Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Straw Man vs. Lisa Miller

In her Newsweek editorial, Our Mutual Joy, Lisa Miller argues for the Biblical support of gay marriage. She opens with the intent to “define marriage as the Bible does.” She begins her definition with the examples of Abraham, his grandson Jacob, then King David and his son Solomon. Her conclusion is, “…all these fathers and heroes were polygamists.” The implications seem clear. The Old Testament teaches polygamy as the norm for marriage; therefore Biblical norm does not apply to the issue of gay marriage today. Next she moves to the New Testament and teaches that Jesus preached “indifference to earthly attachments – especially family”. Further, Paul saw marriage as “a last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust.” Her conclusion in the first paragraph is that the Bible is not a “how-to script” for marriage.
Miller’s editorial is lengthy and touches on so many points that it is difficult to respond to them all. However, I do think that it is necessary to respond to every point. There is one major point, demonstrated in this first paragraph that colors the entire article. Miller’s stated purpose is to “define marriage as the Bible does”, but what she demonstrates is how poorly she understands the Bible. She not only demonstrates her ignorance of the Bible but also her ignorance of how serious conservatives understand the Bible. What we have in this editorial is a classic example of the “Straw man” fallacy. The straw man fallacy is when you build an argument that looks like your opponents argument but is much weaker. You refute the weaker argument and claim to have refuted the real argument. This is analogous to building a straw man and dressing it up to look like your opponent. Then you beat up the straw man and claim to have beaten your opponent. In both cases you have neither beaten up your opponent nor refuted his arguments. A survey of the first paragraph is enough to show how poor Millers understanding really is. The rest of the article consists of more of the same type of straw man beatings.
First, she picks four Old Testament heroes (Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon) that practiced polygamy and implies that this is the normative teaching of the Old Testament. The first thing that jumped out at me was that she didn’t mention Abraham’s son (also a patriarch), Isaac. Isaac had one wife, Rebekah. Why skip from Abraham to Jacob? I can’t say for sure because I don’t to put words in Miller’s mouth but I can guess that it would cast some doubt on the argument that the Old Testament model of polygamy was normative. Second, she sets this model forward as normative but makes no mention of any mandate to multiple marriage or blessing of multiple marriages. In fact the opposite can be found. Solomon, one of the heroes cited by Miller, wrote in Proverbs, “Drink water from your own cistern…should your springs be scattered abroad…let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:15ff). It seems that Solomon’s advice is to love the wife (singular) of your youth and not look for others. Third, Miller makes no mention of the jealousies and problems that resulted from these men’s polygamy. Her assumption seems to be that if you can find it in the Bible, then God must approve. The enormity of the foolishness of such an assumption is beyond my ability to express in words. The Bible consists of many different genres of writing and the different books are written for different purposes and this background information can drastically color the ability of the reader to understand the author’s intent. Finally, she also makes no mention of the many men, especially prophets, who had just one wife. If we just used numbers of marriages in the Old Testament, most were between one man and one woman, yet Miller finds this so insignificant that she doesn’t even deem it worthy of mentioning in her editorial.
Now let’s turn to the New Testament examples mentioned by Miller, Jesus and Paul. She states that Jesus was “indifferent to earthly attachments – especially family.” She gives no reference but I can guess where maybe she got that impression. Perhaps she got it from Mark 3:35, Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. Or how about in Matthew 10:37 when Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” These are difficult saying to be sure. And an argument could be made that these statements show that Jesus put a high value on family. The Christian’s love for Jesus should be stronger than his/her strongest earthly tie. Jesus uses the family relationship as an example of this strongest of earthly ties. It is amazing how someone could read such a statement and classify the speaker as indifferent toward family. Such is the scholarship of Miller. But there is yet more to Jesus indifference to family. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for encouraging people to give money to the temple that should be used to care for their parents (Mark 7:9-13). Further, one of His last thoughts on the cross was of his mother. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, you son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27). Again, I find it hard to believe that one could read such a tender moment and define Jesus’ attitude toward family as indifferent.
Miller also declares that Paul has a lukewarm attitude toward marriage. It is true that he said that it is better to marry than to burn. He also told husbands “…love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it…In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself. For no one has ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, as Christ does the church. For we are parts of his body-of his flesh and of his bones. That is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Eph 5:25ff). I find it difficult to define someone as lukewarm when he commands husbands to nourish and tenderly care for their wives. Paul is writing about the mystery of the church and marriage and this is a difficult passage. But the point here is that one cannot read such profound thoughts and describe the author “lukewarm” toward the marriage relationship.
Miller also makes no mention of Peter. Peter was married and said things like, “In a similar way, you husbands must live with your wives in an understanding manner, as with a most delicate vessel. Honor them as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing may interfere with your prayers. (I Peter 3:7). At the end of the first paragraph Miller asks the question, “Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple…turn to the Bible as a how-to script?” She answers, “Of course not.” I answer, “Of course”. If all the husbands of America simply took to heart this one sentence of Peter’s as a “how to” guide for marriage, we would have a very different picture of marriage in this land of ours.
Now, I think this short analysis of just the first paragraph of Miller’s editorial clearly demonstrates the depth of her scholarship when it comes to the Bible. Sadly, her scholarship doesn’t seem to reach even the depth of surface understanding. Yet, the fact-checkers and editors at Newsweek deem her opinion worth not just of publication but of the lead editorial.
The kindest explanation of Miller’s poor presentation of the Biblical teaching concerning marriage is that she did not know that the Old and New Testaments presented a rich and complex number of examples of marriage and teaching about marriage. In this case, she simply didn’t do her homework and neither did the Newsweek fact checkers. In the worst case scenario, she understood the complexity of the Biblical teaching and presented an erroneous picture. In either case I don’t see why anyone would take her opinion on Biblical matters seriously.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

