keeping the zeros straight

Mark told me it was zero Fahrenheit this morning and, as usual, I had a moment’s confusion.  I’m so used to hearing that it’s zero Centigrade, which I mentally translate to 32F, and think, ‘Oh, that’s not that cold.’  Here, that could mean snow, but it could also mean just rain or gray, or even plain dry sunny weather.  He knows me well, though, so then he translated it to Centrigrade and I went, ‘Oh, that’s cold!’  (Just now, several hours later (and after dark), he just commented, ‘It’s minus 2F.’)

I don’t post this to boast or complain; this is just part of our reality here, one that we actually love!  If I were a really good person I’d post a picture or two, but seeing as I was doing well to not lose my gloves (and thus my fingers) today, I’ll try to post those another day🙂.  It was bright and sunny, though!

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work and the image of God

Mark speaks in various venues here and in the U.S., and a topic you’ll hear him return to often is how we are made in the image of God. Yesterday I was invited (as one of the students at the seminary in the session right now)  to come to a round-table conversation on, you guessed it, work and the image of God.  What was cool about it was that the people attending were not just students or professors, but folks who work at the seminary in a lot of different capacities.

In a sense this was a preview of a conference coming up in January (as advertised in the little video here – it’s meant to look like a subway train coming in to the station!) –  

– but in another sense, it was just a short, hour-long ‘swimming around in’ the topic for those who might not ordinarily have come to a theological conference.  Anyway, this is just a bird’s-eye view of some of the things we’re involved in here.

Posted in Kiev Theological Seminary, Mark's Stuff, theology | 2 Comments

a little fun


Mark saw this holder for guest slippers (a giant slipper!) at a friend’s house and has wanted some ever since.  Now that we have a small group meeting regularly at our house, he decided it was time to have them at our house too.  He is an example of taking pleasure in the small things!

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hermeneutics, glermeneutics

Ok, so I know there is no such word as glermeneutics, but that’s what my brain feels like as I finish the second of two 200+ page books on hermeneutics in two weeks’ time.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining!  They were both excellent and I wish I could go back, right now, and slowly re-read them both, solidifying all of the things I’ve learned from them.  But I write this to give you a sense of what Mark’s students at the seminary do for pretty much every course they take.

It has been a few years since the seminary did courses over the span of a semester, week in and week out.  Economic and other reasons made it necessary to offer all of the seminary’s classes in a modular format.  Until recently that meant that students would come in and study for two weeks at a time, taking one course in the morning and one course in the afternoon.  Now, believe it or not, the norm will soon be one class in one week; still two courses over two weeks, but only one at a time.

I won’t get into the various reasons why that was decided on – lots of pros as well as cons – but as a student at the seminary myself, I am getting an incredible view of what Mark has been involved in these last 15 years.

Most courses will have what is called ‘pre-assignments’ and ‘post-assignments’, as well assignments done during the duration of the one or two weeks.  Most often, those pre-assignments are various readings that need to be done before the session starts.  Hence the reading on hermeneutics, the subject of a class that will start on the 14th.  (Just in case your wondering, hermeneutics is the study of biblical interpretation, that is, the process of how to arrive at a good understanding of what the text presents.)

In one course recently, a professor had the students read some books as pre-assignments, but also assigned seven articles on specific topics related to the course material.  forum photo.pngAfter reading the articles, each student needed to answer a question posed at the end of the reading, posting the answer on a class-wide forum.  Each student needed to read everyone else’s posts and make comments on at least three posts.  It was a creative way to get the kind of discussion that usually happens in a semester-long presentation in a more compacted format.  By the time we all arrived for the start of the course, we had interacted with the material somewhat, had to wrestle with some of the issues pertinent to the topic at hand, and were basically prepped to engage with the professor’s presentation – not a bad approach, if you ask me. 

The assignments during a session vary from course to course and from professor to professor.  Some classes have the student memorizing passages or other material, or doing frequent quizzes on the assigned reading.  A couple of times now I’ve worked with a smaller group of students in the class to do a group presentation on a particular topic.  To my horror, I found out later that someone had recorded them and posted them on You-Tube; yes, it is obvious who is the public speaker in the family and who is not😉.

