Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Mama for Galina: Celebrating Adoptions

A little blond left her place in line, skipped over to me and announced, I have a mama. With that, she rejoined the other children.
I had just arrived at the orphanage, home to 100-some abandoned little ones and was chatting with a caretaker of the oldest group. The children were lined up, waiting to go outside when the little cutie, probably not even 3, broke out of line to tell me her happy news. This was Galina, I soon learned, the little girl who was being adopted by a lovely family from southwestern Ohio.

It's every orphan's wish, you know, to have her own mama. And now Galina was going to have a mother and lots more ~ a daddy and an older brother too. Galina's adoptive mother, Emily, had tracked me down weeks earlier, connecting before she and her husband would come here to Rostov-on-Don to meet Galina. As per Russian adoption procedures, foreign adoptive parents make two visits. On the first visit, they meet the child; on the second, they complete legal and medical requirements and then take the child home. So then in early September when Emily and husband Chad made their first visit to Rostov, we were able to connect in person.

After Chad and Emily returned to the US, I stopped by the orphanage to meet Galina. Thanks to her time in the spotlight, Galina has become quite the cooperative poser! Here she is celebrating the end of nap time on her own little bed.

Galina's group watching some TV before heading outside to play. Can you pick out Galina?

Come mid-October, I was in the US and en route from Akron to Nashville, would be passing near the area where Chad and Emily live, so they invited me over for lunch. The family would be leaving days later for their second trip to Rostov. And big brother Benjamin, above, would be traveling with them!

Lucky me, by the time I returned to Rostov in early November, Chad and Emily were still in town, wrapping up their three weeks in Rostov. Here we are near Hotel Rostov heading out for pizza. In the photo, from left is Judy, Galina's bubbly new grandmother, Rostov friend Roma, Galina with her parents, Emily and Chad and her older brother Benjamin, plus Yours Truly.

How fun to celebrate together that Galina was part of this family. Benjamin had waited five years for a sister! Chad and Emily told me about Abigail, a beautiful little girl they lost at birth in 2006. So now every one is happy. And so grateful. And, at long last, Galina has a mama of her very own.

Adoptive parents are heroic! Over the years, dozens have come through Rostov and they're so impressive with their resourcefulness and high energy. They also can use financial help. Last I checked, parents who adopt from Russia spend something like $35,000 to get their child. And then they've got to feed and cloth the little character. If you long to be a part of an adoption, why not consider adopting an adoptive family? Just ask them how you could be of help ~ and consider writing out a check.

Pure and undefiled religion is this:
To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

(James 1:27)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sowing Seeds: Joys, Challenges and Lessons Learned

I told you in plain Russian, Nyet! You're not going!

At that announcement, four children's faces fell.
Our sister Nina had run up the block to check on a family we'd met when giving out invitations for our upcoming vacation Bible school.

Sister Nina giving out invitations to our weekend children's program.

The mother had been pleasant enough with four children, school-aged and younger, milling around the doorway to their home which reminded me of the entrance to a cave. The children had been excited about something to do, all the better since it was free. But that was Sunday and now it was Friday and their dad was home.
Oh Papa, please can't we go?
I've already told you twice in plain Russian, we're Orthodox! And you are not going!
A similar scene played out in the courtyard just behind our church building. Days earlier, Danila, 10, had been excited about joining. Then on Friday our sister Lena went to check on her.
Please can I go, Babyshka? Danila called up to the 2nd floor.
Nyet! Grandma hollered down.

Back at the church gate we were waiting, balloons in hand and smiles ready, to welcome a flock of children. We were hoping for 10-15 children but, in the end, three children came, all our own. Friday night, it was 18-month-old Pasha. Then on Saturday, Daniel, 5 and his sister Madelyn, 6, joined us with their mother, our sister Lyda, who drove to Rostov from Kyshovka, their village, 75 kilometers south.

Our theme was Miracles of Jesus: Better than Magic!

