Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy First Advent!

On Saturday, we celebrated a delightful Thanksgiving in the country with friends. (Thursday was a normal working day here, so we usually celebrate on the weekend afterwards.) When we came home on Sunday evening, we hastily set up our Advent candles and tried to spend some time reflecting on First Advent.  I say "tried", because anyone who has children or works with them will tell you that sometimes things just don't work out the way you planned them.: ) Our Advent devotion ended up being chaotic, to say the least, but it was still worth it. 

I decided to keep our Advent candles simple this year with  rocks
that we collected from Lake Baikal and "snow-covered" pine cones.

My son had a great idea to start a new family tradition. Since everyone is now old enough to light the candles with Mom & Dad's supervision, he suggested that we go from youngest to oldest and have one family member light a candle for each Advent Sunday.  So our daughter got to light the beautiful candle above. 

We began our journey to Bethlehem by noting the change of color from green to purple.  And on the first Sunday of Advent, we remembered the prophets. The prophets pointed the way to Bethlehem many years before Jesus came. They didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but they knew that it would be in Bethlehem and that it would change everything.  We then tried to read some of the prophecies from Isaiah and Micah, but that is where we lost the kids' attention.: )

The first board of the Godly Play story about Advent.  The hand of prophet points the way to Bethlehem.
Usually the background of the board itself is blue or purple to denote the Advent weeks.
It then changes to white at Christmas. My unorthodox background is white for aesthetic reasons.: )

For now, our Advent table like this. I will probably change it up in the next few days, but I wanted to go ahead and put something out for my children to play with and look at. 

The Holy Family stands in front of a cross that is also the Risen Lord.
The other Advents panels are behind the one for First Advent
for the kids to look at.
Happy First Advent to you and your family!

Linked to The Ten O'clock Scholar Nativity Carnival

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Russia "Snapshot" #3: 'Wondering' with Russian Children

I had no idea what it would be like to "wonder" with Russian children. Would they find the Godly Play stories and materials interesting? How would they respond to open-ended questions about God?  Would they be able to get past my American accent and become absorbed in the story?  These were some of the many questions that I took with me on our trip to Siberia.

After an old friend, Vera, asked me to do a children's ministry workshop at her church in Irkutsk, I wrote on Godly Play's Facebook page asking if anyone had translations of the stories in Russian and if there was any Godly Play work being done at all in that country. I came into contact with Helen, who was living in Belarus at the time and introducing GP to a church there. She provided me with translations in Russia and asked me to take part in a field project to test GP in Russia.  Of course, I immediately said yes!

As I corresponded with the children's workers at Lyubov Christova Church (Christ's Love Church) in Irkutsk, they asked me to lead their children's service. I ended up telling "The Parable of the Good Shepherd" to 17 children ranging from 3 to 14 years of age. (Good thing I like challenges!) You will notice in the picture below that I am sitting on a pillow on the floor while everyone else is sitting in chairs.  This is because it is not culturally acceptable to sit on the floor in Siberia and also because the floor can be quite cold. In talking with Zhenia, the children's pastor, beforehand, we decided that I would sit on the floor anyway, so that the materials could be seen by everyone.

In an earlier post, I was considering the wisdom of sticking to the GP principle of not making eye contact with the children during the story, since I was not someone they were familiar with. I ultimately decided to stick to the principle and play a game at the beginning to break the ice with the children. This seemed to work well.

The primary school aged-children had great fun during the wondering at the beginning of the parable guessing what the different underlays could be.  The children were attentive for the most part during the story, although some of the smallest children wanted to pick up the materials right away. (Who can blame them for wanting to play?) As we wondered together at the end, the 12-14 years olds dominated the conversation telling about when they had been lost or found and how they had heard the Good Shepherd's voice. I was a bit surprised at how "into" the conversation they became. The smallest children were a little intimidated by the older ones, but responded with delight to the question about naming the sheep with a little encouragement from the adults in the room.

What part of the story did they seem to like best?  A furor broke out when one sheep got lost in the dangerous places, but you could hear a pin drop when the Good Shepherd found him and carried him home.

"Wondering" together at the end of the story. 

The smaller children were eager to touch everything towards the end of the Wondering Phase.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time to have a creative phase at the end, so we opted for a prayer time instead. We divided the children into two groups according to age. I was with the smaller children and we passed around a rock to give everyone a chance to pray individually,  and then said The Lord's Prayer together using hand motions.