As for post-assignments, in my classes so far that has consisted of writing a paper (or two) on an assigned topic.  The students who just completed Mark’s Genesis class have two papers to write, one comparing and contrasting different views on the image of God, and the other on the finer points of Genesis chapter one… yikes!  These are always due one month after the last day of the course, with appropriate reductions in the grade if turned in late.

Although I, personally, still have a good number of things on my plate that keep me busy between (and during!) classes, every student in those classes with me is usually involved in some full-time ministry, many of them are married and have families, and some work as their ministries are not paying jobs.

I have a greater and greater appreciation for the students who are doing the hard work of getting a sound foundation for ministry, and for the professors like Mark who are investing in these students.  What an awesome thing to be a part of, from both sides of the lectern!

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quite a contrast

A lot of people consider November 21st as the official starting point of all that has happened over the last two years, since that was the date that then-president Victor Yanukovich refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, and that was the date that students began to protest the non-signing.  Yanukovich had been saying all along that he intended to sign the agreement, which would begin the long, slow process of Ukraine possibly someday becoming a member of the European Union.

The students protested in an open space downtown commonly used for all sorts of public events, a large square (it isn’t square!) which is bisected by our ‘Main Street,’ Kreshatik.  It’s a beautiful area, really, especially after extensive renovations were done several years ago in the buildup for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of independence.  Maidan-Nezalezhnosti-with-Independence-monumentThe square is called Independence Square – Maidan Nezalezhnosti – commemorating Ukraine’s becoming independent from the USSR in August of 1991.  The word ‘maidan’ is a Ukrainian word, and is pronounced ‘MY-dawn’ as in ‘that dawn belongs to me!’  The only reason I go to the trouble to give you the correct pronunciation is that the word Maidan has come to be used extensively in many languages since November of 2013.

So back to my story… The students were gathered in the lovely square downtown, pretty much hanging out and hoping to get noticed.

They got noticed.

In the wee hours of Saturday, November 30th, a special unit of police went to the square with the intent of dispersing the protesters, which numbered maybe several hundred at that point.  This is where things irrevocably went off the rails.  For inexplicable reasons, the authorities chose to use brutal, violent force to disperse the peaceful, unarmed protesters, evoking shock in everyone present and in those who would see evidence of it later.  Thus the match was lit.  You see, violence of this type is just not common here.  Back in 2004 when there were a round of unprecedented (at that time) protests after a rigged presidential election, it was pretty much the motto, ‘If it turns violent, we’ll shut it down because we are not violent people.’

But someone forgot to remind the people running the show that we live in the modern era, where something on the streets becomes something on the internet within seconds.  And that is what happened.  People whipped out their phones and immediately began documenting the police brutally beating unarmed, peaceful protestors.  The screams and shouts of the recordings posted only magnified the horror.

That moment, on through to the culmination of the horror in February when special forces snipers began killing unarmed civilians, has been seared into the national consciousness here.  People suddenly realized that they didn’t merely want to choose their future for themselves, but they also realized that they just wanted to be treated as human, treated with respect.

Coupled with the national day of remembrance on the last Saturday of November for the man-made famine that happened 80 years ago and November becomes a pretty solemn month around here.   As much as we love Thanksgiving and all that it means for us as Americans, we do feel quite the contrast as the end of November rolls around.

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knows them personally

Occasionally it’s good to share thoughts from other folks, so here are the thoughts of someone we know who lives and works in Beirut.  Her husband teaches at a seminary like Mark does, and she works with refugees on a daily basis.  She lists organizations she knows personally who are doing real things to help refugees now.  For reference, Lebanon has accepted more than 1.2 million refugees from Syria, more than 20% of the total population of the entire country of Lebanon.

https://calebandnicolette.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/words-are-cheap-do-something/

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warm fellowship

We are part of a team of people serving in our church’s ministry for those with disabilities. It is a great group of people and we feel privileged to serve alongside them.  Because we are such a diverse group, it is sometimes hard to find a time for us to get together as a group for things other than the afternoon service on Sundays.  Between work schedules, families, etc., we are doing well to effectively do the things we are doing!

But we would love to also spend time with each other, learning from each other, fellowshiping, and being ‘iron sharpening iron’.  The constant question being, ‘Yeah, and when could we do that?!’ Occasionally we’re able to pull off a picnic or a gathering during the holiday season, but not a time of more frequent, informal interaction.

