Posted in bible, Estonia, Holiday

Merry Christmas…Hรคid Jรตule!

Merry Christmas everyone! It’s December 23rd here in Tallinn, Estonia, and it’s snowing! I’m hoping for my very first white Christmas. 

Christmas in Estonia is a little different than Christmas in the States. For one, they use it celebrate their pagan history more than the birth of Christ Jesus. They start the celebration on December 21st (also known as St. Thomas Day), with a winter solstice festival. Superstitions and fortune-telling have always been a big part of this holiday season. And it’s still evident in the witches on broomsticks that are sold all over the Christmas market in Old Town. 

Jouluvana, the Estonian Santa Clause, and Pakapikk, an Estonian Christmas elf, are responsible for distributing gifts this time of year, according to tradition. Instead of leaving milk and cookies for Santa, Estonians traditionally leave out food on the table, for visiting spirits. And brooms are cleaned often this time of year so that they can’t be used by demons to spread mischief. 

Christmas Peace is declared every year by the leader of Estonia. This is a tradition that is centuries old. 

During this festive time, it’s even more evident why Estonia needs Jesus. A country that has for so long claimed anti-religious view, opens itself up to so much mysticism and witchcraft during the Christmas season. They now mix their ancient pagan traditions with modern Christmas traditions…and refuse to acknowledge the true reason for the season. 

May Christ pour out His Spirit on this land in the coming year. 

Posted in bible, Estonia


I’m still getting settled in Tallinn. In fact, I finally get to move into my new apartment tomorrow! Very exciting. After four weeks of sleeping on 5 different couches/beds, I am really looking forward to getting established in my own place. 

So for this week’s post, I thought I would share a little of our services with you. This video, shot today during our third service of the day (our first time doing three services!), is of a worship song done first in Estonian, then in English at the end. I hope you enjoy it, because I certainly did. ๐Ÿ˜

Posted in bible, Estonia, Uncategorized

First Week Review – Tallinn

Well I have been in Tallinn for over a week now (unless you count the Thanksgiving trip to Lithuania). To let you all know what it is like, as well as some of the challenges that I am facing as I adjust, I thought I would just provide some observations that I have made this first week. Many of them will relate directly to the Republic of Georgia, since that is the culture that I just moved from. So here we go…

  1. Tallinn is much more technologically advanced than Telavi. In fact, it is a tech hub for Europe. Skype was invented here. 
  2. Everything is electronic…cash is not really needed. That is a huge difference from the all cash society I am used to in Telavi.
  3. The people are very quiet. Mousy even. Since Georgians are loud, boisterous and very outgoing, this has been an adjustment. I am no longer the quiet one! Actually, I have begun to realize how loud and energetic I can be when talking…
  4. Estonians are rule followers. You can tell the foreign pedestrians from the Estonians by just watching how they deal with a crosswalk light when no cars are coming and it’s snowing. The Estonians will wait for the green light to cross. Foreigners will not. And back in Georgia…who paid attention to crosswalks?
  5. Driving is also much more civilized in Estonia. There are no crazy head-on drivers coming at you because they simply want to pass everyone else…no squeezing 5 lanes out of a three lane road…no parking on the sidewalk. Remember…they are rule followers.

And last but certainly not least…despite being one of the most unreligious nation’s in the world, the people are so hungry for God. They harvest is ripe…and I am so excited to be part of this season here. God is doing some great things in Focus Church, and in Estonia in general. Can’t wait to share more of it with you!

Posted in Estonia, Holiday

Thanksgiving in the Baltics

Welcome to my life in Estonia! I fully transitioned here on Monday, and will be here for the remainder of my two year term. I am excited to get to work!

Coming in just before Thanksgiving has proven to be a blessing. Not only does it give me a little extra rest time before diving in, it is allowing me the chance to connect with all of my Baltic area teammates. 

We gathered together in Vilnius, Lithuania for the holiday. Our group consists of teams from both Estonia and Lithuania. We are all working to plant churches in our respective areas. It was a great time sharing with each other. 

Today we are heading out to IKEA….time to start getting set up with the essentials! I guess you could say we are just continuing the Black Friday tradition in our own way ๐Ÿ˜Š.

