Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Peek thru Russia's windows

An actual church building. (As oppposed to a home church)

A nice lady in front of her house.

Stu Experiments with the fish eye


They let him leave the Country and he is now firmly ensconced back in the good 'ol USA!

In Celebration I put forth the first of two events:

First off, I would like to share this deep and meaningful song with you, as it has touched my life profoundly, and has everything to do with what makes the United States the envy of all it surveys. It is a wma.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Underlying Thought for the Day:

To Russia:

"Don't make me come over there!

You'll be sorry.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

But wait - there's more....

Russia just gets BETTER and BETTER!

Another letter arrived Sunday morning (which is Sunday night over there) from Stu regarding the Russian Festival of Bureaucracy and Paranoia.

Pasted Letter:

How things happen over here is a big mystery to Bill & me. We believe there is some information we are not getting from our host Yuri, in regards ot all this. We specifically asked for prayer for it though in the church service today, so it must really concrne him.

I've been dissapointed in the footage I've been getting or more yet the footage I have not got. It's seems there has been a roadblcok at every turn, from our hectic travel schedule, to restrictions put on me by Yuri, to getting harrased by the authorities. It could turn possibly tunr into a huge hassle should I desire to get a travel visa over here again since I have been arrested. We're still trying to find things out thgouh. We don't want to cause Yuri and his organization any headaches over here, as far as having Amerciancs come to Russia. Still we need to find out the bottom line about what is going on over here and how to avoid it on the future. To Bill & in many ways it seems Russia has swung the other direction from freedom to tightening things down again. We'll see when we get back to the U.S. and try to figure out what is going on as it relates to possible future trips and certainly anyone else we 'know coming over to help.

It's about 5 pm Sunday over here. So you can start praying on your Sunday night for everything to go smoothly as Bill & I check into our exit hotel to have them do the paperwork for us leaving. We pray we don't have to go into downtown Vlad and stand in multiple lines for multiple days to get this thing resolved. Our flight departs at 4:20p Tuesday, which will be about midnight Monday for you. We have a very quick turn of about 50 minutes in Seoul to catch our flight to Seattle, so please pray that all happens. Odds are our baggage could be lost but we'll see. Lots to pray about. Can't wait to leave the hassles behind here and get home to see you and the kids.

Friday, October 21, 2005

2nd Run-In wiht Russian Police Results in Arrest!

This is Stu's own account of his recent arrest in Siberia.
Mind you, this is the SECOND altercation he has had in as many weeks.

Stu Writes:

Greetings from Vladivsotok,
We have returned from another week of travel as our journey here winds down, but not without some harrowing experiences and some run-ins with the police. It was much more severe than last week's travel and this time it cost me more than just inconvenience.

We started our week of travels on Monday in Vladivostok , shooting interviews at the future Bible college that is being built from the shell of a large brick house north of town.

However, our return journey this morning from Chuguveka, we faced our first good snow (snik) of the year and a normally four hour drive back to Vlad that turned into seven hours of sliding around the rough highway. We saw countless wrecks and cars down embankments, fortunately we weren't one of them, that despite Yuri's overly aggressive speed. Bill and I took turns riding in the front seat of the van, which we changed from "the very scary seat," to "the Jesus seat," since it made us feel closer to meeting Jesus just riding there. Frankly, it wasn't the fear of death that was the problem, it was the fear of surviving and ending up in a remote Russian hospital manned by old pensioned doctors, whose only calling in life, I am told by locals, seems to be that you just die more slowly under their care. Still, while riding up front as passenger, I worked as hard as Yuri, using body English to try to get us around each corner and truck that we passed on the icy highway.

Earlier in the week we left Vlad under clear autumn skies with travel five hours north to the industrial city of Spaask-Daliny. As I gathered up my camera gear to go out and shoot up the town, I was a bit more paranoid of the militia having had a run-in with them the week before in Olga, yet felt confident that it was just a blip on the radar screen. Still, our Paravorchetsa (translator) Irena, and companion Bill Chesley, insisted on accompanying me on a walk around town to gather lifestyle footage. Frankly, it was tough to find good images. There weren't a lot of people on the streets in this town, that made its name producing concrete to build the Soviet Union of the Far East & Siberia. The town is facing high unemployment and has cut back on production of the only major construction material of every apartment we ever saw. There is always present the pall of concrete dust in the air in Spaask. Lung conditions are not uncommon here.

