Saturday, April 14, 2012

Palm Sunday: First in Jerusalem, Now in Russia

Last Sunday, the Orthodox world celebrated Palm Sunday, known as Pussy Willow Sunday here in Russia and, as you might expect, Resurrection Sunday or Easter is right around the corner. What's interesting is how Western Easter - or Catholic Easter as it's called here - and Orthodox Easter are usually on two different dates. But not always.

Decisions, Decisions: How many bunches? How many rubles?
(Click images to enlarge.)

But what's way more interesting is the original event, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This week, I've been digging for information and found it fascinating. (References follow.)

Above all, the Sunday before Passover was lamb selection day, the day on which a Jewish family would head toward Jerusalem and choose a lamb to be offered for their family later that week. And it was no coincidence that on lamb selection day, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the perfect lamb of God to be offered later that week for all people of all nations. Talk about God's perfect timing.

The Lamb of God: This rendition is simply breath-taking.

When word got out that Jesus was on His way into Jerusalem, the whole city became stirred up.Those in the crowd saw his arrival through very different perspectives, depending upon who they were.

For instance, to the Roman soldiers who occupied Jerusalem, Jesus' arriving in the city was hardly an event. They had seen real parades, ticker-tape-type parades for Roman generals returning from foreign conquest. By comparison, this parade - impromptu by all appearances - was of little consequence. Still, the Romans knew to be watchful. If things got out of hand, it wouldn't be the first time.

Jerusalem was always at its most volatile during Passover week. The Romans knew that. That's when Jews celebrated their release from slavery in Egypt some 1,200 years earlier. Now they longed for freedom anew. Occasionally a wild-eyed fanatic would come forward, usually around Passover, and claim to be the Messiah, anointed to lead the nation to freedom. The Romans were prepared.

But to the common folk who lined the street, this public demonstration was exactly what they'd been hoping for from a potential king. As Jesus passed, they welcomed him with wild enthusiasm. The crowd from nearby Bethany had been spreading the word about Jesus' most amazing miracle yet. Days earlier he had brought Lazarus back to life in front of them.

Folks from out-of-town heard about the miracle on their trek up to Jerusalem for Passover week. They were a powerless people, drawn to a man who could do such things. And then, in a statement of power not lost on the masses, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. Since the time of King David, the donkey had been the royal mount of Israelite kings. Jesus was saying, Yes, I am a king.

So the crowd joined in the celebration, waving palm branches like patriots waving their flags. To the Jews, the palm branch was not so much a symbol of peace as it was a symbol of triumph and victory. They were shouting, Hosanna, that is, Save us! And Blessed is the King of Israel! This was the only occasion on which Jesus allowed such a display of devotion and He made no effort to quiet the crowd.

On the other hand, the yelling and commotion was upsetting to some of the Pharisees. For one thing, they were anxious about the Roman response, knowing soldiers wouldn't hesitate to use force. Beyond that, the Pharisees were enraged with jealousy, already plotting to kill Jesus - and Lazarus, as well - but not during Passover week with all the crowds.

What a difference a week would make. God's timing was so different from that of the Pharisees. According to His exquisite plan, God arranged for Jesus' death to happen during that very week precisely when the city was bursting with visitors in town for Passover. What better coverage for the event. What better way to get the word out to the widest possible audience that their king was coming as the ultimate lamb.

Dear friends, let's have a look at how Russian Orthodox believers celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus. But first, here are the primary references for the post.

* * * * * 

From The Bible: Exodus 12: 1-6; Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11: 1-10; Luke 19:29-40; John 12: 12-19.

"The Lamb of God," Death and Resurrection of the Messiah. (DVD, Discovery Guide) (Zondervan / Focus on the Family, 1998).

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Logos Bible Software, 2000-2012).

* * * * *

So here's a quick look at Pussy Willow Sunday in Russia.

Grandparents: They're all the same, the whole world 'round.

Forking over rubles for pussy willow branches.