I am truly grateful for all of you. Your support, both financially, spiritually and emotionally has really been such an encouragement to me. Thank you for your prayers and your uplifting comments. I truly could not do this without you!

Posted in Nation of Georgia

Life in Telavi

Well, it’s been a fun seven months living in Telavi, Kakheti, Republic of Georgia. In case you didn’t hear, I am transitioning to the city of Tallinn, Estonia. Today is my last day in Telavi, so I thought this blog post should be my final thoughts, reflections, my final goodbye to these people I have fallen in love with, this town that I will miss. 

Life in Telavi is not easy. There’s only a couple of hours of running water each day, the electricity, at best, fluctuates almost constantly. The roads are being improved, but even that currently just makes life more difficult. 

The Georgian language is difficult, albeit fun to learn. But because of how it sounds, it can be difficult to tell if two people are having a heated fight about something…or just chatting about the local gossip. And since there are no official accents on syllables, everyone pronounces words just a little differently. 
The people of the Kakheti region are very warm and welcoming to visitors. But getting them to open up to you about anything beyond the daily struggles of life can be a challenge. They are very guarded, understanding from past experiences in the Soviet Union that anyone new is slightly suspicious.  And yet at the same time they will gladly give food and money to the beggars that sit on the sidewalk or come knocking on their door. 

Christianity, of the Orthodox variety, is very real to them. The devout cross themselves every time they walk past a church, which is frequent since the old churches are in just about every neighborhood. They see anyone outside the Orthodox Church as lost, and cannot fathom any type of Christianity outside their own. 

Pride is very real in Telavi. Ask someone if they know how to do something and you will undoubtedly receive a yes response. However whether or not they are actually able to do what you asked about is a completely different story. You could ask five people for directions and they would give you five different versions, each saying theirs is the fastest and safest way. Even if they did not actually have a clue how to get to your destination. 

However when push comes to shove, the people of Telavi will stand behind their own. They are proud, but they are also loyal. Once you make a friend in Telavi, they really are your friend for life. And that is why I know that the people I have met in my seven months there will always be a part of my life, always close to my heart. 

Kakheti, and more specifically, Telavi, is more than a place in Georgia. It is a way of life. And I am grateful to have been able to absorb it, to be a part of it, and to leave with a little bit of it now a part of me. 

Posted in Nation of Georgia

When You Least Expect It

There is no way to predict what might happen around Telavi. Just when you think things might be “normal”, the least expected happens.

Having dinner out on the patio with a bunch of friends? What could go wrong? Not an unknown dog jumping onto the tin roof of your neighbor’s shed, in an attempt to get to your dinner party.

Building relationships in a small village? How could anything odd happen there? Oh wait, a random flock of ducks just decided to land right in front of you…and better yet, seem to be walking up to you!

Oh and driving home from the village. I love to drive. Nothing could be weird about that. Until I get stopped for about 5 minutes as a herd of sheep walk down the road… seemingly unaware of the cars trying to get around them. Oh wait, that’s not a car coming…that’s a horse-drawn cart with car tires. Yeah, technically that is “normal” around here ๐Ÿ˜Š.

What can I say? Telavi definitely keeps me on my toes!

Keep me in your prayers this week. I will be teaching my first kids class this coming Saturday. And with the help of my friends, will try to do the lesson portion in Georgian. I’m gonna need your prayers!!!

I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes…

Posted in Nation of Georgia

Want to see the countryside?

I have been playing around with a few time lapse apps, so I thought I would do something different this week. Instead of providing something to read that will make you laugh at me (yes, I am talking about you Uncle Everett & Aunt Linda), I decided to show you a little bit of the area where I live. So I have created time lapse videos of the drive to and from my language teacher’s home, as well as the drive to and from my language helper’s house out in the village of Kvareli. Unfortunately it has been a bit hazy lately so you can’t see much of the Caucasus Mountains, but they should still give you a good idea of this gorgeous country. It will take you less than 3 minutes to watch both video’s, so I hope you take a moment to do so.

