Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Jaan and Raia have been working on two different poems to recite at church on Christmas.  Last night I tried to catch one of our practices on video.  After about 20 clips of pouting, Asya making noise, someone taking the microphone apart, and more, I finally got this one.  At least you can see most of Raia's part.  (I missed the first line.)  Jaan couldn't say his half, because the microphone wasn't properly plugged into his helmet.

Я еще не умею читать,
И немного умею считать,
Но я знаю, что праздник настал -
День рождения Иисуса Христа.

И я слышал о том, что Христос
Людям счастье и радость принес.
Хорошо, что ко всем Он пришел,
И что есть Рождество - хорошо!
From here.

I still can't read
And I can only count a little,
But I know that a holiday has come -
The birthday of Jesus Christ.

And I've heard that Christ
Brought happiness and joy to people.
It's good that He came to everyone,
and that there is Christmas - it's good!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'Tis the season to be busy

Feels like... New Year's is in the air!  Everyone is scurrying around buying up groceries, gifts, vodka and fireworks, getting ready for the Big Night of the year. And we're slowly recovering from our own personal "Christmas holidays."

We greatly enjoyed being able to slowly build up to celebrating Christmas with our family this year, as we daily reflected on the Advent of our Saviour. One of the nicer things about having two separate dates on which we remember Christ's birth  is that one can be our own, very personal celebration, and one can be the 'Big Church Holiday.'  

I thought this might be a good time to fill you all in a bit on the daily ins and outs of our involvement with our new church family here.  I'll just hit the high points of the past couple of weeks, starting with:
Sunday - 
Choir practice in the morning before church, singing in the choir, singing solos, and preaching from 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, and Titus on how the (older) women in the church can be an even greater blessing to us all.  Home for a quick lunch and nap, then we all were out again to visit with the youth at one of their apartments. We shared a simple supper and had a good time just enjoying one another's company. Phyllis and the children stayed for quite a while, but I left early to be at church for the evening service. 

Tuesday -
Tuesday evenings are 'Brother's Meetings' which can be an evening of discussing solutions to different challenges in ministry, settling questions as to nuances of church practice or even teaching that have come up. It can also turn out be purely a 'work day', doing anything from working on building a bathroom, to moving benches and tables for a special service. This past Tuesday, I spent most of my time there helping with preparations and decorations for the Christmas evening service the next day. (A whooole lot of untangling Christmas lights, trying to re-wire them to function in ways their designers never intended.) After most of the work was done, we had tea and cake in honor of a 1-year anniversary of one of our couples. 
Wednesday evenings are Youth prayer meeting/Bible study nights. I've been leading those more and more recently. Sometimes I'll ask one of the youth to prepare a short devotional as well. We are currently working our way through 1st John. We went through 1 John 4:17-19, reflecting on the wonder of all that we can have and hold fast to if we allow God's love to grow and be perfected in us and be displayed through us. 
We wrapped up with prayer about what we had read;  then had a separate time of sharing personal testimonies of answered prayer and personal needs that we prayed about together. Then one of the youth and I went to visit his brother who is in the hospital following an operation. We sat and talked, trying to encourage him a bit. I sang a few Christmas carols for him, and we left.
Thursday - 
Well, that was Christmas Day, yes? That evening, our whole family was at church.  Even though the 25th is not the 'Big Holiday,' we had an informal Christmas service for our church family. People invited family members who don't usually come to church, we had cookies and tea, a time for personal sharing, sang traditional Ukrainian Christmas carols together, and generally enjoyed the fellowship with one another. I shared very briefly, sang a couple of Christmas carols, sang with our children, accompanied another soloist, sang with choir... lots of singing, lots of fun, a good time. 

