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 somewhere...it'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 frequently...at 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...