Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sister & Sun

November 11, 2004

Smiles, hugs, long conversations, good food, and great fellowship, our time with my sister Rebecca was truly precious in every way. Even to have a sister here for a long period of time was such a blessing for me. The hardest part of living in Russia is the lack of close fellowship with family. Sometimes I look out my window at the gray sky and darkening days and I wish I were back home where life and laughter and loved ones abound. But God has a purpose for us here and until that purpose is finished we will stay. During her time here, it was wonderful to see Russia through the eyes of a newcomer. Sometimes I forget how different the culture and living conditions are here as opposed to other places. Let me give you a short example of her letters home…

… Now let me say more about toilets. This must be the only place on earth where one PAYS to use a public restroom. Yep, 25 cents for the privilege of comfort, and you don't dare sit on the seat (please don't ask for details) And you bring your own tissue, always, when out on the town, because it ain't always supplied even for the 25 cents. I used one port-a-potty perched happily on a downtown street, on other occasions we were at a restaurant so a potty was available there. Life is topsy turvy public park bathroom stood out for its amazing cleanliness and pretty tile work, but the toilets at church, which gathers in a rented theater, were so foul you want to close your eyes and plug your nose, but of course you can't, because all energy is focused on squatting just so, and finding the tissue in your pocket and not letting your skirt touch ANYTHING in the tiny, damp closet of a bathroom. I strongly suspect the natives go around dehydrated to avoid the NEED for potties in public places…

I had a wonderful laugh at that one!

We hit all the highlights of Russian culture including the palaces, the Hermitage, the ballet, and the Russian Art museum. Everywhere we went I learned more about Russian toilets through the comments and laughter of my sister. Thank goodness I didn’t take her to the holes in the floor at the major train stations which serve as toilets there.

Please pray for my sister as she is currently battling breast cancer. She returned from Russia to learn that a lump in her breast was cancerous. I believe that the prayers of God’s family are 100% more effective than all the treatments our medical community can offer.

Sunshine, palm trees, and clear blue water. Aaron and Timothy and I took our first vacation as a family and flew to the warm Egyptian shores of the Red Sea. Air temperatures stayed in the 80s and Water temperatures in the 70s. Coming from the cold north it was funny to see a plane-full of frozen northerners stagger out into the desert heat of the far south, coats over arms, eyes squinting in the brilliant sunlight, boots and long sleeved shirts out of place in this sudden summer. Plane after plane was landing from all over Europe unloading hundreds of passengers into a tiny airport where tour guides were shouting frantically to attract the attention of those who were to join them for a trip to their specific hotels. After an hour and a half wait in the long line through Passport Control, we were loaded on busses and made our way with much honking and crazy driving to our beautiful glass fronted hotel. With three swimming pools and terraced levels the grounds of this 4+ star resort were absolutely stunning. And the service was hard to describe. Every day our cleaning man (only men work in the hotel for both cultural as well as religious reasons) would leave a beautiful sculpture made out of our towels and lovely blossoms of every color.

And then to the beaches and the warm warm water. Fish of every hue, size and species swarmed the coral reefs of this lovely town. With snorkel gear in hand, Aaron and I took turns for several hours a day exploring the rich world of a tropical coral reef. Timothy played in the sand and surf, chasing the occasional white heron which would land nearby looking for smaller fish swimming close to shore. We built sand castles, ate falafels from a nearby cafe, and strolled the walking streets lined with shops. With Timothy’s blond hair and blue eyes, we were an attraction for every passing Egyptian. With grins and whistles they would lift our startled son into the air, kissing him on the cheeks, exclaiming over and over how beautiful he was. It was a contest for the staff at our hotel to see who could make him smile or laugh the most. They would dance in front of his highchair at dinner, blow him kisses across the dinning room, and the chief chef would make a mad dash from the kitchen every time he heard Tim’s voice, to kiss and hug him.

All in all it was a lovely 10 days of relaxation and fellowship as a family.
May there be more to come!

