Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm the Project

I have met many new acquaintances, and some very good new friends, here in Moscow.  One of them is an English teacher who has assigned me to several of her students.  They are to take me places in Moscow and speak only English with me.

To me, this is an amazing opportunity to see this marvelous city through the eyes and experiences of the young people who will be leaders of the next generation.

Yesterday was the first event in the project.  A young man, Sergey, was in charge of me for the day.  He said we would go to a conservatory for a free concert performance involving graduates and students.  He didn't know exactly what to expect, only that there would be music and it was free.  

Although my words below do not begin to scratch the surface of the experience, I wanted to get the words out of my hands before they are lost.  Some of these phrases were formed while I sat beneath the music's spell, others while I slept last night.  

We met on one of the platforms of one of the stations that lay deep within the earth beneath the center of Moscow.  I can't tell you exactly where we were from the outside of the Metro, but from within it was the Red Line station - I call it Lenin's Library because that is my scratchy translation.  I scurried behind my guide glad for his height making it easier to keep track of him through the maze.  Once upon ground we sloshed between the slush and the snow and the freezing rain, dodging people and traffic and flying puddles, we made our way to an impossibly old building.  

If you have ever been to a piano recital you could describe the audience we joined.  Parents, grandparents, instructors, siblings, roommates and assorted other supporters politely lined the small hall where the first performances would be held.  Sergey read through the program and tried to explain it to me.  

It's funny, really, as much as I enjoy classical music I don't have any knowledge or training in it.  I don't know Bach from Chopin, but I know what I like and I know when something is properly executed.  I just do.  I've not had a lot of exposure to it and it's not something I would turn the radio dial to.  Yet, here I was infinitely excited to be seated in this lovely place anticipating lovely music.

The hall was a room really with high ceilings framed with careful molding and painted a soft yellow.  In the center was a stunning crystal chandelier.  I wished instantly for my good camera when I saw it.  

"Oh my!"  I said aloud.

Sergey looked around puzzled.  "What?"

"Look at that!  It's so beautiful!"

He sort of laughed and shook his head doubtless wondering about his addled American project.  

As the music began I watched as light and music danced together along the crystal beads playing with centuries of sound and life.  These chords so new to the young rang richly with history to the old.  Crossing generations, politics and lifestyles the music breathes.  

I watched one particular pianist who diligently worked to maintain decorum.  It was good for her to be a part of a duet as it allowed her some freedom while helping her follow the straight lines of the piece.  Her hands and face danced jubilantly with each note played.  Floating along the keyboard, she had forgotten her audience and played only for the joy of sound.  I couldn't help but wonder where her imagination took her as the music sang to her soul. 

I looked around the room more closely at the audience.  It occurred to me that many of them had been raised during Soviet times, some even during Stalin's reign of terror.  I watched the music behind their eyes and wished I could ask them where the memories of the music took them.  Did they see days when music was taken from them and given to another?  Or was music given the people in a general sense as a replacement for God?  The need for beauty and purpose did not cease when the government decided that God was for fools.  Rather, it found a new avenue and I wondered how that affected these lives around me. 

Leaving the small hall behind, we joined the larger performance venue to see who might perform there.  We were pleasantly surprised to find children showcasing their talents.  Even more spellbound I sat watching them participate in centuries of timeless expression.  

I considered how I was surrounded by a rich heritage of beauty and art in these rooms and yet I seemed the only one entranced by its significance.  Perhaps the others had been there so many times, had heard the beautiful notes so frequently, had listened to the crescendo and fall until it had all become common place. These audience members have been here before.  To them this is lovely, but not stunning.  

It occurred to me that the participants in this act playing out before me were much like their American counterparts.  I have watched my friends in Russia stand amazed when they encounter a divine touch from God.  When His quiet amazing presence fills a room, the awe on their faces is easy to see.  Often in America it is not so.  Many of my American friends are so awash in His grace and presence, it has become common place to them.  Bored, they look around, chat idly, play on their cell phones - and don't even notice He is there.

Afterwards I walked with my young friend down Arbat Street.  Fresh new architecture lines the sky above centuries old, solid buildings.  At the end of the avenue one of Stalin's Seven Sister buildings holds court.  The contrasts are stark here.  Western capitalism is making its mark, but not without allowance made for Russian tradition.