We had a choir practice for a couple of hours - it's usually Thursday evenings, and then several of the youth went to a birthday party for the child of one of the young families ion the church. I hurried home and helped get Phyllis and the children over there. We were able to visit for a while with this young mother who we have not seen as much of as we would like, and hopefully were able to encourage her a bit. 
The youth  has a fellowship time every Saturday evening, and even with the holidays, we met as usual. I've been leading these as well, discussing random topics that the youth themselves  have asked to study. We've covered quite a range of topics, so far: Great White Throne as distinct from Judgement Seat of Christ; Pagan Roots of Christmas (are Christmas trees ok in church? or: christian freedom and discernment in areas of disagreement); Why are we Baptists? (how our teaching differs from that of other protestant denominations and 'Christian' cults found here in Ukraine), etc. 
This Saturday, we wrapped up our more formal fellowship time and then visited with a church member who had just returned from 3 months in a rehab center and was very glad just to see us all again. As we drank tea, we also were offering help and comments to those who were re-decorating the hall for the Christmas season.
Sunday -
choir practice again, taking Raia with me to help Phyllis a bit. Sang a song with the youth that we had practiced the night before. Helped lead the congregation in 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing,' a new song for most. Sang with the choir, of course, but had a 'light Sunday' in other respects, not being asked to share the message I'd prepared. 
That evening, one of the girls from church came over, a true servant leader in our group. She worked with Phyllis for quite a while on a slideshow for New Years. 

There you have it, a 'small glimpse' into our daily contact with and support of the church here. Please be praying for strength during the next few days! Tomorrow we meet at 10pm, and from 11pm to ...6am probably, the next morning, we'll be 'seeing in the New Year' together!  I was asked to share a call to prayer as we meet the New Year in prayer at midnight, as well as being partly responsible for planning an hour of time  -  from 3am to 4am!!  Then there's a trip to a church in a city a couple of hours away planned on Saturday. We're all going, and I'll be preaching and singing. Then Sunday as usual... and I don't know exactly what the plans are for Christmas Day, on the 7th - but I know we'll be involved! 

Pray for stamina for all of us, and that Phyllis would be able to be as involved as is possible. This is a great time to get a lot of visiting in, and she has not been able to get to know people as well as I have, having her very own personal 'youth group' to keep up with! 

Thank you for your prayers during this Holiday season, may the Lord bless you for the support of your love, friendship, and many prayers for our family.  

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Christmas report

We had a wonderful day yesterday, celebrating Jesus' birth.  December 25 isn't much of a holiday here in general, but we call it "Family Christmas," and it's a big deal for us.  We'll celebrate "Church Christmas" in two weeks.  (Russian and Ukrainian churches celebrate Christmas on January 7.  Interesting note: in Russia people usually refer to the 25th as "Western Christmas"; here it's "Catholic Christmas.")

I'll show you our day, mostly with photos.  First thing in the morning:

Special morning snack, while watching the snow come down
We are so happy to finally have snow on the ground!  It fell for two days, and it's just beautiful now!

Raia sees Baby Jesus in the manger!
She noticed first, and ran--like the shepherds--to tell everyone the good news.  After that we had our last installment of Advent, which included reading the Christmas story.

We had a wonderful meal of cinnamon rolls and quiche, with special straws for the juice.  The cinnamon rolls have funny stories to tell: first, on Christmas Eve I started the dough, and then went to put the children to bed while it rose.  When I came back, it was running down off the table, onto a stool, and then on down to the floor!  And the next morning when I was actually making the rolls, while the children literally climbed all over me, I kept thinking something was missing, but I couldn't figure out what.  Only after I had the whole first batch in the pan, did I realize that I had left off the main ingredient: cinnamon!

After brunch, we dressed in tons of layers and headed out to enjoy the snow.  The school near us has a great hill, and the kids have poured plenty of water on it.  Raia was pretty scared of the whole idea, but she went down a few times with Papa.  The one time that Will sent her down by herself, she screamed and cried the whole time.  Jaan was right in there with the big kids, and Asya couldn't get enough of sliding with Papa.  Everything was just so beautiful, too!  Jaan says that he wants to live outside in the snow and never come in.

This is how we went out

On our way to the ice slide
(That's our building in the background, by the way, for those curious people who study every detail.)

This is how we came back in

While everyone else napped, I fixed a simple Christmas dinner.  They sure slept soundly after all that fun out in the cold!  Asya did not like the idea of having her meals switched around.  I think she felt cheated by the fact that we combined them.  She was glad to see a good dinner when she woke up, though.


Happy Birthday Jesus!
This year we sang happy birthday to Jesus and blew out the candles on the cake at home, and then we took it to church to eat there.

Tea at church

Jaan and Papa sing a duet

Will singing with the youth
The time at church was a perfect close to the day.  It really felt like we celebrated all day long!

