 15 minutes max and head back to bed and close the eyes. And pretend to be asleep until you really are. All that usually works and on this trip, it worked just fine day one, and I got an A+++ for Saturday evening and Sunday.

But alas, today ~ Monday, all that simply fell apart. It started last night with only one hour's sleep. I eventually got up for 10 minutes of yoga-type stretching which usually helps, but no-ho-ho. I was awake after 1:30.

Eventually the sky was turning light around 5-ish and I decided to get up and get going for the day and wait until noon for that afternoon nap. But alas, 10:00 came and -- yes, I'll confess this publicly -- I allowed myself a morning nap. Then 12:30 came and I allowed myself the usual 2-hour afternoon nap but here's where I really blew it. I turned off the alarm and decided to sleep until whenever and woke up at 7:00 pm. Bad bad bad idea. But boy did I feel rested when I woke up! However that was not fitting in the local schedule at all.

So here we are and it's 11:00 pm local time and I find myself getting sleepy. But I think staying up longer until I'm way tireder will help me sleep better. So I'd say we're shooting for 1:00 a.m. here. I think that will help tomorrow, easing into normality.

* * *

Oh, speaking of travel tips, perhaps you'd be interested in what one travel pro does to get herself and her extra loot back to Eastern Europe. Judy Warpole would be that travel expert and she and husband Ron have been in Tallinn since 1996 and Judy very graciously shared packing tips from a lifetime of being an overseas missionary.

Here's the staging area, as we might call it. It's a big huge mess I know but that's part of the deal. I usually take back two suitcases plus a trunk, sometimes two. A trunk is the ultimate. Wal-Mart has these trunks, they're like $18.88 each and they're the perfect size for airline baggage - like 61 inches total. That's important. Fill each one half full of the heavy stuff (books) and top of with lighter stuff (clothes) and that's pretty much 50 pounds, right there. This time I needed only one trunk. The 2nd one goes to long-term storage.

So here's a close-up of the trunk. Nice thing, a trunk makes for wonderful storage back here in Rostov. People here scramble to get one of my trunks. Wal-mart also has similar trunks in black. Head to the automotive section and that's where they are.

The red suitcase is being phased out of international action because, well, it has it's limitations. It's in a new role as the Short Term Storage Suitcase and gets left with a friend. I'm just now catching on to this idea, but you know, a person needs a way to stash stuff such as - envelopes, tape, packing foam and such, not to mention bottles of cream, lotions and various potions that simply do not need to be carted back and forth. Plus a hair dryer and such. Cotton balls, Q-tips, on and on. There it is, waiting for me until next time I'm Stateside. Oh yes, the things one figures out eventually, like after 9 years. . . =)

You know it takes someone quite extraordinary to allow anyone to spread their personal effects all over the living room. Yes, well here is dear friend Karen, the young lady who just turned 50, the very one deemed worthy of the ultimate gift, the gift of a prune bouquet. Yes, what a very dear friend.

THANK YOU KAREN! Say, are you enjoying having your living room back?

Well, yippee! We've made it to 1:00 a.m. and I'm thinking about those dishes in the kitchen that need washed quick. Just got some water heated up - a necessity since we seem to be in the season of *no hot water* - and I'm thinking, wouldn't it be nice to get up in the morning with the dishes all washed? Think I'll give it 15 minutes quick like and then. . . hit the hay!

I'm fadin' fast. But first let me just ask you dear blog reader - what are your tips for dealing with jet lag, jet legs and packing?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Delta 46: Back to Russia

Yeah! Arrived Rostov Saturday, early evening. Sunny, warm, 31 degrees Celsius, on the very cusp of summer. And oh, how wonderful to be back to my very own flat-sweet-flat, small and humble as it is, it's mine. More or less. =)

Over the years, I've become partial to Delta. And flying Delta to Moscow means flying through either Atlanta or JFK, New York. Back in early April when I arrived in the US, I came through Atlanta to spend time with dear Natasha, the little girl recently adopted from a Rostov orphanage by a family in the Atlanta area. And what a fine time we had!

A perk of leaving the US through Atlanta is crossing paths with troops who are being deployed to Iraq. You can imagine the farewell scenes there between soldiers and their families. I find myself teary too. In fact, that would be a blog topic right there, telling you what a weeping ninny I turned into just trying to express my appreciation to a man who was leaving, his wife and three little ones. But, moving right along. . .

