"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." ~ Matthew 5:8

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back Home

I'm home safe and sound, and though jet-lagged, so glad to be with my family again. Now...it's catch up time on my four classes. :)

If you have a moment, would you pray that my suitcase is found? Besides personal belongings and schoolbooks, it also holds some special things for my awesome family. And in the mean time, I'm going to practice contentment and trust in God.


EDIT: My mom just came to my room and told me that my suitcase is ready to be picked up at the local airport. How's that for an answer to prayer! 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Days 3 and 4

Wow: there's so much I could say and process here, but unfortunately I need to save most of the energy and time for my four classes that are still waltzing along without me at this point. I have some papers I need to finish!

I'll throw up some pictures instead with a little explanation. Yesterday we went to another camp which was beautiful and well cared for, but the kids were challenging to reach. I learned a lot about God, my own sin, and those kids through that experience. The day started discouraging, but ended with a lot to praise for.

I've enjoyed the privilege of  doing several of the team's hair while on the trip, but our wonderful (!) translator Anya has asked me several times and I always love doing her beautiful long hair.

Our other sweet translator, Valerie also had beautiful hair. 

 The camp director served us all a beautiful lunch.

Mhm. These were delicious.  

This picture is specifically for my sister Daria...the meal reminded me of your cooking!

This little lady wanted her picture taken with every one of the Americans

 ...And this fellow LOVED the Chocolate spread we provided with the pretzels and proved his potential skills as a future lawyer to me by explaining that he needed more.

All of the kids love Anya. She is kind and gentle, and kids that met her 2 or 3 years ago still remember her name. 

Another one of our translators (far left), Yan (pronounced yawn) has a real talent in connecting with the boys. 

Today in the morning we had the opportunity of visiting two Russian churches, which were beautiful, as well as a synagogue; we also took a team picture outside this gorgeous church. Hence this picture of the rest of the wonderful team-I stole a chance to be behind the camera.

We spent the afternoon working at a transition home for kids. It was very clean, and the workers were loving. The kids were obedient and sweet, but also subdued, and it was evident that they were hurting. My team mate Aimee, translator Anya, and myself will be working with four 7-10 year olds for the next 4 days. They asked us not to post pictures-and after today, not to take pictures, because in the past they've had issues with people posting the kid's pictures online. I understand that request completely. 

But let me also say that a highlight of my day was when one of the staff came in and asked us if we would feed the babies after we were done with the older kids. Would we???? I fed a beautiful little girl with huge blue eyes and little golden ringlets; she was probably about a year old, standing up and holding on to the side of the crib. It was so sad, though, because she her face was quietly sad and she was unresponsive most of the time we were in the room. After I finished feeding her, I started gently stroking her cheek and smoothing her hair, talking to her in a low voice and making eye contact with her. At the end, she smiled. A little smile, but such a gem. It broke my heart though, because when I stood and walked to the door, she burst into tears and held out her arms. How I wanted to scoop her up and hold her close! She was so obviously in need of love, which though the staff are kind and conscientious, they have no time to give the individual children that attention. I thought too of my siblings. We have no pictures of them as babies, and I have often wondered what they looked like, and if anyone gave them a gentle touch or a loving word.

Well, I ended up writing despite what I said. There has been so much to process, so much to think about and run through the sieve of God's word. Tomorrow we have two VBS sessions at the same house, and would appreciate prayers for energy for the group. Thank you for reading this!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Orphanage #2

Today we went to our first summer camp and spent time with Orphanage #2, about 30 kids ages 4-12. They were beautiful, but broken. They were laughing, hugging, chattering, dancing, singing, but there were tears too. Tears over little things like a desire for more peanut butter, and tears over big things like when one of the little girls asked each team member if she could borrow their phone to call her mom. There were tears in Russian and American eyes when we had to gently disengage little arms and get on the bus at the end.

Still, it was a fun day. We spent time getting to know them; coloring, making bead necklaces, jumping rope, and blowing up balloons. Then we went and had an unbelievably delicious lunch (Shashlik) at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the Bay of Finland. Dad, I thought of you so much in our hour and half drive along that beautiful bay. I looks so much like the North Shore! You would have loved it.

Then we went back to the camp, were joyously welcomed by the kids, and with much difficulty, corralled them into a group for some singing, which they loved, and a Bible story, which they did not hear a word of. That was probably the most discouraging part of the day, but I know it was not outside God's control by any means.

After that we played some games and did a craft--a little glue together foam project of Jesus walking on the water and a Scripture. The kids loved that! They spent over an hour working on it. I got to talk to several of the kids during that time and one boy, Andrei, told me about his two little brothers, both of whom live with his grandma. He was so proud of them, and it broke my heart when he said he almost never saw them.