Gifts of Christmas

The greatest Gift of all is Jesus. This year for His birthday God gave me so many other extra gifts, too!

688. Secret, late night walk to the grocery store on Christmas Eve
689. Children's joy in celebrating Jesus
690. SNOW!
691. Snow glittering
692. Snow falling in big flakes
693. Snow crunching underfoot
694. Snow on pines
695. Snow angels
696. Snow babies
697. SNOW!
698. Water (There was a note up, saying that the water service had run out of money again, so the water would be going off on the morning of December 25. It's still on!)
699. The fragrance and colors of the spices for Caribbean chicken
700, Laughter
701. Family fun outside
702. Coming in for tea
703. Tired children, sleeping long and peacefully
704. Quiet home, soft music, dim lights
705. The happy din when they wake up!
706. Neighbor dropping by with present of fruit. He just meant to say he was sorry and wish us an early happy New Year, but he accidentally landed on Christmas.
707. Tea at church!
708. Walking home after church in the snow, with friends

I haven't been posting my list lately. There's a whole lot to catch up with! I just wanted to capture some of the delights of one beautiful day right now, though.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry CHRISTmas!

I didn't get Christmas photos sent off like I wanted to. There's never enough time to do everything! I hope you enjoy this just as much. Have a wonderful day, celebrating the birth of our Savior!

Click to play With love from Ukraine
Create your own greeting - Powered by Smilebox

(Or if you want to watch a longer card, with a different photo, here's the other one I made.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Twenty-second night: The Holy Spirit, like a Dove

Raia, showing her dove
(They didn't want to cooperate for photos last night.)

Reading from a book by Aleksandr Men', about the Life of Christ

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent and more

Twenty-first night: Someday we will see clearly

Trying to make a clear mirror

Asya works with her foil

Twentieth night: "Unless a corn of wheat. . ."


And more:

Angel, shepherd and. . . ?
Raia made this lovely monochromatic masterpiece yesterday.  See the shepherd, standing with his arms outstretched?  And the angel flying by?  And the flock of. . . koloboks!

And it's snowing!  Finally, something more than just the lightest powder.  There were even some snowflakes this morning.  Up until now, even when there has been a bit of white stuff, it's so fine that you can hardly see it, and it definitely hasn't been flakes.  If Christmas were today, I'm still not sure that we could say that it was a white Christmas, but at least a whiter one.  And we still have a few days for it to accumulate.  I hope!

This morning Will and Jaan went out to our dacha to see about getting the electricity hooked up.  (Raia and Asya and I stayed home and made gingerbread men.)  They found the electrician, but he didn't want to work today.  He'll come on Wednesday, though.  Here are some photos from their trek:

See the green, peeping through the white?

On the way back from the dacha

The church in the snow

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nineteenth night: Not by Bread Alone


Sticking stickers on the box

We also (finally) decorated the box where we're collecting money for Jesus' birthday present. I'm afraid we made quite a sensation at the market this morning, when we stopped at every toy stall to (loudly) discuss what we wanted to buy for Jesus. Happy days!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dacha Q & A

Q. What's a dacha?
A. This question also came up in Spring of 2007, when we bought a dacha in Russia. I gave these two links then. There was also some more discussion back then, if you want to go back and look it up. A dacha is a summer garden house; it's an important part of Russian/Ukrainian culture. (Just a note: that Wikipedia article shows photos of celebrity dachas, which are not the norm. As Mrs said, "In our study of Russia, we saw the dacha of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. Basically, you could fit my house into it."  Most are closer to what would be called a shack.)

Q. Were you able to sell the dacha in Russia?
A. We gave our dacha in Russia to a friend from church. She and I have enjoyed talking about it, and she's sent me photos of their summer there over Skype.

Q. How early in the year do people actually move out to live in dachas there?
A. I don't know. I don't know of anyone who lived at their dacha over this past summer. I'm sure spring will come sooner here than in Russia, though.

Q. Is the building habitable?
A. Not yet. Will is going to get electricity in it soon. So far, it's pretty much just a nice, clean, bare room, with a few piles of doors and windows in it, though.

