Sojourners in Foreign Land

I started writing this post while I was still in Russia, wanting to capture a little of how I felt, especially after going to church on my last Sunday. However, it then took me well over a month to finish as I wanted to compare it with my experience of returning to my Nottingham church, and then share a little of what I think God’s trying to teach me through the experience so far. Bear with me, it’s a little long, and if religious navel-gazing posts aren’t your thing maybe skip over this one!

From Krasnoyarsk:
I feel more at peace about leaving now, looking forward to seeing everyone in the UK and speaking English for one thing! Nottingham still very much feels like home, and I long to be with my church family again; to have my Lizzie cuddles, Famalam time, to see all the people I know and love so well. I look forward to walking in Wollaton park again, going to The Bean, and back to Relish, and having a drink at The Johnson Arms.

And yet in leaving I honestly feel like my heart is being wrenched painfully apart. I have spent less than 4 months in total in this city, spread over a period of 4 years, and yet it feels so much like home. Although so many things are hard here – even reading a menu takes me forever – I cannot escape the overwhelming feeling that I have come HOME after a long time of waiting. My heart feels at rest here, I feel I’ve been wandering like the Israelites in the desert, only a sojourner in a foreign land in each place I have stopped, until arriving here, where although I hardly know the place I just feel SETTLED! Even in Nottingham, it took me a long time to feel this way, except at St. Mary’s itself where I felt at home from my second visit, and although it has felt and still does feel like home, there has always been a sense of it being a temporary arrangement, somewhat like Joseph and his family sojourning in Egypt for a time (without the subsequent subjection to slavery obviously!).

At church on Sunday as soon as I arrived I had the same sense that I had at St. Mary’s of having come HOME as soon as I walked in. The people smiling and hugging each other in greeting, the children running around playing, the people leading worship at the front – without even knowing their names (except my friends Ksensia and Shandra) I already felt such a sense of love for them as my family in Christ that it was quite overwhelming!

Yet all the things that made me so joyful to have found a church family also reminded me of my St. Mary’s church family so much that the homesickness hit me with such a force I felt tears well up in my eyes. The cute little girl with the blonde curls running around with her paper aeroplane made me long for a cuddle with Lizzie, the older woman fetching her husband a cup of tea made me desperate to chat with Joyce and Ron. I wanted to go home so much, and yet at the same time the thought of being dragged away from this new church family after just finding them hurt so deeply that I felt my heart was being torn in two.

By the end of the service the tears were streaming down my face, and I didn’t know if I was crying out of homesickness, sadness about leaving, or joy at having found somewhere so special. I can’t decide if it helped or made it worse but a woman who I’d never met before saw me crying and without saying a word simply came up and laid a hand on my shoulder and began to pray for me in Russian. Shandra, the lovely American girl who was sat next to me simply held my hand, and I could not hold back the sobs! When the lady finished praying she squeezed my shoulder and went to fetch me some tissues (as anyone who has seen me cry will know, it is not a pretty sight, so they were much needed!). I think that she gathered I was foreign, or at least not ready to talk, so with an encouraging smile she left me to it, and Shandra gave me a much-needed hug. I eventually got it together, dried my eyes and went to get a cup of coffee, and start meeting to lovely people of this church! I met a wonderful Australian lady called Lizette and her adorable children. She questioned me about why I was in Russia, and why I loved Krasnoyarsk so much, and as I fumbled for the right words she smiled knowingly. It is so hard to explain to people back in the UK why this place is so special, but those who have been here understand.
From Nottingham:
Fast forward through a week of goodbyes, a job interview, a job offer, flights, a long wait at the airport, tearful hugs from my mum, the familiar train journey up to the Midlands, tea at the Bishop’s house, etc, and I was finally back at my church in Nottingham. The same mixed feelings I had anticipated from the week before sprung up, but this time in reverse and thankfully with fewer tears (at least the first service!). I was so warmly welcomed home with hugs, kisses, handshakes, smiles, and so many kind words that I didn’t quite know who to talk to first! I almost wanted to touch everyone to be sure they were real and I was actually back (though the hard pew definitely felt pretty real through the sermon!). Singing the familiar songs, listening to familiar voices, seeing familiar faces, even the familiar feel of the pew, and familiar smell of wood and brick, all came together to make me feel joyfully peaceful, which is exactly what I needed after such a tumultuous few weeks. I still missed Krasnoyarsk, and was sad not to be there on Sunday morning to see my friend lead worship, but it felt good to be ‘home’ in a familiar context.

It is a long process that I’m currently figuring out with God of how to get my head and heart around the idea of having two homes, but He has already been teaching me so much through it. When I was still in Russia I had a lot of free time and little to do between coming home from camp and flying back to the UK. There was no internet in the flat and at first I rather grumpily wondered what I would do with myself – it didn’t take long for me to almost be able to hear God’s laugh as I remembered I had only the other day been thinking how wonderful it would be to have the luxury of lots of time to just read the Bible from cover to cover like a normal book. Here was my chance! I confess I didn’t get the whole way through, but I did make it up to Proverbs, and although some bits were pretty hard to understand I loved following the story of Israel and their journey as God’s people. They were for many years sojourners in a foreign land, continuously homesick for a place they hadn’t reached or even seen yet. One of the things I’m struggling with as I try to get my head around this is the idea I might spend my whole life feeling homesick. However as I pondered this I realised that my experience is no different from that of every Christian to some extent. We are all called to be ‘On the earth, not of the earth,’ looking forward to one day living for eternity in our new, true, spiritual home with God. For now we are just ‘sojourners in a foreign land’ not truly part of where we currently reside and feeling homesick, longing for a home we haven’t even seen yet! I find it hard to explain to people the feeling of being ‘at home’ yet homesick at the same time, and yet perhaps it shouldn’t be hard to explain, perhaps it should be more recognised as the normal Christian experience. I’m not suggesting I’m super-spiritual for having this feeling, nor that people who aren’t conscious of it are not spiritual enough, because I think we DO all have a sense of this at times. That sense that this is not all there is to life, that this is not all that life is supposed to be – sometimes that comes in big painful bursts like when we lose someone we love, or suffer a painful illness, something in us cries out, whether actually aloud or internally ‘This isn’t how it’s meant to be! It’s not fair!’ and sometimes it’s in a quieter, more subtle sense of simply feeling slightly out of place or dissatisfied despite things on all accounts being quite tickey-boo! I think these feelings are our consciousness crying out in some way out of homesickness for the home we haven’t reached yet, we just perhaps don’t recognise it as such. I have a feeling someone much more spiritual and eloquent than I, probably C.S Lewis, has written far more clearly and extensively on this idea – if anyone reading this can remind me where I might have read about this idea then I’d appreciate it!

