Below are an email I received today from a visitor to knowtruth.com, along with my response. What are your thoughts?
From the visitor:
Seeking advice on how to deal with manipulative deceptive fanatics of various religions and backgrounds I'm sick of people cramming religious bs down my throat. Lieing to me an manipulating me. Not that people of non religious backgrounds don't do this as well. I'm sick of being manipulated at every turn and treated poorly this is why I have decided to write you to let you know that you offer truth but present no infallible evidence. I'm very irritated with this as well.
People are often ignorant of the truth and I wish to not be bothered with that from you I know myself
I'm sorry you've been treated poorly and manipulated at times. This is wrong and cannot be excused on the part of either religious or non-religious people, whatever the case may be. You mention looking for infallible evidence. In any question -- be it a court trial, or an insurance claim, or an archaeological dig, or the pursuit of spiritual truth -- there will often be different pieces of information that can be considered "evidence" for any given side of a dilemma, mystery, investigation, etc. The answer that is the truth isn't always the only one with evidence to support it, nor is its evidence usually 110% strikingly, undeniably infallible. The question is, in which direction does the best evidence, and/or the majority of evidence, lead you? That will help you eliminate possibilities that, while possibly claiming some evidence, just don't stack up. In the end, though, you have to choose to make a conclusion yourself and believe in it. There is always an element of faith in what we think and believe about things.
There is terrific evidence to support the existence of God, the Bible's message that God reached out to humanity by taking the form of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, etc. But ultimately, although the evidence is good, you still have to choose to believe. The evidence cannot force itself upon you. I pray that in the end you'll be open to taking that step of faith, supported by the evidence of course.
That's not a question for you to answer, although anyone who has read or subscribed to our blog could reasonably answer, "Yes," based on the complete absence of new posts the past six months.
Really, it's a question for myself. It's a question that came to my mind recently as I realized how long it had been since I had written a new post. Should I just call it quits and be done with it? As I've reflected on this, here are two important realities that have risen to the surface:
- Blogging isn't a simple endeavor for missionaries. There are considerations specific to a missionary's life that make blogging a lot more complicated and potentially even foolish. Among these are privacy/security considerations when you are an American living overseas. There are also sensitivities with reporting about people you are working with who may themselves easily find and read your blog (and not appreciate what they find there about themselves).
- The role of blogging is being eroded by social networking. These days most of the people in my life are on Facebook, and a non-public status update there can potentially reach more of who I want to reach than a public blog post can here, without necessarily triggering the concerns mentioned in my bullet point above. Posting on social networks is also quicker and easier by nature, since status updates are expected to be short and informal.
Looking back, I believe that those two points are mostly what has swayed me away from blogging. The other contributing factor is the same busy-ness that made my blogging relatively infrequent even when I was trying harder.
Having said all that, after considering shuttering this blog altogether, I think I'll keep using it. For sharing information that isn't subject to the sensitivities of the first point above, I think there is a place for blogging and upsides to it, including:
- The opportunity to go into more detail and explanation than is considered the norm on social networks.
- The ability to control the presentation of what is posted there (separating it from the noise and distractions of social networks).
So that's where I'm at today. Have I quit blogging? No, though my blogging will be shaped by the things I just mentioned. What are your thoughts?
Summer is in full swing here, as it probably is where you are too. I thought I'd give a bit of a pictorial walk-through of some of what characterizes summer time for our family here.
First and foremost, summer is a time to get out of the apartment. After the long, cold, snowy winter, we cherish the opportunity to just throw on some sandals or shoes and walk out the door - no 5-10 minute bundling up required! And even on hot days, the park and playgrounds near our apartment are great places to stroll and play in the shade.
Since going outside requires traversing our apartment building stairwell from the fourth floor down to street level, here is a shot of Chi and Si doing just that:
Once outside, we enjoy playing fetch with Kona (when we take her with us), playing some badminton (a badminton set was what the boys picked out to give me for Father's Day), kicking a ball, or simply strolling around. However, no matter what else we are doing, some time at a playground is always a winner too. Here are the gang hanging out at one playground nearby:
All that time outside means more frequent and necessary baths! The majority of the time we put all three boys in the tub at once. On this particular occasion, there were only two in, and Erin Joy (one of the AIM students here working with us) pitched in to help:
Ezra is a full-on crawler now, as well as clutter-maker, cord-puller, door-opener, and everything else that goes with his new mobility. With the summer heat, most of the time he sports only his diaper at home. Here he is spending some time with his puppy:
Summer also means fresh, local, in-season, and affordable produce. We buy most of our fresh food from a local open market year-round, but in the summer it really kicks into high gear. All kinds of people bring fresh stuff to sell -- from larger-scale growers to old ladies selling the extra from their garden in the village.