At the close of the day, the music warmed my heart and caused me to smile long into the wintry walk home.  I find I am rather excited to be a part of this project.  My next tour guide is expected to take me to an art gallery and then another will take me to the Kremlin.  God is good.  That's a fact!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tolstoy? Timeless!

Now that I'm in Moscow I find myself discussing Russian literature at odd turns and my love for Tolstoy's short stories always rises to the surface.  

My Russian friends look at me oddly as if to say, "Of all the great Russian writers, you pick Tolstoy?  You are a crazy American!"

In my defense, I thought I would post a reprint of an article I wrote in 2003 for the e-zine  I believe it will help you understand my fascination with Tolstoy's work.  I love his use of language and the twisting of his allegories.  I am curious about his life and how he saw himself though the lens of a Christian.  I am drawn into his teaching - but not quite as much as those who followed him religiously.  

So here I go throwing words into the universe which I hope will inspire you to read some great words, to think on some broader views and to strive to consider the value of your fellow man.  

What does a writer do in a Moscow winter?  Studies great writers to learn to write!


Tolstoy? Timeless!
What Men Live By
By Kris A. Newman
November 3, 2003

In an age where we are inundated with information, sometimes it’s hard to remember what the nitty-gritty of Christianity is all about—is it found in worship? Is it found in Bible memorization? Is it found in hearing the best preacher? Isn’t there someone who can tell us the simple rules that men ought to live by?

Actually, the simple lesson has been found. Count Leo Tolstoy wrote it many years ago in his novella and short story collection entitled What Men Live By and Other Tales.
It begins with What Men Live By, where we find an angel named Michael, disobedient to the plan of God, has fallen to earth and relies upon the mercy of a simple peasant family. Michael is assigned three lessons to learn—what dwells in man, what is not given to man, and what men live by. Unwittingly, the peasants and their neighbors teach him the answers.

Woven through this beautiful allegory of giving is a sense of common beauty. The beauty of family life and community breathe through every chapter. Tolstoy’s characters live simply, unburdened by the traps of possessions. They have one another. They have their work. They have God. What else could they need? They are not oblivious to the grand riches of the wealthy around them. Rather, they are satisfied with the richness of their relationships.

The first lesson is learned when the peasant looks beyond his own discomfort to share his coat and clothes with Michael as he suffered by the wayside. The peasant’s wife, likewise, has pity on Michael. They feed him, clothe him, and give him work. Their kindness teaches Michael that love is what dwells in man.

A year later, a verbose, obnoxious wealthy man demands that Michael make him a pair of boots from a specially tanned piece of hide. The rich man threatens that Michael will not be paid for the work unless the boots last for an entire year as if they were new. Michael, however, sees the death angel hovering near the rich man. He knows that God is about to take the man’s life. Carefully, he cuts and stitches the leather into a very fine pair of slippers. While the confused peasant is reprimanding Michael for wasting the gentleman’s materials, a messenger enters to tell them the gentleman perished before arriving home. They will need burial slippers instead. Thus, it was learned that it is not given to man to know what he needs. One must rely upon God for his needs to be met.

Several years pass before the final lesson is learned. Through the telling of a sad story with a rich ending, we learn that men live by love for another.

I John 4:20 tells us, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). Tolstoy is clearly teaching this lesson in What Men Live By. This thought is exemplified by the last line of the story, “All men live not by the thought they spend on their own welfare, but because love exists in man.” When we learn to give, we discover a new depth in God and the relationship He has with us.

Continuing on this theme, Tolstoy moves on to “Three Questions,” the story of a king who seeks to find the answers to these questions—“What is the most important thing to do? Who is the most important person? When is the most important time?” The answers are found when the king becomes actively engaged in helping others. The busier the king is about giving, the happier and safer his life becomes.

“The Coffee House of Surat” explores thoughts of spiritual prejudice and misconception. A discussion of religiosity introduced by a bitter, deceived man causes a disruption in the coffee house. Finally, a student of Confucius quietly addresses the crowd. He likens God to the sun and man’s ideas of God to their ideas of the sun. He concludes that the more learned a man becomes about the subject of God, the more he realizes how big God is, how small man is; He points out that our relationship with God should draw us closer to one another and never cause us to become haughty.

Finally, the Devil presents himself to a man who is overcome with greed in “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Driven to succeed, Pahom continues seeking after the elusive perfect piece of land. Finally, the title question is answered—six feet deep by six feet long. That’s all you have in the end.
It is common knowledge that the great Russian author was a wealthy landowner. How, then, could he write about peasant life, and why would he choose peasant life as his recurring subject in this book? (After all, he did write War and Peace.)

