Friday, September 17, 2010

Hot Water

"I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction." 2 Timothy 4:2

It is hard to "be prepared." Although it is the Boy Scout's motto, I am not sure even "Boy Scout" (or Girl Scout) training could prepare me for the plethora of things that can and often do go wrong in the mission field. My frequent mission traveling companion has a "what if" bag. In it you can find a variety of medications, preparations and of course duct tape. We all know that most things can be repaired with a strip of the mighty-handy gray stuff!

I have been back in the states a few days and have been occupied with unpacking the boxes I left behind in my new apartment. I entertained myself watching the classic "Gone with the Wind" (for the hundredth+ time) and noted probably for the first time just how many incidents there were in the life of Scarlett O'Hara that she remarked, "I'll think about that tomorrow."

For a person of faith, "tomorrow" has enough evil of its own. (Matthew 6:34) We are reminded in the Word, to ask for "daily" provision, live and plan for today. When I was speaking of my schedule to my new apartment manager, he said, "Whoah, don't people in your line of work (he knew I was a missionary) ever get a day off?" I laughed and replied, "No, there are people always on their way to hell." He laughed too - but it IS pretty serious business.

We have to be ready, in season and out. When we feel like it and when we don't. When we are carrying a "what if" bag and when we find ourselves in the "oh, *#&" position.

We were in Russia during the season of "no hot water." It has always seemed so strangely odd to my Western mindset, that the government controls ALL the hot water and the heat piped into apartments and buildings. During the fall, before the unforgiving Russian winter freezes the ground rock solid, maintenance is done on the pipes. They know, if some malfunction were to occur during the winter, well.... nothing could be done (or at least without great expense) to fix the problem until spring.

But before you get too sympathetic to this missionary going "without," let me explain. Due to the economic change in the former Soviet country, people now are buying small hot water heaters for this "season." Our hotel had one room with just such a heater, and we were able to access it as needed (along with all the other guests). Our Russian hosts were embarrassed and apologetic. I tried to reassure them, if I am not battling bugs in the bed or showering out of a bucket, all is good and I am fine.

The predicament did make me think of the "preparedness" of the country. They know (both the government and individuals) what needs to be done before the coming months of winter. They work to ensure they are as ready as they can be for the long season of frigid temperatures. They know how to survive, they are familiar with discomfort.

We, on the other hand, are not.

We are irritated easily, frustrated frequently, and in general aren't very patient when things break down.

"But you - keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant." 2 Timothy 4:5 The Message

Over the short time we were in Russia, we ministered to close to 300 orphans. We encouraged the Body of believers, we supported each other, we kept the faith, we finished the race!

Thoroughly God's servant,
Smiling still
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Satellites, Salsa and Silliness

He sat on the couch less than three feet away from me. Modern technology is more than amazing it feels like a miracle!

As I posted the photo I took with my ever handy Blackberry on Facebook, somewhere in outer space, satellites were receiving the encoded message of bytes and bits, colors and lines and sending them through the sky.

Ping!

His telephone signaled a message, "You have been tagged in a photo."
Although a mere three feet separated us physically, it took thousands of miles for the photo on my phone to reach his. Zhenya smiled a crooked smile. I was a bit comical as I mimicked the miracle that had just taken place. "Ping, pee, ping, ping, ping!" The sound effects were silly but amazing at the same time. No less than the techno-miracle taking place right now on the other side of the world from most of the readers, I sit at the end of another day communicating the greatness of our God.

"Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him." Revelation 1:7

When I read those verses as a child I couldn't begin to comprehend the future He had planned for me. Any more than I could imagine just how every eye on earth could see His coming. I had no doubt of the truth of the text or the power of the promise but it did seem a bit like science fiction to a little girl's mind. "Just how is that even possible." Forty years later I still can't begin to explain the vast mysteries of God, but neither can I explain how a photo taken on a metal and plastic machine about as big as my grade school calculator made the jump through space and landed three feet away from me on a similar device.

