It Happened in Moscow (review)

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It-Happened-in-Moscow0001It Happened in Moscow: A Memoir of Discovery by Maureen Klassen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It Happened In Moscow begins with a surprise phone call to Herb and Maureen Klassen’s Moscow apartment in 1993. That call opened a Pandora’s box of secrets.

Herb’s parents (C.F. and Mary Klassen) had immigrated from Russia to Canada in 1928 in the nick of time, just before the doors to exit Stalin’s Communist Russia slammed shut. Though Mary’s children knew that she was a divorcée at the time she married C.F., she rarely spoke of her early life and never mentioned her 10-year first marriage. Even Harold (her son by that marriage) only found out about his birth father at his 16th birthday when C.F. and Mary sat him down to reveal the truth. Both C.F. and Mary had since died, so many questions about Mary remained unanswered.

Now the female voice on the other end of that phone call claimed she was Harold’s younger sister Erika.

If this was indeed so, could Erika hold answers to the mystery of Mary’s first marriage? Did she know what had happened to Mary’s first husband (and Harold’s father)? Could she shed light on how an entire generation of Russian Mennonites had fared during that period in Russia?

It Happened in Moscow is memoir—the unfolding of a fascinating family discovery through Maureen Klassen’s eyes. In 1993 Maureen and Herb Klassen were working for Mennonite organizations in Moscow and were fluent in Russian and German. These things made them the perfect recipients for the information that Erika had gleaned in her search for family. Via Erika, the family learned the fate of Jacob (Mary’s first husband) and thousands of Mennonites who were hindered from or chose not to immigrate from Soviet Russia.

Maureen Klassen’s charitable depiction of the two main players in this tale (Mary and Erika) make this an uplifting and pleasurable story to read. Historically, the way it shines a light on years of religious repression under the Communists makes it an integral piece of the Mennonite puzzle. It is also a testimony to God’s faithfulness through generations.

If you’re interested in Mennonite history or even just enjoy a well-crafted memoir with lots of human interest delivered in cultural detail with historical accuracy, you’ll love this book.

(My sister-in-law who, with my brother, lived for a time in Mary’s “glasshouse” in Clearbrook B.C., lent me this book.)

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Hospitality #BibleJournaling

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Are you the kind of person who likes surprises thrown into your day? Or are you a scheduler who prefers to have your day outlined in your planner and then proceed according to plan?

I’m definitely the latter. So, a few weeks ago when I read, in Matthew 14, about Jesus’ botched up day plans, I took notice.

His relative John, who had baptized Him, had recently been arrested and imprisoned by Herod. Then, through the trickery of Herod’s partner Herodias, John was beheaded. His disciples disposed of his body then went to tell Jesus.

On hearing of John’s death, Jesus’ plan was to get away to a “deserted place by Himself,” no doubt to process this sad news and to grieve.

When He got to that deserted place, however, it wasn’t deserted at all. Instead, throngs were waiting for Him there with their sick.

Did Jesus express disappointment or frustration at having His plans changed? Did he dismiss the crowds or get His disciples to do it with “Sorry! The healer isn’t seeing people today”?

No. Instead, He was moved with compassion over their conditions, spent all day healing, and at day’s end, when the disciples wanted to send the crowds home, challenged them to feed everyone before they set off.

You have to be hospitable to the core to react toward the crowds like Jesus did in the face of grief, disappointment, and wrecked plans. For hospitality is first an attitude before it comes out in action. Jesus’ hospitality was the focus of my art journal entry for Matthew 14.

To make the illustration I transferred an online image of cupped hands onto tracing paper, then drew, cut out, and pasted the loaves and fishes into them. I attached the hands to my Bible page with Washi tape as a tip-out. They symbolize Jesus’ heart of hospitality.

I hope the image of loaded hands stays with me next time someone’s needs come between me and what’s written in my planner!

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“But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need t go away. You give them something to eat'” – Matthew 14:16 (© 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

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Fire Test #BibleJournaling

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You may have heard about the wildfires that are devastating the interior of B.C. Here in the southwest corner of the province we have been getting a daily reminder of those fires in hazy, smoke-filled skies. Though we’ve had a stretch of clear weather, the sky lights up late and darkens early under an other-worldly red sun.

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The sun Sunday, 8:00 p.m. (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

But I’m not complaining. Especially not when I think of the hundreds that have been evacuated from their homes and those who have lost them altogether to the flames.