Q. How far is it from your apartment?
A. Far. It's by the church. You can go back to my tour of the city, find the church, and then go straight down from there. I don't know exactly how far. We cross the railroad tracks (which you can see on the map), then follow a trail for a few minutes. . . .

Q. Will I get to see my first real dacha when I'm there or is it a springtime thing?
A. Sure! As long as there's not deep snow, we'll take any and all interested guests out to see it. You're all welcome to come visit.

Q. Why was it constructed as a fortress? That's the only entrance? Do you climb up and then jump down?
A. The area is kind of terraced. Our whole property is that high above the road.  Then the plot behind us is on a level above ours.  So, no, there's no jumping down to anything. . . unless you want to jump off when you leave.  The plot beside us--on the same level as us--has the same kind of retaining wall, but they cut out an opening and put in nice stairs.  This picture below is at the back of our property.  The wall you can see along the side is for the next level above us.  Does that make it clearer?  There is another gate, on top of the garage.  You have to climb over the turkey coop and onto the garage roof to get to it, and I don't even know what it leads to anyway.

What else would you like to know?

Eighteenth night: Singing Praise

I was thrilled to find one of my favorite Ukrainian Christmas carols in English!  Using those words and the Russian and Ukrainian words that we know, I made five little "hymn books" for the Advent bag.  We had a wonderful time of singing with them.  Here's the song we were singing, in Ukrainian [2012 fixed link] and English [fixed link].  That's exactly what we sounded like, too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nights 13-17

Thirteenth night: "The salt of the earth"

"Taste and see"?

Fourteenth night: Building on sand or rock?

Setting up the house on the sand

It was too crowded for good photos, so we backed off and posed.

Singing "The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rock"

Asya singing

Fifteenth night: God takes care of the flowers and of us

Giving out the flowers

Sixteenth night: "I am the Vine"

This is how they walk around to search for the bag.  
I don't know why they do it, but it's awfully cute.

Eating raisins

Seventeenth night: The parable of the seeds


Planting the seeds

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A day at our DACHA!

You all are slave drivers!  I wasn't deliberately teasing.  So it would be better not to mention anything at all when I don't have time?  And then you have fits because I didn't tell you earlier? At least this way you knew something was up.

So, the exciting news is that WE BOUGHT A DACHA!  It was all very sudden.  We've kind of asked around and looked some, but there is just not much (nothing!) available here.  It seems that, even more than in Kovrov, everyone here has a dacha and uses it.  Maybe that's because the city here was built so recently?  People haven't had time to inherit them and end up with more than they can use?  Or maybe it's just because everything grows so much better here?

Anyway, last week we were walking through a dacha area, and Will asked a man walking by if he had heard about anyone selling there.  He said not there, but that his neighbor in another area was selling.  We walked over with him, and he showed it to Will.  He thought it had probably already been sold, though.  We got in touch with the owner, and now--a week later--it's ours!

We spent all day there yesterday (and almost froze).  Our camera wasn't being cooperative, but we still got some photos:

Letting down the ladder
This is the entrance to our property. It's like a fortress.

Climbing up

The house
This is what you see once you get up the ladder: a little house, (the weeds), an apricot (?) tree, and a greenhouse.  There's also a chicken coop behind the house.

The "garage"
If you go to the right of the house, you see these stairs, leading up to a collection of little buildings, where the former owner kept his motorcycle and turkeys and such.

Looking down from the garage
I know, you can't see much.  Our little house is straight out, but you can actually see the neighbor's better than ours here.

Cooking lunch

Finally asleep!
Asya was not happy with us for dragging her out there, sick and all bundled up.  While the rest of us enjoyed exploring, she spent most of her time screaming.  She finally fell asleep for a little while.  I'm sure she'll enjoy dacha time, when it's warmer and she feels well!

We have been kind of talking and thinking and praying about getting a dacha here, even since we had to leave our other one in Russia.  It makes apartment life so much more bearable!  Actually, it's about the perfect life for me.  I would be lonely in a real house, all the time; I'm used to having neighbors above and below and all around me and people to talk to when I go outside.  But I miss having a place to let the children run free and to grow plants.  Now I have both.

Will says that he was thinking he needed to really start searching for a place soon, because he wanted something before spring and thought it would be a long, drawn out search.  Instead, he just had to ask this one man!  We're so thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who blesses us with even extra things like this.