Saturday, June 28, 2003

I suppose it's time to provide y'all with an overview of our recent trip. We drove up to Baltimore (for reasons too complicated to explain here) and flew from BWI to Iceland to Stockholm to Munich to Kiev on June 6-7. On the evening of the seventh, having fought our way through Ukrainian customs (less than self-explanatory), we were greeted by Nick, the president of International Partnerships. He drove the four of us (Lenise and I, Jamie Boyce--a chemistry grad student, and John Hamilton--a long-time navigator and veteran of many of these types of trips) to an apartment building on the left bank portion of Kiev.

Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole trip was the elevator ride to the sixth floor of the building. The elevator made sounds I've not heard outside of science fiction movies, but eventually made it up to the seventh floor. As a perceptive reader, you will have noticed that that was not out intended destination. We begged to just walk down the stairs, but Nick insisted that we just needed to hit the 6 button again. We did make it to the sixth floor this time, and proceeded down a very dark hallway to our apartment. Thanks be to God! The IP staff had stocked the place to the gills with food and bottled water. I was especially concerned about the water, knowing that I need to drink a lot of it, and that the local tap water is generally unsafe.

After settling in and learning some of the, umm, idiosyncrasies of the apartment (nothing serious), we went to bed. Sunday we attended church with the IP people and potential translators in another apartment. This is where we met the other two members of our team, Don and Janelle Robinson. Don is a professional violinist and Janelle is a pianist, so they played a few songs for the church service. Probably about 30 people at church. We were invited to play basketball or volleyball afterwards, but we were still a bit tired from the trip, so we declined. Mostly rested and prepared our lessons for Monday.

Monday morning breakfast: bread, cheese, ham, coffee (or cherry coke--Nick's favorite), yoghurt, or cereal (Zaloti crunch--Jamie and Lenise thought it was the world's best cereal). Meeting at 9:15 to discuss the plan for the day. Peter and Diana Shulyagin are the leaders of the Kiev team (IP has teams in about 10 cities) and they gave us some (odd) ideas for icebreaker questions for our groups. Our format was to have 3 hour classes three times each day. Two hours of English lessons and an hour of Bible discussion, with breaks each hour. Three class levels: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Before the trip, Lenise and I had agreed to teach the intermediate classes. We didn't realize that we got the lucky draw. There weren't too many inter. students, so we each only had one class, mine at 3 pm and hers at 7 pm. All the others had two classes each (the first group started at 10am). Lenise went to Jamie's class to see what it would be like, and John and I took a walk down to the grocery store to look around. Only interesting thing was seeing some guys selling cartons of cigarettes from the back of a truck.

Lunch at about 1:10. All the food through the week was pretty edible, with the posssible exception of the side salad; something vaguely resembling coleslaw. I ate it all the first day, but only picked at it on subsequent days. Our meeting place was a local kindergarden (actually k-4th grade), so the food was prepared by the school staff. Three pm saw me nervously fidgeting in front of my class of about 7 students. Lenise came along to learn from my mistakes. I realized painfully throughout the first two hours that although I understood the lesson quite well, I hadn't really developed a plan for how to bring it to the students. Quite a few awkward silences. At 5 it was time for the bible discussion, so I thought, "hey, I'm better prepared for this, since we've practiced a few times." The text was from Ecclesiates about how two are better than one. I shared a story of how someone helped me (John helping us navigate customs at the airport), and asked if any of them had stories of giving or receving help. Not much response. Everyone seemed to agree thoroughly with the sense of the text, so there wasn't much controversy, hence no one felt the need to say much. Peter and Diana showed up and helped keep conversation going, but I felt pretty defeated.

Off to dinner, then a little break before I went with Lenise to her class. While she certainly did better than I, things were still pretty quiet all around. She had the added disadvantage, in my mind, of only having four students, so it was even quieter than my class. At 10 things were done for the day and we headed back to the apartment to talk about the day and sleep.

Tuesday morning woke up quite early (as I did pretty much each day of the trip), and spent lots of time reviewing ideas for the lesson after finishing my devotions. During the morning session John and Lenise and I took the trolley to the metro and rode downtown. The old central part of Kiev is quite beautiful. We found a little sidewalk vendor who served us 2 draft beers four five grivnas (approx $.95). But had to head back petty quickly to meet up for lunch. Over lunch my wonderful translator, Nadia, gave me some great ideas for my class ("teach them some songs"), so things went much more smoothly. I let Lenise handle her own class alone and did some studying and preparing in the evening.

Wedensday Jamie, Janelle, Lenise and I took one of our translators (Larisa) along for the "official" tour of Kiev. Went to the service at St Vladimir's cathedral (makes one glad to be a protestant), saw some of the other cathedrals, satatues, parks, and the national university. Lunch in a little cafe downtown was inexpensive but not especially good, plus we all seemed to have some, shall we say, digestive issues over the next day or so. My class was anxious to hear about my excursion around town, and seemed to be more open than before.

Thursday. Made arrangmeet with John Bush, fellow blogger, fellow republican, fellow presbyterian, and missionary to Kiev. We took taxis around the city (every vehicle in Kiev is potentially a taxi!), had a nice lunch, a great chat about religion, books and films, and another jaunt around some of the sights of Kiev. Classes, yadda, yadda, yadda. Discussion of Psalm 121 was quite interesting.