So. Cal. Home school

Julie has been away for several days. That means that I get to do the lion’s share of home-school with Joseph and Micah. Home school on Wednesday reminded again of how much I love California. On Wednesdays Joseph and Micah have an “academic” day. That doesn’t mean that the other days are not academic, it means that they get to go to an actual classroom and learn from a different teacher. Well, Micah had a class from 9:30am to 11:30am then Joseph had a class from noon to two. The meeting place is about a 30 minute drive from our house so it is not worth it to return home while one of them is in class. Luckily, there is a park next to the class meeting place. But, it is November 5th, we can’t study outside….Ahhh but this is Southern California.

Above, Joseph does his math next to the lake. To the left, he is sitting at a bench taking a break from history to talk to a crow in a tree.

Joseph and I enjoyed a splendid morning of math and history by the lake. After lunch with Micah, Joseph went to class and Micah and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon of the “War of 1812”, “Supreme Court” and the concept of “Checks and Balances” by the lake. I miss Odessa, but I love this place.
Finally, here is a picture of my with Dave Tucker last November in Odessa.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

He shall write for himself....

Bible reading is a regular part of our life as individuals and as a family. Julie homeschools Joseph and Micah and most days start with a short devotional reading and discussion. Usually I am already into my day when school starts so the three of them have their special time together. Recently, as sometimes happens, our roles reversed. Julie needed to take care of some things so I was the morning school-master. The kids had been talking about the importance of the Bible as the Word of God so I chose to discuss a passage from Deuteronomy.

When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,” you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves….Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14-15, 18-20)

Our discussion was interesting and took some unexpected turns. We spoke of the sovereignty of God. Most of Deuteronomy was written as a retelling of the Law to the new generation of Israelites before they crossed the Jordan to take possession of the land. If we take the document or at least the content as coming from the hand of Moses, then it was probably written around 1400 BC. The interesting thing about this passage is it gives rules for “when” Israel has a king. Israel was a theocracy. They were ruled directly by God through prophets and judges. That was the way God had set up their government. They were to be distinct. However, God knew it would not last and made provision. The Israelites would have another 400 years or so of rule by judges before the time of Samuel and appointment of Saul as the first king.
Next our discussion followed the rules for the king and the kind of character that was expected from a king. For example, the king should not acquire much wealth, nor return to Egypt nor have many wives. Then we talked about 17:18 and following. One of the king’s first acts was to, with his own hand, write a copy of this law. By “this law” Moses probably meant the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) or at least the book of Deuteronomy. The king’s copy was to be approved by the Levites who were experts in the law and scribal practices. Then this copy was to become the king’s copy of the law. He was to keep it with him; he was to read it all the days of his life. The purpose of doing this was so that the king would fear the Lord, always observe the law, remain humble and not turn to the right or left.