The only real fun I had that afternoon was when I stopped in a gift store to buy a watch (about $5) and the lady couldn't get either of the two I liked to work. Oh, well. I did have an amusing time with about a half-dozen boys and girls who were about 12 years of age outside some nearby apartments. I made Polaroid photos of them for gifts, which they thoroughly enjoyed. We were also welcome curiosities as the first Americans they have ever met. They didn't want us to leave and even invited us to a school program they were performing in that evening, which we couldn't attend because of my shooting schedule that night at a Bible study at the local church where I would gather footage of the ministry of pastor/missionary, Sasha Zimin. He's a good man, ministering in a tough place with a small band of 60 committed believers in this town 40,000. It's not a pleasant place to live and when I asked Sasha's wife, Anna, about Spassk, she remarked, with a content smile on her face, that they felt certain it was where God would have them minister for now. Their apartment on the fifth floor is Spartan. Bill and I slept on the floor, but as always we were made to feel welcome at the small table we huddled around for meals of borscht, bread, sausage and chi.

The next couple of days were frustrating on the shooting end of things. We went to the closed military city of Novosisoyevka. MiG jets raced overhead and old Russian fighter aircraft stood anchored to the ground as display relics between the labyrinth of worn-out concrete apartment buildings.

We were warned not to loiter, not to speak English in public, and not photograph outside of the apartment we were staying for the night. Now, that is frustrating for a guy whose soul purpose is to be documenting the people and places of Primorski. Still, if I would have known the secret lurking inside my travel papers, I would have been more than happy to keep a low profile. We got a good interview with a young Pastor Piotr, and his wife Olga, who minister to many families here in this military town, where like most cities, alcohol and drugs are a huge problem. It is an aimless life in a dreary place, where real hope is a scarce commodity.

I asked Pastor Piotr why it was difficult for Christian work to take hold and he remarked that old ways die hard and that people are still generally suspicious of new ideas. Many regard Evangelical Christianity as an American import, which the Russian Orthodox Church is more than happy to perpetrate.

When we traveled east an hour to the town of Chuguyevka the real troubles started for me. I was anxious to get caught up on footage that showed Russia towns and villages. I struck out on my own down the main street shooting picturesque houses with their brightly painted, distinctive Russian shutters, people drawing water from the well and stacking firewood for the winter. A man emerged from his house and gave me a cold stare. I ignored him and kept on shooting. Soon a white sedan pulled up to where I was standing and the same man emerged, demanding to see my passport. At first I was a bit reluctant, but then thought, "I'm legal, so why not?" Well, he looked at my immigration paper and I'm guessing by a few key words I knew, was wondering why I hadn't had a registration stamp for Chuguyevka. As far as I knew I didn't need one, only if I was staying for three days or more. I had been in town two hours. I quickly turned to my Russian phrase book, but couldn't find anything appropriate to say except, "This dress doesn't fit, do you have it in another size?" I'm sure that would not have impressed him. This was a guy who was bespectacled in his mid-fifties and looked very disappointed that communism had failed. He loaded me and my gear into his sedan for the very short trip to the police station. He seemed to know everyone there, greeting them by name and shaking hands. It was later I found out I was shooting video outside of his house, the chief weapons officer for this police district. Oh, great. He led me down some dank, gray hallways and into the office of a very serious thirty-something woman adorned in the no-nonsense olive drab uniform, the only other color being the starred gold and crimson bars she wore on her shoulders. The officer exchanged words with the woman and left. I was on my own.