Here's Delta 46 getting gassed up for the big trip to Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 airport. Just one minute earlier, a pilot was leaning out of the window talking to someone on the ground. Hey there Mr Pilot, Surely you could take a minute to smile for us! Somehow I couldn't seem to get his attention, albeit through two sets of windows, to lean out and smile for us.

As we whiz over the big pond, here's a peek at the folks in the next cabin. Those individual monitors are so interesting. Have you ever had access to one? It was fun to spy a bit to see what people are watching. The hands-down favorite was Flight Information - the program that switches between a screen showing the plane on it's path, another with flight data (speed, altitude, outside temperature) and another screen with time at destination, time at point of departure, time remaining in the flight and such.

The Inflight Trivia Game was my favorite and it allows passengers to compete. I actually won it quite a few times. Perhaps I should confess right here and now that sometimes I was competing no one except myself, the only player sometimes. But still, several questions I was able to answer thanks to blogging (What was the first animal in space?) or because of living in Russia (What countries border on Lithuania?)

How about you dear blog reader, have you been on a flight where you had your own monitor? What's your favorite in-flight programming? Music? Games? Movies? Or reading and cross-stitch, which are my other favorites. There's plenty of time to fill on a 10 1/2 hour flight.

Here's Iceland from the air. Do you you happen know anybody there? Well, amazingly enough, I do! Happens that I crossed paths with a dear Christian sister, Sigi from Reykjavik, at several lectureships. So hello to Sigi in Iceland! The shot above looks like southeast corner of the island but Reykjavik was way over on the southwest corner of the island.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My New Best Friend: The FedEx Man

Yippee - Yi - Yay! Oh joy oh delight this morning when the FedEx guy rang my doorbell. I'd been waiting for him. He handed me my passport and Russian visa. He is definitely my new hero. Wish I'd asked his name.

So I plan to depart Friday and arrive Saturday in Moscow, the good Lord willing. Thank you everyone for prayers and concerns for this visa. Thank you Russian consulate in Houston for the one-day-turn-around ($450), to FedEx for the overnight deliveries ($25 each way) and to Delta for getting my ticket fixed up ($280-ish).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Berlin Airlift: Cold War Heroism, Sixty Years Ago

A headline in today’s New York Times (registration required) mentioned the Berlin Airlift, a bright and shining moment of our nation’s humanitarianism nearly 60 years ago.

The Berlin Airlift was the US response to Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin, when he halted surface traffic into the city, cutting off food and fuel to two million West Berliners, already pummeled by war.

As you may recall, Germany was divided into four sections as World War II was winding down. The northeastern section went to the USSR and that included the crown jewel of German culture and government, the capital city of Berlin. In addition to dividing Germany, the Allies and Soviets also quartered Berlin among themselves. As a result, West Berlin was a political island of sorts, under Allied control but surrounded by Soviet occupation. That was no enviable position, with the Soviets controlling all roads and rails leading to the area.

And so it was that in June, that the mischievous Joseph Stalin – God will be his judge – halted surface traffic into West Berlin, making life quite difficult for civilians there.

The US response to that was to deliver food and fuel to West Berlin by air, thus the Berlin Airlift.

Last summer I was fortunate to be in Berlin for a missions-related lectureship. Our hotel was near Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing between the US and Soviet sectors of Berlin, the spot at which many people escaped to freedom after the Berlin Wall was erected in the 60's.

During the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, a heroic Captain Jack Bennett flew 24,000 flights between West Germany and West Berlin. His story is featured in the museum there.

His uniform is on display and as are his words: Flying a plane is such a privilege. It can be compared with the feeling of sitting on a throne, only a step below God.

During the airlift, men and women of the armed forces transporting many tons of food and fuel. A salute to those fine folks for their creativity and compassion.

So how about you, dear blog reader? Ever been to Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie? Know anyone who escaped from East Berlin?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dealing with Plan B: The Joys of Visa Renewal

As you may be aware, I’m in the US on a visa-renewal trip. According to Plan A, I was to be back in Russia a week ago. But here I am in Dallas, wait-wait-waiting out the visa process. Why all the dilly-dallying? Because prior to this week, the all-important Letter of Invitation had yet to be issued by the Rostov Office of Visas and such. That office usually requires one month wait time for that document although the form could be completed in ten minutes. But such are the ways of bureaucracy.