Copying a book by hand was no easy task in 1400 BC. This was no east task in 1400 AD. Try to copy, perfectly, just chapter 17 of Deuteronomy. Joseph did. He did a good job but it took him some time. We discussed why God would have such a provision. Following are some of the ideas we came up with:

  • To engrain the law into the mind of the king

  • Knowing the law so well would make it less likely to stray from the law.

  • Having labored over the scroll, the king would probably have a stronger attachment to it. It would be more precious to him and he would be more likely to read and preserve it.

  • To show the king that God is very serious about his word.

Here is where the conversation got interesting. Someone noted that we don’t need to do this today. We purchase books, magazines, newspapers and often don’t even read them. But what if we had to copy the text of the books or articles we wanted to read? Would we read them more carefully? Then someone noted that we don’t have a king, we have a president and we will have new president soon. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but we talked about this significance of this passage to our modern day election. Well we are not a theocracy so as far as Moses was concerned, there is little application to the US government. However, the idea of having a written document filled with moral, theological and civil ideas and guidelines to guide the leader of a nation does overlap. Both Senator McCain and Obama claim to be Christians. That is between them and God but, if this is true, they should at least have a respect for the Bible and the principles it teaches. What if the new president took this one principle and applied it to his term in office? As a nation we are not ruled by the Bible but we do have three foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. How much more respect would our next president give these document if, as his first act in office, he hand copied each document, had his copy approved by an appropriate expert, read them regularly and used these hand written copies as his personal reference copies?

We all thought this would be a good idea no matter who won the election. So we decided to send each candidate an email suggesting this course of action.

Disclaimer: The Constitution is an important document but it certainly is not on the same level as the Bible. However, I would have a lot more confidence in president who took both documents seriously.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Only in California?

What's wrong with this picture?
We took this picture in August on our way home from a Ross family reunion in Herkey Creek near Hemet California. It made us homesick for Ukraine. Do you see why?

If you don't see it, we can take a closer look.

I love California and miss Odessa!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Let Us Welcome the Text Home

In the July/August Biblical Archaeological Review, Ben Witherington III comments in his article A Text Without A Home, “If text determines cannon, by which I mean the original inspired text of the gospel is what should be in the canon, then John 7:53-8:11 ought not to be in our Bibles”[1]. He goes on to quote some manuscript evidence as his reason for excluding the passage. He cites p66, p75, Aleph [Codex Sinaiticus], B [Codex Vaticanus] and a host of others (he doesn’t actually show the host, he just writes a host of others). He further recognizes that the passage “surely is one of the “many other things Jesus did” referred to in John 21:25.” The good professor’s final conclusion is that the text relates a true event but has no home in the Bible. He further states that he will not preach from the text, but will use the text to illustrate points from other passages.

I agree that the text does indeed relate a true event. I also agree that text does determine cannon. I don’t agree that the text does not have a home in the Bible. A second look at just the manuscript evidence will show that this passage is as old and widely attested as any variant reading we have. There is more to textual criticism than counting manuscripts and recording their age. There are many things to consider when determining whether a variant is original or not. I will not give an exhaustive explanation here but simply highlight a few important aspects of the extant evidence. First, we must distinguish between the age of the manuscript and the age of the reading. Manuscripts are copies of other manuscripts; therefore they preserve a reading older than the actual manuscript. Second, we will consider which variant is represented by the most text types. This tells us how widely accepted the passage was and discounts the influence of a single school of thought over the transmission of a variant. Finally, we must ask ourselves what is often considered the watershed question of textual criticism, “Which variant most likely gave rise to the others?”[2]

So, how old is the reading? Professor Witherington already established that some very good ancient Greek manuscripts exclude the passage. P66, p75, Aleph and B are all third to fourth century manuscripts thought to preserve a second century reading. The inclusion of John 7:53-8:11 does not have any such ancient Greek manuscript evidence. However, the passage is well attested in several Old Latin manuscripts. Often versional evidence is of little value because of grammar differences between languages. But with larger passages it demonstrates, without a doubt, that the text existed very early. Old Latin translations existed in North Africa as early as 180 AD, in Rome as early as 250 and are thought to preserve at least a second century reading[3]. So by considering the Old Latin, papyri and Uncial evidence we can conclude that as early as the second century the text was included in some manuscripts and excluded from others. The point here is that the evidence for inclusion is as old as the evidence for exclusion.
Next we consider which variant is represented by the most text types.

