Friday, December 2, 2011


There are so many mornings when I am on my way to school, possibly doing my mascara in the car or fumbling with my stack of graded papers that had slid off the passenger seat into a huge lump on the floor of my car, that I pray for God to give me strength, patience, and understanding that day. What I have come to find out, though, is that when you ask the Lord for things like be slow to anger...He doesn't just hand it over to you. Rather, he gives you the opportunities to learn and acquire and build those requested traits.

These opportunities to learn how to be patient are not easy. It's not like God says, Oh, you want patience? I will give it to you, without first making you face your sin and see the situations and moments where you aren't patient, and give you the opportunity to BE patient! To practice being patient, to learn how to be patient are very hard feats. But I am really thankful that God is giving me these opportunities, to be strengthened by him and to figure out how to simply just TRUST him.

My boyfriend told me that God wasn't king of my classroom; I had been living like I was the king of my classroom, that I have the utmost control over all of it and all that goes on and I couldn't just let go of it. The slaving away into the night and finding little time for fellowship, friendship, and rest has caught up with me a few times this semester, including last night when I found myself in the ER for the 3rd time in the past year for severe chest pain, which turned out to be esophageal spasms caused by stress. Almost passing out 3 times in the waiting room and wondering if I was going to live to see the next day, hour, minute, with a very worried boyfriend and mother by my side, it was yet another opportunity. God is so gracious to us, in that when he sees that we desperately need to surrender control and allow him to be king of our lives- every aspect of it- he gives us the opportunities to do so, because we are too dang weak and stubborn to do it without him intervening. So now as I sit at home and pray that the substitute at school is handling my rowdy yet lovable group of 20 first graders, I'm given the chance to learn to let go and trust God. That he is king of that classroom, that despite me he continues to work and guard it and rule over it.

The past month or so has been really amazing for me and my kids. We seem to finally have found our groove together, and things are still not perfectly smooth but a lot smoother. I feel like joy has been restored to me that I didn't have the first two or so months of school, and I no longer sit and question my calling or abilities to be a teacher. I know that God has led me to this school, this place, this group of children, and it is by his grace that I am what I am; they are what they are; and we gotta figure it out. Slowly but surely, our reading levels have gone up and leaders have stepped up in our class finally, leading others to doing the right thing. I'm proud of them and our slow progress is still progress. We also have had a lot of fun together; I feel like we laugh and sing and hug all day long, and although there are still times of stress or frustration, God has given me the opportunities to practice self control and submission and patience, so that I don't freak out over it.

I also have to admit that I am having a heck of a lot of fun doing crafty things this year. Last year they seriously stressed me out, but, I mean, the two days before Thanksgiving break this year were like a craft-a-palooza in my room. And I had a blast. I also admit that my kids and I had a 3-4 minute long dance party to a techno Nouns song last week, and I got some robots, some moonwalking, and some really spastic movements that I'm not sure you can call dancing. :) I'm beginning to see that I don't have to be just like other teachers I've seen or observed or taught with; that I don't have to fit into some perfect mold of a teacher; that I don't have to worry and fret that someone from admin is going to walk in at any time and think I'm a failure. Because I'm not. I'm finally beginning to embrace this gift that God has given me and stop throwing it back in his face. And I also am very strict about making myself leave by 5:30 so that I can internalize that I am not just a teacher, but a roommate, a sister, a daughter, a friend...a disciple.

Two weeks left until Christmas break. Gotta go make some snowmen and handprint Santas!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The TRUE Confessions

"and why wouldn't you want to blog about this?
it shows people you're a human
and a teacher facing true trial
that's exactly what people want to read about."

Okay, Sadie Barton. Okay, world.

These...are the TRUE confessions...of a first grade teacher. Perhaps writing down the trials and the hardships that I am facing will help me to constructively, with the grace of God, fix them.


Everyday for the past few months, I have woken up in deep and utter prayer. Crying out to my Jesus for patience, peace, joy, happiness. For my students to be obedient, for my students to want to be at school, for my students to WANT to learn, and be able to learn. Please Lord, help us today. Be with us today. Be with my kids today...

I have felt for some time that my blogs were not authentic, and that if I did not post creative, cute stories of funny things my kids do or say, or sweet things that happen at school, that people would not want to read. Nor would people be interested. I have left this untouched, because of the lack of joy in what I do this year. The confessions I have right now at this point of the year are this: when is it going to finally click? When is it going to get better?

I feel like an Israelite wandering the wilderness, wondering when I'm going to get to the promise land, IF I'm going to get there at all. I have never done something this hard in my life, nor taken on a task such as this before. Maybe I have felt helpless from time to time, but for a beating day in and day out and no end in sight until next May, that is a really long time to feel helpless. I have tried anything and everything I can think of. I've changed how I teach time and time again, tried different ways to learn and do daily activities, different incentives...what have I done wrong this year? Where is the joyful first grade teacher I was? I long for her, and I miss her. I miss going to school feeling that what I do has a purpose and a positive, true effect on others.

But right now, I feel like my students look at me blankly as I do any and everything I can to get them engaged in learning, all in vain. This year, the passivity that I sense in the room is too much to handle. I love them, every single one; but it's almost as if they have no will or want to learn. This is a huge obstacle that I have to face, and one that I have yet to figure out. What is it going to take? How many times do I have to change myself or try to figure out what I'm not doing right or what I could do better? It has begun an ongoing spiral of frustration towards teaching, something that I know I love doing, something that I know the Lord has given me to do for his kingdom, but something that, over the past few months, has sucked me dry of joy.

I pray that through the writing and praying and seeking of truth that God will reveal to me the reality of my situation, and that he will continually remind me that the answer is to love Him and be loved by Him alone.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Top 7 Reasons Why I Love First Grade

1. I am so glad that I can sing anything to my students, at any time, and they deem it completely normal and regular. It's amazing how you can tell first graders to sit on their spots or to get off the wall with a regular voice and they don't do it, but then the moment you just sing those directions in whatever musical format, they suddenly seem to be listening and adhere to the request. Not to mention, singing songs like "If You're Happy and You Know It" or "Welcome to School" with them in the mornings to start our days always makes us smile.

2. I get to tell my students I love them every single day. I tell kids all day long, but I love how we go around in a circle during our morning meeting and I get to tell each one of them, "Good morning, I love you, and I'm glad you're here." About 3 weeks ago I was at my personal training at 24 hour fitness and my trainer kept ragging on me about all the days I DON'T come to the gym. I got ticked at him and said, "You never praise me for when I actually DO come!" It got me thinking-- I need to praise my kids and celebrate each day that they come to school. It's a miracle and a blessing that they are there.

3. First graders are hilarious. They do things like the following: "Miss Leiss, my thought-protector told me it wants a piggy back ride." ...and precede to put the 3-sided folder for protecting test answers on their backs and carry them across the room. Or they do things like take TPRI testing materials, such as letters to make and complete a word on a task sheet, and make them dance or choo-choo train to their places. They constantly crack you up because they have no idea about social cues yet, so they just do whatever they want, and everyone thinks it's ok. Like when they run about madly at recess like a ravenous monster, or care too much about power rangers. It's okay to everyone, and quite entertaining for me.

4. First graders have a very unique view of the world. They are extremely observant little human beings, and they notice everything. They are like sponges, soaking up all the stimuli around them, and it is amazing the things they tell me about-- what it's like at home, their adventures at Wal-Mart, or how they think babies come from outer space and are shot down like rockets out of the sky into their mommy's tummy. Most everything that goes on in their little worlds is so innocent and fresh, and to be able to laugh and think like a child with them keeps me younger still ;)

5. First graders have ENTHUSIASM! I am obsessed with the fact that they get just as excited as I do about the daily moon phase, weather, Watercolor Wednesdays, or new phonics rules. I can always count on them to be enthusiastic about what we do, and the thing is, I honestly really DO love knowing and teaching things like the daily moon phase. So it makes me happy that they care too!