However, I’m trying to remember that this homesickness or whatever you want to call it shouldn’t make me inactive in wherever I am right now! I spent several days after returning from the summer camp tearfully praying for God to provide me with an opportunity to stay or return as quickly as possible. In the end He did, but only the day before I flew out, and not before He’d taught me an important lesson! As I’ve already said, I was spending the time reading through the Bible, and so I was reading through Chronicles in the bath (as you do!), and was struck by David’s song in Chapter 16, verses 8-36. They just describe and glorify God in such a wonderful way that I actually found myself reading them out loud in worship (It’s a probably good thing the lady who owns the flat was away!). I was struck suddenly by the way my prayers of the last few days had in fact been incredibly selfish! I’m not saying that it was wrong for me to pray for an opportunity to return, but for that to be my main (ok, if I’m honest, almost my only) prayer was all wrong. I think it’s completely reasonable ask God for the opportunity to return to a place I love and somewhere I believe He wants me to be, but first and foremost my prayer should not be for Him to put me where I want Him to, but for Him to show me how He wants me to serve and glorify Him in whatever place He chooses to put me; whether that be Krasnoyarsk, Britain, or even Timbuktu! That is my prayer in this time of waiting here in Nottingham, that I would not see this as wasted time in which I am simply frustrated to not be somewhere else, but that I would see this time as just as wonderful an opportunity to worship and serve my King. My prayer is that I would be open to how best He wants me to serve Him in this place, for however long I’m here.

I’m certainly not saying I’ve got that figured out, there are lots of days when I’m frustrated and can’t see why He’s keeping me here, but I do trust that even if I can’t see it then He’s got a plan!

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Admitting Defeat

I know that I said I wanted this blog to be full of fun stories about my adventures in Krasnoyarsk, and I set off with such enthusiasm and excitement. However, as it turns out it was perhaps with too much enthusiasm and not enough caution that I jumped into this adventure. I have been stretched to the very limits of my abilities and still been found wanting, and therefore I am returning to the UK today.

I want to begin by saying that I am not by nature a quitter. Although in moments of frustration, hurt or anger I may have declared I’m quitting a job or activity I have never actually gone through with it without a plan, just because ‘I can’t do it anymore.’ This is a new experience for me, and I am really struggling to deal with all the emotions it brings.

There are two main reasons for which I am choosing not to continue my employment at Speaker Language club. The first is that I do not believe that I am able to carry out the work that they expect to a sufficient standard. Although these language camps are not the usual way of working, they do take place throughout the year and I know that I cannot manage another one. I believe that I am a fairly good teacher, if somewhat lacking in experience (which I think with my age can be expected!), however in order to be a good teacher I have discovered that I require a reasonable amount of sleep and time off. Working for three weeks solidly, 24/7 in a language I can hardly speak is not good for my own physical and mental health, but also not good for the kid’s general wellbeing, as I become grumpy, cross and mean, and cease to care enough whether they are happy and healthy. I do not believe that in any way that I have been abusive or neglectful, and yet I know that at points I have behaved in a way which if I saw another teacher behaving in the same way I would be fairly disgusted. It is really difficult for me to admit this, as I feel like such a failure for not being able to maintain what I consider to be good standards for teaching and childcare, but I think it is better for me to admit my limitations and refuse to put myself into this situation again where I might further have a negative impact on children in my care.

Secondly I refuse to work for an educational organisation that puts its finances before the wellbeing of its staff and more importantly its children. I’m not naïve enough to be unaware that with all organisations, especially somewhere like Russia this is often likely to be the case to some extent, but with Speaker this was taken is taken to an unacceptable extreme. I should have guessed it was a problem with their expectation that one could work 3 weeks nonstop the first day of arriving in a new country, but I decided to overlook this. However, more and more things have been revealed to me as time has passed, especially the way certain situations were dealt with during the camps, which have brought me to the descision that I do not feel comfortable working for these people any longer. Furthermore I would not recommend anyone to work for Speaker Language Club in the future.

As I said, this whole situation is bringing up a whole lot of emotions, firstly the feeling of failure at not being able to cope with the job I was given, and secondly foolishness for having rushed into something with such excitement only to turn around after less than 2 months and give up. I am also very sad to be leaving Krasnoyarsk (although somewhat happy to be able to see everyone in the UK sooner than expected), as it has been wonderful to be back after so long and it breaks my heart to have to leave it again so soon.
Although it has been so difficult, and still is, I do not regret for a second making the decision to come and work here. I am clinging to Romans 8:28, and I know that God has already taught me much from this experience.

Firstly, it has shown me that I truly do have a heart for Russia. I had been concerned as the years had passed that I was looking at my time in Krasnoyarsk through rose-tinted glasses, and perhaps that the only reason I really wanted to return was the good memories and friends I had there. However, despite the incredibly challenging time I have had here since my arrival I have fallen even more in love with this city and this country. Even at camp I had only to look at lovely trees and houses across the fence, or listen to people speaking this beautiful language and I’d smile with delight. Now I’m back in the city even the dreary grey apartment blocks and rickety bumpy buses make my heart sing for joy. I feel so at home here, despite being so obviously a foreigner and struggling so much with the language barrier and culture shock, that I know this is a place God has truly put on my heart.

Secondly, I have learnt where my limits are. As already mentioned I know that I need a reasonable amount of sleep and rest to be a good teacher. Obviously, there are times in life when that is not possible for whatever reason, but I know that I cannot work for someone who does not consider those a basic, reasonable, requirement.

Thirdly, I know that I struggle without other people’s support. The prayers, thoughts, texts and phone calls from friends in the UK and around the world were like a life-line to me, but I know now that I need the support of people who are physically there and who I can speak to in the same language. The first camp was not so bad, at least until the end, as we all got on well as a team and supported one another with hugs, laughter and tea. At the second camp I was incredibly isolated, as the two other members of my team were a couple, who for various reasons tended to exclude me quite a lot. The other members of staff at the camp were very kind, but it was impossible for me to communicate with them at more than a basic level because of the language barrier.