Plan A had been to return to Russia, new visa affixed inside passport, last week on Thursday, May 8th in time for the all-Russia Christian Conference in Moscow. What a lovely plan, eh? But alas, those days came and went and I was still Stateside, visiting – as I recall – in Atlanta and Knoxville instead.

Thank goodness for Delta and their willingness to work with me on this. We postponed my return flight and the airline is allowing me to keep the date open-ended until we have more information. All for a 150-euro penalty plus any fare increase.

But there is hope. (Insert music) Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Word has it that the Letter of Invitation is in the mail, yes, it is being Fed-Ex-ed across the big pond at this very moment. After it arrives early next week, the next step is to collect the various papers required for visa application, including the $350 fee for 2-day processing, and express mail it all to a Russian consulate. Either that or make a personal visit to the new Russian consulate office in Houston.

Sounds as though I could have that new visa in hand by the end of the month. And then head on back to Rostov-on-Don.

But, oh. . . if only it were that simple. The thing is, new visa laws went into effect January 1st. Now, the law for (most categories of) one-year visas, allows a person to be in Russia for a maximum of 90 days before exiting the country for 90 days. And then repeating the process. This is not news to us and we’ve had a plan in place to deal with it. Our plan was to request a 3-month visa and, when it expired, exit Russia and try to renew in Eastern Europe somewhere, probably Kiev. And then repeat that for three months as long as necessary. What a lovely, lovely plan that was.

Problem is, thanks to (what at this point, at least, appears to be) a royal blunder, sounds as though my Letter of Invitation is for the one-year-two-trips-out visa. Boo hiss. So, looks as though I might well be serving on Plan B for 2008-2009. Talk about being in the state of flux.

And so today I’ve made numerous phone calls to Rostov-on-Don to talk with co-workers there and to St Petersburg to talk with Igor Egirev, our former preacher and OVIR (bureaucracy) guru, currently enrolled in graduate school there. Thanks to Igor, we do have some ideas on how we might deal with this. In the mean time, may I request your prayers for wisdom and patience. Wisdom in saying what needs to be said and handling someone else’s major blunder. Creativity for somehow using this inconvenience in a positive way. Creativity for coming up with a better option. Somehow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Mama to Call Her Own: An Orphan's Dream Come True

If there's one thing every orphan wants, it's a mother of her very own. Five-year-old Natasha is no exception.

As you may recall, a wonderful family in the Atlanta area adopted little Natasha in March. She had been in a Rostov-on-Don orphanage since infancy. I met little Natasha several years ago. And then earlier this year, heard the incredible news that a family in the US was hoping to adopt Natasha. I recently had privilege of staying with Natasha and her dear family in Atlanta.

Natasha can be a full-time job. After her three older brothers are off to school, Natasha has her mother's undivided attention.

This morning, Natasha and her mama furnished a digital house together, thanks to the wonders of computer technology. Must be designed especially for little girls. And their mamas.

Natasha's dear mother has the patience of Job. Natasha loves to talk and seems to repeat questions 10 times. Fortunately, her mother has the gift of gab, loves to talk and visit. It's the perfect match. Mothers of little ones are heroic. And adoptive mothers are in a league of their own.

But let us not forget Natasha's papa. The two of them adore each other. Natasha can hardly bear for her papa to leave each day for work. But now and then, he steals himself away for lunch with his two favorite girls, above. And this time, I got to tag along too.

Dear little Natasha. Can you possibly imagine how blessed you are? Across Russia are little children your age who would like more than anything to have a mama to honor on Mother's Day. Natasha, I trust you showed your mama lots of love on her special day. Just between the two of us Natasha, do yourself a favor. . .and make every day Mother's Day. ;)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

In Honor of Mother's Day: The Mom Song

Consider what a mother says in a 24-hour period. Condense that into 2 minutes, 55 seconds and sing it to the tune of the William Tell overture. Here's what a certain Anita Renfroe did all that.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rostov-on-Don Honored by Russian President

In one of his last acts as leader of Russia, President Vladimir Putin declared Rostov-on-Don a Heroic City for its role in World War II. Cities such as St Petersburg, Volgograd, Moscow and Kiev have long been Heroic Cities. And President Putin expanded that list to include Rostov among others.

