Strengthening the Church through Education

DSC08736What is a teacher without any students? Well, at least without the two boys of the SEND family that we currently serve because they left for 3 weeks?  Idle? –not quite—although our primary focus is to work with the SEND missionary families teaching their children, our hearts and hands are ready to serve wherever the Lord can use us. October filled with other teaching opportunities, as well as a chance to help out a teammate with remodeling, a chance to host a young friend from Tambov, Russia, and a third trip to Baikal.

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Several other missionary families serve here in Ulan-Ude who are not with SEND international. Art and I offer our educational services and resources as time and schedules permit. After our regular school day ends, Cristina and her mom come over once a week for some math with Mr. Art and twice a week for English with Mrs. Lisa.   Lately, I have been going to their house on the 2nd day so that Cristina’s little brother can listen, too, and sometimes even participate in our lessons.

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Since our school hours were temporarily unoccupied, we could teach a couple of homeschooled high school missionary teens a concentrated module of Biology, literature, and creative writing. Their mom and I sat down and evaluated what areas they have completed or not completed that could be recorded on a transcript towards graduation and whatever future studies they might pursue. She was also preparing to leave for the U.S. to be with an older daughter during the birth of a grandchild and needed to do some alterations on her wardrobe. Thanks to the loan of a machine from another missionary and previous experience working for a dry cleaner company doing alterations, we were able to get her fixed up. It is encouraging to observe these moments confirming that the Lord has prepared us in so many aspects for the roles He is using us in now.

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Midway through October, a young friend whom we met while working in Tambov, Russia last summer arrived for a short visit. Geoffrey is from Africa and studying in the Russian University. He and another SEND teammate came to explore this side of Russia which is quite different from the west side. They were able to see important spots around the city, visit a Buddhist temple, fellowship with believers here, and taste fine Mongolian (Buryats are descendants of neighboring Mongolia) cuisine at a local restaurant. Of course, it would not have been a real visit if we had not taken them to our greatest landmark, greater than the largest Lenin head— Lake Baikal. Alexandra D., Art’s language teacher whom we consider our friend, afforded us the opportunity.

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Graciously, she had invited Art and I earlier in September, right after school had started, to stay the weekend at her newly built home—a cabin of sorts—near Baikal. The Lord gave us awesome weather to experience real fall colors and a beautiful opportunity to share Him through His creation.20140914_151952 It was also an enjoyable, concentrated, Russian lesson. She introduced us to her neighbors. Art and she read and talked through the prodigal son parable while sitting outside on a log overlooking Baikal. As we were walking around the village discussing different structures and trees, we had opportunity to talk about many spiritual things. Continue to pray for spiritual awakening and a personal relationship with Christ. We told her about Geoffrey and she granted us permission to return to the cabin for an overnight stay. That made the third time in two months that Art and I traveled to enjoy beautiful Baikal!

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Geoffrey and our teammate wanted to make their trip most memorable by not just seeing Baikal but experiencing it first—FOOT. Thankfully, the Lord was again providing perfect, mild weather so late in the season that although frigid, the lake and air temperatures were not freezing.

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Maybe you can tell by the pictures that Geoffrey is gifted physically. When Valerie asked Art to help put drywall up on the ceilings in their new home, Art agreed and took Geoff. Along with a couple of other young guys they were able to hang 11 sheets and trimmings in one day. We were sad to say good-bye to Geoffrey who assured us he had a great time and promises to try and return. We are praying that the Lord will continue to lead this special young man as he finishes university and looks to his future.

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We enjoyed the change of pace while our students were traveling but missed our “boys” and were looking forward to once again the routine of teaching them.

Regular? Routine.