I am not quite sure what this means for me as I look to my future, as it is difficult to discern the character of ones colleagues without meeting them, which is a challenge when you’re living in a different country! The obvious answer of many would be for me to find a husband, but I’m fairly sure that’s out of the question. I could also take a certain friend up on his offer to come to Russia with me in a lorry if I lack a suitable partner (though one of us would need to learn to drive!), but I feel that would quite frankly be cruel as I am quite sure he would hate it and I’m sure that if I could understand his PHD I could appreciate that it is very important he continues whatever research he is doing! Instead, I think it simply makes it all the more important that I try to find a job somewhere in Russia where I already know people who will help support me, rather than risking going to a whole new city all by myself. This is also hard to admit as I can be quite fiercely independent, but again, I think it is good to accept my weaknesses and limitations and learn from them.

Finally, next time I believe I will exercise more caution in making such big decisions. I’m naturally a very impulsive, passionate person and I was so desperate to return to Krasnoyarsk that I ignored a fair few warning lights that went off in my brain in preparing to work for Speaker Club, such as their sudden insistence that I come out 2 months earlier, the fact they didn’t ask to see my CRB check, and their vagueness about where I would be living (it turns out the school director just thought I could sleep in her living room for a year, as a free English tutor for her son and cat-sitter, without even bothering to check if I was allergic to cats!). All this did make me a little concerned, but I shrugged it off and explained it all away as cultural differences, as I couldn’t bear to let a little thing like common sense or intuition get in the way of my plan to get back to Krasnoyarsk! I know that I want to return as soon as I am able, but this time I shall be lot more cautious and make much more in depth enquiries about schools before I commit myself to anything, and use the contacts I’m already blessed to have in the city. I think it is better to wait a little longer if necessary for the right job, rather than blunder into another only to fail again.

A day in the life of Laura Malcomovna

There is really no such thing as a typical day in the camp, as every day there seems to be a new surprise activity, whether that be a group nit-check, concert, opening of ‘camp Olympics’ complete with sports demos and Olympic torch, fire drill, planetarium, film screening or massive water fight! Most of the time I don’t even know what’s happening, just that I need to follow the other leaders and keep the group together and I’ll find out when I get there! But certain things, especially mealtimes are completely set in stone and so the day follows a basic pattern which I’ll outline here to give you an idea of life as a camp tutor in a Russian summer camp/children’s gulag.

7:30 – Try to get up without waking the girl who has been moved into my room for upsetting the other girls, in order to get dressed, read my Bible and get to the toilets while no-one is there, as I’ll never get used to peeing in public. As time went on this become less and less of priority over a few minutes more sleep! The first week we had no kettle and I was so desperate for coffee I simply mixed the granules with room temperature water from the water bottle in the porch (no running water in the houses, so there’s a big bottle which needs replacing about once a day with a pump on top for drinking water). I decided this was taking my addiction a bit far, so I managed to go a whole 48 Hours without coffee, but then we obtained a kettle and I fell straight back off the wagon again!

8:00 – Get the kids up and out of bed, teeth and hair brushed, dressed and ready for the day. They’re usually pretty groggy so you’re lucky if you get a mumbled ‘good morning’ in Russian, but despite how tired I might be I need to be enthusiastic and happy, so big smiles and loud Good Mornings! By the end of 3 weeks I had also taken to singing obnoxiously, sometimes through a megaphone just to rouse them from their beds.
8:15 – In case no-one is up yet loud obnoxious pop music (think a horrific mix of Eurovision and bad clubs) is played throughout the camp and in all the houses through speakers you cannot turn off. Many of the songs are English pop songs, and because they cannot understand the lyrics they are often obscene. This aural onslaught continues on and off all morning.

8:40 – Morning exercises. All the children are lined up in in their groups and must take part in what is effectively a light 10-15 minute aerobics class to the horrific music still being pumped through the speakers led by an enthusiastic slightly tubby woman invariably clad in brightly coloured leggings. Tutors are encouraged to join her on the stage in front of the children, which usually much to my horror ended up being my job, but even people keeping an eye on kids from the back have to join in with all the exercises.
8:50 – Everyone marches onto the square in the middle of the camp (complete with cannons, creepy statues of children saluting and holding Russian flags, and flagpole) for Camp Meeting. Inspiring music is played (anything from the Russian national anthem to the Star Wars theme music) as the children file in and take their places, and then silence is supposed to fall for the camp leader to greet them and say good morning, but it usually takes a while. Then the team leader from each group comes to the front and takes it in turns to shout at their team
‘What is our team name?’ to which all the children in that group shout back the answer, followed by ‘What is our team slogan?’ to which again they shout back the answer, some teams even have actions to accompany it. Then there are notices from the head of the camp, including the presentation of a stuffed frog toy for the house with the cleanest rooms and then everyone heads off to the canteen.

9:00 – Breakfast! Everybody piles into the canteen, and most of the children pull faces and move their food around the plate before dashing off, leaving the tutors to eat their food (which really is not that bad, in fact breakfast can be quite delicious) as quickly as possible before heading back to their camps. As with every meal here there is always bread, but with breakfast it comes with the luxury of butter and sometimes even cheese! There is often also a ‘sirok’ bar, which is basically like cheesecake topping covered in chocolate with a fruit or caramel centre, occasionally a cold boiled egg, and the main event is usually some kind of kasha (this word is translated as porridge but actually covers a variety of dishes, from the standard oatmeal you would expect to rice pudding, semolina, and even a sort of polenta-type dish, or a mixture of the above) which is made with salt AND sugar and so much butter that there is a yellow layer of it across the top of the pan before it gets ladled into the bowls. As an occasional break from the porridge there is sometimes ‘omelette’ which is basically egg mix baked in huge rectangular pans and cut into slabs. One morning as a ‘special treat’ we had ‘Tvaraok’ which is basically sweetened cottage cheese baked in these pans and covered in condensed milk. Then there’s always some sort of hot drink (Russians believe you get sick if you drink cold things in hot weather, so every meal was accompanied with a warm drink, despite the sweltering heat!), at breakfast it’s usually hot milk boiled with tea leaves and sugar, cocoa, or sliced lemons and tea leaves boiled together.