Strange things are happening these days. Today we ate at a new restaurant in town, "Bar-ak O' Mama's." It serves genuine recreated Tex-Mex food; fajitas on a "sizzling pig-iron plate", quesadillas with salsa, and nachos with a side of delicious defrosted frozen guacamole! None of us is sure the American actress Monique realizes her image is being used as its logo, nor can we figure out why an African American female comedian would entice customers to sample food originating in Mexico and altered in the great state of Texas.

"Ping, pee, ping, ping, ping!"

At 10:30 each evening the residents of Hope House all come down to A and R's apartment for prayer. Praises are offered, requests are made known and a general "checking in" is communicated. It is a special time with a family feel; everyone stands to pray. The opening was spoken in Russian, I closed in English, while the Spirit spoke with words no one in the room heard or would understand. A listening God who interprets all languages.

"Give them joy in My house of prayer." Isaiah 56:7

Ping, pee, ping, ping, ping! :o)
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Arm in Arm

"The Harvester isn't waiting. He's taking His pay, gathering this grain that's ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant." John 4:36

We left early Tuesday morning to make the long drive to Sovetsk. It is a small town (relatively speaking) but is the location of the orphanage of B's adopted son as well as a school for hearing impaired children. Over the years, we visited on three occasions. Since it has been 8 years since I was last in the town, I assumed most of the children would be long gone, or have been too young to remember our visit. How memorable amidst all that goes on in a childhood could it really be?

Yesterday I found out.

Although all of the children in the "Deski-dome" of Artyom (B's son) were unfamiliar to us, many of the teachers and the elderly man who taught wood-working smiled and greeted us warmly at our arrival. The afternoon took us over to the deaf school. After our program the older children (who had been standing in the doorway listening) ran in and hugged me. They were speaking quickly (with their hands) and laboring to get the sounds out to communicate (through their hearing loss) of how they remembered me.

They were hugging, hanging on, grabbing friends to take photos and talking (in their own special language) of how special it was I had returned to them. The teacher told us this was their last year to be in school.

Several in the group were teenage boys, very calm and collected with this "clown." I asked, "You remember me?" That was all it took. They started laughing. "Yes, we have your picture." Amazed that a simple Polaroid in a frame would last for 9 years, they all shook their heads to indicate they not only had 1 photo, they had 3, one from each visit I made to see them.

During the years of East West bringing teams for orphan ministry, part of the experience was taking a Polaroid photo and watching it develop. The "leader" of the craft station would then explain the "process" of the picture developing; a picture of what God's process is in their life. At first you can't see the imagine; but the longer you wait, the clearer the imagine - the plan for a future and a hope.

"But even if mothers forget, I'd never forget you - never. Look, I've written your names on the backs of my hands." Isaiah 49:16

Mothers perhaps have not "forgotten" their children now living in the orphanages across the world, even so, God's promise is He never forgets!

Remembering well with a smile
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Direct Orders

"He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways." Psalm 91:11

Sometimes when I am out in the field I just have to breathe the verse in Psalm 91. The 5 hour journey to Sanchursk took us (as I say to the children) far, far, far, ffffaaaaaarrrrrrrrrr away.

Although it has been 8 years since East West brought a team from America here to build the gymnasium floor, not much about the town has changed. The pre-war buildings still stand, and the few Soviet era ones are in the same disrepair as then.

We arrived, and were met by various children on their way here or there (to school, from school) greeting us with the familiar "Privyet." We went inside and the absence of children made a surreal setting. I remembered clearly our first visit (1999) when the Director took a map from the wall and drew a "Line of Friendship" from their town to ours (Dallas, TX). He assured us we would always be connected and after so many years, I definitely felt we were.

The children soon began coming in and 2 boys came up to me. The taller of the two said, "He still has your photo from 1st class on the wall." While the boy (Ilya) he was referring to did not look familiar at first, as soon as he smiled I easily recognized him. I gave him a big hug and we had one of the church members take a new photo.

Among the group of around 100 gathered about 12 or so had been there when we came and built the gym floor. It made us glad to see them again.

