Six Weeks

Six weeks from today, I begin the long trip home. I will all begin early on the morning of May 29th – St. Petersburg to Paris to San Francisco and finally to Salt Lake.

Thursday-Sunday is our spring teachers retreat. As I prepare to return, I have been reflecting on the experience and preparing for reverse culture shock. Spending nine months in another culture really changes you. Readjusting to life in the US will take some effort.

I am also preparing my “must do and see” list. With less than six weeks left, I am making a lot of plans – visits to museums, events, and other places such as Peterhoff, Pushkin, and Vyborg.

As departure approaches, I am excited about seeing family and friends as well as enjoying all of the things that I miss. At the same time, I anticipate a great sense of loss, as I leave a place of familiarity and a whole lot of new friends at my church.

Since early February, I have been able to connect with and serve a lot of African students studying here in the city. A few American and European students as well. I will miss them all!

THE FUTURE

While I have enjoyed the year, many events and circumstances have made it clear that I should return to Salt Lake City and settle down for the time being.

Some opportunities for service in my church and with international students have developed and I have received a great job offer without sending a resume or having an interview.

So much to do, so little time!

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Four Months To Go!

Despite the endlessness of the cold, dark winter, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The days are getting longer and teaching is becoming less demanding. The departure date for the USA on June 2, is in sight.

As I look toward the future, several opportunities have surfaced. I am busy considering the details and praying about some next steps.  I would appreciate your prayers in this matter.  

The Philippines

The January/February trip to the Philippines was full of enjoyment (see pictures in my photostream) and the beginning of some new friendships. The last things I expected to do were to teach, preach, and sing on the trip. God was gracious and merciful as He helped me prepare and accomplish these tasks. The whole experience was a pleasure and a privilege.

New Developments

I recently changed churches (http://www.icapetersburg.com ) and am starting connect with a group of African university students from Swaziland, Ghana, Nigeria, and other places. I am also meeting Russian believers as well as making new friends from the US and the UK.

I am also teaching a new group of linguistics students at the university. They are first year students (16-17 years old) and all fourteen of them are girls. Stay tuned. I’m sure there will be some drama.

Love God! Love Man!

God began a work of renewal and a season of growth in my life beginning in late December. Much that is going on is hard to explain, but in some definable ways I am reading and studying a whole lot more Bible, listening to a lot of teaching podcasts from churches all over the place such as Capital Church, K2, Woodland Hills, Mars Hill, and Mosaic-Portland, etc. I am also reading a lot of great books.

Truths that I am hearing consistently in much of the teaching, Bible study and books that I am reading seem to focus on three topics.

1. Loving God / Loving Man

2. God’s grace and mercy

3. The Great Reversal (living Jesus’ example of servanthood and humility is the only way to be great in the Kingdom of God)

I will focus on loving God and loving man in this post and will write about the others in the future.

In all of the expectations, requirements, disciplines and rules that we learn about the Christian life, it is quite easy to become distracted and miss the point of a life in God altogether – loving God and loving man.

Mark 12:30-31 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Jesus sums up the 10 Commandments and the 613 laws that the Jews were following at the time with two – LOVE GOD and LOVE MAN.

Christ followers in the First Century did just that and they changed their world. Their actions still reverberate in our world today. What if we actually decided to live this way? What if we actually looked at the way Jesus lived, obeyed him and followed His example? We can change our world too – by carefully considering Jesus’ words and life and then imitating him.

GRACE and PEACE in JESUS,

Allen

Reflections on the Philippines

My three week break is quickly coming to a close.  I will arrive in St. Petersburg on February 4, and will begin teaching again within a week or so after that.

Russia and the Republic of the Philippines are completely opposite in nearly every way – culture, climate, geography, spiritual climate, education,  I could continue for a few pages.

Many surprises have come my way during the break.  Many invitations to teach, preach, and sing have been the biggest surprises. Last Sunday, I taught at local church.  This Sunday, I will be preaching at a tribal church.  This trip has confirmed that sometimes God chooses to use me  in ways that I least expect and I am the least comfortable with – always growing, always stretching and always being tested.  I have grown to embrace the process and will share in more detail in a future post.

It is a humid 88 degrees in Davao (31 – C) and I am preparing to practice,  share and hang out with the worship band at a local church later this evening.  The thought of a band rehearsal is making me think about enjoyable times with the band at Capital Church – enjoyable rehearsals, great Sundays, a few evenings hanging out, and the Chick Corea and Return to Forever concert last summer.  I REALLY miss you guys!

