Musings From Kazakhstan

My amazing trip is coming to an end. It is Tuesday and each day seems to go a little faster. Teaching business to college students, with a language barrier, can be a little tough. Each day I go back to my hotel tired but fulfilled. Tonight was no exception.

Dr. Lou Foltz has arrived, and we are having a dinner at the hotel to celebrate. There are three of us at KAFU from the Pacific Northwest, and Marshall Christianson arrives on Saturday. There is definitely a Northwest Connection with Eastern Kazakhstan.

Teaching business to students that speak English as a second language, when I speak absolutely no Russian, is very difficult. I am trying to make sure that my point is clear, but even Maks, my interpreter, has a problem every once in a while with a word I use. Sometimes there just isn’t a good translation from English to Russian. But we are trying our best. Before I go to sleep tonight I am going to look at my classes for tomorrow and figure out what to do.

While I am here I am reading a lot. I have two books I have brought with me and have done well moving through them. I also have an electronic version of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. It helps me keep up on the crazy world of United States Politics.

Last week there was an opinion piece in the WSJ that I really wanted to look at in this blog. The title of the opinion piece was “Mere Christianity still gets a global Amen!” It was a very interesting article that was able to demonstrate the reason this book is still popular, even in a day of diminishing faith.
The article begins by describing a previous competition held by Intervarsity Press. The Intervarsity Fellowship’s Emerging Scholars Network “ran the best Christian book of all time tournament. “ There were 64 entries at the beginning, much like the NCAA Tournament. Using the same format as the tournament, the books went through a process of elimination via voting. “C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity made it to the Elite Eight, where it handily defeated St. Augustine’s City of God.” Lewis’ book went to the final four, defeating Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship,” but lost in the finals to Augustine’s “Confessions.”

All of the NCAA madness was fun to read, but why did this article stand out to me? What was it that caught my attention? First, Mere Christianity is a popular book. It has sold over 3.5 million books in English. It has been translated into 36 languages. “Next to the Bible, educated Chinese Christians are most likely to have read” this book. It is still read by “thoughtful evangelicals,” and by thousands of Catholics, Orthodox, and mainline Protestants.” I have read it a couple of times and am always encouraged by its thoughtful reasoning about faith.

However, I agree with the author of this article when he states, “Lewis writes that when God enters your life, he begins to turn the tin soldier into a live man. . . Lewis explains that becoming a Christian isn’t an improvement but a transformation, like a horse becoming a Pegasus.” And finally our author describes “the final strength of Lewis’ book as its ability to stand aside and point toward his subject – rather than himself.”

Lewis wanted all of us to see “the time tested beauty God’s love in Jesus Christ.” During this Easter season I hope all of you can see His love through all the hate, bitterness, and craziness of our current age.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Lesson From Easter

What a great day in Ust-Kamenogorsk! The sun was shining, and it was warm. I know at home it is Easter Sunday, and some churches here in Kazakhstan celebrated it today, but the church we attended celebrates Easter according to the Orthodox calendar. I believe Easter for the Orthodox Church is May 1st, but in my mind today was Easter.

I am always greatly encouraged when I attend church in another country. Every time I go to Honduras I will attend Pastor Donnie’s church, and I am always blessed by hearing believers worship in Spanish. Every time I do that I see the glory of God’s work in the Church, one that is international. Today I’ve added another country to that list.

Russian is a tough language to learn, but I am attempting to learn new words everyday. The students are helping me, which is great. I think they enjoy spending time with me as much as I do with them. I was with Sasha and Masha today at Church; Masha did the translating. Dasha, Masha’s sister, called her sister later and wanted to walk around with me today. She caught up with us and we all went shopping. I bought a few more things for the family, and then came back to the hotel to rest.

However, what I really want to write about today involves two moments of introspection that I experienced during my time in Church and ride home on the tram.

I have been troubled with all of the Facebook discussion about politics. I have seen postings that all Republicans are untruthful, and I have seen postings stating that Democrats are stupid. In fact, it seems like all of us are losing our minds and typing just whatever we want without any thought of consequences. Now I see a post about a small restaurant in Portland that is being picketed because it has the word Colonial in its name. Are these people going to fly to Williamsburg and picket Colonial Williamsburg? When I read that one I decided to give up on social media. I don’t like the hatred and bitterness.

