Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Adventist churches in Kherson are hosting an evangelistic series this month. Stefan Jakovitz, an evangelist originally from Croatia and now living in Australia, is finishing up the series this weekend. There have been about 250 attendants every night, but, not knowing all the church members, I haven’t been able to figure out how many visitors are attending. Emily and I meet with people after the meeting who want to practice English or have questions about the program. We’ve met some really great people that we might not have had the chance to otherwise. Last night, Emily and I had an interesting time trying to get to the program. Ruslan had told us before that bus 49 and bus 47 would get us a street away from the auditorium, and we had made it successfully to the meetings every night on our own. Apparently, however, we had only tried out bus 47. Last night, bus 49 was the first to arrive, so we hoped on and rode. And rode, and rode and rode. Eventually, the bus reached the end of its route, all the riders exited, and Emily and I sat confused. The bus driver asked us what we were doing (at least that’s what we think he asked…we can usually only guess at the exact meaning of conversations) and a variety of other questions. In our limited Russian, we conveyed to him the street we were trying to reach, one we knew was not included in the bus route. He laughed, turned out the light displaying the bus number, told us to get back on the bus, drove in the near complete opposite direction we had come from, and dropped us off at the auditorium door! Thank God for nice bus drivers who take pity on ignorant Americans!
Around all the planning, Emily and I have had a bit of time for play in the past 3 weeks. We had the opportunity to see the St. Petersburg Ballet company perform Swan Lake at the Arts Theater here in Kherson. I can’t say the experience quite lived up to my expectations. The dancers were talented, but, to Emily and I’s great disappointment, the music was canned! I also discovered that in Europe, when the audience approves of something, they start clapping, and after a few moments the clapping synchronizes! It’s so creepy!! I felt like I was in the middle of a cult that, at any moment, was going to start chanting and dancing around the room. Even though the ballet was not the experience I was expecting, it was nice to get dressed up and out of house for an evening.
Last week, Emily and I got the chance to go to Moldova with a couple from our church. Before the invitation, I’m not sure I really even knew about Moldova’s existence. So, for those of you who share my geographical ignorance, Moldova is a small, former Soviet Union country that sits on the southwestern side of Ukraine. The country is known for its grapes and wine. It is the poorest country in Eastern Europe. Vulcanesti, the town we stayed in, was a cute little village with HILLS (something we don’t in Kherson) and random livestock roaming the streets. We spent five rainy days with Maia, her husband Sasha, mother, father, brother, Babushka (Russian for “grandma”), a variety of chickens, and two awesome cats, Luti (meaning “fierce”. He kept my feet warm at night.) and Boris. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be fed more than I am here in Kherson…I was wrong. Between potlucks, wedding receptions and demands from Babushka (“cushat, cushat, cushat!!”), I consumed more food than I thought possible to eat in an entire month, none-the-less 5 days! I don’t think Moldova is a place I would choose to visit on my own. It’s not exactly touristy, but it was a very endearing place to spend time with friends. The trip to Moldova was definitely one in which my blonde tendencies were evident. We took the overnight train from Kherson to Odessa (By the way, overnight trains are awesome!!), and then a Marshrutka (The absolute WORST way to travel. Marshrutka’s are a kind of cross between a short bus and a 15 passenger van. Not smooth. Not roomy. Not cool.) to a small town near the Ukrainian border. There, we piled into a car, and headed to the Moldovan border (Where we were greeted by a sign translated into English… “ATTENTION! Vialations of rules shall involve revelant responsibility pursuant to the lows inforce!” Emily and I had fun with that one….) I experienced a slight bit of trouble with border patrol when I realized that, like an idiot, I forgot my immigration papers. Lucky for me, Eastern European border guards are easily bribed, and I crossed over into Moldova $12 poorer.