There are a few things you should know about driving in the Republic of Georgia:

  1. Speed is relative…most roads outside of the capital don’t even have speed limits posted.
  2. Lanes are relative. Literally. They are not marked well on most roads (if the roads are even paved so that they can be marked) and even when they are, no one pays attention to them. They will go where they need to go to get around someone slower.
  3. Most roads – all except the major roads in and out of towns – are not paved, unless you count cobblestones as old as time as pavement. So it tends to be a bumpy ride in most places.
  4. Emergency vehicles operate differently. Their lights are flashing at all times – unless there is a real emergency. When the lights go off, you know to get out of the way! And you don’t know a cop is pulling you over until they get on the bullhorn & yell at you. A cop pulling up behind you with flashing lights literally means nothing.
  5. There are signs with the town name on it as you go into & out of each village. But as you leave, the sign will have a red slash thru the town name. This literally means you have left that place.

And now for the video to Kvareli (pronounced kwa-re-ly). This village is about a 35 minute drive thru a number of other villages, past lots of vineyards and farmland. I also get to drive past beautiful Gremi – the historic Orthodox church/castle that you will see in the video very briefly.

What I really cannot wait to show you is the drive from Tbilisi out into my good old Telavi. Such a great drive…too many amazing views to not share it. I will have to record that drive the next time I go.

Posted in Nation of Georgia

Conversations, Marriage and Me…

I started writing this post with the idea that it would give a bit of the history around the Georgian wedding ceremony, as well as make you laugh as I let you in on how their cultural views of marriage, and my singleness, seems to taint every conversation I have. But as I am writing, it is kind of taking on a life of it’s own, so I have pulled out most of the historical information. Let’s see where this goes…

I have actually been putting off this subject for a while now, mostly because I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong picture. So let me start by saying this: I did not leave my life in Arizona so that I could come to the Republic of Georgia to find a husband. Now, if you know me very well, you are probably either laughing hysterically at that statement (because you know that I have barely even dated let alone focused on finding a husband) or you are now reading hesitantly waiting for me to announce that I did find someone (yes I am talking about you dad). Don’t worry, I have not found anyone…still not looking! But that doesn’t change how this topic of marriage and a husband infiltrates every conversation I have with Georgians.

You have to understand that in this culture, nothing is more important than the family. And a person’s role in the family is established by their marriage…especially that of the female. And since kids get married as young as 15 (please remember this is not the norm – most marry between 17 & 22), and marriage is so important, the idea that I am a single 36 year old female is completely foreign to them. Even amongst the community of believers, I am weird. And no topics are uncomfortable or taboo with Georgians.

This all manifests itself in my conversations in basically the same way, but I have seen a bit of evolution in the direction it takes once the topic has been raised. You see, it started with a simple question – Shawna, you are not married? I would say no, and then they would ask – You have no boyfriend? I would say no, and they would get quiet and the conversation would move on to something different. I am using the pronoun “they” because this exact same scenario has played out with multiple different people, across multiple conversations, but in the EXACT SAME WAY…it’s almost scary.

Then the next week, in the middle of everything they would ask – Shawna, are you divorced? I would say no, I have never been married. They would ask – And no kids? I answer again, no. Then the conversation moves on. But the next time I spoke with one of these ladies, I was blown off my chair. Literally, in the middle of a completely different conversation, she interrupted to ask – Shawna, why have you decided to never get married? I was honestly at a loss for words for a second.

It became apparent to me then that marriage is so fundamental to their way of life that they literally have no reference to help them understand a person who is single. Kids grow up to get married and have a family. That’s the way it has always been. So when someone comes in at about twice the age of most that are getting married, with no apparent desire to rush into anything (not to mention they are all aware that as an MA I have agreed to not date during these two years) they don’t know how to process it. They don’t have a little box to put me into, and it bothers them. They are still trying to figure me out.

Isn’t that how we all are? We grow up with our own little boxes that we use to categorize the people and events in our life. And when something doesn’t fit, we struggle to understand it…like a child trying to fit a square peg in the round hole. When we can’t make it fit anywhere, we usually go so far as to judge it. If it doesn’t work with what we believe, it must be bad. If they can’t act how we want them to, they must be bad. If….

James 4:11-12 says, “Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” (NLT)

As someone who is constantly being judged because I am an American, a female, single, etc. etc. I can tell you that it is not fun. But I can tell you that it has helped me to realize that maybe the issue isn’t always the person being judged. When is the last time you looked at a fellow believer and saw them as a child of the King? How about the last time you saw an unbeliever and seen them as the person still seeking what can only be found in Christ?ย Maybe we need to learn to throw away our boxes and start to see everyone like God sees them.