Blessings to all of you and may you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Summer Fun

September 10, 2004

Time flies when you're having fun, and we have been having loads of it!! We grilled shashlik (shish kabobs) on the beach with dear friends, walked through Kiev at midnight to hear the bells of St. Michael's play the national anthem, and paddled our hearts out on the Dnepr River with family.
We spent one glorious week in Kiev, Ukraine, visiting a good friend and missionary, Natasha Shure. We were so blessed to visit her and Vicky, her housemate and ministry co-leader. We also had the double delight of spending a few days with my sister Ruth and her family just leaving the Ukraine after 10 days of ministry in the south. What a much needed time of refreshment and blessing.

Then back to St. Petersburg where my clinic had finally moved into its new home under a new name. We went from a one story outpatient clinic with 8 exam rooms to a full 6 story hospital, 20 exam rooms, and 30 inpatient beds, operating theaters, diagnostic centers, a full floor of dentistry. Talk about bouncing around an empty can. Our poor little staff of 100 full time workers felt really lost. Of course the clinic forgot to order enough supplies to fill all those exam rooms, so we were running from one floor to the next in sharing our pulse oximeter, ECG machine. We didn't even have enough basic supplies to stock our outpatient clinic. It took a week before we could really say we were ready. But the floors looked beautiful in their Italian marble and the 5 story vaulted atrium where our reception is located was absolutely breathtaking.

And then of course was the exciting discovery that we are expecting another little Bogott sometime mid April. This has truly been a summer of many blessings.

Aaron has been working hard in a new project taken on by Jensen Group, to lease close to 900,000 square feet of storage and factory space for a company situated outside the city. He spends 3 to 4 days traveling to this site and has not been getting home before 8pm. It has been difficult and extremely wearing on him. My prayer is that he leases the space quickly and gets back to his regular work schedule at Jensen. Of course with an active
21 month old and another on the way, poor Aaron gets an exhausted wife to greet him when he does get home.

Timothy continues to grow - at an alarming rate - and now falls in the 110 percentile for his height and 120 percentile for his weight. That means he is really big for his age J. Most people walk up to him chatting to him in Russian and are somewhat surprised that he chats back in baby-talk as he looks like a three year old. He walks around the house with a phone attached to his ear, sometimes two, and babbles away at "Baba, Papa, Mama, or whoever it takes his fancy to hold a conversation with. I listen to him in amazement at his long involved conversations and exclamations and wish I could understand his special language. He certainly must have something interesting to tell.

In ministry, we continue to meet the needs, especially medical, of those who God leads us to. Aaron and I have helped several families in crisis' pay their medical bills as well as see some of my clinic's physicians at a reduced price. I continue to give medical advice over the phone as different missionaries or Russian friends call with various ailments or health questions. This week I gave a presentation to a group of foreigners who had just arrived in the city for a stay of one or more years. We discussed health issues in Russia, vaccinations needed, quality of health care, food, drinking water etc. The U.S. Consulate asked me to take a job with them as their nurse, but I had to decline as they were also asking me to pay for my own work visa as well as the cost of procuring it - close to a
thousand dollars. All in all it has been a busy summer and fall with more
and more being added to our plate.

One of my greatest joys has been leading worship in our church one Sunday a month. More and more people have been joining our team and now we have a full team with two to three guitars, a drum set, and four singers. Aaron and I bought a case for the electric piano he bought me and we have been hauling it back and forth to the church when it is our time to lead worship.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

God's Storehouse

May 26, 2004

Her name is Maria and she has four children, the oldest is 13, the youngest 4. Her husband, Francesco, is from Cuba and due to the extreme prejudice in this country, has been unable to find adequate work to support his family.
They live in one room of an obzerzhetye (or dorm), no kitchen, toilet in the hall, showers in the basement for the whole building. I have seen them come to church over the past few years, their clothes old and well used, the children in boots too large or falling apart, the parents tired and careworn. And yet this couple loves the Lord, often weeping openly during worship. Until today, I looked at them without thought to their circumstances, without a desire to know their needs, even though they were obviously struggling. Then I saw them weeping before the Lord, and their simple, unashamed faith broke my defenses down and I began to see them with the Father’s eyes. As I bowed my head, tears streaming down my face, I asked Jesus to forgive my pride and lack of interest and tell me how we, as a couple, could bless this family.

