Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy St. Nikolay's day

Never feel sorry for missionary kids during the holiday season, if they play their cards right, they get to celebrate twice as many holidays. According to the Gregorian calendar (the religious calendar of the Orthodox church) December 19, is Saint Nicolay's day. (Yes, the same bearded guy that the West calls  Jolly ole' Saint Nick). In Russia and Ukraine St. Nicolay brings gifts to children in the night, and places them under their pillow or in their boots (yes, boots, it snowy here). It just a small gift, sometimes even just a candy bar or a bag of M&M's, this year our kids each got a pair of woolen mittens, we believe in practicality (proletarianism dies hard). St. Nick's day is sort of the kick off of a  holiday season which will last until January 14 (which is according to the Gregorian calendar New Year's day)

I remember the Christmas I was pregnant with our first son William, I had  a little bit of a nervous breakdown. It was already December 23 and we hadn't put the tree up yet. Traditionaly the tree, which is refered to here as "the New Year's tree, is put up somewhere around December 30. (Ukrainian Orthodox celebrate Christmas January 7th). So I walked into the office where my husband was working hard at the computer (okay, okay, he was playing a computer game) And I burst into tears, between the sobs I somehow communicated that our son was going to celebrate Christmas on December 25th just like any God-fearing Evangelical, and we had to get that "Christmas tree", I remember emphasing the word Christmas tree, up right now! It was our first preganacy and Andrey was still pretty intimidated by my bulging belly and hormonal roller coaster. So although rather confused he begin digging out Christmas decoration and helping  me get everything set up. And that was when we both realized that we were going to have to figure out how we, as a family were going to celebrate holidays. So here is our holiday schedule that so far seems to be running smoothly and keeping everyone happy.
December 5, Laura puts up the CHRISTMAS TREE!
December 19,  Andrey's parents purchase the St. Nikolay gift and pass it on to our kids (hence woolen mittens)
December 25  we wake up at the crack of down (which thank goodness is about 7:30am here) and open lots of presents from US grandparents waiting for us under the tree. We have a christmas lunch usually with other expats
December 31 big New Year's party at our house, with friends and a visit by Ded Moroz (Father Frost, the soviet answer to replacement to Christmas and Saints was a grandfather that brought presents on New Year's eve)
January 7, and  aquiet traditional Ukrainian dinner with Andrey's extended family. Not to mention usually another small present from grandparents
Luckily I don't have quite as many mood swings as I did six years ago. And although Andrey and I have come to a cultural compromise, we know the hardest task is still ahead. That's the task of passing on a spiritual understanding of all these holidays, and the task of introducing our kids to a God who isn't bound by  cultural traditions or religious calandars.

Leaving Ukraine

My love affair with Ukraine began the moment I stepped off the plane, in the summer of 1996. The foriegn smells, foods, faces and langauge all seemd to just fit. Even the notorious Ukrainian red tape can be endearing at times. For the most part I feel at home here, I know my way around Ukraine. Most of the cultural nuances I have pretty muched worked out or learned to accept. But hospitals and government offices are always stark reminders that I am forgeiner here. I know I have it easier that most expatriots, because of my big strong Russian husband who protects me from the more mystifing faccets of the culture. He knows when to be polite and when to be demanding, he knows what to say so that people actually start doing what they are being paid to do, he know when someone is hinting for bribe and when someone is being sincere. Also, thanks to my almost exclusive Russo-Ukrianian environment I know something that most Americans don't. The things that annoy us about Ukraine are just as annoying to Ukrainians. To them the idiotic red tape is just as idiotic as it is to the Western mind, the only difference is they understand that no matter how many letters of complaint you write to the manager, nothing here will ever change.

Last week Andrey and I had to leave the Ukraine for a few days. It turns out that under the government,  current visa was no longer legitimate in Ukraine and I was living here illegally. I would have to leave the country to get a new visa and legalize any long term stay in Ukraine. (Ukrainian visas are not issued inside of Ukraine). The closest and fastest option was Poland. We knew we would have to pay a fine, after all this isn't the first time we've dealt with passport control. So we packed light, arrived early and went through regestartion first.

In anticipation for the 2012 European Soccer championship, Kiev's only international airport has opened up a new terminal, that is located in a completely seperate building about half a mile from the orginial two terminals. After waiting for the gaurd to finish her tea, chat with her friends and finally get to filling out the blank for my fine, she told me I would have to pay fine in the orginal terminal, that my flight was leaving in twenty five minutes and that plane would not wait for me. Did I mention there are no shuttles, or underground walkways even some puny golf cart to transport you from Terminal F to terminal B (no one knows what happened to terminal C, D, & E)? So after a having a good arguement with the guard, Andrey and I  run as fast as you can run through snow being strapped down with two carry- ons. Huffing and puffing we race into Terminal B to only to discover that all 10 bank department have closed for a technical reasons, (this is Ukrainian code for smoke break) Andrey begins banging on the window, shouting that our flight is leaving 15 minutes and we have to pay a fine. We finally found a tender hearted soul, that sacrificed her coffee and cigarette to open up and let us pay our fine. Receipt in hand we race all the way back to Terminal F, where we have to go through the whole x-ray, shoe removal, passport control process once again, before we rush to our gate (luckily there are two gates in Terminal F)!

