Thursday, November 28, 2013

RIGHT PLACE RIGHT TIME

I was part of a wonderful lesson today, and it may just have a lasting effect on one student.  That is why I teach – to change one life.   I tell this story not to brag, but just to demonstrate that God is in the details, and express my gratitude to Him for putting me in a position to serve. 

I have no lessons in the high school on Thursdays, so I volunteer my time with the elementary/primary grades on that day.  I work with 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades, and consider my time spent as playtime, because I’m really only supporting the lead teacher in the class.  I can teach the students a song, or help them read in small groups, but I’m not planning or running the lesson, so it’s very easy for me.

One student in fourth grade is new this year, and he is finding it hard to participate, because he has a severe stuttering problem.  His name is Damil (Dah-MEEL).  It is hard for Damil to speak more than two or three words without taking 5-10 seconds to get the next word out.  So naturally, he doesn’t speak much during class.  But he is good in math and is a good writer, and understands Kazakh, Russian, and now some basic English.

When I was introduced to Damil, he had a hard time even just telling me his name.  And When I came back to class today, an idea that had occurred to me when I met him came back to my mind, very strongly.  I asked the teacher for permission to take Damil aside and work with him one-on-one.  I briefly described what I wanted to do, and she told Damil in Kazakh what we were going to try to do, and he agreed to give it a try.

Instead of speaking to each other, I sang my questions to Damil, very quietly, and he responded by singing.  We practiced the strategy for about 20 minutes, and he found himself not only reading more smoothly, but being able to converse more smoothly as well.  He could sing-read the questions in his book, and then sing to compose his own answers.  I sent him back to the rest of the class, and he read (sang) three sentences in a row, all smoothly, while his classmates sat there open-mouthed.  At the end, they even applauded for him.

The lead teacher has taken on her own shoulders the responsibility to inform all of Damil’s teachers that he can learn to speak more smoothly by singing.   I am aware that singing doesn’t always lead to long-term fluency in speaking, but it can be one success along the road.   Both Damil and I left the class much happier today. I have researched the issue, and I will continue to find ways to support Damil in his quest to speak more fluently – in all three languages. 


Jim and I often include in our morning prayers the request to have the chance to serve one person that day – to influence for the better one person’s life.  I have no doubt that the Lord answered that prayer today in a rather dramatic way.  And I am grateful to have been prepared to help meet a child’s needs. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Autumn

I walked through a city park this morning.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.  Even longer since I did it in the fall.  My heart is full tonight, as I reflect on the thoughts that have woven themselves through my mind all day long.

As we walked, the sun worked its way through the leaves of the oak and elm trees in the park.  Spots of shade and sunshine alternated like sugar and salt on my senses, cooling, then warming me, as the leaves of the trees filtered green, yellow, gold and brown light on the ground next to my pathway.  The sounds were muted – most of the birds were pigeons, being fed by children on the plaza nearby.  But there were a few others flitting about, and though I couldn’t spy a squirrel, I heard one chattering at us from the trees.


The change of seasons here is more subtle than in many parts of the world.  The carefully tended rosebushes have been trimmed back just in the last few days, and soil piled around the roots, to preserve them.  Where there are patches of grass, it has been allowed to grow long, to protect itself.  The leaves on the trees here change color individually, not in groups.  I smiled as I walked past three elms – one completely bare of leaves, another dressed in yellow, and the third still clinging to green.  But what stopped me in my tracks was the smell.  Not since experiencing fall in Virginia have I smelled fall, but I did today.  That damp-earth, soft and sweet smell of decaying leaves in cool air.  I had to stop and just breathe it in, in three different spots.  My mind whirled with memories of the woods where I played as a child, and the shores of the Shenandoah river, where I have spent many an autumn day.  I understand that smell is the physical sense most strongly tied to memory; today was evidence of that claim, for me.



There is something sacred about autumn.  I think it is in the gracious acceptance of the natural world – acceptance that the bloom of summer has ended, and the respite of winter is coming.  Animals either migrate, hibernate, or prepare to meet the harsh conditions of winter.  And non-evergreen plants drop their blossoms and leaves, and conserve themselves for spring.  May I learn to accept the changing conditions of my life like these great trees, and conserve my efforts for the opportunities that will cross my path in their own due time. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED

Prayers are answered in three ways:
1.     Yes
2.     Not yet
3.     I have something better in mind.

