Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
In his sermon on “The Sum of the Christian Life” preached in Wörlitz on November 24, 1532, Luther declared (Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1959) 51.282–283).
If we are ever to stand before God with a right and uncolored faith, we must come to the point where we learn clearly to distinguish between ourselves, our life, and Christ the mercy seat…
The man who can do this will be the justified man. All the others operate with a feigned faith. They talk a lot about faith but they mix things together, as a barkeeper mixes water and wine, by saying if you live in such and such a way God will be gracious to you, and they turn the mercy seat into a judgment seat and the judgment seat into a mercy seat…Therefore, keep these two widely separated from each other, as widely as ever you can, so that neither can approach the other.
See, if that is the way faith were preached, men would be justified and all the rest; a pure heart and good conscience through genuine, perfect love, would follow. For the man who through faith is sure in his heart that he has a gracious God, who is not angry with him, though he deserves wrath, that man goes out and does everything joyfully. Moreover, he can live this way before men also, loving and doing good to all, even though they are not worthy of love…
This is the highest security, the head and foundation of our salvation.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Monday, February 21, 2005
Friday, 18 February 2005
This morning I administered the final exam, and an hour later we had a party for the end of the class. The students were very gracious and kind in their comments regarding the class. I have this deep appreciation for several of the older men who are students – we are like one another in our values. Afterwards we headed to the Myer’s new place in the village Roshenka, east of Kyiv. They have an acre of land and a very nice dacha, or country house. On the way out, we drove past the tall fir trees, which must be old forest – they’re very tall. We make a few left and right turns, and go twisting through the homes until we reach the end of the lane. Jim and Phyllis have about 9/10 of an acre with several fruit and nut trees, a barn and outbuildings, and even though it is winter it is plain that this will be a beautiful place. We have dinner and then sit by the fireplace and converse for a pleasant couple of hours, including ministries near and far, friends and events that have taken place.
In the evening we returned to enjoy a final couple of hours with Nina and Oksana. We debriefed about our stay, and laughed about some of the events we had experienced, then said our goodbyes. I took a slow walk home by the usual route, under the metro/highway overpass, past the post office and through the high-rise apartment complex to Jim Dumas’ place, to shower and pack for the early morning pickup from Sasha. I am grateful to the Lord for the experience here and for His grace in ministry.
Thursday, 17 February 2005
Quicker entry this evening. We had class in the morning, afternoon with friends, and evening at the opera house. I told Jim Myers that I had trudged through snow and slush and rain, a mile each way, missed the Super Bowl, etc. etc. but the worst of all was having to suffer through three hours of Ballet. Kidding. It was beautiful and well done, and the dancers were really good at dancing, and the folks who played the musical instruments seemed exceedingly skillful and all that. It was an enjoyable evening of culture.
Wednesday, 16 February 2005
Class goes per usual today – good and lively discussion. After class I spent a few minutes with Nina, the Greek teacher here. She is standing in the gap while the school is without a full time Greek teacher, but has only two years of formal education in the language, while she herself is teaching the first and second year students. I am hoping to help upgrade what she knows so that she can raise the bar for her students. After this we do a bit more shopping with Alene and Oksana, and have late lunch at a Ukrainian restaurant. We have Greek and Caesar salads – so no local flavor this time.
Tonight’s Bible class goes well. It is very difficult preach in this mode, because you are communicating one thought chunk at a time – you can never quite get up a head of steam or string together a logical train with too much effectiveness. But there are times when it is possible to communicate with both content and style, and it is great when the translator picks it up as well. Margaret is an excellent translator who thinks on her feet in a marvelous manner. I am a professional translator of ancient literature (I know, that’s a really glorified picture of a pastor), so I have a great appreciation for the difficulties of translation. Margaret seems barely to think about it before she puts it into Russian. She gets my humor, and manages to make people laugh in the same way. There are unexpected times in translation: sometimes you give a paragraph and your translator gives half a line, while others the opposite, and you think, “What in the world is she saying?”
After class I have some interesting conversations. One man comes up who was part of the English class which immediately precedes the Bible class had a statement and a question. He said he was a former member of the USSR Spesnatz Commandos, and while he was serving, he said, he killed 28 terrorists by his own hand. He was intensely concerned about whether this was murder, and what God might think of Him. Two part explanation: no, it is not murder when you’re defending life and freedom, and yes, Christ’s sacrifice is for all sins. He then goes on to proudly say that he has met Bill Clinton. I don’t have the heart to tell him my opinion of that president. Another person comes up and tells me that when she came last week and heard I would be speaking on the human problem of anger, she had decided that anger wasn’t her problem, and it wasn’t necessary for her to attend… then this week she had some issue happen and was angry, angry, angry. So she was glad to be there as well. I am very tired tonight – perhaps all the teaching is finally catching up with me.