While I enjoy listening to podcasts from Capital Church, K2 and a number of other great churches in the US, nothing has been able replace the community and the experience of doing life together with friends in Salt Lake City.

On Monday, I was invited to go island hopping with a local pastor and his leadership team.  Yes!  Pasty white me from no-sun Russia.  The experience was outrageous!

Island Hopping in the PhilippinesTalikue Island

A Better Way?

Happy New Year!

St. Petersburg has been experiencing some welcome sunshine and some unwelcome COLD temperatures.  Three weeks into the holiday break, I am looking forward to the tropical temperatures of the Philippines and will be in Davao in less than a week.

In the future, I will continue to blog about adventures in the Philippines and Russia and also would like to share more about the realities and truths that are challenging me.  I hope that you will join in the dialogue and I pray that Jesus will challenge you to take a closer look at Him with fresh eyes and an open heart.

I have been following the blog of a promising leader of the 20’s-30’s generation for quite some time now. Something Glenn Packiam said in a recent post stands out to me –

“Perhaps influence in itself is not evil. But neither is it automatically a tool in God’s hands. In fact, “reaching the world” may have little to do with super-individuals and influential leaders. It might just have more to do with quiet faithfulness and simple obedience.”

Since arriving in St. Petersburg, Russia, last August; the idea of living a simple, faithful and obedient life has been the focal point of Christ’s work in me. In my assignment as an English teacher at a Russian university, I am not in a position to make a name for myself or for the cause of “Christendom”. Out of respect for the desires of the university and to protect the Christian organization and the people that I work with, I really cannot speak of Christ or directly refer to the Bible or truths of Christianity in the classroom. In my world, it is the acts of quiet faithfulness and simple obedience that communicate Jesus to my students. Unfortunately, those acts are too few and far between.

Quiet faithfulness and simple obedience do not allow me to say “Look at my accomplishments, my wisdom, my talents, my intelligence, and my potential!” They do not allow opportunity for pursuit of the fame or influence or significance or wealth – the things that we have been taught are our destiny if we just follow our dreams, and our birthright because we from the right country. Jesus offers us promises of blessing and significance in His kingdom that are quite different from the promises of our culture.

Shortcuts to Influence and Living Upside Down

Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to fame, significance and influence (Matthew 4:1-13). Thankfully, Jesus turned it down and showed us a better way – quiet faithfulness and simple obedience. How many times, with the best intention of bringing attention to God and results for the Kingdom, have we taken the shortcut and accomplished exactly the opposite by gaining attention or recognition for our agenda, our talents, our church/organization and our good works?

In Matthew 5-7, Jesus steps away from parables and preaches a sermon that confounded His listeners at the time and is still a matter of debate among pastors, teachers and theologians more than 2,000 years later.

Again, Jesus teaches us through His words and life that there is a better way. First, Jesus shows us the law and raises the bar proving that there is no way to God through the law, only through HIM.  Then Jesus shows us a life that is upside down in comparison to the culture that is inside and outside of our church walls.

What would a life of quiet faithfulness and simple obedience look like to you? What is He teaching you about His better way and what does that mean for you in the new year?

Grace and Peace in Christ

Note: Glenn Packiam is a pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. (Click here for Glenn’s blog) He is also a great songwriter and a former member of Desperation Band. Glenn’s recent post is entitled “Famous Ones: Is Influence Overrated? (Click here to read)

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

For the first time since October, I witnessed blue skies and sunshine in St. Petersburg.  Quite a welcome experience!

A few days ago, I was able to spend a couple of days in Moscow with Ray and Rebecca Craven and their newly-adopted children, Ilya and Anya.

Two years ago this week, a group of us visited the orphanage.  Seeing Ilya and Anya again reminded me of the pain and sense of abandonment that orphans must feel, but is also a reminder of the incredible power of miracle-working God who has provided families for so many of the children since our first visit.  Three families that I know have adopted from the orphanage and several other children have also been adopted in the past 2 1/2 years.

With some free time over the past couple of weeks, I have had time to think and focus on the promise of a new year.  A few verses in Galatians touch on some ideas that I would like to focus on this year.

“So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” Galatians 6:9-10 (The Message)

A few words and phrases stand out –  doing good, fatigue, harvest, don’t give up or quit. The directive of working for the benefit of all every time we get the chance, starting with the people in our community of faith leaps off the page.