All of a sudden we can’t disagree anymore, or discuss difficult subjects to find points of shared agreement? We have to demonize the other; you did this to me, this is causing that, you need to apologize for that. Everywhere I look I see angry hateful people.

As I looked at the simplicity of the worship in Russian, and listened to my wonderful translator as she shared the meaning of the pastor’s sermon I was inspired. I began to see the foolishness of all the animosity in our society. If you don’t vote for Trump America will not be great again. Or a little bird symbolizes the greatness of Bernie, feel the Bern, and you say that with great disdain. Even my writing this demonstrates a certain level of disgust for others.

There I was sitting in Church in a former Soviet Union country, listening to a Pastor who, as I found out later, was a leader in the local Communist party, very connected in Russia, who through his wonderful daughter, who I met today, had met Jesus. He changed from a Communist official to a Pastor leading the largest church in Ust-Kamenogorsk. I am overwhelmed by the power and hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I watched both old and young sing songs to Jesus. I watched the old who suffered through the difficult times of the Soviet empire, and the young who did not experience that because of the tearing down of the wall. The young are so filled with hope, and a new life, all of which we in the West connect with, and the old have peace.

I also watched my new friend Daniel as he worshiped God. I eventually found out that he was arrested and deported from Kazakhstan in the 1990’s for leading a Bible study at the very Church we were attending. Here he is still serving God in Kazakhstan. There truly is hope, even in our anxiety filled nation. There is hope regardless of the futility we feel occurring all around us. There is hope because Easter has occurred.

The second event that caused me to think today was the bus ride home. Dasha and I got on the bus, and as I was standing there a young man and his daughter offered me their seat. It is important for a Russian person to care for older people. Before I would not have taken the seat, but when I heard how important that was in this society, I decided to sit down.

This young man had a little daughter who was six, turning seven in May. He figured out I was an American and asked a couple of questions. We chatted, Dasha translated, and eventually we got to the President Obama question. How do I feel about Obama? I told him he was my President, but I did not agree with everything he did. The young Russian accepted that, but it was the next thing he said which got me thinking.

The young man really liked Putin, and said that he had heard that Americans don’t like Russians. I told the young man that not all Americans dislike Russians. We are all different. This young man was being told something by the media, or was assuming something, because of certain events. I did not get the sense that he did not like me, and I may have been the first American he had ever talked to, and I hoped he learned that Americans are not bad people.

Both of these moments are connected. How easy it is for us to hate. How easy it is for us to remember old cold wars and start new ones. How easy it is to look for difference instead similarity; criticize instead of heal. But as I sat in that Church, and worshiped with Kazakhstan people, who in my lifetime were considered the enemy, I was overwhelmed by the power of God’s love to unite rather than destroy.

The Easter message is truly one of hope and new life. And I am so happy the God’s Holy Spirit chose to remind me of this lesson.

And that is my thought for the day!

A Day Of Teaching Entrepreneurial Philosophy!

Well, the work has begun. I am still in Kazakhstan, but my rest and relaxation is over. Today began with the KAFU Conference. At 10am the President of KAFU opened the conference. There will be events occurring for the next week, but we had several presentations today. I had a seat of honor next to the President at the host table. It was pretty amazing.

My presentation was first. I had a wonderful young man interpret for me. His name was Eugene. My topic was presenting the idea the Business was a power for creating positive social change. I displayed seven slides, which were in English. Eugene would read the slides off of the wall, and then I would share my thoughts. We ran over the seven-minute limit, but it was actually pretty well done. Eugene did a good job.

I presented on why I think business has the power, and I discussed what social problems impacted both Kazakhstan and the United States. I also discussed what specifically was the good things of business. Then I mentioned why business practitioners struggle with using business to do good. I then discussed Social Entrepreneurship, Corporate Social Responsibility, and then closed with the concept of a triple bottom-line.

I do think it went well, and I do think the room listened. Subsequent conversations with students and alumni have confirmed that entrepreneurship is needed to help Kazakhstan continue its march into the 21st century.