9:30 – Every morning seems to be a different surprise. We were supposed to have lessons in the mornings, but the ‘camp program’ seems to take precedence, so the children either go to workshops in things like origami and quilling or more often run about the house making mischief, which is quite exhausting. During this time they are also expected to clean the area around the house, by collecting up the many pinecones which fall and sweeping up the pine needles. Unsurprisingly getting the children to actually do these activities was a daily battle, made worse by my inability to communicate effectively in Russian. At some point suddenly there would be an announcement over the speakers, or our head tutor will come into the corridor and start shouting for everybody to get out. Occasionally there will be some warning about the events of the following day, but more often than not I was as confused as the children as to what is was to happen until we got there! One morning it was a circus, complete with trained doves, a contortionist, python, and monkey in a skirt, another a fire drill with fire engine and firemen running into a building with hoses (which caused me to panic as I thought it was a real fire and we didn’t know where half our children were!), another a presentation of the start of the camp sports season with demonstrations, music, and an Olympic flame, a football game between tutors and kids at the camp with the tutors in drag, or a practise drill for opening of the camp season to be performed the day of the parents visit (because, as my American colleague told me, Lenin cries when children don’t march in straight lines). My favourite event was ‘John the Baptist Day’ which in Russia is effectively National Water Fight day. We were all marched onto the field and lined up, some music, dancing and drama took place, while we all tried to pretend we hadn’t seen the fire engine parked the other side of the wall. Eventually, with much cheering the camp director fired the water cannon up into the air, and effectively caused a fake rain shower! All the children and the adults were dancing and cheering, myself included, and the water droplets in the bright sunshine created lots of beautiful mini-rainbows! I got completely soaked, but loved it, and then joined in a little with the water fight which took place across the whole camp, but once the children started ganging up on me took refuge in talking to my new special forces soldier friend (one look from him was enough to make any kid give up on the idea of spraying me!).

Every day at some point in the morning a small team of anything from two to five people, consisting of camp staff, tutors and even children at the camp come to each house for room inspections. The beds must be neatly made, and they will go through the cupboards and bedside tables to check they are also neat and tidy and aren’t hiding any banned substances such as fizzy drinks. Each room is given a mark which is added up to give a house score, and the cleanest house as mentioned gets to have the frog for the day, and the dirtiest is apparently shamed at the head tutors meeting in the evening.

1:00 – Lunchtime! We all pile back into the canteen for the children to look horrified, push their food about, and run off again though by this point we tutors are generally so tired that instead of eating as quickly as possible we try to see how long we can get away with taking to eat before we feel that we should be checking the children aren’t killing each other yet! Lunch is the main meal of the day, with bread again, a bowl of soup (usually beetroot, cabbage, fish, or bean – they all look remarkably similar except the beetroot one because of its bright pink colour), and a main dish which is usually mashed potato, rice or pasta (but most commonly mash), some sort of meat or fish ‘burger’ which I’m doubtful actually contained any meat fit for human consumption, and a piece of fresh cucumber or tomato. Occasionally there would also be cabbage, or cabbage with peppers or carrots as well, which was surprisingly tasty 

2:00 – This is supposed to be the start of two hours of ‘sleep time’ when the children are supposed to be in their rooms either napping or doing a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music, and the tutors get a much needed break from the constant needs of 32 over-excitable children. But as the mornings are usually taken over by ‘camp program’ we have to spend these hours trying to run English classes. There is only one classroom in our house, and four groups, so the other groups are held either in little open-air huts or in another small classroom the other side of the camp, which means I’ve become very adept at carrying a whiteboard, pencil case, laptop, dictionary and any other resources all at the same time, and holding up the board while I write on it during lessons. Like room tiding or pinecone collecting it is a considerable struggle each day to persuade children to gather for lessons and then get them to wherever the lesson is being held, but usually once started the lessons were quite enjoyable with games and fun activities. Although tiring and hard work, and sometimes very frustrating, these lesson times really helped remind me why I want to be here so much and how much I love teaching. Despite being so tired, lessons would often really help energise me, though the discipline issues were a big challenge. There is no real disciplinary structure in Russian schools, children simply have their marks reduced, and at our camp we also did not have a disciplinary procedure. Many of the children had some very challenging behaviour, and I don’t think any of them had ever even HEARD of actually sitting quietly and listening to a teacher or apologising for being late, and so I quickly discovered that I needed to create my own system, which was a bit of a shock for them at first!

4:00 – Just three hours after a heavy lunch of soup, bread and a carb-based main dish, just in case the children are still hungry they are herded back into the canteen for a glass of fruit juice, a large cake or biscuit and a piece of fruit. Unlike main meals the tutors don’t get a share, but there was usually plenty of fruit left over, and even a cake or two if we were lucky!

4:30 – Here there should have been the third lesson, but again, there was often some sort of surprise activity such as a concert from an ‘upcoming star,’ a film screening, or ‘pioneer ball’ match (it’s like a Russian version of volleyball) which stops this from happening. Some children get involved, others stay in the house and cause more mischief for the tutors who by this time are losing a lot of patience! However once the girls discovered there were wild strawberries in abundance in the woods they took to collecting them as a pastime, which was very agreeable as it would keep them away and out of trouble for a while, and they would bring back handfuls of strawberries for us to eat, which were utterly delicious!

5:30 – Free time, for the children to cause more havoc! During this time there is also yet another room inspection, but by this point the children have usually scattered across the camp so it’s impossible to even attempt to bring them back to tidy their rooms, which by this point are inevitably untidy again! I usually ended up being the one facing the inspectors disapproval, though expressed my own disapproval quite forcefully in my best cross teacher voice when one day one of them though it was ok to use the F-word in front of the children (his defence was that they don’t understand. I told him in no uncertain terms that that was irrelevant, it was an inappropriate word, and besides I understood).

7:00 –Dinner time! Back to the canteen for more food, usually much the same as lunch but without the soup, but occasionally it would be plov (an Uzbek dish of lamb, rice and carrot – my favourite!), or goulash.

8:00 – Here we’re supposed to have our ‘evening show’ where the children work together in the 6 teams they’ve been put in for the duration of the camp, but often this is waylaid by some other activity, like the ‘disco’ (more loud obnoxious music played in the same outside area we have morning exercise), a pioneer ball match, or just us tutors being too exhausted to get the children in order! However, sometimes these evening shows were really good fun, especially the ‘design your own business’ evening, where I had my make-up done at the girls ‘salon’, had a fake tattoo put on my arm at the ‘tatoo parlour’, my portrait drawn, and the life frightened out of me at the ‘horror room’ (They put my feet in a bucket of freezing water, and then tried to touch my feet – Those who know my issues with feet will be able to imagine how loud I screamed! I was so loud the other kids knocked on the door to check I was ok!).

9:00 – Bedtime snack! As though dinner was hours ago the children dash back to the canteen to gulp down a drink of flavoured yoghurt and a biscuit or ‘sirok’ bar (basically like cheesecake but in a chocolate bar), and then run back off to whatever they were doing, leaving the tutors to finish up any leftovers.