However, Tolstoy had a spiritual awakening of some sort in his later years. Realizing his need of people rather than riches, he denounced the money he made, freed his serfs, and worked among them as an equal. Thus, his teachings relating to Christianity flow from a forgiven heart.

Although rife with historical intricacies, the substance of Tolstoy’s teaching is timeless. Likewise, the opium drink in the coffee house was a common thing in Tolstoy’s day and certainly not allowable today. However, coffee houses still brew conversations and discussions as meeting places for bright minds.

Tolstoy is worth reading. Just don’t start with War and Peace. Start with his short story collections. You need go no further.
© 2003, Kris Newman

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New NewsLetter Link

Earlier today I took some time and put together an updated newsletter.  Many of you keep up with me on Facebook or through e-mail updates, but some don't so I will post the link here, also.

I really love being in Moscow.  There is something profoundly good feeling about being in the middle of the work of God with that as the primary focus of existence.  And besides, I love teaching.  

I'm in a good season.  Despite the challenges, the unending complications for simple things, the unfamiliarity of it all - I'm in a good season.

Enjoy the newsletter.  Shoot me a note if you have any questions or comments. I love hearing who is out there.  It's good for my fragile writer's ego.  

Blessings to you, Reader!

Happy December!

Moscow Version of Thanksgiving Dinner

First Snow Collage

Student Gone Wild

Good Night, Moscow!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Month End

Was I really still working at WRPR a month ago?  Did I really not even have my house packed, my clothes packed, my mind packed a month ago?

It feels like a lifetime ago.

According to my calendar, it was the 20th of October when I boarded a plane to head into this dream.  Today is only November 17th, so it must be less than a month.

So much has happened.  The new job, the new students, the new food, the new constant walking, the new transportation, the new church friends, the new language.... the renewed sense that I am where I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to be doing.

Not that I wasn't before.  But before I wouldn't have expected this to be on the list of things I should do.  Wanted to do, yes, but should?  No.  Yet here I am walking around this museum-city at perfect peace.

I have made many interesting new friends.  Kellie, my flatmate, for example.  A young woman who has traveled the world and says of her next destination, "God will let me know when and where."  I admire that faith and hope to live it, also.  We laugh at our inabilities and our successes together.  We share our hopes and keep each other optimistic.  It's so nice of God to give me a friend like her to keep me balanced and looking forward.

Then there is Sheri.  Quiet, calm, constant also a good laughing friend.  Answering my endless questions.  Taking me hither and yon for this and that.  Welcoming me into her home like family.  And her family, of it's own right, are new friends, also.  Anthony, her son, with all of his crazy stories and songs.  Makes it easier to not see my angelbabies all the time.  He pulls me into his world glad to have another set of listening ears.  Robert, her husband, also quick to answer a thousand questions and offer sound advice.  It seems wherever my life lands I find a family to adopt me.  I guess it's their turn.

Almira, my twin from another country.  We have only spent a few short hours together and yet our friendship feels like years.  The same sense of humor, the same perspectives, the same wanting to learn from the world runs parallel in our hearts.  Only God does that kind of thing.

My co-workers, also, especially Natalie with whom I share a classroom and a burden for these children set in our path.  She is beautiful, strong, intelligent and driven to do more.  Beside working full-time (and then some) she is taking classes at the university to further her education.  She remembers everything and I can't imagine how.  I am learning so much from her about Russian culture alone and blended cultures, also.  I hope some day I can balance plates with that kind of grace.

I have been to Red Square now several times.  It seems it's everyone's favorite place - not just mine.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from time spent there.

  Riding into the sunset.

WRPR umbrella has been a great blessing!  
Maybe I'll get you some new sand clients, John?

St. Basil's rising to greet us.

At the end of the day, I am amazed and blessed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hit the Ground Running!

Hey!  Well, then, here we are!  Writing from my table in my room in Moscow.  I still have to shake my head every time I say those words.

My first week has been full. 

To begin with, I didn't realize the baggage restrictions waiting for me at the Delta gate.  After buying a bag and switching my things, I finally got myself to start hugging, crying and saying good-bye.  I was honestly fine until Arthur said, "but I don't want you to go."  Leave to an angelboy to get the tears rolling.  I'm sure by now his tears are dry, but my eyes honestly mist with the very thought of those kids. 

