Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

SFC Paul R. Smith's Congressional Medal of Honor page.

The ceremonies have been this week.

http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

In his sermon on “The Sum of the Christian Life” preached in W├Ârlitz on November 24, 1532, Luther declared (Luthers 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

An actor sounds off with wisdom and promotes America. Never thought I'd see the day, but it's worth the read; Michael Moriarity on French Thought and American Values.


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 Denver world, and I miss my family and my flock, but life here is going a mile a minute, and I can hardly think of what is going on elsewhere. It will be very strange to be back home for while.

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 U.S. dollars, so the poverty of illness is poverty indeed. One woman has made beautiful needlepoint napkins with flower designs so that she can add to her income and pay for her child’s surgery. Tomorrow morning the child, who is maybe two years old will have a kidney removed. No such thing as credit for that, or for the blood transfusions either, so it is pay as you go. The physical condition of the hospital is not good; no way this is a clean or healthy environment; American doctors would faint, I’m sure. The squalor of kids, parents, attendants, etc. is very distracting, but the bottom line is that it’s a gospel opportunity.

Before our team speaks, a Greek Orthodox priest is here to chant a celebration for Saint Simeon’s day. St. Simeon, as you may know, lived to be three hundred years old. He translated the Septuagint, then lasted another 250 years to see the Christ child. This priest guy is maybe in his early thirties, and a pompous, first class goober. He sprinkles us all with holy water. Alene gets dowsed while I only get a misting of the good stuff. Finally he is gone. Then two of my students, Sasha and Viktor, Jim Dumas, and I take turns giving the gospel to the parents and children. This takes place more or less in a small sitting area off the hallway. The woman whose child is having the kidney removed asks Alene and I to pray with here, and through Margaret our translator we do so. We go back home and arrive by 7 PM. Long day – but good.

Monday, 14 February 2005

It is Valentine’s Day in Ukraine, and the pressure is on young Ukrainian men. It is a big deal, here. In class we talk about agape love, and there are some questions about marriage, so I spend time on the subject. It seems that there is constant conflict in Ukrainian relationships: the men like football, the women shopping. Hmm. The class is smaller thanks to a flu epidemic. I am glad that so far Alene and I have remained well. It would be quite a trial to be really ill this far from home.

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 America, but no one notices here; it is the fellowship that matters. Vitaliy’s father is a pastor, and they are both from Smila, a small town 120 miles south of Kyiv. Their romance was charming, and their devoted love for one another obvious.

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 Ukraine… the worst cold last week, and the worst snow today. I feel very privileged. Because of issues with the meeting place, the church doesn’t meet until 2 PM. When you see people you want to say “good morning” out of force of habit, but it is really afternoon, so everyone is correcting themselves. I taught this morning on James 1:21-25, and the necessity of studying and especially applying the Word of Truth. It is difficult for me to tell who is responding and who is not, because I don’t know this congregation. With some it is obvious, while others are very stone-faced and some even plainly uninterested. But it’s the Word and I’m teaching it, so it’s a good afternoon. Jim and Phyllis invite Alene and I for late lunch, then I head back to the office to await the evening prayer meeting and Bible study.

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 Ukraine. I am having the typical experience in that sense: Materially, I have everything and they have nothing. Folks have told me all the time how great it is to go overseas and see how folks live in poor countries. Ukraine isn’t terribly poor, but it noticeably poorer from my country. So now I am supposed to appreciate the material wealth I enjoy all the more. I appreciate Americans who are rich in the Word, who sacrifice for others and especially for freedom. They’re the wealthiest of Americans. But I know who is rich and who is poor regardless of what country I’m in, and in a sense I don’t appreciate American material wealth any more. But I do have a keener appreciation for real wealth, eternal wealth.

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 Colorado – seems like a long time ago already. The next week is likely to go even faster.

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 Dnipro River. It is the worst kind of nightmare along the lines of the orphanage in Jane Eyre. Run in uncaring fashion by the police department, there would be investigative reporters all over a place like this in the US. Blech. Holes in the floor for toilets, the most austere surroundings imaginable. It is the place where street kids go to get dried out from drugs, on their feet, and back home or to an orphanage. Just transitional and out of the weather for a week or three. The kids there are aged 10-18, at least on this day, boys and girls. They seem like normal enough kids, and they listen intently to the lessons. Alla goes first, one of my students. Then I followed with my testimony “I was a teenaged monster just like you…” Alene went, and then Jim Dumas. They got the gospel in a variety of ways. It was dingy, and must be a difficult experience, so it makes the gospel ministry all the more imperative. Kyiv is degenerate just like every other big city in the world..

