Friday, January 29, 2010

Eleven Years in Russia: Help Me Celebrate!

This morning I'm remembering January 29, 1999 and arriving in Moscow's international airport, Sheremetevo-2. And oh, what an adventure these years have been. Let me reminisce a moment about the travel dramas of Day One. And then there are prizes - yes, genuine Russian souvenirs to give away. So sit back and enjoy this vicariously.

Approaching Red Square. Photos: March 2006. (Click to enlarge)

Adventure One was getting through airport customs. Thing is, I had enough gear along to outfit a small army: five pieces of checked baggage, which included 3 duffel bags and 2 suitcases, and that was back when the limit was - what - 70 pounds a bag? And in those bags were weights, yes, honest-to-goodness weights. See, I wanted develop some muscles here in Russia and emailed a contact here in Rostov as to whether weights were available in Russia. She said No, if you want weights you'll need to bring your own. (So, so untrue!) But I considered that advise reliable so I did. Shall I admit this: In those bags was a pair of 12-pound free weights, a set of 8 pounders and a 5-pound set. That was just for upper body. And then there were leg weights too. So you get the picture: My luggage was heavy.

Red Square: St Basils Cathedral, left, and Kremlin tower and walls, right.

Oh! And I was carrying cash. Lots of cash: $6k in brand-new, 100-dollar bills. Nowadays, there's no need to do that and I do not (attention potential pickpockets), but back then most people traveled with serious cash. Besides that, I declared all that on my customs declaration - silly, silly me. Well, going through customs, the inspector folks there told me with straight faces about a mysterious new law that limits the total kilograms a person can bring into the country. I had brought too much in and the fine would be $2,000 as I recall. Now at that stage, I had already been up maybe 36 hours and I was simply numb. So I decided to act disinterested, a skill I highly recommend for such encounters, by the way, and wandered over to some seats while my Moscow contact, a dear brother named Israel, managed to get the fine down to $500. I saw the inspector girl put all that directly into her pocket. I expect it went into her savings for a new mink coat. Since I paid the money there rather than to an official cashier and since there was no receipt issued, I have reason to believe that those funds were for someones personal use. That was the first adventure of Day One.

Emerging then from Sheremetevo-2 airport with my wallet considerably lighter, Israel and I stashed my luggage in the long-term baggage storage at Sheremetevo-1, the regional airport I was scheduled to fly out of that evening. Baggage storage rooms tend to be located in the airport basement and that means dragging the baggage down stairs. (An elevator or escalator? Whahahaha. . .) So we stashed the bags and then went to see Red Square. Oh, and eat at the big Moscow McDonald's, which was the world's largest when it opened in 1990.

During our touristy trekking around the city, a blizzard blew into northwest Moscow and snow came fast and furious that afternoon and evening as we headed back to Sheremetevo-1 to catch my 9:40-ish flight to Rostov. After we had gotten the bags lugged up steps, hauled across the waiting area (Luggage carts? Oh, if only. . .) and checked in, the flight was changed because of the blizzard and rerouted to Domodedova, a regional airport located near southeast Moscow where there was less snow. So Israel and his crew got me and the luggage out into the parking lot in the fresh snow, onto the transfer bus and the two of us stood up the whole hour-plus across town. By then, I had been up way too many hours without sleep. But were so many tender mercies along the way. For one thing, Israel was so calm and kept saying, God is in control. God is in control. My flight eventually arrived here in Rostov around 5:00 am, as I recall. But that day, January 29th, 1999, was just the start of quite an adventure in missions.

And I must say that the good Lord has held me in the palms of his hands each step of the way. And I have learned a lot. A whooooole lot! For one thing, that a 12-pound weight makes an excellent doorstop.

And so dear blog readers, it's time to celebrate! I have three little prizes. These will go to three lucky people who comment here on this blog post between now and Sunday evening midnight Moscow time (GMT +3). These souvenirs were made in Tomsk, Siberia from white birch, a tree common in the vast northern forests. As you see, there's a square box and a round box and the little birch shoes. The vendor was telling me about the good fortune the shoes are said to bring: On January 7th, which is Orthodox Christmas day, if the mother or sister of a single girl drapes the shoes over the young lady's shoulder, it is guaranteed that she will marry sometime that year. (Don't think I'll be needing them, myself. . . )

So in your comment, please include your name or nickname and indicate which prize you want. Also please share briefly why you would like to visit Russia. I'll plan to have a drawing on Monday and notify winners here. And of course if there are three respondents, everybody gets a prize! Well, good luck my dear komrades. And thank you so much for helping me celebrate this special day!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Goodbye Maxim Gorky Street: We're Moving

Since July 1999, our little church has been meeting on Maxim Gorky Street in a building that was quite a fixer upper. It's in a terrific location in the city center but we have known from the get-go that it was in a reconstruction zone.