When certain seasonal items hit their in-season peak, and the market is flooded with large quantities of it at the lowest prices of the year, we tend to buy several kilograms of it to bring home and freeze, and ration for the rest of the year. So far this year we have done this with strawberries and cherries. In the next couple weeks it will be time for blueberries and raspberries as well. Here is a photo I took after one Saturday morning outing in which I went to both the open market and a grocery store. The red bucket was full of strawberries. I took this photo on the ground floor, about to lug it all up in several trips to the fourth floor:
Anyone want to come visit?
Every four years there is an event in Europe called the Euro Cup. It is basically to Europe what the World Cup is to the world -- a tournament of European national soccer* teams. The soccer olympics of Europe. And since Europe is loaded with lots of good soccer teams, the Euro cup is a pretty big deal, attracting attention of soccer fans all over the world.
The year before we arrived here, Ukraine and Poland made a joint bid to host the Euro Cup in 2012 and -- gasp! -- the bid won. The bid consisted of four host cities in each of the two countries hosting matches in their stadiums. At first Kharkov (Kharkiv as it is otherwise known and written) was not one of the four for Ukraine. I don't know why. This was quickly corrected, though, and Kharkov was substituted in for one of the other host cities that ended up getting ruled out.
So one of the main societal themes in our 3+ years in Ukraine so far has been the anticipation and preparation for the upcoming Euro Cup. At first June 2012 seemed like a long way away, but as it has drawn closer, so too has it become a forefront topic in discussion and culture. For example, David and I go visit with students at a local university and the Euro Cup is almost always one of the hottest topics they want to talk about. Surprisingly, most of the young people we talk to are somewhat pessimistic about it. Why would that be?
On face value it seems completely awesome -- Ukraine gets to co-host one of the world's premier sporting events! And Kharkov is one of the select host cities! Thousands of tourists will come, and bring their business, and see our city, and fall in love! This will put Kharkov on the map!
However, in other ways this could be viewed as a disaster waiting to happen, and is by some. Although Ukraine sometimes talks all dreamily about integrating with Europe, anyone who really knows the two knows that Ukraine is not really Europe except in the geographical sense. In terms of culture, society, infrastructure, physical condition of things, attitudes, customer service even... things are just a lot different here. Have been for a long time, and that can't realistically change even for a top-tier sporting extravaganza.
And hosting this event is forcing some things to come to the surface that no one wants to see there. A political standoff leading to boycotts by Western leaders. Price gouging. Racism. Government spending that can't possibly be recovered (this is the thing that university students most often bring up as reasons for their pessimism).
I have a newsreader on my phone that grabs news stories about Ukraine and lists them to me. Lately it's been overwhelmed with new stories appearing almost daily in the European and American press about how things aren't looking rosy at all. Stories like this one from Time -- Why a European Soccer Tournament Is Turning into a P.R. Disaster for Ukraine -- and this mildly titled one from the WSJ -- Europe's Soccer Championship Highlights Differences. And this one from the BBC which highlights one specific problem that has frustrated many but surprised few of us who have lived here long enough to know -- Uefa slams Ukraine 'bandits' for Euro 2012 hotel prices. Just literally in the last 48 hours things have ballooned further as apparently racist altercations have come into the limelight -- this BBC article covers that and sums up the whole of the situation.
I really hope for the best. I'll be here and watching with great interest. This could yet be a great opportunity for Ukraine to overcome the present skepticism and really impress some people. I have seen and heard of what I think are both the best and the worst of Ukraine since living here. Here is hoping the best prevails next month.
*Blanket apology to all non-Americans reading this. Yes, it is actually football, not soccer. Thank you for your understanding.
You step outside at 9:00 AM on what you expect to be a normal, hustle-and-bustle Tuesday morning and find the streets and sidewalks almost completely empty and quiet. One of these days (years) the calendar of Ukrainian holidays will finally sink in deep enough that I'll actually know it will be a holiday before that moment of stepping outside for the first time that morning.
For today, happy Ukrainian Labor Day, everyone!