Because of the enormous volume of Greek manuscripts, ancient versions and Patristic citations of the New Testament available, the gathering of information on a particular variant can be overwhelming. To alleviate this problem, manuscripts can be grouped into broad text types that share similar characteristics.[4] The major witnesses for the exclusion of the passage almost all come from a single text type – the Alexandrian. This fact considerably weakens the evidence since the Alexandrian school could have excluded the passage very early and passed down that tradition. In contrast, the manuscript evidence for the inclusion of the passage includes texts from the Alexandrian, Western and Byzantine text types. Attestation from various text types considerably reduces the possibility of the influence of one school of thought or scholarship over the transmission of the text.

Finally, which variant most likely gave rise to the others? If we exclude the passage, the text flows nicely from John 7:52 to 8:12. It seems highly unlikely that a scribe would include a passage that breaks up such a nice flow of text. On the other hand, the pericope seems to indicate that Jesus may have been too forgiving of some serious sin. It is not hard to imagine that a scribe or school of scribes might choose to exclude the passage to “improve” the text and avoid a difficult passage to explain. This was not uncommon, especially in the Alexandrian school, before the cannon was officially established and recognized.

Based on this brief review of the external evidence, we can make several conclusions. First, the passage was part of the Gospel of John as early as any other variant in John. Second, the manuscripts that exclude the passage are very early but come almost exclusively from the Alexandrian Text type, which comes from the Alexandrian school in North Africa. Third, the inclusion is found very early not only in North Africa but also in Rome and Antioch. Finally, it seems more likely that a scribe would edit the passage out of John rather than include it in such an awkward place. Based on just these four conclusions, I see no reason why we cannot welcome the pericope of the adulterous woman home to John 7:53-8:11 with open arms.In his article, Professor Witherington says that he considers the text to be authentic but, because it was not part of the original Gospel of John, he would not preach from the passage by itself. I hope this brief analysis will put the good professor’s mind at rest and allow him and others who seek to rightly handle the word of truth to preach, at will and with confidence, from our formally homeless passage.

[1] BAR Vol 34 No. 4 p. 28
[2] Cf. D.A. Black, New Testament Textual Criticism, p. 35ff. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration 3rd, Enlarged edition., (Oxford University Press, 1992). p.207ff for methodological considerations.
[3] Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament, Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations. (Oxford, Flarendon Press, 1977), pp.285-303. Also see Arthur Voobus, Early Versions of the New Testament, Manuscript Studies. (Stockholm, 1954), pp. 33-121
[4] Michael W. Holmes, Textual Criticism, from New Testament criticism & Interpretation, edited by D.A. Black & D.S. Dockery, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), p. 106

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why People live in Southern California

When we were preparing to leave Odessa for home service I told my friend Igor, “Why don’t you save some money and come visit us! You will only have to pay for your flight. You can stay with us and we will show you around.” He smiled, shook his head and said, “No thanks, I’ll wait until you return. California is too dangerous. You have earthquakes, fires, floods and high crime.” “Don’t forget the mud slides.” I added and he chuckled. So, “Why do people live in Southern California?” I ask Igor, “I don’t know” he answered in English. I told him why and now I am enjoying experiencing why. It is the weather and only the weather.

Only in Southern California can I work through a 90+ degree day only to enjoy the cool 70 degree breeze in the evening as I sit reading on our porch. I sat on our porch with Julie the other night. It was quite, cool and calm. We were both reading and enjoying the weather. I suddenly realized something. I looked and Julie and said, “If we were in Odessa, we would be the dinner course of 10,000 mosquitoes. There was no buzzing sound to be heard on our porch – only in Southern California.

Last Saturday, my son, father-in-law and I went to the beach early in the morning to save a fire pit so we could have a sixth birthday party for Anya. I swam in the “Quite” Ocean (as it is called in Russian), relaxed on the beach, enjoyed cooking meat over an open fire in the cool of the day, played, roasted marshmallows and enjoyed fellowship in the evening around the fire pit. We did all this with the sound of crashing waves in the background. Throughout the day, as I enjoyed myself, several times I remembered why people live in Southern California. Need I say more?

