Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Visa update

Once again, I'm writing for Ukraine-dwellers, not the adoring grandparents. (Although, I know that they're praying!)

Last time I said that we were waiting to find out what the changes in the visa laws mean for us. Will went today to find out, and it looks like they really don't change anything significantly. The wording in our invitation letters might be a little different. As usual, we'll have to leave the country and renew, when those are ready; a slight difference is that we'll come back with 45-day visas, instead of year-long. They'll register us for a year, though, just like before. And we'll even be able to extend that registration for another year, like we've been doing.

Of course, that's probably only how the law is being interpreted right here in this one region. Please keep praying for people who are in different areas, where it isn't so easy. And keep praying for us; documents are never simple.

Here's something else: in Russia there's a great email list for anyone ministering there. As far as I know, there's nothing like it here. If I were to start one, would you join and participate? We could talk about visas there, among other things.... (If you don't want to answer in the comments, please write: xansaker@gmail.com.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fun days

We've really been enjoying the cold, snowy days here! I should post pictures of children sledding, but I haven't gotten any. It's cold enough that I don't like to take my mittens off outside. Plus, when we're out there, I already have too much to juggle. We've been out on the sledding hill by the nearest school almost every morning this past week. Bogdan sleeps, and the older children have a great time!

After some snow time

Sweet helper

Of course, even on snow days, we have school time. Usually Bogdan is taking his afternoon nap then, but one day this week he was up. Jaan was listening to The Burgess Animal Book, and Bogdan was just fascinated by the picture we had open to go with it. When it was time for Jaan to narrate back, I asked him to explain to Bogdan what he had just heard. It was the sweetest narration ever! Full of detail and punctuated by Bogdan's loud and admiring commentary.

Brothers in school

Random cuteness:
Laundry helper

I didn't mean to upload this one, but it's cute, too.

I realized that I had photos of only three children here, so here's the one who was left out:

A picture of Raia

And, last but not least, we had a fun day yesterday. One of the couples at church made it to their 50th wedding anniversary!

The "newlyweds"
We had a lovely tea time, to honor them and their long marriage. When they were married, they were only able to have a civil ceremony, without any celebration, so this took the place of what they missed back then. Some of the youth planned and organized the whole thing, and it really was a special event.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Fear Factor

(This is meant to be a continuation of my thoughts and observations on Grace, or the lack thereof, in the local church that we are currently ministering in, with, and to.)

The Christmas season is a bit drawn out for us here, and in general, the holiday season is seen as continuing through Jan. 14th
. Therefore we get to talk about Christmas for longer than you might. I like that.

Christmas is usually a time of warm and reassuring messages from churches across the land reminding us of how Eternal God became mortal man out of love for His creation and the desire to finally restore the fellowship which had been lost in Eden. That is the emphasis here in our little church as well, at least to a large extent. However, I have been wryly amused and quite disenchanted to hear The Fear Factor creeping into messages at church even during the holiday season.

"The Fear Factor" is what I’ve called the emphasis that is so thoroughly insinuated into the teaching and practice of the church here. That is, there are an abundance of veiled or open threats, reminders of potential punishment and urging to live in fear of God. This is presented as THE normal motivation for living in fellowship with God and leading a godly life. This is so prevalent that I often am unsettled, disquieted and just frustrated for hours after church meetings.

For example, an excerpt from an average Sunday morning service: “The Law of Moses didn’t bring anything to perfection, but then Jesus was born and now we can fulfill the Law with His help. ...We will only be blessed by God if we are constantly abiding in His commandments, like Israel when they were first given the Law. We must fulfill His Law worthily so as to be able to enter those heavenly dwellings He has prepared for us.”

Sound a bit confused? It is. This church is. What the Apostle Paul called “the Ministry of Condemnation that brings Death” is held up as the standard to strive for, the fulfilling of which brings blessings and at least some hope that a believer will actually make it to heaven.

“All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'” (Paul the Apostle)

So what does this 'Fear Factor' look like?

(That is, aside from the foundational ideas of “Be Afraid, be Very Afraid,” and “Fulfill the Law in any way that is defined or be Punished here and eternally...”)

Some tendencies or local manifestations of The Fear Factor:

-There is an overarching motivation, especially among our church leadership of trying to avoid ‘spiritual responsibility’ so as not to be punished by God for some slight misstep.

-This is often related to avoiding ‘getting blood on our hands’ in any way.

For example: Not giving the communion cup to church members who we ‘know have sin in their lives,’ so as not to be 'partakers in their sins' and be punished for that by God. (Communion here has been literally called ‘the Scary-Good Commandment, by which we prove our worthiness not to be judged with this world.’)

-Along the same lines, when greetings from other churches/individuals are verbally passed along to our church on Sundays, we must warn the church not to say “We accept the greetings” if the person who conveyed them happens to be under church discipline or has sin in their life. If we say “I greet you,” or “We accept the greetings” from such a person, we become 'partakers of their sin' and expose ourselves to the judgement and punishment of God. (...Magic words, anyone?)

