33,771 in 48 Hours

Seventy years ago today an unfathomable horror happened within this city I now call home. The Babi Yar massacre took place 29-30 September 1941 and it is believed to be the single largest massacre of the Holocaust with 33,771 Jews killed.

That is almost 34,000 humans beings

killed mercilessly, senselessly murdered

within 48 hours

because they were born Jewish

"I will put my breath into you and you shall live again."

If that isn’t horrific enough, from what I’ve read, for the next two years every Tuesday and Saturday people were brought to the ravine, lined up, and shot. Only about a third of those killed were Jews. Gypsies, POWs, Ukrainians who tried to help, and others were also murdered.

It is a tragedy I cannot begin to imagine or understand, except to know that just thinking about it brings me to tears.

Several weeks ago I visited the site of Babi Yar. I live about an hour by public transportation from the place where this atrocity happened and it is situated in the middle of a beautiful park. There are several memorials dotting the landscape: a large menorah commemorating the Jews, a looming Soviet style statue to remember the Soviet citizens and POWs, a statue dedicated to the children who were murdered, and a few others.

The statue for the children got to me a bit with the little girl and her outstretched arms, but standing on the edge of the ravine almost made me sink to my knees. I can’t explain it except to say that I felt a part of the weight of what happened there.

And this nation feels the weight of it too. It is another horrific tragedy, full of both pain and shame, that the Ukrainian soul is too accustomed to and too often (in my opinion) tries to be pushed aside instead of learning to heal.

Tomorrow (Friday) night I will be showing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for our movie club. It seemed rather appropriate in light of the anniversary, but is a much more serious movie than we have shown so far this year. Please pray that students don’t just walk away thinking, “Well that was depressing,” but that we can really have a serious discussion following the movie.

 

What If Monsters

The dreaded “What If” monster. I think we are all familiar with him, yes?

“What if they don’t renew my forbearance on my school loans?”
“What if I get sick?”
“What if I’m home alone and a pipe busts and I cannot speak Russian to tell the lady downstairs the problem?” (okay maybe that one only applies to me…)
“What if…”

Between social network updates, finding icebreakers for group times, tracking down interesting and good media to use with our students, and searching for creative ideas to use it’s easy to see that I spend a lot of time online. This means that I come across a lot of random, sometimes dreadful but sometimes really awesome ideas, people, projects, initiatives, etc.

Recently I came across What If Monsters. Now I do not personally know Michelle Nelson-Schmidt but I do however LOVE her creations. Below is a short video of her reading her children’s book Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster. It isn’t published yet and she is raising money to produce her line of plush monsters. Maybe one of the things I love most about her campaign is that she has said even if she doesn’t raise the money through her current campaign that nothing will stop her from seeing this dream realized. I like people that go after their dreams, so I’m supporting her and thought I’d share her dream with you.

Running After Trains and a Night with a Drunk Guy

Have you ever noticed when you commit to something it often seems that everything goes against you actually succeeding?

Recently I talked about focus and perspective. Just last week I said I was going to make an effort to see things as challenges to overcome instead of obstacles that bring me to a place of sitting in the mud.

And then I left for a different city.

As I left my flat Sunday evening I thought, “Oh I have plenty of time to get to the train station.” What I forgot was the fact that all public transportation runs less frequently at night. This is not something you should forget.

So as I stood on the roadside waiting ten minutes for the bus, I began to think “hmm maybe I should have given myself a bit more time, but it’s okay”. Then I waited 9.5 minutes at the first metro station. “Okay this is bad.” Then I waited 8.5 minutes at the interchange station. At this point I had already texted my colleague and said, “Ummm you should start praying I actually make our train.”

I arrived at the train station with about five minutes to get to my platform and onto the car that I needed. Of course when I made it to the platform I was at the opposite end of the train from my bunk and had to run the length of 13 train cars to reach my wagon (with my pack on my back… very reminiscent of my World Race days). I was thankful I made the train but certainly not feeling optimistic at the beginning of my journey.

Finding our compartment we also discovered that one of our bunk mates for the train that evening was a drunk guy, a bit of a rude, didn’t like that we are foreigners, wouldn’t shut up kind of drunk guy. Oh joy…

By 2 a.m. I had finally managed to stop feeling like I was going to be sick from my sprint to the train

By 3 a.m. I was wishing I had actually missed the train as our drunk neighbor proceeded to talk and yell even in his sleep.

By 4 a.m. my Christian love was long exhausted and I was wondering if I had anything I could possibly throw at the guy.

