Amazing Belarus – 2013 (Part 3)

[To read about the beginning of my trip to Belarus see Amazing Belarus – 2013 (Part 1) by clicking here.]

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Part 3: Final post about Belarus

It was FINALLY here – Monday – our first day of classes! Each of us would teach four two-hour classes each day. Our schedule was pretty hectic. Breakfast was at 8:00 a.m. followed by a staff meeting at 8:30. We had a short devotional and prayer time at the end of every staff meeting. Last minute class preparations could be made at 9:00 or 9:15 depending on how long staff meetings lasted (I avoided this as much as I could!).

Morning staff meetings at breakfast.

Morning staff meetings at breakfast.

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Our first class session started at 9:30 a.m. and concluded at 11:30. Then we had a short break (to revise lesson plans if things didn’t work out as planned) and lunch. Session 2 started at 1:30 and ended at 3:30 followed by another break which included an early supper. Our last two sessions were back-to-back. Session 3 was from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. followed by Session 4 from 7:15 – 9:15 p.m. (or was it 7:30 – 9:30? How quickly I forget things now! Lol!). Most evenings the last session was followed by a short staff meeting before bed time.

Each session started in the worship center with a 15 minute time of singing songs and fun activities such as guessing which baby picture was which teacher or trying to guess some little-known fact about one of the teachers. The students guessed very few of the questions correctly, but learning more about each other was a lot of fun for all of us. After the opening we would take our students to our classrooms and teach English for about an hour and a half. We didn’t teach English grammar, sentence structure, or rules. We taught conversational English – how we would say certain words and phrases in the United States. In the Advanced classes I would present a situation or scenario, vocabulary, and American phrases or idioms. Then the students would get in pairs or groups and discuss or role play the situation using the vocabulary, phrases, and idioms. I would listen to them speaking and correct them when they didn’t say something correctly or like we say it in the United States. Watching and listening to my students and how they would work out a problem (or whatever the scenario was) was quite fascinating to me. After the hour and a half class, we would return to the worship center for a 15 minute closing which was similar to the opening. We followed this routine each day, Monday through Friday.

Thursday was the day that we would share our “stories” with the students. In the opening time before each class session, our pastor shared his story (testimony). He told how each of the teachers also had a story, and if students wanted to know their teacher’s story, all they had to do was to ask us when they got to class. We are not allowed to say “Jesus” in Belarus unless we have been “approved” with a special “preacher’s” visa. Therefore, all of us would be using the words “my friend” every time we would normally say “Jesus.” I was very nervous about this part of the trip because I haven’t shared my testimony very many times. I knew God would give me the words when the time came, and He certainly did.

Friday our pastor shared the gospel during the opening 15 minutes and told of Jesus’ love for all people. Friday’s classes were very special. Never, in my wildest imagination, did I ever think I could get so “close” with a group of people in such a short five-day time period. I had planned to give all my students a very small gift on Friday. It wasn’t anything special but God gave me a message to go along with the small gift. I gave each student a heart-shaped SweetTart sucker. I told them that this sucker represented a couple of things. The heart shape represented the love of my “friend” for me and for each of them and the love I had for each of them through my friend. I explained that this kind of candy has a sweet taste but also a tart, or sour, taste. I explained that the sour part of the candy represented the trials and hard times that we all go through during our lifetimes, but the sweet part represents the love, comfort, and peace that my “friend” will give them during those trials and hard times. They all smiled as I explained this, and I think they understood quite well. Friday was also the day that the students received their certificate for completing the class. We took a lot of pictures to remember our time together.

Here are just a few of the pictures.

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Our pastor and leader for the week with some of my students.

Our pastor and leader for the week with some of my students.

The teachers for the week.

The teachers for the week.

Here are some statistics from the week: We interviewed 935 students and placed 789 in classes. On Friday morning we had 641 students in attendance to hear the gospel (some students would have to miss a class occasionally because of work). Of those students attending on Friday, 437 marked on their sheets that they would be interested in more information about Jesus, and 302 marked that they had asked Jesus into their life. PRAISE THE LORD!!