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 Egypt visit to Oksana and Leanna when they did missionary work down there.

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 War Museum, along with Yuri, one of the prospective students. Yuri is 33 years old, and an officer in the Ukrainian Army Reserves. He is eager to tag along since he is currently looking for a job. It is about 18 degrees outside with a steady wind coming off the frozen winter – so maybe down below zero for wind chill. The vehicle park for the museum is outside, and Phyllis and Yuri stay with me as I explore all the old Soviet equipment. This is an impressive collection, but nowhere near the Patton museum. Still, I am in heaven – Soviet tanks from World War 2 to the 80s! T-34s and ISU 152s and Mig and Yak fighters. From the vehicle park to the inside museum there is a tunnel with giant size metal or stone carvings of the WW2 fighters of the Soviet Union – army, marines, partisans, and peasants. Inside is a really impressive war museum with materials, photos, dioramas, and so on from the war. It follows the course of the second world war in and around Kiev and the Ukraine. We have barely enough time to get through it all since we arrived late, but Yuri told the ticket person that I was an American soldier, and that seems to impress them enough to let us in; they held it open a half hour late so we could go through. I really didn’t come halfway around the world to be a tourist, but this is a very nice bonus.

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.

Ukraine seems pretty westernized, but lacking the capital to live the same quality of life. New apartment buildings are going up all over the city, but not many people can afford them. There is some infiltration of western franchises; the ubiquitous McDonalds, and funny, a TGI Fridays. It’s kind of fun to spell it out in Russian then realize the sign motif is exactly the same. The language of technology is all a matter of phonetics; television, computer, internet, and many other modern things don’t have a Russian word, just a phonetic spelling that makes it obvious what it is. People downtown are all into the bustle just like anywhere else; women wear a variety of headwear, balaclavas for older women, mongol fur-pointed hats, leather and knit are all in style. I notice that many of the knit caps are light powder blue; no doubt to match their faces in the cold! Few people wear colors in their outer layers, black and brown by far being the dominant colors. Also, there are manners for coats! There are coat racks and hooks at every entrance, and you must leave your coat there – at the restaurant or in the school classroom. No one leaves their coat on when they eat or when they study, no matter how cold the room might be.

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 Colorado blue, but close. It is beautiful, and not quite as cold as the previous days. Classes go well in the morning, first year Greek, taught by Nina, and then theology where we go very slowly through the free will vs. sovereignty debate. After lunch with Alene, Nina, and Oksana, we four head to the Lavra Monastery, a tenth century Greek Orthodox place. Lots of gold, lots of history, and not much truth. They have caves filled with the coffins and bones of their saints, and a really impressive set of buildings. We start by climbing the bell tower, some 240 spiraling steps to the top. Big bells and a fantastic view of the city to the east, across the Dnipro River, and north and south along the river banks. An imposing metal statue of Mother Russia, by legend modeled on Brezhnev’s wife, dominates the view. Then we go for a tour of the caves. You can either take the guided tour for a fee or go by yourself. They don’t let you go by yourself… and no photos allowed! Oy! A monk gives us the tour, a very earnest man who looks to be in his mid-30s. He seems to believe everything he says on the tour.

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 America. Off to school at eight for 2nd year Greek class. Jim Dumas walks me to school like a good dad, so that I can find my way home the next time. The classes again go very well, and after class I get to share lunch with Alene, Nina, and Oksana. I sample Ukrainian delicacies like Borcht and cabbage rolls, and something from Soviet Georgia, a chicken in spiced gravy that is completely unusual and delicious. Plus of course Coca Cola to wash it all down. The total for four people, about 10 dollars American. Great bargain!