10:00 – Shower time! The children are herded 4 at a time to the shower block. There’s a boys shower room and a girls one. In the girls (and I assume the boys!) there is a communal changing room like you would find at a swimming pool and then 4 cubicles, with dividing walls but no doors! Thankfully the water is at least usually fairly warm, but not always, which caused a lot of complaints from the children, and made it hard to persuade some of them, especially the boys, to take regular showers!

11:00 – The final struggle of the day, bedtime! All children are supposed to be in their rooms with lights out by 11pm, but with shower time usually overrunning, and just the sheer challenge of persuading 32 over-excited children to go to bed this rarely happens on time! Of course even with lights out the children are still giggling, talking, playing with phones and torches, and sometimes even singing, but either by patrolling the corridor or just giving up and shutting the door on them until they get bored and fall asleep, we eventually get them to be quiet. Then we have a meeting about how the day has been, and to discuss the plan for the next day (though it rarely turns out as planned!).

12:00 or usually much later – After the meeting each day I have to decide whether I needed a shower or an ‘early’ night more, I generally opted for a showering alternate days policy (much, I believe to the horror of the Russians, who showered every day without fail). If I just went to bed I would return to my room to inevitably find the girl I was sharing with still awake and usually crying, asking to be taken to the toilet because she was afraid of the dark. It’s a small thing, but I found being unable to just brush my teeth and pee before bedtime in private possibly the most annoying invasion of my privacy of all, however, as I too was afraid of the dark until quite an embarrassing age I did not express my frustration and tried to be sympathetic.
At first to shower I would wait for one of the other teachers and walk across the camp with them to the building were the showers (and the toilets!) had doors and enjoy the luxury of relative privacy, but as the time went on my need for sleep overwhelmed my desire for privacy and I would often simply head to the shower block the kids used. Obviously all the children were in bed by this point, but lots of the staff would use these showers as there was rarely a queue unlike the other building. Each time I would brace myself for public showering, but praise God every time I showered I would have the place to myself for the duration of my shower  Perhaps not a miracle, but it certainly felt like one at the time!
Eventually I’d get to fall into bed, and count the hours before I had to be up again before my head hit the pillow and I was asleep, then all too soon it would be time to get up and start the process again!

Thoughts on arrival (albeit 3 weeks late!)

I have just come back from a surreal and challenging three weeks at a Russian summer camp, where I had no internet access so was obviously unable to post anything on here. I will of course write at least one post about the experience but at the time I hadn’t the time or energy to do much more than scribble a few lines in my journal each day and I require a hot bath and a decent nights sleep before I can feel ready to even think about it let alone write something! However, I did manage to write something about my feelings and experiences flying back to Krasnoyarsk while on Moscow airport and the first night of camp (before the sleep deprivation took over!) so although it is 3 weeks late I thought I would post it now. Enjoy!

Arriving in Moscow I felt a thrill of excitement, and joy at returning. Amazingly, we flew over a rainbow, something I’ve never seen on a flight before. It was otherwise a bright sunny day, with just one raincloud that seemed to decide to offload its water droplets at just the right moment as we flew over in, projecting a brightly coloured arc across the Russian countryside. I love rainbows, the way they are such a good everyday yet special reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promises and His love, as well as reminding me that sometimes for beautiful things to form there have to be bad things too, just as you can’t have a rainbow without rain. I sent up a little prayer pretty much along the lines of ‘You’re just showing off now!’ but it was a perfect way to remind me that He was with me last time I came to Russia, has never left me on my journey in between, and is still with me each step of the way now.
This was certainly a reminder I needed as my joy at returning to Moscow was rather quickly overtaken by the culture shock of signs I struggled to read, and a mass of people all in a hurry gabbling in a language I could hardly understand. As I tried to navigate myself through check-in, security, etc, I was struck firstly by the difference in how people treated me. Some we polite, friendly and helpful when they realised I didn’t speak much Russian beyond my initial ‘Hello’ but others simply looked at me in disgust (especially the woman at baggage security!). By the time I’d made it through to wait for my flight I was feeling so emotionally buffeted I couldn’t face going up to any of the cafés or restaurants in the airport lounge, despite being very hungry and really wanting to order a beer from Subway just because it amuses me that in Russia you can. However, I eventually pulled myself together (or rather, God helped me to do so!), decided against the beer despite its novelty value and went up to a little fast food place. Of course my fears were entirely unfounded, as the man behind the counter was absolutely charming, very helpful and even gave me a smile! I ate my food, and soon it was time to board my flight.
We took off from Moscow at sunset, but because of the time different after just 4 hours of flight time the sun began to rise over Siberia as the plane wobbled its way towards Krasnoyarsk and I tried to concentrate on the beautiful sunlit colours reflected upon the clouds instead of the smell of cigarettes, booze and body odour of the man taking up more than his fair share of seat space next to me. Soon the huge stretches of wild pine forest were in view, with only the occasional road forcing its way through them to break up the mass of dark green. Then came a few fields, stretches of grass, and then pretty, quaint little dachas (summer houses or cottages) dotted across the countryside below.
My heart began to beat faster with anticipation as we flew closer and closer to the ground. After nearly 4 years of waiting I was finally coming back to the land where I’d left a huge chunk of my heart behind. We landed with relative ease, to a round of applause from everyone on board, as is the somewhat concerning custom in Russia (surely a pilot landing a plane safely is what you expect/hope for, rather than something to be applauded like it’s a surprise?!), and I confess I had to fight back a few tears. I praised God for bringing me back, and wished that I spoke enough Russian and that it wouldn’t be completely weird to turn to a stranger and explain my excitement – as it was I was getting enough strange looks for grinning like an idiot in a most un-Russian way!
However, for all their outward brusqueness and serious faces, Russians are deeply emotional people, which was demonstrated as we arrived at the single roomed building which serves as the arrivals, departures, baggage claim and customs department. As we came through the doors there was a horde of women waiting for their sons and daughters to get off the flight (assumedly from visiting family or having a trip to Moscow), sobbing openly in their joy at seeing their beloved children again. All around me children and parents were calling to each other, hugging and crying. I felt rather lonely as I made my way through, looking for Natalia who was to meet me at the airport and wishing I hadn’t worn jeans as I was absolutely boiling hot. I met Natalia, collected my baggage, and she drove me back to her flat. As we drove through the centre of town it was wonderful to see the familiar old buildings and tram lines of the main streets, the football stadium, and the main square and its famous clock tower (nicknamed ‘Big Ben’), it felt like coming home after a very long time away. We arrived at Natalia’s flat, and I was asked if I was hungry. I said yes, and was immediately reminded why I feel such an affinity with the Russian people – they are a nation of compulsive feeders just like me! I said yes to the offer of cereal, but then Natalia proceeded to also lay out on the table bread, biscuits, butter, jam, smoked cheese, salad, chocolates, and was at pains to try to persuade me to have some eggs! Thankfully she also drinks coffee too, which I drank out of habit, before remembering I was desperately in need of a nap as I had hardly slept for the whole journey (I’d left my house at 7:30am the day before, and had arrived in Krasnoyarsk just after midnight in British time, though it was 7am there). However, I was so tired despite the coffee, excitement and bright morning sunlight streaming through the windows that when she made up the bed and left me to have a nap I had no problems drifting off and slept solidly for a good few hours.
Then I was offered MORE food. I say offered, there was not really a choice, as Natalia had already started heating pea soup and cut up the bread, and made me another coffee! As I say, the Russian’s are a people after my own heart.
We then set off for the camp where I was to spend 3 weeks as an English teacher and camp leader, and the route took us all along the majestic river Yenisei as it wound its way like a huge muscular snake up into the countryside. I had forgotten just how breath-taking its sheer size is, not to mention the surrounding beauty of the trees and grasses. We also passed a church I had visited, and a shopping centre I recognised, but soon we were outside of the places familiar to me, and I started to look forward to this new adventure of a real Russian summer camp. However, I think that adventure will take more than one post to do it justice!