Oh, and there has been one additional step in the evolution of my marriage/singleness conversations… Just yesterday, out of the blue, I was informed that after my two years was up I would definitely marry a Georgian man. Not sure if who I am to marry has been decided by these wonderful God-fearing women yet, but at least I can say that this is going to be an interesting couple of years. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in bible, Nation of Georgia

Decisions & Baptisms

Everything works a little different in Georgia than it does in America. I know this is nothing new to most of you. But even how the Georgians go about making a decision is completely different. You see, the key to decision making in Georgia is group collaboration. What do I mean? Well, two people in the Telavi church have been waiting to be baptized for over a month. The hold-up? Waiting on the entire church to agree upon a day and time to go to the river.

One might think that this would just require a quick conversation, maybe a vote on the best day, and a decision essentially made by church leaders. But not in Georgia. No, here it requires endless conversation…debates even… on what would be best. Numerous days would be chosen, all eventually cast aside because someone didn’t like it. Which leads to more debate and conversation. And new ideas presented…all to be shot down. The fact that anything ever gets done with this kind of process is a miracle. And you can ask the Colorado team that was just here – this process is the same regardless of what decision is being made. It all requires the input of every single person that might ever be affected – ever.

Now, if anyone from the Republic of Georgia is reading this, please know that I explain this process more from a position of sharing how life is different here than to pass judgment on this way of life. While I believe that God placed leadership in place for a reason – and making decisions for the group is part of that (you know, so it doesn’t take months to make a single decision), I understand that not everyone follows the American way. And there are plenty of areas where we Americans could really learn from Georgians. For instance, I am daily blown away by how Georgians are so hospitable and show care for others. And don’t get me started on how much they care about their relationships with others – family or not. There are plenty of areas where we really could learn from each other.

So with that said, today we finally had a baptism. How did we come to the decision to have it today? Well one of the people being baptized is leaving the country tomorrow. So at 11:12am I received call stating that at 11:20ish everyone was meeting at the Pastor’s house to carpool to the Alazani River, and if I wanted to go, I needed to come now. Yes, I literally received 8 minutes notice of a baptism. I was just walking up the 3 flights of stairs to my apartment after finishing up my language lesson, so I turned and headed back down without even going in…and headed to the river in jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. And it was hot…and the water looked so refreshing, it made me wish I had taken a few minutes to grab some shorts and flip flops!

But the baptisms did happen. And both people were extremely happy to finally be able to take part in this symbol of their faith. All in all, it was a great time. My American-ness just wished I had time to prepare ๐Ÿ™‚

The good news – it wasn’t about me. It was about these new believers, and giving God the glory for what He is doing in their lives. Thank you Lord.

Posted in Nation of Georgia

Bitter-sweet Ending

For the last week, we have had the honor of hosting a team from Colorado. They come from a church that has adopted the country of Georgia, and are therefore supporting both myself and the Ocasio’s, as well as supporting whatever projects are needed in the region. The team has been amazing. They are four guys that came with the purpose of working – and working hard – to build bathrooms for the church building (squatty-potties, but at least we finally have something other than a tin shed with a hole in the ground!) as well as a stage – where there has been just a cement slab in the sanctuary. To say we are grateful for this team would be an understatement. They accomplished so much in only a week, in addition to providing some much-needed fellowship for us Telavi-based Americans.

Our gorgeous new stage!

As they left this morning, it hit me how much fun this week has been. And how much I am going to miss having them here. They were great company, but it was more than just that. I am now realizing how much I miss that group dynamic. Yes, I have the Ocasio’s, and oh how grateful I am for them! But there is something special about a group of people coming together for work & fellowship. Especially when it means you don’t have to think about speaking another language or making cultural missteps. There is truly something special about having people that understand your sarcasm, that get your jokes, enjoy the same things and just understand in general where you are coming from.

A Georgian feast at the best restaurant in Telavi

So now that they are gone, it will be a little lonely. At least until this evening when the Ocasio girls come over for a slumber party ๐Ÿ™‚

The Georgians (and us honorary Georgians) in front of a 900+ year old tree in the center of Telavi. This is the same tree as the one of the U.S. team at the top of this post.