It's like walking a tightrope...

This is a quote I found in a slightly different context – but it could've been written down verbatim from one of the church leaders here:

“There is no more frightening reality in the life of any Christian than the reality of being held responsible for the souls of others. That we, by our negligence, can be guilty of a kind of spiritual homicide - that our hands can be stained with blood because of indifference... what an awesome truth!”

I could literally go on for pages, but maybe I’ve made my point? The thing is, the overall message of the New Testament seems to be pretty much the opposite of what I hear every Sunday. Sometimes I wonder if we’re reading the same book. (I won’t even bring up being on the same page.)

The New Testament letters to Christians speak eloquently and insistently on the themes of Christ Himself and God’s promises to us in Christ being THE Foundation of our Christian life. To make fear of punishment (temporal, physical, spiritual and eternal) the foundational and overwhelming motivation in and for the Christian life is quite simply to make our ‘Christianity’ an absurd and appalling travesty of what God intended to be a display of the riches of His grace to us in Christ Jesus.

In love God the Father predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious GRACE, which he has freely given us in the One he loves!” Eph.1:4-6

I simply cannot find this God of love and grace who was revealed through Jesus Christ amongst all the fear. At church leader's meetings, I often end up biting my tongue more than actually contributing to discussions - because we may be speaking the same language in one sense, but theologically, we're on different planets. As I lead youth meetings and preach and teach I find myself repeating the same themes over and over and over:

God's undeserved goodness to us in Christ Jesus is THE total of our hope - both for regeneration AND for sanctification. Fear was never meant to be the main motivation for either, but the Love of God and his Grace.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18

...to be continued.

(ps. all pictures from random internet image searches - not my own, unfortunately.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

This week in school

I started writing this at the beginning of last week and never finished. We had gotten a slow-ish start back into school the week before. So, I was listing a few things that we didn't get to, that I wanted to add in now. What started as something like goals for the week ahead is now a wrap up of the week that's already past.

What we added in....
  • Russian folk song:

  • Ukrainian song: the fifth one here
  • Hymns: "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" in English and Russian
  • Outdoor time with me (more about this later?)
Now I need to look at the week ahead, too. Last week we had trouble with our routine. Much of it centers around meal times. With Bogdan eating now, I can't balance a book and food and him on my lap and his grabby hands. I think we need to get a high chair, but until then, I need to rethink things a little. This week we'll try fitting all our mealtime subjects (Bible, hymns, memory work, poetry, other music) into a session of Morning School, in the children's room. They love when we do that, because they can quietly play with toys while they listen.

(Heather, the one who commented recently, could you please write to me? I'd love to correspond more with you!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Random glimpses

A few things...

Bogdan's doctor dropped by a few days ago. She said that he's skinny and doesn't have enough teeth, so she recommended feeding him meat. Hmm. (All our babies have tended to be small and get their teeth late.) She also prescribed vitamin D drops, which probably aren't a bad idea this time of year. If you have a favorite American brand, please let me know. It looks like oil-based and natural would be best, and what we can get here is nothing special and in water.

I've had a lovely morning. Bogdan is still coughing, so I stayed home from church with him. My plans to knit and listen to a sermon got canceled by a certain clingy little guy. So, we sat in the rocking chair, listened to quiet praise music and just looked out the window at the winter wonderland outside. Sunshine! And snow!

This has been the most snowless winter yet, I think. That's hard for me. I love snow. Even in Russia I didn't get tired of it. So, days like this are a special gift for me.

(Bogdan didn't sleep for long, and everyone came home before I was done writing.)

Pictures of Bogdan from the past few days:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Last bit of Christmas

These pictures are from Sunday. First, the morning service:



Then, after church, we had tea and went out caroling, mostly to the babushki who are too old or sick to leave their homes.

The carolers

Raia leading the way

Singing for one of the babushki

Bogdan didn't last long, out during his nap time, so I brought him home while the others continued on. They ended up at the home of a church leader for tea. Caroling is probably my favorite part of Christmas in Ukraine, so I was glad that I got to be there for at least part of it. And so, Christmas is over, even here.

Now poor Bogdan has a cold, and he thinks it's going to be the end of him! Obviously, it's not, but please do pray for us. It's not easy to get back to school and regular life without sleep and with a truly miserable baby.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

З Різдвом Христовим!

(Christmas is the one day out of the year when we speak Ukrainian. )

I forgot to take fresh camera batteries to the Christmas program today, so you'll just have to take this cute little guy's word for it, that it went well:

And one photo from the beginning:

Bogdan was fascinated!
Hopefully I'll get more photos from other people soon.

I also recorded our children saying one of their Christmas poems just now. They learned new poems for tomorrow, but this one is by a classic author. They said it in church on December 25th, This video is after a whole day of candy and partying. I should have recorded it earlier!

We put off caroling with the Sunday school until tomorrow, although we did go to our own neighbors.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Term 1

Misty asked how school is going, and it took me a little longer to write that out, because I wanted to include details and links.