My Journey to Get Here

So, as I’m heading out to Siberia in a week’s time I thought I would have a try at starting this blog up again, and this time try and actually keep it updated! If you want to read about what God is doing in my life in Russia, learn a bit more about life as an English teacher in Siberia, stay updated with what I need prayer for, or just have nothing left to look at on your Facebook newsfeed, then this blog is for you J

For many of you reading, this first post will be somewhat superfluous, as it’s a story you already know. But others for who many have joined me on this journey a little later on, or for those who might be encouraged to read an account of God’s goodness and faithfulness to me over the past few years, it seemed fitting to start with an account of how I got to this point, as there have been several years of dreams, disappointments and detours that have lead up to this moment.

On the 4th of June four years ago I boarded a plane for Siberia, having left the Caribbean sunshine just a month before. Although I had visited Moscow and St. Petersburg before, in going to Siberia I had a distinct sense of terrifyingly stepping into the unknown. However, as I stepped off the plane, bleary eyed from an overnight wait in Moscow, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming feeling that hit me of having come home.  I then spent 2 months discovering some of the magic of this wonderful city, meeting people who inspired and challenged me, working with children whose stories were so sad I could hardly bear to leave them, and drinking in the stunningly beautiful countryside that surrounded me. I left to spend 2 nights on the Transiberian railway, and spent a month in the city of Perm, which God used to consolidate the things He’d been teaching me in Krasnoyarsk, and further deepen my love of Siberia.

I flew home full of plans, already desperate to return. I had spoken with my fiancée every day that I’d had internet access, and had already suggested the idea of taking a team of volunteers back out for the summer after we were married. When I returned I was keen to get the ball rolling, as the aching loss I felt having left Russia was slightly soothed by putting plans in place to return (se moozyhom  = with husband, as I’d promised my friends).  I spoke about my time in Russia and the needs there to his youth group, we mentioned the idea to his vicar, and started throwing around names of who could come on our pilot team.

However, for many good reasons, we did not get married, and along with much of the pain and disappointment of that time was the crushed dream of taking a team out together to Krasnoyarsk. At first I was gutted, but I soon tried to look on the bright side and thought at least it meant I could return as soon as a graduated the next year, rather than waiting for a year after marriage as planned. God on the other hand had other ideas, and took me on detours to Africa, France, and then back to Nottingham for 2 years. At times this was frustrating, and even sometimes painful (the summer I spent in France was some of the most fun, relaxing, and happy times of my life, and yet in that time I shed several tears thinking that it was the summer David and I had planned to return to Russia, and feeling gutted to not have returned yet).

The dream of Russia seemed to be fading ever further away, and yet there had not been a single day I had not thought of that place, and often just a song, a story, or a picture would evoke a deep longing that I could only compare to homesickness.

But this year things started to turn around. My wonderful parents paid for me to take a TEFL course for my Christmas present, and I suddenly learnt to appreciate the luxury of being a full-time student as I desperately tried to juggle my studies with a full-time waitressing job. Somehow I got through it and passed, giving me the qualification I needed to apply for English teaching jobs in Russia – my golden ticket to long-term stay in Russia, something that would have been unthinkable had I chosen to get married, but as a single woman with no attachments, the world was my oyster!

I started casually looking for jobs, which unsurprisingly were quite scarce in Russia, especially that early in the year (many schools do not advertise until May/June to start the school year in August),at the time not even sure if I wanted to work with children or adults, and resigning myself to the fact I’d probably have to start in Moscow or St. Petersburg. But then, after one random online search, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a picture of the beautiful bridge in Krasnoyarsk, with the title ‘Come and teach in beautiful Siberia!’ I clicked on the link and was even further shocked as they pretty much outlined my perfect job. A language school, in Krasnoyarsk, with a salary and accommodation provided, a years contract working 30hours a week with a mixture of children’s and adults classes, starting in August, exactly when I needed to move out of my flat in Nottingham. It seemed too good to be true.

I sent off my application, hardly daring to hope they would reply, but I received a response asking me for an interview within 24hours. I dressed in my smartest suit at 6:00am, and woke up my lovely friend and neighbour to use his flashy computer with nice webcam and speedy internet for a Skype interview. I was then asked for a second interview, which I thought had gone terribly, but was offered the job soon after. However, then came the catch, they didn’t want me to start in August, they needed someone at the end of June, giving me just less than 2 months to get my things in order and fly out to Siberia for a year.

My instinctive reaction was ‘No, don’t be ridiculous!’ but thankfully I gave myself a few days to think and pray before I responded with that. I went for a walk around the University lake to get some space to think and pray. The long and short of that walk was that every worry and concern I threw at God (visa applications, paying the rent on my flat while I wasn’t living there, work commitments, etc), He replied with ‘Do you believe I can sort it out in time?’ and of course my response was yes; to the God who created the starry heavens in a day, and numbers the hairs of our heads, the Russian visa processing centre is peanuts! In the end I could almost hear Him saying ‘Well what’s stopping you then? Get on with it! You’ve begged me for four years to let you go back and now you’re complaining I’m sending you 2 months EARLIER?!’ Of course there were practical things to sort out before I could say a definite yes, budgeting for the cost of leaving early, speaking to work about handing in my notice so soon after starting, discussing with my housemate me leaving so soon – but with each potential obstacle I was struck by the support and love I received from people. People, who although me leaving was going to be a big annoyance for them cared about me enough to put that aside and encourage me to go for my dreams.