Jim and I have prayed to understand what we can do to shine the light of the gospel in our circles of influence while we are three hours away from the nearest LDS congregation.  Our mission president has given us permission to hold Sunday church in our living room, so we have an opening song, Jim administers the sacrament, and we listen to talks by church leaders that are available on the internet.  We take the time to discuss the talks, we have our Sunday School lesson, and Jim reads out loud to me every morning from the scriptures before our morning prayer together.  We also try to reflect on the day and the lessons of the day during our evening walk home. 

But we do miss the association with other Saints.  And our prayers have reflected a desire to have spiritual moments with others.  While we were in Tonga we learned from a much-respected church leader that he and his wife pray that the Lord will place one person in their path during the day, one person over whom this leader and his wife can have the opportunity to positively influence.  Since then, Jim has regularly included in our prayers together the same request.  And here in Taldykorgan, we have more or less expected that we would be the givers of the light of understanding, and others would be the recipients.  But the Lord sometimes has something better in mind.

Monday morning, I had a very sweet, calm, tender conversation with another teacher here.  I will call him Adam, though that is not his real name.  Adam is a British citizen, though he was born and spent his childhood on an independent Caribbean island.  He spoke about being drawn to a group of friends when he first arrived in England, a group of friends who were very committed students and hard workers, and who had very happy, loving homes. He described to me the peace he felt in their homes, and how he admired their parents and the way the family members all treated each other.  When they invited him to come to church with them, he immediately accepted, not because they quoted scripture, not because they taught him something, but because he had spent time in their homes and loved the feeling there.  He ended up joining the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and is a wonderful example of the careful teachings of that sect.

As I listened to Adam, I reflected on my own habits.  What does my home feel like when others come to visit?  We had 17 teachers over to have a light supper and snacks on Jim’s birthday last Saturday, and we had a very enjoyable time visiting and learning more about each other.  But how did they feel about being in my home?  Other than being physically comfortable, and being pleased with the food, I must say I do not know how they felt.  I need to pay more attention to my home’s spiritual atmosphere, so that people will notice an increased peace, calm, love and reverence when they visit. 

I listened to Adam as he spoke about working with one especially challenging student.  This boy was scrawny and small for his age, so when the boy physically attacked Adam, he did no damage.    Adam caught him by his arms and said, “If you continue this attack, you will lose your opportunity to complete your secondary education anywhere in this country.  If I report this attack, you will be expelled, and no other school will admit you.  But I am not going to report this attack.   I am going to give you another chance.  I am going to write a report that will result in a two-day at-home suspension for you, and at the end of those two days, I want to meet with you and your parents.  Then you will be invited back to my class.”

Adam followed through on his plan, even though the boy was angry at being sent home for two days.  On the third day, Adam met with the boy and his parents, and explained that his goal was to help this boy complete his secondary schooling, so that he could find a decent job, earn a decent wage, and contribute to society.  The parents and Adam both agreed to the plan, and over a period of months, the boy gradually changed his behavior and his attitude, and even wept when Adam left the school.


Having an impact on one person’s life?  Here was a shining example right in front of me.  Here was Adam, a model for me to imitate.  I thanked Adam for his experiences, and for being willing to share them with me.  Then he turned to me and said, “I think God has brought us together for a purpose.”  I think so, too, Adam.  I don’t pretend to know what that purpose includes, but I’m grateful it’s happening. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

LIFE IS GOOD

On the way home from school this evening, I told Jim that this job is turning into the easiest teaching job I’ve ever had.  Coming from an elementary experience where I was responsible for 6-8 lessons a day, 5 times a week, I feel like I’m being spoiled in a high school setting where I teach six different groups of 11th grade students for 80 minutes three times a week – what, three lesson plans and I’m done for the week?  Really?

Jim’s schedule is more strenuous than mine – he meets with eight groups of students, on two different grade levels, so he has to do at least six lesson plans a week.  Plus, his teachers change their minds more often than mine do – so he has to be flexible (see the Jello post). 

