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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 😊.

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? 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. 🙂

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 🙂

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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.
Posted in Uncategorized

Hallelujah Week

Hallelujah week – that’s the only way I can think to describe this crazy, busy, chaotic as only Georgia can be, scary, challenging and blessed week. Let me explain by starting at the beginning, okay technically a little before the week began – last Saturday.

Saturday (the Sabbath here in Telavi) started out as normal Saturday. Church starts at 1pm, and I went as usual. There is a new child, about 12 years old, that has been coming with his grandmother for the last few weeks. After the service, Pastor Dato opened the floor to prayer requests, and this boy stepped forward. Not only was he asking for prayer for his family to know Christ, he wanted to dedicate his own life to Christ for the first time. What a miracle! His grandmother has been such a huge part of the growth of the church, and now you can see it spreading into the other generations.

Then, we fast forward to Monday. Included in the funds raised before I came to Georgia was funds for a used vehicle. I have been putting off that purchase so that I could come to know the town of Telavi intimately, but walking everywhere. But that has really limited my ability to do, well, everything. So I decided to make the leap and start looking for a car. I started the search at the end of last week, and on Monday we found the perfect one. Not only has it only been owned by Americans, but it has been owned only by embassy workers in Tbilisi, so it has a spotless record, including detailed maintenance records. We went to Tbilisi on Tuesday to see it and test drive it. Because I am purchasing it from an embassy worker, the embassy is taking care of all of the paperwork including title, registration and car passport (yes, care need passports here). I go back this Monday to pick it up. It runs well, and has 4WD so I know I will be able to get around the hillside of Telavi in the winter snow. Ugh…that’s what I dread, driving here in the snow. With very few driving laws in place, and even fewer enforced, I can only imagine the chaos of driving on ice and snow. But I guess that’s for a future post. 🙂

On Wednesday, after my language lesson, I met with the pastor’s wife for some Georgian discussion practice. I am pleased to say that I only had to ask for the meaning of a few of the words – much better than last week’s meeting! Of course, I am still struggling to come up with the words to respond. And she is much better about speaking slowly so I can catch the words as she speaks them, then most. But it is improvement, and after a few fails this week, that is what I really needed to see. And after my lesson & discussion practice yesterday, I feel like I will eventually get there. Now to just memorize all of these verbs!

So while this last week was a lot of the same, normal chaos, I can definitely look back and see God’s handiwork in the week. I hope to see more salvations in the coming months. And I know that God was in the purchase of the vehicle. As for my language acquisition, I see progress – some in comprehension, and some in my reading (I now own a Georgian Bible, and use it alongside my English version daily).  God is good!

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Babylon’s One Language

Today I had another “Georgian as my second language” experience. It all started because I have finally found 2 people to help me practice my newly developed language “skills” (I use that term loosely). Since I will be spending a couple of hours with each of them every week, I did what is expected of Georgians – I baked something to give as a gift when I enter their home. Banana bread – that’s all I wanted to make. But as I popped my first loaf into the oven, I realized I didn’t have enough sugar to make additional loaves. So, I ran to the little market down the block. 

The little store only had one bag of sugar left. And it wasn’t a large bag either. I attempted to ask them if they had any more in the back, but it went terribly wrong. They kept telling me that there was no discount on sugar, but if I was looking for butter, they just marked down one brand that they carry. I kept telling them no thanks, I needed more sugar. And they just kept telling me there was no discount. So I purchased my little bag of sugar and left. 

As I was walking home, it dawned on me what had just taken place. I was using the word for “more”, meaning higher. Not the word for “additional”. They thought I was trying to get them to give me a cheaper price on the sugar, not get additional bags. Aye carumba! 

Tonight at the church prayer meeting, the church elders began to explain to one of the new believers about the story of the Tower of Babel, and how everyone spoke one language until God scattered the people and confused their tongues. And it hit me that I can blame them for all of my language issues here in Georgia! 

Not really, but it did make me think about how we communicate with God. No matter how confused our tongue may get, no matter how much we stumble to find the right words, God always gets our true meaning. And since we have the Holy Spirit in us, we can always fall back on our spirit language to help! I am so grateful that I have a God that wants to speak to me, wants to hear from me, and is willing to be patient when it’s just too difficult to put my thoughts and feelings into words. 

Posted in Nation of Georgia

Water anyone?

As I sit and wait to leave for church on this beautiful Saturday, I realize that the electricity has gone out, again. I’m so glad that I showered, dried and curled my hair, and did everything necessary to get ready long before it was time to go. I’ve realized since being here that I can be an early bird, and it has many perks. 