Below is Rostov at its best. You'll see several sights around Theatre Square, an area heavily bombed during the war.

The tall obelisk, Stella, commemorates the end of Nazi occupation during World War 2 and overlooks the Don River and vast steppe which stretches out to the south. The white and boxy building featured early in the video is Gorky Theatre, named in honor of Maxim Gorky, the great Russian writer. The theatre is built in the shape of a tractor, of all things, but to honor the importance of agriculture in the Rostov area.

Of course during the war, things were quite different. Thanks to YouTube, we can see German newsreels from WW2.

Here is close combat in Rostov, July 1942. It's sad to see what was done to the beautiful city, albeit 60-plus years ago.

Back to happier times, the photos below courtesy of A.A. Dolgyshev.

Rostov from the air. Notice the Don River flowing along, 35 miles west to the Sea of Azov and then into the Black Sea.

Theatre Square, downtown Rostov. On the left is Gorky Theatre, in the foreground is the fountain. Both were damaged by bombs and have been repaired.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

May 9th: Russia's Day of Victory

Across Russia today, were morning parades and evening fireworks to celebrate the end of World War II, which ended 60-some years ago this week. The Soviet Union paid the highest price of any country for that war. Estimates vary, but twenty-three million - or as high as 30 million - were killed and every family was affected. Nearly 14% of the population perished, including civilian and military deaths.

Here was the view this morning from Red Square, a vast area the size of 12 football fields.

Care to join me for a look at parade photos? These are from the Victory Day parade several years ago in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

At the start of the parade, several veterans were in cars. Maybe they're VIP veterans of some sort. . .

These veterans went off to war in the early 1940s, when they were but kids.

A young lady darts into the parade to present lilacs to a veteran.

This highly decorated veteran is confined to a wheelchair.

The veteran attended the parade together with his grandson.

Three military officers kindly posed for a photograph. Now, regarding the officer on the left, although arms and appear to be growing from his skull, he really is not suffering from any bizarre physical deformity. It happens that behind him is a poster of Mother Russia Calls, a magnificant statue in Volgograd. At 56 yards high, that monument rather dwarfs the Statue of Liberty which is 49 yards high, excluding pedestal and foundation.

Congratulations to Russia on surviving World War II. Here's wishing all the best for the veterans. May their senior years be comfortable and peaceful. And here's wishing all the best for good people of that vast land.

Impulsivity versus Sponaneity: Sometimes You Just Gotta Jump In

I resisted the urge recently to push dear nephew Graham into a hotel swimming pool as he was standing at the edge. But I remembered having the same urge several decades ago when my brother David, Graham's dad, was standing on a boat dock one October, looking out over Turkeyfoot Lake. In a dark and evil moment, my sister and I pushed him in, fully clothed. That was in another millennium, of course and by now I have more control over dark impulses, most of them anyway.

So Graham went running and jumping in of his own accord.

And I photographed. And reported on the size of the splash. Yes, it came over and hit me and my book. Yes, this was higher than the last one. Yes, you are one awesome run-and-jumper.

Graham going under. Confident that he'll emerge. Hoping, hoping. . .

There are bubbles down there. Bubbles are a sign of life. He will emerge, quite confident of that, quite confident.

On the second day of this running and jumping in the pool, after I figured that another 30 minutes of this dilly-dallying would be quite enough, Graham was interested in learning to glide from one side of the pool to the other, then adding a flutter kick, then adding an arm stroke. And it dawned on me that this little swimming instruction would be lots easier if I were in the water. Except that my swimming suit was in another time zone, far, far away. Not to worry though.

He won't be 12 forever, I told myself. Here he is, right on the cusp of that adolescent growth spurt. It was time to make a splash and make a memory.

Hey Graham, I think I'm going to jump in there and swim with you.

After all, we had the pool to ourselves that Sunday afternoon.

And so I did, clothes and all. The look on his face was priceless - sheer delight mixed with absolute disbelief.

So we we had a few swimming lessons crammed into one, diving for quarters being his favorite. Thirty minutes came and went. At least an hour later, we were ready to drag ourselves back to the hotel room.

