Sunday, November 30, 2008


We had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration here, and I hope to share about that soon. For now I'm thinking about Advent, though. Today is officially the first Sunday of Advent. We'll start with our family observation of Advent tomorrow. This year I have two ideas going. Both are simple, and I don't think it will be too much. Of course, if it is, we can just step back a little.

I want to repeat what we did two years ago. This year Raia and Asya are the ages that Jaan and Raia were then. (Well, Asya is a little younger, of course, just because her birthday is later in the year.) I remember that Jaan really started to understand who Jesus is that year, while Raia just enjoyed the overall idea. It will be fun to see their different responses this year. I'm sure Raia will understand! I wonder what new insight Jaan will gain, and what Asya will pick up?

Also, a while ago I read about an idea in Noel Piper's book, Treasuring God in our Traditions:

(page 116)
I liked the idea, and when I was searching for it this year, I came across another adaptation of it. I wrote to Desiring God ministry, and they kindly sent me their Advent story. I'm adapting that and even adapting the adaptation that I mentioned to get something similar that works for us. I printed out the letter circles and glued little pictures from the Christmas story on the back of each one. (I found almost all that I needed here.) I think I'm going backwards from what I read, because we have all the little circles taped up, picture side out.  Each day we'll flip one. As the pictures disappear, we'll bring out the matching figures in our nativity scene, and by Christmas Day, we'll have our whole scene set up with the entire message of the little circles visible.

For those of you who are as visual as I am, here's what we have so far:

(We need to add some bows or something to make that look less sparse!)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was going to write about how thankful I am for water, but I couldn't because the power was off. We were joking about what notice we'd find on the door tomorrow: "We are very sorry for the inconvenience, but we had to turn off the power, because we don't have any water"? But then it came back on. So, now I'm doubly thankful: for water and electricity!

We're very thankful for each one of you.

We've gone back and forth about whether or not we'd even celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Of course, we're thankful every day.  We went to so many Zhatvas that we've had plenty of feasting for one Fall.  Will got the supplies for lasagna last time he was in Zaporozhya, so I had said that would be our holiday meal.  Then I thought about doing a traditional Thanksgiving meal and inviting guests. But when we went looking for a turkey, they said it was too early. (I did find one, but it looked like it was left from last year's Thanksgiving. Yuck!) We ended up with plans for a fancy holiday meal of lasagna for tomorrow.

We've focused on thanksgiving and gratefulness all month. Jaan and Raia have enjoyed an activity that I happened across. And we've been making decorations for tomorrow.

"Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing." Psalm 107:22

Monday, November 24, 2008

Advertising break

I'm very excited about where God is leading my sister-in-law, so I thought I'd put in a little advertisement for her new blog. Run over there, read, comment, and pray for her, please. If you don't know what she's doing, she wrote about that here.

And the exciting news here is SNOW! It's the very tiniest bit, hardly enough to call snow, but we're excited. I missed seeing it falling, but when we were putting the children to bed last night, I looked out the window and noticed white patches! I threw my coat on over my pajamas and ran out to check: so thin that it really just looks like a hard frost, but it counts! Precipitation seems to be a rare thing in this desert, so we're glad for any little bit!

First snowman!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Learning Ukrainian

It's been a while since I've written about Ukrainian lessons. We're still plugging away on Mondays. I don't know how much I'm learning, but Lena's doing great with English, and we're having fun! This week I've been listening to and reading The Mitten, a Ukrainian folk tale. (Funny. We have two versions of it in English in our children's books.) It's usually kind of hard for me to hear over the questions and noise around me, but my helpers and I have liked it. I've also been reading a biography of Taras Shevchenko*, written for children. I do great with that, reading quietly to myself. But then I have to painstakingly, painfully, slowly sound it out aloud for Lena to check. The words are close enough to Russian that I can easily guess at what they mean, but the pronunciation. . . mamochka! Our lessons are as much a time of fellowship as anything else, although, like I said, Lena is making progress. Oh, for the first time, tonight I asked her what a Ukrainian word meant, and instead of just blurting it out in Russian, she stopped, thought for a few minutes, then answered in English! Our Monday evenings are the highlight of my week.