Each of my classes had gotten together without me knowing it and purchased gifts for me. Belarus is known for their chocolates and I received several boxes of chocolates which were very delicious. I ate some before I left Belarus, of course, as well as on the way home! I shared the rest of my chocolates with everybody when I got home. I also received a straw doll in traditional Belarussian dress, a woven straw basket, a beautifully carved wooden box filled with small candies, a traditional Belarussian Domovoi doll (Domovoi is a home’s “guardian” that takes care of your family and home), and a very special book about Belarus. Here are a few pictures of the gifts I received.

Straw doll representing traditional Belarus.

Straw doll representing traditional Belarus.

Domovoi - seen as the home's guardian to take care of your family and home.

Domovoi – seen as the home’s guardian to take care of your family and home.

A beautifully woven straw basket,

A beautifully woven straw basket.

Look at the woven details!

Look at the woven details!

I have these two together on my living room shelf.  Don't they look good together?

I have these two together on my living room shelf. Don’t they look good together?

The book about Belarus.  It has beautiful pictures, but I can't read a word in it. :)  Maybe some day I'll be able to read a few words.

The book about Belarus. It has beautiful pictures, but I can’t read a word in it. 🙂 Maybe some day I’ll be able to read a few words.

This is a gorgeous carved wooden box.  The picture doesn't do it justice.  You can't begin to see all the fine details!

This is a gorgeous carved wooden box. The picture doesn’t do it justice. You can’t begin to see all the fine details!

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The inside of the box.  I am keeping all my little "keepsakes" from Belarus in this box.

The inside of the box. I am keeping all my little “keepsakes” from Belarus in this box.

These gifts from my students in Belarus mean a lot to me, but I will always cherish the new friends I have made the most. I hope to be able to go back to Belarus next year, and maybe I’ll get to see some of my new friends again, as well as make some additional Belarussian friends!

Amazing Belarus – 2013 (Part 1)

After a somewhat long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally able to post about my trip to Belarus.  In order to tell all about it, I’ve decided to break it up into several parts.

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Belarus:  What can I say?  It was beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking, uplifting, historical, challenging, exhausting, C-O-L-D, fun, and full of the most heartwarming, sincere people I’ve ever met.

This was my first trip to Belarus, and my decision to go was “last minute” as a result of someone else not being able to go.  Like most people in my situation, I was expecting a “parting of the sea” or a “burning bush” moment where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was calling me to make this trip.  There was no such moment; there was just a constant “tugging” on the strings of my heart to go and teach conversational English and share the love of Christ with the people of Belarus.

After traveling over 24 hours, we arrived in Minsk, Belarus, in the early morning hours.  As I went through customs, I was pulled aside by customs agents to have my luggage put through the x-ray machine.  I told myself, “Be calm; you have nothing to hide.”  Yea….that worked!!  <<sarcasm>>  They said something in their language, and, of course, I didn’t understand.  Then the customs lady asked in broken English if I had coins, and I answered that I did not.  Then they took me around to the screen and asked me what all these small dots on the screen were.  I was perplexed at first, as they asked me to open my suitcase.  Now I am beginning to get somewhat concerned, but I was amazingly peaceful inside.  God was showing me He was in control and He would provide for all  my needs during this trip.  Suddenly I realized what the “dots” were!  As I began unzipping my bag, I explained I had occasional back spasms and the “dots” were my Therma Care heat wraps that I had brought with me in case my back acted up.  I took several out and showed them the packaging with the pictures, and explained it was the little “heat” packs that showed up as the “dots” on the x-ray machine.  They were satisfied and said I could go.

We were scheduled to take about an hour riding tour of the city and some of the historical sites.  Since I hadn’t really slept at all while traveling the past 24 hours, I was very tired and the last thing I wanted was to ride around in the extreme cold in a van with a heater that couldn’t manage to put out much heat.  However, as we drove and listened to some of the history of this country, my exhaustion melted away and my interest in this country and its history piqued.  God once again provided for my needs in a most unusual way.  Here are a few pictures of Minsk.

The National Library

The National Library

The house where communism was "born."

The house where communism was “born.”

Monument honoring those who fought in the war.

Monument honoring those who fought in the war.

KGB building.

KGB building.

Memorial to the Jews that died in WWII.

Memorial to the Jews that died in WWII.

More of the memorial to the Jews that died in WWII.

More of the memorial to the Jews that died in WWII.

Well, that’s enough for today.  I’ll tell more about my Belarus trip soon!

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