6. Everyday is an up-and-down rollercoaster adventure. You cannot predict what will happen one day to the next. My team teachers in first grade and I are always sharing stories about our days during lunch, recess, and planning. The stories and ongoings of our crazy days rattle off and never seem to end for any of us. Whether a student threw up on the carpet at the same moment that a rat ran across the room and the children are all standing on the desks in fear (literally--that happened) or you have to cover up an "accident" on your brand new Ikea rug with a lion's face and tell everyone that it was a spilled water bottle...each day holds a new challenge or test of its own. But we are more than conquerors.

7. HUGS hugs HUGS hugs HUGS... all. day. long. The amount of hugs I get is insane. I even have one student who will give me a very soft kiss on the stomach sometimes. I always just kinda go, "okayyyy...thanks friend..." and have to smile to myself because, you know, he doesn't have a mom at home. And I'm glad that he can be affectionate with a healthy extent, of course. It always makes me slow down and stop to smell the roses when I'm going going going and then one of my students gets up in the middle of the lesson or activity and I go, "Where should you be? What are you doing?" and they just come towards me and wrap their arms around me. I immediately realize that they just want to show me they love me and that they care, and they are happy to embrace me. It helps me to calm down and realize that what I do is so much more than just cramming in 4 subject areas into our schedule each day, and it always makes my heart better than it was the moment before the hug.

I know there are other reasons, but there you have it. I started with trying to make a Top 10 list, but I condensed it into 7 because I like 7. Haha. Until next time...let the first grade love abound!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Return of Kiwi

This morning I had gotten little to no sleep, my mind was racing and I was sluggishly sipping a tea from Starbucks and carrying five baskets of teacher "stuff" into school when one of my new students, fresh off the school bus, tackled me in a full hug.

"Good morning, Miss Leiss!" "Good morning, sweetie." "Where are you going? Can I go with you?" "No, you have to stay here with the bus friends." "But why, Miss Leiss? I want to go with you! I always want to go with you." I literally had to pry his hands off of me; it was pretty funny. I started laughing and walked into school.

Then I entered my room and the chaos in my mind began again. I was organizing lessons, putting out morning work, and sharpening pencils when I heard a child at my door.

"HI, Miss Leiss!"

I turned and thought it was one of my own and tell them to go to the small gym until the bells rings. But it was my precious student Kiwi from last year's class.

"HI, Kiwi!" I told him. He paused at my doorway and said, "I think a good morning hug is in order." "You know, I really would love a good morning hug," I said back.

He squeezed me so tight and then replied, "Your classroom looks super super cool! It's really cool, but it's not like the real one."

I started to laugh as he left. Two students attacking me with hugs this morning and interrupting my crazy trains of thought. It's amazing how sweet and beautiful a child can be, and how they can completely turn my day around by just being themselves.

I adore first graders, and I got to explain why the other night. I love that they accidentally call me "mom" all the time. I get to be that person for them everyday! Me! What an honor. I love that they need a million hugs everyday. I love that they use too many band-aids on owies that aren't even needing one. I love that they dance around and sing silly songs with me. I love that I get to build their foundation of learning for them, and be a part of shaping the people they are going to be. I just love them.

As far as what Kiwi said, I knew what he meant. The layout of my classroom has changed quite a bit. There are different things on the walls, still in a mass of jungle leaves and animal prints, but it does look different. Kiwi, however, told me it's not like the "real" one. To him, what our classroom was like last year has been forever imprinted in his mind. He remembers it, and not only that, but he comes by most days in the morning for a "good morning hug."

I had a parent tell me yesterday that I just need to look at how far my kids came last year and how much they love me, and let it encourage me. Bless that parent, and bless all the others that continually push me forward and make me smile. My new group of kids are definitely getting there, and it's just the beginning. We've had a really good week together, and I'm starting to remember why I love doing this. I've gotten to love on my kids like no other. I've praised them endlessly, stopped focusing on what they aren't doing right, and started focusing on what they ARE doing! Things such as, it's a miracle these kids get to school on time- I praise them for that every day now, because truly it is; completing and doing excellent work, because that is quite a feat; giving answers, even if they are incorrect, because their participation is a wonder that not always comes as easy; and the fact that my kids are so into our chapter book, James and the Giant Peach, and are beginning to love reading. I have to learn to celebrate the small victories for now, just as much as the big ones!

I have learned a lot these first 4 weeks of school, perhaps more than my own students have. But I am so excited to continue. :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Help Comes From the Lord

I look up to the hills,
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord.

Everyday, I feel like I have to walk in classroom P104 with a suit of armor on. I have no idea what the day is going to hold, if one (or many) of my students are going to be acting like a wild jungle animal, or if I am going to be able to make it to lunch before I have to desperately run to the bathroom. It is a lot of work, being a teacher. There are very high expectations for you to do your job-- not only to teach the children in your class, but to care for them, love them, and provide the environment they need to be successful and enjoy school.

This year has felt like a butt-kick so far, if I may be blunt. I have an amazing group of administrators that support me, a wonderful first grade team, and very supportive and helpful parents. But it's true that every new class is like a whole new year. I feel like I'm starting my first year all over again, trying to figure all these little 19 six-year-olds out, learn what makes them tick, what reading level they're on, what they look like when they aren't feeling well, how they react to change or consequence, what lengths they will go to make good choices or not. The past 3 weeks have been tough and challenging, but also very humbling for me. I went into the school year having a lot of pre-made plans, ideas, and thoughts of what the year would be like, how I would do CAFE/Daily 5 differently and more effectively, how I would be able to pull individual students or small groups, etc. The first day I learned quickly that any plan or thought I had about the year needed to quickly be erased, and fast, and that I needed to adjust accordingly to the students in my care.

It's a good reminder that the Lord knows our footsteps and knows our plan and our path. He has already set it out before us, and we try a lot of the time to figure things out on our own or make our own path to success or joy or happiness. Little did I know that this transferred to the teaching world as well. Turning my world upside down, I've been busting myself trying to do my job well and at the same time have a life outside of school. Last year I slaved myself away with cutting and sorting, planning and overplanning. This year, I have resolved to not do so, but to do what I need to do and then leave to go spend time with people and build relationships. It's very hard to leave my classroom and turn the key on some days, but I know that it is the healthy thing to do.

Just finishing Habakkuk as a church, Habakkuk cries out to the Lord questions like, "why are you doing this, God? Why are you forsaking your chosen people?" And the Lord replies that he is raising up the Babylonian enemies to destroy Israel, in order to one day crush the Babylonians and bring Israel back to himself. Habakkuk is like, "um, excuse me, what?" And the LORD is faithful; he remains unchangeable, unshakeable, and his plan continues for our good. A hard thing to wrap our minds around and accept sometimes is why God is doing what he is doing, and why it is for our good. But I just have to trust that every day God is doing his work in me for my good, and ultimately to bring Him the utmost glory.

I feel like I've been running ragged and it is all I can do everyday but surrender this class of 19 to my savior. Sometimes I even fail at that, and recognize I cannot do it on my own strength. I hope, though, to soon be able to notice the little things and funny stories that happen. I feel like we've been trying to find our groove so much that it hasn't been allowed to happen yet. I just pray for some joy to start abounding in here. I want to laugh with my kids. I want to share my life with them and my love, this love of Jesus with them. I just hope that it can start happening sooner than later.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Meet the Teacher

So here we are. Another school year, another group of little first grade students for me to have the pleasure and blessing to teach. I can't believe it's already been a year since I did this. At least this year I didn't stand to the side and refuse to talk to any of the kids because I wanted them to respect and fear me. Not to mention, I really did feel so much more confident this year. My anxiety and any hesitations or nervousness that I experienced last year as a new teacher were all gone this year, as I boldly talked to children and parents like I had a clue. Which, I proudly can say I do. :)

It was great getting to know them all, and to put on a happy face while doing so. I do feel that I am in for a great year. I know it will come with its challenges and I know that on Monday I DO need to let them feel the fear of Miss Leiss :), but tonight it was good just to help them feel good about being in our little jungle room. Oh, and not to mention, I totally dressed up as a safari guide. I wore a safari hat, a pair of binoculars around my neck, and I owned it for sure. I'm just hoping my new parents don't think I'm some crazy person.