Later I was thinking about all that and how atypical that was of me, to just jump into something that hadn't been on the agenda. So what was that - impulsivity or spontaneity? At this stage, I'm not quite sure and it probably doesn't matter. We got wet, had so much fun and made memories. Best of all, there was no one there to take photographs.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Today in History: Nazi Forces Surrender

On this day in history, May 7, 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to Allied Forces, just a week after Adolf Hitler took his own life.

The end of the war set off jubilant celebrations across Europe as well as in the US, of course. It happened that U.S. President Harry Truman was celebrating his 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to his predecessor, President Roosevelt who had died weeks earlier on April 12th.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Giant Chess Game: Fun with Favorite Kids

Chess is like yoga for the mind. It helps the brain stretch and develop. If there's one thing those dear Russian folk have taught me, it's that. And so on a recent weekend with a beloved niece and nephews, I challenged them to a big game of chess. Have you ever seen giant chess?

Heather and Drew ponder their opening moves.

Move those pieces around. I was coaching from the side. I figure it's best to let them do it while I offer advise. And record the event for posterity.

Drew won the match! Congratulations Drew! Next time I'll show him how to tweak his game a bit.

Well, actually I don't know how to play chess. So I just made up some of that. However, let the record show that over the years, I have played some vigorous games of UNO with these kids and I do recall some nearly vicious matches of Go Fish! But all that was in a previous century. A previous millennium, in fact.

Another giant chess game took place recently in Cuba. Russian chess champion, Antatoly Karpov, was there and he no doubt offered some tips to the 8,000 who participated in the 4,000 simultaneous matches.

Well, back to the good old USA and the North Carolina Botanical Gardens where this chess game is located. The day after the chess game above, Graham wanted to play. And he challenged me to a game. As fate would have it, someone else was on site and needing an opponent. (Whew!)

Graham, right, and his mid-game moves.

Thinking, thinking about those mid-game moves. I did continue to offer advise from the sides. Would you please hold still so I can get this shot? Or turn around so your face isn't in the shadow. That sort of thing. Not that it helped much. . .

In the end Graham trounced the guy. Looked like a stalemate to me. And then Graham said Checkmate, which reduced his opponent to tears. Not really of course, but they did have a good game. Congratulations Graham!

So where did you learn to play chess?
I asked.

I learned from the best. I learned from my dad.

His dad, my brother plays chess? That's news to me!

But it's not news that his dad, my brother David can ride unicycle.

Kuddos to dads who play games with their kids. Can't help but wonder though what unicycling might do for the mind.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

May Day Memories: The U-2 Spy Plane Incident

During Communist days, May 1st was a major holiday in Russia, known as International Workers' Solidarity Day, a day to flex military muscle with a parade through Red Square.

But May 1, 1960, was likely the most dramatic May Day in history, thanks to the USA, particularly the CIA. It was on that day that (Francis) Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia and he was captured live.

Nikita Krushchev was quite pleased to announce the capture of the plane. Particularly since U.S. President Eisenhower had stated that the plane was a weather plane that had simply gone astray. But that was before he knew that Powers had been captured alive.

The trial of U-2 pilot Gary Powers was Cold War drama at its highest. He was sentenced to three years in prison and seven years of hard labor. As fate would have it, Powers served only 21 months of the sentence before he was exchanged for Soviet Master Spy, Rudolf Abel.

The spy swap took place near Potsdam, Germany on Glienicker Bridge over the Havel River. According to Time, The Soviet and East German officials clustered at one end, the Americans, led by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt, at the other. . .

This whole incident was quite controversial. Here is an interesting recent interview with Gary Powers Jr, son of the pilot and founder of the Cold War Museum.

And how about you, dear blog reader. Have you ever been poking around in somebody else's territory and got caught? Did you go to trial, per chance? This may be the time and place to spill the beans.