Tuesday, 15 February 2005
This morning’s theology class finished the topic of God’s love. We steer off topic to favorite subjects often, and every time the class spills over for 15-30 minutes as I answer questions. This is a good sign of eager students. We talk about the charismatic movement, and help to equip Alla, my one female student, to communicate truth to charismatics (she attended a charismatic church for four years).
After class we have an amusing time, as we go shopping for our families to an outdoor market. This market cascades a quarter mile or so down a narrow, cobblestone street. Which is not amusing, but it is very raining day, on top of yesterday’s snow, so now it is a sheet of ice. We all survive the cascade, and buy some nice Ukrainian things for back home, mementos and gifts for our families. I am in a bubble over here. The bubble effect I remember from Marine Corps and Army training periods where there is little contact with the outside world. Life goes on out there in the
In the evening we head to the cancer hospital for children. More Jane Eyre conditions, like the detention center. Here there are parents and their children, the kids having various kinds of cancer, missing legs or have massive growths on their heads, many bald both boys and girls, and some still self-conscious about it. The parents have the creases of worry as any would with a dying child, but perhaps some additional dimensions than what we see in the states. The hospitals here don’t provide meals or medications, so those must be brought and bought for extra. Although healthcare isn’t as much in the states, many live on less than a few hundred per month
Before our team speaks, a Greek Orthodox priest is here to chant a celebration for Saint Simeon’s day.
Monday, 14 February 2005
It is Valentine’s Day in
After class it is more tourism with Nina and Oksana and Alene. Today we visit beautiful churches. Gold-domed, icon-filled, with frescoes galore, and no truth or real worship. There are wall paintings of heaven and hell, scenes from gospels and the Old Testament, really just about the whole Bible is on their walls, so that they can meditate on them (when these paintings were made, most of the common folk were illiterate, so it makes sense). This is an operational church, so individuals genuflect and cross themselves as they enter, then stand before paintings or statuary and pray or meditate, hoping to gain favor from what is for them an idol (at least in the great majority of cases). We walk around the city, seeing various parks and at one point an overlook of the river. On the way back toward the metro we walk past three young women who are making an ice sculpture of a bride, so we laud their work and take pictures. They are grateful for the approbation. We continue on past the football stadium and the Ukrainian Parliament, then back to the left bank via the rush hour metro.
The eye hospital is closed because of the flu. Our second engagement for the day is to have tea with Vitaliy and Alla, a couple from church. Alla works in the school office; she is 25 and he 20, and they are a delightful couple. Vitaliy is exceedingly proud of his wife (and he should be), he shows us the pictures from their courtship and wedding day. Their hospitality is wonderful; they put out a truly awesome spread of food, and shower us with kindness, and it is all very touching. True wealth is in the heart, and this young couple demonstrates that very well. They don’t make much money, they don’t have much. We are squeezed into the space of their apartment in a way that would be uncomfortable with folks from
Sunday, 13 February 2005
This morning it is snowing. This is getting kind of funny, but my host Jim Dumas keeps saying, this is the worst weather since I’ve been coming to
The Sunday evening Bible study is packed into the tiny classroom like sardines, maybe 25-30 souls overflowing into the hallway. Oksana translates while I teach some biblical passages on wealth. No pulpit, decrepit chairs, and just us and the Spirit. Now this is the best teaching experience here yet; everyone seems locked on, and besides the back row about 11 feet away. Toward the last third of the message I get to the passage in Philippians 2 where every knee will bow, and I have to brace myself from losing it. I will share that moment of the rapture with these people here in this room, their voices confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord in their native Russian and Ukrainian. I long for that day all the more now. It is ironic to teach wealth, being an American in
After Bible study the younger people stay in the office a couple of hours, playing word and party games, laughing uproariously all together. Jim and I sit in the library, the room next door, and get caught up on friends and tell stories of ministry and trials from years gone by. The clock ticks by and suddenly it is ten PM and another day has passed, and I feel as rich as ever. It has been one week since we left
Saturday, 12 February 2005
We held class early today so that some could get away to whatever they needed to do. It was another good class; I have a long list of ways to say, “Ukrainians are just like anywhere else,” and in this case there is similarity in the theological issues discussed. They already have a great frame of reference coming in, and so it is great to add something to a good foundation. There are also typical class dynamics, who is quiet and who leads. The discussion is lively at all times.
In the afternoon we go to the detention center which is north of downtown, along the
When we returned to the office, I got to call home and listen to the voices of my wife and children. First the first time since getting off the plane, I feel a tinge of homesickness. The conversation is very brief but enough to get me tanked up for the rest of the week.