She spoke zero English and my Russian phrases only included, "sure is cold out," and "thank you for the cabbage, it is delicious." Soon she found a young woman in the office who spoke limited English who explained to me that my travel visa was expired. They showed me the date on it. I was in disbelief and tried to plead my case, explaining that my visa was good for the entire month of October. She again pointed to the expiration date on the immigration document I received when I entered the country. At that time they had mistakenly put the wrong exit date on it. I was supposed to have left after my first week in the country, on the 10 th. I didn't really feel nervous, but I could see my hand trembling as I held the visa to show them the dates on it. It was getting close to my rendezvous time with Pastor Genya and Bill at nearby Lenin Square. They kept my passport and allowed me to leave to go get Genya. I brought him back and the long conversation started about why I was there, what I was shooting (they asked me to playback some of the tape I shot that day) and why I had not left the country on the 10 th. Genya was warm and friendly to them, but I picked up a hint of the great unknown in his voice, although he assured me it would be no problem, and that I wouldn't have to spend the night in jail. As the woman officer turned to work on her computer, ironically running the Windows operating system, Genya transitioned from why I was there, to document the work of Christians in Primorski, to giving the now three woman officers, and a Chinese businessman, the Gospel message. What an amazing guy, using every opportunity to share God's love with people.

After two hours of paperwork, writing and signing a confession, it was decided that I must pay a 1000 ruble fine and return to Vladivostok in the morning. The 1000 rubles was only about $30 so no big deal there, I had that, and we were heading to Vlad anyway the next day.

Still, I have never had more hassles in Russia than on this trip. It was probably good in several ways that I was arrested. Bill's immigration papers were also flawed. Fortunately he stayed hidden and didn't have to pay the fine. But if we arrived at the airport this Tuesday with expired visas we might be detained while they straightened things out and have to stay in Russia until the next twice-a-week flight took off for Seoul, if it wasn't already full. But the greater good was that people got to hear the Gospel in that police station who might not otherwise hear it and Pastor Genya got to make some good connections for future ministry. Still, I didn't shoot the amount of footage I was expecting, which was a huge disappointment.

When leaving Chuguyevka behind Friday morning, I turned to Bill and made the selfish remark, that, "well at least we can leave," speaking in broader terms, that at least we can leave this village and country. As I sit in the apartment in Vlad, it is bitterly cold outside. The wind (duyvetier) moves the curtains through two separate panes of glass. The coal-fired central heating plant in Vlad probably didn't see this storm coming. The heating radiators here in the apartment are as cold as it is outside. I'm wearing thermal underwear, a sweater, drinking chi, and still I'm a bit chilled. Still, I have the hope of leaving to another home.

This is a tough place. People age prematurely. Alcohol and the harshness of life often take their toll. However, this is the life they know, in their words, normalna. The Christians here though have a brightness about them, a real hope that reaches beyond the day to day toughness of making life work here. I think of the people in my own country who exist in normalna. If you don't know any better, whether in The Russia Far East or the USA , you don't know that you're missing the hope, joy and peace that Christ brings even in the most dreary of circumstances or in a life numbed by a preoccupation with the toys that affluence buys. Yes, I'll get to leave for a better home in a few days, however along with the Russian believers, the hope awaits of the ultimate home someday, for all of us who believe.

Tonight I venture out to shoot the youth group at the church across town, and then hopefully gather footage of the life around Vladivostok, and shoot a few more interviews before we leave for the states on Tuesday.

The believers here are strong and committed. They lack many resources, but have faith and heart to propel them. They experience a God who provides what is needed for the day.

I could fill many more pages here with the stories of hope I've heard, and tales about the nuances of a life and culture I find difficult to understand at times, but also the many laughs and smiles I've shared with new friends here. It is with anticipation I return to the states, and begin work on the documentary of what is happening in the lives of people in the Russia Far East. It is tinged though with a sharp melancholy for the people I leave behind, the memories of which I'll treasure greatly, and who will now be in my prayers.

Thank you for allowing me to share this trip with you and for making it possible for me to undertake this journey, and especially the experience, the wonder, of seeing God anew through the eyes of the people of the Primorski region of the Russia far East.