With the start of school, regular routines are resumed. Programs and activities at our church also recommenced. It is delightful to work with the team of adults and young people who run our Sunday school program. Art and I yet again fulfill a support role to encourage this group with the experience God has given us through the years working with children’s ministries. They ask us for lesson ideas, to do crafts, to do English lessons with Bible themes, and even for cooking class! The cooking class idea came from one craft lesson where we “painted” pictures with different herbs and spices. The smell made all of us so hungry that the kids asked if the next time we could actually EAT what we made.GE DIGITAL CAMERA After studying the Bible lesson on the potter and the clay and how God forms us into something for His use and glory, we took homemade pretzel dough, formed it into creations, baked them and ATE them. Now we are planning to do something with cooking at least once a month.GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Since the kids already go to school Monday through Saturday then receive hours of homework, the S.S. team is trying to think of more interesting ways to draw the kids into the lessons and into church without making it feel like school even on Sunday. GE DIGITAL CAMERA

September 7th, Sunday school opened with a special skit similar in storyline to Pilgrim’s Progress. Praise the Lord for a beautiful fall day to carry out the activity of journeying from the starting point-a corner of the church yard- through different “places” where leaders represented different characters, either ones to tempt and lead astray or ones to share the Truth and gospel. At one station, the children come to the cross and sing then are given a paper showing their admission into heaven, but the journey doesn’t stop after salvation –there is the rest of life. Sometimes we are tempted by the evil one who wants to cause us to doubt and leave the path, but the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is there to encourage.

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Was Art picked for the “evil” character because he is so mischievous or for the small amount of words he would have to say? Either way the kids love his teasing and fun and usually return for more.

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Eventually, they finished their journey and went to heaven where angels invited them to the “Lord’s” banqueting table—yes, a real feast! Thirty-five children attended that Sunday and continue to come fairly regularly.

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-October, our team had a monthly meeting, and Christmas program ideas were discussed. Traditionally, a list is made of all the kids then their names are distributed to the adults in the church who purchase small toys. This year we are trying to help the children focus more on giving than receiving. Please pray that details will come together in a timely manner to effectively accomplish the goal. Pray for the children’s hearts to be open and that we would have wisdom to know how to reach them.

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Not only has the Sunday school started, but also choir. Meeting weekly with the folks in choir and singing praise together, even if we don’t always understand all the words or stay on the right notes, blesses and encourages Art and me. The people have lovingly accepted us. After each practice, everyone writes their prayer requests and names on small slips of paper which are folded then drawn from a container. To spontaneously write things for others to pray about on our behalf has challenged our language skills. Often someone offers to help me out by allowing me to dictate the idea then they write it in an understandable and proper form. Pray that we will glorify and edify each time we perform in our church, other churches, public gatherings, and conferences.

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One other plan for our church this fall is to move from our current building and location to a more modern building a half hour across the city. The plan, developed to help resolve a conflict that started just before we moved to Ulan-Ude, has changed many times; therefore, we have not written a great deal about the situation. It is complex and has been in process for a while. Please pray for reconciliation between the church leaders, reconciliation between hurt church members, resolution to the conflict, conviction to those that need convicted, grace for all involved, and most importantly that the name of Christ would be glorified. Thank you for praying for us and for the ministries that the Lord has called us to be a part of here in Ulan-Ude.

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Our last blog ended by telling you about our mad dash around the city to help our new teammate Bruce with documents for his visa.  Please pray for Bruce as the government has filled their quota for the year in this area so his documents were denied and he must do that circuit again after the New Year.  Hopefully he won’t have the same time pressure he had the first round.  One of the reasons we were trying to complete it all in a week was because of the team conference planned for the following week.

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Each fall our team meets to evaluate and plan ministries for the year both for individual and team involvement. Leadership from SEND North America joins us to be part of the discussions so that as a whole we are striving towards the same goals.  Our team brainstormed old and new ideas of intentional ways we could reach our 5 main goals for Buryatia.  Of course they all fall under the main vision of evangelizing the unreached people group called Buryats and encouraging the Russian churches. After the initial business days in the city, we traveled together to the banks of Lake Baikal for some team building time through discussions on trust building and prayer. Great fellowship ensued around the fire, swimming in the cool waters, sunning on the beach, and playing games. The missionary “kids” especially loved the climbing trees nearby and playing with Ebony, our dog. No, it wasn’t just the big kid.

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Art had his own trust/team building project of significant importance.

Step 1: the hole, an appropriate distance from the camp

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Step 2: constructing a sturdy and steady seat.