While we were taken aback with such a response, we were hardly discouraged because from this first effort of reaching out to our community, we learned so much. See, we moved to the neighborhood less than a year ago. In fact, our church sign isn't out front yet. But before that can happen, our building must pass several inspections. . .

In all fairness, I can understand how a dad might be hesitant about allowing his children to come. Same with the grandmother. A cautious parent would want to know more before allowing their young ones to some activity with a group they don't know. And often it's just easier to say Nyet, you're not going than to get more information.

The Sea of Galilee, a favorite song.

As we reach out to our community, Jesus' parable of the sower and types of soil comes to mind as it represents sowing God's word and types of hearts. Of course, we hope for fertile soil. We hope for hearts open and ready to receive God's word.

Still, the response to our invitation tells us something. It tells us that first, the soil needs to be prepared. And we need to cultivate relationships, build connections and develop trust with neighborhood families.

Craft time: Amazing what can be done with berry baskets.

Another issue, in the Russian culture, our church is rather peculiar. Most folks are connected with the Russian Orthodox church, at least on a cultural level. Thus, they associate church with cathedrals and golden cupolas. Our meeting place is rather different. We meet in a modest property, one that could pass for a single-family dwelling. It includes a cafe out front but for now, we meet behind that in the 3-story house accessible through the courtyard.

* * * * *
The Saturday morning of our program, while children were upstairs in their Bible class, dear sister Lyda and I sat down to process our results and look ahead. Lyda has a background in marketing and works in mass media, so when she has suggestions, I take notes. We came up with two ideas t0 help us connect with our neighborhood.
First, we can offer cooking demonstrations such as how to bake muffins. When I whip up a batch of zucchini-pineapple muffins or carrot-raisin muffins, for instance, there are questions galore. We can capitalize on that interest. We can go door-to-door with samples and invitations. People can come for a demonstration, get the recipe and we meet us.
Secondly, we can use English for outreach. Two blocks from our building is a school where English is emphasized. I can visit the school regularly and offer homework help and conversation at our building. We could meet regularly at the church building once or twice a week.

The whole gang: What a great memory!

So while the turnout for our weekend event was less than we had hoped for, we made progress in other ways. Our teachers got more experience in planning lessons, crafts and activities. We made big progress in our classroom area. Our dear brothers hauled heavy cabinets from storage in the cafe up the narrow, steep steps to our 3rd floor classroom area.
And thus we count our efforts a success. We do what needs to be done, we learn the lessons that are to be learned. And we leave the outcome to God.
How about you, dear blog reader? Have you had an event where the turn-out or results was different that what you had hoped for? What lessons did you learn? Please share so that we can learn from your experience.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Victory Day, a Sacred Day

May 9th is a sacred day across Russia. Today is the 66th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi troops to allied forces. Every Soviet family was affected by the war. According to Russia Today, 27 million Soviets died whereas the combined deaths from the United States and United Kingdom were less than 1 million.

This evening I paid a visit to Victoria, my neighbor upstairs (double-click photos to enlarge). We sat at her kitchen table where she spread out photos and medals. Her family's story is typical: Her father Oleg, center, was a pilot before he was shot down and killed on his first flight in September, 1941. Two months later, Victoria was born, named in a spirit of optimism.

Victoria's mother spoke fluent German, which got her a job as translator for the Nazis. Later, she was sent to prison for collaborating with the enemy. Enter our hero, Oleg, far left, a classmate of Mama's who had loved her from afar during their teens. Oleg was an army physician, serving on the front. He managed to get Mama released from prison and sent home to be with little Victoria. They married and after the war, it was Oleg who would be a father to Victoria during her childhood and youth. Her mother died at 55 but Oleg lived considerably longer. Both are buried here in Rostov-on-Don. Victoria plans to visit the cemetery soon to decorate their graves.