Prayer time with the little ones.

The following evening, I had the privilege of leading a workshop with 15 of Lyubov Christova's children's workers.  I chose "Sensorimotor Worship for Children" as the subject matter for the workshop drawing on the work of Jerome Berryman, Dr. Sonja Stewart, Ulrike Labuhn, David Csinos and Rebecca Nye. (I decided against doing a workshop solely on Godly Play, because only about six of the stories have been translated so far.) My goal was to give some theory on children's spirituality, sensorimotor development and the Montessori Method, as well as practical points on to how to make church a "sensorimotor" experience for children.  After a short lecture with a Q&A time, I divided them into two groups, gave each group a story from the New Testament, and asked them to brainstorm how to use the five senses in presenting the lesson to the children. Their ideas were creative and I think the process gave them a new perspective on how and what to plan for the children in the future.

Afterwards, I presented "The Great Family" to the whole group.  Wondering with this group was as delightful as it had been with the kids the evening before. Favorite parts of the story included: the hand gesture where Abraham draws near to God and God draws near to Abraham; and Abraham's revelation that God is not just in one place, but all of God is everywhere. I was pleased that these adults took a long time to discuss and verbalize what parts were their favorite, most important and what parts told something about them. When I asked the question about what we could leave out, I was met with silence and curious looks. I then explained the pedagogical principle behind this question to make sure that they understood that I was not asking them to devalue a part of Scripture. They seemed to track with this, but still could not think of anything. All in all, I could tell that "wondering" together had been a positive experience and had allowed them to contemplate this story with God in a fresh way.

It had been such a fun evening! We laughed a lot together and I was struck by the joy and genuine friendship that these men and women have for one another. However they decide to develop their children's ministry, this mutual love and respect for one another go a long way in providing a nurturing atmosphere for these children to experience God. 

This is me with Zhenia, the children's pastor at Lyubov Christova.
Meeting this remarkable woman full of life and joy
was one of the highlights of my trip!

How well does Godly play translate into Russian culture?  I think small changes have to be made in different church cultures as well as geo-political cultures. But I am convinced that the general principles will work almost anywhere.  It will take much more time to figure out how GP needs to be tweaked for Russian culture, but I am looking for to seeing the process.: )

Friday, November 25, 2011

Russia "Snapshot" #2: Lake Baikal & Lady Angara

According to a Buryat legend, Old Lake Baikal had a beautiful daughter named Angara. He chose a suitable mate for her, but Angara rejected his choice for her. Father Baikal flew into such a rage that he locked her up.  The seagulls had pity on her and arranged to help her join her love, the River Yenisei, in the North. When Father Baikal discovered what had happened, he flew into such a rage that he threw a huge rock into the water after his fleeing daughter.  To this day, the rock stands where the Angara River flows out of Lake Baikal on her way to join the Yenesei River in the North. Legend says that if one were to remove the rock, the waters of Baikal would then flood the whole earth . . . 

When asked to share about his trip to Russia in class, my son excitedly told the story above to his classmates.  I think it was the only way he could adequately explain his wonder. (You can read a longer  version of the story here.) Standing on the shores of Lake Baikal is like standing at the ocean: one can't help but be overwhelmed by its vastness. The world's deepest fresh water lake, it home to many types of flora and fauna that can only be found near its waters.  It is truly the "pearl of Siberia".  Of all the things that my children saw and experienced on this trip to Russia, Baikal is one thing they will never forget.  

With dear friends on the shore of Baikal at Listviyanka on the Irkutsk side of the lake.
The sun beginning to set on the lake. 
We took this picture from our van window on the way to Baikal.
The rock in the middle of the water is the rock from the legend
where the Angara flows out of Baikal. 
Other highlights for us including eating "omyl", a type of white fish only found in Baikal, that is delicious when smoked.  My children especially enjoyed seeing the nerpas, a type seal native only to Baikal. When I lived in Siberia, you weren't able to see them, but now there are "nerpalarii" that have live seals and perform shows with them.

My son wanted to climb one of the mountains
overlooking the Baikal shore.
My daughter climbed about halfway and then decided to take a break
and have a snow adventure with her dollies.
Exploring the banks of the Angara in Irkutsk.
We brought many rocks back from both Baikal and the Angara.
Building a snowman on the Angara. 
And a playground near the Angara. 