We made our flight, and I don't know when I had been so frustrated with Ukraine! I was still huffing and puffing when we got on the plane. And yet, at the same time I know that's why I love this country. All the red tape and illogical procedures always give you a great story to tell over dinner.

Monday, December 6, 2010


This past Saturday the youth asked me to speak at  their monthly "girls night".  Despite the fact that my first years here in Ukraine were focused mainly on work with children and youth, I haven't spoken at a youth event in sometime. In the last two year our ministries have switched gears. After all  Andrey and I are now "in our thirties" and we have definately started feeling the gap, between us and the teens in our church, ( maybe I shouldn't say we, no one has had the courage to explain to Andrey that he is 32) But I have certainly felt the gap.

 I don't really "hang out" with the highschool crowd anymore, and I'm afraid of being too boring.  Riding on the bus a few days ago I eavesdropped on a teenage girl's phone converstation. ( I wanted to freshen up on the slang the kiddies are using these days) And I was totally shocked to realize that all the slang I use is terribly outdated, kids don't say "ya v shoke" or "uzhas" anymore, it turns out that now everyone's  saying "ya v panike" and "pechal'"  Plus the topic I was sharing , "why we as Christians should be doing random acts of kindness", could either come off  inspiring or really dull and preachy. So I was more than  a little nervous speaking to the ladies.

26 girls came to the meeting. We meet in a Sunday school classroom and everyone sat Indian style on  the floor. I wore my coolest jeans and tucked them into my boots to make me look even cooler.  Of course I came to gig with my two preschoolers in toe, but I dressed them up in their hippest clothes as well. (Andrey was at soccer playing with guys half his age, and not feeling intimidated.) The Lord has really convicted me lately about the fact that I don't show kindness to people outside my circle of friends and acquantinces. I really wanted to pass on to them, that God calls us to love and states specifically in His word, that if we really know Him, we will activitly love other (show kindness) As a reinforcement for the lesson, I had the girls make acts of kindness books, little miniscrape books with acts of kindness written on every page. And a verse of scripture to support these acts.  Each page also had a tag on it with a Bible verse on it. When they do the act of kindness they give a little tag with a blessing on it to the person they blessed. I hope it will encoraged them to reach out to their community, and to demonstrate the love of God in an active way.

So by now you're wondering how did the evening go. Well I didn't us the new slang ( I thought it might sound to corny coming from my middleaged lips) And in the middle of the presentation, Nastia, my three year old, strectched out on the carpet  in front of me and fell asleep. So I didn't reach the preschool crowd.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ladies night

The first Saturday of every month the youth holds a girl's only "Ladies night" they have lots of fun playing games, and being silly. It's a nice atomosphere without the guys. This evening we will be dealing with the topic of kindness, becoming a person of kindness, and making a difference in your neighborhood, so that people will se Christ. I am excited and a little nervous about this meeting. I will be speaking this evening, and I have to that in my perparation for this evening God has really convicted me about how little I show kindness to people outside my circle of freinds and aquaintances. I seem to either have a really good excuse to not reach out or even worse, don't even notice those in need around me.  God's word is very specific about what He expects from us as believers concerning kindness and reaching out to those in need. I hope not only be a hearer of the word but a doer as well.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


This past Saturday, November 28 was the National Rememberance Day for Holodmor. Holodomor comes from the Ukrainian words hunger and plague. From 1932-33,  eight million people died of stravation due to the forced famines of the Stalin and the  Soveit Regime. Although food was plentiful during this time, as a result to punish Ukrainian nationlist, Soviet forces decreed that all food belonged to the collective state, and to be in possesion of food would be considered a crime. Troops were sent in to conviscate and punish anyone who witheld food from the governement. There are tales confiscated grains standing several stories high and rotting away. Anyone that tried to get the grain was shot. For seventy years this tragedy remained a Soviet secret. There was almost no documentation on it, people were not allowed to speak of it and the offical statement of the government was that it never happened. But it did happen, and millions of people died under one of the most frightening regimes of  modern history. Only four years ago Ukrainian finally had the political freedom to establish memorials and a national day of rememberance for those that died of starvation. The last Saturday of every month  at four o clock local time, there is a national moment of silence for the victims.  Holodmor is one of the most tragic events in Ukraine's history. And when you listen to the stories of those that survived it is always very sombering. Six years after the famine Ukraine would be invaded by Natzi Germany and suffer another five years of terror, only to be passed back into the hands of Stalin and his cult of the personality. Yet through  it all Ukrianians managed to hold on to their language and culture and the hope that one day they would be their own country again. In 2011 Ukraine will celebrate 20 years of peaceful independance. This past 20 years has given them a lot to be thankful for. One of the greatest things being the religious freedom they enjoy and the spiritual awareness of the people. I'm certain that the Ukrainian people have not been forgotten, God has a great work in store for them.