Biblical Theology

Sometimes when I write about some of the courses Mark teaches, it occurs to me that the name of a class may not make it very clear what the class is about. Biblical Theology has the added burden of begging the question, ‘If it isn’t biblical theology, then what kind of theology is it?!’

Theology can be seen as something pie-in-the-sky, not-for-ordinary-folk oddness that only intellectuals and scholars and, well, odd people are interested in.

Mark says, “Many people would like to say, I don’t believe in theology, I just read the Bible, but the minute the words go from the page into your mind, you’re doing theology. In all of this, we can do theology well, or do it poorly. Do it such that it’s a good reflection of what the text says, or do it such that we’re only confirming our own thoughts, wants, and understanding – confirming what we want it to say.”

So it’s actually pretty important for all believers.

Theology is a field of study that looks at what the Bible says and means about God, his attributes, his creation, and how he relates to the world. But the Bible says it is God’s word to us, “Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Ti 3:16), and as such, we need to be careful in how we read it and understand it.

If you were to look up theology, you might find that there are a lot of different kinds of theology – systematic theology, biblical theology, historical theology, practical theology, exegetical theology, natural theology – which could be rather confusing. Theology comes from the Bible and is based on the Bible, but getting from the Bible to our daily lives – understanding it in order to apply it – can be a complicated process. Most of the time, though, each of these types is attempting to address specific questions, and may be an application of a specific method of study.

Systematic theology, for example, is the process of understanding the Bible in order to understand modern questions. It usually starts with who God is – theology proper – and then systematically works through how we know God – revelation, the Bible – on out to creation and how God interacts with creation.

The ‘modern questions’ part is determined by the time period when the systematizing is being done. Questions about Christ’s nature – his humanity, his deity – are a good example of this. The Bible says that Jesus became like us, but in what way did he become ‘like us’? How human was Jesus? In exploring Jesus’ human nature, terms borrowed from Greek philosophy helped explore how human he was – terms like will, nature, person. Over time, those terms changed as understanding of the mind grew. More terms were added – soul, spirit. In the present, we think in terms of the brain and intelligence and memory and thought. How does the biblical language of the heart, soul, and spirit relate to the electro-chemical operation of the brain?

Each generation brings questions to the text that biblical authors had no idea they were going to need to answer.

Another area where the passage of time influenced the questions being asked is the creation. In reading theologians in the first century, they weren’t trying to answer questions of how a world-wide flood occurred. Over the course of time, questions about creation were influenced by a growing understanding of gravity, heliocentricity, relativity, and a host of other more modern studies. When Moses wrote, ‘Let there be light’, he wasn’t thinking about photons and light particles.

And every generation since the first century has identified signs of Christ’s coming and has felt like the signs indicated that their generation had all of the elements for Christ to appear.

In biblical theology, Mark tells his students, “We’re asking about how the different parts of the bible relate to each other. With systematic, we try to bring it into the modern world.”

“We study biblical theology because we believe that, for all its different parts, the Bible tells one large story. Biblical theology is the study of the plot and development of that story, with the goal of seeing ourselves as continuing that story in our lives.”

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little things

One of the joys of a home assignment aka furlough is the little things. They are, in themselves, little – moments here, a conversation there – but the accumulation of them is sweet.

Since 2010 we have mostly done shorter, summer home assignments. In the short format, you hit the ground running and try to get as much accomplished as humanly possible, on as many fronts as possible, before frantically packing at the end of it and dropping exhaustedly into an airplane seat, wondering wearily if you actually managed to say goodbye to [fill in the blank, but it was someone important] or if you hoped to and it didn’t quite work out in the rush to the finish. So the little things have come to be very special.

One of those little joys has to do with having the joy of basically calling one address ‘home’ for the last five and a half months. And a fun part of that has been ‘the squirrel tally’. A dear family member who shall remain nameless J found a possible solution to the squirrels eating very expensive holes in the wiring of the yummy-wire Toyotas that live at this address. A friend suggested some humane, catch-and-release traps which allow the squirrel (and other small animals, but I digress) to get in, and then the whole thing can be carried or driven to a place where they can be released, preferably a park a very good ways away from the house.