It was a good day...so off to bed now; tomorrow we go to another orphanage and do both a morning and an afternoon program. Please pray the kids will be attentive, especially to God's word!

Yasha was the little charmer who stole my heart. He stayed by my side all day, his little hand slipped inside mine.

Anya, our wonderful translator, is beloved by the kids

They were so happy to see us get off the bus

Unfortunately one of the kids decided to stick their finger in my picture, but yes, this little girl is beautiful. She loved the songs and sang beautifully!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

To My Family

Dear Family,

You are very dear to me! I miss you, think about you so much, and talk about you probably more than is polite! However, my sweet team members are very willing to hear about you and will likely know you quite well by the time this trip is over. They already (rightly) think Mom and Dad are amazing.

Today we spent time in God's Word together, talked over what we will be doing this week, and took some time to get to know each other. What I love most about this group is everyone's great and unique sense of humor, and how they apply that to being flexible and happy-hearted about all that we encounter, whether it is according to plan or not.

After that, we went out for lunch-believe it or not, to Subway. Yup, we ate at the staple small Midwest town restaurant! But that was okay because afterwards we had a great taste of Russia-a drive to the center of St. Petersburg, and 3 whole hours at the world famous museum, the Hermitage.

I thought of each and every one of you today; your different strengths and loves, and the things you would enjoy were you here. Cassandra, I thought of you when our wonderful translator Anya asked me to do her hair today. I tried to do my best in honor of your amazing hair skills!

 Tatiana, Natasha, and Amy: you can bet I took this picture for you! I have more pictures of horses, both in live and statue form to show you when I get home.

Daria, I thought of you when I saw the beauty of St. Petersburg. You have done so much to show me the beauty, the vivacity, drama, and kindness of your people. I'm taking lots of pictures for you!

Alexander, I thought of you when I saw Russians laughing and joking together. I miss your jokes and your humor!

Oksana, I thought of my favorite youngest sister when I saw this little girl happily twirling in the huge square in front of the Hermitage. She looked a lot like you!

Mark, I was reminded of you as I saw many young men today. Many of them were handsome, but I think you're better looking ;) :D and I really appreciate how you watch out for me and are courteous and respectful of women in general.

Joe and Anna, I thought of you when were in the Hermitage. The incredible glory, magnificence, and size of each room reminded me of our adventures in the palaces of Europe when were little.

And of course I thought of you, Jaynie, as we spent over 3 hours getting to see world class art- Monet, Degas, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt. It. was. Incredible. I so wish you could have been there! But I was so glad to get to see it all so that I can tell you about it! Sadly, it was hard to get good pictures.
Rembrandt-the hands of the father hugging the Prodigal Son
And Mom and Dad, I just thought about you pretty much all the time! I am doing great, but that doesn't mean I don't miss you lots; I'm so grateful for the fact that you're my friends as well as my amazing and wise parents. I can't wait to hug you again!

I have lots more pictures, but we head off to the summer camp early tomorrow and I need to get to bed and sleep off my migraine. I'm doing very well, am extremely excited to see the kids, love the people I"m working with, and am very much enjoying the chance to use the little Russian I know. Please pray for me that I can have the time, energy, and diligence to finish the papers I have due this week!


Monday, August 22, 2011

St. Petersburg

After 33 hours of continuous travel, I arrived in St. Petersburg last evening (yesterday morning American time). I'm off to a team meeting, but thank you for the prayers!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 2

          I did it! When the alarm went off at 3 a.m. went off, I thought it must be a joke; I knew I had fallen asleep less than an hour ago! But the dread of missing my 6 a.m. flight rolled me out of bed, and thankfully everything else went without a glitch. The shuttle was on time, check in went smoothly, the flight took off on time, and I even caught a nap before landing in Chicago at 7 a.m.

I have a seven hour layover here, so I sat down and listened to an amazing Timothy Keller sermon on, believe it or not, missions. It was a great way to spend some time on a Sunday.

In a few hours I will meet with one of my other team mates for this trip, and this afternoon, we depart for Frankfurt to meet up with the others. To wrap up, I will post a short video put together by the mission group I am traveling with. Please remember that while this information gives you a sense of the desperation and need, these kids are not just statistics. They are real people like the ones that live in your town and your neighborhood and your home. They have a birthday, a favorite color, pet peeves, and emotions not unlike your own. And like you, they hope for the approval and love of the people around them.

So what can you do about the statistics that represent real people and real needs? Later I'll follow up with 10 practical suggestions from the Christian Alliance for Orphans. Take a deep breath and relax, I'm not necessarily asking you to adopt half a dozen teenagers from Zimbabwe. But please consider: why wouldn't you do something to help the neediest, the ones closest to God's heart, the vulnerable? Why not? 

Russia from Orphan Outreach on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

And I'm Off!

I was delighted to receive my first bouquet about a week and a half ago. It had been ordered with much love by my all-time favorite guy...

