March 26, 2012

We have depleted our first tube of toothpaste, my hips are adjusting to the springs in the mattress, and Elder Peterson has found a Russian version of the Mounds candy bar.  I guess we’re settling in!  If only we could tell people where we need to go and what we have to say, we’d have it made!
We were able to participate in a mission highlight on Saturday.  A sister was baptized in the New City Branch which was terrific.  A lot of the branch members attended to support her, and we know she really appreciated it.  It was interesting that people brought her chocolates and flowers, apparently a custom here.  She bore her testimony the following day in Relief Society and expressed how she felt like people who were meeting her for the very first time at church were just like her sister.  I love that the Church members allow that feeling of love and fellowship.  She is a 23-year old woman, has a 3-year old son and has a wonderful spirit about her.  You can see the peace and happiness she feels through her countenance.
After the baptism, we attended an Exotic Fish exhibit at our local museum as a district for our cultural event of the cycle.  We all agreed it wasn’t worth the $5 admission price, but it was good to be together.  An investigator came with us and three of the young single adults from New City.  They like to be with the missionaries.
We have been given the assignment by Sister Sartori to do apartment checks for the 4 sets of missionaries in our district so we accomplished half of them this week.  It motivates them to clean at least a little bit a few times a year!  I’m tempted to take one of them on as a service project, however.  It’s an apartment that has been in the district since the beginning, so probably close to 15 years.  Elders leave things they no longer want or that no longer work, and there’s a lot of stuff that could be cleared out.  
We were able to meet with the dad, Igor, and his son, Andre, who we met on the street last week. They came to our apartment and showed us their photo albums and also brought us a thoughtful gift of a book about the history of Toliatti, the area in which we live.  That was such a thoughtful gesture from someone who we had just met days before and didn’t know hardly at all.  This gentleman is very friendly, seems to be very proud of his family, and is open to making friends.  Elder Ceimers and Elder Malloy were here too so they could help translate.  Knowing that Igor has an interest in boxing, Elder Peterson put together a little slide show from pictures on the Internet about his uncle’s brother who was a world middleweight champion several years ago.  Igor told us about surviving a car accident last year when his car went into the water, and he had to get out by himself.  We asked him if we could pray before he left, and he was hesitant, but he allowed Elder Peterson to say a short prayer. We hope we will be able to see them again soon along with the mom.
We have been invited to Lingo Club, a community group of young adults who get together and learn English.  The director is from Bulgaria and two of his assistants are from Germany.  It is a chance to learn about the similarities and differences of each of these countries.  The first time we attended, we talked about food.  Last week we talked about education.  I don’t know what they have cooked up for us this week, but we enjoy being with them and hope to have a positive influence that might result in an interest for someone to find out more about why we are really here in Russia.
We spoke in church on Sunday.  Elder Peterson gave the majority of his talk in Russian, a result of many, many hours of marching around the apartment practicing sentences.  I said about five sentences in Russian and relied on a translator for the rest.  The church members are very patient with us and help us to speak correctly.  It is challenging to simplify what we want to say and still say what we mean.  We just pray for the spirit to do the teaching.  Elder Hale sang, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”  He has a beautiful baritone voice, and it added such a great spirit to the meeting. Unless the missionaries provide a musical number in Sacrament Meeting, they don’t happen so it’s nice for a change.  One of my goals is to be able to teach the primary children a song in Russian so they can sing in Sacrament meeting one week.
Our District President Zolotov, his family, and a couple of other branch members drove to Kiev, Ukraine, this week to attend the temple.  They try to go twice a year.  They drive in a small 5-passenger car (and 5 passengers is pushing it) and take two days to get to the temple.  They spend all day, every day for four days in the temple as ordinance workers, as well as proxies.  It is a highlight of their year!  The Zolotov’s leave their two younger daughters at home with a grandma, and their 17-year old daughter goes with them to do baptisms.   They had us over for dinner again this week.  We absolutely LOVE spending time with them!  They are truly becoming treasured friends. They are so dedicated to their callings, to the members here in Tolitatti, and to making a difference in the lives of others.  When we visit other members and they show us their pictures, the Zolotovs are always in them and have had part in bringing many of the members here into the church.  They have been members for 13 years.  President Zolotov has been a branch president twice, the first time after only being a member for a year.  Sister Zolotova is serving as the District Young Women’s President—for the fifth time!
It is snowing again today.  The streets were starting to melt yesterday, turning into ice rinks last night so new snow will be good to soften things up again.  We thought we had put away our fur hats for the season, but it looks like we might have a few more surprises ahead of us.  It is actually a good thing because if all of this snow were to melt at once, it would be a real mess.  As it is, the drainage in our town is undesirable and you have to strategically choose paths to get where you want to go when the snow is slushy and puddles are in the streets. 