So on most days, there’s a running background commentary on ‘the tally’, with the latest squirrel antics recounted for everyone’s enjoyment. None of us will soon forget the one squirrel which literally entered five different times, removed five different pecans – native to our yard – and then climbed all over the outside of the trap before going into the now pecan-less trap and finally stepping on the plate that closed the door (yes, we were watching, as the device is now outside the kitchen window!)

Another treasure is the times of just walking together in the evenings, or when we could manage it, early in the mornings. It was almost always a snatched moment after we had been traveling and spending time with supporting churches or families, and it was never as regular as any of us wanted it to be. It was rarely the same combination of people at any given time, but the preciousness of doing something so ordinary with dear ones when that is something that is not usually possible – has been a true joy.

Laughing over a board game and the number of house rules which have become inviolate, being able to join on trips to the radio station where Mark’s dad records his weekly broadcast and the conversation that Houston traffic affords along the way, running over to grab a quick visit with Abigail just because we can and soon we can’t, sorting through the deluge of mail that comes to parents’ address because they have hosted so many of us over the years and laughing as we lay out each recipient’s haul into separate stacks, and so much more.

We’ve driven thousands of miles – sorry, no tally to dazzle you with – and have spoken with innumerable people in a number of states I can’t quite remember in this moment. We’ve reported and expressed thanks, we’ve talked with folks who wanted to learn about our ministry or more about missions in general. We’ve taken care of family business and health things put off for times like these. We’ve stayed very busy. And yet, the Lord gave us small treasures along the way in a lot of very little things. Sweetness indeed.

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laughing

So we’re again visiting a city we’ve been to three times already during this home assignment, and we are coming to look for and even delight in what surprises the Lord has in store for us.

We gave a report at one of our supporting churches on Wednesday night, and are still in town for some other meetings. A pastor of yet a different supporting church in the area had posted on his facebook page about a visiting pastor from Zambia being in town tonight, at an unrelated-to-us church on the other side of town. As we had the freedom in our schedule to go over there, we hopped in the car and went to hear Conrad Mbewe speak.

After Mark filled me in on who Pastor Mbewe is, I don’t think I expected to drive up to a church that is so like so many of the churches we have visited on this home assignment – a modest, small country church – and to take our seats in a sanctuary very like so many we have been in in the last several months.

As it turns out, Pastor Mbewe is friends with another pastor in the area and, in coordination with the pastor of this church, came to speak about Titus 2:11-14 this evening. And that was the icing on the cake. Mark is preaching at a church back in the Houston area this Sunday and had just settled on that very passage as his text. When Pastor Mbewe started by uttering words I have heard Mark himself say so many times, I knew this was going to be a message meaningful to Mark. For Mark’s part, he was thankful to hear how Pastor Mbewe connected verse 13 to the rest of the passage, something he had been mulling over himself.

After the service, we turned to speak to the man behind us, who turned out to be the friend Pastor Mbewe was visiting. We had immediately recognized the name of the church when he had mentioned it to someone before the service started, but were wracking our brains trying to remember the connection. It turns out we had, indeed, visited that church some 20 years ago, and that this man had prayed for us and our ministry in Ukraine!

So, we drive to another state and in a free space among planned meetings with people we had set up a month ago, we go to a church on the complete other side of the city to hear a pastor from Africa, who is friends with yet a different pastor in this city, and who chose to speak on a passage Mark is preaching on this Sunday. As we drove away, Mark commented, ‘God must be laughing up there with all the various connections he made for us on this trip!’

 

 

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is it over already?

Many years ago when we had four kids at home – a ten year span between the oldest and the youngest – people would talk about how much of an age gap there was between our youngest two daughters. The assumption was, often stated out loud to us (!), that our 4th child was unexpected, or ‘an accident’, as was common parlance at the time.

I remember thinking, ‘Nope, you definitely got that one wrong.’