The recent smoky skies have brought to mind a Bible woman who lost her home to fire. Lot’s wife reacted like I can see myself acting when strangers hurried her, her husband Lot, and their two daughters from their home in Sodom. She didn’t want to go. I think we can say that her look back showed how conflicted she was about leaving home (read the story in Genesis 19:15-26).

Last week I did a Bible art journal entry on Lot’s wife. I drew her frozen in time, looking back at her burning city.

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Then I added, as a tip-in page, a poem I wrote about her nine years ago. In it, I tried to imagine what was going through her mind as she was being pulled away from her home.

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Fire Test

Who are these strangers to command we leave?
Right now? You wear the embroidered robe
I’ll take the pouch. What about food
and drink, our girls’ betrothed?

Why are we rushing from all we’ve ever wanted?
My beautiful home, the market so handy,
your place at the gate, our hope of grandsons?

Wait! I’m hot and thirsty, out of breath,
Reminds me of those desert days—
the dusty road, the heat
my sweaty body, my sore feet.

Where are we going? I’ve had enough of traveling!
I refuse to take another step. Turn back
to everything I own, have ever wanted, loved.

What? Is that smoke on the horizon?
Are those flames? My house, my dreams
my things—all I’ve ever lived for!
My beloved Sod—

VN – 2008

The implied question I ask myself—and the reader—through the poem is, could it be that my life is also too bound up in earthly things—my possessions, position, lifestyle, home? It’s a question that occurs to me again as I see people forced to leave their homes in real life.

It also reminds me that God will someday pass our lives through a real fire test (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). If all we’ve put our faith and hope in is our physical life on earth with all its accessories (including our houses, things, lifestyle, position, career) they will burn up then, even if they last through this life.

Let’s be sure we invest our time and talents in things that are inflammable. What would you suggest those things might be?

In a Foreign Land (review)

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In a Foreign Land (In Search of Freedom Book 2)In a Foreign Land by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel and Luise Martens have built up a successful farm in northern China. The year is 1945 and fifteen years have passed since the Mennonite villagers from Slavgorod Colony of Western Siberia have escaped their Russian oppressors (story told in The Other Side of the River: Search for Freedom Book 1 – reviewed here).

Alarm bells ring from the opening pages when we discover Daniel’s Russian nemesis, Leonid Dubrowsky, is still alive and hot on Daniel’s heels for revenge.

The political unrest in Russia and China after WWII makes for a time of unrest in northern China. Daniel and other Russians who fled the Soviet Union are soon arrested and returned there as traitors. This leaves Luise and her 15-year-old bright but hot-tempered son Danny in charge of the farm.

The story takes us through the six years that follow. The fractured Martens family and their white neighbours, the Giesingers, become persona non grata in the now racially charged climate of Communist China. Danny’s temper gets him into trouble more than once. And then there’s the ever-looming shadow of Dubrowsky, who nurses the dream of wreaking vengeance on Daniel by destroying Danny and having his way with Luise.

The interesting historical plot is enhanced by the strong Christian faith of Luise and Rachel (Danny’s special childhood friend). It anchors the two families, while Danny’s questions and inability to believe that God even exists in all this turmoil adds realism to the faith aspect of the story.

I found this tale captivating from beginning to end. Dick tells the story through various viewpoints but chapters are titled with location and date so we’re always clear about when and where the incident takes place. Characters are realistic and complex. The plot is full of tension and suspense.

There is one more installment in the In Search of Freedom series. Book 3, Far Side of the Sea, is due to be released in the fall / winter of 2017.

This is a series not to be missed for historical fiction lovers, especially those with Mennonite roots.

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Self-portrait #BibleJournaling

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A self-portrait in a Bible? Really!?

That was Rebekah R. Jones’ Week 17 Original Bible Art Journaling Challenge. In response to Genesis 1:27 (“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”), she created a lovely portrait of herself holding a container of art supplies. She transferred the image from a photograph and coloured it with ink tense pencils (devotional and video HERE).

Rebekah’s challenge was “Choose to create something that expresses you best. What God created and loves about you. He puts desires in our heart and loves to see us enjoy life.”

After watching the video I wondered, can I even do this? I’m so bad at drawing people!  What would I make? Do I have a picture that represents me in such an iconic way?

As I mulled over these things I remembered a photo hubby took of me some years ago. We were hiking on Salt Spring Island and in the background were trees, the rocky bluffs, and the ocean. I’ve always loved and felt a special kinship with the natural world so I decided to try and create a self-portrait using that photo.