After the service, gently, and with compassion, I was able to ask Marina how she was doing. She paused and then shared with me some of the trials her family had lived through these past few years. “But God is our strength and joy and He is enough!” I looked at this beautiful woman, her threadbare dress hanging on a frame too thin to be healthy, and I saw the beauty of Jesus shining in her face.

James 2:15,16 “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and be filled, and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” I love James, he puts the obvious so well. How many times I have shook my head in concern and said, “I’ll pray for you my friend, that God will open His storehouses of heaven for you…” then gone on my self righteous way. WE are God’s storehouses, we are His blessing, His answer to prayers of brothers and sisters in need. I turned aside to Aaron, my wonderfully gracious husband, and said, “I believe God wants us to bless this family.” He pulled out his wallet and opened it up.

“How much?” he asked. I thought of an amount that would feed them for two weeks and then doubled it. Knowing it was more than her husband might make in a month, I quietly slipped the amount into Maria’s pockets with a kiss and told her God wanted to bless her. She vainly tried to push my hand away, but I am rather quick and persistent. It wasn’t until later that I thought to pray that there were no holes in her coat pocket.

God’s love is amazing!!!! Aaron and I have been able to bless so many these past few years. Believers and nonbelievers who have found themselves in the midst of desperate situations and have been utterly blessed as we have met their needs. Your generous gifts over the past years have been passed on, in the name of Jesus, to so many. The birthing cost for a beautiful little girl named Emma, whose parents had no idea where the money for the hospital and birth would come from, an operation for a 10 year old Ukrainian girl, removing massive growths on her legs so she could walk again, a missionary out of food and asking for a loan received a debt free gift of money till his support came in. The list goes on… In every instance the grace of God was extended to these, many responding in tears of relief and sometimes disbelief. My coworker who received the money for the operation on her niece’s legs stood dumfounded in our staff lounge crying because a group of people who knew nothing about her niece had given to help others.

You think you guys have it fun!!!!!!!! No way! Try being God’s banker for a few years and see how blessed you get!

It’s not just the money. Aaron and I have been able to use our home, time and again to bless others, to show them hospitality. Just the other weekend we had thirty women stuffed into our living room for a woman’s conference put on by our church. It was supposed to last 4 hours. 7 1/2 hours later, we finally said goodbye to the last ladies. Teaching, prayer, worship, filled our home for the better part of a Saturday. As a church team, we fed them, ministered to them, and fellowshipped with them. The women were deeply moved, and as one of the team leaders I was able to write down every name, and a bit about each one. What an effective tool for intercession.
My dear husband kept Timothy entertained, fed and changed while I helped to host the event.

So my challenge to you dear ones is to ask the Lord how you can be an effective blessing in your congregations, neighborhood, workplace. Find someone, or a family in need, get to know them (don’t be shy!) and then ask God to open your eyes – to see them as He does – but be warned, He will break your heart for them!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Winter Fun

March 3, 2004

She hobbles out of her door, two small mutts in attendance. Timothy greets her with excited shouts, barking loudly at her two companions. “Come on,” she yells at him, her face wrinkling in a smile of greeting, “hurry up or we’ll leave you behind.” She makes her painful way out into our courtyard and heads for the street, Timothy toddling after her with gasps of excitement. Her two small dogs run up to him, their bodies wriggling in delight to say ‘hi’. Timothy continues to bark at them in mutual greeting. Our ancient neighbor yells again “Hurry up! Time for a walk.” Timothy is beside himself with joy as he does his best to keep up with his new learned walking skills. We are off on a tour of the surrounding area, sprinkling oatmeal on the hard packed snow for the local birds. The neighborhood pigeons have come to know Timothy’s excited shouts and come in a whirr of wings to settle nearby for the feast. A flock of sparrows and finches come to investigate, as well as a couple of large crows who soon loose interest in the offered meal.