My first post into my new year, and I can't wait to fill this little blog up again with sweet, hilarious, and thoughtful stories of my precious students. These are the confessions...of a first grade teacher.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Top 10 Russia Highlights

Here is a list of my top 10 Russian highlights for you to enjoy:

10. Mastering the bus/trolley/tram system. I really enjoy public transportation, and being able to hop on a bus number 14 and get to the city centre, or a 5 and get to Brad's apartment. I like knowing what stops to get off and when to get off at them. I like having my 12 rubles ready to pay and challenging myself by standing up while the bus is in motion. Proud, you say? Yes, I am.

9. White Nights festival. I truly enjoyed the events put on by the festival by the city of Perm-- it enabled me to go to several art museums, fascinating dance events or exhibitions, and learn a LOT about the Russian culture and the city. Thanks, Tanya for being my tour guide...and getting me into many places for free. I also had a lot of good conversation with the women who accompanied me on these excursions, sharing a lot about my faith and the importance of Jesus to them.

8. Boat ride on the Kama River. I was invited by my friend Tanya and a girl named Anya joined us for this. It enabled me to see the city from the river and take some really cool pictures of buildings reflecting off the water. I was able to feel the coolness of Russia on this day, for it was colder and wet, and I was wearing a fleece jacket! The breeze on the boat was so enjoyable, and going up and down the river viewing Russian landscape and city skylines from the water was incredible. I also got to feed seagulls and dance to Russian trance and techno music with a group of Russian girls who thought I was SO interesting because I was an American-- they kept taking pictures with me like I was some sort of celebrity, and anytime I would try to slowly escape from the top deck dance floor, they would pull my arm and keep me going. It was a lot of fun, dancing on top of a river boat like that, enjoying music in Russian and being blinded by cameras.

7. Walking, walking, walking! I have come to absolutely LOVE walking everywhere. I walk to the store, I walk to the bus stop, I walk to the river, I walk to meet friends, I walk to Brad's apartment, I walk to Elizabeth's apartment-- and no, I don't always quite make it perfectly everywhere, but I feel like I have mastered most of the streets of Perm! There is nothing as relaxing as walking somewhere, especially when the sun has gone down a bit and there is a nice breeze, getting to people watch and indulge in Russian city life and the rich culture of the country here. I also love walking to and from places as a means to experience God in new ways, to delight in him and talk to him and sing to him in my head and feel him with me as I travel on foot.

6. Music making. I have done a lot of this in Russia, whether playing guitar for friends at picnics, recording a few songs with my friend Sasha in his friend's recording studio, playing with Mark at the American English camp, or singing for Russians on Tuesday nights and teaching them simple English songs. My callouses on my fingers have reformed, my ability to play an F chord and switch from it has improved, and I have been really humbled being able to lead Russian bible studies or church groups in worship. It's amazing to me how God can use a simple gift like this to bring people together.

5. Feasting and tea-ing with Russians. My favorite times with Russian people have been simple gatherings of cucumber-tomato-meat-and-cheese sandwiches, cut up fruit and vegetables, banana-strawberry bread, and lots and lots and lots of tea. LOTS of tea. I have so enjoyed getting together and everyone bringing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, enjoying one another's company as we create a masterpiece of finger foods for everyone to snack on. It created wonderful atmospheres for myself along with Elizabeth or other missionaries/Americans to have meaningful interactions and conversations with the Russian people we spend time with, whether we discuss the importance of God's word, who Jesus was and why he matters, the standards of good and evil, or why believers shouldn't marry non-believers. The conversations were endless-- so many great opportunities to share truth with people came out of simple gatherings centered around traditional Russian food and tea. And yes, I have bought a Russian tea set to bring home so I can continue on with such a tradition in Texas.

4. Hohlofka. I have already posted about this place and this day, but it still warms my heart to think about it. I loved the sense of unity and family and togetherness that was present during our time in this little wooden log cabin village. Americans + Russians + lots of picture taking + bubbles + amazing landscape + cute little village + incredible lake and trees = a wonderful time of community and fellowship, conversation, and God-inspired love.

3. The missionaries here. Brad, Jeanine, Janet, Elizabeth, Dave, and Debbie-- a fantastic team of missionaries living in Perm who all have a heart for the Russian people. I have been blessed to live with Brad and Jeanine as well as with Janet, to interact and learn from Dave's leadership and devotion to students at American camp, to see and witness Debbie's love for the students and Russian people at the home church, and to spend lots of intentional time with Elizabeth as we planned activities or get togethers for us to entertain and spend time with Russians. I am so encouraged by each of their hearts and also by their response to the call God has on their lives to be here and invest in the lives of the people here. I have learned so much from each one of them, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have served with them as well.

2. English camp. 14 Americans + 14 Russians = a stinkin' AWESOME time! English camp is such a highlight for me, in that it was the middle of my 5 weeks spent here. The American team that came enabled us to put on a camp in a quaint little Russian village and host 14 Russians there, where we were able to get to know them and share life with them and get super close with them in a matter of 3-4 days. I thank GOD for this camp, in that it brought so many new students into our lives, and allowed my following 2 weeks after camp to be busy and fruitful as I met with so many of them so often! I had such a fantastic time at camp sharing the gospel with people, having deep and intentional conversations about God, playing ultimate frisbee, visiting an old Soviet style communistic store, experiencing the beauty of a Russian Orthodox monastery, and building some incredible relationships.

1. Sharing Jesus with Russian students. This encompasses camp, any time we gathered, my amazing time at Rinat's house and cycling-- I cannot express to you how much the past 5 weeks have meant to me, and that God, in his kindness and rich, sweet mercy, has allowed me to partake in his plan of spreading his story and his gospel to the world. He has allowed me to share in his work here, has given me this sweet opportunity, blessed me by the financial and prayer support of so many people to get here and begin, has been faithful in orchestrating each meeting with each student and each relationship I have made here, has been so good to me in showing me my weaknesses and my sin while I have been here and has helped me see his forgiveness and restoration of my soul in that, has made me stronger and allowed me to learn to trust him even when I feel like I can't... I praise Him for the beautiful, God-given opportunities to share Him with the Russian people here. I love the students I have met and spent so much time with. I pray that God continues to work in their hearts and stir their affections for him, that they will see his goodness and the precious gift of life and love that he offers through belief in his son, and that they too will enter into his marvelous light.

I love you, Russia. Thanks for an unforgettable 5 weeks.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Amazing Times of Fellowship

1) Xoxlofka!

Last week on Wednesday, the American team along with a group of students/Russians went to a small village town on the outskirts of the city of Perm. It is a little log-cabin village called "Hoakh-loaf-kah" which is set up to depict what kind of life Russians used to live in centuries past, preserving little log cabins full of old stoves, dolls, or basements; sturdy, beautiful churches of old Russian Orthodox nature; and lots of fun little treasures; such as creaking windmills or tiny little wooden swings where we could all swing and blow bubbles to our hearts' delight. It was such a fun, easy-going experience. We hiked up a tall hill, a vibrant green with thousands of blooming wildflowers all along our path- daisies, lilies, pansies, peonies- and as we continued to reach the top, the village below that is actually resided in today was in our majestic view.

We also spent time walking down beaten paths and wooden staircases to the lake below, surrounded by tall, looming pine trees and rocky edges with the water splashing on the shores. It was beautiful, relaxing, and I once again thank the Lord for allowing me to spend time in Russia's beautiful nature and countryside during my time here.

What I loved most of all about our time in Xoxlofka was the feeling buzzing all around our group of family, togetherness, and friendship. We strolled and milled around as we pleased, posing for pictures together or laughing about how our heads were touching the ceilings in the little log cabins. We as adults took turns blowing bubbles, performing magic tricks, went deep into cabins and discovered old barn stalls or hidden doorways, all while having great conversation, laughing together, and enjoying life together. Our time was so blissful and joyful. I am really thankful that it was such a great last outing for the American team as well-- something easy and full of life to share with the Russians we were with. Praise him.