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Step 3: it works! I’m sure you can all guess what modern convenience he and his team engineered.

After our fun in the sun and sand, it was time to return to the city where more sand, sun and even fun could be found.GE DIGITAL CAMERA  Art and I had one week left to finish basic preparations for our school term, another short one due to travel and home service plans.  The first month was going to be crucial for reviewing and laying down some solid groundwork before the students and their family went away for several weeks to a conference specifically for missionary families with children to provide educational consultation, evaluation, and relationships with other missionary kids.

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We mentioned previously that we moved the location of the educational program which meant also unpacking resources, assembling furniture, and arranging our materials before actually writing lesson plans.

The new location affords Art and me an hour long bus ride each direction which modern technology makes into usable time.  When the batteries are not fully charged or car sickness limits reading or listening, praying is not in the least hindered.

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My current classroom is such a contrast from the first room I had at the old location—a long table in the dining room with no windows and no air flow plus having to carry two boxes with all my books and materials down every morning before the students arrived. Some days, I felt like I never saw the sun. This year up on the 7th floor, the view is spectacular, the lighting radiant, and a window provides fresh air. A cabinet and shelves help to organize everything. We do have to be careful not to be distracted by the airplane repair factory.  The sound of plane engines revving is even more exciting than that of a race car! One day we were startled by a thundering sound which we amazingly realized was the aftershock of an explosion, miles away.  Art had seen the puff of dirt rising before we felt the percussion. Sorry the picture is not very clear but we also experience the black haze from all the factories including the ones that provide our heat which was just turned on recently.

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The challenge with Blogging is to keep things current, without leaving important things out, before what is new becomes old, while keeping the post a reasonable size. The following will attempt to bring us closer to the present without leaving out a very important part of our summer.

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After our time on the ship with Jonathan, we visited Anna our youngest daughter in Colorado. She works with horses and has received excellent training in “gentling “ them, mostly. She has learned so much about training horses, giving lessons, and in general has grown up in the two years she has been away from us. Anna has become a faithful member of her local church, Falcon Baptist. DSC03556

We had the privilege to preach and present our ministry with her church family, and make connections with people there. After a few days and many tears, from dad, we left her and returned to Indiana for the final leg of our time in the US.

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Time in Michigan with friends and family, meetings with pastors, and an ice cream social at our home church filled up the last week of our time. Lisa even took the time to put her wedding dress on, and after 27 years, it still fits.  DSC08645Then off to Chicago to catch our flight to Beijing on route to Ulan-Ude. A long wait in the airport was met by a very nice surprise. Our last flight was booked very full. We pensively wondered what the agent who approached us wanted, then he asked if we would mind being moved to first class. We agreed, of course, and enjoyed a few hours of luxury. It was nice, although I would never justify the price if it were not offered.

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We had the normal adjustments to make, catching up on bills, reclaiming our dog, and buying food in the first few days. Then the push to get ready for school, we bought a pair of desks and a few things for the classroom.GE DIGITAL CAMERA

 

We arrived back just a few days before the wedding of one of our Russian friends. It was the first weeding we have observed here in Buryatia. One special touch that stood out to Art: The pastor asked both families if they were willing to accept the new addition to their family as one of their own. It seems better than giving a daughter away.

Along the way was one more challenge, paperwork for a new teammate. Bruce Mckay joined our team, and we began the process of documents or as he will call it.: The Amazing Ulan-Ude race. Lisa and Nettie planned the week, and Art navigated the small group to various offices, hospitals, notaries, and of course restaurants to complete the daunting task in just one week. By the grace of God, we made it. The paperwork was completed and turned in just before closing on Friday afternoon.

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Transitions are never perfect, but they are what life is made of.   We see in these times the growth and progress we have made both individually and as a team. Hopefully this blog has met the challenge to inform without overload.   More to come– of course.

Of Tigers and Dragons

DSC08100With all the drama of our first weeks behind us and with the hope that Lisa’s tooth would be stable, we drove directly from Minneapolis  to Indianapolis beginning at 4 am to miss traffic at a couple of key spots along the way.   We arrived, returned the car we borrowed without incident this time, spent the evening with Lisa’s parents then left early again to the airport.   We flew to Hawaii, yes, we admit it, to meet up with Jonathan’s ship, the USS Howard to take part in a Tiger Cruise.  It was a special arrangement allowing about 30 people, “Tigers,” friends and family of the sailors to experience a piece of Navy life.