Our ventures out into the freezing cold everyday are a highlight for both Timothy and I. He protests in loud cries on having to go inside, frozen nose or no. We have made friends with the other mothers or grandmothers who bring their small ones out for a bit of “fresh” air everyday – a Russian tradition no matter the temperature. On days where it reaches close to 0 degrees F. I tend to do the quick 20 minute tour. If it is in the teens, we are often out for 45 to 50 minutes. Several times a day, Timothy insists on sitting in our deep set windowsills to watch the cars and trucks go by, as well as the few hardy folks walking their dogs. Each dog is greeted with excited barks and tapping on the window. Timothy thinks cats are just a smaller version of his favorite animal and bark at them as well. He really is a delight as his personality blossoms, and he becomes more communicative. He uses sign language to say “please and thank you” , as well as “all done” and is just beginning to add words to his vocabulary, “duck” being his first word after papa and mama. Aaron insists it sounds like “dude” and says Tim is bound to be a surfer.

Life seems to slow down during the long bitter months of winter. We wait expectantly for the spring thaw, mud and all, and the warmer weather. This year, we will not be returning home to the U.S. We have chosen instead to take a family vacation and visit the ruins of the New Testament churches located in Turkey. Ephesus has some of the best Roman ruins in the world as well as the wonderful attraction of being on the Aegean Sea. We also plan to visit a missionary we support in the Ukraine and meet with John and Ruth Maletz and their family (Ramona’s Sister and Brother in Law) in Kiev. They will be traveling to the Ukraine for several weeks of ministry and are bringing their four children with them! We are delighted to be able to spend time with them as well as Natasha this summer.

Of course the downside is that we will not be able to see all of our family as well as many of our good friends this year. Please feel free however to come and visit us in St. Petersburg. We will give you the royal tour and you can sample Ramona’s gourmet cooking free of charge.

For those of you who have followed the Tajik story. Many of you know that the families returned to Tajikistan following the brutal killing of one of their children. Ricardo, the YWAM base leader had a chance to fly down to Tajikistan with Alexei to meet with the families there, and see how they were doing. All they had in departing St Petersburg was a telephone number and the name of a town. They were able to miraculously contact one of the men who met them and brought them to the compound where the families were living. They are doing much better there in their homeland, each family having a room to themselves, running water, etc. Ricardo and Alexei were treated like royalty, and were joyously received by the families who were astonished that the YWAM leadership had kept their word to visit and check up on them. The leaders of the families say that there is no work available in Tajikistan, and they may have to come back to St. Pete’s to find work, a matter that the women are distressed about. Please continue to pray for them as a group. They have heard the gospel, and God’s word does not come back void. Pray for Christian contacts in their area as well as a continued stable living condition for them as a group.

Blessings and love to you all in the name of our Lord!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Tender Moments

January 14, 2004

Candle light gives the large room a warm, intimate feeling. We are sitting around a rustic wooden table in a restaurant in the heart of Old Town, Tallinn. There is no other light source except the candles which light every table here as well as grace large wooden chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The smell of warm wax and spicy food fills the dining hall. Our menus include such entrées as "Bear, Wild boar, Elk, and Lamb done Mountain style". Old Hansa, the name of this restaurant is famous for its medieval atmosphere and spicy cooking. Pickled vegetables of every kind, roles stuffed with savory spices and nuts, our food comes out on large wooden platters in huge portions. Spiced beers and ciders compliment the various dishes. We were lucky to get a place in this three story restaurant, packed to its capacity on this cold wintry night. The servers are dressed appropriately in medieval costumes, while musicians stroll around entertaining the guests as they feast. I look around the table at my loved ones, wanting to capture this moment in my mind. Thank you Lord for the gift of good fellowship and good food!