It made us sad to see them still in a remote town, far from anywhere, orphaned by cruel circumstances that were out of their control.

But not out of His control.

"He WILL set His angels charge over you."

I have to realize, those words are not just for me riding on some narrow dangerous roadway at night, but for all the children I see in orphanages across the globe. They may still be residing in buildings that would be condemned in our "good ole U S of A" but HIS angels are residing there too.

After the program we asked about the gymnasium. The Director, teacher and assistant grinned from ear to ear. They shared the children have won hundreds of awards and have won first prize in the region for "Best all Around Sports" two consecutive years.

"Guard you in all your ways."

I don't remember if we gave much thought about the impact that project would have in the future of the children's lives. Of course, we thought it was significant but we could never have imagined how empowering it would be. Orphans who are generally ostracized and discriminated against in Russian society are now champions!

"He is able to do more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, according to the power that is working within us." Ephesians 3:20

Traveling on the power
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Monday, September 06, 2010

Ancient Chinese Proverb

"You can count the seeds in an apple, but you cannot count the number of apples in the seeds." Chinese Proverb (really old)

In fourteen years of ministry, I could not begin to count or remember all the times I have shared the Jewish children's folk tale of "The Apple Tree." I came upon the story when I was taking my first "official" ministry trip to Israel in the Fall of 1996. It was during the High Holy days which begin with the New Year celebration known as Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally apples and honey are shared to represent the hopes for the next year to be a bountiful and sweet harvest. I find it no small coincidence the Lord of the Harvest brought me back to Kirov (after 7 years) to show me the bounty of His "Apple Tree" during the same season (Rosh Hashanah is September 9).

"You did not choose me, but I chose you to bear fruit, fruit that would last." John 15:16

In the story, the little apple tree looks around the forest of big oak trees. Every night stars twinkle in the branches. The other trees are tall and strong. The apple tree prays to be like all the other trees. The Lord tells the apple tree, "Be patient." Seasons change and the apple tree has beautiful blossoms. Still all the apple tree can see is the other trees and how lovely the stars in the branches are. The apple tree prays again, again the Lord says, "Be patient." Seasons change and apples are now in the branches. The apple tree is still unhappy, but the unhappiness has now turned to anger. "Why can't the Creator, just do this one thing? I want stars in my branches!" The wind starts to blow and all the trees bow down before the Lord. The apple tree starts shaking and an apple falls from the tree and breaks open (if cut horizontally, the seeds of an apple are in the shape of a star). The Lord says, "You see little apple tree, everything your heart desired I put inside you all along."

We arrived in Kirov Sunday morning after another overnight train ride rocking and rolling down the tracks across the rural Russian countryside. We had just enough time to check into our hotel and get a bit organized before heading off for church. It was a sweet time of fellowship with old friends, and definitely another Zephaniah 3:20 fulfillment. (All those painful partings I will turn into joyous reunions).

Tears (to water the seeds) ran down my cheeks as I saw the young orphan boy (Pasha) the Pastor and his wife adopted 11 years ago. Of course he has grown into a young man and ran over to greet us with a warm embrace.

"I am Pasha; now I am 16, you knew me when I was just a little boy. It is wonderful to see you again."

After the service Barbara, thanked the church for praying for her during the adoption of her son and for the many years we have participated with them in orphan ministry. Then another young man approached us and through the interpreter explained his identity.

"I am Daniel. I am from the orphanage in Sanchursk. You came in 2002 and built a floor for our gymnasium. Thank you for all you have done."

Barbara asked if he had family (perhaps a grandmother or aunt) that he was now living with in Kirov (Sanchursk is about 150 miles away). The young man just shook his head and looked around the church. "No, this is my only family."

We spent the evening with the Pastor and his wife and another dear friend who has served as an interpreter down through the years. We discussed the week ahead of us, travel times, program details and then we spoke of Pasha and Daniel the boy from Sanchursk. They shared about the gym floor our team of Americans came and built. Now, it is not just used by the children at the orphanage, but by the whole city for their athletic events.