Here is our little girl enjoying some beach time on her birthday – Happy sixth Aneechka!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Musings on I Peter 1:3-5

I have been enjoying reading I Peter. Just after his greeting in verses one and two Peter offers the expected blessings/thanksgiving section of his epistle. He writes just a single sentence that is packed with thankfulness and praise to God.

Several books could be written about each phrase and how they connect with each other. However, to the apostle, it seems that these things were so closely related that they form almost a single semantic meaning. The rich meaning seems to flow from his pen like sound waves from a well tuned piano. In the same way the simple sound waves from a piano form a complex chord that is received by the average ear as a single sound, Peter’s words and phrase form a single semantic chord that sings praise to God and brings peace to the soul.

Ευλογητος ο θεος και πατηρ του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου

The main verb in the first clause is the implied verb to be – “Blessed is/be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The phrase is also a good non-Christological example of the Granville Sharpe Rule. God and Father form an article-noun-και-noun construction. It meets each of the four criteria.

1. The nouns are personal
2. they are not proper names
3. they are both in the same case and
4. They are singular.

Therefore they have the same referent. That is, as the context bears out, God and Father are the same person.

Next Peter goes on to describe this God and Father. He uses an article with a participle to further describe God, but between the article and its participle he adds a prepositional phrase.

ο κατα το πολυ αυτου ελεος αναγενιησας ημας

The participle is active in voice and aorist in time and aspect. Most of the time it is translated passive in meaning. If we first translate the article with the participle we understand Peter to mean something like God is the “One who re-birthed us”. He is the one who acted in such a way to cause our rebirth. The participle has a pronoun, “us”, as its object.

In between the article and the noun, Peter includes a prepositional phrase. The phrase is “according to his great mercy”, however the placement of the phrase is such that it is very closely tied to the article and the participle. Since it is in located in between the article and the participle, it seems that in Peters mind the idea that God is the one who re-birthed us and that this re-birthing is a result of His great mercy are so closely tied together that they almost form a single semantic unit. How does one translate this into English? I don’t know. But it is comforting to know that the God and Father of Jesus is the same merciful God who has caused our rebirth.

Following are four prepositional phrases that build one upon the other. The first prepositional phrase explains the goal of us being born again. The second phrase explains how the first was accomplished. The third phrase presents the second goal of our salvation and the rest of the sentence expands on that goal.

εις ελπιδα ζωσαν

The first phrase says that He reborn us again to a living hope. The next prepositional phrase explains how this new hope is possible.

δι αναστασεως Ιησου Χριστου εκ νεκρων

This living hope is only possible through the resurrection. The resurrection is further defined by a genitive of possession. This is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is further defined by the prepositional phrase “from the dead.” In other words, we have a living hope because Christ is living right now. Christ is living now because He was raised from the dead. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ we would have no hope.

The fourth prepositional phrase states the second purpose of our salvation.

εις κληρονομιαν αφθαρτον και αμιαντον και αμαραντον

He caused us to be born again so that we will have an inheritance. The inheritance is then defined by three adjectives in the accusative case. This inheritance is imperishable, unstained and unfading.

The next participial phrase explains more about the inheritance.

τετηρμενην εν ουρανοις εις υμας

The participle is a perfect passive. That must have been written as a perfect on purpose. The preparation of the inheritance is complete. Our complete inheritance is sitting in heaving waiting for us right now. So in a sense it is also part of our hope. We have hope in a future imperishable, unstained and unfading inheritance that we will receive in heaven. Following are two prepositional phrases that tell us location and purpose. The prepared inheritance is in heaven right now and is for us.

Next we have another article – prepositional phrase – participle construction.

τους εν δυναμει Θεου φρουρουμενους δια πιστεως

The participle is present, active, accusative, masculine and singular. The masculine, singular connects it with the previous prepositional phrase. It agrees with “us” in gender and number. So the inheritance was prepared for us – the ones who…..If we further translate the article and participle we must try to bring out the imperfective aspect of the present tense. We are the ones who are being protected. Next, again we have in imbedded prepositional phrase by the power of God. Therefore for the fact that we are defined as a people begin protected by the power of God forms a very close semantic unit. Finally, Peter tacks on the prepositional phrase through faith.