Much Love in Christ,

Monday, October 17, 2005

Russian update

For those who are trying to follow the Siberian Gig:
many of you, Stu doesn not have updated email addies for,
and apparently they keep bouncing. (!)
Anyway, so here is the most recent update, as of yesterday - which was their today - go figure!

Stu writes:

Greetings from the Russia Far East!
Well, I got busted.
The cops came down on me and it almost cost me a big part of this trip.
More on that later though.

The second week of this trip started out like the first, with a long, bumpy, sometime harrowing, 8 hour drive north of Vladivostok to the ministry field of, The Primorski Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians (PAMCEC). The first stop was the village Olga on the Pacific coast, where an energetic, 27 year old Pastor Vitaly, his wife and 3 kids live. The church where they minister is a small converted grocery store (magazeen) that serves the 40 people who worship there. We awoke early Tuesday morning from the very frigid apartment where Bill, our translator Irena, and I stayed, to attend their daily prayer meeting. Every morning in the dark about 15 of the faithful gather to sing and pray for friends, family and community. It is having a huge effect on their community of about 3000. People are coming to faith in Christ, and good relationships are being established.

This is also the place where I got into trouble with the police. I was out shooting stills and video in the community when the local authorities came rolling up in a beat-up old Chinese pickup truck. A large officious woman in Olive, with Crimson epaulets (I swear she looked like she was right out of central casting including the overly dyed red hair under her police cap) jumped out in her tall high heels and demanded to see my passport and visa. All this is taking place in Russian which I know very little of. She got very agitated as she was sorting through my visa and passport which we were warned to always, always, have on us. Something was strangely amiss though. She became even more upset, blathering on in Russian. I sent a young boy who was walking with me back to find Bill and my paravorchek (translator) Irena. As soon as they arrived, accompanied by Pastor Vitaly, in the van, I understood that I was missing a valuable piece of immigration paperwork that was issued to me when I arrived and that I must have when I leave the country. I sorted through all the luggage in our van and couldn't find it. The woman said that if I couldn't find it we must leave for Vlad immediately (8 hour drive back) and have it reissued. Don't even think about stopping anywhere else or there would be real trouble. Fortunately, Vitaly was neighbors with the woman and his winsome ways did a lot to diffuse the situation. She gave him the only smile I'd seen out of her, in a way that communicated that she wasn't surprised Viatly was mixed up in this somehow, but in a way that conveyed trust in Vitaly's character.

There was one last camera bag back at Vitaly's house. We prayed as we drove back and I quickly emptied the contents on the floor. There in the midst of the heap was an innocuous, wrinkled little piece of paper with a red stamp on it. The missing document. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Now we could go on to Dalnegorsk and Kavalerovo and Fabreejnee.

I shot an interview with Vitaly and then helped him haul water before we left. Although he lives in a house, there are many strange dichotomies about living in a typical village like Olga. He doesn't have running water like most people who live in houses here. He hauls it every other day or so from a town well, filling large 10 gallon milk cans that he keeps on the porch. Without running water, everyone uses the outhouse out back. The house is heated by wood stove. Yet on the flip side he has a decent laptop computer and a good color printer. Like most people he has a 5 foot satellite dish out front to bring in TV. Add to that a cell phone which strangely most people have (about $6.00 per month for service). No running water but good cell service, go figure. Because almost all of these young pastors don't have large enough congregation to support them yet, they rely on Ukrainian, Korean, and Russian and American Christians to help support their work. They are the ones who help with computers, used Japanese cars, and the other things, like cellphones that help the process of doing ministry in this rugged part of the world.

We stayed next at the church in the large mining city of Dalnegorsk tucked away between large mountain ranges. Like a lot of churches this one occupies an old commercial building. Not perfect for a church but a good meeting place for the believers. They also run a seminary-Bible school several months out of the year, inviting in guest teachers from the Ukraine, Korea and the U.S.

The real thrill of this past week was our time in the town Kavalerovo a town of about 40,000. You wouldn't think there were that many people in this town, but almost all are housed in huge clusters of concrete apartment building that rise 10 stories up. A real cookie cutter process, they all look identical.