The church youth group was having their Valentine’s Day party at the office. They played fun party games mostly like any you might see in a church youth group anywhere. But here’s something a bit different. They put a pile of snow on a plate, and they had a race to see which team could melt it all just by using their hands. Not for the faint of heart or cold of hands. Afterward, everyone in the group went over to the gymnasium on the top floor of the local Jewish school (the same building where they have church) to play soccer. The game was played on a small basketball court, three on three, with rotating teams. Although I left after a time, they typically play for hours. None of the girls play; they sit on the sidelines and chat the whole time, entirely satisfied with what they’re doing. They seem very traditional in that way.
Back at the apartment Jim Dumas regaled me with his pictures from his
This church is humming with teaching and ministry, and especially outreach to some hardcore areas. They are not afraid to go anywhere or get their hands dirty in any way in order to give the gospel or promote the Christian way of life. I am not quite sure what is so appealing about being here – perhaps a combination of newness, seeing the vitality of ministry, and enjoying the people – but it is very appealing in a deep way. The faith of Ukrainians seems to be a simple faith. They have been inundated with Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and every kind of works-oriented Protestantism, not to mention their own native orthodox religion. Yet the believers I meet here have a strong identification with the faith described in the Bible, and they contend strongly for it. I have not seen the other side, the cults and the non-Christian protestants. Perhaps I would be much less fond of Ukrainians then!
Friday, 11 February 2005
There is more lively discussion on the Calvinism debate during class today, and we have to refocus on the material. We are now discussing the three omni-s and how they relate to one another. Everyone seems on the ball and they stay focused on application.
After class Jim and Phyllis show up for a tour to the
Conversation with Jim Myers is excellent; he tells many stories of life in Kiev, regarding the history of his missionary work here, a biography of each of the students, adventures with the quirky people of Kiev and especially the thugs on the bus system (not street thugs but the guys who actually run it), and his experience of being the only protestant to teach at the Lavra Monastery in its thousand year history. He gave the grace gospel, and hasn’t been invited back.
We have the experience of riding the metro (light rail) back during rush hour, and we are packed into the train like sardines. You cannot possibly fall over from the crush of people, and I think that Alene and Phyllis don’t have their feet on the ground for a while. We get back to the office and I send my daily email to my family before we separate for the evening. A few hours of pleasant conversation with Jim Dumas, and now it’s time for bed.
Thursday, 10 February 2005
This morning dawns bright and clear, not quite
The caves are filled with the coffins of saints, and there is a very serious message – live right or die a terrible death and be tortured by demons. There are a number of stories related about saints – how they lived and died, what miracles attended their lives – but nothing that any child would believe after Santa Claus has been debunked. I notice one woman is praying over the coffin of one, something that is encouraged there, so that the saint might intervene; she comes away with tear-stained cheeks, and it makes me sad too. You have to buy a taper, a candle in order to enter in; they do the whole thing by candlelight. Immediately Alene and I think, this would never happen in the states – lawsuits galore. Mid-tour, Oksana leans in to translate something to Alene, and she catches the fringe of her hood on fire; Alene puts her out with quick thinking, and we spend the rest of the tour laughing and making jokes about how Oksana’s face was aglow during the excursion. Afterwards we have coffee and baklava at a cafeteria and head home. We have more coffee at Jim Dumas’ place, and Nina and Oksana tell us how they came to know the church and the Bible school. Nina is a former Greek Orthodox person, so she has many reflections on their curious ways.
I am told that I look sort of like a Ukrainian, but everyone knows that I’m an American because I am so pleasant, always smiling and laughing. The point is, everyone is so darn grim here. No smiling or laughing aloud. There is no Russian word for fun!
Wednesday, 9 February 2005
I woke up at four this morning, so I’m gaining ground on the jet lag. Dobre Utra! Good morning! I read for a while, then prayed at 6 AM to share the same time as family says good night prayers in
People here have a different comfort zone for physical contact. It’s bumper cars out there. Maybe it’s the cold and all the heavy clothing, but I have folks running into me all the time. Lots of dogs. No rules about dogs and leashes, many roam the street and many others on leashes being walked by a variety of people. Big dogs are in fashion in
Tonight I teach a Bible class on Anger, but at the last moment I remember that there will be some in attendance who have been invited from the English as a 2nd language class just before, so the gospel is an imperative. I start out with the anger of God toward sinners and move toward the love of God in Christ, and I make the good news clear from several different angles. They love citing memory verses together, and I get to hear John 3:16 and 1 John 1:9 in Russian. I think of the Christmas my children recited John 3:16 in Greek from memory and it hits me in about the same way. Great response: they laugh at my jokes and cry at the touching parts, so I know Margaret my translator is on the ball. At the end I invite the audience to sing (it seems like about 75 or so there) so that I can hear a hymn in Russian. They are thrown off because they usually don’t sing on Wednesday nights, but then whatever they sing is beautiful, a tune I have never heard, in a language I don’t understand, and tears are streaming down my face – they are praising God and I think of “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” in a whole new light. I would have been blubbering out loud if there had been a second verse. I have barely seen Jim and Phyllis, because there is so much else to do and so much time I want to invest in the students and church members.