We both work as twice-monthly counselors with an assigned group of students, and I’m working with two elementary classes as well.  And then there’s the staff development – I’m working on a literacy team, and Jim is working on a team to help teachers take advantage of moments during lessons where we can document student understanding, rather than just handing students a quiz every lesson.

But the best part of this job is working with these students.  Granted, this is a school for the elite, but these students are so well-behaved, so polite, so dedicated to their school work that I am amazed.  They use their time well, they keep each other concentrating on their work, and they want to do well.  It’s a great atmosphere.

Of course, they’re still kids.  And they make me laugh.  Daniel, who is a bit reluctant to speak in English, finally joined in at the end of class the other day.  I asked for a show of hands to see who had spoken at least three times in English, and Daniel’s hand shot up.  “I spoke three times in English!” he repeated.  We all laughed  - it was the first thing he had said in English during the whole class!  He’s doing better, with encouragement.


So we’re happy, and we have good people to work with, good students to teach, and we’re making good friends.  Life is good, even on the far side of the world. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

EVERYTHING'S CARVED IN JELL-O!

Carved in Jell-O???


A friend in Tonga used to counsel me to remain flexible, because things could change at a moment’s notice.  “Things aren’t carved in stone here,” he’d say, “they’re written in Jell-O!”  Considering the average temperatures in the South Pacific Islands, I loved the mental image of messages written in Jell-O and then being eaten!  It was so fitting; meetings scheduled a week or more in advance were cancelled, others were scheduled with just an hour’s notice.  Everyone was used to it, no one got upset (except the Pa’alangis, until we accepted the fact that we weren’t going to change THAT habit of Tongans).




Well, Jell-O has found its way to Kazakhstan.  Given that we live in a global village, I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, but I really thought that given the history of this country, the administrative style of a school would be highly structured and authoritative.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The principal here, who speaks very little English, greets me with a smile every day.  She took about 5 pages of notes when I gave a 15-minute collegial training after school this past Wednesday.  (It was mostly about letting kids draw pictures to go with their vocabulary words, to help them remember the word better.)  My co-teachers are marvelous – all proficient teachers in their own right, but willing to listen to new ideas and try new approaches.  And because of their openness, schedules are heavy, obligations are strong, and meetings are frequent – and can turn on a dime. So here, too, everything is written in Jell-O.

 
For example, this week we should have taught about 24 hours of classes.  I think I taught 12, because students were obligated for baseline assessments (a test that can show what they already know).  But I didn’t know about the students being tested until I was physically in the room.  Oh well, it’s time to be flexible!

I am also supposed to plan with 7 other teachers, so that we are all teaching the same skill and lesson objective during the same week.  Well, we met today and figured out a project that would start next Monday and last for two weeks, and then at the very end of our meeting, one teacher said she had to wait two weeks – more Jell-O!  The rest of us will go ahead without her.

Other things which seem capricious have taken me by surprise, but in a good way.  I did jump out of my chair here at my desk at home the other night, when someone set off about 30 firecrackers in the parking lot just outside my window.  Some really nice screamers and spinners – and then we laughed because all the car alarms started up.  I had never been that close to fireworks before – LOUD.  The empty box of rocket casings was still on the ground the next morning – I guess the box was too hot to handle right after the rockets went off!  We’ve had fireworks about four times in the four weeks we’ve been here – weekend, weeknight, doesn’t matter – just when someone feels good.  Jell-O.

  

Walt Disney’s “Mickey and the Beanstalk” has a scene in which Goofy dives into a plate of Jell-O and just enjoys himself.  I have decided that’s a good lesson for me.  Just hold my breath, dive in, and enjoy the flavors!  Save some Jell-O for me!











Friday, September 6, 2013

AN ANGEL'S MARIONETTE

The first night we spent in Kazakhstan, Jim and I sat down on the edge of our bed and looked at each other in horror – the bed was rock-hard.  Seriously.  Think dining room chair seat with a sponge on top.  Though we didn’t say it that night, both of us feared that we would be on a return flight to the US within a few days.

You see, Jim’s got back issues, including deteriorating disks and arthritis.  For the last fifteen years, he has sought out softer and softer mattresses, and has even slept on half-inflated air mattresses, in order to get the rest he needs.  And now we were expected to sleep on a really hard bed?  Might as well ask him to sleep on the floor – a definite no-go.