For one thing, the town waterworks only runs in the morning. So if I don’t get up early enough to make sure my apartment’s water tank gets filled, I could go a day without running water. Secondly, I have come to value my early morning (6:30ish) walks to the spring to get drinking water… especially since I am usually the only one awake and outside, with a few exceptions (taxi drivers and the night shift street sweeper). This town lives at night, so for most the day doesn’t even begin until around 10am…there is no such thing as a 6 or even 7 am rush hour. 
I’ve also realized how happy I am to have those bottles of drinking water, since my home’s plumbing depends on the electricity-powered pump. It’s funny how the smallest things can be an issue…like realizing you still need to brush your teeth before church only after the power goes out. 

All in all, though, you learn to adapt quickly to these minor inconveniences. After all, the town is a wonderful place to live, and the people are amazingly hospitable. And now I can’t wait to get to church and see everyone. 🙂

Posted in Nation of Georgia

Children in Georgia

Since my focus here (once I learn the language) is to recruit and train people to work with children, I thought I would share what I have learned about the kids so far.

First off, as I have shared before, kids are very important to a family, and a village/town. Kids here walk everywhere by themselves, or in groups, because they are completely safe. Just a couple of days I was talking with a Georgian about this, and he said that they have no concern about their children going off by themselves, because they do not have the “really sick” people like we have in America. And if anyone did do anything to a child here, he and his house would go up in flames before the cops could arrive. And when speaking with a mother about children walking off in a store, she commented that here they do not worry about where they went, but how much candy they were being fed.

Secondly, because children are the focus of the family, they tend to be given everything that they want. Early on children learn that if they scream loud enough, they will get what they want. And so they do. This entitlement is different than in America, though. In America, it is about getting the most expensive stuff in order to buy love. In Georgia, it is more about the little things…like not wanting to wait for anything (because as a child, you can walk into a store and cut in front of the line). Rather than focusing the spoiling on things and possessions, they tend to spoil with attention and little gestures of affection and pride.

A third thing I have noticed is that the kids do not spend much time in school. In fact, they rarely go for more than 3 or 4 hours a day. The days are broken up, and kids go to school at different times…some in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening, with classes ending at 7pm. I could probably write an entire post or two on their education system, but let me sum it up in this way. Kids do not learn much at school, especially since they don’t go for very long. So for the important subjects like math, science, etc. they pay for tutors to actually teach them. And that is in addition to homework and all of the extracurricular activities that they pay tutors for…like piano, violin, dance, etc. You think kids in America are over-scheduled? Try handling all of that each day…

And lastly, kids here seem to turn into restless teens. I know, that sounds just like in America, but it’s true. These kids are looking for something more. And so they start drinking and smoking at a young age (I have not yet found anyone that can say if they have a legal age for either), partying, staying out late (after all, it’s “safe”) and just generally look for something fulfilling in all of the wrong places. There may not be the intense peer pressure like in America, but they still all have the desire to fit in, to find where they belong, and figure out who they are – despite what the culture or their parents tell them about who they are.

They are all looking for Christ, without realizing it. Oh, what fun I will have once I am able to start the ministry phase of my time here!

Oh and one last thing…yes, fidget spinners have officially become a thing here. They are now in every little neighborhood corner store. 🙂

 

Posted in Uncategorized

And now we have language…

My first week of language lessons is complete, and boy am I ready for a break. It’s been far too long since my brain had to work this hard! I can feel the synapses struggling to fire…to reignite after too many years of idleness :). 

Ok, so it’s not that bad. In fact it is actually going pretty well. I can already introduce myself, speak about my family, say numbers, tell time, give directions and conjugate a few simple verbs. And I am learning how to properly draw the letters.

I have been purposefully going out to buy one or two things each day so that I can use my new language skills. And it has been a blast. I love learning new things…and to be able to use it right away? Even better! This weekend I have a lot of homework…some writing, some memorization. But if it means I can one day break thru my communication limitations, it is totally worth it. 

And I have taken some time to have some fun, too. Yesterday was National Children’s Day, and I was able to attend the festivities, which just happened to be taking place right below my apartment balcony. And I have taken some time to finally unpack all of my luggage. I still need some more organizational tools…like cabinets 😀. But I am slowly getting there. One day at a time, right? 

Well, that’s all for now. Can’t wait to share what new adventures I will have next week!