2) Unplanned Plans with Amazing Russian People

The past Saturday night was a marvelous time of fellowship with Elizabeth (a journeyman here), myself, and a group of 5 Russians. We met together because a man named Alex (we call him Alex the Poet, since there are so many Alex's) had spent time with me on the bus ride back from Xoxlofka. On our way back, somehow our conversation had turned to the BIble and why the Old Testament is important. It was so cool to spend our entire bus ride back discussing the beauty and importance and awe-inspiring pages of the OT to him. Afterwards I gave him my bible to read and explore, since he had only ever owned a version of a Russian-English New Testament. He asked Elizabeth and I if we could meet and discuss some questions he had. The conversation that ensued in our group was invigorating, deep, and long-- we discussed the topic of good and evil, how they both originated, what is considered "good" by human standards, and how we should only look to God's standard for what is "good." We spent time talking about the story of Paul, how before his conversion he thought persecuting Christians was "good," and how God changed his heart and his life; we spent time in Exodus on the law, and also discussed original sin and how God sent his son as his plan to rescue and redeem the fallen world, and will send him again. Such a powerful conversation in a room of 7 people from all different walks of life, all different perspectives and beliefs. Nothing that we intentionally planned to happen, but God in his rich blessing planned it, and allowed us to take part in it.

(The above picture of Sasha and I being sad is next to the zoo's Elephant "Johnny" and his obituary...he died a few weeks ago! how sad!) Tonight was another incredible example of how God plans our days, and we just take part in them. I have been worried about my last week here in Perm, and have been sort of stressing about making sure I meet with people and see them before I go. I was afraid but then today I just decided to let go of it all, that I would be able to see people and it all will work how God wants it to. It ended up being a day that was so enjoyable and full of people I love. Elizabeth and I met up with our friend Sasha (Alexander) and went on a walk across the city, meeting some of his musician friends for a while. Then we took a trip to the Perm Zoo, which was so unique compared to that in the states. The animals are so close up to you! I was standing 6 inches away from a lion's face. It was INSANE.

To my wonderful surprise, our friends Natasha and Rinat joined us at the zoo as well. I was so happy that we were able to all be together. Being at the zoo and looking at God's incredible creativity in his creations sparked some genuine and authentic spiritual conversation. Being able to discuss how uniquely and intricately made the animals are, their feather markings, their attributes and characteristics being so intentional that they had to point to an almighty hand and creator-- it was a humbling and sweet truth to explore.

After the zoo, we walked a bit and got some hot dogs and then decided on whim to go back to Liz's for tea and coffee, as well as some sandwiches and banana splits! My Sonic skills were put to work making those for my Russian friends. It was just a really, really beautiful and awesome night of fellowship with good friends. I felt blessed and still feel blessed beyond belief.

Overall, I think the point of this post was to reflect on how thankful I am to have built some really great friendships and relationships over here with some really talented, unique, special Russian people, as well as with the American missionaries who are already here. I look back on these few highlighted days- Xoxlofka, Saturday night's small group, and tonight's zoo + banana split evening- and I see a lot of joyfulness in it all. Most of all, I see a lot of God's faithfulness in bringing his people to me, and me to his people. I was so uncertain of how this all would work out when I got to Perm, how I would possibly meet and communicate with people, and it has been almost seemless. He is the orchestrator of all things-- and I get to enjoy and rest in that.

I love the people I have met here so deeply, and I can't believe I only have 6 days left with them. Time to make the most of all I have left, and I'm so excited for each day that will come.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Near Death Cycling + Uzbekistan Family Experience

This picture was towards the end of my cycling experience today with my dear friend R. We started out the cycling on our bicycles, going down the roads of his part of the city of Perm. Where he lives is a bit more easy-going and pedestrian friendly than the city centre I have been living in. I told him I didn't want to die today, thinking that it would just be hard for me to cycle for a long period of time. That wasn't really the hard part. We did bike for 3 hours, and ended up going for about 18.8 km (11.75 miles) in all. But the course we took was grueling and advanced for someone who has never seriously mountain-biked before. R told me he was impressed that I made it through, and I was too, to be honest. The hardest parts were the 3 times I ended up crashing because of ditches or pits or big hills that I couldn't get down or get back up. I crashed into trees, bushes, and gravel. Ouch!

It was really incredible though. It's an experience I will never forget. Think of zooming in and out of tall forest trees, the smell of pine thick and strong all around you, beautiful wildflowers boldly displaying their bright colors as you pass by, the Kama river glistening in the sunshine on your left over the cliffs and hills as you try not to look so long to where you drive yourself off the path to the beach below. Some of the paths for our bicycles were so narrow, and I was being hit with trees and branches and leaves on both sides. There was one part at the end of our cycling route where we went at "high speeds" as R called it, and everything whipped past in a blur- the trees, the damp ground, the nature all encompassing around us. It was majestic. I felt such peace as the cool Russian air was hitting my face and my skin, and I was in awe. Awe of God's beautiful creation, awe of his strong directing and guiding hand, awe of how he has brought R and I together in this world, an Uzbekistan-heritaged Russian boy, and a Fort Worth, Texas girl. By divine providence alone he has allowed me to share my life with him, and I am beyond thankful for the opportunity.

The ride wasn't the only great part though. I was beat tired afterward, and as the Perm city was shutting off their water this evening, I was offered a shower at R's apartment. This might have been weird or awkward, but I thought that I'd rather shower and be clean than smell and be dirty as I was for the next two days until they turn the city's water back on. We cleaned up and were cooked some amazing Uzbekistan food. His mother made us a plethora of amazing dishes, including plov, winter salad, and a homemade pie with sweet milky custard in the middle. Not to mention some of the best tasting coffee I've ever had. She kept showering me with food and gifts, giving me a Russian dancer ornament (knowing I was a dancer) and also giving me a beautiful handmade kitchen towel with a matreshka woman on it, telling me to give it to my mother when I got back to Texas. It was one of the kindest, most hospitable places I've ever been. I was thankful beyond words, and the food was the best meal I've had in Perm!

I've been reading through Acts while in Perm this summer, and the things I have read and been learning have been so good for me. Thank God for his examples through the apostles for their boldness and urgency and passion to fulfill the call and to tell people about the wonderful love of Jesus and of his resurrection and salvation for all who believe!

Monday, July 11, 2011


This past week, from Thursday-Sunday, a team of 8 Americans from Hurst, Texas along with Brad, Janet, Elizabeth, Dave (all missionaries in Perm) and myself led an English Camp hosting 14 Russians. Some of the Russians were students, some were working adults. The ages ranged from 17-39 years old, but it seemed that everyone that attended was full of enthusiasm and excitement, willingness to play and learn and grow.

Janet, a girl named Yuliya, and I went a day early to the camp held in Kalinina, Russia, which is about 2 hours away from the city of Perm. It is a beautiful rural village set high upon some hills. The Russian landscape is absolutely breathtaking. I am so blessed to have gotten the chance to see it and escape the city for a few days, meeting new friends and exploring faith and friendship with these Russians.

Part 1: Camp

The first day of camp, it seemed that the group of Russians seemed to click right away with us. The Texan team had not arrived yet and we played a MEAN game of Ultimate Frisbee. I don't ever remember that game being so fun and intense. I can't wait to play when I get back to Texas with people! We also went for a walk in the village, going in and out of tiny little stores. The stores still were reminiscent of Soviet Russia, one store being still communist in nature where everyone shares everything they own and sells it again. As soon as the Texan team arrived, though, camp was underway!