Except that has not turned out to be the case.  On our third day in Kazakhstan, Jim agreed to go for a walk, and we toured the park near our hotel (see the blog with the memorial, " A Capital Place" dated August 19th).  We came back, climbed the stairs to our hotel, and he didn’t need any extra pain pills.

A day later we walked probably a total of 2 miles.  And on ONE pain pill.

Since then, we  have walked to and from school (takes about 20 minutes), climbed up and down 4½ flights of stairs to our apartment, and climbed the three stories at school, all on a maximum of two pain pills a day, not four to six, as was needed in the past. Is it just a hard bed?  We don't think so.  

We have acknowledged the hand of God in getting us this job – the circumstances of “just happening” to notice an invitation in LinkedIn, the ease of emailing a resumé and participating in a phone interview, and the fact that our assignment matches exactly the duties of our voluntary missionary service in Tonga – too many “coincidences” to be coincidence.  We know the Lord led us here.  But we didn’t expect the gift of healing. Jim has had fewer issues since we arrived here than he has had in perhaps ten years.  It’s like he has a personal angel lifting his legs and supporting his back, as if he's a marionette. He’s not totally healed – we don’t need that.  And we credit the bed, but it can't be just the bed.  He’s healed enough to be able to do this job, and we are grateful. 


We know we are in the right place.  We have been blessed in order to fulfill our responsibilities.   My wish for you is that you will notice the hand of the Lord in your own life. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

FIRST BELL

The first of September is the first day of school, no matter what, here in K-stan.  So, Sunday morning we had a wonderful "welcome everyone" ceremony called First Bell, then a couple hours of assemblies and classes led by the school counselors, before winding down for the day.   Here is a slide show of some of the students and families performing at the ceremony, and the ringing of the "first bell."  Enjoy.

video

Monday, August 26, 2013

INFINITE DIVERSITY IN INFINITE COMBINATIONS

Kazakhstan is the definition of diversity.  Over the last two hundred years, Germans, Jews, Slavs, and others have joined the Mongol-influenced ethnicities here, and with the egalitarian treatment of the Soviet Union and the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms granted by the independent Kazakh government since 1991, there is a great deal of individualism and personal freedom, a rarity in a country ruled by a strong central government.  One of those guaranteed freedoms is freedom of religion.

One of the first surprises for me was the discovery of this lovely Jewish Synagogue.  I wasn’t sure how far away it was, and for a moment I thought it was a lot larger than it really is, but if you look carefully, you can see pigeons resting on the Star of David on the top of the building.  Sorry about the blobs on the lens – didn’t realize they were there until I had left the scene.

This beautiful mosque, called the Mosque of the Holy Sultan, is truly huge.  The mosque and the grounds around it fill a city block.  And the work is exquisite – inlaid turquoise and gold, and lots of marble work.  The heavenward reach of the towers and the eastward facing of the main gate to the mosque remind worshippers to lift their arms and their faces to heaven in all their works.  A worthy reminder.



This pyramid is called the Palace of Peace.  Once a year representatives from all religions in Kazakhstan are called to attend a conference, to help construct harmony between faiths.  The rest of the time the building is used as a conference center, a museum and a concert hall.  The building is complete, the construction crane is really a block or two in front of the property of the Palace of Peace.

Other churches include Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic  - when I find them, you'll see them!


I have no pictures of an LDS chapel either, for we are three and half hours from the nearest branch (congregation) of the Mormon church.  Oh well.  We are in the process of finding out what the mission president here wants to do (the Mormon mission headquarters for Kazakhstan is actually in Russia).  But we can hold out for a while!

One of the nicest things we have had is an introduction to classic Kazakh culture, including dress, dance, song, food, and the interior look of a traditional yurt, the old-style home made from skins and lined with wool and rugs.

A couple poses in traditional formal dress, in front of
and interior view of a yurt.
A British Citizen from Africa now living in
Kazakhstan sings a traditional song and
wears a traditional coat and hat.

