With dear sister Nina, left, a friend from church, in front of a neighborhood cultural center. The banner proclaims, *(Congratulations) with the Great Victory!*

Elena Lalaevna, our sister from church is a decorated war hero, having served as a nurse in a army hospital near Volgograd, then Stalingrad. Once again this year, she received personal congratulations from Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.

Area veterans pictured on a billboard, downtown Rostov. As you can imagine, the number of veterans is dwindles daily. For lots more great photos, please check out these photos and videos. Last year, I spent a morning wandering around downtown and shooting everything. Just for you!

Now let's turn our attention 1,000 kilometers north to Moscow. Russian parades are something to behold, particular those held in Moscow. Red Square is the size of 12 football fields, the perfect staging area for displays of troops and military hardware. According to Russia Today, 20 thousand troops participated in today's parade. Magnificent as it was, last year's was even bigger, being the 65th anniversary. Imagine: US troops marched through Red Square.

The Russian flag, center, is flanked by the Rostov city flag, right, and that of the Rostov Region, left. I'm thankful to be living under the Russian flag versus the Communist flag or that of the Fascists. We can be so grateful to Soviet troops who stopped them. Their efforts came with a very high price tag and on May the 9th, Victory Day, the entire country stops to pay them respect.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Celebrating Gagarin's Space Flight: Fifty Years Later

Fifty years ago today, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. Here in Russia, we have been bombarded with that information for weeks now. No complaints from me. See, I managed to get myself photographed with Mr. Gagarin, himself. Well, in a manner of speaking. . .

Today a ceremony was held here in Rostov-on-Don at Don State Technical University, pictured behind the statue above. Yep that's me there with Gagarin. Oh, and when Flat Stanley comes to visit, he insists on being photographed with Gagarin too.

Thanks to Russia Today, here's an interview with Victor Gorbatko, one of Gargarin's fellow pilots. Gorbatko tells about the competitive process of selecting the final cosmonaut. Oh, interesting videos abound. Another favorite is the RT interview with Ada Kitovskaya, Gagarin's personal physician.

A favorite post is Remembering the First Cosmonaut. There you'll find links to the celebration dinner honoring our hero and the special song written and song in his honor. Over the weekend, New York Times had an interesting piece, In Space, Nice Guys Finish First ~ and I'm wondering if it was there that I read about Gagarin's removing his shoes when he and other candidates first toured the space capsule. Apparently that move won him some points, here in a culture where shoe removal is Rule #1 when entering a home.

ABC News outdid themselves with this story, Yuri Gagarin: The 7 Top Things You Never Knew about the First Man in Space. Of special interest was Gargain's alleged remark upon return to earth, something about there being no God because he was in space and didn't see him. Apparently those sentiment came from Soviet Premier, Nikita Krushchev.

The statue of Gargarin looks south over Voroshilovski Street, above. Not surprisingly, the area is known as Gagarin Square.

Folks of a certain age remember that day in 1961. I asked Olga Michaelovna, my language teacher, if she remembers the day. She would have been in elementary school at the time. She said, Oh, I remember it as though it were yesterday! We were called out of our classes, out into the hallway and the principal made a big announcement on the PA system and we were absolutely overjoyed.

How about you, dear Blog Reader? Do you happen to remember that day in 1961? Or, have you met an astronaut? (I haaave! Get the scoop on that, too!) Or. . . do you dream of going to space, yourself?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Gearing up for March 8th, Women's Day

Oh, March 8th is a huge holiday here in Russia. All have been gearing up for it over the weekend.

Myself, I've got three cheery bouquets of yellow chrysanthemums chilling out on the balcony, ready to deliver tomorrow to special friends. Looking forward to a special day tomorrow! (And hoping No More Candy Gifts, please! I've scarfed down way to much already!)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Now Showing at Rostov Theater

Rostov Kino, below, is the biggest theater in the city center. See the red word that looks like POCTOB? Well, that's really Rostov, pronounced Ros-TOV in Russian. Mixing up the two alphabets can provide such entertainment. . .

