Saturday, April 13, 2013

Meet... Phyllis

Chrysti came up with a good, simple title for this series: "Meet the Missionary Moms." Thanks, Chrysti! And thank you to everyone for your questions. Here is my attempt at answering them....

How was your experience in the Russian school? What did you experience and what did you learn from it and think about it?
I worked for two years in a Russian private school that is--to put it bluntly--for rich kids. I loved my time there! I loved the kids and my coworkers and the environment. That's really where I learned Russian, since I was pretty much the only English speaker. I just recently finished reading a Russian book about Americans, and the chapter comparing Russian and American education is almost exactly what I saw, too. The Russian education system is excellent. However, it is really based on a lot of rote memorization and hard work and filling the children's heads with facts. They learn a lot! The author of this book says that Russian schools teach more (and Russian children learn more) than American children, but American schools do a better job of making it fun and interesting and practical for the rest of life. In his words, Russian schools go "wide," but American schools go "deep." Another comparison I often make when people ask me, is that American teachers might tend to be so worried about hurting a child's self-esteem, that they would sacrifice on the educational front; a wrong answer might get a response like, "No, that's not quite right," and the opportunity for correction could be missed. In a Russian school, a child who gives a wrong answer is likely to hear, "That's wrong. You're stupid." They learn that there is right and there is wrong, and that those are two very different things! (Not always, of course. I'm making generalizations, but I think they're acceptable in this case.) That was a long answer; I did say that I like to talk about pedagogy, didn't I?

What does your family eat? Over the years have you started to cook more Russian/Ukrainian or do you adapt Russian/Ukrainian ingredients to cook American dishes?
It's probably about 50/50. Or simplified Russian with a healthy twist? I must admit that even after almost 5 years in Ukraine (that anniversary is coming up on May 1!), I don't like salo. My children love it, though, so that makes up for my deficiency. Our Sunday tradition reflects the way we eat: every single Sunday we have pelmeni or vareniki for a fast and filling meal after church (Russian), but then we have popcorn for dinner (very un-Russian!).

Do your kids feel more Russian or more American? Since you speak Russian at home do your kids view themselves as Russian?
They do, or did. I've been working on changing that a little. We try to use the term our church family in Russia (and here some, too) used for us: Russian-American. I just recently heard my daughter echo that for the first time. We were talking about a public figure who had moved from Russia to America and gotten citizenship there. She said, "Oh, he's Russian-American, just like us!" Still not quite right, but that's closer to reality than just calling themselves plain Russian.

When did you first knew you were supposed to be a missionary? When did God place that calling on your life... and was it immediately and always to Slavic countries?
It's been as long as I can remember. (Apparently in my very early years I wanted to be a turtle when I grew up, but I don't remember that.  I have kept my love for turtles. They're still my favorite animal.) It was always and immediately to Russia. The generalization to Slavic countries came much more recently.

What is your best trick for language learning?
Hah! I am not the one to ask! I guess I would say that if you have a chance at the beginning to focus only on language study, then take it! I have always been a little sad to have missed that. Practically, though, I'd say don't be proud. I really had to work to overcome some pride before I would start speaking. Reading really helps me now. First I read along with audio books. Now I just read.

What things are unique to Slavic culture.... holidays, typical foods, etc?
I hardly even know where to start with this one! Especially if you're talking to Ukrainians about their culture, talk about salo. It's like a joke, but it's true. If it's "American as apple pie," the equivalent is definitely, "Ukrainian as salo." Holidays: just knowing that we're often on a different schedule than the rest of the world is a good starting place. Also, books: this is more Russian or general Slavic than just Ukrainian, but it's traditionally a very literary culture, and we talk a lot about books.