Note the contrast between the perfect participle the inheritance has been prepared (perfect tense/aspect) and we are being protected (present tense/imperfective aspect).
Finally, this salvation, which is our inheritance, is prepared to be revealed in the last time.

εις σωτηριαν ετοιμην απακαλυφθηναι εν καιρω εσχατω

So who is our God? He is not only the Father of Jesus Christ

· He is the one who has caused us to be born again.
· He has prepared an inheritance for us.
· He is our current protector – through faith.
· Our final salvation/inheritance is prepared to be fully revealed in the last time.

Peter says all this in one sentence. It is true that grammar can be useful in study of the scriptures.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Proud Parents

These are our kids, Joseph, Micah and Anya (picture taken in Utah). We are very proud of them for many reasons and I want to share one of those reasons here on the blog. For the last five years they have faced many challenges growing up in Ukraine. One of those challenges was the language. We speak English at home and Russian with everyone else. Three years ago we decided to send our children to Ukrainian school. That meant that besides Russian they needed to learn Ukrainian. This has been very difficult. People often tell us that it is easy for children to learn languages. It is true that children often (not always) learn languages very fast, but it is rarely easy. Our children have worked very hard and have been blessed for their efforts.

Anya went to preparation school two days a week and studied with a tutor one day a week. She learned the Ukrainian alphabet, Russian alphabet, English alphabet, math and reading. She can read simple Ukrainian books and English Bob books.

Micah completed first and second grade. She received high marks in all her subjects. This is amazing to me since she is studying in a non-native language. Her accent is the best out of all of us. She speaks English, Russian, Ukrainian and British.

Joseph was the first to start Ukrainian school. We home schooled him for two years and decided to take advantage of an opportunity to start him in Ukrainian school. He started in third grade in Kiev. He had a pretty good grasp on the Russian language but didn’t know Ukrainian. The first semester was very difficult. During the first semester, we all shed many tears and he worked very hard with his tutor. By Christmas he was able to participate in class in a meaningful way and the tears flowed less often. The second semester went better. After completing one year we moved to Odessa. He completed fourth and fifth grade in Odessa. This last year all his grades were higher than 8 out of 12. When that happens the student is called an “otleechneek” – (excellent student). We are very proud of our otleechneek.
Here are some examples of their grades (2-12, 12 being best):

Ukrainian Language: 9
Ukrainian Reading 8
English Language 11
Russian Language 9
Math 8
Me and Ukraine 10
Music 11
Health 10

Ukrainian Language: 9
Ukrainian Literature 10
Foreign Literature 10
English Language 12
Russian Language 9
German Language 11
Math 11
Etiquette 9

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Labor of Love

Saturday, July 12th, we had the privilege of witnessing a beautiful memorial in action. A typical American affair really. A lawn spread with tables and blankets, some emptier than others by the time we arrived. The Great American Yard Sale was in full swing, but this time with a beautiful twist. This was the Rachel King Memorial Fundraiser. Our teammates and friends, Vic and Judy Hendrickson, along with their children and grandchildren, have organized this fundraiser for the last five years, in honor of their granddaughter, Rachel, who died of cancer at the age of 11. The money they raise helps to provide for the needs of the foster kids at Grace Church’s children’s shelter in Odessa…our home church in Ukraine. In addition to the usual garage sale offerings, Rachel’s family sells hotdogs, Italian ices, cookies, cold drinks, mostly donated. With pleasure, we stuffed twenty dollar bills into the donation jar for our lunch there. Vic and Judy have four kids and a pile of grandkids. Every family member wears a home made t-shirt with Rachel’s picture…blond, blue-eyed, all smiles.
The story of the Rachel King Memorial Fundraiser is even more poignant. Nine year old Rachel, herself, came up with the idea of selling food at the annual citywide garage sale, and donating all the proceeds to the Grace Church Children’s Shelter. Her family jumped on board, and together, they raised $600 for the shelter that year. Shortly after this event, Rachel was diagnosed with cancer. She died the next year.
This year, Rachel’s family raised $7000+ for the kids in Odessa. We know these kids. They have become precious to us too these last two years in Odessa. Vita, who is starting nursing school…Vanya who performs in every church children’s choir performance…Ira who chats with us when we run into her on the way to school…Valek…who is learning to play the guitar… Dima who just completed auto mechanic school…Little Sasha and Dannig, my little English buddies…Bogdan, the most charismatic kid we know…Vera and Lyubava, tiny twins always smiling…
So, God is still honoring Rachel’s vision to touch kids. These were kids she knew about personally. Don’t ever underestimate God’s ability to enable a child to trust him with her own life and to use her to touch the world.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Being New is Old