Not my grown kids, really.  I have iMessaged and e-mailed and chatted and discussed with them various important and inane details until I'm pretty sure we have communicated more this week than in the month prior.  Funny how that works. 

I landed on Monday to find two parties waiting for me at the airport.  I felt like a queen!  I expected to find the Moses family who offered to be there.  They are the missionary family I will be working with in whatever way my hands can find.  It's funny to me that I have prayed for them for so long and now I find myself talking to them as if I know them, but they can't possibly know me yet. 

The other party to meet me was the School of Tomorrow where I will be working.  It seems they misunderstood the message that I had a ride and thought I needed a ride and so there they were.  Two brave young women battling the roads to get me where I needed to be.  Since they were familiar with our ultimate destination, I rode home with them.  In the hour of travel it felt as though I had made two new, good friends.

The rest of Monday was spent traveling, exchanging cash (thanks to Genny Miller for cash in hand which has been a VALUABLE blessing and something I hadn't thought of), a quick tour of the school, getting into my room, finding the grocery store and meeting my flatmates, eating Burger King. 

Ah!  Yes, I was quite ready to sleep at 9:00 pm. 

I started work on Tuesday where I met the staff I would work with and the students who I am blessed with.  By the end of the day my heart was full of gratitude.  I still can't quite believe I'm here.

I see many things which have lead me to this place, confirming my appointment with destiny, as it were.  I have a lovely birch tree right outside my window - my favorite - as though planted just for me.  I can find my way around some, although I wish I knew the language better, I can get along.  I have made new friends who feel as though I have always known them.  The month I spent here 11 years ago provided me with so so much information and training I am honestly not afraid to be here alone.

God is good.

And now, finally, after almost a full week of waiting, I have the internet on my laptop!  I wanted to shout when I saw it connect.  Thanks, God!

Today I will attend an international church after making my way across the city.   I'll get you some pictures after I upload them from my fabulous camera.  For now, I just wanted to shout out to the world!

Week one down.  So far, so good.  Thanks, God!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Off we go!

Well, here we go. 

In about 10 minutes my crew will be here to begin the transportation process.  Thorp to Minneapolis to New York City to Moscow.  I am feeling rather cared for now that all is just about said and done.  I know I seem daringly independent, but it's all those people taking care of me that make it so.

Thanks, especially, to my tall sons.  How proud I am of them!  They are probably pretty sore puppies today after all the moving everything upstairs.  And my daughter-in-law, too.  Without the three of them this would be one messy crowded house!   I appreciate their generous time and energy. 

Then my angelbabies who filled me with hugs and kisses and promised to pray for me every day.  What a beautiful gift.

And friends, oh my word!  People coming from hither and yon and texting and calling and e-mailing to send me off covered in grace and prayers.  They say you never know who your friends are until you really need help. Well, I have a LOT of friends, apparently.  Thanks, God!

My church families, too.  I seem to have quite a few of them and I am thankful for them.  Those who give and pray and encourage.  I hope God blesses them back a bunch for all that.  I'm sure He will.

And so here I go.  Flight is scheduled to leave at 1:00 pm today to start this part of the journey.  I will keep you posted as well as I can.

Until next summer....  See you here, there or in the air!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sunday I Fly

Not all too long ago a former student asked me if I was still planning to go to Russia someday.  I can see us standing there beneath the waning summer sky.

“Oh, no, I mean, I would if God asked, but I’m sure there is no way.”  I answered much the same as I had answered all the other faithful friends when they inquired.

Whether my heart wished or my mind dreamed or my God planned, it all fell out the same.  Stars flew gently by and one day became another and then I was called.  Not by God, but by a friend who, I am sure, is called by God.

“I have a proposition for you.  Would you be willing to teach in Moscow?”

I didn’t even hesitate.  Not for a moment.  My voice activated without any thought to reason.  “Yes, I am interested.  Let’s do this.  Let’s tell them I will come as long as the Lord opens the doors, I will walk through them.”

Practically speaking, there were many doors to open and walk through.  Permissions to be granted, support to be provided, a Letter of Invitation, a contract, a job waiting my return, a car, a house, a foster kid, a Little, a visa…. I stacked them all up in front of God almost daring Him to close the doors.  