Video from Russia Today: Palm Sunday celebration among Orthodox believers at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Renewal in Kiev, Ukraine for Missionary Women

Spiritually, it's one of the best things I've ever been to, we just kept digging deeper and deeper into one psalm. It's amazing how they got us so close in such a short time. And they just lavished us with so much love...
That was Mary Lee Roger's impression of the Come before Winter renewal in Kiev, Ukraine. It was a Friday evening in mid-March and we were heading toward the train station. Within the hour, Mary Lee and friends would be heading back to Donetsk, Ukraine where she and husband Jay Don serve with Ukrainian Bible Institute. Later that evening I would catch another train back to Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

From left, Dawna, missionary intern serving in Kharkov; Mary Lee, Natalia and Natalya from Donetsk, Ukraine.
We were a few of 44 women who serve in ministry in Europe, most of us in Russia or Ukraine, who spent five days with a team of 14 sisters who had come from the US to provide us spiritual refreshment, known as Come before Winter.

The Come before Winter renewal team came to encourage, serve, challenge. What saints! (Photo credit: Mariana Long.) 
Come before Winter is the brainchild of Karen Alexander who saw the opportunity to encourage, honor and challenge missionary women.

As the Come before Winter website notes, Being a minister can be a cold and isolating experience. . . even for the most seasoned worker. When that ministry occurs on foreign soil, the stress only multiplies. Paul experienced winter. On the field in the first century, Paul writes to his friend Timothy: “Do your utmost to come before winter” (NKJV, 2 Timothy 4.9). Paul is grieving the loss of fellow workers, one who has deserted the work. “Only Luke is with me,” he writes. . .“Bring the cloak I left in Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchment,” he urges.

From left, Heather, Sara and Pam of the renewal team.
The first Come before Winter renewal was in Brazil in 2001. Since then, two or more renewals have been held each year and the statistics are impressive. More than 500 women from 50 countries on six continents have been served. The Kiev renewal was the 24th overall, the third to be held in the former Soviet Union: The first was in Novosibirsk in 2003 and the second in St Petersburg, 2007. Several participants have been to all three.

Tamika, left, who serves in Vienna, sharing family photos over lunch.

Come before Winter provides all accommodation for renewal participants which demands a significant budget. Supporters recognize the value of investing in the women who serve in ministry, especially those serving in a foreign culture. 

The Come before Winter website continues, Today’s missionaries can experience winter. Today’s women in ministry can experience winter. . . Ministry, especially ministry in missions, challenges the hearts and souls of women around the world. Today, just as in the first century, some workers will leave the work, tired and discouraged. Those who remain will on some days long for a familiar face, a conversation with a kindred spirit, tools with which to work, and the comforts of “home.” Our goal is to bring what is lacking and to arrive before “winter.”

Our renewal site, a sanitorium northwest of Kiev.

Charlotte Wright, team member from Austin said, We can not serve on the mission field but what we can do is come and encourage you women who do. A retired journalism teacher, Charlotte served as videographer of the event, her fifth renewal.

Charlotte, our expert on all things digital.
Charlotte encourages women to make the sacrifice to attend. Do whatever you have to do, beg your husband to watch the children for a week, just get there. You will go back home with so much more energy, both physical and spiritual energy, better able to handle what you have to do back home. I've seen it time and time again. 

Irena of Tomsk helps clarify the evaluation form.
Worship and intensive Bible study were centerpieces of the renewal. We began and ended each day with prayer and praise. We studied the Psalms, particularly Psalms 90 - 106, known as Book 4 of the Psalter. We focused on Psalm 103, which – it just so happens – I have committed to memory. But now, having plumbed the depths of that psalm together, I appreciate it infinitely more.

Esther serves in Crimea and Katie serves in Kharkov.
Our singing was magnificent and I was thrilled to follow accomplished altos versus being the only one. To top it off, the renewal theme song, Bless the Lord Oh My Soul, was composed by our own brother, Kostya Zhigulin composer and director of Psalom, a spiritual music ensemble, based in St Petersburg.