You see, we left for Ukraine when our oldest daughter was a few months shy of turning 7, our son a few weeks shy of turning 4, and our then youngest daughter was 15 months old. By the time we finished language school two years later, our little toddler was three and half and those baby days were a distant blur of raising support, packing, and moving to a new country. We were spending some time with some folks who had become dear friends during those first two years in country and they had recently welcomed a new baby into their family. I remember thinking as we saw that tiny one in their arms, ‘Lord, is it over already? That went by so fast! May we please have another one?’

I’m pretty sure everyone thought we were crazy, but we were beyond ecstatic that the Lord answered that prayer with a resounding ‘Yes!’ and gave us Abigail.

Fast forward to now and moving our last child into her dorm room tomorrow.

I can hear some folks saying, even now, ‘But you know, that’s what you raised them for,’ and I will say, ‘Yes, it is.’ At the same time, I have always felt inadequate to the task of explaining how it really is a bit different when we’re talking about moving an MK* back to the US.

When Abigail was packing up her things to ‘leave home’ in May, she (and we) were keenly aware that if she forgot something or didn’t think it through very carefully, what she had left ‘at home’ would 6,000 miles away. And not only her stuff. We would be 6,000 miles away.

It has been interesting to see how that has played out over the years. When one of our kids moved into their dorm room, I was slightly self-conscious because it was popular at that time to kind of bash these kids who needed U-Hauls to move into their dorm rooms – it’s a dorm room, for Pete’s sake! The thing is, I was looking at my kid and that they were, in very fact, moving their entire life into that room. When that one left Kyiv, they didn’t envision keeping some things ‘at home’ when they weren’t sure when they’d actually go ‘home’ again, they didn’t want to clutter up the grandparents’ closets with yet more of our stuff, and yes, there was some ‘Oh, I might need that!’ thrown in for good measure. It made most sense in their mind to pack up life and just move it to the next stop. Hence the entirety of a life lived, up to that point, being crammed (happily, by that child) into a pretty small, old-style freshman dorm room.

Another of our kids decided that it would be best to just do as minimalist as possible – it made sense and seemed to be a reasonable way to manage that question. Yet another didn’t (seem to!) want to address where their stuff was; they threw their clothes in a bag, and barely did that the night before they left Kyiv.

But here we are, the last evening of having our last child at home.

She will ‘come home’ – both to the address we’re at here until November and, Lord willing, to Kyiv. But she will never live in our home as she has the last 18 years.

Maybe it’s because it has been the three of us for the last four years and we’ve grown used to all of each other’s idiosyncrasies. Maybe it’s because we’ve done this before. Maybe it’s because the last three years have been pretty intense. But this is kinda hard.

Yes. It is over already.

 

*MK is short-hand for missionary kid

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a different kind of work

Argh. The last post is dated April 13th. I apologize.

So, since that last post, we flew through the last weeks of the semester at the seminary and for Abigail at Kyiv Christian Academy, attended three graduations (two of them our own daughters, in different countries!), prepared for and left for home assignment, and helped Mary and Elisha prepare for and then get married. To all who are expecting them, we’ll share pictures when they’re available!

And now we’re starting our long vacation… not! That’s what a lot of people think we’re doing when we leave the field, and we take pains to disavow them of that idea, usually defaulting to these words, ‘Well, actually, we’re doing a different kind of work…’

When we are in Kyiv, Mark teaches and that is a tangible thing people can relate to. We’ve been pretty excited that in the last several years, that has meant teaching at a number of different schools in different places beyond the seminary in Kyiv. And people can relate to me being involved in a variety of projects, most often related to the seminary or to the kids’ school.

But home assignment or furlough as it’s sometimes called is several things rolled into that one term. The most obvious is that we use the time to report to the families and churches who support us. We want to thank them for their investment in the ministry we’re involved in, and we want to give them a glimpse of what the Lord has been doing through their investment in us.

More than just reporting, we want to gain an understanding of what is going on with these friends and church families. People change. Kids grow up. Ministry teams transition. And because we see these people as people, and people with whom we have a relationship, we try to do our part to connect well, to ask how folks are doing, to talk about things which are challenging them, and to just listen.

That actually represents a pretty big chunk of the job, made up of a jillion variegated pieces. It’s a pretty cool part of the job, because it means that we get to see what the Lord is doing outside of our context. We get to see how people are experiencing the Lord’s presence and work on a more personal level.