Right before Christmas, we finished up our first term of the school year. I had planned that we would have an exam week (which is a special treat) then, but our extra week in Kiev back in November put us a little behind, so we just finished Week 12. I was thinking about starting back up after our winter break with an exam/review week, but I changed my mind. That's a good reward for the end of a term, but not what we need to start off. So, we're done with Term 1 of our Ambleside online year, with Jaan doing Year 2 and Raia in Year 0.

What has been going well:
  • AO books! Of course, what is there to go wrong with such wonderful selections? We like ALL of them. Raia loves when I read Year 0 books aloud, just to her, too. She and I recently finished Winnie the Pooh.
  • Folk songs and hymns: They actually seemed to connect with them and really learn and enjoy them for the first time.
  • Math: We like MEP! Toward the end of the term, I started using a timer with Jaan, and that's really good for him. I generally give him 5 minutes for each section, and he races to get them done, instead of dawdling over them for as long as he can.
  • Copywork for Jaan: he's finally writing! This has been a struggle for him in the past. I think I few things changed this term. First is probably just maturity; maybe his hands are just finally ready to write. Second, I let him type up (computer=fun) his selections in the fonts with arrows that show how to form the letters, before he copys them. And, third, we've moved on from just letters and words to real, interesting poems, quotes and verses.
  • Reading for Raia! I am just amazed to hear her starting to put sounds together! We're still not done with the primer, and she's still not reading books, but she's definitely figuring out words. I just heard her reading chapter titles from one of Jaan's books
What we can work to improve in the next term:
  • Artist study: It just didn't happen. I got the pictures printed, Will bought me a frame for them, and that's all. We'll use the Fragonard pictures for next term now.
  • Nature study: Of course, we were outside, enjoying nature a lot, but we didn't sit at the table to draw, paint, observe or discuss even once. Next term's focus is trees, and I'm going to set aside Tuesday evenings to study them. (Wait. I guess we did do formal nature study, just once. That's better than nothing.)
  • Bible memory: I'm not really happy with how slowly and painfully they're learning their selections. I had Jaan and Raia each memorizing a different Psalm, and they got most of the way through them, but... well, I'm just not happy with how it went. I'm going to switch over to the Simply CM method and use their Verse Pack 1, for all of us in the next term, to see if that's any better.

Oh, I asked Jaan what his favorite book has been, listing off some of the ones we have been reading. He said that it was Understood Betsy. Then, a few minutes later, he realized that I had forgotten to mention An Island Story, and that is his favorite. So, there you have it. The favorite subject of a little American boy, born in Russia, living in Ukraine is... British history.

I entered this post in the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival for January 10.

If you're coming over from that, welcome! Please be sure to say hello.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Holiday rundown

I started writing about school, as per Misty's suggestion, but it's easier and faster to tell you about the holiday season here, so Baba Julie's request will come first.

In general Russian culture the big winter holiday is the New Year. (Yes, we're in Ukraine, but this part of Ukraine is pretty much Russian culturally. I think they do things quite differently in the West, where they speak Ukrainian.) The tree and decorations, presents and the Santa Claus-ish figure are all tied in with that, not with Christmas.

Christmas is really just a quiet church holiday that the general public doesn't even celebrate. And when it is celebrated, that's more on January 7th, not December 25th.

For us, Christmas is a huge, big deal! Also, because December 25th fell on a Sunday this year, it was a really special day. I've already written about that. The churches that we've been involved in, kind of start celebrating then, and they also celebrate on January 7th.

The next big holiday is seeing in the New Year. That's the biggest holiday of the year, and this year the youth decided to celebrate at home with their families. Plus, everyone was just too tired, after having organized the Christmas tea and with still working on more plans for "Second Christmas."

Then we have a very local holiday on January 1: Taras' birthday. That was duly celebrated last night at church:

Then the next big day coming up is "Second Christmas." This year we'll be having a children's program for everyone to invite their grandchildren, friends and neighbors to on that day. Again, the youth are preparing all of this. Also, the older people in the church insisted--kind of last minute--that there has to be a Christmas service actually on Christmas day, too. (The plan had been just to have the Christmas service the next day, on the 8th.) So, there will be a church service 10:00-12:00 on the 7th, and then the children's program starting at 12:00. Of course, church the next day, too. Pray for endurance!

On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day we usually go caroling, according to Ukrainian tradition, at least around the city to the babushki who are shut in, and often in the surrounding villages, too.

That pretty much wraps up the holiday season. There's also the Old New Year on January 14, and we're likely to have kids ringing our doorbell at midnight on the eve of that. It's not really a big event, though. Schools, including Jaan's music school and our homeschool, will be back in session right after Second Christmas, on that Tuesday, I think.

(I just looked at my title again. I meant the first dictionary definition of "rundown," i.e. "an analysis or summary of something." However, we can feel pretty rundown by the end of the holidays, so please keep up in your prayers. It sure is a wonderful time of year, though!)