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We did have a day and a half to see a little of Waikiki before we sailed. Jonathan was a good guide and arranged for us to snorkel at Hanauma Bay, one of the best places to see tropical fish near the island.

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We enjoyed the time but neglected to put on enough sunscreen.  Yep, sunburn!  The picture is not pretty.

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That evening we reported to the ship. I was shown to my 2 by 2 by 7 foot bottom rack, bed, of the triple bunk unit.  I gained a new respect for the sailors who sleep in these things for months at a time and tried just to slide in, close my eyes, and forget about the lack of space.  Lisa had it a little better in the ladies’ quarters on the third deck because Jon was able to choose her the top rack where she could sit up in bed.

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We had an orientation and were given a booklet to fill in during our stay.  It was homework for the teacher to learn about the life and operation of the ship plus new vocabulary from “head” to stern (multiple meanings).  Lisa dove in right away to finish the job with high marks; Art followed along and got signatures too.  The activities helped us make the most of the seven days.

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They even let us swab the deck.  It was clear that the sailors were more than ready to end their seven months aboard, but they were courteous and even cleaned up their language.

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As we introduced ourselves to the other Tigers and crew members, called Dragons on this ship, we got a similar response to the question, “So where are you from?” We answered–Siberia.  This gave us an opportunity to share about our missionary life and often gave us the surprise of finding other believers among the sailors and hearing their testimonies.  One nice revelation was that Jon’s chief, to whom he reported, was a solid believer which was an answer to the prayer that Jon would be watched over while on board.

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We observed big guns being fired, helicopters taking off and landing on the moving deck, eating in the mess, learning a new way to walk and enjoyed the glimpse into Jonathan’s last six years.

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As his military service is now closing this week, we are thankful that he continues to walk in the faith he grew up with. We are proud of the man he has become and is becoming.  DSC08140 One side note, Jonathan and Elisabeth will be traveling, pulling a U-Haul this week from California to Indiana. Please pray for their safety and alertness. Please pray for Jon’s transition to civilian life.

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DSC07614Summer is usually thought of as a time for vacations.  The kids are out of school so parents take them on family trips, the warmer weather invites people to spend more time outside, and families get together for reunions.  For us as teachers it is an opportunity for a change of routine and to charge our “batteries.”

What do missionaries do?  Often times summer provides more ministry opportunities like running youth and family camps, outdoor evangelistic meetings or sport events, construction projects to help build churches, and yes, taking vacations.

Sometimes those in ministry have a hard time justifying that it is ok to take a vacation-I do. But the Lord blessed us with a unique opportunity to be with our own MKs combined with chances to do church presentations and ministry updates about Ulan-Ude.

The Lord provided an awesome opportunity for us to take a cruise with our son whom we hadn’t seen for 2 years.  Six years ago he enlisted with the Navy which limited our communication and visits severely.  This year he finishes his active duty and will be transitioning back to civilian life.  The ship, U.S.S. Howard that he had been deployed on for the last 7 months invited a limited number of family members of the sailors to live and experience life at sea for a week.  Jonathan worked hard to make sure we had our applications in early for consideration.  He wasn’t able to tell us until last minute exact details so we flew to the U.S. first to spend time with our daughters and to begin visiting our ministry partners.DSC07839

Shortly after arriving in Indiana, Lisa received an unwanted surprise, an infected tooth.  Not having been home for a while and not planning to be home for long made getting her help a challenge.  We managed to get her in to see the last dentist we had used, he gave a prescription for antibiotics but the problem remained.  We then needed to find more urgent care as the pain was unmanageable for Lisa, who never complains about pain.  The second dentist suggested a root canal or extraction of the tooth but with the infection this wasn’t possible.  With relief still out of sight, we went to church with Lisa’s parents planning to present our ministry during the service.  Lisa’s pain made it a hard decision what to do , the pastor was understanding and rearranged the order of service to allow Art to share right away.   With the stress of the tooth drama unfolding, Art shared of our work with MK’s in the predominately Buddhist area of Russia.  After the meeting, we still sought help but still had to wait.   We traveled back to northern Indiana and finally found a dentist who could begin the root canal procedure and offer relief.DSC07643