Bring on the small meal portions of questionable meat, lots and lots of chai (Russian word for "tea"), games, classes about American life, and more. Everyday we held classes for the Russian students to choose from, including American Holidays, Travel, University Life, Idioms, Cooking (Mexican! yummy), Texas Worldview, American Sports, and Makeup and Beauty class. The Russians really enjoyed all of these classes and were amazed to learn about things such as college campuses being entire cities and our recreation center having two pools-- they saw a virtual tour of TCU and said it looked like Hogwarts-- also they were so pleased to learn some fun American slang and idioms, try queso and nachos, and find out that everything IS bigger in Texas! They wore the bandanas that Sean, one of the Texans, brought for the class the remainder of the camp. It was awesome.

The Russians that camp to this camp were seriously the cream of the crop that I've met here. They were so friendly, funny, and full of life. Each day was an adventure, whether we were playing hardcore games, trying to explain the confusing rules of kickball, swimming in the "lake" in the village, or going to the beautiful Russian Orthodox monastery together. We sang everywhere we went, the guitar got a LOT of use from Mark (an American) and myself, and had a great time learning from one another. I also experienced what a Russian "bana" pronounced bahn-yah is! It's this crazy room inside a log cabin with a SUPER HOT furnace, and you sit there with little to no clothing on and sweat, then get whacked all over your body with large branches of was insane!

Part 2: Missions

The first day of camp I sat across the table at lunch from a student, we'll call him R. He is 21 years old and comes from a Muslim family, mostly by name only (not practicing). R is an atheist and right away he asked me about my key necklace. I told him that it means that God is the key to my life and that I am a Christian. He told me quickly that he is an atheist and does not believe in God. After asking him why and talking for almost an hour on the topic, people were listening in and finding it so interesting that we were having such an intense conversation so soon in the camp! It was totally God's doing though, because even though he was very adamant about his viewpoints and seemed very hardened to everything, God began his work in R that was visible to everyone around that day.

R would sit in the back of the room when Brad would teach about truth and Jesus, playing on his phone, putting headphones in, or even falling asleep. He acted like he wanted absolutely nothing to do with the ideas Brad was presenting and made it quite evident that he felt so. He did not participate in singing and would plug his ears when we would worship! However, after all of this we began to watch the movie "The Parent Trap" when he came up to me and began an hour and a half's worth of questions about God, faith, everything from evolution and big bang theory to archaeology to the Bible being authority to different religions to sin, why people make up and create God because they need something to believe in, and so forth. He asked me question after question, hitting me on all sides where I wouldn't budge...asking me about original sin, telling me that he does not sin much and does not need to be saved from anything because he is a good person with a normal life, great family, and no troubles. He said that people create God for themselves because they are empty or have lots of troubles, and everyone that believes in Jesus seems to have done so because of some big event that happened to them first. It was really interesting and it continued for some time when finally I said, "You know, if you are saved R, it's not going to be by me. It's not going to be Brad, or any human being, because salvation is God's work. If he wants to save you R, he will do so. And I didn't bring any of this up...YOU did. Why?" Then he paused and looked at me for a minute and said, "Well, you know, I am wondering. I wonder about these things." There was the ticket...he was curious, he was seeking, and even though he defied everything I might have said, hearing that gave me a lot of hope.

The following few days R continued to ask me questions. We had lengthy conversations and he also spoke with other team members from America about these things as well. The last day of camp, R seemed different. His countenance had changed from hardened and stubborn to curious and open. He sat in the front row for Brad's teaching. He sang along at worship time. He continued to spend time with me and ask me questions, and when I invited him to our home church yesterday afternoon, he said he would think about it.

R ended up coming to our home church. He came and when Brad had us pair up with someone in the room to pray, he immediately looked at me and summoned me to come partner with him. He confessed that he didn't know how to pray, what prayer was like, and wanted to know. I explained to him how Jesus had taught the disciples to pray, acknowledging that God is a heavenly almighty being who deserves praise, glory, and thanks, but also a close and intimate Father whom we can talk to, go to for comfort and strength, tell our thoughts and feelings and desires to and be open with. There is no right or wrong way to pray, it's having a conversation with God, and so Brad and I took turns praying with R. After the service, R stayed after and asked me questions about salvation, sex before marriage, hypocrisy and why Christians continue to sin or do bad things even when they are saved, and eventually said to me..."Well, if certain things are sin, and I have done them already, then I cannot be saved. I cannot be a Christian because I've already done those things." It was so amazing to then look at him breathlessly and tell him that is the whole point of salvation and forgiveness-- that Jesus died and took the punishment for our sins so that if we believe in Him and put our trust in Him, then our sins will be forgiven and every sin we have ever committed is forgiven and washed away, we are cleansed and are new creations and God changes our hearts and was so amazing to see him and his curiosity, his questioning, and his demeanor towards Christianity change over a matter of 4 days. He then asked, "What if I become believer, and my friends banish me and no longer want me around?" I showed him the verse from John 12 where Jesus talks about if a grain of wheat falls along the ground but does not die to itself, it does not grow or produce anything, but if it dies to itself it grows and produces a good crop...that he who follows Jesus and leaves their houses, families, and everything they own will gain Christ which will be far better...

R is spending time with us tomorrow all day long. I ask you to please pray for his soul, that He will embrace the beautiful love and grace and salvation that Jesus is offering him.

It's funny, when I came here I did not expect to lead a Russian boy to know the Lord. God is so good, working out all things for the good of those who love him, and although the past week was extremely challenging and there were times I would cry and pray aloud to him to rescue me from the unbelief I had, I am so thankful for it. I'm thankful for the American team for putting on the camp so that 14 Russians can hear about Jesus and see him lived among their lives and ours. Praise Him!

Part 3: Monastery Pictures

Oh, we also visited this awesome monastery in Kalinina, very famous in Russia. It was breathtaking and beautiful and glorious, and I even got a bottle of "holy water" from a priest. Sweet!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Update: Jane is coming to camp!

If you read the post below about me witnessing to a girl named Jane, she has decided to come to our English Camp this upcoming Thursday-Sunday where the Hope for Perm team, myself, along with a group of Americans from good ol' Hurst, Texas will be hosting an English Language camp. During the time there we also will be giving messages of the gospel and about Jesus. I am SO excited that she is coming and that I will be able to continue to minister to her and further our friendship there.

Be praying for us at the camp this Thursday-Sunday, that the 14 Russian students will be able to see Jesus lived out through our lives and that He will capture their hearts. Pray that the kingdom will be furthered!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

He who has ears to hear...let him hear!

July 1st was an amazing day. I met with Jane and Sasha, two girls I met last week in the tourist office. We spent about 4 hours together walking around Perm and spending time in a little cafe. It was so amazing because in God's graciousness I was able to share the entire message of Jesus/the gospel with them.

I asked them if they had a faith or religion and Sasha said "well I'm christian, because when I was a baby my parents took me to the orthodox church and baptized me." Jane said "I guess I am nothing because my parents did not do that for me." It was so cool to get to tell her that just because she wasn't baptized as an infant, doesn't mean that she cannot be a Christian...and explain to Sasha that her baptism as an infant is not an indicator of her salvation. I continued to spend time with them and eventually asked them if I could share my faith with them. They had brought up astrology and horoscopes and if I followed mine, and I told them no because it put too much power in human hands for our lives and path where God is the one who should determine that. I then asked if I could share what I believed with them, and they said yes.

In David Platt's book "Radical" he writes of the following metaphor of how Christianity is different than other religions, and I shared it with the two girls. Think of God, high and mighty, standing on top of a mountain. Other religions have laws and rules and works that get you to God eventually if you keep doing them, and you will work your way up the mountain and finally achieve God at the top. If you follow the 5 pillars of Islam and keep the rules, laws, fasting, prayers, and "balance the scales" of good and bad in your life, you will hopefully get to God. There is no forgiveness in the Muslim faith, you just have to do enough good to outweigh the bad, and your goodness will move you upwards to God. In Buddhism, you pray and meditate and try to live a life free of desires and sin and eventually you will find peace, nirvana, ultimately God or some desired afterlife. I can go on about other religions, but the key is that Christianity, on the other hand, is different. In Christianity, no matter what we do, we can't get up that mountain or do enough on our own to get us even close, because we always fall, make mistakes, and sin. We will never on our own do enough "good" and good works to get us to God; who are we to think we are good enough or doing enough? No, the beauty is that instead of us climbing up a mountain to get to him, GOD instead comes down from the mountain, picks us up and rescues us and saves us from ourselves, and carries us up the mountain.