Earlier this week, April 26, it was again the anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. I wrote about this in a post on the blog last year. This year, as part of the boys' schooling (we'll call it History and Culture), I took Malachi and Silas to the Chernobyl monument here in Kharkov to tell them about what happened, and to respectfully observe how the occasion was being marked by people here around us. After looking at the monument and reviewing what it means, we went and sat on a nearby bench to watch and listen as other people came and laid flowers in front of it.
One of the interesting things I noticed was how political parties were showing up to wave their flags while they brought their flowers to the monument. Below on the left, with the red flags, is a handful of people from the Communist Party of Ukraine unloading from their van (yes, the communist party is still very real and active here, although they are a minority). A little while later we saw a different political party, Front Zmin, come through with their bright green flags.
All of this was a reminder of how much there is to learn here. What was a defining national event for Ukraine (for the worse, not for the better) like Chernobyl is still something we are learning about -- not only about the event itself, but about how things like that have impacted the people and culture here. 26 years later, the anniversary of Chernobyl is something that brings people to monuments and brings political parties out of the woodwork. They wave flags that represent platforms and initiatives and visions for the country, but the nuances of differences between some of the different political parties here is something I haven't yet learned. Another year from now, may I be that much more aware of the meaning and impact of Chernobyl and other events like it that have made Ukraine what it is today.
We've been back in Ukraine for almost three months now. In all, our time in the US ended up lasting six months. We returned to Ukraine in mid-January, almost exactly one year since we came back to Kharkov in January 2011 from our furlough that year. In some ways, our January 2012 return to Kharkov felt a little like a do-over to me. When we returned in January 2011, it was on the heels of a furlough in which we had spent time with the leadership of our then-sponsoring church talking things over and (we thought) correcting some things that had just not been working well in that relationship. So we returned to Kharkov that January 2011 looking forward to two more solid years of work to do before the next furlough. We got through jet lag, got plugged back into our relationships here, got some good new things started...
And then the hammer fell.
It was March 19, 2011 that we got that fateful call informing us that we needed to start looking for a new sponsoring church. We reeled for a long time after that, trying to figure out how to cope with that and what to do next. At the same time we were midway through a pregnancy and needed to have some stable plans for where we'd give birth and so on. We stayed in Ukraine for a few months, trying not to let our circumstances pry us away too abruptly from the work. But by mid-July we were back in the US to see what else the Lord might have in mind as far as partnership arrangements go. Anything to help us stay in Ukraine through the end of our commitment, at least.
Despite the inherent uncertainties of our situation, the Lord blessed us a lot in those six months in the US. Through many of his people I think he rehabilitated us in some important ways (I'm looking especially at you, you, and you). I know we're still far from completely recovered. But we've moved on enough to be able to say that the time it has taken me to write this post is the longest I've thought about these things in one sitting in a while.
The work here is worthwhile and good, and by God's grace we're back here. And March 19th, 2012 has now come and gone and we're still plugging along with forward progress in the work, instead of scrambling about our support. Yes, 2012 does feel like a do-over of the 2011 that could have been.
P.S. I'm hoping to get back to blogging a little more regularly now. My evolving feelings about online communications in the context of ministry may become a post or three of their own, but hopefully it won't be as quiet here on our blog as it was the last few months.
Today Silas (who just turned 4 last month) helped me change a flat tire on my mother-in-law's car.
Click here to see some footage. He looks like a natural.
My favorite part is the end of the video though. The smiles and facial expressions there are 100% genuine Silas.
As temporary, by design, as this house in Fort Worth has been for us, it's been our home base for right at five months now since we arrived from Ukraine in mid-July. So in that way it's gradually become home, even though it's actually home away from home (in Ukraine).
Earlier this afternoon we stepped back in the door of this house for the first time in a while... again. We've been in the Lubbock area for the last three weeks spending time with our new sponsoring church and dealing with visa document procedures. Before that we had spent some time out in California. Before that we had been in Lubbock visiting with the Shallowater church the first time.
All together we've been "home" at this house for 7 of the past 49 days. That means we've been away -- on the road, staying with a variety of others, more or less living out of suitcases -- for 42 of the last 49 days. Yes, 42 of the last 49 days. Further, if you count back to the birth of Ezra, it's been 110 days since he was born. We've been away from our Fort Worth home for 59 of those 110.
We had originally planned to be on a plane right at this moment on the way across the Atlantic Ocean. We would have loved to be back in Ukraine this week, but that turned out to be outside of our control (no big surprise there). Our visa documents were so delayed that there was no time left to actually apply for our visas. So last week we had to push our tickets back. Due to a combination of uncertainty about visa processing times and trying to minimize ticket change fees, our tickets have been changed to a January 15th departure.