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I printed the photo in black and white and traced over it, transferring it to my Bible page using graphite paper. Then I darkened the outline with pigma micron pens and the colour with pencil crayons and a little watercolour.

As I was working on my portrait, an incident came to mind. It happened on a January day in 2016. It had rained all day and I felt cooped up in the house. Late afternoon the rain stopped and I went for a short walk.

The glint of white and the shape of a duck-tail head caught my attention as I passed a local stream. Could it be the pair of ducks I’d seen there very occasionally?

I slowed, stopped, and sure enough. It was a couple of Hooded Mergansers. I watched as this showy pair swam, dived, and swam some more in front of me and my camera.

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A pair of Hooded Mergansers, one of the photos I snapped that January day (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

I was full of happiness as I walked home a few minutes later, overjoyed to have chanced on these lovely birds. “Thank You, Lord,” I prayed silently.

And then I sensed God saying to me, “Violet, I know you. I know you love such things. It was not by chance that you spotted and enjoyed those birds on your walk today. I was in it–not just for you but also for Me.

“I know you enjoy making things. So do I. And I love it when you appreciate and enjoy the things I have made, just like you love it when people appreciate and enjoy what you make.” {goosebumps much?}

On that day, then, I grasped in a deeper way than ever before, what it means that I am created in the image of God. And so I added a stream to my picture and drew a couple of mergansers swimming in it.

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How would you illustrate Rebekah’s challenge of what expresses you best, of how you are created in God’s image? Maybe you should do it!

 

I will remember #BibleJournaling

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In her video series on Bible Journaling, Rebekah R. Jones remembers the story of her miracle healing in a Bible art journal project connected to Psalm 77:11:

“I will remember the works of the LORD;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.”

She demonstrates, on the video, how to make a striking rainbow page out of vellum, colored with gelatos and the word “REMEMBER” at the bottom. (You can watch it below.)

She challenges her reader, in the accompanying blog devotional:

“Will you take time to think back to a time in your own life when God reached out and poured His goodness on You? Will you thank Him again for it … Create something this week that helps you remember God’s wondrous works.”

Thinking back over my life, I can’t say I have a story of a miraculous healing or provision. But I am thankful for a quiet miracle of sorts.

Just over 20 years ago, when my kids were finally both in school and my home-based medical transcription business was established, I revisited a teenage dream—to be a writer.

All my life I’ve been a reader and for years had promised myself someday I’d be a writer—a published writer. Approaching a milestone birthday back then, I decided to do something about my dream.

I enrolled in a correspondence writing course and lo-and-behold, less than two years later, in March of 1997, I sold my first piece—a devotional to Keys for Kids. (Believe it or not, they’re still around!)

All these years later, I’m still writing. No, I’m not famous, but I do have three binders of clips to show that God has helped me realize a teenage dream.

My art journal drawing is an old-fashioned feather quill pen and a few books, including the Bible and My Utmost for His Highest (a fav devotional).

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The verse I chose to put on the scroll (Psalm 102:18) expresses what reading and writing have meant and still mean to me. I have been impacted spiritually far more by especially memoirs and biographies than any lecture or Bible study class. What a supernatural thing God does with words, quickening them within the reader to spiritual life though they may have been written decades earlier and continents away!

The dove with a leaf in its mouth, signifying the life-giving Holy Spirit, is what I desire for the devotions, articles, poems, blog posts, and books that I write.

What life memories does Psalm 77:11 evoke in you?

Permission Pages #BibleJournaling

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A while ago I came across blog post: “Permission Pages: the perfectionist’s approach to the journaling Bible.” Lauren, the creator of that post, explains well what “Permission Pages” are and why one might want to create one, or several, in a journaling Bible.

I loved the idea and added two as tip-ins at the front of my Bible. If you view Lauren’s original post, you’ll see that I included many of her ideas on my pages and added a few more of my own.

The pages are parchment paper, attached to the inside of the front cover pages with washi tape. The lettering was done with Pigma Micron pens, the coloring with pencil crayons.

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“This Bible is for…” permission page 1 (V. Nesdoly)

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“This Bible is not for …” and “These pages may …” permission page 2 (V. Nesdoly)

Creating these pages was a good way for me to revisit why I’m doing this, and my expectations of myself and what the process of Bible art journaling will do for me. If you’re a Bible journaler, you might want to create permission pages for your journaling Bible.

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