I told them about Jesus coming down to earth and dying for the sins of the world, taking on the wrath of God in that moment as he endured all the punishment God had for sin and sinners and taking it all right then. I also explained that just because someone is baptized or lives in a certain region doesn't mean that they are automatically a Christian. It has to do with their faith, belief, and if their life is lived in a way that says I follow Jesus. Jane looked close to tears and like she had discovered or heard some great news...she looked really joyful and I saw hope in her eyes, truly. Sasha was content with the conversation but afterwards she started talking about astrology and horoscope signs and how my aura and electricity connects with others and that's why my words are well received. Jane did not seem to agree with her, and it was kind of strange to hear, but I told her than any goodness seen in me is because of Jesus in me. We did not talk much after that about it, but I could see that Jane's mind was whirling with the story shared, and she commented that she really liked the mountain example. They want to continue to spend time with me while I am here, and Jane might even come to our summer camp, which would be awesome! It was really cool getting to do that, share Jesus and the hope that He brings and life that He gives. I got emotional and joyful while telling it...I can't express how incredible it was to share that story with people who had never heard.

I have been reading through Acts and today I saw something very interesting that Paul does when he speaks to a King in chapter 26. Paul not only shares with King Agrippa about Jesus, the prophets, and God's promises, but then asks him "Do you believe the prophets? I know you believe." King Agrippa says to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" and Paul said, Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am-- except for these chains." Paul boldly claims God, answers honestly that YES, I want you to become a Christian and know this love that I have!, and asks him if he believes after sharing with him. This is something that I did not do with these two girls, asking them if they believed or pressing to know more of what they thought of the gospel of Jesus after I shared. Next time I know to do this, so that I can further understand how they received the words and lead them to recognizing God's saving grace in their lives.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Russian Gathering and Yuliya

Tonight, I attended a small group gathering in Perm. It was a church much like mine back home: they rent out a facility on Sunday evenings at 5pm, and they meet in a house during the week to share a meal together, pray, sing and worship, and go through scripture. When I arrived, I was put right to work chopping apples, oranges, and slicing bread. Some of the people spoke English, and it seemed like these people truly knew one another. There was a big sense of family there.

When we were in the living room, apparently my friend Dasha had informed the pastor, Peter, that I played guitar and sang. So he had me lead the group in worship tonight, playing a few songs. It was one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had...that God would allow me to use such a gift to lead a foreign people in worship of Him. I sang in English, and they sang in Russian, and it made me think of what heaven must be like...people lifting up praises to the Lord in all tongues, languages, noises, sounds! I felt so much joy in those moments playing on the couch. I can't describe it...the Holy Spirit was surging within me.

The awesome part though was when we were in the Word. These people were so enthusiastic, excited, and on fire for Jesus. Their zeal while we were in the word-- 1 Samuel, nonetheless!- was so encouraging and invigorating. We were there for about 3 hours total, and it amazed me how much they tasted the Word and saw that it is good. Having a passion for God's word, like Psalm 19 says, that it is more fine that gold, more sweet than the drippings of the honeycomb...these people lived and spoke like they believe that.

Last night I led a small gathering of Russians in the basement of a local church as well. There were 7 of us in all, and we drank tea, had snacks and sat around talking and sharing stories. It's awesome how God allows himself to slip into conversation. My key necklace and tattoo continue to be topics of interest, and I praise him for allowing those things to bring glory to himself. I was nervous going into the evening, in that usually the night is led by Brad and his American team of missionaries there...but they are all out of the country until Friday, so I was the lone American. It went super well, though, and I was thankful that God was faithful in the evening there.

Last but not least, the picture above is of the sweet 5 year old girl who is living in my flat right now. She and I don't speak the same language and can hardly communicate, but we are crazy about one another. We have so much fun together, and I'm blessed by the joy God allows me to have with her around. It's weird, because I have been missing my students so much, and God has given me this little girl to bring that life back into my life.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Encouragement from John 12

Yesterday I was skyping with my boyfriend back home, Andrew, and told him a lot about how although I feel so blessed in being here, and God has ordained and planned this so beautifully, there are a lot of things about being in Russia that are really difficult. I sent the following to a girlfriend of mine, and after sending it to her I felt compelled to post it on here. I feel like you should not only see or hear about the things going well, but also the things that are a bit hard, and how in and through those hardships, God is my strong tower and refuge of strength. I know he has me here not only to proclaim the good news, but also learn to further die to myself, always a difficult but rewarding process of furthering sanctification.

Before I do, though, I want to share with you scripture that Andrew shared with me from John 12:24-26
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

My response to him was this: I need to remember that in order to be more like Jesus, I...have to be more like Jesus! And one of those things is dying to myself, taking up my cross and following Him, here, wherever, when he calls me to do so. I feel like I am experiencing a lot being here, a different way of life, culture, and belief system than in the states, and I am thankful that God has called me here, not only to humble me, but he trusts me to be a vessel for his kingdom and bear fruit. Me! God has called me to do that for his kingdom and not only that, but he gives me the strength and ability to do so through himself! Wow. I don't deserve to do that for him, but he allows me to, and I am blessed by that...I don't have the right words to express gratitude that he loves me and allows me to share in his sufferings, so that I may also share in his glory and spend eternity with him.

I feel so honored to be a part of this, and I only pray that I can do this for him well and be a good and faithful servant. I pray that I can continue to let go of myself and stop worrying about things, letting him take it all and surrendering to him completely.


So here is a bit of both the good and the challenging:

Everything is different from Texas life; I feel like often, I don't know how to operate, since everything is written and everyone is speaking in a foreign language that I don't have half a clue about. It's hard for me to even go to a store and buy something, I don't know what the packages say and I don't know what the check out clerk is asking me...I told Andrew last night it feels like I am a refugee that needs people to take me around and go places with me because I don't know how to get on the right tram somewhere, how to find the right foods in the grocery store, how to go to the bank. It's so weird...I feel like I'm learning how to live life all over again in a city where the people don't smile at you, cars nearly hit you everywhere you go, EVEN if you're on the sidewalk, and where girls dress up in high heels and short fancy dresses everywhere you look-- as I am as casually dressed as you could get. Ha, it has taken some getting used to, and feeling somewhat helpless in that I can't go to a food place for 1) I don't know what kind of food it is because I can't read the sign, 2) I don't know how to read anything on the menu and I can't just point at something because there's no pictures or translations, and 3) it seems like people don't EVER eat out in Russia anyway, so I seem like a freak if I tell the friends I'm with that I'm hungry and we stop's SO different! I seriously am missing Texan food, let me tell you that.

More than that, though, what I love in Russia more than I care about the other things is the people I'm getting to meet and spend time with. Russians on the street do not smile and have no sense of politeness or common courtesy, but when you spend quality time with them they are very deep and relational people. They are very blunt and honest people as well, so you know what you're getting 100% of the time with someone...nobody just is nice just to be nice. They tell you and act how they really feel or what they really think! The girls/women I have gotten to spend time with are incredible. I am blessed to have encountered and been able to start building so many relationships already. The girls are mostly open to talk about Jesus and it's so awesome how God has intervened in this way. It's been almost seem-less how I've been able to meet people and spend time with them...little to no effort on my part...God has just provided them in my life and here we go. It's different than home-- I miss you, Andrew, my family and community of friends there-- but the people here are really trying to help acclimate me to Russian culture and help me try to get used to my surroundings. I spent the past 10 hours with a girl named Dasha; I spent the last several days, about 6 days with women named Olga, Tanya, and Lena; and I've gotten to meet so many more and have my calendar full! Tomorrow I am also leading the Tuesday night meeting, where Brad (the man I'm staying with/and his family) and his missionary team has Russians meet I believe for English classes and teaching, as well as some spiritual discussion and Bible reading. Brad and his team are in Turkey right now until Saturday, so I am going to the church and leading it up alone! Kind of scary, but it's cool how Brad trusts me, and I don't have to make it formal-- it's more of a hanging out, talking time with others. I have some women who already promised to be there, so I know I'll at least have about 4 or 5 people come :) It excites me how much I've already done and have yet to do here.