Each Come before Winter team includes a missionary ambassador chosen from the participants to attend the next renewal and pass along the cloak, a beloved tradition of the ministry. 
The Cloak held by Janet Allison, missionary ambassador to our renewal and Irena Rahminova, missionary ambassador to the upcoming renewal in New Zealand. (Photo: Mariana Long) 
Janet Allison, missionary in SwazilandAfrica was part of the Kiev renewal, having been chosen missionary ambassador at the previous renewal in South Africa. So then, at the closing ceremony of our renewal, Janet presented the cloak to Irena Rahimova of TomskRussia, who will serve as missionary ambassador at the New Zealand renewal in June.

The renewal wrapped up Friday afternoon, we said our goodbyes and en route to the Kiev train station, the Donetsk delegation of three sisters and I stopped by Arizona Bar and Grill, a favorite of Americans passing through the capital city. We walked in and gaped at the familiar faces already there: It was the renewal team. Our sisters from the US had stopped by for a taste of home en route to the international airport.
The Arizona Restaurant in Kiev. The word that looks like PECTOPAH is Russian for restaurant, the pronunciation similar to the English word.
We joined them and I grabbed the seat next to Stephanie Hamm, a first-timer on the renewal team and a faculty member at Abilene Christian University. Working to disassemble my nachos, packed tighter than petals on a rose, I remembered the voice recorder in my purse and asked Stephanie her thoughts about the renewal.

I really loved the women sharing yesterday. (Each of us participants had three minutes to stand in front and share our thoughts from Psalm 103.) I thought it was wonderful and loved every bit of it. I loved the prayer appointments, the women sharing. (Each of us had a 45-minute prayer appointment with a team member.) I loved this time, the one-on-one with women. I had four of these. I looove meeting new people and I hope they let me come on another one, she said with a laugh.

Masha from Perm visiting over lunch.
After dinner and more goodbyes, we departed the Arizona and continued to the train station, anxious to get through the city center before the streets were blocked for the Ukrainian president and his entourage. I asked Natalia Maliuga of Ukrainian Bible Institute, Donestsk, for her impressions of the renewal.
It was really different, it was a really fresh approach, she said. I received new insights that will be very helpful to me personally and to share with others.
And that's the whole idea, to have been refreshed and equipped to return to our ministries and serve anew.

With dear sister Jeanene Reese, right. Is there anyone more sincere, more genuine? What a tireless worker she is. Back in the early 70's we were classmates at then-ACC. And since then, I cherish each time our paths cross.

Monday, March 26, 2012

From the Streets of Rostov-on-Don

So what's new here? I like to ask Irina the produce vendor. And where's it from?

These tangerines from Turkey, she tells me. That's just south of here, across the Black Sea. I've done that trip too and I do have stories. But these tangerines were probably kept in the dark the whole trip, in a safe place and here they are.

The strawberries are from Greece, just one time zone west. If  these strawberries could talk, imagine the sights they've seen in recent days. Say Howdy to Irina,  the produce vendor. Guessing that her mind is far, far away. . . she's probably dreaming about watermelon season. But now, she asking 100 rubles for this cup of strawberries. Divide that by 30-ish rubles to the dollar and we can agree that imported strawberries are indeed a special treat.

The pomegranates are from Abkhazia, just to the south of here and part of the former Soviet Union. This fruit is packed full of good stuff but you knew that of course. And here's two easy ways to open a rascally pomegranate.

At Rostov Kino it's show time!

Watch with Us, the sign says. Just for fun, let's translate these first and then see if they match up with what's showing in theaters in the US. from left, John Carter, Snow White and the Revenge of the Gnomes then there's (some word indistinguishable?) Love. On the far right, that could be Tenderness or maybe Delicacy or possibly Affection. Do I even dare to check the real titles of these? Well yes, I did dare - and, this is fun - the English title for the Snow White film is Mirror, Mirror. Good choice to change that title in the Russian version because otherwise it would Зеркало, зеркало (ZERK-a-lo, ZERK-a-lo), considerably less enchanting.