Emily and I took it upon ourselves, a couple weeks ago, to become a little less intrusive in Ruslan and Tatyana’s apartment. We rearranged the storage room adjacent to our former location, the living room, and moved in! We love having a door without windows and that the Cheban family can now actually live in their living room. The storage room is also smaller than the living room, so hopefully it will be a little warmer in the winter! Weather is now running about 9 degrees Celsius. It’s cloudy, and often raining. I miss the sun!! I am, however, comforted by the fact that all reports from home express similar conditions. If I can’t have good weather, neither can you!! :)
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Emily and I have been continuing our Bible study, which has thankfully improved every week. We seem to have found a system that works, and the people are becoming more and more involved. The conference also purchased English-Russian parallel Bibles, which have helped immensely. We are praying that it will continue to get better and better. We also had a chance to hold an English club this week for Anna, a teacher here in Kherson, and her English classes. We had a great time getting to know them and playing “English games” (Pictionary, bingo, etc.). As with the other university, we are not able to discuss religious topics, but as soon as we have our own English club up and running (in which we can talk about whatever we want) we can invite the students to come to that as well.
Last week, I partook in one of the worst culinary experiences of my life thus far. Emily and I were patiently waiting for lunch; it was almost 3:00 pm and we were starving. Tatyana usually serves a huge lunch, but on this particular day, all that sat on the table was a glass full of white milk/sour cream looking stuff. Apparently “Ryajhanka” is a treat in this household, based on the way the kids were devouring it. I, however, had trouble controlling my gag reflex and wanted to cry at the thought of having to politely drink an entire cup of the buttermilk-like substance. I quickly discovered that when the kids were looking elsewhere, I could dump a couple spoonfuls into their cups, and was able to force down the rest on my own.
Last weekend, Emily and I took an unexpected trip to a Vosnesensk, a little town about 2 and a half hours away from Kherson. The church in Vosnesensk was holding an evangelistic series, and having a religious concert on Friday night. One of the scheduled performers couldn’t make it, and the pastor asked us to fill in. Any chance we get to travel around Ukraine, we take! The concert (also featuring a Ukrainian folk band! So cool!) went really well, and got over at about 8:30; plenty of time (we thought) to make it back to Kherson at a reasonable hour, get some sleep and teach the Sabbath school lesson the next morning. We were sadly mistaken however, and didn’t even end up leaving Vosnesensk until about 11:00. We were planning to stay at the conference office in Nikolaev for the night, but instead found ourselves on a bus to Kherson at about 1 am with a strange man’s head in Emily’s lap (for such occasions that catch us off guard we simply shrug and say “It’s Ukraine”). Needless to say, the next day we could hardly keep our eyes open. God still blessed, however, and we had another good lesson study on Sabbath. Im so thankful that my shortcomings have no effect whatsoever on His ability to reach people!
We have a new family member in the Cheban household. Homer, a skinny little mouse-like hamster, is quite possibly the ugliest rodent I have ever seen. Although I am rather fond of the name (which sounds SO much better in a Russian accent!), I would be happy to be rid of his furry, gray, squirming mouse body. He has already escaped his lidless cage once, and I am terrified of waking up in the middle of the night to his nasty little feet running across my face.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Emily, Ruslan and I took a trip last Thursday to Nikolaev to meet with the conference president and our fellow SMs, Barry and Eli, about what exactly our mission is here in Ukraine. It would have been extremely helpful to have this meeting when we first got here. Unfortunately, four weeks in was the earliest we could make it happen. The president, Andre, is a very friendly man who is as anxious to get things off the ground as we are. Everyone at the conference office is very willing to get us everything we need to start our programs. So, now, in order to start our English classes and club, we need to find a place to meet that fits within the church’s budget. Emily and I have been making plans all week for these programs, so as soon as a place is found we will be ready! We will be teaching two English classes, one beginner and one intermediate, both of which will meet three times a week until the middle of December. Then in January, we will start a new set of classes. The English club will meet once a week; so when all of these are up and running, along with the English Bible study and another English club we will be hosting, we will have something to do every evening! Yay!
Every week I learn something new about the water schedule. Lesson from this week: just because the water is supposed to be on from 11:30 to 2:00, doesn’t mean it actually will be. I learned this one the hard way when I had to dump freezing cold water on my head to wash out the shampoo after the water spontaneously quit at exactly 12:03. Not cool. Also not cool was my premature excitement about the disappearing watermelon on our balcony. Little did I know that when we ran out, Ruslan would promptly go by 12 more. Haha!