March 19, 2012

We have been busy here. I wish we could spend a bit more time in the Branches, but I admit I like going from one to the other as it does not get old on us. The members are coming along, and we are getting to know them well. We still spend a lot of time working with the District President and his auxiliaries. I gave a lesson yesterday on Believing Christ. It was a fun lesson. I hope it didn’t go over the heads of a few who were there. Next week mom and I speak in church again and will need to polish up our Russian for the talk.

Had a great lesson with a young man who has graduated college and seems well adjusted (future leader type). Elders showed him a video about the Book of Mormon. I had a driving impression to talk about Enos. This person had not prayed nor had he read the Book of Mormon for them. The spirit was strong. We discussed Enos along with a similar experience of mine. It was a very candid conversation. He said he felt warm inside when asked about what he was feeling. He promised to read Enos. He said the closing prayer without any hesitation. Elders said he talked with them the next day and had read Enos. We will see where it goes from here.

We are hoping to see some growth in our Old City Branch. It only has a couple of Priesthood holders and could likely get consolidated into other branches. They do have many grandmothers and we decided to do a monthly FHE for them at our place. We will get that organized, and I hope that gives them something to look forward to on a certain day. We have been trying to visit a couple of the grandmothers, babushkas, each week. This week we visited an 86-year old, Sister Svetlana, who we enjoyed getting to know and will definitely go back and see. She lives alone in her apartment and is as spry as can be. She has many stories to tell of her teaching days during World War II. Fortunately, we had our friends with us to help translate, but we could actually understand some of what she was saying. She even scolded our friends for correcting our Russian when we spoke saying that she could understand us just fine. No wonder we like her so much! Not really, she just has a great spirit about her and was very loving.

District meetings every Friday keep us in touch with our missionaries. They are lots of fun to be around. It has been a delight watching one in particular come out of his shell and become a solid missionary.

We love working with the youth. We do FHE for them twice a month. We are also helping the newly-formed student council become established here. We may decide to go to Moscow with them for a conference in the summer. They are great kids. A few are preparing to go on missions this summer. We have been helping them get ready and making sure all papers are proceeding forward.

We set up a FHE with three families on Monday night, two of them with a non-member or less active member. We received a phone call at the last minute and the FHE fell through. We were kind of bummed but went to our backup plan and made an appointment with a person who we met on a bus and went to McDonalds to talk with him. Not a lot happened with him, but when we were walking home, we passed a family on the sidewalk. I felt impressed to go back and talk with the dad. He was a really nice person and we talked for about 15 minutes—in Russian only!--as we walked. Afterwards we exchanged phone numbers and said we would like to get to know them better. A couple of hours after we got home, he called us. It is very difficult to communicate in Russian over the phone, much harder than in person. We survived though, and we are setting up a meeting with our missionaries and us to get to know them better. It was a blast. We prayed that we would find someone that night for the missionaries to teach, and we know this family is an answer to that prayer.

We have met with one of the branch presidents at his “Photo Salon.” He works long hours every day, and it has been difficult finding a convenient time to meet with him and his family, so we decided to go to him. It was actually a good thing because I have been wanting to get some pictures printed to put up around the house. His 8-year old daughter is always there because she goes there after school so we have gotten to know her too. So now we have made a connection with President Klimov, as well as brought our family into our apartment in living color!

One last comment because it was a day in history!!! Monday the sun was out, it was upwards of 40 degrees and we actually went to the store without our heavy coats! We thought we had made it through the winter—until it snowed again on Tuesday!