And somewhere around 6 a.m. I had a nose bleed.

Forget finding a good perspective I was exhausted, not feeling well and wishing I had just stayed home.

The week did get better, but honestly I was a bit off my game all week. Previously in Izmail I seemed to just slide into helping with classes and activities with no problem. My goofier, fun, crazy side came out and we had lots of fun. This time I just couldn’t seem to find my stride and felt that much of the week I was floundering more than a fish out of water.

I share just to say that, obviously, I still have to work on my perspective and focus.

Thank God it’s a new week starting tomorrow.

What A Camera Taught Me About Perspective

 

perspective  (pəˈspɛktɪv)
— n
1. a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance
2. the proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it; objectivity: try to get some perspective on your troubles

That’s how the World English Dictionary defines perspective.

A week or so ago I mentioned that focus is essential not just in photography but in our day-to-day lives. Much like manual mode on a camera, we need to learn how to focus ourselves instead of operating on auto focus.

Sticking with the photography analogy, perspective is another element that cannot be ignored. 

Overlooking Kyiv
From this perspective Kyiv looks beautiful

If I get on the ground and angle my camera, then I can give the perspective of you looming over me like a giant. If I stand above you, with the right perspective, I can make you appear dwarfed and overshadowed.  Or maybe we can stand in Paris and with a little direction about where to place your hand we can make it appear that you are holding up the Eiffel Tower.

Perspective can be a lot of fun to play with. But, we aren’t just talking about art (as much as I love the subject). We are talking about another essential element of our daily lives.

The perspective we approach life with completely alters our perceived reality. It’s a relationship. 

Perspective is all about how different objects relate to each other.

When I think about this in terms of life it makes me question how I see my relationships with others and with various situations.

Recently I have realized that sometimes I have a very skewed perspective and it effects my relationship with everything else around me.

For example, if I view my world in Ukraine for my American viewpoint of how I feel things should be done then I am setting myself up for huge frustrations and a lot of tears. However, on the days when I view Ukraine from a perspective of trying to understand the culture, then I am a lot more likely to have a successful day.

I think in many ways it is the difference between perceiving the situation as either an obstacle or a challenge.

An obstacle is something that hinders you. It blocks your way and creates a sense of inability. Sometimes obstacles just interfere and are just plain annoying, but other times they can stop your progress all together.

A challenge is something to be overcome. It may block your way but it stimulates creativity and action. You want to figure out a solution.

All too often I view things as obstacles and I name off a million excuses for why I can’t ______ (fill in the blank). Instead of taking a perspective that a task needs a little thought, creativity, or a different approach, I just shut it down completely and throw it in the corner as one more lost cause.

Ultimately the only perspective worth having is God’s, otherwise we are just wasting film (well I guess most people don’t use film anymore but you get the analogy…).

With God even the impossible is possible, which means that we will certainly have situations that come our way that threaten to ground us or block our view but they are challenges that with His help can be overcome.

I’m challenging myself this week to work on my perspective.

What are your thoughts on perspective? Do you find yourself expecting God to show up and make the impossible possible or do you find yourself sitting in front of the wall wondering how it could ever be conquered?

___________________________________________________________________________

As a side note, tonight I’m leaving on a train for the southern part of Ukraine. Prayers appreciated as we have a rather crazy week ahead and a non-stop schedule of classes, time with students, parties and work.

 

Stumbling Into Grace: A Review

Stumbling Into Grace book coverIt seems I am consistently stumbling around and falling into the grace of God, so I was intrigued when I happened upon Lisa Harper’s new book Stumbling Into Grace: Confessions of a Sometimes Spiritually Clumsy Woman.

What I love most about this book is that Lisa Harper manages to bring out the humorous side to our bumbling around trying to live this life of grace while also painting a portrait of Jesus reaching out to us, loving us through our mess ups and challenging us to live with the same passion, love and grace that has been given to us.

Each chapter ends with discussion questions that can be answered individually or used for small group discussion. Usually I skip this part in books, but I found that often it gave me some good questions to ponder. I especially enjoy the journal entry section, which gives you a prompt to write from for personal reflection.

I feel like I could sit down over coffee with Lisa Harper with her down-to-earth, personable style of writing and walk away knowing that I’m not the only woman that is stumbling into grace.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Booksneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Rating: 5 out of 5

What A Camera Taught Me About Focus

Emma running with balloons
Capturing the moment

Focus is essential.

coffee. tickets. painting. headache. icebreakers. Izmail.

I’m really bad at focusing.