As for myself, I do have a confession to make. Approximately three years after Gary Powers and the U-2 incident, I found myself drawn by some magnetic force - pre-adolescent agnst, perhaps - to the decorative box in which a certain Mrs Bernard stored her cosmetics. In the mid-sixties, I was that family's babysitter and I loved dabbling in her blush and lipstick and such. Make-up was something that my mother did not wear at that time, a matter of principle, which made the tubes and potions and lotions all the more alluring. Especially the mascara. Wonder if Mrs Bernard had any idea. Of course, surveillance cameras were not readily available then but perhaps I had left other clues. But if she did, Mrs Bernard never let on. At least I was never brought to trial and sentenced to prison or hard labor. But had I had been caught, I certainly hope the mascara would have been waterproof.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Churches of My Childhood: A Walk Down Memory Lane

Perhaps you live in the community in which you were raised. Or, perhaps life has taken you to places elsewhere - another community, another state, another country. But if, per chance, you have have revisited your childhood home and haunts, you may relate to my recent trip to small town Ohio and my trip down memory lane.

Our family lived in Rittman, Ohio during much of my childhood. Lots of cousins, aunts and uncles still live there and recently I spent some time in Rittman and enjoyed a walk down memory lane. Church was an important part of my young life. We were a family who went Sunday morning, Sunday night and mid-week service too. I could hardly stand to sit through the sermons that seemed to drag on forever, but what a spiritual foundation that has been.

Until I was five, we attended church here, the Rittman Church of Christ, now the Rittman Christian Church. Several weeks ago, I attended a Sunday evening service there.

Many changes have been made to the building, although some original windows remain. What had been the entire auditorium is now the foyer. The building seemed so big 50 years ago. Amazing, isn't it, what time does to our perception of size?

I remember walking to the church one Sunday evening, holding my dad's hand and skipping along the sidewalks. I remember sitting in the wooden pew with Dad's arm draped around behind me. His hand was dangling five inches from my nose and I remember the hand of a carpenter, strong and calloused, a fingernail black and blue.

I remember helping myself to an ornament off the church Christmas tree. It was probably red and sparkley. Later that day, Mom discovered my new treasure and she insisted that I return it. What a meanie. ;)

I remember the Japanese lady who visited our children's group and told us that Japanese children were already in bed for the night. She was clad in national costume - a kimono, the special clogs and two-toed socks and she held a fan. Her visit opened up new windows of thought in my young mind. That was 35 years before CNN. Otherwise we probably would have already known all that. Or maybe not.

As time went on, a group, including my parents, left that church and started another. They were mostly young families, all sincere and well meaning but with perhaps more enthusiasm than wisdom at times. We met in this building which my dad built south of town, the 2nd story added years later after a publisher purchased it.

We were at this building thrice weekly from 1957 or so until 1968. There were 35 or so of us kids in that church and what a grand time we had after evening services catching lightning bugs, playing tag and running off our boundless energy.

And we sang. We must have known songs by the hundred. Dear cousin Marilyn - we're double-cousins, actually - and I recently sat down together and sang our way through the Singspiration Songbook. Oh what fun that was.

Here was one that sticks in my mind:
I want to be more than a Sunday-go-to-meetin'-Christian!
I want a religion that fills me ev'ry da-ay-ay-ay.
Sayin' AMEN to the preacher is fine, if all the week I let my light shine.
I wanna be more than a Sunday-go-to-meetin'-Christian!

Those early years were far from perfect and I rather imagine that my dear parents - may they rest in peace - and others would do some things a bit differently, given the chance to rewind and redo. But still there is much for which to be thankful. I'm so grateful to have had parents who pointed me toward God, who tried to lay a spiritual foundation in my young life.

And now, as I serve children in Rostov-on-Don, I enjoy teaching them songs that I learned at the age of five, songs that we now have translated into Russian. Songs such as Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain; Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam; If You're Happy and You Know It. Only in recent years have Russian folk had freedom of religion. Our Christian brothers and sisters can hardly imagine being raised with a Christian heritage and they often remind our children how much they wish their own childhoods had included such an opportunity.

Oh dear Lord, please bless my efforts to provide a spiritual foundation for children in Rostov-on-Don. Please grant wisdom and help me to pass along that which is good and pure and holy to the precious children you bring into our congregation there. Oh dear Lord, I pray that 50 years from now that there will be dozens of Godly men and women there with fond memories of how they first learned about You and Your love for them. With memories of what was good and holy in my life. Help them to overlook the human frailties, help them to see a teacher who depended upon you and held tightly onto your hand, the calloused hands of a carpenter.