We also spend time doing ‘administrative’ work. This can be catching up on paperwork, reviewing and renewing documents like passports or visas, getting physicals and taking care of medical or dental questions, or going to our organization’s debriefing session, which is where we’re at now. Physicals and dental work people can relate to. Discovering fun follow-up issues – also relatable. Passports – mostly relatable.

IMG_0764If I’d never been to one, I’d be at a loss to explain what the debrief entailed. Let me just say that our organization is pretty amazing. They take really good care of us, and one way we experience that is in the debriefing they ask us to do every so many years.

This time consists of hearing from our organization, whether about changes or updates, as well as reconnecting with staff and meeting new staff, the incredible people who are taking care of so many things in the home office in our behalf. We hear about issues which are on the radar, meet new appointees, and hear about the work the Lord has called them to. We hear about what the Lord is doing in other parts of the world through colleagues who are also on furlough at the same time as we are. It’s a cool time, if I’m honest. It broadens my vision of the body of Christ as I see how the Lord is working around the world.

Debrief means we also take care of any administrative stuff that needs to be done. A meaningful part to me is spending time with the home office people who do so much on our behalf. Another part of the time entails spending time with other overseas workers, both informally over meals and coffee, but also in structured discussion times where we talk through some of the highs and lows of our recent time in ministry in the countries where we are located. These people, even though they are in contexts that are very, very different from our own, understand this crazy life we live. They get us. They have wrestled with the same things we have. And this, too, broadens my vision of what the Lord is doing around the world. He is working so very personally.

So we catch up with supporters, we do admin work and get caught up on health stuff, and we debrief with our organization. And we ask the Lord to allow us to connect with new people and churches who might also be interested in supporting the work we’re involved in. In practical terms, this is the asking the Lord to provide for our financial support.

It’s work that we usually enjoy. Seriously. It’s very different work from what Mark does in Kyiv. At the same time, it’s actually just a different manifestation of that work. His heart is to create understanding and point people to the Lord, to raise and promote awareness of what God is doing, how God works in the our lives, and how God manifests his presence in the world. And visiting supporting friends and churches and even the debrief gives prime opportunities to do just this.

One thing that will be challenging this time around is the introductions – the talking about ‘our family.’ So much has transpired since the last time we formally did this – 2015 – and we are still needing to find a way to tell the story in the way that accomplishes what we want to accomplish, but which incorporates the really big things into the telling without them swallowing it whole.

 

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The law and grace and the gospel, aka What does the Old Testament mean in the present?

*Disclaimer: As will be obvious, I, Donna, wrote this. Please forgive my overstepping any bounds by posting this here on our ministry blog rather than on my own personal page…

What does the Old Testament mean in the present?

Mark asks questions. If you know him at all, this is just a given of knowing him. And his asking questions leads him to dig deeply to understand whatever it is he is asking about in that moment. A lot of times, those questions are ambling, tumbling, chasing each other around in his head over a very long period of time. (I’ll just say that, personally, I’d have gone crazy a long time ago with so many unresolved things resident for so long, but then that’s the giftedness that the Lord wove into Mark.)

A question – or better yet, a set of questions – that has been rumbling around in that head for many years now is how the law relates to grace and the gospel.

If there’s one thing I know about Mark, it’s that when he gets something stuck in his craw, he just. will. not. let. go. There aren’t many things that reach that status, but this law thing is one of them. I have seen him tenaciously pursue this almost as if it were a compulsion. And the teaching and conversations and preaching and discussions that have resulted from this long wrestling have been profound.

Next Saturday, he will be speaking at a conference here in Kyiv on this very topic. One thing that drives him as a teacher is the question of how we use the Bible, in our everyday lives, in our preaching, in teaching.

Because this question of how the law relates to grace and the gospel is such an important one to him, the conference will be looking at how to think about how we use the Old Testament, how we think about the Old Testament in our present – how do I teach from, preach from, apply personally and in my ministry the histories, the psalms, the law, the prophets, and how can I/should I (or even ‘do I?’) see Jesus in the Old Testament?