So it was with delight we heard team member Artur’s invitation to come to his house for an informal gathering several weeks ago.  He had understood Sasha’s (leader of the team) desire to do things that would build the team, deepen relationships, also understanding the challenges of doing this with such a diverse group with such varying schedules.

We had a relatively small group, it wasn’t even just members of the team but also some folks who attend the service, and it was really pleasant to see them in a more ordinary, daily kind of setting.

So when Artur asked if we were, in general, busy on Wednesday nights, I had an idea of where he was heading.  He proposed that we could have a small group meeting on Wednesdays, alternating between meeting at his house and ours (and effectively lightening the load of the host – helpful!).  Anyone from the larger team and ministry would be invited.

We recently had the group over to our house and I was marveling at how easily this had come together. After all this time of wishing we could get together more often, here we were enjoying each other’s fellowship, some saying even, ‘I have really needed a place where I can share my heart and I’m glad we can be that place for each other.’  What a thing to look forward to!

the group at our house

discussing a question further

 

Tanya getting Kolya into Zhenya’s car to go home

 

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Velika Dimerka

I had the opportunity to drive out to Velika Dimerka (we usually just say Dimerka) to visit with a friend in ministry there recently, and it was so nice.  dimerka-sign-e1446898312255 I’ll admit that I do love the freedom of being able to say, ‘Hey, why don’t I come out on Monday and we can have tea?’, and then being able to hop in the car and do that.  So many people are dependent on public transportation here, and that can make this particular trip take the better part of two hours instead of the 40 minutes it took me.

dimerka

My friend has been married for three or four years now, but it’s sometimes still a challenge living in her mother-in-law’s home.  We talk some on the phone and both Mark and I have gone out for visits, but it was nice to just make an opportunity to visit for some talk about ‘married-women stuff’.

I’ll admit that my to-some-of-my-Ukrainian-friends-free-spirited approach to jumping in the car and just driving out there still takes some people aback, so I do look for some ‘reason’ to make such trips, whether to help with a project or to deliver some things from mutual friends here in Kyiv or whatever.

We had been looking for a day when I could come out and when I found that she was going to have a large group of people over the next day, I offered to come out and help her get some of the cooking done, just chatting in between.  She’s so wonderful and without blinking said, ‘Of course!’  (It’s so nice to not have that ‘Are you sure?  It’s so far!’ thing hanging in the air.)  She knows her Bible backwards and forwards and would be the kind of person I would go to if I wanted counsel myself, so it is lovely to be able to share deeper talk even though she’s about 20 years younger than I am.

I had explained before I went out that I had some projects in the works at home and so would need to leave at a particular time, which she completely understood.  So we got some cooking done when I said I needed to head home a couple of hours later, she was cool with that.  Her mother-in-law, however, didn’t quite get this strange woman who was leaving just as it was time for lunch!  My friend knew I hadn’t come for lunch (it was already 2:00 anyway!) and as I drove away, I couldn’t help feeling that it was one of those special days.  Nothing big or fantastic happened, just the sweet company of a friend – yep, kind of nice.

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feeling stretched

It is amazing how the feeling of being stretched in too many different directions can sometimes make simple tasks seem too hard.  I hope Donna doesn’t mind me talking about this, but it just was too good of an example of this to pass up.  Donna has been working on a variety of different things in several different spheres lately.  Being a missionary requires you to work in different languages in what feel like different planets. Well, Donna was fixing supper one evening and I came in to talk and help with some things.  She said she was feeling tired and just wanted to sit down.  I looked around and there was a stool near her.   

But this stool had two things on it:  a book and a small basket. I went over to the stool, removed the two items, and said, “Here, why don’t you sit down?” She immediately sat down and said, “Oh that feels good.”

I think probably everyone everywhere has moments when they feel stretched too thin.  In those times even simple things can look really hard.  I am thankful that God brings people into our lives to help us, and I realized that I want be on the look out to help in those situations.

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interesting read from another source

I wanted to post something else here today, but lacking the photo I want for it, I’ll postpone a while longer🙂.  But I did read this blog post this morning (http://takingroute.net/2015/10/09/living-overseas-drained-extrovert/) and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s true for me, too.’  I’m not a raging extrovert, but I have seen some significant changes in the 17 years we’ve lived in Ukraine.  Hope you find the post interesting!