The little white building there on the left is the entrance to our church property. And being in said reconstruction zone, means that the city recognizes the value of this property and wants it too. And we knew that eventually we would get to move. (Click to enlarge photo.)

And the time has come. We're not the only ones to go. This whole block is going, eventually. But we're of the first to go, I reckon, just because. . . Anyway, imagine wanting to raze the lovely buildings above for something more upscale. Note there on the corner the little grocery store. Oh, how handy that has been. That building's a hundred years old they say. . .

So here's in front of our building. It says Rostov Church of Christ. Found a high-fashion model to pose here for this. Poor dear, apparently she has no coat. . .

Moving right along, this is inside the front gate, looking toward Maxim Gorky Street. See the upscale apartment on the right in the near distance, that's on University Street and probably 14-or-so stories high.

So we've been busy packing up. Here's Artash our preacher packing up the office. He's a multi-talented fellow with wisdom beyond his years.

Oh, but you need to meet the whole gang. (Click to enlarge photo.) Well, this is most of us who were present on a recent Sunday. I need to mention that just because we look oh-so-serious doesn't mean that we're not happy. Let me explain: There seems to be a thing here about conserving smiles. Smiles are reserved for close friends and family. Smiles not handed out indiscriminately to people on the street. And certainly not for the camera. Oh, but ironically Funny thing, following is the scene just 30 seconds before the photo. . .

Yes, here we are just before the photo. But get the camera in there, get ready to shoot and the dynamics change. Unless of course Yours Truly happens to be behind the camera, in which case I have found that making chicken-like clucking noises does help get those smiles.

So back to the packing up: Here's Sveta with boxes of Bibles and printed material. Sveta helps with Bible distribution for Eastern European Mission.

This is Marina packing up the library. We got these wonderful metal containers from IKEA several years back. Our vast collection of materials from Truth for Today are, for the most part, catalogued and organized in them. (These are thanks to generous funding from the Cawyer family, Dallas.)

View down the tram line on Gorky Street, looking west. Because of course you might be interested how the tram line fades into the horizon.

Standing in the same spot, the Rostov Regional Library is located directly south. It's a huge library although from here, the 10-story tower is barely visible. It's a major landmark in the city and when dignitaries visit Rostov-on-Don, a visit to the library is often included in the itinerary.

From the same spot, looking north. This is University Street, which intersects there with Krasnai-Armaiskaya Street (Red Army Street), another major east-west artery in the city center.

But here's the grand prize. . .

It looks as though this might very well be our new church building. It's a fabulous single-family home with so much space and solid construction. We see no obstacles in the way to our getting this building although the final papers have yet to be signed. So we continue to hope and to pray. If it goes through, we would have 6-8 weeks before moving in. So we are in transition because this week we need to be out of the building on Gorky Street. Sunday, we were surprised and delighted when our dear sister Tanya - who comes to worship maybe twice a year nowadays - offered her large living room as our meeting place for the next few weeks. What a relief! A perfect meeting place for our transition, right in the middle of town, a good size and. . .the price is right.

And so, we are a gypsy people, in transition between buildings. And you know, when we look at the prospective building and the neighborhood in which it is located, we dream of the wonderful ways in which we as a congregation will be even better positioned to reach out to the community. Surely our best years are ahead.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big Day for Icy Swimming in Russia

The *Polar Bear Club* across Russia is thriving today. People are jumping into icy cold waters in this sub-freezing weather not for sport, however, but to celebrate the baptism of Jesus, celebrated today by the Russian Orthodox church. The enthusiasts believe that their sins will be forgiven and any illnesses cured.

Thanks to the video, I learned that the more sins that need to be forgiven, the colder the water will feel. Now this is making sense: people are always saying afterward, Oh it wasn't all that cold!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Welcome to The Year of the Tiger!

Here we are in the Year of the Tiger, as per the Chinese horoscope. This feels like a step in the right direction considering that 2009 was the Year of the Rat. In these parts, the horoscope is taken quite seriously and our fair city is over-run with the big cats. Say, love to have you come along for a look at a few local tigers.