It has not all been plain sailing since then. Getting my visa processed has been an ongoing drama, and I’ve been plagued with ill-health which has meant I’ve struggled to get things done as efficiently as I would like. I will not gloss over it and say it’s not been very stressful at times, but through it all God has provided the strength and peace I’ve needed to get me through. Not only that but he has provided people around me to offer support, practically, emotionally and spiritually, whether that’s doing the washing up, letting me rant over a pint, praying for me, sending an encouraging text or offering to pick up my visa there have been so many times in the last two months that I have been blown away by the amazing support network of friends and family God has placed around me, but it would take a whole new blog post to do that justice (and this one is already VERY long!).

For now I am excited to announce I now have a visa in my passport, and am looking forward to getting on a plane on Tuesday June 24th After nearly 4 years of waiting I feel that the two 4-and-bit-hour flights, and 4 hour wait in Moscow will feel like another 4 years each, but I am focussing on the excitement of finally arriving in Krasnoyarsk once again. It has been a long wait, and at times the disappointment of my own broken dreams has been crushingly painful, but God in His goodness had a better plan for me all along, He just wanted to teach me some things (possibly about patience, as well as about His amazing love for me, and showing me teaching is what I love!) along the way, and now I can’t wait to start living out this wonderful new step in His plan for my life.

‘Et Dieu vit que c’etait bon.’

Last night we had our party to celebrate the end of our half term activities. It has certainly been a crazy week, with each afternoon filled with craft activities, games and stories. It has been very stressful with pressures such as language and age differences between the children and communication between me and Debbie. I’ve certainly learnt a lot about patience and grace! But overall I’ve really enjoyed it. Debbie fantastic ideas of how to make the story of each day more multisensory than just reading out of Genesis, which helped it really come alive for the children, and the crafts with tenuous biblical links were lots and lots of fun.
On the first day I read about how God made light, then I got each child to close their eyes before I lit a candle, and held it up to their face before they re-opened them, so they could try and get some sense of how amazing the first appearance of light would have been. We then covered balloons in papier mache to later become lanterns – it was messy and chaotic, but the kids absolutely loved playing with ‘messy sticky icky goo’!
One the second day we talked about the sky and looked for shapes in clouds, and then we made decorations like paper chains to hang from the ceiling (the building equivalent of the sky – see the tenuous links we made!), and also did hand and foot prints to make a table centrepiece shaped like a tree (Debbie and I carefully cut out each hand and foot one by one while having an enjoyable girly evening watching ‘Ever After’).
On the third day we went on a little adventure/expedition around the grounds and collected leaves and flowers and twigs. We made leaf collages, and painted leaf pictures. We also drew pictures of our favourite fruits – If I’d had time or did it again I definitely would have brought things in to taste!
On the fourth day we painted out papier-mâché lanterns and in the evening we sat out and looked at the stars and talked about God making the planets and the sun and the moon and all the millions of stars in the sky, soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo long ago, and yet even then He knew each of us by name and knew that that night we’d be sitting under the stars enjoying His creation.
On the fifth day we looked at pictures of weird and wonderful animals from the extensive collection of old National Geographic magazines in the school library and then made animal masks (yes I know God only made the fish and the birds on the fifth day, but we wanted to focus all of the sixth day on God creating man). We also baked yummy biscuits for the party.
On the sixth day (which was actually 3 days later as we had a break for the weekend) we iced the biscuits (because though they all had similar shapes from the cutters they were all individual and different with the icing – just like we’re all made in God’s image but we’re all special and individual), and then we made little napkin holders for each guest with their name on because God knows each of us by name. Then we prepared our drama, put up decorations, and people started to arrive bearing tasty food!
The party was the perfect way to end it all – The children put on a wonderful drama about creation with help from Debbie (my co-leader), who has the most wonderful creative ideas especially on the stage. Everyone was very accepting of my APPALLING French pronunciation as narrator, but to be fair they were all distracted by how utterly adorable the children were, parading in with lights, flapping clouds and pretending to be fish! They also got to show off their crafts to the grown-ups, and invited some of their friends – which amounted to a lot of very noisy shouting and running around! We played silly party games – which I think the parents enjoyed every bit as much, if not more, than the children, and everyone brought delicious food to share. I confess that by the end I felt a bit sick from eating too much icing and didn’t want to go to bed as it would mean I had to take my party frock off – statements I don’t think I’ve been able to make since I was about 8 years old!
What is most incredible to me is to compare this week with my last trip to Africa just over 3 years ago. I’d never done any children’s work before, and suddenly I was helping with summer camps for children! I remember every morning dreading the bible study we would do with our groups as I would just have no idea how to explain things and share with the children and so I would just sit there in silence while my co-leader Andy did all the work. I can’t quite believe it was the same person sat surrounded by children last week, reading to then about creation, explaining it and then coming up with activities and games to reinforce what they’d learnt. I’m just so amazed by the way God has put me in so many situations over the last 3 years so that I could learn more and more about children’s work until I could be in the situation I was last week and actually LOVE what I was doing!
Although it has been a wonderful week I’m pleased the children have French school in the mornings again! I’m hoping to spend some more time on my Fulfulde learning, and maybe do some prayer walks around the village (I’m conscious that it’s all too easy for me to stay in my nice little bubble on the hospital grounds).
For those of you who are praying please praise God for the wonderful week of activities and pray that the children will have learnt a bit more about God through it. Also praise God that I’ve been here a whole month and I’m still loving every minute out here and haven’t had so much as a tummy bug! I don’t have any specific prayer requests for me, just continued good health and patience and creativity with my lessons, but Josiah the little boy I’ve been teaching has been quite poorly with a virus so please pray he makes a speedy recovery. Thank you 🙂

Playing at Princesses and fighting deadly foes!