On Wednesday, Emily and I got to spend some time in the English department of a university here in Kherson. We had a discussion with one of the classes about American culture. The students were very curious and Emily and I had a good time discussing everything from pets to why Michael Jackson isn’t the first name that pops into our minds when we think about the American dream. It was interesting for us to hear their ideas about American culture. We are going back next week, and even though we aren’t allowed to openly talk about religion, I am praying that this will still be an opportunity to witness.
I have spent a lot of time this week bonding with my Ukrainian sisters. It turns out, “girl” is a universal language and Lena and Ira speak it very well! Emily and I love taking pictures with them and fixing their hair and playing games (that require little to no Russian, of course). It is going to be a lot harder to leave them than I initially thought! As I was sitting here, writing this blog, Emily and I heard a knock on the door, outside of which we could hear Ira frantically asking Tatyana “Shto?”, meaning “what?” and Tatyana repeating back an English phrase. The door swung open, and there were Lena and Ira, holding plates of grapes and little cookies. Ira said, “This for you” as cookies were falling off the plate to the floor. She quickly bent over to pick them up which caused nearly all the cookies to fall on the ground. Once the all the cookies were back on the plate, a now very stressed Ira plopped them on the table. Emily and I both ate one quickly to set her mind at ease, and now we are all in our room having a little party! :) They are so cute!
Last Sunday, Emily and I started our English Bible study. We are going to be spending a couple of months going through the story of Joseph. We were expecting that all the people who came to the Bible study would already know English. About half the people, however, didn’t know a single word of English, which made our plan to not use a translator impossible. There was a lot of confusion (and a very scary, argumentative woman sitting next to me) and Emily and I felt extremely discouraged and overwhelmed. I guess the first run of everything is a little rough, but we are praying that the second time around will run much smoother. Now that we know more what to expect, I think it will. On the upside, one man who attended had never even set foot inside of a church before, and he is planning on coming back next Sunday. It’s amazing to me that God can work through a bible study that I perceived to be a near disaster!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
On Tuesday, after another day spent in the apartment (with the exception of our seemingly daily trips to the supermarket…), Emily and I decided to call Dima to get the english sabbath school lesson. He lives right across the field from us, about a ten minute walk, and we were looking forward to getting outside. Much to our dismay, however, Dima told us he would come over with the lesson. So we sat. Again. And waited for something to do. When Dima finally got to our apartment, he set the lesson and the table, told us to get our shoes on, and hurried us out the door. We had no idea where we were going or what we were doing, but we were thankful for any opportunity at all to get out the house!! We eventually pulled up to the river that runs along the outskirts of our town where there was a sailboat waiting to take us for a ride! The Dnepr has many small canals that break off from the main river, and we spent a good three hours taking it all in. It was just the pick-me-up that Emily and I needed.
We had an encouraging experience last week with a man named Michael, his wife Marina, and their son Daniel. They attend one of the Adventist churches in Kherson, heard we were in town and were anxious to meet us. All three speak English very well, and Emily and I had a good time talking with them, getting to know them better and telling them about our plans. Three weeks with almost no progress in the way of our jobs here was enough time to make us extremely discouraged; but when Michael shared with us that they have been praying for someone from the US to come here, so that they could practice their English and study the Bible, we were more than encouraged. We look at it as God’s way of showing us that our being here is not an accident. They have also been extremely helpful in getting plans off the ground. They are helping us find a place to hold our meetings, and are helping to make sure that we have everything else we need to get started. We are extremely grateful for their friendship and assistance.