(Click image to enlarge.) First, here's an special tiger from friends Volera and Julia of Kharkov, Ukraine. I'll admit to having had misgivings about allowing this gift precious space in my luggage, but I'm glad I gave in. It's amazing the sacrifices one will make for the animal of the year. So now there's a tiger in my own kitchen and a sweet memory of dear friends.

Speaking of tigers, remember The Eye of the Tiger from Rocky III? It was a huge hit in 1982 and here it is, just because.

Does that bring back memories, or what? Those years in the early 80's were golden for me. For one thing, I was teaching a bunch of 2-legged tigers at Irving High School, the home of Irving Tigers. Can you guess what was the favorite pep rally song?

But here we are in 2010, the Year of the Tiger in Rostov-on-Don and out on the street four-legged tigers have been spotted.

This lady is fiddling with her cell phone, totally oblivious to tigers in the vicinity.

These folks are exiting a major department store under a sign, We congratulate you (in the red letters) with the New Year and Christmas! (blue letters). They don't seem too worried about tigers. But yet on the table to the right of the exit are lots of tigers. Let's go in closer.

Here are tigers hard at work in various professions - traffic cops, army guys, navy guys and police officers. Hmm. . . wonder if there are any accountants, teachers or physicians parading as tigers?

In a florist window, a very watchful tiger. No pussycat, this one.

Here are tigers doing lots of things, mostly holding on to coins, a wish for prosperity in the coming year.

Here at the Cola kiosk on Pushkinskaya, see any tigers? Cute though, the Russian ДА, which is means, YES. But you already knew that. Da?

Back to home-sweet-home to a hot cuppa tea served up by our very own domestic tiger. Well, here's wishing you a wonderful year of the tiger!

How about you, dear blog reader, were you born during the year of the tiger? Or do you have special memories of the 1980's song, Eye of the Tiger? How about animal of the year trinkets - are you a push-over for those?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Strike a Match: Take a Step

This wooden cup of used matches was nearly overflowing earlier this week when I emptied it, lots fuller than shown here.

So. . . what do you do with your spent matches?

It's not that I particularly wanted a pile of matches. It just sort of happened there, next to the gas stove. One match to cook the breakfast oatmeal. Another match for making tea. Just 2, 3 or 4 matches a day from fall into winter.

Got to wondering how many matches might have accumulated there. How many would you say, just eye-balling that pile? Take a guess. . .

a) 200 matches?
b) 300
c) 400
d) 500
e) 600

If you guessed 600-ish, you're right. There were 615 matches in the pile. Got to thinking that there's an object lesson in there somewhere. It would have been quite a task to strike 600+ matches in one fell swoop. Of course. But the point is that small things add up. A little here, a little there and at the end of the day, the end of the month or the season, something significant can be accomplished without breaking into a sweat.

Someone put it this way:
(small tasks) x (time) = major accomplishment

One bite at a time. . . and an elephant is devoured.
One small step. . . and the longest journey is shorter.
One sentence at a time. . .
One packed lunch at a time. . .
One flight of steps at a time. . .

Question: What's something I can do right now for 5 minutes that will move me in the direction of a lifetime goal?

Someone said:
Ask small questions.
Think small thoughts.
Take small actions.
Identify small moments.

Question: In what areas might I want to move ahead?
Financial fitness - saving toward a goal - How about a Nexus One? ;)
Physical wellness - imagine doing a push-up! Or getting into those jeans?
Learning something new - how to tile the bathroom? - or how to SKYPE?
Correspondence - emptying the inbox - or writing one thank-you note?
Household - putting up Christmas stuff - or just the ornaments?

Taking baby steps is the secret, of course. As Flylady says, you can do anything for 15 minutes. Set a timer for 15 minutes and take a small step. Fifteen minutes in the kitchen today repeated throughout the week will make for an orderly kitchen and calmer meals . Fifteen minutes this evening preparing clothes, gear and lunches for tomorrow will make for a peaceful night of sleep.

Myself, I tend to live in a world filled with possibilities and ideas. And dreams and schemes. This can be wonderful but the downside is dealing with the paralysis of analysis. But I get through the day in short increments and have timers throughout the house. Today, for instance, did stretching and abs for 20 minutes before 20 minutes of devotional time. Then 20 minutes of computer time while the oatmeal was cooking. Later, I studied Russian in several 20-minute increments broken up by several 15 minute increments in the kitchen or on the computer.

Mini-goals and 15-minute increments make a difference for me. How about you, dear blog reader? What works for you?