Rounding out our report from the street is our sister Frieda with an advertisement for Beeline mobile network provider, my provider of choice, just FYI. Thing is, both Frieda and my language teacher poo-poo the grammar in that advertisement. They're both purists, language-wise and don't want anybody messing with the King's English, Tzar's Russian. Share the sunrise here, the heading says. And at 14 rubles/day, that works for me, grammatical or nyet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Minding Her Own Knitting

Now here's a new spin on outdoor sports. This day was well below freezing. And look at this lady, knitting a sweater of all things.

I felt called to stop and question her about that. And take her photograph. I was concerned that she was homeless and had nowhere to knit except for the bench. But no, she's fine, hands aren't too cold. She was just waiting for her husband and what better thing to do than knit a few rows.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Setting Goals: How High Is Unrealistic?

Setting high goals is a good thing, of course, but how high is too high? It was this apartment building in Kiev, Ukraine that got me to wondering.

Do you see anything that seems out of place here? (Click to enlarge.) If only there had been direct sunlight, if only this had been captured with a high-resolution camera versus a cell phone, the oddity might have grabbed you, too. Take a look at the 5th floor balcony. That whiteness there is no satellite dish.

We see there a very high goal, a goal set unrealistically high, IMHO.

Call me legalistic, something we first-borns tend to be, but basketball goals supposed to be 10 feet off the playing surface. And this one's, what, maybe 40 feet? That's what I call aiming for the sky. Can't help wonder the story here. . .

Made me wonder if perhaps a certain Leonid Stadnyk lives there. As you might have jotted down somewhere, he's the Ukrainian man once listed by Guinness as the tallest man in the world, at 8 foot, 4 inches. But nyet, a quick check showed that our Leo lives about 2 hours west of Kiev in the Zhitomer area.

Let's zoom on in for a closer look. Not that we're nosy or anything. Just. . . just that we're interested. And we're concerned. We see that the balcony windows are boarded up. Now that's bit odd in the summer, unless a place is abandoned. But the kitchen window is open a bit so it's likely someone's there.

I'm guessing the balcony windows haven't been opened in years. The little planter there is taking care of itself, the basketball hoop may have been nailed in place by a teenager who since has joined the army or a professional basketball team and now an elderly person lives there. This would be an elderly person who doesn't hang laundry to dry in the balcony, who doesn't enjoy a fresh breeze through those windows and who's in the survival mode. Now that would be a goal, to get out of the house and view the place from all angles.

Well, any thoughts, dear blog readers? Is this goal a cry for help?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Find the Ideal Husband: A Fresh Look

Several weeks ago, Christian sisters in Kharkov, Ukraine, pulled together a Saturday conference, How to Find the Ideal Husband.

Lucky for me, that weekend I happened to be in Kharkov - pronounced HAR-kov - and got to attend because, for one thing, there was no age limit. The little invite there is in Russian, as you see, but no where did it say, this is open to those up to the age of 29. So believe me, I was there taking notes, fast and furious. Because you just never know.

Fast forward to last weekend after I'd returned to Rostov. I ran into Marilyn Monroe, of all people, at a local bookstore. Imagine her being bookish on a Saturday evening. Well, Miss Monroe had crossed my mind in recent weeks. I'd been thinking how different her life might have been had she sought wise counsel about matters of the heart. So, given the chance, I'd have saved her a seat and a smile. And a listening ear. Because you just never know.

Got to admit, the topic of finding a Christian spouse is near to my heart. In decades gone by, I devoured books, prayed prayers and burned up the phone line, consumed with this mission. And then there was a book about how to synchronize ones breathing with the guy's and subtly mimic his body language, apparently to establish some sort of a bond at a primal level. Maybe I dismissed that one too quickly. But now here we are, well into the next millennium and I'm still flying solo, albeit older and wiser. So as the Saturday conference approached, I was casting about for words of wisdom just in case anyone were to ask. Or just in case.