My dad!

          These flowers served as a tangible reminder of my parent's love and support as I leave to spend 10 days loving on orphans in St. Petersburg Russia, and even more importantly, getting the opportunity to tell the children I encounter about the Hope of eternal life to be found in Jesus Christ. With nine siblings who used to be in the same situation as the orphans I will be spending time with, I am utterly convinced that the news of that Hope is desperately needed and all too little heard in that country. 

         I am very excited, amazed at God's goodness in allowing this adventure, and slightly nervous. God is so good at giving me opportunities to learn to trust Him better! However, I believe God will prove himself good and faithful no matter what difficulties I encounter, and I look forward to learning much more about Him along the way. 

        My flight leaves verrrrry early tomorrow morning, so enough with words; I'll post a few pictures from my trip today to the exotic city of Minneapolis-and then it's off to bed! Chicago is on the agenda tomorrow, and then an overnight flight to Frankfurt. After some of my family experiencing a 14 hour flight earlier this week, my 8- 1/2 hour flight will seem like a breeze!

This blue bag is affectionately nicknamed "My Precious." Yup, it contains the beloved schoolbooks and papers. I'm hoping praying the promise of internet in Russia turns out to be a dream come true. Another great test of trust here!
The bag on the right (I guess I'm going with a blue bag theme this time!) contains generous gifts from my church family for the two orphanages I and the team will be working with-school supplies, candy, paper products, crafts, and more.

And this is thanks to the indulgent generosity of my parents. The hotel room feels so empty without the happy chaos of my siblings, but it has been a great place to rest and work on school.

I'll put in a plug for this place-it's really, really nice.
This is my friend...until 3 am, that is. I'm not used to rising that early!
Soon after I arrived, a wedding began in the beautiful atrium 7 stories below my room. I confess I watched most of the ceremony! Hope they don't mind. It was hard to get clear pictures, though...I have a lot to learn about photography!

My favorite part was the pastor in the turquoise suit and matching shoes.
The wedding party did a sort of swaying step-dance down the aisle to the music.
As you can see there were other univited spectators besides myself; most were women (surprise) but I saw an older couple watching and hugging each other and looking at each other so lovingly. I thought that was precious!

The ceremony was short and filled with laughs, clapping, a standing ovation, and "AMEN!" from the audience. At the end, the bride and groom literally "Jumped the broom." I found it fascinating and fun to see a culturally different wedding.

As you can see, Mom, I'm practicing with the camera! Hopefully I'll get much better as the week goes on.
 My greatest hope and prayer is that God will get the glory and praise for all I do this week...including how I respond to challenging circumstances. I'll practice that tomorrow morning when I rise at 3 am. ;) I'm not sure whether I'll be able to update this, but stay tuned for more either during or after my trip. Thank you, thank you, thank you  for the prayers! You participate in the spreading of God's praise and in reaching vulnerable and hopeless kids with the love of Jesus with your prayers. Thank you!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Video For My Sister

I almost always start my school morning with this song; probably in part because I'm a creature of habit, but mostly because I just love this song. Cello + Vivaldi + duet = precision, harmony, and beauty. So, I post this song in honor of  my sister "Jaynie" who plays and loves the cello, and who just left yesterday to spend 4 months overseas. I miss you, Jaynie, and I look forward some violin/cello jamming sessions when you get back! :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do Everything-Video

Below is a great new song by Steven Curtis Chapman. I thought of my mom when I heard the first verse, my dad when I heard the second-and then I had to smile a little foolishly as I remembered that everyone who trusts in Christ as their only means for salvation can and should delight in doing everything to the glory of God.

"Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God"
                                                                                                  ~1 Corinthians 10:31

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Reason to Rejoice

Make glad the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all you call upon You. 
Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear your name.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify your name forever.
For your lovingkindness toward me is great,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

                                          ~Psalm 84: 4-5, 10-12

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We Must Sit Down at the Brink

David tells us God's greatness is unsearchable; we can find the bottom of the Grand Canyon,
but we cannot fully probe the depths of the greatness of God
My pastor read these words from Matthew Henry's Commentary today regarding the greatness of God; my favorite part is the vivid word picture at the very end (italicized):

          "Of his greatness and his great works. We must declare, Great is the Lord, his presence infinite, his power irresistible, his brightness insupportable, his majesty awful, his dominion boundless, and his sovereignty incontestable; and therefore there is no dispute, but great is the Lord, and, if great, then greatly to be praised, with all that is within us, to the utmost of our power, and with all the circumstances of solemnity imaginable. His greatness indeed cannot be comprehended, for it is unsearchable; who can conceive or express how great God is? But then it is so much the more to be praised. When we cannot, by searching, find the bottom, we must sit down at the brink, and adore the depth.
                                                              ~Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 145