I shared my memory of Pasha and the first time we met in the orphanage when I shared the story and I used him as the apple tree. The Pastor said, "Now you will make me start crying." His wife had a head start as the tears streamed down her face. She began speaking with great emotion. She said while they were waiting to adopt Pasha, she wrote letters to him and said, "Remember the apple tree? You must be patient." With joy at the remembrance she said, "Even today those letters are at the orphanage. They still tell the story to the children. It gives them the hope of God's plan for their lives."

Three young men (Pasha, Daniel and Barbara's adopted son Artyom) are a testimony to the Harvest of souls the Father has raised up in this region. Almost two thousand years ago a young Jewish carpenter told stories (parables) still being shared today. It makes me wonder how big that little apple tree story is going to grow!

"But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a Harvest beyond their wildest imagination." Mark 4:20

Sowing in the morning, sowing in the evening always smiling (even when there are tears)
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Saturday, September 04, 2010

You Are Not Alone

"God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of His Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that." 1 Corinthians 1:8-9

It is hard to embrace the truth of the scripture Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. God never gives up on us - no matter what! During what we have come to refer to as the Last Supper, the Master comforted His disciples by saying, "I will not leave you as orphans." (John 14:18) Being "orphaned" (left without provision, protection, love and nurturing) is a hard fact of life for the young men with whom we spent the last few days. They graduated out of the system and are now facing the world on the world's terms. It is not an easy, friendly or familiar place.

The statistics of what happens when most leave the safety of the "Internat" is staggering. Many commit suicide out of sheer desperation, others turn to alcohol to anesthetize the pain of loneliness; a majority participate in criminal activity (or are victimized by it) just to survive the "mean streets" of reality.

Those who consistently traveled to work with the orphan population, saw the overwhelming need for a place to help them transition from institutional life to day-to-day "living." A couple committed to pure religion undefiled (see James 1:27) left the comfort of family, friends, church, and community and moved to Russia to make sure the orphans they had spent years ministering to would not fall through the cracks of a broken world. Thus, the ministry of Hope House began.

They knew there would be no way they could provide housing for the multitudes coming into the city each year, so along with providing a place of residency for some, they also provide a place of refuge for others. Collectively, the missionaries and the transitional residents developed a program where those coming out of the orphanage system and into the harsh reality of the world, could meet weekly and come to understand (like the Corinthians) God never gives up on them. He does not leave them, EVER. They named their fellowship the "You Are Not Alone" Club.

It is always a blessing to be a small part of a great work! We left with full hearts and overflowing eyes. We arrived in Moscow this morning and will board a train northward bound this evening to Kirov, the next leg of our journey.

We will arrive in the morning and attend church. Monday we will have a time of preparation to purchase items for the coming day's orphanage visits. During our time in Kirov we will have the opportunity to share with over 500 children. We pray to carry the message of hope, and the truth of the Father to the fatherless, "You are not alone."

"The secret of the missionary is - I am His, and He is carrying out His enterprises through me." Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest: Sep 4)

Smiling and rolling down the tracks in His service,
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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Magi Gifts

"So here is what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around-life - and place it before God as an offering." Romans 12:1-2

I love train rides. I can't remember ever traveling by one in the United States, but on the other side of the world they add an extra dimension to the adventure. We chose to take the First Class train to Voronezh which would ensure a few critical things for two women who don't speak much of the language:

1. There would only be two beds in the compartment, and they would be occupied by us
2. There would be no smoke in the compartment, because neither of us smoke
3. All our items would be safe and secure because we would be sleeping on top of them!

The gentle rocking motion of the train rolling down the tracks usually makes for a pleasant night's sleep. Alas, that was a train I remember from a distant journey or downright fantasy land. This train with all of its above mentioned bonus options through first class turned into a bucking bronco at a rodeo around midnight.

Did my one year in age shrink these compartment beds, they sure seem a lot smaller than I remember? Stopping every thirty minutes (make that lurching and screeching to a dead halt) wasn't in the recesses of my romaniticized form of travel either. As I "rode the rails" through the Russian night, needless to say I wasn't sleeping.