After I finished, there were a few questions. The President himself wanted me to tell the participants my back ground. I was very happy to answer the question. The next person asked me to provide an example of a company that had practices Corporate Social Responsibility.

I proceeded to tell the audience about the Boeing Company and the amount of money it gives to charity. I also discussed the Employee Community Fund. And lastly, I discussed how Boeing pays for employee tuition. I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary presentation. However, I also enjoyed to student’s presentations that were very good.

When I returned to the table where I was sitting the President leaned over and told me I did a good job. He said he appreciated that it was it common language that everyone could understand. I appreciated his comments.

After the two-hour introduction to the conference, we had a wonderful lunch. The Kazakhs love their Chicken and so do I. We sat around and talked for a bit, and then I met my first group of students. I had twelve students who were studying Servant Leadership.

I began the workshop with defining terms. I had the students introduce themselves, and then I introduce myself. We then defined terms and dug a little deeper into the subject of Servant Leadership. After my initial meeting with these students I was impressed with their level of English. However, I do think their understanding of leadership, and specifically Servant Leadership, needs a little work.

I have to admit, the Kazakh students are just like my students in Portland. They want to learn, but sometimes their own thinking gets in the way. My job with the Kazakh students will be the same as my goal with the Portland students. Get them to see how the theory works, and help them see its practicality.

From a pedagogical position, teaching Kazakh students is no different than teaching American students. However, once again I see the power of culture. During my evening session with the alumni, we discussed what entrepreneurism is. One of the participants was actually a consultant helping people start small businesses. He was the young man that gave me a ride back to the hotel.

A few minutes into the session I decided I needed to take the lesson a different direction. I really think the young people of Kazakhstan need to understand the philosophy behind the starting of a business. The philosophy first recognized by Jean Batiste Say when he used the French term for the first time.

The entrepreneur is a unique individual. Roger Martin and Sally Osberg (2007) discuss this in their Stanford article on social entrepreneurship. According to Martin and Osberg, an entrepreneur “Is [not just]. . . simply [alert] to opportunity? Creativity? Determination?” (p. 31). Martin and Osberg (2007), argue that the entrepreneur is one who “shifts economic resources out of an area of lower into an area of higher productivity and greater yield” (p. 31). From this we can conclude that an entrepreneur is someone who can recognize a deficiency within a system, but is innovative enough to create better processes that lead to a better and higher performing system. Martin and Osberg identify the role of “creative destruction” within the entrepreneurial endeavor. They use Schumpeter’s concept to describe the process of innovation. “Successful entrepreneurship, he [Schumpeter] argues, sets off a chain reaction, encouraging other entrepreneurs to iterate upon and ultimately propagate the innovation to a point of ‘creative destruction,’ a state at which the new venture and all its related ventures effectively render existing products, services, and business models obsolete” (p. 31). Not only is the entrepreneur an innovator, but he or she is also an agent of change. “Entrepreneurs are believed to have an exceptional ability to see and seize upon new opportunities, the commitment and drive required to pursue them, and an unflinching willingness to bear the inherent risks” (Martin and Osberg, 2007, p. 31).

I do think these young people get it, but as I told them, there are three important parts of creating an entrepreneurial system. First, the context is critical. The current context of Kazakhstan is still heavily influence by the old Soviet system. The student who gave me a ride home last night told me that it is very hard to start a business in Kazakhstan. This tells me the context is still unfriendly to entrepreneurial change.

Second, the people are critical. For any context to change there needs to be people who can change it. That means people who are skilled in guiding events toward a successful conclusion, and people who have the desire to take the risks necessary to take the journey.

And last, processes for creating an entrepreneurial culture need the freedom to exist. This means fewer restrictions, well defined steps on how to establish a creative culture, and even starting small businesses.

There are already many small businesses in Kazakhstan, but based on what I have been told it is very difficult to make a living in this country. The country is physically huge, it has many natural resources, and it has a young population that wants a better life. All they need is a context to thrive. I hope the President of Kazakhstan will help them accomplish this.

And that is my thought for the day!