On Thursday, Emily and I decided to cook “American Food” for our Ukrainian family. If you ask anyone what they considered to be American Food, they will undoubtedly say fast food, and our family often asks us if we eat at McDonalds in America. So, Emily and I decided to show them otherwise. We did, however have a hard time deciphering for ourselves what “American food” actually is; and even after we made a list of things to make, our menu changed once we went to the market and realized that a lot of the ingredients weren’t available. We finally settled on pancakes for breakfast, burritos for lunch (which I guess are not actually an American dish, but were well received all the same), and apple pie in the evening (we never eat a full meal for supper; usually only tea with some bread or something). Ruslan, Tatyana and the kids loved it all. Ruslan said to us, “Maybe we should do this every Thursday!” to which we quickly agreed! He also told us that it was the first day in the 9 years that he and Tatyana have been married that she hasn’t had to cook. Emily and I felt good about being able to give her a break. She spends so much time cooking that she has almost no time to get anything else done.!
On Sabbath, Emily and I taught the English Sabbath School lesson, and it went better than we had hoped. It was the first time we were teaching the lesson by ourselves and we were a little nervous. We had about nine people in our group, two of whom are not part of the Adventist church. After we finished, both people expressed to us that they enjoyed the discussion and are wanting to return! We are praying, and looking forward to see if they come back this week.
Sabbath also provided Emily and I with a good laugh, and although it is at my expense, I will share it with you. Every Saturday evening, we attend another service at the one of the other churches in Kherson. This Sabbath, however, we attended a baptism Sabbath afternoon and were quite late to the service. Emily decided to go to the restroom, and I, realizing that the water would be off at the apartment when we returned, followed. In most places outside of homes, squat pots are used, and the church is no exception. This particular one had several stalls that were more like little rooms, and each one was completely sealed off from the main part of the restroom. I chose the first available stall, and promptly swung the door shut. Not until after it was closed did I realize that the door did not have a handle, but, seeing a lock underneath where the handle should have been, I assumed that when I unlocked the door, it would swing open. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. After several hard shoves against the unlocked door, I realized that a handle was, in fact, necessary for my exit. I heard Emily washing her hands on the other side of the door, so before she could escape I said, “Umm….Emily?” which prompted her near immediate laughter at my predicament. After a moment of panic, followed by the revelation that Emily would not allow anyone to make me stay in the stall all night, i started to laugh as well. It seems that I am the only person on earth who puts myself “blonde moment” situations on a regular basis! After trying to substitute all of the random articles in my purse for a handle, I realized that there wasn’t much I could from the inside, and I would just have to wait. I could hear Emily on the other side of the door telling random onlookers (who were also laughing) different phrases in Russian: “My Friend!” and “Help!” After about 10-15 minutes (maybe it was shorter, but it seemed like HOURS to me!) Emily was finally able to rig up a tool from bobby pins and a hair band that prompted the latch to open, and I was free! Oh, what would I do without her?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Emily and I took several walks around the town this week. Our host family is, seemingly, more satisfied with our navigational skills, and we enjoy exploring our little town. This week we discovered “Oskar”; a mini mall of sorts that contains a grocery store (with an entire aisle dedicated to chocolate J), a few clothing stores, shoe stores (which I was more than excited about!), and a bowling alley. We have become fairly good at finding ways to amuse ourselves. Emily stumbled across an accordion in our room this week. We are both very excited to learn how to play it! I also learned the Russian alphabet this week. Anytime Emily and I walk down the street I read all of the street signs and billboards to her. I don’t know what most of the words mean, but I can pronounce them! I am beginning to understand the general idea of some conversations I hear (hand gestures and body language are VERY helpful) and I know how to tell people what my name is and to ask “what is this?”
We spent this Sabbath with Dima and his parents. They are such a sweet family. They have no other children, and therefore Natalia (Dima’s mother) has adopted us as her daughters for the year. She told us that Dima never talks to her, so we must tell her everything that is going on! Emily and I also informed Dima, much to Natalia’s pleasure and his amusement, that we have made it our job to find him a wife before the year is up!