It’s been 3 weeks since I arrived here in Meskine, and it has been a pretty incredible time spiritually. I’m so excited by what God’s been doing and saying to me that I thought I would write a post about it. If you’re not into ‘all that God stuff’ I’m not making you read it, though I hope you will even if just out of curiousity, but I am asking that if you want to write a comment please be sensitive to the fact that even if you think I’m a complete fruit loop this is something I believe strongly and that is very important to me.
I’d just like to start by explaining that I believe that just the fact I get to be here is an incredible demonstration of God’s grace. Earlier this year I decided I didn’t need God, I was going to do things better on my own. I turned away from Him, and decided to live up the ‘normal’ student lifestyle, to make up for lost time. I did a lot of stupid things, suffered some pretty awful hangovers, and put my long-suffering friends through a lot of unnecessary stress (thank you if you’re reading this – you know who you all are). Eventually I realised that this was NOT the life for me, and I turned back to God. However although I knew that I was forgiven and He still loved me (at least to an extent – more on that later), I felt like I’d screwed up too much, that now I wasn’t good enough for Him to use me for anything. I’d been feeling like this for a few days, and then an email came from Andy and Kari saying that yes, they’d love me to come out and home school their children – was I still interested. I remember sitting open-mouthed in front of my computer screen. Not only did God forgive me, but He wanted to use me for something and not just something small, or something I didn’t really want to do – He was sending me back to Africa. After 3 years of wishing and hoping and assuming I wouldn’t be able to return for many years, if at all, suddenly I would be there within a couple of months. This amazing example of His grace still has me completely in awe – even more so now I’m here. I honestly have at least one moment every day, normally inspired by something like walking in the sunshine, watching the beautiful blue birds outside my window, eating fresh guavas from the market, etc, where I just stop and say ‘God, I can’t believe I get to be here.’
The title of this post may seem strange, but it sums up the two main things I want to share about what God has been doing the last 3 weeks. I shall start with the ‘fighting foes’ part. Anyone who knows me and who is reading this probably knows I am PETRIFIED of spiders – when I went to Kenya the thought of encountering one was almost my biggest fear and in Martinique they nearly reduced me to tears several times. Living in a flat alone with no-one to rescue me from these monsters was a big concern for me in moving here, but I decided that God wasn’t going to send me anything I couldn’t handle, so I’d either have a miraculously spider-free house or He’d provide someone to rescue me if I needed it. But as always God’s idea was bigger and better than I could imagine. The first few days here I didn’t see a single one, but then I found a biggie lurking in my kitchen cupboard. The movement initially startled me and when I saw what it was I immediately shut the cupboard door. However, within a few moments I realised that something strange was happening, or rather WASN’T happening – I wasn’t scared. I re-opened the door, took a good look at the beastie, got a broom and calmly dealt with it without so much as a scream or a shudder. There’s been a fair few in my flat since, and although I’m not happy to let them continue living in my apartment (cobwebs are not my idea of fashionable decor), if I’m busy doing something else and I spot one I can quite happily continue with what I’m doing with it still in the room, often quite close, without being concerned. The other day I actually WATCHED in fascination as one caught something in its web and wrapped it up – an unthinkable horror just weeks ago! So those are one of the ‘deadly foes’ I have been fighting.
The other ‘foe’ is a considerably less tangible fear. I don’t like being alone in a building overnight. My ex once had to pick me up at 1am, in my pyjamas because my parents were on holiday and I had managed to completely freak myself out alone in the house. Living alone in a studio apartment attached to a school room and separated from all other buildings by grass and trees meant I was pretty convinced I’d be spending a lot of sleepless nights hiding under my blankets! I decided I’d just have to deal with it one night at a time, and hopefully it would help me gradually get over this ridiculousness. Again, God had a better plan – I have slept like a log with no fears every single night. I feel amazingly safe here (well, except when I cross the roads in town!), and I have a real sense that God is protecting me.
The ‘playing at Princesses’ part is partially a very real description of my daily life here; I get to wear pretty dresses and skirts every day, I sleep in a sort of ‘four-poster’ bed, and I have a lot of things done for me like washing and cleaning (something I’m still finding it VERY hard to get used to – speculative blog post possibly coming soon!). However the physical aspects that make me feel like a princess are really just a tiny reflection of what God’s been telling me about my identity in Him as a Christian.
Anyone who knows me well (and some who don’t) will know that this year has involved some pretty major back-slides in my walk with God, I’ve done a lot of things that I really regret and which for a long time made me feel like God couldn’t forgive me or love me. Even when I finally accepted this I still felt distanced from Him, not good enough to call myself one of His followers. It was like I felt God would let me back into the ‘Christian club’ but only because He had to, because He promises forgiveness to EVERYONE who comes to Him through Jesus.
However, after spending a fair amount of time reading my bible, and a book called ‘Mirror Mirror’ by Graham Beyton (which I would thoroughly recommened), and most importantly actually TALKING to God (I hadn’t really been doing that much if I’m honest) I realised He had something to say. It started with the realisation that I’m God’s child. At first I was kind of like ‘well, yeah, God I know that’ and it was encouraging and I felt pretty humbled that after what I’d done God would still accept me as His, but I still kind of felt like if I was in God’s family I was probably that annoying relative no-one really likes (admit it, there’s always one!). But God had more to say – along the lines of ‘don’t you realise what that MEANS?!’ God is Lord of all, therefore if I’m His child then that makes me His princess. Special, beautiful, allowed privileged access to the palace and to the King Himself. I’m still getting my head round this one, but I think it’s God’s sense of humour that while helping me realise this spiritually He’s put me in a situation where in small ways I get to feel like a Princess in a more physical sense. I can just imagine Him grinning at the ‘four-poster’ bed before I arrived, knowing how excited I’d be!
I’m completely humbled, especially after all the mistakes I’ve made and how unforgivable I felt to know that God delights in me as His child, His princess. And it’s not because of anything I’ve done or can do; it’s because of Jesus’ death on the cross which has paid for all my sins. Not only is this very humbling, but it’s also wonderfully freeing as because God’s view of me has nothing to do with what I’ve done and everything to do with Jesus it means that nothing I have done or can do can remove me from this amazing place of privilege in God’s family.
I could keep going on and on, but I’m so excited by this wonderful revelation that I would be at risk of babbling, so instead I will just share a few bible verses which I’ve found very helpful and inspiring recently:

‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us’ – Psalm 103:12

‘The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’ – Zephaniah 3:17

‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ – Romans 8:38-39

Anyone who’s got this far is probably the praying type (or VERY curious or bored!), and I do have an important prayer request for next week. It is half term from French school, so I will be doing school with not 2 but 4 children, aged 4-6, in the mornings, and then in the afternoons myself and Debbie (the German home-school tutor) will be running daily bible-based activities and games for all the missionary children, cumulating in a big party for all the missionaries and the children next Monday. Please pray for energy, as well as good team work and communication for me and Debbie, and that the children will have a good time and learn more about God through the activities. Thank you 🙂

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