Kazakhstan Time!

I have been in Kazakhstan since Monday. As you might recall I arrived Monday in the afternoon. I was very tired, and even though Yulia and Ilona offered to show me around town I went to my room and went to sleep. On Tuesday two wonderful students Dasha and Yurislava showed me the town and the celebration of Naurzy. I was served a traditional Kazakh drink, made of yoghurt, kurt, cream, butter, and cheese. It is only served on Nauryz. However, I did not care for the drink, but had a great meal.

The next day another student, Timur, took me to town. I went to a bazaar, walked to the Irtysh and Ulba Rivers, had coffee, and attempted to do some shopping. Timur told me a lot about his village and what he is studying in University. He was a very nice young man.

Today was my first day of work at the Kazakh-American Free University. However, just like in the United States, the best laid plans of mice and men often go haywire. My first two classes were canceled because there was a miscommunication. It seems that students have a hard time coming back from vacation. And no one told them about the special class today. So none of the students returned for school. Later, Ilona would tell me that her finance class had one student and her other class later in the day had five students, out of 25. I don’t feel so bad now, the Kazakhstan students are just like my students, they come back late after a holiday.

So, no classes today, but we moved them to later next week. However, I did get a great tour of the campus by Aizhan. She is the administration person for the college, and she does a great job. She really does keep the school running. I met Galima, who is an incredible young lady who works at the college. I met Maks, who will be translating for me tomorrow. And lastly, I met Eugene, who also will be translating for me. So the day was actually a good one.

Eventually we had a meeting that really was productive. We discussed possible student partnership events between the Warner Pacific business department and KAFU business department. I think there could be some great possibilities with a partnership.

Today was a good day, but I really want to tell you about the banya. Banya, or public bathhouse, involves a process of sitting in a sauna with hot rocks. One person will dump water on the rocks to allow steam to rise. After sitting in the Sauna for as long as you can you run and jump into a cold pool. You then repeat the process until you get hungry. Remember you are doing this is with all men, and in the old days you were naked. Today three of us wore speedos, not me, and when it is decided to eat you wrap yourself in a towel and sit at the table and eat to your heart’s content.

Serek, Jasilan, Daniel, Patrick, and myself had a wonderful time eating, talking, and offering toasts for each other’s good fortunes. Even though I have not done much work yet, I have a good sense of tiredness. I am learning so much about the people of Kazakhstan. They are very nice.

Tomorrow I speak at a conference, have two classes, and I am told these classes will twelve students, and I have a seminar with KAFU alumni. Now the work truly begins,

And that is my thought for the day!

On The Third Day He Arose!

Obviously I am referring to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, which we will be celebrating soon. It appears this is true for me also. This is my third day in Ust-Kamenogorsk and I think I am finally alive. I did wake up at 2 am, but went back to sleep at 3am. Traveling can be difficult.

Yesterday I met Masha and Yurislava. They were two young ladies, one a college student and the other a university student, who took me to the Nauryz festival in the square. We walked from my hotel to a bus stop. It was a little distance, but I did get to see the many different buildings in Ust-Kamenogorsk. I’ll tell you more about the buildings later.

There was an interesting sculpture along the way, so I asked if I could take Masha and Yurislava’s picture and they agreed. I have posted it on Facebook. They were very nice young ladies and told me much about the culture of their city.

When we got to the bus stop we had to find the right bus that was not completely full. Everyone was travelling to the square to have a bite to eat or watch the festivities. There were young men climbing a greased pole. There were many different singers singing traditional Kazakh songs and Russian songs. I found out that after World War II, many Russians moved to Kazakhstan, but after it became a Republic, with more of an emphasis on its Kazakh roots, many Russians have moved back to Russia.

The girls took pictures of me by a traditional Yurta; I did tell them we have Yurts in many campgrounds in the United States. They also took a picture of me with two young Kazakh women in white dresses. I sent my wife a message that I must have said something wrong in Russian because I was bringing home two new wives. I have not heard from here since. Maybe I am in the sobach’ya budka.