Things I am still getting used to…the water schedule. In our apartment complex, the water is only on at certain times, and I am still trying to remember when to fill up water bottles or take a shower! I’m also still getting used to the food. Although I haven’t disliked any of the food yet (except the pollen we tried the other night. I would equate its taste with something like fish food), I’m trying to become accustomed to eating the same foods over and over. When Tatyana makes borsch (or anything else), we eat it for the next 5 meals, or until it’s gone; and that includes breakfast! There isn’t any distinction between the food we eat for breakfast and the food we eat for lunch and supper. Emily and I have also eaten hordes of tomatoes and watermelon, our respective food enemies, both of which Southern Ukraine is famous for and are in season at the moment. Tatyana is an excellent cook, however, and feeds us so often that we don’t even have a chance to be hungry!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
After being in Ukraine for a week, I have decided it is probably time to update you all on my adventures!
I arrived in Kiev, Ukraine on Tuesday, August 25 after near 18 hours of airport/airplane hopping. Barry, Eli and I flew into together, met with our driver, and drove to the Seventh Day Adventist Conference office in Kiev, where we waited for another 12 hours for Emily’s flight to arrive. I was very relieved when she got here, and we were told that we would be staying together. On Wednesday evening, Emily and I arrived at our final destination, a little town about an hour away from Nikolaev called Kherson.
We are staying with the pastor, Ruslan, his wife, Tatyana, and their three children, Stas, Ira, and Lena. After only a week, I am coming to love them all and think of them as family. Ruslan speaks fairly good English, and Ira (pronounced Eera) says “good morning” to me every morning before breakfast. The kids are very willing to help us with our Russian, for which I am grateful. Learning the language is a slow process, but I can already pick out a few words and phrases.
The first week here, Emily and I didn’t have a lot to do. I think Ruslan and Dima (the youth pastor) wanted to give us a chance to get settled in, but we wanted to be busy! The excessive amount of dead time gave me a lot of opportunities to be homesick. The first couple of days, I was in a near-constant state of homesickness. I was stuck in the apartment all day, with nothing to do except think about home and sleep. Finally, Emily and I decided to ask if we could do a little exploring. Our host family was very hesitant to let us go alone. The streets are safe during the day, but if we got lost, we wouldn’t even know how to ask for help. So, Dima took us on our fist tour of Kherson. It is a beautiful town, but I think more than anything, we were just glad to get out of the apartment! We found the supermarket, and place to exchange currencies. The town has everything we need; now we just need to figure out how to get to places that are not within walking distance! Buses run all through the town, but we are still learning which ones go where…
On Sabbath, we experienced our first Ukrainian church service. Thankfully, we had a translator, Olga, who also told us of some opportunities we might have to hang out at the orphanage, or to even teach English at a university nearby. We will have to see first how much time we’ll be spending teaching English for the church, but I am really hoping to at least be able to spend some time in the orphanage! The church service (other than being in Ukrainian) wasn’t much different than a church service in the States. They did, however, have a lot of music, which I was thrilled about! Emily and I will be doing a special music next week for the service. We also attended a service in the evening at another church, where we met Anna, another translator. She is 21, and very very bubbly and friendly. We are looking forward to spending more time with her, learning Russian and hopefully doing a little touring in Kiev and Odessa. I think I will become very good friends with her while I’m here.
Yesterday (Monday August 31), Emily and I went with our family to the black sea! We are about an hour and a half away, and Stas wanted to go to celebrate the last day of summer. He started 2nd grade today! We had a great time at the beach. It was a very different experience from those I’ve had in the past. I could look at the sea on my left, and then as soon as the sand stopped on my right, there was a huge sunflower field. There were no buildings anywhere! It was very nice and secluded. We saw a ton of dolphins and a sea horse! I’ve never seen a sea horse in the wild, so I was very excited!! I hope we can make another trip there sometime before I leave!
As for what we will be doing here these 9 months…we know we will be teaching an English Sabbath school, and that we will be teaching other English classes during the week. We won’t know how often the classes will be until Dima and Ruslan find out more about the interest level (which they presume will be high). I am excited to start doing something!!! It still feels weird, knowing that I won’t be going to school this year. I don’t remember a time when a majority of my time has been spent doing something other than furthering myself…whether it was school or work, my life has pretty much been all about me. So I am very excited to spend time focusing on others for a while. Thank you all for your prayers and support! I will keep you posted!