The church there under the care of Pastor Ruslan (28) is healthy and thriving with about 100 believers. The building was built from scratch, funded by Ukrainian Christians. It is nothing fancy, but very practical and will fit about 180 in a squeeze. There is a wide range of ages, well balanced between older, younger, in between, and a good balance between men and women, which is not always the case. Often times the women far out number the men. Many men believe that religion is for women and as men they would prefer to spend their time with a vodka bottle, which is why you see very few older men. The believers though are generous, light-hearted and have a real love for the Lord. They even have an Awana program for the kids! Pastor Ruslan spends his time making many friends and contacts around the city. He is well liked and respected everywhere, by those in authority and the ditch digger. And his is a tough work. It is slow going. The real tough reality is that many people over 30 are still very suspicious and reserved having been brought up under communism. The people that are under 30 are chasing the dollar, or should I say Ruble? They believe that an easier life-style will bring them ultimate happiness. They are many entrepreneurs around. Ruslan keeps in good contact with them for the time when they will realize that money won't buy the meaning to life. It's very great and inspiring to watch Ruslan work, handing out Christian newspapers and books to non-believers all who willingly accept them.

One of the few other treats we had while in Kavalerovo was interviewing the oldest believer in town, a 101 year old woman. She was 12 years old when the communists came to power and spent her life worshipping God in the underground church. She wandered a bit during the interview, but living to be 101 she earned the right to talk about how she makes her favorite jam!

After a few more stops in villages we have finally settled back in Vladivostok for the weekend, having driven over 1500 miles in last few weeks over some of the roughest "highways" in existence (most wouldn't pass for a poor county road in the states) We are regrouping here, shooting some interviews at the Bible school being built north of Vlad and then we'll start out again tomorrow in our travels 4 hours north to Spaask-Daliny and other villages in the region where the Association is planting churches. Right now I am trying, between power outages, to get this e-mail out. A frustrating but not unusual for this part of the world, even for a city of 800,000.

The shooting of video and stills is going better this past week, although we still short of "color shots" that really help paint the full picture of what is happening here, while in truth, as Americans, we can never fully appreciate what is happening just below the surface of the people and culture of this land. They are many things that defy explanation, as least to me, and I have worked hard with our paravorchek (translator) to try to understand what I am seeing and experiencing. It is a blessing though to see how Christ meets people in every culture. So different and yet the same. It is that very bond with these Christians that despite the hard work, sometimes sleepless nights on a couch, or frigid apartment, and eating way too much borscht, cabbage and fatty sausage (cardiac arrest on a plate), that still makes coming here a real blessing. I hope the footage I gather here will be able to communicate at least in a small way, the remarkable story of people in this remarkable land.

Please pray that has we enter this final week, for safety as we travel (Yuri's driving still makes me feel closer to Jesus, but in the wrong way). Also, for good health and especially great opportunities to gather great footage. I'm still a little nervous about accomplishing that task.

Many thanks!


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Future Studio/Meat Puppet Monger?

I am kind of at a loss.
A friend of ours has been trying to get his studio up and running for more than a year now.
He is a visionary.
You know the type –
"Big Ideas", "Not always sure about how to get them implemented", etc.
Every business needs visionaries.
But also people who have the capabilities to bring their out-of-the-box ideas to fruition.

Anyway, Stan (not his real name) has been building on this double duty studio idea for over a year. Now he is wanting some one to come in and set up the office for both the Film School and the Facility Rental aspects of the studio. He is under some kind of time crunch, needing to get somebody in there next week.
For once, he is talking Green. ($$), although not in any quantifiable manner.


As always, I am wary.

Stan is always full of huge ideas.
So far few of them have actually come to anything.
But such is the way sometimes, with visionaries.
What is it Edison did? Found 2000 different ways how not to invent a lightbulb?

I am supposed to go down and have a meeting at the studio on Monday to see what needs to be done, advise him a little bit and possibly set up a temporary schedule for helping him get things rolling.

I know that I am supposed to be not working full time.
I know that I am not supposed to be working in a situation that leaves me so drained that I haven’t got energy to devote to my kids.
I also believe that this is a time that I am supposed to be focusing on art.
Which would leave precious little time for any meaningful extra-curricular work.