The crossed out list is literally what went through my head in between those few words. I’m telling you it is crazy in there.

Maybe you can relate or maybe you think I am one french fry short of a happy meal. Either way, we all need to have focus if we are going to influence others.

Think of a camera. If you just grab it and go and never set your shot then you end up with a busy, blurry, bleh shot. Well, unless you get really lucky, but do you really want to live your life that way? I mean eventually the luck runs out.

However, when you take the time to focus the photo becomes a moment captured, a piece of art, an inspiration and people pay attention.

Auto focus is good, but manual focus is better.

Manual focus on a camera allows the photographer to focus with precision on the exact place that needs to have the focus. With auto sometimes you have to focus and re-focus several times before the camera catches where you really want it to.

It’s the same with you and me. We can operate on auto focus and we may even produce stunning results, but are they what our Creator wants us to be focused on?

Manual focus is a skill that has to be honed and it takes more effort than just running on auto, but if it causes us to be more in line with God’s vision then isn’t it worth it?

Ultimately we need to learn to set our focus first on God to make everything else in the composition come together.

Proverbs 29:18 says that without revelation or vision people perish. I personally like the Message translation here:

If people can’t see what God is doing,
they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
they are most blessed.

Too often I live in auto focus and I jump from one great subject to another. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I end up with amazing results but most of the time I know that it isn’t the best. Too often I lose sight of what God is doing and I try to make a masterpiece on my own.

Do you have a vision for what God is doing or do you find yourself stumbling around unsure? Are you choosing to focus on God and the things He has set you to focus on or are you just getting by with auto focus? Do you have tips for how to stay focused?

A Surprising Start at Shevchenko

Cross Cultural Club began today at Shevchenko University.

When I met with the Director of the English Department last week she said, “Don’t be discouraged if not a lot of students show up on Wednesday. Usually the first week people are still wandering around and not many show up.”

Then I walked into our room for club today and came face to face with this sight. . .

First day of Shevchenko club 2011_2012 There were over 40 students!!! We almost couldn’t fit in the room we were given!!!

After a mild panic attack (praise God for friends who came to help encourage me the first day!), the day seemed to go well and it was actually a bit difficult to get everyone’s attention and break the news that club was over.

Below is a minute long video Pete put together. I’m also thankful that he had enough wit to take photos because I forgot all about my camera, which may tell you a bit about how nervous I was.

I’m Sorry but WHAT?! (things I’m learning about leadership)

Taras Shevchenko overlooking the university
A statue of Taras Shevchenko overlooking the university

Do you ever sit back and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?!?!”

I had one of those moments today.

Walking home from our English ministry team meeting I found myself lost in the maze of just what brought me to this place doing what I do. Maybe to add a little clarity I was specifically thinking something along the lines of …

Okay let me get this straight in my brain. I have been given full responsibility for all of our CCX interactions with Shevchenko University, which has 20,000 students and is a top university. Furthermore, we have various events open to all students of any university that I am part of planning and implementing. I have a student that I am helping disciple and another than I am talking to about possibilities. I am planning a Bible study that doesn’t have a curriculum or plan some great teacher came up with, but just one put on my heart that I am not even sure how to actually carry out. Oh yeah and I was just asked to be an administrator for an International Student Conference that we have never tried to do before. WHAT?!?!?!?!

In the actual conversation that took place in my head there may have been more question marks and exclamation points.

The point isn’t how chaotically insane the next few months will be, however if that compels you to pray more for me and the ministry then, by all means, take note of my crazy schedule. (I’ll even send you a copy of it if you need a visual) My point is that I came to this country in January as someone who hated to be seen a leader… of anything.

Leadership has always made me want to turn and run. I don’t want to be in charge. Being in front of people, having all these questions and critiques and expectations, uh uh no thank you! You can keep it and I’ll cheer you on from the sidelines.

However, it seems in a rather short period of time I have landed myself right in the middle of a huge pile of responsibilities, many which leave me trembling nervously as I squeak out a faint “umm ok”. Talk about a big coat to grow into!

But I’m learning.