With all the variety of life here, we can't possibly get bored.  The adventure continues!!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A CAPITAL PLACE

This is a war memorial - that little light spot to the left of the 
base of the column is a full-grown man - that's how big this is.
We are spending a few days in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.  This  city is similar to Brasilia and Canberra in that it is a chosen site for a national capital that was designed intentionally and built purposefully. Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union until the Union's collapse in 1991, when it became an independent republic.  Some of the statues in this capital city reflect the heroic scale of Soviet monuments, while others reflect the history, cultural touchpoints, and humor of the people of this region.
The war memorial is called Mother Motherland.  Here she holds an empty amber bowl, symbolizing the suffering caused by war. 

Walk around behind the column and you see that the globe includes a representation 
of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route which runs through Kazakhstan.  

Obviously the dates in this sundial-themed statue are significant - I haven't found an answer 
as to why 2012 is on the statue. I have lots of questions, but can't ask them in Russian yet, 
much less understand the answers!

The Bayterek Tower connects the new and the old.  There is an old Kazakh story about a bird laying its egg in the sacred tree of life.  This 97-meter tall tower symbolizes the tree and the sphere is the egg,which represents both happiness and new beginnings.  Visitors can ride elevators to the top of the tower and explore from inside the egg, viewing the promises of the new city being established in all directions, honoring the past, cherishing the present, and looking forward to the future.

Sitting in the middle of a patch of petunias, a stylized camel and rider.  

A mare and foal, on a streetcorner.  Signs of wear and tear, but still beautiful.

Painted topiary horses, too, along the sidewalk.

Fanciful dromedary and bactrian camels - baby camel symbols are everywhere here, much as baby rabbits in the US.

The statues are for touching, as well as looking, and who wouldn't want a ride
 on a painted pony?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

IT'S STILL NICE

Wow.  Four weeks in the US has gone by quickly.  But the "it's been nice" list has grown.  We have been released as full-time missionaries, but the benefits have not diminished at all.  We have been counting our blessings as we travel, and though there are too many to share here, we need to acknowledge some of the categories, at least.

1. The blessing of loved ones.  During these short weeks, we have spent time with over one hundred people whom we love.  Blood ties or not, we are connected by time and experience, and the influence you have had on our lives is clear in our desire to keep improving ourselves.  Thank you for your love, your support, your encouragement – you have no clue to your influence.  

2.  The blessing of trials.  We know many of you are enduring hardships of economics, physical or emotional health, loss of family members, or the other struggles that are part of the learning of this life.  And we have been awed by the determination you demonstrate in meeting and dealing with these struggles.  We all have good days and bad days, but thank you for strengthening us by your words and your examples.  And we thank God every day that you are able to persist, to endure, to remain true.  We hope our poor service has provided you some of the blessings you have needed. 

One portion of the Air and Space Museum at Dulles.  
3.  The blessings of modern living.  We have so much to be thankful for.  Our belongings are surviving very well without us, in climate-controlled storage.  We were gifted with a cell phone, the cremated remains of a dearly beloved pet who passed while we were in Tonga, family cars, hotels, and chauffeurs while we traveled.  We were able to ship suitcases ahead of us, rather than lugging our entire lives with us to every stop across the U.S.  Life in this country is nothing short of amazing.  And if you haven’t gotten there yet, the new Air and Space Museum “wing” at Dulles Airport is very cool – the Enola Gay, the French Concorde, the supersonic “stealth” Blackbird, and the Space Shuttle Discovery all under one roof, along with about 500 other planes, gliders, satellites, and assorted flying machines.  All within about 100 years for a time frame – amazing.


Kudzu overtaking an old farm silo.
4.  The blessings of beauty, created by God and by man.  The variety of life we have seen in these last four weeks is nothing short of a marvel.  From the vistas of the Rocky Mountains to the hot sands along the Gulf coast of Texas, to the lush green of Virginia  and North Carolina - this world is a beautiful place.  

We came out of a restaurant the other night and a young man stopped us and pointed to the sky.  "I was just looking at those white puffy clouds, and that particular color of light blue in the sky," he said, "and I've decided that God must be a Tarheels fan!" That man just might have a point!