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some good classes – hearing from Mark

I just finished a series of classes and they were really enjoyable.  I always hope they were enjoyable for the students, but in any case, I have received some good feedback.  In the different classes I teach some are large, some are small.  One recent class – in Lviv, a city about 6 hours drive west of Kyiv – was pretty large, about 35 students.  Just a week or so ago I taught another class here in Kyiv which was smaller, around 5 students.  I also was invited to guest speak for a few hours in another class which had about 15 students.

At the moment, I am looking forward to another class in December, with several speaking opportunities between now and then.  In the meantime, I’m grading (when you do modular classes, most of the grading happens after the module is over) which I’m not as enthusiastic about (!).  I would really appreciate your prayers as I prepare for the things coming up.  It’s enjoyable, for sure, but it also means using my time well as I go back and forth between several projects, as well as just doing all of the ordinary things that go with the work at the seminary.  But the more I teach, the more joyfully excited I am that the Scriptures give us a profound vision for the meaning of history, for how we can live our lives, and for what the future holds.  I am really thankful for all those who are praying for us and supporting us financially, allowing us to have this ministry here in Ukraine. 

Mark teaching at KTS chapel recently

 

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far more than vitamins


I took up a new practice a couple of years ago and have, in recent times, become a bit of an advocate on the topic.  I (Donna) had been periodically reading a blog and at one point, the writer there suggested (in coordination with a book she had written) jotting down three things every day that I could consider gifts.

I’m kind of picky about blogs – I’m a little visually OCD – and didn’t read this one very often but this idea sounded good, and, well, fun.  She had published a list of things to look for each day that might fall in the gifts category – I don’t remember them all, but things like ‘three things orange’ and ‘three graces from people you love.’

I liked the creativity of it, not to mention that it reminded me of a sermon I had heard more than a year earlier.  The sermon was about remembering so when I got home, I got out a little notebook and wrote the following on the front page (kind of the main points from the sermon):

Then I decided to print out the list offered from the blog lady that month as a guide.  The list was helpful because it provided some prompts on days when I didn’t quite know what to write down – “three gifts almost gone: time with Benjamin, Abby being in Ukrainian school, time before the summer”.  And it helped with reminders of important things, like giving thanks in all circumstances – “three hard things:  that my computer doesn’t work and may never work, for the uncertainty of that moment, for the uncomfortableness of last night’s conversation…”

Not too many months into it, though, I couldn’t get the list to download.  So I just started writing down three things every day.  After a while, I found that the practice was helping me to either keep perspective or to adjust my perspective, on any number of things.  I can always use help with that.  Mostly, though, I began to see how much my daily life, in little things and in big things, really is directed by the Lord’s personal care.  Which is what led me to say, in the course of time (talking about it to others) that this practice had become kind of like vitamins for me:  a daily thing that was good for me.

And then it came to me that I wanted to share this with other people.  Admittedly my first attempt was a bit bold – I made it a game at a birthday party which I hosted (Ukrainian style!) for my 50th birthday, where I gave out notebooks to each person and they had to write down 50 things they were thankful for.  Whoever gets to 50 first wins a prize!  You have to understand that I was following my friend Lena’s pattern in throwing the party – plus the games and minus the cognac – having invited Lena and our ‘field-trip gang’, all unbelievers.  Because I so much wanted to share some of my Christian life with these friends I’d traveled so often with, I explained to them that this was actually a gift for them, and that it had become a really meaningful thing in my own life, learning to see God’s hand in the everyday things.

Now, well, I find pretty much any opportunity to buy a whole bunch of notebooks and pens and share the blessing – from our various ministry teams here in Kyiv to beach house family madness.  How cool it would be to find a way to send each one of you a nice notebook and a pen!  (There is something personal and powerful about writing versus typing – just saying…)  Maybe we could come up with a little reverse missionary care package scheme!

And you know, I’ve come to think of it as far more than vitamins.  I like to think of it as water.  I have found that it is crucial to my soul that I see the Lord’s active presence in my life every day.  That preacher was right:  remembering brings forth thankfulness and forgetting leads to sin.  Not that I’m merely trying to avoid sin; that would be so small if that’s the main reason I did this.  I just want to see the Lord.  I need to have my eyes lifted.  The difficulties of life on this planet are pretty strong downward magnets otherwise!