  1. I’m learning that often others see potential in you that you cannot see yourself. If those above me didn’t believe I could do it well (or learn to) then they wouldn’t entrust such precious people to me. You need to surround yourself with leadership that can see what you cannot see in yourself and who will then challenge you.
  2. I’m learning that there’s grace. It is okay to mess up sometimes. Whoa! (Remind me of that in a few weeks after I’ve tripped a few times.) It’s only failure if you don’t get back up. And my teammates and the students are a lot easier on me than I am most of the time.
  3. I’m learning that my life is not my own. Sure I’ve been a Christian for a while. I’ve heard it. Lately it has been constantly echoing in my brain that this life isn’t mine. I get up early on Sunday mornings when I would rather sleep because God has gifted me musically and I have the honor to help lead His children in a time of corporate worship. I sit up until 2 a.m. because I am creating necessary plans to help our students have fun, build relationships with us and learn a little English. I endure crowded public transportation and frustrating language barriers to meet up with students one on one. It isn’t because I’m great or some saint, but it is because I’m learning that it just isn’t about me. Now if I can just get to the place where my alarm rings on Sundays at 5:45 a.m. and I don’t complain!
  4. I’m learning that leadership is a process. There are natural born leaders in the world, but even they have to hone their skills and talent. For the rest of us who get sweaty palms at the thought of standing in front of a crowd or who cringe when asked to make a decision of any kind, it takes time but it is possible.

Maybe one of the best pieces of advice that I was given on leadership came from Seth Barnes, founder of Adventures in Missions. After I returned from the World Race I took part in a two week project to help create a plan to realizing the dreams God had placed on your heart. In the midst of the project I was incredibly frustrated, to the point of tears and wanting to leave. Everyone else seemed to easily take to the charts and boxes and tools we were given to help us, but I just couldn’t do it. It was like everything in me resisted those straight lines and grids. I was an office administrator before the WR… for crying out loud I could do a schedule and charts!!

Standing in the kitchen one evening after explaining my frustrations to Seth and my fears that I just wasn’t leader material like all these other participants, he looked at me and said, “They’re just tools. If the tool doesn’t work for you then find a tool that does. You don’t have to do it the way everyone else does. We are all leaders Pridge, some just lead in different ways.

I still want to leap out the door when someone puts me in charge of something. I still have knees that knock together whenever I have to stand in front of the group and speak. But as I look around I see people following me… I am, in fact, a leader.

And so are you.

Who are you leading? What has leadership taught you? How do you feel you lead best?

2011-2012 student leaders
The CCX staff and student leaders

From Pollen to Honey: Are You Living What You Were Created For

I sat on the porch soaking in the morning sun, cradling a cup of coffee like a precious gem, and taking in the beauty of a quaint retreat home in Irpen, Ukraine during our Staff/Student Leadership Conference this past week. My spirit breathed a sigh and my lungs were overjoyed to take in fresh air.

It’s been a struggle lately and even as I sat enjoying the moment part of me was still restless. That’s when I noticed it.

Bee covered in pollen
Copyright All rights reserved by emeyedeejay

Next to me a bright pollen covered honey bee landed on the dark brown doormat. My first thought was, “With all that pollen no wonder I’ve been sneezing non-stop here!” My second thought was, “Why in the world don’t I have a camera with me?!” However as I watched I was struck by another thought that a bit more inspiring, to say the least.

The bee began to rub its legs together trying to rid itself of its bright, sticky garment. It fidgeted and fretted for many minutes and to my eye the poor thing didn’t seem to be making very much progress. After so much hard work the honey bee was still covered in pollen. I don’t know if it was frustrated, but I was certainly feeling sympathy for it.

Then I noticed a small, growing pile of fluffy yellowness gathering on the doormat. Though barely noticeable looking at the bee, it was managing to remove pollen from its hairy body. So much hard work, such a great amount of time (at least it seemed so to me), but it was accomplishing what it was created to accomplish.

And therein lies the revelation that pierced my heart. To me the bee looked horribly uncomfortable and like it wasn’t really succeeding at very much, but the bee was doing what it was created to do. As a bee it is meant to gather pollen and redistribute it, as a lover of both flowers and honey I am rather thankful for the work of bees. Watching it up close, however, it seemed tedious, time consuming and, frankly, not very fun.

Culturally I am undeniably American in many ways. One of those is that I want results… and NOW! I want to see progress. I want to know that all the work is actually accomplishing something. However, I think sometimes I get distracted by the work still left to do and I miss the work that has already been done. As an impatient person, I get all kinds of distracted in the middle of the humdrum details of life. I have my eye on honey and I am still working with pollen.

How about you? Do you feel like you are doing what you were created to do? Or do you feel that you are doing a lot of work and going nowhere? Are you impatient with the process or content that even if it seems small it is necessary and making a difference?

Sometimes we need to step back from the tedious process and recognize all that God has done and is doing. Let’s take time to thank Him today for the beauty that surrounds us, for the sticky situations we find ourselves in, and for the sweet  things to come.