"The Golden Warrior" in front of the Kazakh
Embassy in D.C.
The man-made beauty that impressed me was the city of Washington, D.C.  Now, I admit, I'm partial to that town, but the cleanliness, the abundance of plant life and of families, the variety of glass and stone, of old and new construction, and the increased efficiency of the city is just impressive.  Metrobuses have come a long way since I was in town last, in appearance and function.  And it only took us 45 minutes to drive from 16th and P Streets inside DC to Manassas, Virginia - I can remember when that took a couple of hours.  The high-speed highways in, around and through the DC area are truly a wonder – especially the parts framed by green vines, bushes and trees. 


To those of you staying behind in these United States:  count your blessings.  Be a blessing to someone else today, and strengthen the bonds between you and someone else.  Be aware of your part in your trials, and continue to teach those of us around you through your trials.  Be conscious of the abundance of advantages in your own life – not just the physical and economic advantages, but the advantages that come because you are living in the United States of America.  You are blessed beyond compare – I know that from first-hand experience.  Enjoy your blessings - and more importantly, make use of them.  Go BE a blessing to someone else, and seize the opportunities that your own blessings bring you.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A TRUE GENTLEWOMAN

I recently met a woman who left a remarkable imprint on my mind and heart.  Zarrah was my hair stylist at a randomly-chosen salon in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.  If I could sum up Zarrah in one word, that word would be mild.  She epitomizes womanhood in many ways – humble, gentle, constantly serving, and serving happily.

This might not be information that carries any weight until I tell you that Zarrah spent her childhood in Afghanistan.  I tried not to pry into her personal background, but anyone who has paid any kind of attention to the news in the last 40 years knows what conditions are like for girls and women in Afghanistan.  Yet I could not sense one drop of bitterness in Zarrah.  She busied herself in the salon in a happy, calm manner, and demonstrated a kindness and gentleness that I marveled in watching.

  During the two quick hours that we spent together, I watched her.  These are some of the things I witnessed:

1. She supported her fellow workers in their efforts, thanking them for small kindnesses they did for her (like sweeping up the cuttings of my hair) and quickly moving to help a colleague fold freshly-dried towels.

2. She held my hair in her hand like it was valuable, and used the lightest touch I have ever experienced in preparing my hair for a color and cut. (And I thank those of you who actually thought my color was not straight out of a bottle.)

3. She took care of other customers while the color set on my hair, making the most of her time (and that of her other customers).

4. She not only shampooed and conditioned my hair, she took the time to give me the most relaxing scalp massage I have ever had. When I joked that she was going to put me to sleep, she joined right in and promised to wake me before she went home that evening – haha.

5. Because of her gentle ways, people treated her kindly. She responded to every kindness with a melodic “awww” or a word of thanks, and a genuine, warm smile.



There were other demonstrations, but you get the idea. Zarrah, a woman who has seen great hardship, has chosen to live with joy, kindness and service. And because of her choices, I was drawn to love her in a very short time.  (We even hugged each other when I left.)  I don’t know if I will ever learn to be as meek and accepting as she was that day, but I can certainly learn to be mild, by remembering her example. When I grow up, I want to be like Zarrah.

Monday, August 5, 2013

IT'S BEEN NICE

We are mostly through our hopscotch-style journey across the US:  Salt Lake City, Denver and the San Luis Valley of Colorado, Corpus Christi, Texas, and now Washington, D.C.  (Fayetteville North Carolina will come next.)  We have loved visiting with family and friends, creating new face-to-face connections and strengthening old ones.  We have also found some new purpose in our conversations.

I need to start an “It’s been nice to find out that…” list. So here are a few items that belong on that list:

1.     It’s been nice to find out that our perspective mattered.  While reporting in New Zealand, we discussed some needs at Liahona, and through emails from friends there since we left, we have found that the issues we brought to the attention of our leaders in Auckland are indeed being addressed. 

2.     It’s been nice to find out that we are missed.  Some of our Tongan friends loaded us up with gifts just as we were leaving, and since then we have received notes, emails, and cards that have provided wonderfully sweet and tender moments.  And I have given myself a Tongan name, now that everyone is telling me things are too quiet with me gone – I am Sister Loud-As-A-Truck!