Friday. John decides it's time to make the official video of our trip (to be used for recruiting by IP). Gets us brushing our teeth, eating breakfast, asks us what our biggest fears were, biggest surprises etc. Also, John invites me to his evening advanced class to demonstrate the difference between Southern and Midwestern accents. Was fun being with the advanced group, as I could talk at almost a normal speed. Feeling better and better about how things are going. People in my class are coming early and staying late to ask me questions.

Saturday. Last official day of classes. Discussed John 3. Dmytro, one of my students and a RC seminarian (though only about 19) said there was too much to say about God's love. Somehow the discussion devolved into an argument about how much a soul weighs. Aparently this is an issue of some interest in the orthodox community. Another student, Natasha, came up to me afterwards to tel me she wouldn't be there for the wrap up party Sunday but that she had enjoyed the class immensely. One student gave me a box of chocolates. We took all the translators out to McDonald's for dinner, which they enjoyed quite a bit.

Sunday. Went to Second Presbyterian with John Bush (and Don and Janelle) while the others went to the IP church again. The sermon of course was all in Russian, but I liked the look in the pastor's eyes and his tone and manner. Then we took the IP staff out to a nice restaurant to eat and debrief. Lots of appreciation passed around (they said we were their easiest group to deal with), and some good suggestions for improvement as well. Afternoon party for all the students back at the school. Unfortunately it was less well prepared or thought out than the other activities so we were all a bit confused, but we had fun and took lots of pictures of each other. Evening concert with Don and Janelle and a local string quartet at the nearby baptist church went over very well. Said some more goodbyes. I gave away the books I had brought along to Nadia and Larisa who were very excited to get some books in English.

Monday got up at 3:30 to leave for the airport at 4. Flew back to Munich on the way to Stockholm. Collected luggage and hopped in a taxi. Sweden regulates the price a taxi can charge for airport runs, so no haggling was needed. Went to our rented apartment right smack in the middle of the old city/tourist district. The contrast with Kiev was quite stark. went from ugly buildings and cheap food to beautiful buildings as far as the eye can see and more restaurants with $30 entrees than I've ever seen in my life. So we had two days in this nordic Disneyworld to unwind and rest before heading back home (which in our case involved lots of driving to visit with friends and family first, but that's another story).

Lots of other things I could say about Kiev, but my fingers are worn down to the bone, so I'll stop here.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Thursday, June 26, 2003

I think tonight we're going to focus some on our "post-trip" activities. Label pictures, financial report for the church, short trip summary--what we learned or accomplishesd, that kinda stuff. But for now: your one stop source for interesting conservative political cartoons.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Back home now, finally. More about the trip later. Lots to do today to catch up. Just wanted to mention this book for those of you who are into theology and Paul. The first chapter on justification is amazing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

here I am in an internet cafe in Stockholm. We left Kiev with a certain amount of weeping very early Monday morning. Our flight left at 6:30, so we had to get up at 3 to get ready. We are now in an apartment right smack in the middle of the olderst part of Stockholm (Gamla Stan, for those of you famailiar with Stockholm or who want to look on a map). To be honest our part of town looks sort of like a Lutheran version of Disneyworld. Very touristy, all pedestrian traffic, and restaurants with 30 dollar menu entrees. Very pretty, just kinda weird, especially after Kiev.

The part of town we were in in Kiev was all built in the last several years, but it looks much, much older. Someone need to introduce paint over there. In any event, we really fell in love with the people we met there, both the staff of IP and the people in our English classes and Bible studies.

I really need to write more in my journal over the next couple of days so I don't forget too much. Kiev is a great place to visit just in case any of you get the chance. More later when I'm more collected.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Ah, looking at the new blogger stuff. Looks snazzier from inside here. 11 hours to leave in the morning. We just found out that the guitar I had so carefully wrapped in bubble wrap was not the guitar we are supposed to take. I sure hope we can re-use this bubble wrap. Flexibility. I learned it in music performance, but it's always a bit hard to change things at the last minute.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Countdown: now 50 hours left til we leave the house to start our trip to Ukraine.

Monday, June 02, 2003

So I've been poking around the atheist board on and off today. Sheesh, those guys have arguments almost as nasty as Christians do :)
I was so impressed by NT Wright's new book and his arguents for the resurrection that I thought to myself, surely, this will be good for some intelligent atheist out there. Thus, I have started a little discussion thread at a place where I know people like to discuss atheism. Just go to the forum on biblical criticism. Any Wright readers and fans who care to would be welcome to join in the fun. Gotten a few responses already.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

A friend of mine who visited Australia a few years ago reported to me that the folks down under had a generally bad attitude towards the more successful members of society. They were referred to as "tall trees" who needed to be cut down. I won't stand in judgment, but it sounds like a serious cultural envy problem. But apparently Atlas is shrugging a bit, or at least going out for a walk.
from game design blogger Greg Costikyan:

but inspired by the fact that actor Hugo Weaving plays both Elrond and Agent Smith.

"You seem to live two lives, Mr. Baggins. In one, you are a peaceful and productive resident of the Shire. In the other, you flit about the world in the company of wizards, dwarves, and other low lives, apparently attempting to hurl a magic ring into a volcano.

"One of these paths has a future, Mr. Baggins."