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 Kiev, and I see Dobermans and the like outnumber their Daschund and other small dog kin by a significant percentage. There are a lot of old people here, especially women. The men die on average ten years before the women do, so lots of old widows. They are round in face and body, and usually grim in expression. The thousand yard stare is in vogue. Lots of people walking everywhere, with little shops and coffee and candy stands. Free enterprise has really blossomed in the last fifteen years. There is not a lot of prosperity yet, but I think it is the future for them. Big item in the local sales paper: windows. A whole page full of ads in an eight page flyer. Looking at the big, depressing, ugly old Soviet-era apartments, you see new windows with bright wood and plastic frames, tacked onto the ugly edifice in haphazard fashion. Maybe 30% of the windows are replaced.

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’ Ala, Oleg and Yuri. They pay attention, and soon we are engaged with one another, trying to understand God. The students are often one step ahead of me, so I know it is going well. We breeze through several pages of material in the three hours and we seem to be ahead, which is good for the two week schedule. Already they are concerned about the final exam. My students learn my dad is an American Indian, and they are fascinated. “Amerikanski Indian”

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 Kiev. Then the bazaar. There are big tables and old fashioned scales with weights on them. There is a lot of availability, but not much of anything Americans would think buyable. The bananas and apples look bad, but the grapefruits actually look fantastic. There are some vegetables that I was not aware existed on this planet. Jim actually knows just the rudiments of Russian, but he gets by through panache. No guts no glory. In the sausage section they have us beat; there are dozens of sausage varieties here, hanging in the cold. I shiver to think about what this smells like on sweltering summer day. After a few purchases, including the grapefruit and some red peppers and cucumbers and one of those sausages (I can’t read so what the hey, that one). It is maybe cat intestines or something from the gleam of the seller’s eye.

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 Minneapolis is full. The people who prayed for our flight achieved much by the grace of God; we had tailwinds both to Minneapolis, where we arrived 20 minutes early, and Amsterdam, where we arrived an hour early. This gave us plenty of time in the airports to find our gates. The flight over the Atlantic was super smooth, and at about 11 PM Denver time I looked down and saw lights – Ireland! After flying over England, we crossed a glass-smooth North Sea and landed at Schipol Airport. As we descended I looked down on busy Holland – traffic, and a new work week starting, and I thought it looks like the rest of Satan’s buzzing world. We exited the aircraft and an employee told us which gate for Kiev, and we headed out. Amsterdam airport was buzzing as well, and my first experience with a real Babel of languages is interesting. There are many Americans, and we stick out not too obviously but we do stick out. Especially the Texans. Schipol Airport is pretty big, and we hoof it a long way only to find out that the gate we were sent to is for a different flight to Kiev. Back down one hall and up another, a good 20 minutes extra and we are at the right place and thankful for the tailwinds.

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 US airplane food, vaguely foreign and unpalatable, like school cafeteria or prison cafeteria food. I eat just in case it is mandatory.

Boryspil Airport is interesting. It is old-fashioned; we deplane right on the tarmac, and walk down stairs from the plane to the ground; I feel like I am in the 1950s. We board a bus and get in line for Passport Control, baggage claim, and customs. Ukrainian Army or Policemen are milling about and running the show, but there are no guns or anything anywhere. As we enter the main lobby of the airport, it is very small. This is not a prime destination in Europe. A taxi driver with rheumy eyes will not let us alone. “Are you sure?” “It will be no trouble.” For ten minutes while we’re waiting for Jim to show up, it is the same, and no amount of polite “No’s” Will shoo him away. Jim gets to us after he has had monumental car trouble, but all is well, and we cram ourselves and our luggage into a very compact pre-iron curtain Russian model and head to Kiev, a half-hour drive.

The city is interesting. I have no frame of reference for Europe, but outwardly it is bleak and dingy much like US inner cities. There are bright billboards showing an enchanting lifestyle of cellphones, jewelry, and alcohol. Hmm. Pretty similar to us. We stop and drop off Alene at Jim and Phyllis’ three room flat. A dungeon-like metal security door creaks open to reveal a typical Ukrainian apartment. It’s not much by our standards, but we’re ready for that. We meet Nina and Oksana, and leave Alene with them. On to Jim Dumas’ apartment, where I get set up on his second floor place. This seems slightly nicer, but drafty and cold. I nod off for an hour, and then get to sleep in earnest, but wake up at 2 AM to write this. The time adjustment hasn’t quite occurred yet, but I feel okay.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Coming Soon: Kiev Diary, where I will post impressions and photos of the trip to Kiev with Alene Lindstrand.