(Raia and Asya enjoyed some time with Lena before lessons today. That's the photo above. )

*Taras Shevchenko was "a Ukrainian poet and artist, iconic figure of Ukrainian culture."

Monday, November 10, 2008

A happy day

Some days are steep. . . .
. . . a happy day is not the genesis of thanksgiving,
rather, thanksgiving is the genesis of the happy day.

From Invitation on Holy Experience

I read the quote above last week. And I thought about it as I went to bed that night. And as I woke up to a very fussy morning. As all three children fussed their way through breakfast, I kept thinking about it. Finally, one wailed, "Mama, you made me an unhappy day!"
"What? How did I do that?"
"You put apples in my pancake!"
"That shouldn't make an unhappy day for you." And then I told them what I had read the day before. They decided to give it a try. Their thanksgiving list was so simple and childlike and sweet. I thanked God with them for
709. Yellow leaves
710. Blue sky
711. A strong house that won't fall down
712. Our family
713. Tricycle
714. Yellow flowers on our table
715. Pigeons (that is a direct translation of a happy squeal and pointing)
716. The wise woman who wrote about how to make a happy day
717. Playing outside
718. Heaters inside

There wasn't a fairy tale ending. The fussing started up again soon after. We stopped and gave thanks again. And again. And again.

Getting outside was rough. Jaan was trying to help get Asya into her snowsuit: "Mama, I like to touch her hands because. . . Wahhh! She just pulled her hand out again!"
Wait. Stop. "Why do you like to touch her hands?"
"Because they're so warm and soft. Hey, I get to touch them again, because she pulled them out!"
Thank you!

719. Asya's warm, soft hands

I must have looked insane that morning: happy Mama, grinning, soaking up the fall beauty, with three children crying along at my side, as we walked down the central street.

720. Happy days!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Summer prayer letter :-)

October 31, 2008

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart… but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

Our dear friends and family,
Thank you so much for your constant prayer and support of us over these past months. We have been busy trying to adapt to a new country, church and ministry. Phyllis and I thank and praise our Father for his love so clearly displayed in you, through each note or letter, phone call or package. Thank you.

Family news:
This spring and summer have been a time of many challenges for us. We cannot deny the sense of loss that persists as we live here, in a land so like and yet so unlike the Russia that we love so. However, by God’s grace we are living and learning each day to rely upon Him in this as in all else. His grace is indeed sufficient. Always.

We are blessed to have found a good apartment, with a Christian landlady. In the time we have lived here, the children are slowly but surely befriending the multitude of babushki and dedushki in our apartment building. One dear old lady frequently checked on our progress in cleaning and fixing up the apartment. In parting she always gave us a heart-felt benediction of “well, clean with God, my dears!”

We also befriended a sweet old couple and saw them almost every day. Unfortunately, due to health problems, they moved to be with their son. Before moving, Baba Nina was trying to burn all of the flight records and other information they still had from Dedushka Misha’s Air Force years. As the children helped her, she would tell them how he often had to leave unexpectedly, how she never knew if he was coming home again as he bravely defended the borders of the USSR from American aircraft. Very sweet, loving old people. Very committed to their country. Very unaware that they were consorting with ‘the enemy’. Praise God that Phyllis and the children could be loving Christian neighbors first and foremost.

We were able to take part in a day camp held at the church this summer. Phyllis and I put in a lot of late nights using our computer for any and all needs. I took part in the music lessons, helped lead a group of teens, and generally made myself as useful as possible. Jaan, Raia, and Asya had a wonderful time in their group, and camp was the highlight of their day every single day that week. This was a great opportunity for us to really work closely with the youth at church, and it was a good time of ministering together.

Jaan at the day camp with friends from a very needy family.

I have continued to be in close contact with the youth. Between Bible studies, fellowship or prayer meetings, choir practice and just people dropping by, I am with them probably 4-6 times a week. (Unfortunately, Phyllis hasn’t been able to be quite so involved, but we are praying that this will become more possible.) I am finding that I need a great amount of wisdom in working with the youth. There are many needs--as in any church--with widely varying levels of spiritual maturity, several dominant personalities, etc. One complication is that I am given some of the responsibility of a youth leader, but have not been entrusted by the church with that position yet. I have often found myself praying for wisdom, clinging to this promise, “But if any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given to him.” Knowing that you all are praying with me is a great encouragement and support!