March 12, 2012

Our highlight this week was definitely Zone Conference. We were together with nine other companionships and President and Sister Sartori on Thursday and Friday. We met in the Komsomolski building which is one of the branches in our district so it was just a short bus ride away. We start at 9 in the morning and finish around 5 in the evening. It’s a long day of sitting, but it is good to feel the spirit of these fine sisters and elders and to hear counsel from President and Sister Sartori. As part of the missionaries’ training, role plays are an important part to practice what we’ve been “preached.” It gives us an opportunity to see the missionaries in action and to practice our teaching and contacting skills as well because we are included in the role plays. We realize the HUGE importance of impactful teaching in missionary work. We are so much more effective missionaries if we are better teachers. We appreciate the opportunity given to prospective missionaries in our own home ward to teach. It is vital! President Sartori gave wonderful instruction on the Atonement and on personal revelation and also gave a demonstration on proper shoe shining techniques. He emphasized the importance of looking like representatives of Christ in the way we dress and in our personal appearance. The missionaries prefer to save their rubles and cut their own hair and President wants them to pay attention to appropriate haircuts—even if they are self done! Of course, another highlight of the conference was lunch: KFC one day and pizza the next – it was a treat! The last portion of the conference is testimony meeting. Our first two days in Russia were spent at a Zone Conference three months ago, and I noticed an interesting occurrence identical to our conference this week. Missionaries who bear their testimonies every day are emotionally bearing their testimonies in a manner much different than they do with investigators. I haven’t exactly put my finger on it, but I think part of it might be because they have a chance to personally reflect on their testimonies and how their mission call affects who they are becoming. A mission truly does give us opportunities that cannot be experienced any other way. We learn how to submit our will to the Lord and to rely on Him for everything we do and say. It is that reliance on Him that motivates us to teach others how they, too, can have help in their lives through Jesus Christ. It is a great work, and we love being missionaries!
We had another holiday this week—Women’s Day! Which means flowers and more chocolates for women! Russians do love their chocolate! What’s not to love! The Komsomolski branch had a party that we dropped into after Zone Conference on Thursday. The men prepared the food which was mighty delicious. The brother in charge was Brother Vageeg who is the same family who had us over for the Armenian feast on New Year’s Eve, so you can believe the food was tremendous and plentiful. They made pork chops with some kind of barbeque sauce on it that was delicious. You eat with your fingers which was somewhat problematic for Elder Peterson because he has a weak front tooth and isn’t supposed to bite into anything that would put stress on it so he had to be creative in his eating technique. Then they put on a karaoke DVD and people were singing Russian love songs. It is very spirited music, much of which is accompanied by accordion. Each of the women was given a box of chocolates.
Elder Peterson has worked very hard this week on a talk he gave in Sacrament Meeting Sunday about the Book of Mormon in his life. He gave the first half by himself in Russian and then had someone help him translate a couple of stories and then finished with his testimony in Russian. He did a great job and really invited the Spirit to the meeting. He told about his dad giving him a small Book of Mormon when he went away to college for the first time. Through the influence of good roommates and the Spirit, he began to read it. As the book itself promises, after reading and praying to know if it’s true, you can receive an answer through the Holy Ghost. He put the promise to the test and received a confirmation of its truthfulness which lead him to serve his first mission in the Montana Billings Mission. He also told of giving our sons the names of Book of Mormon prophets, Nephi and Lehi. Just as Helaman explained to his sons with the same names in the Book of Mormon, their names were to remind them to follow Jesus Christ. When they thought about their names, they would remember their heritage of prophets named Nephi and Lehi who had gone before them and lived lives of faith and righteousness. We are thankful for our stalwart sons who have lived up to their names and who continue the legacy either with their own sons or in the mission field. We also love our daughters who live similar lives of devotion and commitment.
Sister Peterson played a beautiful piano solo that brought the spirit to all present. She has such a passion and touch for music that all can feel her interpretation and are inspired. Her talents are really appreciated here. It is a great bridge for her as she learns the language. She also looked really great today. Her hair is getting longer and she says she is not cutting it until she gets home…we will see.
We enjoyed our walk in the forest this week. The sun felt good while we walked on newly fallen snow in mere 10 below Celsius. We stopped to watch woodpeckers fly from tree to tree and peck for whatever they could. There were many kids sledding down hills and even a couple taking wedding photos (with coats nearby!) It is all evidence of a loving God who cares about us through His creations. We have been admonished to take note of the positive things about our surroundings and the things we love about being here. After all, everything is about attitude, right?!

March 6, 2012

We're currently waiting for our new district leader to come over and meet with us. The zone leaders were transferred to New City and one of the members from New City, Elder Malloy, is coming here to Old City with a new companion and district leader, Elder Ceimers. He is from Latvia, speaks Latvian, Russian and English. He has been a member of the church for about a year and a half and makes the comment that he will have been on a mission longer than he will have been a member of the church. That’s pretty amazing! Sister Ostapchuk completed her mission and went home to Ukraine; she is the sister who, for some reason, I connected with right from the beginning. I will miss her. It was hard saying goodbye knowing that we might never see each other again. Thank heavens for email - we will each get a chance to practice our Russian and English!