We eventually sat down for lunch in a nice restaurant; I told them I would pay for lunch. As we were sitting there Masha got a telephone call. Aizhan, who was one of the first KAFU professors to visit Warner Pacific, called her and said he wanted to meet us. She told him where we were and he said not to leave until he got there. He arrived just in time to pay for lunch, for which I was grateful.

After we talked for a while, Aizhan drove me back to my hotel. As we were driving I mentioned how the buildings in Ust remind me of Kulaga, Russia. He stated that they were, and then said something that amazed me. Many of the larger buildings were built in the time of Stalin and Khrushchev.

Khrushchyovka buildings were low-cost concrete-paneled buildings 3 to 5 stories tall, and functioned as apartment buildings. The concept was developed in the USSR in the early 1960’s. These were efficient buildings, but were considered temporary housing to be replaced when a mature Communism would emerge. I also found out that Leonid Brezhnev had made promises that people would have apartments with a room for every person, and that the small apartments found in Khrushchyovka buildings would be eliminated. But as I saw yesterday people are still living in those buildings with security doors. There were other buildings that Aizhan pointed out that were built by Stalin, which were very similar to the Khrushchev architecture.

As we walked by the buildings I thought about a time in Kaluga when Ralph Castle had been given a door code to get into one of the buildings. All of the apartment buildings had a security door that needed a code to get into. We needed to pick up a guide to walk with us around Kaluga. We got to the door, Ralph put the number into the keypad, the door opened and we went in. We proceeded to the door that we were supposed to pick up our friend at and knocked. No one answered, so Ralph started banging harder. BANG, BANG, BANG! He thought the person might be sleeping. It turned out we were at the wrong building, the code must have worked for several buildings, and we were at the wrong apartment. All of a sudden we heard a little old lady say in Russian from behind the door “I have called the police.” We promptly left. As much as I have whined about the difficultly of the trip, I love traveling.

And that is my thought for the day!

Day Three In Kazakhstan

Day three started a little rough. I was feeling a little discomfort as I sat in Almaty Airport for eight hours waiting to fly to Ust-Kamenogorsk; families were talking to one another as they travelled, most were speaking Russian. The announcements over the telecom were in Russian, but once in a while they would say something in English. The bell rangs, ding-dong- ding, and then a woman with a very nice voice says something, and all kinds of people get up and move to their gate. Then the bell would ring again ding, dong, ding. All the while I am waited for eight hours until my flight would be ready.

As I sat here, I thought about a song by the Doors, People Are Strange:

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked went your unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

There are a couple of people that have spoke English to me which has been nice, but just like all of my other trips conversing with people when I don’t know the language of a country is tough. When you are travelling alone, there is no one else to help with the conversation. I do know, and it was confirmed by Daniel, people from the old Soviet Union do not embrace in conversation, they think leave them alone and they will leave you alone. I have heard it called the Moscow Subway Look. Look in front of you not at people.

As I sat there I thought about those who move to the United States and don’t know English. I thought about how we need to be a bit more sensitive, and help them learn English as quickly as possible. However, I also thought we Americans need to learn a few more languages. Many in Europe know several languages, and I happen to think that is good. In fact, when I get to Ust-Kamenogorsk I am going to start practicing my Russia. I had learned some words in Russia years ago, but those are long gone.

The total trip took three days, due to time changes and layovers; however going home will only be two days, a night’s stay in Almaty, and a three-hour layover in Amsterdam. My time in the air was about 16 hours; then add a seven-hour and eight-hour layover, you have a total of 31 hours to get to the other side of the world. Just think, I am truly on the other side of the world, thirteen-hour time difference.

When I landed in Ust-Kamengorski I was met by friendly faces. Daniel Ballast, and two professors I had met when they came to the United States (Yulia and Ilona), met me at the airport. It was very nice to see friendly faces. They were so nice, and took me to my hotel. Yulia and Ilona wanted to take me to town, but I was so tired I asked if it could be another time. I am sure with my work at the University for the next few days I will see them.