As we enter a year in which we will probably see and maybe experience great need, we will have ample opportunity to become fatigued doing good, I encourage you not to give up and to keep a steady pace.

Earlier this evening, I completed Shane Claiborne’s and Chris Haw’s book “Jesus For President.” I am contemplating their challenge to serve the community of faith and will be spending some time thinking and praying about what that means.

Have you ever had the realization that you have given SO MUCH to God, but that somehow He is still asking for more?  After a year of great transition and simplification, I still have the feeling that God wants a whole lot more of me.  God is very clear that He does not want us just to give a lot of money, time, passion, energy, talent and worship.  He wants it ALL and He wants it ALL OF THE TIME.

Many of you are part of my community of faith.  I will be praying for you and look forward to seeing many of you again later this year. My prayer is that you will grow closer in your community of faith, that you will protect and serve each other.  I pray that you will serve unselfishly, focusing on “the least of these.”  I pray that you will gain strength and energy from each other and from God as our community faces difficulties and experiences great victories in 2009.

Grace and Peace

10:50 PM on Monday

Some friends from Salt Lake City, Ray and Rebecca Craven, have been spending some time in St. Petersburg while waiting to complete the adoptions. It has been great to see some friends. We have had a great time visiting some cathedrals, Peter and Paul Fortress, and museums.

We visited the Fortress yesterday. It was quite chilly as you can see.
Allen, Rebecca and Ray at Peter and Paul Fortress

With only four more classes until winter break, I am looking forward to visiting the orphans at Holuy for Russian Christmas and am also contemplating a trip to Moscow (to see Ray & Rebecca, Ilya and Anya before they leave at the end of the month) and possibly a visit to Central Europe.

Eight weeks is a lot of free time and I want to take advantage of the break for travel and for lesson preparation.

The Christmas season is slow and quiet. I am looking forward to some time to rest, think, pray, read, and contemplate the future.

Russians celebrate the New Year much like we celebrate Christmas. The Orthodox Christmas (January 7) marks the end of a holiday week for many people. It is anti-climactic, much like we spend New Years Day.

While so many of you are going stark-raving mad in preparation for the Holidays, I encourage you to STOP, simplify, and enjoy the season in celebration of a God’s scandalous love and the sacrifice of his son – the Savior King, and our Prince of Peace.

Living in a densely populated city of almost six million people, it is often hard to comprehend the concept of peace.

In the tumultuous political and economic year that we have experienced, you may also think that peace is some distant Utopian dream.

Recently, I have been reminded of the lyrics of an old Christmas carol:

And in despair, I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Until next time…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Greetings from snowy St. Petersburg!

Yes!  The white stuff started flying about a week ago.  Since then it has been wet, cold, and slushy.

I am enjoying the beginning of our Thanksgiving Break. No, Russia does not celebrate a holiday.  Our teaching group has the week off and we will be taking an 8 hour bus ride to Tallinn, Estonia, late this evening.

It will be great to see some movies in English and to have some down time.  I plan on shopping, and enjoying the time outside Russia.

During the past month, I have continued to get closer to a few of my students and am looking forward to spending time with some of them in December and January.

Sunday night, we hosted a real Thanksgiving Dinner with about 15 Russian friends and watched part of a NFL game from last year to give our friends an authentic Thanksgiving experience.

Speaking of football, I am as excited as many of my friends in Utah about the 12-0 season for the Utes.  I woke up to the good news last Sunday morning.  GO UTES!

GIVING THANKS

There is so much to be thankful for here in Russia – a warm and cozy flat, the opportunity to teach and share with my students, and the fact that so far all of my needs are met just to mention a few.

I would especially like to thank God for those of you who are faithful in supporting me, praying for me, and staying in contact.  The email and phone calls on Skype are a real blessing.

My long holiday break begins on December 20 and lasts until either February 9 or 16.  I hope to take a short trip to Ivanovo and am making plans to fly to Vienna and visit a friend and some other teachers in Bratislava, Slovakia.  If things work out, I would also like to visit Prague.

A few new pictures are available on the photostream and I will be writing in more detail and adding some more pictures in the next week.

HOLUY NEWS

For those of you who I have been to Holuy with, I have been in contact with Katya and Deema.  Last Tuesday evening, Katya and I were able to have dinner.  Sunday afternoon, I had tea with Deema.  I look forward to spending time with them often.  Look for some pictures soon.

I am definitely missing all of my friends from Capital, K2.

Until next time, grace and peace in Christ.

Allen