We were able to go to Samara Friday and spend the evening with President Sartori and his wife. It was an enjoyable ride from Old City to Samara - lots of trees, little villages, and varied architecture compared to Old City's view of apartment buildings that are all the same. When we traveled from Samara to Toliatti when we first arrived in Russia, it was dark so this was the first time we were able to see the landscape in the daytime and it was quite pretty. President and Sister Sartori were able to give us some additional leadership training information and helpful websites that are now available in Russian. Elder Peterson also spent some time with President regarding generating new ways to find and retain investigators. It was nice to be in the Mission Home. I brought my piano books with me and played the piano for close to an hour in their apartment. The Mission Home has another apartment adjacent to it, but one of the mission counselors was staying there so Elder Peterson and I stayed with President and Sister Sartori. I marvel at their devotion and dedication to keep up with everything. Sister Sartori was trying to manage the move of her 97-year old mother into an Assisted Living accommodation in Utah via fax and email since she is the POA along with all of her mission responsibilities along with hosting us. I’m sure they have people to dinner several times a week; that would do me in!

We had to hustle back in time to do some training for the Young Single Adult councils from Toliatti, Samara, and Saratov. It is amazing to see the Russian future leaders of the church here; they are awesome, devoted people! They are all wanting to plan a conference that would gather many of them from the different zones to associate with each other. We are hoping to help make that happen. We had lunch together afterwards that had been prepared by Sister Kozmenin. Her husband is the Mission Counselor over CES. She is into healthy eating so we had all kinds of interesting foods to try!

We continue to meet with Svetlana each week. She has a testimony of the church but wants to take time to make sure she makes the right decision to be baptized. She has been meeting with the missionaries for close to five months now. Last week we talked about Enos and prayer. This week we are talking about Samuel the Lamanite's prophecy of Christ's birth leading into His appearance to the Nephites in America. Last week she told me I was one of her two friends--that's a step in the right direction! She plays the piano so we have that in common. She likes to choose the hymn we sing at every meeting; she’s a very good sight reader; she is able to tell what the songs sound like just from reading the notes without hearing the music. Hopefully, she will stay for all of church this Sunday since we will be attending at the branch where she lives. Dad is speaking in Sacrament Meeting, and I will be playing the piano. We'll see if anyone shows up! Seriously, though, they rescheduled district conference that was supposed to be this weekend due to the fact that all employed people will be working on the weekend. There is a holiday on Thursday to celebrate Women's Day which causes the necessity for everyone to work on the weekend I guess. Don't exactly get it, but we've been told not to expect many people at church.

We had our first "official" dinner party last week. We invited the District President and his wife, along with the three branch presidents and their wives to dinner. I chose to make lasagna which was just okay, but they said they liked it. Unfortunately, two of the branch presidents and their wives canceled at the last minute so that was a bummer. But it made it so that we were able to bond even more with the branch president from New City. In fact, they were at our apartment for a good fifteen minutes before President and Sister Zolotov arrived; Sister Zolotov speaks English and translates for us so we were on our own to communicate with President and Sister Bushuev and managed to survive just fine. We attended that branch on Sunday, and we could really tell the difference in their reception of us. They initiated conversations and were much friendlier than they had been before. We will keep trying with the other branch presidents; this isn't the first time they have canceled appointments with us:(

We went to visit a member at her Art School. She teaches art to children from the ages of probably 5 to 18. She showed us many of the paintings her students have done, and you can’t believe these were pictures painted by nine-year olds! They were professional-looking oil paintings! There were also pen mediums and other paints. She had a class in session while we were there and allowed us to watch the children paint. Many of her students have gone on to study in Moscow. She is a very talented artist and teacher! She also speaks Russian extremely fast, but we catch a word here and there and also had another member come with us who speaks some English and was able to translate for us.

