The second half of my time here in Ukraine has been flying by! Now that I have only a little more than two months left here, I’m starting to think of all the things I want to do but probably won’t have time for! It is apparent that I am running out of time for things like, a trip to the Crimea (and other assorted places), visiting the Nikolaev zoo, and semi-Russian fluency. As anxious as I am to get home, the reality of leaving here permanently is setting in. 9 months was(is) long enough for me too sorely miss my family and friends, but also to fall in love with my new ones. May 24 will be a bittersweet day, indeed.
In the middle of February, Emily and I finished our first set of classes. I enjoyed teaching English 2, but I was definitely ready for something new! We took a week to regroup, and then at the end of February, we started our new courses. Emily is teaching the advanced class and I’m teaching the beginners!! I was a little nervous about teaching a class full of people who know hardly any English at all. How do you teach a group of Russian speakers when you, yourself, don’t know Russian?! In the end, I decided to reorganize the class a bit. Instead of teaching a beginner grammar class, I am now teaching Conversational English, and loving every minute of it!! I find this class to be much more rewarding as far as the students’ progress is concerned. It is so exciting to hear them using the phrases and words we have learned in class. One thing I do miss about my English 2 class is the relationships I was able to form with my students. It is much more difficult to get to know people when the only things you know how to say to each other (thus far) are “Hello! How are you?”, “How was the weather today?”, and “What is your favorite color?” It has been a challenge for me, but one I am enjoying. My Russian is improving fairly rapidly (although I am nowhere NEAR fluency). I usually have one of Emily’s advanced students come in to translate for about 10 minutes each class in case my students have questions, but for the most part, I am doing it on my own….with the help of my Russian dictionary. Instead of teaching three formal classes a week, Emily and I are only doing two, and on Wednesdays, we have a free-for-all meeting of sorts. It is a chance for our students to come and practice with each other, ask us questions about anything and everything, and just to get to know each other better. I wasn’t really sure if people would come to a more informal class, but it has been really effective so far. It has also been an opportunity for Emily and I to discuss with them topics such as health and morals. Our students have been very receptive and interested, and we are grateful for a more discussion-type meeting to talk with them.
After the longest, coldest winter that Southern Ukraine has experienced in 15 years, it is FINALLY starting to warm up!! The snow has melted, the sun makes an occasional appearance, and some of our winter clothes are being stored away. Everything is starting to look/feel/smell like it did back in October, and being outside isn’t a miserable experience anymore! I never thought I would say this, but I am definitely looking forward to a long, hot, even humid summer in Tennessee :)
Several weeks ago, we celebrated Women’s Day here in Ukraine. Why this holiday has been restricted to mothers only in the United States, I’m not quite sure. But since I have now lived somewhere where it is observed, I will be celebrating Women’s Day for the rest of time! On March 8, all schools and most business close down in honor of the population’s finest. Flowers, balloons, and candy are bought; Cakes, bisquits and sweets are baked; and women are given well deserved rest and recognition for the day. Emily and I were surprised at English Club the night before with our own flowers, chocolate, and lotions. The next morning we were both greeted by Stas, Ira and Lena with a cheerful “Happy Woman Day!” accompanied by a glass mug with each of their names and faces painted on in pink fingernail polish. I can’t help but smile every time I use it :)
At the beginning of March, I took a weekend vacation over to Nikolaev. Thanks to the snow/ice damaged roads, the hour mashrutka ride was nearly twice as long, but other than that, the getaway was very relaxing and much needed. I stayed at the conference office and had many entertaining (only partially understood) conversations with the watchman (who insisted on stuffing me full of borscht and bread), made a trip down to McDonalds for the free wifi and French Fries, explored downtown a bit, and just had some enjoyable time to myself.
Our Bible Study and English Club are continuing as normal. More and more people are attending English Club, which has been a huge blessing. One of the biggest struggles we face with our programs is that we have a hard time getting church members to attend. Once we are gone, we want the people from the community that we have connected with to have contacts within the church, but it is hard to make those contacts when church members rarely participate in the programs. We are still praying that the connections will somehow be made so that after we leave, our new friends will still have an avenue in which to see Christ.
I have started meeting with the mother of one of my English 2 students. Her name is Irina, and she teaches English to elementary schoolers. She called me a few weeks ago, wanting to talk about some more advanced grammar concepts and to study the Bible in English. After meeting with her, I discovered that she has a very interesting religious history. In her teens, after being brought up a semi-practicing Catholic, she became an atheist. Soon after she started studying at a university, she starting attending services at a Jewish synagogue, and soon moved her two small children and husband to a new city in order to stay close to the synagogue. Her husband didn’t approve of her religious affiliation, and soon left her (pregnant with a third child) to raise the kids on her own. Long story short, Irina found herself, new boyfriend in tow, disregarding many of the Jewish customs and laws, and soon found herself attending a Baptist church near her home. So, another atheist husband and two children later, she still attends this Baptist church, and is searching for the truth about religion and Christ! I have had the opportunity already to discuss with her laws about the Sabbath, laws about unclean meats, and some of the difference between Judaism and Adventism. She is extremely hesitant to study the Old Testament because of her Jewish past, so talking with her was very interesting. I am more than excited to keep meeting with her, and am so thankful that God has given me this opportunity to witness for Him! We are going to meet every Friday to study the Bible together. Please pray that she will continue to be interested in learning more about God and that I can be an effective witness to her!