As Mark and his colleague Alexander were talking about different things they wanted to be doing in the Biblical Studies program at the seminary, they were talking all around the idea of Biblical education beyond just classes at the seminary, like conferences, seminars, discussions, practicums. And in that brainstorming last fall, they began to pull together specifics for a day of diving into the Old Testament. It jelled and they began work on a day and a format, and this conference came into being.

In some ways, it was a bit a crazy to consider it this spring, knowing that Mark would be teaching six one-week intensives this semester, not to mention that Alexander would also be teaching intensives himself. But I also know that in listening to this conversation about how law relates to grace and the gospel over many, many years, it can be rather invigorating and contagious!

So, the conference is happening this coming Saturday. We’re pretty excited about it. (And, yes, a bit jittery as well; it’s kind of big and falls in a particularly intense time.) I am really looking forward to it. When Mark invited me to meet with some of the team planning it back in January for an informal meeting, I was immediately caught up in the enthusiasm. I knew I hadn’t been in the loop because this was something they’d been working on for a while already, but one question stuck out as they were bantering around different ideas and plans: who are the speakers going to be? I couldn’t help laughing when they looked at me as if it were already well known – Mark is the speaker.

I can be a little slow (ok, cut me a little slack for hearing that this was spanning quite a number of topics and thus was wondering!) and so I asked something along the lines of who else would be speaking – you know, kind of sharing the load, some sort of forum or round table thing. That’s when it became clear. Mark is the speaker. What has been rattling around in that head for so long is going out for a long conversation with some others on Saturday.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be intense, not only in getting the final stuff ready for it, but also just the having a sustained conversation and fielding questions and, yes, interacting in several languages. And I am looking forward to the Lord meeting us there. Maranatha!

 

*In case you’re interested in a (an intriguing?) summary statement (as I asked him a minute ago for his ‘stump speech’ statement on this topic):

“The law that God gave his people in the Old Testament, at its core, is the same thing that God requires of us today. There are a lot of details, and specific commands that are different because of culture, history, but most importantly the coming of Christ, but in its essence (what Jesus referred to as ‘the weightier matters of the law’ [Mt 23:23]) it is clear that God has always been leading us to love him, to love our neighbor, and to live as his image in the world.”

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Operation Glitch

Operation Glitch is proceeding normally,” Mark said as I answered the phone in the grocery store. It was hard not to miss the heavy sigh that followed.

I can only imagine this is what people must feel like when they are going through some bureaucratic process in our country and are certain that someone is making up new ‘mistakes’ at every turn.

As non-Ukrainians, we go through an involved, detailed process of getting ourselves properly documented to be temporary, legal residents of Ukraine. The process has varied quite a bit over the course of the 20 years we’ve been here, and let’s just say that there are days when we’re sure we’ll never get the proper steps down. We can tell you how not to do it, as well as what happens when you do X or Y or Z version of doing it incorrectly, though!

The current version involves getting Abigail properly registered as a temporary resident, that word ‘registered’ being the operative word for the day.

Abigail is not yet 18 and for a while there, children under the age of 18 did not need to have residency permits; they were ‘attached’ to their parents’ permit, which should ordinarily suffice.

Unfortunately, we seem to rarely do anything the ‘ordinary’ way and because the probability of Abigail traveling without one of us, her parents – e.g. junior/senior trip, Student Leadership Conference, etc. – is not small, and also because, when she was 16 and she and Mark were questioned closely about her not having a permit as they were departing Ukraine for my father’s funeral, we went through the process of applying for and getting her temporary residency permit.  So far, so good.

Not.

A slight digression: Last August, we found that we had failed to keep track of the dates on our own permits (not on the same time frame as Abby’s) and having learned some valuable lessons about doing everything on time, we were determined that we would not repeat those mistakes when Abigail’s permit came up for renewal.

We work with a very patient fellow who walks us through the whole application and renewal process, and who can generally answer all of the questions we ask about the possibility of this or that. Last August, for example, when we found that we had only one day left to renew our own permits, he accurately gave us everything we needed to rectify our mistake and get new permits. The rectifying part added about 12 additional steps, including leaving in order to visit a Ukrainian consulate – another story all together! All of that to say that he’s a great guy.