So… because I’ve been somewhat inconsistent in our usual monthly updates, especially in not leaving enough room lately for praises or just news, I thought I’d compose a list here of things we see as gifts/things we’re thankful for from the last couple of months (in no particular order):

  1. Mark has successfully completed another one-week intensive class
  2. the students really engaged with and seemed to understand what he wanted to get across to them
  3. all of our luggage arrived without any loss or delay – four times this summer!
  4. the Egyptian lady on the plane wanting to tell me about Jesus
  5. that Anna was able to buy a car
  6. that Benjamin was able to buy a car
  7. some very encouraging people this summer who seemed really happy to see us and hear about what the Lord is doing in Ukraine
  8. Mark’s Lviv class went really well
  9. that they want him to come back and teach some more classes
  10. I was admitted as a student at the seminary
  11. that I have learned so much in the three classes I’ve taken so far
  12. that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (memory verse for one of the classes)
  13. the cat is home and doing well
  14. our car is in good shape after our being gone all summer
  15. Roma’s kindness in so thoroughly cleaning it for us – what a gift!
  16. that the parking situation is much harder right now
  17. the afternoon service has started back up again
  18. that we had the blood pressure machine to give
  19. the weather has turned cooler
  20. Ukraine is not Russia
  21. that Ukrainians have not given up in the face of dire circumstances
  22. that Brian and Heidi got to full support not having to stay longer
  23. that I could meet with Heidi
  24. her serious commitment to pray
  25. there are new students applying for Mark’s major
  26. Benjamin had two job offers after none for a while
  27. that both jobs have worked out for him, enabling him to pursue some of his goals
  28. KCA’s Fall Retreat went well and that there were no injuries
  29. ragweed season is here and makes things harder
  30. the seminary is financially ok for this semester
  31. continued financial support of so many faithful friends
  32. teammates Eric and Beth have a place to live
  33. teammates John and Stella are back
  34. teammate Josh is finally doing what he has so long wanted to be doing
  35. the floor in the kitchen is fixed and we won’t trip because of the torn place that was there
  36. Volodya’s high standards in his work
  37. the wonderful park next to our building and the refreshing beauty of green and trees in the middle of so many buildings
  38. the piano in the park is played at every hour of the night
  39. Andrei persisted in processing the temporary residence permits even when it was past feasible to get them renewed on time
  40. for the uncertainty after the deadline passed about whether or not we needed to take a trip out of country
  41. the war has not come close to us
  42. that it is still ongoing
  43. that people are profoundly touched by it
  44. being better able to understand the Syrian refugees plight because we know so many here who have also had to leave their homes
  45. that Mary and Abby skype so often and what a delight it is to see and hear Mary
  46. for the ongoing tangled-ness of some bills
  47. for the impromptu invitation to go out to dinner with friends
  48. the government here is really working to make significant changes, it’s not just talk
  49. the economy has not collapsed
  50. the world has really invested in and continues to be interested in helping Ukraine (despite some obvious ongoing unresolved issues)

You know, if you’ve read this far, you’re certainly entitled to a prize at the very least for your perseverance!  How about this?  If you would, indeed, like to take up this practice, send us an email with your name and mailing address and we’ll send you a notebook!  Use this email address:  jmmcdonnel@aol.com and I’ll see what I can do to get it to you as fast as I can.

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city life

We live next to a park.  A really nice park.  Because it’s such a nice park – lots of benches, lots of trees, a nice playground, plenty of long sidewalks – it is quite the magnet.  So we’re pretty used to hearing all of the sounds that come with the park, from kids laughing and playing to local candidates holding rallies before an election, and all of the nice events in between.  Last weekend, there was a group playing some folk music and the small crowd gathered around them were dancing in a circle.

Most of the warm months of the year we open our windows as our air conditioning, so we hear pretty much all of it.  And most of the time, it doesn’t necessarily draw our attention.  When the kiddie train and amusements were set up there for a while, we were ready to go down and disable the choo-choo horn on that train, that’s for sure.  And we’re not sure how to go about putting a nighttime lock on the piano that was put out there sometime last year.