The residents of Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk have a standing argument over which side of the lake is most beautiful. I can honestly say that the argument is impossible to resolve, because they are equally enchanting in every season of the year.: )

Linked to The Magic Onions

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is, of course, a normal workday in Germany, so we will be enjoying our turkey on Saturday with some friends. : )  I wish you a wonderful holiday with family friends!

Many blessings, 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Russia "Snapshot" #1: Orthodox Churches

Upon arriving in Irkutsk, we took a walk around some familiar places to try and beat jetlag. Eventually, we ended up near the Epiphany Church and decided to go in and see if anything had changed since we lived there.  It was at that moment that I realized that my children had never been in an Orthodox church before.

The Epiphany Orthodox Church in Irkutsk.
(Богоявленский собор)
As we walked in, my son exclaimed, "Wow, Mommy, this is more like a castle than a church!" My daughter, her wide eyes taking in the gold and ornate structures, chimed in that this was most certainly fit for a king and that God must really like it.

In my "History of Orthodoxy" class in college, we learned that Orthodox places of worship are designed to invoke a strong sense of God's majesty and represent the Kingdom of Heaven. This was a special moment for me as I realized that my children didn't need to be told this. They were intuitively sensing something that most adults unfamiliar with Orthodoxy have to have explained to them. Once again, I saw something very familiar to me through their fresh young eyes and was wowed all over again.

As a response to our children's thoughts, we lit a candle and said the Lord's Prayer together. A moment to treasure in God's "castle".

We visited many more Orthodox churches on this trip and here are a few highlights:

Below is a new playground in front of the Odigitria Cathedral in Ulan-Ude. When I lived here in the early 90's, this church was almost in ruins and used mainly as a storage facility. I was thrilled to see that it is now a beautifully renovated working church with a playground. This is the first Russian Orthodox church I have seen with a playground. I was particularly encouraged by this, because Orthodox churches in Siberia don't always have the reputation of being very family-friendly. This church had a playground and offered Sunday School classes for children as well!

The courtyard of the Odigitria Cathedral (Одигитриевский собор) in Ulan-Ude.
My kids played here for a long time and you can see my son
here enjoying his daily treat of "russkoye morozhenoye".
Pictures don't do St. Basil's Cathedral at Red Square justice.  This church is breathtaking no matter how many times you see it. My kids were fascinated by the story and paintings of St. Basil, the "holy fool", who was not afraid of Ivan the Terrible. 

The fairy tale-like onion domes of St. Basil's.
The kids were also quite interested in the many replicas of "The Holy Trinity" icon,
because it was something they recognized and knew about. 
My daughter peeping out from a corner in St. Basil's.
Not far from the Kremlin is the Cathedral of Christ our Saviour (Храм Христа Спасителя). Demolished in 1931 by the Soviets, it was rebuilt again beginning in 1990. A working church, it is definitely worth a visit when touring Moscow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

We're back!

We're back from our trip to Russia and it was absolutely amazing! We had so many unforgettable experiences that it is impossible to describe it all in one post. So, the next few days, I'll be posting "snapshots" from our trip that hopefully will give you a bigger picture of what we saw, heard, felt and tasted. Wir sind wieder da! Die Reise nach Russland war wunderschön und hat uns zutiefst beeindrückt. Es ist unmöglich alles in einer Post zu erzählen, von daher werde ich über die nächsten paar Tage "Schnappschüsse" mit euch zu teilen. Hoffentlich bekommt ihr ein größeres Bild davon, was wir gesehen, gehört, gescheckt und erlebt haben!

At Red Square in Moscow. The kids saw St. Basil's Cathedral from a distance and
immediately recognized it from their architecture blocks and books. 
Auf dem Roten Platz in Moskau. Die Kinder haben die Sankt Basil Kathedrale von fern
gesehen und haben's sofort von ihren russichen Bauklötzen und Büchern erkannt.
My daughter enjoying "russkoye morozhenoye" in Ulan-Ude
underneath the world's largest free-standing head.
What would Dyadya ("Uncle") Lenin think?

Meine Tochter geniesst "Russkoje Morozhenoje" in Ulan-Ude
unten den großsten frei stehenden Kopf der Welt.
Was hält Djadja ("Onkel") Lenin davon?