A. Joseph Mosse' IV
(Pictured second from left with classmates in Odessa)

For most people being the “new guy” is a dreaded experience. But for me it’s a common occurrence. So in a way, being new is old.

When I was a seven, my family moved from America to Ukraine. I was, as Abraham put it, “A stranger in a strange land,” a.k.a. “The new guy”. After I got used to the culture and leaned Russian, I wasn’t new anymore.

Then, after two years of home school, came Ukrainian school. I was suddenly dropped into a class with 29 other strange kids and teachers who only spoke Ukrainian (I only knew Russian). It was also a 45 minute bus ride away from home. Once again, I was the new guy.

After a year of school, my family moved to Odessa. I went to Ukrainian school there. I was the new guy again.

After two years of Odessa, in which was I was no longer new, we went to America for a year. That was about two weeks ago. So, here in America, I am new again! But I’m not scared, because being new is old.

From my experiences of being the “new guy”, God has taught me that I can really trust Him to take care of my needs in one way or another. It might not be the way I expected Him to do it but He’s always faithful. And when I’m “the new guy” and haven’t met any friends, I know that wherever I go God’s always my friend.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Time at Rosewood Farm

We are back from the farm and we had a great time. We spent a lot of time reading, talking, walking, bailing hey, spreading horse manure, fishing, playing and resting. We are very thankful to God for Dr. and Mrs. Black. We were very much refreshed by their kind hospitality, excellent cooking and stimulating conversation. Here are some pictures of us “retreating”.

Alfie and Joseph got up early one morning to go fishing. We caught two bass. While Joseph held one of the fish, it vomited a partially digested frog. He loves that story. We laughed a lot. Below you can see a vidoe of Nathan Black, the farmer, teaching Joseph to clean the fish.
You can also see Dr. Black’s comments at

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


After traveling through Galilee preaching, healing, anointing and casting out daemons, the disciples returned to Jesus and told Him all about their ministry. Here is Peter’s memory of Jesus’ response.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while." For so many people were coming and going that they didn't even have time to eat. So they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves. Mark 6:30-32

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus became very popular. However, He maintained a discipline of rest.

But the news about Jesus spread even more, and many crowds began gathering to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. However, he continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying. Luke 5:15-16

We, our family, do a very bad job of resting. If we plan to rest at home, we usually end up cleaning or doing some of those things that we have been putting off. If we go off somewhere on vacation to rest we are often so busy that we need a rest when we return home. We have been here with our dear friend Renee in North Carolina and have had some time of rest. However, we have also been very busy. We have been visiting sites, playing with kids, talking late into the night, preparing presentations, answering emails, preparing financial statements, sending packages, making arrangements for travel, making arrangements for school, for living, etc. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here but have not rested much. We are going to try to correct this situation. We have planned to spend one week (June 25 to July 2) at a retreat center in Virginia. We will not check email; we will not watch TV, listen to the news or turn on our cell phone. We will rest, pray, read, spend time as a family and I pray connect in a special way with each other and with our Lord. We need this time to prepare our souls for the year ahead.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All American

It’s been a week’s worth of new/familiar sights and sounds for us here in Durham NC. Our good friend and hostess, Renee Combs, has opened her home and enabled us to introduce our kids to all kinds of American sights, sounds, smells, etc… her beautiful spacious backyard, complete with trampoline and hammock has been the scene of much frolicking, jumping, water gun battling, fetch-playing with the family dog, Smore eating, and conversing. We’ve eaten pizza, good North Carolina BBQ, and I-Hop pancakes. We toured the storybook Duke University campus/chapel, went bowling and skating, and explained baseball to our kids at a Durham Bulls game. You can’t get more all-American than this last week has been. Renee’s hospitality to us has humbled and blessed us beyond measure.