I saw the irony of that notion and managed a smile. What could I - the poster child for holding out, for not just settling for somebody - what could I possibly know about finding a good husband? Well, chances are I had crossed paths with the perfect husband candidate and was totally oblivious. Of course, he would have found the perfect wife and married her way back when. . . back when polyester double-knits were the rage, back when the Carpenters were singing We've Only Just Begun at weddings across the land and couples gazed deeply into each others eyes for those three-plus minutes until the final And yes, we've just beguuun.

So the big day came to Kharkov. Twenty-some of us arrived breathless and pink-cheeked from the frosty streets, some of us starry-eyed, imagining the secrets we might glean on the path to true and abiding love. Our beloved sister Lucy, above, got straight to the point and we started brainstorming what we might look for in the ideal man.

Our list was pretty predictable, no big surprises there. Although now that I think about it, no one mentioned being mechanically savvy, a trait quite attractive when the car won't start. Or being a tech whiz, enormously attractive when needing a Windows upgrade. Still, those skills can be bought and all that pales next to a guy who's willing to help clean up after dinner or comfort a fussy baby. No, we were more abstract and philosophical than practical with our list.

And now a word from Mordison Agency of Weddings, posted in the Kharkov metro. Get married in Europe, USA, Canada, says the headline in blue. The red cursive below says, We want you to be happy!!! Now That's touching. As you might know, there's no shortage of men in Ukraine but still, marrying someone in the west is a ticket out of Eastern Europe. And a ticket out is, for many, the ultimate dream.

Meanwhile, back at our search for the perfect guy, Lucy pulled a surprise. Our real topic, she announced, was not about finding the right person but of becoming the right person. About being the sort of woman that the ideal man would find attractive. It was about changing the person who stares back at us from the mirror each morning. Hearing this could be painful, I figured, but certainly better than heading back out to the icy streets.

What traits in a girl would be interesting to the ideal guy? There's the usual, predictable stuff, of course. But if, farther down the list were knowing how to put up wallpaper, say, or whip up a lemon meringue pie - with meringue that doesn't turn watery - if those were on the list, I'd need to start Googling for how-to's.

Our conference presenters, all sweet young sisters, all blissfully married, might have surveyed their husbands for recommendations about the ideal woman. Here are a few highlights of our sessions. First, Katie cautioned us about our speech ~ to avoid being disrespectful or jabbering non-stop and about using inappropriate language. Then Denyce reminded us to bless others through our speech, using words that uplift and encourage.

After lunch, we had a fashion show via Powerpoint, featuring inappropriate clothing choices and how to modify them by adding a tank top or leggings, for example. We saw how a neckline or a hemline that's okay when standing becomes a problem when a person sits, reaches or bends. And now I'm remembering that iconic photo of Miss Monroe with her skirt flying up. We might need that caution too: Beware when standing over a subway vent in a billowy skirt. As if.

Lucy reminded us that our attire influences men and that when we dress modestly, we show respect for our Christian brothers as well as respect for ourselves.
After lunch, Victoria, a Ukrainian sister who could pass for a high-fashion model, talked about taking care with our appearance, as a way of bringing glory to God.

And now a word from a vendor at the Kiev train station. This little thingy was perfect for
Valentine's Day and the vendor patiently helped me with the translation, Hold me tight - and together we will be warm. And keeping warm sounds good when it's -20 outside.

In the final session, Olivia challenged us to consider the places we go and the things we do and to make choices appropriate for daughters of a loving God. If we're busy serving God, helping those in need and meeting with God's people, that's where we're most likely to cross paths with a Christian man who shares such values.

Lucy summarized the day, saying Don't waste time dreaming away your life. Be the person God is proud to call his daughter. Pray for God to be at work in you, changing you to be the ideal Christian woman.

So here's our after shot of the day. Guests came from several cities in eastern Ukraine including those who caught overnight trains from Donetsk and Mariupol. Special thanks to our Kharkov sisters for pulling together this day of enlightenment.