But who knows.
Maybe I can get it rolling for him and then train somebody to come in and take over.
Beats me.
The fun part will be building the talent database though.
And writing copy and press releases and building press kits.
I actually enjoy that kind of stuff.

Oh well.

I am torn.
I do not want to allow myself to be distracted from my goals (being a mom, building my own Portfolio) by some other thing that mildly interests me.

I am proceeding VERY cautiously.

Those of you who walked with me through the fire of “quitting my day job” feel free to remind me of things I said/wanted/prcessed back then.
Feel free to poke me in the nose and say, “what are you thinking you flake!” or Say “hey, this could be something _____(insert your thought)”, anyway….

Decisions decisions!
I think I will just sit down and watch a movie with Scout today.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

My Dog Helga

Is a beauteous wonder dog! She is German Shpeherd and Golden Retriever - but looks and has the IQ of a German Shepherd. Her gate, as she gallops or trots across field or yard is a beautiful metronome of flight.

I ran her over in the driveway today!

She apparently layed down beside my car in the time between my getting in it, and the time I started it and put it in gear. I had no idea she was laying there.
I backed up and heard her cries. I immediately shifted back into drive to moce forward - I had NO idea where she was at the time.
She cried again.
She is up and walking about, but I am watching for internal injury symptoms.


I dunno.

She is such a love...


Please pray that she is ok.

Doris the Flight Attendant's Catch 'O' the Day

Today's link is supplied to us courtesy of Blue Max at North Canton Airline and Storm Door Co
who's motto is, "We're the Up Yours people."

(Doris has her own personal addendum's to that motto, depending upon her mood:
"We'll get you there. Eventually."
"We'll get you there. In our own way and in our own good time.")

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Cleavage of Doom

Why does this kind of crap always seem to happen to me?

At a church camp-out last summer, we are all sitting around the campfire.
Suddenly an ember pops, sending a flaming missile - not straight FOR my shirt but arching into the air and straight down INTO my shirt. I am hopping madly all over the place attempting to free the "Blistering Morsel from the Abyss" from my unmentionable-garment.

Likewise, this evening, I am preparing the gravy for our dinner.
In order to eradicate some lumps from the gravy in a hurry, I pour the whole batch of hot liquid into the blender, thinking I will puree them out.

Nobody ever told me what happens when you try to put hot liquid in a blender.
And how could I imagine the outcome?

It spewed scalding lava - where?
You guessed it!

I have a scalded torso that hurts like all the flames of Satans own domicile, and can barely scrape up enough pluck to clean the minimal residue that did not find its way to my cleavage, up off the floor.


I swear I am going to invest in lead turtlenecks from now on!


Tuesday, October 4, 2005

First Efforts and Siberia

Page 1.

I hate the wallpaper and am planning to get rid of it, for a solid coloured wall instead, however Jessica (Illustrator and designer for a local publishing house) likes the wallpaper. So now I don't know. I think "Little Bad Girl" would 'pop' more if she were against a solid background. not sure yet.

Stu should be arriving in Vladivostock this morning. He probably spent a spent a yucky night trying to sleep in the airport in Seoul. I had a feeling he was not going to try to get a hotel room. I think he didn't want to commit and then have his flight be delayed and not use the room but still have to pay for the majority of it. Also, when it takes 90 minutes to get to a hotel that is 21 miles away, it makes one rethink whether one wants to get stuck at the mercy of some cabbie 90 minutes away from the airport in freaky unporedictable foreign traffic. So anyway, he probably spent a crappy night, is my guess. He is in Siberia through Oct 26th. I think while he is away I will go through the huge print box of photos from the last trip, but that time I think he was further north, around Yakutia. Still he had some fun images and maybe there are somethings I can mess with in PS now. Back in those days all we had was PS LE. That was like, what...early 90's? Late 80's? Something. MacKEnzie has that old computer now and I have to laff. Poor kid. It does nothing but notepad and LE. Its good. It keeps her humble.