It's been a flawless process it seems, but not without it's hardships. I miss home quite night I feel alone, which is silly because I know I'm not. I am really having to lean more on God and spend more of my alone time talking with him, reading, etc. I have been far more prayerful the past week than I have in months, talking to God more, especially at night while I'm laying in bed not being able to sleep! I have not found a successful sleeping schedule yet, and I seem to toss and turn for hours each night. When I wake up in the morning, I feel like I just got hit by a train and the last thing I want to do is get up. I don't know how to get over this yet or make it work. I also miss my students quite a bit. I frequently scroll through pictures of them from this past year at night when I can't sleep and pray for them, that they are doing well and their summers are fruitful. I had such a connection with my class this past year, it is hard to go through my days without them.

I know, though, that God is purposeful and his ways are the best ways; his thoughts are the best thoughts; and I will go where He sends me. Being faithful to this call requires endurance, patience, strength, and perseverance, just like any call to go and do ministry does. I do not want to make it seem like I am some sort of saint or something...nothing I am doing is worthy of anything apart from Jesus, nothing. I am so thankful that God has chosen me to go and come here and further His kingdom. Thank you, God, for deeming me your servant!

Until next time...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Privet from Perm, Russia!

"Doors of Happiness"...and I am welcoming you to my updated Russian blog to say...privet!

"Privet," pronounced pree-vyet, is "hello" in Russian. Which I have desperately been trying to learn since I arrived here! Actually, I started to try to learn the Russian alphabet and some basic phrases when I was in the airport at JFK, having met a Russian woman who did NOT understand why I would try to go do ministry in a country where I didn't speak the language. Whoops.

Since I've arrived in Perm, my life has drastically changed. It is so different here, so interesting, and nothing, nothing at all like I expected. Nothing. Perm is a city of about 1 million people, 9% of which live in the outskirts in the more forest-y areas, and 91% of which live in the city, where I currently am residing. It is jam packed with people, everyone you walk, drive, and go. The streets are full of cars that don't obey traffic laws like "pedestrians have the right of way"-- nope, CARS do! Watch yourself or you're gonna get run over, seriously. They also don't care about right-of-way rules; they just go as they please, cut people off constantly, don't wait on others. The general attitude of the Russian people is "me-first"; it is their mentality and the way that they operate in anything they do. Nobody holds doors open for each other (I've had several slam in my face!) and people speed-walk next to you and walk right in front of you; people are always trying to be the first in line, first in the door, and so on. It is unlike Southern Hospitality/Southern Gentleman mentality that exists in Texas! That has definitely taken some time getting used to.

I am living in an apartment, or a "flat" they call it, right outside the center of the city. Everyone here lives in an apartment, there are no houses except in the forest areas of Perm. The city is literally lined, street after street, with tall apartment buildings. People in Russia are very poor, and the city is crowded and there is no room or need for houses. People here really live off of the least they can-- minimal living is quite a theme here. It's interesting because for as little money as they have, there are a lot of people outside all day everyday, walking in their best clothing and high heels, shopping! The people here dress up mostly; some are dressed casually, but most people are dressed in very tight skirts or dresses and very tall shoes. The men are dressed differently though-- I saw many wearing the nike running shorts that are so popular for women in the US-- and they are all big fans of bright, neon colors and short shorts. It's definitely interesting to see the women so fashionable and trendy just to go to the store, where the men are dressed so casually, and sometimes/often are shirtless walking around, in the cyHePmaPket (supermarket!). For the most part though, the city is very modernized. You don't see women walking around like little babushka women as I had pictured...some do, older women do, but not many.

It has been really awesome to get to meet and spend time with Russian girls while I've been here. I have spent most of the past several days with a few wonderful women. Tanya, who is an English teacher (and this past week was awarded English Teacher of Perm Award!) is a volunteer tour guide for the "White Nights" festival that has been going on in the city of Perm for the entire month of June. The reason it is called White Nights is because the sun does not set in Perm during the summer until midnight or later! It also rises at 4 a.m. or around then. It is crazy looking out the window right now at 11:45pm and it still being somewhat light outside! Tanya has taken me on what she calls several "excursions," to extremely exotic contemporary and modern art museums, to Russian Orthodox temples, to the beloved Kama River that put Perm on the map.

(Russian Orthodox church head coverings...I had to put one on to go inside the exhibit!)

Tanya has been extremely helpful during my time here so far-- getting me from point A to point B as I try to master the trolley/tram system here; helping me go on my first grocery shopping trip, which was quite an adventure that the women I spend time with STILL talk about how I didn't know how to do anything there; and keeping me quite entertained while we've been here. Lucky for me, Tanya also is very interested in dance shows, which is like a dream come true! We have seen everything from Russian Traditional dance, to belly dancing (women AND men), to kids shows to break has been quite a fun week with Tanya!

From left to right: me, Olga, Tanya, Lena.

Tanya says she is a believer but seems very closed to talking more openly about it. I feel good, though, because God is the one in charge of salvation-- not me!-- and so I pray with her, talk openly with her about scripture I read that morning or about how God has changed my life, answer questions, etc. but she still is a closed book. I am praying that God continues to allow us to have time together and that it continues to be intentional.

Other women I've spent time with include a woman named Olga, who has accompanied us on our excursions and who is helping me with the worship at our home church tomorrow. The family I am staying with, the Hornes, hold a Sunday "home church" gathering at 3pm where they meet in the different homes of the missionary team that is here in Perm. This Sunday happens to be here in our flat; however, Brad and his family are out of town in Turkey, so guess who Brad trusted to go on with the show? Yes, me. I am headed to the grocery store tomorrow for snacks and preparing lots of hot tea tomorrow for the guests we will have in our home church. I cannot speak Russian sadly, so Olga is going to help me pick songs for worship time and lead the Bible/Book study that the group has been going through the past few weeks. I am very blessed that Brad trusts me enough to have people in his home and help lead them in a service of community and worship.

Dasha and I in the modern art museum.
Another girl I have spent time with is a girl named Dasha, who quickly became my closest friend in Perm :) we spent all yesterday together, from about 1 pm to 7:30 pm, and she speaks really good English because she lived in the states for some time. Dasha loves the Lord and was a great encouragement to me yesterday. We walked for hours talking together, and she joined Tanya and I on some museums and exhibits. We are spending time together again on Monday, where she is going to cook for me! Dasha is a very capable and talented photographer as well. Many of the pictures from yesterday were taken by her...hence, if you happen to look on facebook at them, there seems to be too many of me. She kept wanting to take them, and it felt rude to say no! I am glad that God has given me someone like her to spend time with and get to know and encourage one another.

"Galleria," or Art Gallery, containing old relics and Russian Orthodox art. Extremely fascinating.

