Friday, May 8, 2009

Fickle Friends

Lyle, standing in for Lydia today. She asked me to write this one, as she's not in the right "spirit" to even talk about it, she says. It's been a hard month. 

We're learning that Russian kids are really tough to bond well with. They (I expect this is mainly girls) have a rule of thumb that you can have one friend at a time. The rest of the time, you are free to betray the trust of the other girls and treat them like dirt. So one day they are your friend and the next they hate you. For a girl like Lydia, it's been especially hard to bear. 

Even the girls at church are tough, in that they are generally quite immature and don't go out of their way to make an outsider feel at home. Lydia had a great overnight recently with some sisters, but they hardly talk with her at church. Another girl comes over to play when I work with her mother in counseling. Lydia is literally a few hours older than her, but this girl gets on better with Kerith because of her emotional maturity.

Diana and I are taking two very different but complementary courses of action. Diana is now on a warpath to find ex-pat friends. They are actually quite hard to find, especially with the diminishing missionary population here. We tried to avoid foreigners to some extend in the beginning, wanted to acculturate as much as possible, but we are now learning from the senior missionaries that no kid successfully makes it without close ex-pat friends. That's a shame, but it's the reality.

I'm a counselor, so Lydia and I have spent a lot of time talking and praying over these things, and she has grown leaps and bounds, though you hate seeing her have to go through what it takes to learn these lessons. She's letting go of her desire to have Russian friends for her own pleasure, and she is learning how to love them unconditionally and care for their souls as objects of God's reconciling love. She could have just pulled away from them, but she has shown tremendous resiliency in re-orienting her affections around God's perspective. It's a gift that I am confident she will reap the fruits of, as will many others, for the rest of her life.

V and Me

V. stands for Valery. Valery is the man who is always drunk in the building next to ours. He is almost always sitting on a bench in our courtyard, smoking and drinking. He's an elder man who often has other men his age sitting with him. Many teenagers and couples walk through and laugh at him like something funny to see on a sight-seeing tour. Many kids tell him to go home. A couple Saturdays ago, he was there again, very drunk. I was out playing nearby climbing a tree when I heard him cry out, and he fell to the ground with a thud. I hurried home and told Dad that he had fallen over, asking that Dad would pick Valery up again. Dad resisted, claiming that the last time he had picked him up, he had just fallen over again. 

I rushed back outside, the brothers following me. I watched Valery crawl like a baby to a nearby gate, pull himself up and stand. Simon, who had been watching beside me, ventured out and stood by Valery. Valery talked to him, and I, concerned for his safety, came over and stood behind Simon. Valery noted Simon's coat, buttoned all the way up, and asked him why his coat was buttoned up. I translated to Simon, since he did not understand drunken words. Simon unbuttoned his coat, but then re-buttoned it. I then told Simon to go get Dad, and he left. I never thought I'd do this, but I picked up his dirty cane that had fallen. I held it as he held on to the gate for support, and he slowly, like a child making his way around a pool, got to the steps to his building. When  he got to the steps, he had nothing to hold on to, so he slowly made his way up the steps. 

When he finished getting up the steps, the patio up to his door was sloped upwards, so it was hard for him to walk up. Steadying himself along the wall, one hand in front of the other, he made his way to the entrance. At one point he mumbled something that I couldn't understand. I finally understood, "Give me your hand." I was paralyzed with fright but realized that God would be with me, so I offered my hand. He took it, and I will never forget holding that hand. His hand was cold and dirty, and even from six feet away you could smell the liquor on him.  He held my hand very tightly and had me pull him up towards the door. When he said I could let go, I was so relieved I almost dropped him. Simon came back and told me Daddy was coming. 

The boys had been watching, and I urged them again to go get Daddy. Valery thought I was scolding them and told me, "Don't scold them." I told him that I wasn't, but kept telling Kerith to go, go. Once he reached the door, Valery started a conversation. "You're American, right? I don't know any American. I studied French for a while." I said that I didn't know any French. Imagine how hard it is to understand a drunk in Russian. 

Two men yelled from across the way that he acted like he was 5 years old. The other said he should be in bed.

Finally Dad arrived on the scene. Valery shook Dad's hands and looked down at the mittens he was wearing, asking about them. Valery said, "Your children...." Daddy finished, "helped you?" Valery retorted, "Wrong word... MORE than helped me."

I left, went home, and washed my hands with lots of hot water. When I came back, Dad told me that Valery had made it inside. I broke down and started crying and crying, telling him about giving my hand and the guys who were making fun of him. Dad told me that I had given Christ's hand, not my own. 

It was a moving experience, and through it God showed me what I'm here for. As shocking as it may sound, God wants me to work with drunks. If He had told me any earlier, I would have rejected it, but I'm now ready to do it.

My last words of encouragement you you: give Christ's hands to anybody's hand.