3.     It’s been nice to find out how personal connections matter.  Reunions with family, relatives, “shirttail relatives”, and friends who might as well be family have been wonderful.  There have been sweet moments when we have shared our recognition of the Lord’s hand in our lives, funny moments when we discovered or rediscovered peculiarities in our habits, and moments of heartfelt gratitude when we acknowledged the influence we have had in each others’ lives.  We are not meant to live in isolation.

One minor illustration of a funny moment:  We told Lindsey, RC’s wife of 5 months, about his habit of doing shots during friendly “poker” games (they really didn’t know the rules, but that never stopped them) when he and Kai were 12 or 13.  The circle of boys would sit around our dining room table, and at the end of each round, would drink from a 12-oz cup of water that had an entire package of Koolaid stirred into it.  Strong stuff!  After we laughed about it, Lindsey said, “That explains a lot about my husband.”  Ha!

4.     It’s been nice to be exposed to the abundant blessings here in the United States.  The first time I walked into a grocery store, I was stunned.  I walked up to the deli counter, where there were about 12 kinds of cheese for sale, and right next to the counter was an oval bank, about 10 feet long, filled with another 50 kinds of cheeses.  (Now, you have to understand that cheese is an expensive rarity in Tonga, so we had it only very occasionally.)  The kind lady at the deli counter asked, “May I help you?” and I looked at her with a bewildered smile and said, “I don’t think so!”  I just had to walk around and stare, in the whole store.  About halfway through the store, the thought came to me, “There’s enough food in this store to feed everyone in Tonga for a week!”  I continue to preach that every American needs to go live outside of the US for a year, functioning like a native of any other country.  Then we could come back and be a lot more content with what we have here.

5.     It was especially nice to visit Monte Vista, Colorado again.  Two years ago, we left under than less than optimal circumstances, but coming back and giving our mission report at our “home” ward was wonderful.  People welcomed us with open arms, spent time with us, expressed joy and anticipation at the next chapter in our lives, and wished us well.  We left with a very warm feeling, a very positive feeling about the people in that place.  We even got to take a tour of the new school that Jim helped design, that has been up and running for year.  We purchased pieces of the old gym floor (the grant money ran out due to cost overruns) to help raise money for the surfacing of the athletic track, and were very pleased at the way the school has turned out.  May the years be good, Pirates!!!


6.     We knew this before we left, but it’s been good to recognize that the skills we developed in Tonga are exactly the skills we will use in Kazakhstan.  In Tonga we spent most of our time coaching teachers and helping them teach in English to students who grew up speaking Tongan.  We taught them research-proven strategies to use in their classrooms to help their students succeed.  And now we will be doing exactly that in Kazakhstan.  It’s been good to acknowledge that we NEEDED to go to Tonga, in order to qualify for these jobs.  And it’s good to acknowledge that we had enough faith to trust that the Lord would take care of us.  He certainly has.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

TALDY WHAT?

Yes, it's Taldykorgan.  And no, it's not a word in Klingon.  It's a city in southeastern Kazakhstan, close to the Chinese border.  It's a city of about 140,000 people on the Asian Steppe, and that is where Jim and I are now headed, now that our mission in Tonga is done.  We leave Tonga on Monday, July 15th, and fly to umpty-ump places before flying out of the country again on August 14th.

So it's off to Kazakhstan, where the winters are long and cold, but the people are sturdy and hardworking - I have a feeling the San Luis Valley of Colorado will have prepared us well for this country.  I love the translation of the city name "Taldykorgan" - it means Castle of Birches.  I get this feeling like I'm stepping into a Russian fairy tale.

We will be working at a school taught in English, and we will each be partnered with a Kazakh teacher.  We have been hired as mentor teachers, and we will work together with our Kazakh partners to help them learn effective teaching strategies.  Mmm.  That's a little scary - but we had nearly two years in Tonga to learn how to tell teachers to do it better, so this is a logical next step, showing teachers how to do it better.  Time to put our money where our mouth is, as it were.

One of the nice parts about moving to a new part of the world in this day and age is that you can take look at it before you get there.  We have spent not a few hours looking over the school, the city, and the country where we will be living next.  Here's a few shots:

Classic architecture

Feats of strength - and foolishness

Traditional skills - falcon hunting

Western and Kazakh musicians playing together.  

Should be fascinating.  I don't know if I'll find time to post again before we get there, but I promise to be in touch.