All that aside, we are very glad to be back here. This is the third time we've returned to this house since we left it on Oct. 26th, but this will be the first time we actually bother to unpack all our bags from the previous trip. We have no plans on the immediate horizon to go anywhere, and that is just fine for now.
While I don't think Tom Petty has ever had to deal with Ukrainian visas, he might have been on to something when he penned those lyrics.
We're waiting for our departure back to Ukraine. Which is waiting on us to have visas in hand. Which are waiting on our visa invitations to arrive. Which are still not here yet. Let me explain.
As we've said before, in order to live and work in Ukraine for longer than 90 days, we have to have visas issued by a Ukrainian consulate. Those visas have to be issued outside of Ukraine; we cannot obtain them while in Ukraine. Our visas have always been valid for one year at a time, and when the year-long term of our visas is nearing expiration, we are required to leave Ukraine and apply for new visas at a Ukrainian consulate somewhere else. In this case, our most recent visas expired in August while we were in the US, and now we need new visas to be able to go back and spend another year in Ukraine. Since we are in the US, we will be applying (by mail) to the Ukrainian consulate in Washington, DC.
Since our purpose for living and working in Ukraine is religious (missionary work), the law of Ukraine requires that we have an invitation from a religious organization registered in Ukraine. This is no problem; we are closely partnered with Ukrainian Bible Institute in Donetsk who have been nothing but wonderful in issuing those invitations for us. It's a simple process for them of just drafting up a one-page letter listing our names and passport numbers and making a few statements about the nature of the work they are inviting us to Ukraine to do.
The thing is, after our good friends at UBI draft up that letter, we cannot actually use it to apply for visas until it has been approved by the Department of Religion in Kiev (the capital city of Ukraine). So our liaison at UBI sends it off to Kiev for them to review and approve. How long it takes the bureaucrats in Kiev to do this has been unpredictable. Average maybe two weeks, but it has been done in as little as one day in one case. And in another case -- which is our invitation letter this time around -- it can apparently take almost a month. We had sent all the relevant details to our liaison at UBI in late October, hoping that we'd have our invitation letter approved and in hand by mid-November, or at least by about Thanksgiving. That would still give enough time to apply for our visas at the Ukrainian consulate in Washington, DC, which as of October was estimating visa processing times of up to 15 days.
Our tickets to return to Ukraine are for December 13th. That's this coming Tuesday.
The first hang-up was that the invitation letter took so long in Kiev this time. Our liaison at UBI got the invitation back from Kiev and was able to quickly ship it off to us, but this was on Nov. 30th. That left us with a very tight timeframe for visa processing in DC before our Dec. 13th departure. Meanwhile, last week I checked the webpage of the Ukrainian consulate in DC and now they are saying visa processing times are up to 30 days!
However, there was a glimmer of hope that we might still have a shot. The shipping company in Ukraine had told our liaison that the documents would be delivered to us here in Texas in 3 business days, and I called the consulate in DC and was told that if all of our documents were in order and correct, then they could do the processing in "maybe 3 days." So there was still a chance, if we had everything overnighted both directions between Texas and DC.
Hang-up number two is the fact that it's now Dec. 7th and our invitations have still not been delivered to us here in Texas. This morning I got a phone call from a middleman shipping company asking for the correct delivery address, since our friend in Ukraine accidentally filled out the Texas address wrong, leaving the house number off altogether. Thankfully she included our phone number so the shipping company was able to call. So now we are being told that the invitation "should" be delivered tomorrow.
I'll still get it off to DC with our visa applications, passports, and photos (all part of the visa application requirements) right away, but it is crystal clear that we will have to change our tickets. The question now is -- what date to change them to? We can't afford to change them any more than absolutely necessary, since the change fees are hefty. It would be foolish to count on the optimistic 3-day processing possibility mentioned over the phone by the DC consulate worker, but on the other hand how cautious should we be? Should we allow for visa processing to take 9 days? 15 days? 30 days? The DC consulate worker had told me "maximum 15 days" (if there are problems with our documents) but the website still says up to 30. What should we plan on? And what about the looming holidays, since the consulate is closed for all US and Ukrainian holidays? Will they even be doing much work in between Dec. 25th and New Year's? And what about in between New Year's and Jan. 7th (which is Ukrainian Christmas)?
If Tom Petty is right, though, at least it should all get easier from here on out. Right?