Here are Russian-language editions of familiar magazines. On the right, is the Russian version of Good Housekeeping, renamed Domestic Hearth.
Glancing at those headlines, at the Cosmopolitan in particular, I'll pass on translating. Let's just say there's quite a contrast between popular culture - or what sells magazines - and the Christian culture.

A happy ending: Last summer dear sister Lena served with us here in Rostov-on-Don, helping with our children's program. At our sister's prayer meetings each week, we prayed that our young sisters would be blessed with Christian husbands. Lena found the ideal husband by being an admirable young lady. And of course we know that this isn't the ending and to paraphrase that oldies song, They've only just begun.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Polar Bear Club: Russian Orthodox Style

Today is a religious holiday in Russia, the day on which Jesus Christ is thought to have been baptized. And so it is that each January 19th, devotees of Orthodoxy follow suit in a way and jump into icy rivers of Russia in hopes of having their sins forgiven. The ritual includes genuflecting and bobbing under the water several times.

This evening two members of my Bible archeology class came telling of their jumping into the Don River earlier today. It feels like being stuck by a hundred needles, said Herman, 13.

How about you, dear blog reader, have you ever participated in this January 19th tradition? Or have you ever joined a polar bear club, jumping into icy waters just for the sheer fun of it?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Russia Celebrates *Old New Year*

Families across Russia are preparing to celebrate the Old New Year this evening. This is not an official holiday on the calendar but by the time the fireworks fade away, Russia's holiday season will be a wrap.

The Old New Year is a throwback to the past. And oh my goodness, as fascinating as it is, this drama between the Gregorian and Julian calendars gets complicated. So tell you what, check out this blog post, Here's to a Bean in Your Dumpling with all the scintillating details. Warning: You too might end up craving varenki. And then here's the definitive word on the holiday, Old but Still New, straight from Voice of Russia.

Happy Old New Year to you and yours. Stocking up on vareniki at the supermarket. this young lady was happy to pose.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Dragons Overtake the City

Three days into the new year and Rostov is besieged with dragons. They're everywhere ~ on the streets, in markets and, thanks to well-meaning friends, two are now living with me. Welcome to 2012, the Year of the Dragon.

As you may know, as per the Chinese Horoscope legend, one of 12 animals takes its turn to rule the year. Some cultures are serious this. We can assume that China is totally gung-ho and here in Russia, the Year of the Whatever is popular too. I'm remembering that 2008 was the Year of the Rat, then in 2010 came the Year of the Tiger and I was totally oblivious to animal of 2011.

Interestingly, at local theaters is showing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And what think ye, dear blog reader, would this be a coincidence or nyet ~ that this movie was released in time for the Year of the Dragon? (Click photo to enlarge.)

Will you be seeing this movie? Think I'll find dragons elsewhere. . .

Here are dragons on Voroshilovski Street. Got some rubles handy? Tempted to ask this sales lady about her official title. Imagine if it were Vendor of Dragons. How about that on a resume?

Dragons up close, rather domesticated, in fact. . .

Besides toy dragons, on New Year's cards, paper dragons are available. Let's have a peek.

Happy little dragons. One has a verse inside. . .

Ahem, let's have some fun (or not) and translate this thing. . .
Let the cute little dragon bring success and joy the whole year. All will be "Outstanding, " all will be successful and in everything will be good luck. (The "Outstanding" here means an A+, as in school work.) Well now, if that doesn't just warm the heart. . .

Peter, Paul and Mary are itching to share their special dragon song. Could they have released this in a Year of the Dragon? There are ways to find out, of course. Besides that, we could wallow in theories about subtle meanings of the lyrics. But hey, for those of us of a certain age, we can enjoy the memories. . .

Thank you dear friends for your interest in the Year of the Dragon. Wishing you a splendid new year. And, should any unpleasant dragons cross your path in 2012, may you successfully slay each and every one of them.