Instead, one by one He opened them.  You can think what you will.  I watched them open. I viewed them through my doubt and self-perceptions.  I saw what God did.  Now, standing on the other side of Jordan, I feel like the children of Israel.  I want to dance and shout and fall to the ground in worship.  But I’m too amazed.  I keep saying how surreal it all is.  Totally, completely surreal.

There is more to the story, but I won’t bore you with the details.  Suffice to say there are no more doors to be opened.  On Sunday I’m going to board a plane which will take me from Minneapolis to New York City to Moscow.  By this time next week, I will be sleeping in a strange bed, in a new place, with two roommates in a storied, foreign land.

I am going to be teaching before I get another legal assistant paycheck.  I am going to be eating pelmeni and borscht and drinking Russian tea.  I’ll use the dormant language hiding in my memories.

I’m going to Russia.  There are so many who believed when I didn’t.  So many who reminded me when I forgot.  So many who prayed when my words rang hollow.

I have so much thanks to give.  To those who support me and pray for me and encourage me and give to me and bless me.  You are going, too.  Watch the blog for updates here and there.  

It’s really going to happen.  

Thanks, God.  I’m going to Russia.

No good-byes.  Only see ya in the summer!

To order a copy of A Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges or a Friend Named Jesus,
 please visit my website:  Writer's Pages

Facebook:  Author Kris A. Newman

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Acting and Reacting

Scene change occurred yesterday.  One that I’ve been waiting for so impatiently!  My inner OCD displayed flagrantly as I checked and checked and checked the Russian post tracking number as my package went from Moscow to NYC.  Even when the information stopped displaying as my letter of invitation worked its way across the United States.

Just before I left for lunch yesterday the call from reception came.  “Kris, could you come here a minute?”  

And there it was.  A Russian package with my name on it and my official Letter of Invitation in it. 
Suddenly it all became so real.  

Up to that point, honestly, everything was done by faith based on a phone call, some e-mails and a promise.

I am amazed, and very humbled, by the trust I feel placed on me.  

It’s funny, sort of, that I would be so taken aback by it.  I have invested in the same thing time and again.  I don’t even think twice about giving to missionaries of all kinds.  I have encouraged them to stretch and live their dreams.  I considered it a privilege to invest in the countries of their calling through them.

Now people are investing in Russia through me and it’s catching me off guard.

They can trust me, it’s true.  I really am going to take what I’m given and use it to do something good in a faraway place.  I really am going to Russia to teach children and share the goodness of God with them and their families.  I am compelled to say that out loud as if to convince myself of a truth others see.

I expect to learn a lot, too.  Much more than I expect to teach.   Maybe that’s why I’m so humbled by the generosity of my friends and co-workers.  I don’t see myself as someone with much to give.  I see my struggles, inadequacies, small-mindedness.  I wear a mask of self-confidence always fearful it will slip and the audience will see the real me.
I spent some generous, quality time with my kids last week-end.  We had planned a trip for many months and now that I’m heading over the ocean its importance was magnified.  Walking among the plane displays of the EAA, I watched my kids playing like kids with my grandkids.  We laughed and smiled and learned some things, too.  

Later we were joined by others of my “kids” where the laughing and playing continued.  Another milestone shared. I sat beside a graceful friend as we watched the city mouse and country mouse story played across generations.  Cultures blending in common understanding that we’re all in this together. 
One conversation in particular rings in my ears.  “You’re an inspiration to us.”  Said one young man whose life, unwittingly, inspires mine.  His friend nods in complicity.

I?  Inspire them?  That’s crazy.  In the mirror I see a woman who has slowly, tortoislly, crawled from one rung below poverty to one above and below and above and below over and again.  I see myself treading water in seas of aloneness in waves of almost.  

These young people around me, they inspire me.  Their dedication to God and each other.  Their steady moving forward beyond my generation’s achievements.  Their love for ministry.  Encompassing others, even people like me, they give and take and grow.  Their actions draw from me reactions propelling us both to reach farther. 

This is what I love.  This Shakespearian replaying that all the world’s a stage and we are merely players.  Stage right and stage left designed by a Master Director writing our life script.

Two more steps to get me from here to there.  The visa.  The plane ticket.  

I am excited to see what He has written into the next Act of this play.  Curious to see who will share this stage with me and who is in my balcony.  

So quickly and so slowly this scene unfolds. 

 To order a copy of A Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges or a Friend Named Jesus, 
please visit my website:  Writer's Pages
Facebook:  Author Kris A. Newman