So when we wrote him an email asking about renewing Abby’s permit, he outlined all of the steps but noted that we could, in theory, also just let it lapse and just pay a fine as she went through the control at the airport. It was a tempting option in that Abigail graduates in a few months and will no longer need a residency permit.

We learned of the limitations of this pay-the-fine option firsthand in Operation Penance (ok, when we were fixing our mistake!) and realized that it was just better to go through the renewal process. This is, of course, all with the knowledge that we will need to UN-register her and UN-do this permit when she leaves in a few months, also necessary and important steps.

So we gathered all of the documents – no small feat – got the various fees tallied and ready to pay and Mark gratefully handed it all off to Andrei this morning.

And that’s when he called me. Andrei had just called him to say that he noticed Abigail’s residency permit had never been registered… We had failed to remember to do that final part of the process. Argh.

We now need to pay a fine for never having registered her, then we will register the old, expiring permit, and then apply for its renewal.

It’s a gray, cold, rainy February day and the morning has been full of other glitches on other fronts already. So when Mark commented, “Sometimes people say, ‘We’ve had our glitch for the mission’ but I think we just need to refer to the whole thing as Operation Glitch,” all I could do was laugh.

 

 

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Shema

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Ehad.”  “Hear, O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

shema-text-e1548005150291.jpg

This is how Mark started every morning of the recent class in Hebrew he taught at the seminary. At first, the students were carefully studying the letters and working on how to make the sounds. They actually would read the Shema a couple of times each day during the one-week course, and by the end of the week, everyone was reciting it from memory!

This is just one of the things Mark does to give his students a taste of Hebrew that’s more than just studying words on a page, all with the intent of both drawing them into an enduring interest in pursuing Hebrew, but also drawing the students into the world of the Hebrew Old Testament.

mark-at-the-whiteboard-e1548005897902.jpg   img_0574.jpg

Hebrew is one of the courses Mark teaches periodically at the seminary. The idea is that the students can dig deeper into the text of the Old Testament and can better understand not only the message of the Old Testament, but the Bible as a whole.

hebrew-text-and-textbook.jpg

Studying Hebrew is a challenging undertaking under ordinary circumstances, but the nature of part-time studies does add its own nuances!

For reasons which should be explained at another time, pretty much all courses of study at the seminary now happen in one-week intensive sessions. Most courses have a pre-session preparation component and a post-session written assignments component as well as the one-week session with the professor at the seminary.

Aside from the obvious questions about how much can be effectively done in a one-week session, there are some distinct benefits as well, including the impact of being rather immersed in the material at hand. But there’s no guarantee that you won’t look a little tired by the end of the week!img_0571

But Mark is looking energized and ready for more!

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returning

It’s been three years since we’ve posted here and every time I sit down to compose something, I see the last post and go immediately back in time to that day.

January 3, 2016, we were getting ready to spend time with our WorldVenture Ukraine team at a retreat/meeting away from Kyiv. We left together early in the morning on the 4th, driving in a couple of vehicles for quite a distance. We arrived and settled in to the picturesque accommodations in a snowy little town west of here.

It was while we were there that we received the call from Mark’s dad that our son had ended his life.

It’s been a long three years, and yet in spite of the agonizing pain of that moment, we have known the Lord’s presence. I won’t speak for all five of us, but since I do a lot of the writing here, I’ll just say that we are in a different place now than we were. And although much time has passed, it seems like it’s time to come back to this space, come back to writing about life and ministry here in Ukraine.

This is the first step in that. I can’t guarantee what will appear here – thoughts, ministry ‘updates’, news, Ukraine happenings, or whatever – but the hope is that in time, a rhythm will develop and we’ll hit some familiar categories. I will try to find that line between my own thoughts and things which are more suitable for this blog, but it may take a bit ;-).

I’m looking forward to what the Lord has in store for this year, and I hope you’ll be encouraged as we post things here along the way.

-D

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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.

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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!

Posted in Kiev Theological Seminary | Leave a comment

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/

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment