Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Random Observations on Life in Ukraine and Learning Russian

Kellie and I are in the middle of our third week of Language School. Rather than share one big idea on this blog,we thought we would just share a variety of brief thoughts and observations from our most recent experiences over the past view days. Hopefully they will give you a “feel” for things in Ukraine.

On life here:
• People here are generally more reserved than in the States. They do not smile as much nor do they speak as much on the different modes of public transportation we have used. The typical outgoing American persona (casual communication with strangers, smiling in public etc) is viewed as being “forward.”
• There is an odd mix of wealth and poverty. Nearly everyone has a cell phone. People (especially younger women) are extremely fashion conscious. There are nice malls and restaurants. Yet you see disturbing examples of poverty as well. Buildings that are decrepit. Older women (“pensioners”) in kiosks trying to sell a few vegetables to augment their meager income. We even saw one scouring through a dumpster collecting “food.”
• You see relatively few overweight people here.
• Every day as we walk (or ride the bus) to language school, we are reminded how much people here need the Lord.

On the language:
• Even though we are learning Russian (which is used in all the Bible Colleges and Seminaries here), Ukrainian is commonly heard and seen in our daily experience. In fact, many speak a street language which is a hybrid of both. This can make things confusing when it comes to shopping (figuring out labels and product content) , trying to sing at church, or just figuring out signs.
• The Russian language is dauntingly complex. There are many rules to learn and seemingly as many exceptions. A friend mentioned to us that she was glad she had grown up with Russian because it is so difficult to acquire otherwise. She added that English was much easier to learn than her own native tongue!
• We have excellent language instructors. They are skilled, dedicated….and patient!!
• At this point for us, hearing Russian is like listening to a radio broadcast where the transmission has a lot of static. You hear words and phrases here and there…but much of it cannot yet be understood.
• Though language acquisition is challenging, every verb we conjugate and every noun or adjective declension that we memorize is another plank in the bridge of communication that will enable us to train Ukrainian leaders to plant churches and make disciples.

Jerry and Kellie

P.S. Be sure to check out our latest pictures featuring a Sunday AM wedding at the church we are attending. More thoughts on that later.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Week Of Language Studies

It was back to school for Kellie and me this past week. It has been a few years since we have sat in a classroom setting day after day. And it has been a bit intense for both of us. First our teachers speak almost exclusively in Russian, requiring much concentration on the part of the students who barely know any Russian. Secondly, while Kellie and I had already learned to recognize and read the Russian (Cyrillic) script, learning it in cursive has been like learning a whole new alphabet. It is frankly very confusing (and frustrating) at times. So why bother learning Russian? Why not just rely on interpreters?

I have asked myself that question several times this week. And while I can think of several practical answers to that question, let me share two simple thoughts that have spurred us on--even when we have felt like our brains are on overload.

1. God devised language. It was His idea. He thinks. He communicates. And when He communicates, He acts. He spoke--and the world came into being. He spoke words of life to Adam and Eve. And if they had listened to His words, they would not have eaten the forbidden fruit and experienced sin and death. After they sinned, he spoke a promise to them (Gen. 3:15). And the rest of His Word is the fulfillment of those words, culminating in the coming of THE Word. That Word actually became flesh. He lived among us. He died for us...and rose gain. All in fulfillment of His Word. And it is the message about that Good News (or Gospel) which transforms sinners like us and puts us on the stage of human history to proclaim that Word until every last letter has been fulfilled and we can resonate back to Him words of praise and adoration forever more.

2. When mankind was united together against God in Genesis 11, God devised multiple languages as the means of dividing mankind and setting the stage for the unifying power of the Gospel--something that was foreshadowed at Pentecost (when Jews from all over the Mediterranean basin heard the Gospel in their own tongue) and will be fully displayed in eternity around God's throne. Learning another language gives us the privilege of being part of God's redemptive work.

We may not enjoy every moment of language school. We may feel frustrated and inept when we open our mouths in the market place to try and practice what we are learning. But we live for the day that Jesus' name is praised in Russian and all other languages in the world. Until that day....

Working on our Russian...one word at a time,

Jerry and Kellie

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back to School in Ukraine

Today was a huge holiday in Ukraine. The first day back to school. And do they ever celebrate the day with flourish! With students all dressed up, flowers for the teachers, along with music and celebrating--this is quite a day. Enjoy these pictures of the local school from our 4th floor apartment. 

In case you missed it, there is also a slide show of our first week in Ukraine over in the right sidebar of this blog. You can click on any of the images to bring up a larger version of the slideshow.