I made it here, which is the furthest I’ve ever traveled, and now after resting for a night, I slept well, it is time to get going. I am going to go out for a walk this morning, and then Daniel will join me for breakfast at 9am. I have students coming by at 10am to take me to downtown festivities. The holiday Kazakhstan is celebrating is Nauryz, a celebration of Spring. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I will tell you a funny story. The last leg of my trip yesterday was a short flight over some of the most desolate areas I have ever observed. Beautiful jagged mountains and snow covered valleys. Sitting across the aisle from me were two gorgeous young ladies. I mean they were very pretty, and very into makeup. The guy sitting next to me could not take his eyes off of them. The only problem was his wife and daughter had the two seats in front of us. She definitely noticed, and after we landed, and were waiting for our luggage, the nonverbal language was very clear. The guy sitting next to me on the plane was probably going to be in the sobach’ya budka. You’ll have to look that up with Google Translator.

And that is my thought for the day!

Day Two, and Three, In Kazakhstan – Kind of!

Wow, what a trip. The flight to Amsterdam was over 9 hours. The plane left Portland on Saturday at 2:06 and arrived Sunday in Amsterdam at 8:00am. It was long but I did get some sleep. I do like overseas flights, because they feed you well. I watched Spectre; there was an amazing selection of available movies. I also did some reading. When I get tired it becomes difficult to read.

At Amsterdam I took the train into Central Station. I had a little breakfast and coffee, and walked around the town taking pictures. It is a beautiful city, but very crowded. I used to think Portland was a bike friendly city, until I saw Amsterdam. I will say this about their public transportation it is amazing; the United States has a lot to learn.

I am very glad that I bought some travel pants. They are very comfortable and have helped me to travel well. I do have to admit though, for my flight from Amsterdam to Almaty I checked to see if I could use some of my miles and upgrade to business class. I really needed some sleep. I was able to, and ended up getting about four hours of good sleep. The flight attendants took good care of me.

Now I sit. It is almost 5am in Almaty. My flight changed, so I have to wait longer than I first thought. This will be brutal, but I will make it. When I get to the hotel this afternoon I will get some much needed rest. Tuesday and Wednesday it is a national holiday in Kazakhstan, so I will be able to experience it. Then it is to work.

These are just a few thoughts of a lonely traveler who is a foreigner in another country. I do have to admit that traveling helps me to see the relationship of the United States with the rest of the world. Everyone I have been talking too speaks two or three languages. I only speak one, and that is questionable at times.

Anyway, I am running out of gas and enough excitement for today. I miss my family terribly, but two weeks will go very quickly.

One last thought, the soldier’s uniforms here are very Chinese. I thought that was interesting.

And that is my thought for the day!

Off To Kazakhstan

My wife has dropped me off at the airport. I’ve made it through security, and I am now sitting at my gate waiting to board. At 2:06pm I leave for a place in the world I had no idea I would ever visit. The Republic of Kazakhstan is a Central Asian Country which had been a part of the Soviet Union. According to information about the country it is the largest land locked country in the world, and the 9th largest country in the world by square miles. It borders with Russia, and I will be about 100 miles from Siberia where my grand father was born, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. I am now officially excited.

My first stop will be Amsterdam. I arrive there Sunday morning at 8:20 am. I plan on taking the train into central Amsterdam, have some coffee and do some shopping. I don’t leave for Almety, Kazakhstan until 3pm in the afternoon. I arrive in Almety about 3am, and will leave for Ust about 6 hours later. It will be a long day!

Just about a week ago I found out that my dilated ascending aorta has grown a bit. However, the Doctor has assured me that I can travel just fine. So here I go.

One might ask what will you be doing in Kazakhstan? I arrive on Monday and will be able to settle into my hotel. On Tuesday and Wednesday there is a holiday. Nauryz is a holiday that celebrates the coming of Spring, and I understand it is an incredible celebration.

On Thursday I begin working. Thursday and Friday I will be teaching business classes at Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU). I will be teaching one set of workshops on Organizational Behavior and one set of workshops on Servant Leadership. Also on Friday and Saturday I will be speaking at a conference. The topic will be Business as a Power for Positive Social Change.

The second week of my visit will include workshops and discussions. I return home on Saturday April 2nd. As I travel I will be writing about my experiences. So far nothing too exciting, but I know that will change soon.

And that is my thought for the day!