By the time our alarm woke B and irritatingly reminded me of my state of consciousness, we were more than ready to get off. While the wild bronco ride had me awake, it made my companion nauseous. Not a fun way to start the day - until the final stop, and I looked out to see bright orange signs, and long-stemmed roses greeting us with our friends enthusiastically waving the Happy Birthday greetings!

It was so worth it. Our ordinary birthdays laid down and shared in extraordinary ways.

We arrived at the Hope House just as the guys were coming down to say a quick hello and goodbye before they were off for their first day of school (university, trade school or other institute of learning). I made all the arriving barely awake guys sing a chorus of "Happy Birthday." They laughed, familiar with the tune, but the English...?

All day we shared with different guys who would come in. B had a chance to meet them and interact as they made their way back out into the world that once rejected them.

In our conversations with A and R we heard a common thread, their taking of the "everyday, ordinary, things of their life" and laying them down as sacrifices before God in a faraway and unfamiliar land. Celebrating and investing in the lives of the young men here at Hope House as if they were their own flesh-born children. In many ways they are so much more than that. They are the Spirit-born gifts of the Father of the fatherless who has provided the strength and grace for them to do so.

"He that believes in Me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water." John 7:38

We are privileged to watch the flowing river of their love, run up and down the stairs; come in and grab a boiled egg to go, after A. reminds them they "need to eat something" before starting their day. We admired the overflow of that flood of rushing water looking at the new shoe rack designed for the entry hall, and built by R and V on a cloudy afternoon. We sat with Z, who probably understood 90% of what was being said, but spoke not a word, he just sat, enjoying the warmth of being included as "family."

"Be good friends who love deeply..." Romans 12:10 The Message

Loving, learning and letting the rivers flow!
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Planes, Trains, and...

broken suitcases.

Yes, it happens. Suitcases break. Especially when "one" (ie. ME) has been known to pack to the max, stretching zippers and pockets well past their intended limits.

We met up in Frankfurt without incident (unless you count B's hike due to mis-information from the airport staff from Terminal B to C and back to B) and were on our way to Moscow together. In May, we were surprised by the new airport. But we must have picked the day everyone chose to return to Moscow. It was a ZOO! Literally, there were thousands of people, school children returning from trips abroad and not one luggage cart to be found.

This presented a problem. We had more bags than hands. We tied (bags together), we negotiated (through the masses), and we went through the "Green Line" (nothing to declare." However, nothing says "something to declare" like to foreign exasperated women with 250 lbs of luggage.

The woman motioned for us to leave the throng we were moving through so our bags could be examined. Now, to let go of the managed and balanced suitcases, to place them on the x-ray machine made for one unhappy traveler. Sensing my frustration (indignation) the customs agent asserted her full authority and said, "that is not my problem, you are in customs." As I lifted the 70 lbs, the handle broke along with the last straw.

Once they were through the machine, I quickly retrieved mine and headed for the door. B was not so lucky. The agent asked her to open her bag. Out popped the toys, the games, the coloring books and other items for the orphanages. She pulled what we fondly refer to as "the orphan card.". "Deski-dome." (Orphanage in Russian) and put the sad face on in an effort to move the agent from potential "bribe mode" to "bless you" mode. It worked.

That's what happens when you take on the King's mission. Minions of the enemy set their sites on you in an effort to distract, discourage, disillusion, and disappoint.

We remain determined.

We stayed overnight with one of East West's former employees, we dined royally (on rabbit) and were treated like the Birthday Queens that we are.

Now we find ourselves stuck on the Olympic highway leading into the city and the train that will take us to Voronezh. Ann and Robert and the guys of Hope House are eagerly waiting for our arrival.

Our time has been impaired by traffic accidents (3) but it is no accident that we are here!

Onward, upward, through-ward to "the good works He prepared for us before the foundations of the world were laid."

Mission bound smiling
Birthday Girl
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