Another woman is Elena, or Lena I hear the others call her. Lena is quiet and seems hard to read, but she is always smiling, which is very contrary to the Russian culture! She is Tanya's best friend and always joins us when we go places. For some reason, God has put Lena on my heart since I've been here, and today God opened a lot of doors for conversation. Bless Madi Greer for her key necklace that captured me two summers ago, because when I wear the key necklace I have around my neck, it is a constant conversation starter about Jesus. Lena asked me today what the key was for and I was able to explain to her what it meant, and I did share a short version of Madi's story (if you do not know who this is, do not is just a great story of redemption, how God is our ultimate father and the key to our lives, the key to every thing in life...happiness, joy, success...). Lena seemed really interested and we continued to talk together the entire tram ride home about it and what God means to us. I asked her what God meant to her, since she told me she was a believer but does not practice anything very often. I was able to speak with her about my story and testimony when I was 18 about how God became more real than ever to me, rescued me from myself and my sin, and chose to show his love to me...and how because of that, I just want more of his love. I want more of him, I want to know more, see more, feel more of him. She seemed very intrigued by what I was saying, and although she did not say much, she was intently listening. It came so naturally, in that we had built a friendship the past week together and the conversation felt natural and not forced. I am excited for further interactions with these women, and feel that as we continue to be friends and trust is built, that things are bound to happen...I spoke with my dad tonight afterwards, and he was very comforting with his words: that God will open the hearts of those whom he chooses, and thus I can only speak truth into people's lives and pray that God touches them and uses my words for his glory.

Did you know Wooly Mammoths were discovered in the Perm region? Yeah, they even found a 7 month old one frozen in the ice. But here are some cool bones. :)

Other than that, I have enjoyed getting used to the city. I have met many girls and exchanged phone numbers with them and plan on making plans with them this upcoming week. I spoke to 2 girls that go to the university here a few days ago, and they work in the tourist office. They told me they would love to spend time with me and practice English, which seemed like a great opportunity to get to know them and eventually share Jesus with them. I am excited to see what progresses and feel so blessed by Brad, in that he has gotten me set up with so many girls already; and mainly by the Lord, in that he has placed people directly in my life to share my time in Perm with.

This is the center of the city on Lenin Street, where I have been spending most of my time with my friends...AND, it is a great thing to recognize when I am uncertain of where I am :)

I am missing home, and sometimes feel anxious about what is to come when I return, so I ask that any prayers would be to settle anxiety about things at home or things that will come with the new school year. I want to be fully focused and all here, and I want to not be so nervous about such things to where I lay in bed at night already planning and trying to be in control! I also ask that you continue to pray for my safety. The city feels safe, and I am now navigating the streets alone, and I just pray that continued safety and understanding will be with me as I try to read Russian street signs and remember where my flat is :)

Oh, and did I mention that I absolutely LOVE the Horne family? They are so completely amazing. Hospitable, kind...the children are so precious (if you call them children...16, 14, 12, 10). Jenna, the youngest, is my roommate, and she made me breakfast in bed on my 3rd day here. And did I mention they have a fat grey cat named Asher? Yeah, I'm pretty much obsessed. And he has orange eyes!

Baka ('bye' in Russian) or Do svedanya until next time... :)

Whitley ("Rebecca," as many Russian friends also know me, as it is easier to say!)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Field Day

My first Field Day experience was a notable one, one I will never forget.

We had the kids rotate as full classes to five different stations. The first station was the Water Fun station. At this station, my kids got soaked head to toe. They played games like "pass the sponge over your head and get wet" relay, "walk to the bucket with a smaller bucket with holes in it and water dripping on your head" relay, and this really funny one where one student was sitting on a chair with a 2 Liter coke bottle, and the other filled up a cup with water, then ran to the student to pour the water into the tiny opening in the 2 Liter bottle. It was utterly hilarious. Not to mention, my kids thought it would be SUPER funny to splash water all over me and my shorts. However, the kicker part was that I seriously wanted to play too. I wanted to get drenched head to toe and kind of kicked into Camp Counselor mode, making my students cheer for one another every single time and jumping up and down. I had to remind myself several times today that it just wasn't professional to get soaked as the teacher.

The second station was the sack race and 3 legged race. I wish I had captured these moments on camera. Students were falling and flying EVERYwhere. There was one bigger student who was literally dragging another girl student across the field in the 3 legged race. And, of course, Kiwi insisted on doing the sack race backwards. He jumped, in the sack, backwards all the way very slowly and carefully. It was probably one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

The third station was a relay station with a huge rubber ball that the kids had to roll across the field, around a cone, and then back to the line for the next person. Trouble with this was that the ball was taller than some of my smaller students. I was out of breath running and puffing with my kids, trying to not let them go too far off the path to where they were in a different station they had gone so far off, and worked up a good sweat. Kiwi actually rolled over the huge ball and fell on his back. I stifled laughter but he was content and ok.

Our fourth station was a relay with hurdles and a baton. It was so cute to see my kids run hard, jump and clear (or, sometimes, not clear) hurdles, and work together as a team. I think that our class had the best cheerleaders by far, which, funny to say, was mostly the boys that kept cheering everyone's name the whole time. It was a really proud moment to see all of them pull together and root for one another like that. Nobody got angry at each other, nobody blamed anyone for anything. It was such a sweet time.

Last but not least was the TUG-O-WAR. This was so classic, in that one of the first grade classes has a really tall, bigger student who probably could single handedly beat any full class. It was hilarious to watch him just simply pull on the end and walk backwards and defeat any team. At the end, though, we had a boys vs. girls Tug-O-War where my girls faced my boys on the rope. The girls, proud to say, WON! It was one of the biggest celebrations of the day, but the fun part was when the parent volunteers and teachers played each other. My side won, naturally. I have some pretty stinkin' awesome and stellar parents who got their hands dirty on the rope and led us to victory.

My competitiveness came out today, but it was so, so cool how God helped me to rein it in. I was afraid that it would come out and I would get into my super-hyper-competitive mode, but for me, today went really well. It was nothing like my Mission Impossible experiences at Sky Ranch where I made it all about winning, me, and not the kids having fun. Because regardless of who won today or how well we did, my kids and I had a great 2nd-to-last day of school together. Field day was a blast; my kids almost knocked me over by dog piling around me in a huge group hug; I was able to run, jump, and help my kids; I bathed each of them with sunscreen this morning before going outside; it was a really interesting experience. I just kind of got a glimpse of how God must feel, so proud of his children in anything they do and just wanting them to enjoy life and what they are given. Not to mention, in that I also wanted the best for them, to take care of them and spend 20 minutes putting on the sunscreen I had actually brought for myself on all of their sweet little faces, arms, and legs. I have been blessed beyond belief this year, and I can't believe it's over tomorrow.

This week has been a really confirming and sweet one. I have outstanding supportive parents who have encouraged me all week with gifts, cards, and their presence in my classroom and events. I have 21 super, spectacular first graders who after tomorrow will be 2nd graders. I hope that I have prepared them well, but most of all when I look back at the past year, I keep asking the question: Did I love them well, and did I teach them how to love well too? I have realized that it is the character that counts in a person. You won't hire the smartest person or most talented person at something if their character is poor, if they are disagreeable or unkind. You're going to trust and hire or befriend the person with upstanding character and kindness and love. That's what I hope my kids gained this year-- an inside look at what that looks like and is supposed to be. It was so crazy writing in all of their yearbooks yesterday, taking careful time to write personal messages to each one. But I want them to be able to look back at that one day, maybe when they are feeling unloved, or like they have failed at everything, or that they won't amount to anything in life, and know that I love them. I think they are superstars. And that I believe in them, all of them, in all that they do and will ever be. I want them to know that there is at least one person out there who feels that way about them, and maybe it will make a difference. But most of all, more than anything, I pray that God sheds his sweet grace on all of them. I know that some of them will know Him, and some of them won't, but I pray for each of them that they will one day experience the sweet love of Jesus. I know that is a bold statement and maybe not one to make publicly, but it is true. Because even if they forget about me, they will still have someone who is their #1 fan, their #1 confidant, their #1 companion who loves them and believes in them more than anyone on earth possibly could. Yeah, that is my prayer for them.

So I think, before I start weeping here, that I will end with this. God, thank you for blessing me immensely with the past year of my life. It has made me more selfless, made me more into the likeness of you and into your image, it has shown me unselfish and unconditional love, and it has made me into a better person. I love these children so much, and thank you for sharing them with me.

Maybe I'll have more to say in reflection after the year truly ends, but this are the last words I really have. Tune in for my adventures sharing the gospel in Russia this summer for five weeks. Who knows what he'll do next?