What are the Ukrainian people like? They are stolid, responsible, industrious, and serious. They trudge to work and back like the automatons of the American inner cities, caught up in the devil’s world just exactly like everywhere else. Many of the older folk remember the Soviet days very well; you see it in their demeanor, and their bearing; there is a certain dignity and pride in the way they look, but also some hard to define sadness. They’ve seen it all, and even after fifteen years of freedom they haven’t adapted. The new generation imitates young people everywhere in joy and fervor and belief in the future. They have civic pride and I think for many pride in their nation. There are beautiful women in full length furs and balaclavas, the new upper class or upper class wannabes. Young men in various professions trying out the affections of the Ukrainian GQ or the latest public servant chic. There are soldiers once in a while but I have no idea whether they are police or fire or Army, but I have a feeling they aren’t dogcatchers. None of those around here. As I walked home this afternoon, three drunk men stumble laughing down the street toward me, sobering for a moment as they pass then resuming as though I was a symbol of disdain they wanted to avoid. I had no idea I could invoke that in anyone else but my children.
My late night snack is sunflower seeds and Zhubchuk, a Ukrainian lemon soft drink. Not too bad! The label is promoting Knights of the Kingdom from Lego, the toys for the whole universe apparently..
Tuesday, 8 February, 2005
I woke up at 2 AM this morning, my body sounding the trumpet as though this was just right. No use to try and sleep, but I kept my eyes closed another few hours. It is cold in this apartment – not intolerably so, but certainly enough to notice it most of the time. There is always a cold spot trying to reach under the blankets. Tomorrow I will sleep with an extra layer of clothing. Finally at six I get out of bed and pray at exactly the time my family is saying their goodnight prayers back home. I now have a breakthrough as to why Europeans don’t bathe: it’s really cold in their apartments. Getting out of the shower and getting dry is invigorating like a mountain lake. I am sure it is not to everyone’s taste.
Jim Dumas takes me over to the school. It is freezing: long underwear, a sweater, a sport jacket, and my parka are just enough to keep the cold out. Traffic here is a miracle of confusion. There are no lines in the road, yellow white or whatever, and freestyle is an art form. The people in cars ignore other cars and pedestrians, and pedestrians likewise; the traffic lights are vague suggestions. No one has been killed yet though. Five minutes later we are there, in the same building where Alene is staying.
This building reminds me of the upstairs chapel at Bethel Baptist before we cleaned it up. No, it’s clean, just decrepit. Through a dungeon door and up three flights of stairs to their tiny space. I am concluding that Kyiv is the Russian word for freezing. It is cold inside the school, just not as bad.. Suddenly I feel like a whiner about our building situation. It’s one of those perspective moments. I sit through Nina’s first year Greek class, catching the occasional sigma – omega –beta, etc. Hearing linguistic jargon is too much is Russian, you need two translators, I think.
Then my class starts with my translator Margaret. She is making it easy right from the start. Our first agreement is that the opening prayer will be in Russian and closing in English. One of the students prays, and off we go. Working with a translator functions in several ways – regarding the powerpoint slides, the lecture, the questions and answers. Margaret is worth a ton in gold. My students are two Victors, two Sashas, Antonin and his fiance’
After class Jim Dumas takes me shopping, and here is where I begin to observe the culture in earnest. First we exchange money, so I get my first $100 in Ukrainian currency, the grivens. Off we go to the open air bazaar, a sort of mini-market with vegetables meats and cheeses. As we cross the street there are these guys selling hardware right on the street, toilet plungers and the like, hawking their wares. MacGuffins of
From there we go to the supermarket so that we can buy Coke Light (diet) and a few other necessities. Jim Dumas knows his way around, and it is packed on noon today. Again there are strange products and familiar ones with strange lettering. Out we go, and we go home for late lunch. After conversation and a nap I am caught up for the day. Very fun day!
6-7 February, 2005
Alene and I met at the airport ticket counter and headed down to our gate. DIA is deserted, perhaps because it is Super Bowl Sunday, or just because it is an off time to fly. Our flight to
Here there are Ukrainians, among others, waiting for the flight. A businessman in one of those big bearskin hats, an older woman who is staring at us like we’re from Mars, etc. We hear Russian/Ukrainian for the first time, and know we’re getting close. Our jet is subtly decrepit, and the flight attendants are young men who look kind of shabby. They go through the pre-flight safety briefing with very exaggerated hand and arm motions, with precision timing, and I think an old military guy or Olympics guy must be running the show. They very brusquely wake up sleeping people to give meals and offer services, as though it is mandatory. The meal is significantly worse than
The city is interesting. I have no frame of reference for