February 27, 2012

   Can you even remember last week? The days just seem to run together. That is one thing that in and of itself has been different in the mission field for us. We don't keep track of what day or date it is like we did at home. Dad had a good birthday Sunday; well, "Russia" good. He spoke in church which was excellent. He was presented with a candy bar for his birthday from the RS president which they do for all 20 members of the branch on their birthdays:) Then we came home and had a real, bonified roast beast dinner - first one since we've been in Russia. Our district president has a friend in one of the "Reenoks," as they are called, who he trusts to sell quality meat. So President
Zolotov took us there last week and we bought a roast, pork chops, and 4 pounds of ground "farsh," a mixture of pork and beef. We spent $27 which seemed ridiculous, but it won't happen very often. I cooked half of the roast with potatoes and carrots and even made gravy. Dad said it tasted good so that's what was important. Planning ahead, he thought to bring the DVD Jeremiah Johnson strictly for the purpose of watching on his birthday, which he did. I told him that could have been a mistake on two accounts, one of which was seeing our "backyard" throughout the movie. We really do live in a beautiful place!
   We will be having a zone conference here in Toliatti next month. There are eight other missionaries who will join the eight we have here. They come from as far as 8 hours away. I guess President and Sister Sartori will stay in a hotel here. We were hoping to be able to go to Samara for a change of scenery but this will be fine too. I wonder if they'll ask us to house some of the other missionaries. They could sleep on what I'm sure is a most-comfortable couch bed:) During our district meeting last week, the zone leader and his companion performed their OC (Old City, the name of the city we live in here) Rap. We took a picture of it and will send it along, but it was so funny. These two
elders are definitely some of our favorites. Elder Hale and Elder Hughes, H2 they call themselves, have fun personalities and get along well with each other. Elder Hale has a beautiful baritone voice; in fact, I accompanied for him to sing "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" in Sacrament meeting yesterday that was extremely good. Anyway, he sings part of the rap while Elder Hughes does a fist and knuckle rhythm on the table while doing the back-up talking part of the rap. The words they wrote are specific to the mission and are very clever...a missionary reunion hit to be sure!
   Russians celebrated a holiday last week. The kids were out of school all week to celebrate the leaving of winter and the coming of spring. Evidenced by the horizontal snow storm we had Saturday, I can hardly see spring coming any time soon. But the holiday includes eating pancakes all week. Russian pancakes are called "Blini" and are like what we would call crepes. On Sunday they have a ritual of burning a stuffed doll which signifies killing winter. We can only hope she died! As part of the celebration, our Old City Branch had a picnic in the forest on Saturday. A picnic in the winter, you might ask? Oh, yes, absolutely..."it's normal." And, yes, it's still cold. We dressed for it,
but with the wind blowing it was still cold. But we walked in the forest for a while, some sled down hills on sleds, others on plastic bags, and we ate pancakes and drank herbal tea. One of them noticed dad had a bit of frostbite on his cheeks. We wouldn't have noticed but she said they looked a little white. So we've been putting lotion on them; I'm sure they'll be fine.
   We had our first visa trip last week. We are required to leave the country every three months to renew our visas. You can imagine what a logistical feat that is to keep straight for hundreds of missionaries throughout Eastern Europe!! We were travelling with two of the same elders we arrived to Russia with originally. So four limited Russian-speaking Americans trying to maneuver three airports, four airplanes, taxi directions, etc. made for an exciting trip. We were doing pretty good until Elder Peterson made a
quick duck into the bathroom. Having complete faith and trust in him, the other two elders naturally followed in after him…into the women’s bathroom! The two elders quickly noticed their mistake (probably from the cleaning ladies yelling at them), but Elder Peterson was already committed and wasn’t yelled at until he was washing his hands. In their defense, the pictured logos on the doors were unlike any we have ever seen. The other airport bathroom signs were easily distinguishable, but these definitely were not. Makes for a good story anyway.
   Our day started with getting up at 4 in the morning to take a taxi to the Samara airport, fly to Moscow, fly to Vilnius Lithuania, back to Moscow, back to Samara, taxi back home, arriving at 1:30 the next morning. We are hoping that some time during our stay here we will have a visa trip to Kiev, Ukraine, so that we can attend the temple there. Some interesting things about the airplane rides were we were offered a hard candy on a large tray a couple of times throughout the flight. It wasn’t a mint; just a fruit-flavored candy. We were fed meals on every flight. Our 7 a.m. flight was a chicken dinner. Another meal included weird looking meat and cheese on a roll. We were excited to have a couple of mustard packets included because mustard isn’t common here. I chose to save mine to take home. Elder Malloy chose to smother his sandwich with it, excitedly took a bite, and was surprised to taste yellow-colored horseradish! It was super nasty!! It was apparent the alcoholic beverages were free, but we passed on those.
   While waiting for a connecting flight in one of the airports, we ate in a cafĂ© and ordered strictly by pointing at pictures. All of the waiters were laughing at us trying to communicate what we wanted. Elder Peterson still ended up with mayonnaise on his sandwich despite his superb efforts to communicate otherwise. Russians do love their mayonnaise!!