Just a day after the procedure, we began a trip to Minnesota to visit our new friends and their families from the work team that we had met last summer in western Russia.   Indiana friends allowed us to use their Cadillac for a smooth ride.  However, about three hours down the road, the car began to vibrate; and we thought the tires might have a problem.  It turned out to be a rubber flange which we took care of quickly.DSC07665

A brief stop on the way allowed us a visit with missionary friends we met while in Ukraine. They are awaiting the arrival of their sixth child and are in the States for a while during the unrest in Ukraine.  We had an enjoyable evening and morning with them before continuing to Minn.DSC07678

Arriving in Minnesota, we had a delightful time reuniting with Pete and meeting his family for the first time. DSC07686 Pete and Trish hosted us and organized an open house for us to have personal time to connect with most of the construction team.  We were greatly encouraged from the time.

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Before leaving Minnesota, we were also able to connect with our teammates from western Russia, the Hutchcrafts, whose church had sent the group of men.DSC07684

Then quickly back to Indianapolis to fly to our Navy adventure. Details, yet to come.

Is It Summer Already?

DSCN1633We have just completed of our fourth teaching year in Ulan-Ude.  Every year has been different.  A recap:

Year 1 started November 1st, 2010 with two 5th graders and two 3rd graders (3 boys and one girl) and homeschooling our youngest daughter.

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Year 2 we started earlier, in September 2011, added two more boys, but also unfortunately lost two students. Anna was entering her senior year and was joined by a couple of other high school missionary students for science and literature.

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Year 3 couldn’t be started until October 2012 when we returned from home service. We started out with 5 boys from grades seven to second.  After Christmas break, they welcomed the part-time attendance of two pre-kindergartners—both GIRLS!  It was a stretch for Art and me to juggle the different grade levels with the added challenge of teaching a non-English speaking student.

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Year 4 also started in October, this time after our students returned from home service.  Sadly not all of our students were able to return.  Now we were evenly matched at 2 boys and 2 girls although the girls were still part-time.

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But God knew of course what was going to be best in the big picture, for this school year was to be disrupted from the start by various things:  Just a week before it started, Art and I had to move.

In November we had the privilege of a “field trip” to Thailand.  Nathan produced an excellent notebook with pictures, research articles, and summaries of his personal experiences—and he is only a 3rd grader!

DSCN1634An excerpt: If someone asked me, “Should I visit Thailand?” I would say, “Of course!”  I would explain to them how warm the weather was.  It’s so warm you can swim everyday, even at night. Another thing that is great is that a lot of people ride motorbikes. If you don’t have one of your own, it is easy to rent one. It is better than riding in the car because you can feel the breeze. You can go anywhere on a motorbike, but my favourite place to stop was a smoothie stand called Cowboy Wing 5. They had the best strawberry smoothies in the universe. You will also notice al the different kinds of animals and insects from the largest elephant to the tiniest mosquito. My favourite mammals were the lemur-monkeys. I don’t want to tell you too much because I want you to find out for yourself how great Thailand is. If I could, I would go back again!

 

 

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Friday, May 23, 2014, we successfully finished our fourth school year and managed to complete all course goals despite the interrupted schedule. The students love having an end of school party to eat and play games together.  The Lord blessed us with a gorgeous day to utilize the playground outside our apartment.

 

We thought it would be fun to share some of our students’ creativity with you.DSCN1619

Matthew 2nd grade wrote this paragraph: “One Thursday, three blind mice were playing tag. They were using electro-reception to find each other. Two of them also had heat sensors. The mice happily played for 3 hours. Then one poor mouse ran out the door, and was suddenly eaten by a cat!”

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Anneka Kndgtn. wrote the following: “I am riding on the horse.  The horse flicked her tail. We shall give her hay.”

 

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