Speaking of entertainment, let's get up closer and see what's showing inside. (Click photos to enlarge.)

See anything familiar?

So, on the left is I'm Fourth. And then on the right is Invasion: Battle for Paradise (or something close). I'm not seeing that at Cineplex home page, so unsure of the title (not that I'll be losing much sleep over that, mind you). But would you happen to know the title in English?

By the way, here's a fun tidbid about the Russian alphabet, or the Cyrillic alphabet, to be more precise. On the left, in the I'm Fourth poster, the letter Я, that looks like a backwards R, is actually the vowel prounounced ya. And Я (ya), the last letter of the alphabet, is also first-person, singular pronoun, that is, the I in English. Okay, you would know all that, of course. Of course! But I've heard that sometimes a Russian mother will put a child in his place by saying something like, Don't get too big for your britches, buddy boy. After all, remember that я is the last letter of the alphabet! Another interesting thing the я is not capitalized when used as the first-person pronoun. It's like writing, for instance, i find that surprising! ~ without capitalizing the I.

Meanwhile, a mile or so west of the movie theater. . .

Here is a KFC location. I need to check it out sometime. What's noteworthy here is a word on the window. It's just above the sandwich, written in gold. It's transliterated from English straight into Russian. It's meant to be pronounced longer - or at least close to it, with a Russian twist. And that's exactly what it's meant to convey. Although that's not a Russian word. Or at least, not an official word just yet.

How about you, dear blog reader? Into KFC. . . after a movie? Or have you seen either of those movies?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Russia Honors *Defenders of the Fatherland*

As we approach midnight, the celebratory fireworks have faded away here in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. You see, February 23rd is an official Russian holiday, a red day on the calendar, known as the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland. Originally the holiday was to honor members of the Red Army, but nowadays, all men are pleased to be congratulated. Including little tykes who are defending nothing more than their own honor out on the playground.

The card says, 23 of February. (Congratulations) with the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland!

Now, if I had my act together, I'd have baked a double-batch of brownies and sprinted up the stairway here, delivering treats to the neighbor guys. But come to think of it, I did all that for Thanksgiving. So maybe they'll forgive me.

Fortunately Russian President Demitry Mevedev was busy congratulating the guys. He's got his act together, that's for sure.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day ~ John 3:16 with a Twist (Russian)

For beloved friends who are speakers of Russian, here is John 3:16 with a twist. I think you'll enjoy this!

(Click image to enlarge.) The best thing about this perfect love is that it's unconditional. God loves us whether or not we love Him. He loves us when we're in the prime of our youth or already past it. He loves us skinny, just-right or carrying a few extra pounds. He loves us regardless of our wealth or position.

In a relationship, one person is more in love than the other, they say. That's how it is with God's love. And he's stark, raving, crazy-in-love with each of us. He initiated the relationship in the first place and longs for us to respond. He's hovers near the heavenly phone, as it were, hoping we'll reach out to Him. He's always watching, scanning the earth, looking for those who would be His.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Look Inside the Dallas Cowboy's New Stadium

You might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the construction of Cowboy Stadium. Please click on the title above, or here, to connect to lots of photos and insider-information thanks to Dan, my dear brother, who was on the crew. Go Cowboys! Oh. . . that's right. . . somebody else is playing. Well, welcome to Dallas!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Father Frost Sightings in Rostov-on-Don

Leading up to New Year's Day, Father Frost was busy spreading cheer to children all over Russia. He managed to stop by a local orphanage, home to 100 little ones.

(Click images to enlarge.) Father Frost was accompanied by Snow Maiden, his helper. Watch this space for more about this entertaining event ~ maybe video, too.

Although he doesn't usually dress in yellow or rip-snort around on a motorcycle, here's Father Frost as you've never seen him before. Gotta hand it to Beeline, a popular telecommunications company, for their attention-grabbing advertising. The heading says New Year's gifts year-round, promoting their internet service for cell phones.