Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Looking Back - my first year in Ukraine

In my last blog, Looking Back, I was reminiscing about the time of preparing to move to Ukraine.  In this blog, I will be looking back at my first year in Ukraine.

Our family arrived in Krivoy Rog on June 13th.  After leaving America June 1st, we spent some time in Kiev and then in Turkey at a retreat for the other people from our organization in our area.  While there, Denise and I enjoyed a Turkish bath and massage, but the retreat was what we needed after the stressful month of May.  I was very hot and tired, but it was so nice to be welcomed with a surprise supper, including a cake (with lit candles) for dessert.  There were signs in our temporary home welcoming us to Krivoy Rog.  Our friends here were so glad that we come  I felt blessed and loved.  We had finally reached our destination!

Our first big shopping experience was overwhelming!  We had bought a few groceries and supplies several times, but this was our first trip to the "big" store (kind of like Super Walmart with a lot of liquor).  When we were done shopping, I paid cash for our purchases - more than 1,700 grivna,  How could it be that much?  What a shock!  Then I remembered to divide by 8 (because there are about 8 grivna to the dollar) and realized we only spent a little over $200.  No reason to panic.

Living in a Russian speaking culture has been a challenge.  If I do not speak the language, it makes it very difficult to communicate with people.  Sometime in the last year, I learned that Russian is the fourth hardest language in the world.  Now they tell me...

To shop, it really helps to understand at least the numbers in Russian.  You can get by with having them show you the calculator (except for one shop near us that still uses an abacus).  In the little stores near the apartment building, it is necessary to ask for things by name because they are behind the counter or in the back room.  It's like going to the store on Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables.  This means it is very helpful to know the Russian word for what you are looking for (prevents having to point and have the clerk guess).  At first, bringing my English-Russian dictionary to the store with me brought giggles from the clerks, but I always got what I wanted that way.  Even still, it can be challenging when I know the right word, but I pronounce it incorrectly.  Then the clerk looks at me like I was speaking another language - only one that neither of us knows.

To communicate, I have found that much can be said even without words, but with my limited Russian (especially at first) it was always very helpful to have someone around who knew a little English.  The more Russian I have learned, the more I realize that there is left to learn.  I am making progress, though in some situations I do not feel like it.  Some people talk so fast (sounds like me in English) and, if I can, I ask them to slow down.  Sometimes I try to fake it, but usually get caught.  The biggest challenge I find is vocabulary.  I know a lot of words, but people do not stick to my "known" vocabulary list.  They use words I do not know - or a form of a word that I have never heard before - or a word that I have completely forgotten.  It is a continual learning process, but I am keeping at it! 

To build relationships, we have to spend time with people.  One of the easiest ways is to play something and ping pong has become that thing for me.  I am good enough that I do not lose all the time (and bad enough that I do not win all the time either).  It has been a way to connect with several young men, who I have had a lot of fun with.  I even went swimming in the dirty river with a few of them just because I wanted to spend time with them.  Some days I have had to let them know that I do not understand...so many times in one visit that they would laugh at me.  Oh, well.  I'm glad I could make their lives more pleasurable.  :-)  I have also met a few guys on the train who I still keep in touch with.  I am just trying to be friends with whoever God brings into my path.

To share at church, it is important to be able to speak Russian for myself.  So I have worked hard at learning Russian so I can speak there.  I have shared several times in Russian during the last year and try to do so almost every time before I sing a song, but none was as painful as my experience in late July.  We had been here less than two months and I knew precious little about Russian.  Anya helped me get through the things I was trying to share.  Quite honestly, while it was painful (for me and for those listening), it was a good thing because it demonstrated to them that I was trying to learn and it helped to motivate me to learn.  Since then, I've had some ups and downs with my Russian speaking experiences, but it is getting much better.  I am thankful for God's help - as well as Anya's encouragement and help translating what I am trying to say.  Pastor Gregori is ready for me to preach in Russian, and while I'm getting close, I'm not quite there yet.  I am currently working on some short things to share at church sometime soon - call to worship and offering short "sermons."

To minister in the village, it helps to be American.  Most people here like Americans and are very interested in meeting one.  One older lady told a friend of mine who was here last November, "I never thought I'd ever meet an American, let alone touch one."  On my short term trips here, going to the villages has always been a highlight and usually proves to be a unique experience for one reason or another.  Since moving here, I have been to a few villages, but I look forward to doing more ministry there in the future.  As my Russian skills improve, this will help immensely.  At the last village I was at about a month ago, one grandma talked with me a lot.  It dd not bother her that I did not always understand what she was saying.  I think she thought it was pretty neat to be able to talk to an American.  Her granddaughter picked a bouquet of flowers for me (picture) when we walked by the river after the service.  It was a beatiful spring day that day and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent in that village.



To go to an orphange, you just need to be able to love on kids.  I went to a boarding school/orphange one Friday afternoon, while my family was still in America, with Adam and Curtis Nikkel (two brothers from Canada that lead an Orphanage ministry here).  My plan was to visit one time, but God had other plans.  One young man who knew some English asked me several times if I was coming back tomorrow.  I answered "I don't know" because I honestly had not planned on coming back.  When I left, he said "See you soon" and I knew I would have to return.  Being able to speak Russian helps, but most of the boys do not care what language I speak.  One boy taught me to play chess while he spoke as fast as he could in Russian and used a lot of hand gestures.  The hugs that I get from them because they are glad to see me means so much.  Some of the boys love to roughhouse, so it has been fun (and tiring) horsing around with them.  There are several boys that I could take home in a heartbeat.  It is so hard to seem them living there without parents.  Since I cannot take them home, I will do what I can to love on them.  And many of them are willing to correct my language mistakes, which is very helpful.

I enjoy the many aspects of ministry that we are involved with, but going to the orphanage and villages are definitely highlights for me.  Many days I wish I could speak Russian so much better than I can.

This week I am reading from Zechariah.  Today was chapter 4 and I read verse 6, which is familiar to most people in the Assemblies of God.  It says "It is not by force nor by strength, but my my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven's Armies" (NLT). Only the Holy Spirit can help me.  In my weakness, He makes me strong.  In spite of my lack of language skills, God is still able to use me.

As I continued reading, verse 10 really challenged me.  "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin" (NLT).  As I look back on the last year, do I look down on the small things that have happenned, or do I rejoice because they are solid foundation for the future.

My ability (or inability) to speak Russian has a direct impact on just about everything that I do (or want to do) here.  There are very few settings that English will help me at all in our city, so there are plenty of reasons for me to learn the language.  Am I hard on myself when I should be rejoicing in what I do know and in the successes that I do have?  I am the type of person who is harder on myself than anyone else can be, so I tend to look at the flaws rather than the successes.

What I need to do is say "Wow, look how far I have come" instead of "I said 'idiot' instead of 'go' this morning.  This is so hard."  (Yes, I did that.  And I mispronounced their word for Easter.  Thankfully, I am not bothered much by these "public" mistakes.)  Thank God that He is helping me make progress.  Am I looking back at the last year thinking that I have been a failure because of one reason or another?  Or am I thanking God for the work that is beginning, knowing that it will continue to get better as I apply myself.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am where I belong at this time.  Looking forward, I am excited about the years of ministry ahead.  The foundations we build today will reap benefits in the future.  That is why God rejoices to see the work begun, because He knows what lies ahead.

What about you?  Do you look at the few, little things that you may be doing with dismay, wondering when you will get to do something big?  Be faithful in the little things and you will be given more and bigger things to do.  Trust me, it is true!

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