It was inspired by a piano that was downtown during the early months of the protests, so for the most part, it’s seen as a fun thing, and a reminder of the hopefulness in the air.  But unlike in most places we’ve lived in the U.S., people do frequent our park pretty much 24-7, including that piano.  If it were melodies that were more, well, melodic, it would be pleasant… Let’s just say that we are pretty familiar with the fiercely pounded I-IV-V-I chord progression, even as the young drunk belts out his accompanying tune at 3 am.

The other night, though, we had a nice treat.  At first, we thought it was some sort of concert, then we wondered if someone was having a party or something – not unheard of.  But the guitar was really good.  Really, really good.  As were the drums and the bass guitar.  So we went out for a look.

I should interrupt here to say that another pretty common thing in our park is for various musically oriented folks to station themselves on one end of the park at the opening to a passageway that leads to and from the subway station.  When our parents visited once they were looking out the windows and marveling at the sheer numbers of people who pass by on the way to and from that subway station.  Most often, the musician is a lone man, sometimes playing a saxophone, often an accordion.

That night, it was a group of four guys playing some pretty sophisticated guitar.  We enjoyed it from inside, wondering, and then went out and heard them up close.  They were playing everything from ‘Hotel California’ to ‘Pretty Woman’ to ‘Rock Around the Clock’.  It was kind of hard to not start dancing right there on the spot!  At one point, they broke out in a very upbeat version of the Ukrainian national anthem, usually a pretty somber sounding piece.  The video is dark and from one side (otherwise the volume would have been way too loud!) so you can’t see the hilarious star-shaped kiddie sunglasses on the one guitarist, but here’s a little taste for your listening pleasure: park musicians

 

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kind mercy

 Mark picked these up this morning – it’s official.  We are very thankful!  We have renewed temporary residence permits even though there should not have been time to process them before they expired. 

Ordinarily the process takes a month to complete and we didn’t have that.  Not meeting the deadline should have meant that we would go through the process to un-register, then get some documents to start the process all over again, take those documents to a Ukrainian embassy outside of Ukraine to apply for a visa (needed to enter the country legally if you plan to live here), then return to Ukraine and start the process of applying for a temporary residence permit.  This would have taken time, definitely some expense, and some more time.  That is why we feel like this is Lord showing us his kind mercy in circumventing that process, even when we should have had to do it.  We were prepared to.

We know we are not deserving of his mercy in any way, shape, or form.  He chose to grant it, and we are humbled.  For those of you who prayed, thank you for your kind prayers on our behalf.  Our gracious Lord chose to answer by giving us peace in the waiting, and then with a resounding ‘Yes!’  He is certainly worthy of our praise and all glory just because of who he is, but we magnify his name today for his goodness to us in this – Hallelujah!

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soon these won’t be necessary

If you want to make a foreigner here deflate before your very eyes, just say this one word:  “Documents.”  That one word conjures up a whole range of experiences, processes, memories of time spent in lines and offices related to many, many – ok, pretty much all! – aspects of life here.

Because you never want to be caught without formal documentation on your person, we made copies of our passports and existing temporary residence permits before handing the originals over to apply for the residence permit renewals.

 “Never”? – are we being hyper-cautious?!  Well… Although we haven’t heard of this in a good while, it has happened in the past that foreigners here were stopped by the police – it’s permissible to stop a person without specific cause – they were asked to show their documents, and when they answered that the documents in question were being registered, let’s just say that their next 24 hours were unexpectedly ‘interesting’!

So we have a healthy respect for having everything properly in hand, as well as for doing things by the given deadline, and which is why we asked you to pray about the renewal of our residence permits.  We’ve done some extraordinary things in the past in order to make the deadlines for certain things; it’s really that serious.

So how did it turn out?  Yesterday was the deadline and I kind of wondered all day what the answer to that question was.  Mark had submitted some more things the day before, following the counsel of the man who is submitting the paperwork.  He was proceeding as if it was going to happen and we were following his lead.

In calling him yesterday afternoon, we got a firm, ‘It looks like the process is going ahead’ (irony intended🙂.  He and we translated that to mean that they have not closed the door on the renewal and are processing them anyway.  So… we think we have renewed temporary residence permits!  Thank you for praying with us.  When we have them in our hands, we’ll let you know, but for now, we are very thankful for the Lord’s kindness to us.

Lord willing, soon those copies won’t be necessary!

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