What do you love most about being a missionary mom? And what aspect of this life drives you the craziest?
May I just say that I love everything about this life? If I had to chose one thing, one word, I'd probably say that I love the simplicity. I really, really love that I get to live here and raise my children in this setting. Even if I were not a believer and didn't have the privilege of doing this for the Lord, I'd probably have found a way to live here. Well, I love almost everything. The hardest part for me is having to live with feet in two worlds. I think I would have liked living in the days of Amy Carmichael and other pioneer missionaries, when they just left and that was it. Even though I know that life was very hard, it would just have been easier for me in a few ways. I am not saying that I would have liked cutting off contact with all my friends and loved ones back in America! That is NOT true. It's just that I really struggle with the traveling back and forth and trying to hold those long-distance ties in the right balance. I am very grateful for technology and fast transportation to help with keeping us connected in this era, though. I am not happy with how I'm explaining this but I'll leave it. I'll just summarize with this: I like the simple Russian life; I don't like trying to keep up with two separate worlds.

Whew. That was a lot. Thank you so much for "listening"! And thank you again for your thoughtful questions. I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my life.

P.S. I'm editing this to add that I missed one person's questions! Somehow, in the back and forth of copying and pasting, I just didn't get these. Sorry, Sarah!

How and when your love for all things Slavic began?
Strangely, I don't know. I just tell people that God put it in there when He made me. I have always loved Russia.

How did you meet your husband?
That has a very simple and short answer: we went to the same Bible school. The slightly longer answer is that it is a small Bible school, and everyone knew that we were both headed to Russia, so it was two years of everyone pushing us toward each other and trying to set up a match. We finally gave in.

What area of ministry are you most passionate and excited about?
Good question to pull my eyes up from my current full-time home ministry! I'd have to say orphan work. More than just having my heart ache for the children, the possibilities of change for their whole lives gets me excited.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Next up, Christie:
Here's a peek into my life. We moved from South Carolina to the heart of South America (Paraguay) four and a half years ago. In the US we were youth pastors who also directed summer camps. Here we focus mainly on youth as well. Our two daughters are now teens and have always been homeschooled. I thought some magic light would click on one day and I'd find the perfect fit for their learning styles and personalities and our family situation, but that never quite happened. We CAN SAY that we have experience in every type of curriculum, however! Last year, when things didn't go as planned, we were stuck planning an entire year for two high schoolers strictly from free material online.

Since shattering my femur a couple years ago, I've been in rehab to learn to walk again, and have had to slow things down quite a bit. Sure, that's a hassle, but space has opened up for a few hobbies I didn't have time to indulge in before, as well as devoting time to some that were set aside. Playing flute (after a 25 year break), web design, and reading are among those. I write book reviews for many publishers, so I have access to new or even not-yet-published books for free, a huge blessing.

I have a sort of addiction to learning. Since beginning to work with youth in prisons, I've been taking continuing ed courses related to that. We are in the process of opening a cafe/youth center near the universities in town, as a ministry to teens and young adults, so I am dabbling in small business courses and whatever I can find that fits our situation. All online, all free. That's my motto. ;)
What do you want to talk to Christie about? Please post your interview questions for her in the comments here. (Also, if you don't want to comment, or can't, feel free to send your questions to me, and I'll pass them on to her:


  1. do you mind sharing how old your girls are? and what are they thinking about after high school?

    where do you find out more about free on line classes - and if they are free, do they count as continuing ed credits, etc.?

    why paraguay?

    what's your favorite thing about being a missionary mom? what is your least favorite one?

  2. Richelle has some great questions! They cover what I was curious about, so I'll add an easy one:
    Tea or coffee? And what is your favorite flavor or kind?

    Oh, and since if we met, I know we'd talk about homeschooling:
    What are some of the curriculums that you've used, since you say that you've experienced every type?

    1. Oh, my! I'd better start now on that curriculum list. Should I go A-Z or year by year.... hmmmmmm....... :)

  3. It's great to read a bit more about you, Phyllis. Thanks for your answers!

    Christie, what is your favorite thing about Paraguay and what is the food like there?

    How do you girls feel about living in Paraguay? Was it challenging for them to move there? How old were they when you moved?

    1. I'm going to have to practice a lot of self-discipline to answer these questions in a post, instead of a book. I'll work on summing my answers up in a few sentences!! ;)