Yesterday, all six kids made dinner for Alfie, Renee and I. Their chosen menu included sticky orange chicken, confetti rice, a grape tomato, romaine heart, and zucchini appetizer, and candy sushi. They chopped, marinated, melted, mixed, and even cleaned. They did a great job working together under Renee’s culinary tutelage.
Today, we worshipped in English, at Renee’s church Ebenezer Baptist. We spent a long time at Steve’s grave which is in the church’s cemetery…

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We Made It!

After three plane rides, numerous shrink-wrapped meals, shuttle rides, long lines, metal detectors, many “yes, sirs”, Alfie only being searched once and a hotel in Chicago, we made to North Carolina. Our friend Renee met us at the airport; we had pizza for lunch and went to her house. She had been a wonderful hostess. We have had a great time relaxing and getting over jet lag. Julie, Micah and I were up at 5:00am on Monday. It was still dark outside so we went out back and rested on the hammock. Here is a picture of Julie and Micah with the house in the background. I can’t think of a better way to start our home service.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Going Home?

Well, it’s the day before we leave Ukraine for a whole year. We have spent the day running around, packing, cleaning, talking on the telephone and saying goodbyes. Yesterday, we had tea with some of the faculty and staff of the seminary. It has been a pleasure for me (Alfie) to serve with them. Today, we met with our small group for the last time. We studied the Bible then had some more goodbyes. It’s a strange feeling. We are definitely foreigners in Ukraine but I often feel very much at home. In fact right now I feel like I am leaving home for a year. However, I say, “We are going home for a year.” In some ways I do feel at home in the states but, in other ways I now often feel like a foreigner in the states. When I understand what everyone says (in California), I feel out of place. When I don’t understand everything (In Odessa), I feel very much at home. These last five years have changed this family in many ways. We leave Ukraine with heavy hearts. We will miss our friends, our apartment, our ministries and some of us will miss the cat. However, we look forward to being “home” again. We look forward with joyful hearts to seeing family, friends and ministries we used to be part of.

When Peter exhorts his readers to abstain form the desires of the flesh he calls them aliens and exiles (1Pe 2:11). Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). I am realizing that I don’t feel at home in the US or Ukraine because I’m not home. My home is in heaven and even if my mind doesn’t realize it, my soul feels it. All of us who follow Christ are aliens and strangers on earth, but someday we will be home with the Lord. We look forward to that day. John the apostle described the homecoming scene in heaven in Revelation 7:9-10. He described a multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and tongue praising God together. That is what my soul longs for. I get glimpses of it here in Ukraine in the midst of fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I get glimpses of it in the US with my brothers and sisters in Christ. So, depending on how you look at it, we are either leaving home to go home or we are foreigners going back to the last place we were foreigners. Either way it is easier to leave here and go to the US when I realize that both places are just a shadow of our real home. And we know that some day the Lord will bring us home to the place He has prepared for us and we will know the joy that we have tasted here in earth.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


We are preparing to leave our home in Odessa for one year. During that year we will be traveling and living in the USA. We leave in one week and the process of goodbyes has begun. I will never get used to this part of being a missionary. You spend enough time in a place to build relationships and then you leave.

On May 30th was the Odessa Theological Graduation. Alfie was able to participate and say goodbye to the full time theology students and the part time Pastoral Ministry students.

Today, Saturday June 7, Micah our daughter had her last music exam. She did very well – received an 11 out of 12. After the exam we had some tea and refreshments. We were able to say goodbye to Micah’s music teacher, Lucia and Micah's fellow students. Here is a vidoe of her playing one of her songs.

From the music exam, we went to a picnic by the sea. Our small group organized a picnic to say goodbye to us. We sang together, they gave us a gift (a photo album with their pictures and best wishes), we played and ate together. Igor, the pastor of the group said, “We are very sad to see you go and when Ukrainians are sad - we also eat. So we have gathered to be sad and eat together.” This group has been a great blessing to us. We have prayed together, studied the Bible together, had picnics, laughed, cried and served the Lord together. We thank God for them and will miss them very much.