Our time in Tallinn with Aaron's parents was a time I will cherish in my memories for a long time. We were blessed to stay at a small hostel situated above a restaurant in Old Town. We walked the small enchanting alleys of this beautiful city, gazing at the lovely Christmas displays, stopping in for a hot cup of coffee or tea and a pastry at the local coffee shops, or just enjoying our time walking through the Christmas Bazaar in Market Square. Evenings were spent playing cards and fellowshipping in our rooms. Aaron and I event went out on a much needed date while Grandma and Grandpa watched Timothy. That also was a delight to watch as grandparents and grandson became reacquainted with each-other. For the first time in years, I felt like we were celebrating a true season of Christmas, brought to this family from across the ocean by loved ones.

"We have to go over that?!" Donna, my mother in law, looked questioningly at the filthy highway divider separating us from our destination. I nodded, apologizing for not warning her. She smiled and gamely hiked her long coat to scramble over the thigh high barrier. We were on our way to a large bulk food's store called Metro to do our weekly shopping. Two large back packs rested on our shoulders, ready to receive the load of groceries we intended to buy. I had done this so many times before, I forgot to explain in detail exactly how we were going to "go shopping". An hour away by public transport, Metro was still the best place for us to go to find an abundance of high quality imported and domestic foods. Because of its size, it also boasted the lowest prices around. An hour and a half later, we struggled out of the store weighed down with our purchases, a bag in each hand as well. The wind was blowing snow in our faces as we waited by the highway for 20 minutes as one after another of the rout taxis passed us by, full, and unwilling to stop. I could feel my own strength starting to falter and wondered how Donna was doing. Finally a rout bus pulled up and let us into its overcrowded but warm interior. By the time we reached home, both of us were exhausted.

Sometimes I don't think anymore about the reality of living here in Russia without the convenience of a car. Everything that Aaron and I purchase, we bring home by bus, metro, taxi etc. We carry everything on our backs or in our arms, including our 26 lb son. Often times we walk for miles every day, to the bus stop, from the bus stop, to the nearest metro station, or just out to take baby for a stroll in his stroller. We meet all sorts of interesting people as Aaron flags down cars for us to get us to one place or another.

The other day, we met a gentleman driving a BMW who had his own business in "weak" alcohol. We were once again on our way home from "Metro", loaded down with our weekly purchases and had decided to take a taxi home. He was from Dagestan and was playing Arabic music as loud as his good quality speakers could play. After glancing in his mirror at my pained expression, he asked if the music was too loud. I smiled and said just a little. He promptly went into a long dissertation on the woes women could bring and ended up nearly in tears as he told Aaron how he had just been spurned by the love of his life, a Russian woman who "Did not know how to love" as he put it. He pulled out her picture and showed us her face, shaking his head at remembered pain. "What should I do?" He asked Aaron. "I didn't mean to fall in love with her!" Aaron replied he had no words to say. In the end, they traded phone numbers and shook hands as we said goodbye. I don't know if he will ever contact us, but God never just puts us in the path of others without a reason. I have been praying for this man since, believing that God has the answers he needs. The truth is, no man or woman can truly love if the love of the Father in not in him.

Aaron and I attended the first Couples meeting at our church last night. It was a precious time as we shared amongst ourselves the troubles and triumphs we were going through in our relationships. We are going through the Bible, studying the reasons God created marriage, as well as what His purpose is for a Godly marriage. Because we have agreed to keep all things shared confidential, there is a much freer atmosphere to be honest in our sharing.

I believe strongholds will be broken and freedoms gained as we study God's word and pray and intercede for each-other. Pray for this group. It is rare that good Biblical counseling is available for Christian couples here in Russia. We will be hosting this group in our home next week. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will be there in the midst of us as we explore what a Godly marriage relationship entails.

May the peace of God be with you and in your hearts.