Archive for January, 2006

From Nyet to Da

A known Russian cultural habit is to first offer a negative answer to inquiries and favors. This initial negative response often does not mean ‘no’. With a little conversation and/or cleverness, it may become a ‘yes’ or even an ‘of course! yes’. There is a book called, “From Nyet to Da” (from no to yes) that documents this idiosyncrasy and gives advice to the bewildered and rebuffed foreigner.

I first encountered this bit of culture four years ago, when Maya and I went to a remote Lake Baikal resort. The only place to eat within a 30-mile radius was at the local cafeteria. The first morning, we went to the cafeteria and asked for a breakfast menu. “We’re closed, and, besides, we do not have any food!” came the angry-sounding reply. We did not bring food with us, so we decided to improvise. I noticed a few candy bars behind the counter and asked if we could buy some. The waiter then barked, “Candy for breakfast? You should eat real food. Will you have eggs or kasha?” This happened before every meal that weekend.

That is probably an extreme example (the waiter was a little weird), but it does happen a bit like that. An attendant at a ticket counter might tell you there are no tickets, but if you ask in a slightly different way, you may be on your way to your destination. The same goes for many other public service offices and businesses. You get used to it after a while.

Question: Is this specific to Russian culture?

Last week, I purchased a cool commentary set online from Logos Bible Software. They sent the CDs to my address in the US. I wrote tech support and asked if I could download volumes of the commentary when I need them, explaining that it would probably be months before the CDs would be brought to me way out here in Siberia, and that I need them for a study that I will be teaching.

Here are some excerpts from their reply:

Sorry, but it is
impossible for us to help you in this way. You must wait for your CDs. There is no way we can allow you to download the commentaries from our website. We are sorry.

Even though they left no hope, I responded with this email:

Dear Tech Support,

Thank you for your kind response. I do not mean to be pest, but could you please clarify as to why it is impossible? Downloading the commentaries would be most helpful to me, and besides, Logos Tech Support has allowed me to download ship-only products in the past. However, if it is indeed impossible, then I will patiently wait.

Sincerely, Mike

It turned into a classic case of from Nyet to Da; the next day, Logos sent me the unlock files and the download addresses. They wrote, “you are more than welcome to download the commentaries as needed”.

Thank you, Logos. I'll have the eggs, please.


Cold, Coffee Club and… Calvinism

The thermometer reads minus 25C. Add to that wind and humidity and you get some very unpleasant conditions. Maya came home from the ladies’ home group yesterday with a bit of frostbite on her ears; very painful!

The college home group (coffee club) starts in a few hours. I hope that the cold will not deter any from making the trip ‘up the hill’ to where we meet.

As I was reading A Quest for Godliness, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, I ran across this famous poem that Charles Wesley penned;


Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off: my heart was free:
I rose, went forth, and followed thee


To which J.I. Packer commented, “…it was Charles Wesley who wrote this, but it is one of the many passages in his hymns that makes one ask … ‘Where’s your Arminianism now, friend?”

Doesn't that make you want to smile?

For 32 Years…

We are using the classic story associated with the above picture for the college group tomorrow night. Any guesses as to which classic? If you need a hint, and speak Russian, click here. If you do not speak Russian, think three and something that floats, and an author with two first names. The uncle in the story reminds me very much of me.

The challenge is to keep the student group interesting and well-rounded (games vs. topics, & heavy vs. light topics). We are always on the alert for new ideas.


Not to keep boasting about my wife, but she managed again to make my birthday (today) really special (by making a coffee-swirl cheesecake and roast chicken, among other things). And all the emails and text messages from the West and from across Russia were very encouraging. I am blessed to have such cool friends, and a very caring family.



Pray for Nastya

Nastya, a young woman that often helps us by sitting with David & Hannah, miscarried yesterday and is in the hospital due to complications. She and her husband, Oskar, faithfully attend the married home group. Maya visited her today, and will visit often. We sense that this is a crucial time for her when she will either open up to God, or become bitter. Please pray with us for Nastya.

Uncommon Union

On his deathbed (and on many occasions before that), Jonathan Edwards said that he and his wife, Sarah (the lady from New Haven), shared an "uncommon union". He meant that life was so much richer and fuller and better because of their relationship, which they nurtured and enjoyed their whole 30 years of life together.


I echo that about Maya (pictured above with Hannah). She is the best for me, and I thank God every day for her love and our uncommon union. She is a stellar wife, and an outstanding mother. I love her. And I am not just writing this because she gave me an early birthday present today.



To Maya, my beautiful wife,

The fairest and precious indeed,

I will love you with all of my life,

A promise that always I’ll heed.

And thanks be to my benevolent Father,

Who granted this charity to be.

I'm grateful forever for this priceless treasure:

Maya’s uncommon union with me.

Coffee Club & The Meaning of Life

It is – 35C outside. I nearly froze on my way home from the college home group (a.k.a. the coffee club) that meets at Mark’s house. The meeting went great. We touched (just barely) on a more substantial topic: the meaning of life. We asked everyone to picture themselves at 60 (their average age is probably 21) and imagine how they have lived their lives up until that point. They answered a questionnaire from the 60-year-old perspective. Lastly, we made collages (pictured below) out of magazine clippings. The collages were supposed to characterize their lives (in general). Our hope was to make them think, at least a little, about what is important in life, and what is not.


Perhaps one day soon, the deep, important and eternal truth related to this topic will become clear to them. Those who read this blog know that this home group (as the other home groups) is not an end unto itself. We try to establish relationships there, and spark interest in preparation for the B. Study that starts in March. Please pr.

NGOs, Jeremiah and Starbucks Christmas Blend

Maya just left for the women’s home group, and I am supposed to be hanging out with the kids. David and Hannah are playing (together, unbelievably) so I seized the moment to blog a few lines and post a picture. Pirate’s Night begins when this post concludes.

I found out yesterday that the executive branch signed into law the bill restricting NGO’s here. There is a lot of uncertainty with how this will affect us, though we know that it will, and likely in a very negative way. On the heels of learning this little tidbit of potentially depressing news, I read this assuring passage in the World’s all-time best-selling Book.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. ( Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV)

The trip to the post office today also encouraged us, but in a different way. Our friends in Florida sent us a large bag of Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee (and other thoughtful gifts). If you have tasted this coffee, then you know what a caffeinated encouragement it is!


Finally, for your viewing pleasure, here is a picture of Hannah that I took a week ago, but thought that I lost.