As we get to know this body of believers more closely, we naturally see them as the unique gathering that they are, with their own history, strengths and weaknesses. This is an incredibly generous church, and people have reached out to us since we first arrived, sharing their time, their energy, clothes, groceries and garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. Yes, we’re the ‘missionaries,’ but we are still seen more as a young emigrant family needing help. We have long ago learned to accept such gifts gratefully and seek opportunities to share of what God gives us with others. Praise God for His loving encouragement of us through those whom we are seeking to serve!

Another aspect of ministering in this church that differs from what we had in Russia is the church leadership structure. For now, there is no official pastor and most decisions are made by the Council of Brothers, made up of several deacons and other men who take part in the ministry of the church.  I have been asked to lend my voice as they struggle to work through the many material and spiritual challenges that any church has. There are many things that are not nailed down by any written church guidelines or statutes, many things that need to be worked through. Because of this, we clearly see our need for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we seek unity in leading the church. The Lord is teaching and stretching me in and through this, and I pray that He is using me to encourage and strengthen these dear devoted brothers of mine in their ministry.

Upcoming events:
Something demanding a lot of time (and peace-keeping talent) right now is the youth group’s preparation for an evening of evangelistic outreach on November 8th. A local music group wanted to be of use, and we want to take this opportunity to preach the Gospel and share how God has changed our lives. Being personally in charge of planning and organizing all this is something of a first for the youth, and there are many challenges.

Soon after that, we will be hosting a regional youth conference on November 15th. We will invite those who come on the 8th to also come attend this event at our church.

Prayer needs:
-Please be praying for unity and love among the youth as we prepare for these events.
-Pray with us for wisdom in working with the youth; taking part in the Deacon’s ministry; preaching and teaching, and taking every opportunity we have to minister to this church.
-Pray that we could get to know neighbors and young families particularly.
-Phyllis and I especially need your prayers that God in his grace would heal the hurt and loss of the last year, that he would continue to grow and nurture a true love for this place, this church as the home He has brought us to.

Once again, let me make it clear how much we treasure you all. We know that each one has their own challenges, their own family and church and ministry. The fact that we haven’t written does NOT mean that we take you for granted! We love you and are humbly grateful that God has blessed us with such friends.

Grace and Peace to each one of you,
Will and Phyllis (and Jaan, Raia, and Asya)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fall crafts and critters

We've been enjoying fall crafts! Ever since the leaves had just barely started changing, we've been collecting and pressing them. I put a bunch of those to use in decorating the living room:

And yesterday we tried the classic iron-leaves-between-waxed-paper craft.  That was a big hit!

While Jaan ironed,
and Asya sat in her onion drawer,*

Raia arranged leaves:

By the time her masterpiece was ready, she had our whole collection piled on her waxed paper!  She wasn't very happy when I told her that it was too many, but then she decided that she liked the idea of dividing them out to make several pictures.

We're also trying something new: preserving leaves with glycerin.  We just took the first few out, and I'm quite pleased with them.  I wonder if the greasy look with go away after a while, though?  If I had known about this earlier, and if I had a better supply of glycerin, I think we'd have garlands of the beautiful yellow maple leaves inside.  As it is, I think we'll be able to make some small decorations of some kind.

The leaves we had yesterday all came from a wonderful morning walk.  Will went with us, so we went much farther than usual.  And we saw wildlife!  Down by the "sea," I had climbed up on a bank and was waving down at Will and Asya, when Will starting pointing right over my head: a squirrel!  They're much rarer and much cuter than American squirrels.  We followed this one for a while, as it jumped from tree to tree, and all the children got a good look at it.  After that, Asya kept pointing to tree tops and saying, "Meow?"  A little later we startled a hare.  The children missed that, but Will and I saw the black markings on its ears and tail as it flashed away.  It was really big!

*Asya's onion drawer is her spot in the kitchen.  She loves to sit in this one drawer and play with the onions and garlic!  Having onions and garlic as her favorite toys does make dinner preparation somewhat traumatic for her, but she's usually pretty generous. . . if I beg.