June 17, 2012

It was a sad day in the Old City Branch this week!  Due to a lack of priesthood leadership, it became necessary to integrate the members into the other two existing branches in the District.  There were many tears shed, as this is the only branch these members have ever known.  Even though they know all of the members in the other branches, they still feel a loyalty and devotion to their own branch.  In time, the hope is that through our efforts as missionaries along with the efforts of the members to rescue less-actives that the Old City Branch will be reestablished.  Of the active members, four will go to New City and 14 or so will go to Komsomolski.  Many of them want to choose which branch they attend, and it has been difficult explaining why it is necessary for them to attend where their membership records will reside according to where they live—particularly when there are currently other members who do not attend the branch wherein they live; another problem for another day.  Elder Peterson continues to support and help the leadership to reorganize and help with the transition.  We can empathize with them somewhat from our experience of living in three different wards within a period of five or so years without moving.  It is difficult to leave loved ones—even when they live just down the street!  But we are blessed because we know that many more wonderful neighbors who we wouldn’t have otherwise known!

We spent our Pday this week going to look at the river and beach in another part of our town.  The last several Mondays have been cloudy and cooler (thank heavens!!!) so the beaches are empty and our walks are much more pleasant without the sun baking down on us.  The forest we walked through to get to the river this time was our favorite so far.  The flowers and grasses were so pretty, and it was quite a bit more open.  We even found a patch of wild strawberries that were tiny but tasty. 
We have been able to meet with our investigators this week, as well as help the missionaries with many of their investigators and less-active members.  We love bearing our testimonies often.  We just wish more of these people could recognize the blessings available to them if they would “experiment upon the word.”  We are praying for Svetlana to have the courage to tell her family she will be baptized.  She has been saying for months now that she will be baptized; she’s just not ready yet.  Her family is against the church, and we understand her concerns of jeopardizing those relationships.  We should hear from her this next week about what she has decided.

We witnessed quite a lightning display on our way home from teaching.  The sky was lit up with bolts crossing horizontally and vertically.  We got wet walking home through the puddles, but it felt good for the temperatures to drop.

We went back out to Prebrejnee to visit with some ward members there.  They invited us over for “Shashlik,” barbecued pork.  Another family from New City joined us, as well, and we had a fun time working in their garden, learning more about traditional Russian food, and playing General Conference Bingo.  Along with the barbeque pork, they barbeque whole tomatoes, whole green peppers, and whole eggplants.  After they are cooked, you put them in a hot water bath with salt, peel off the black-charcoaled skin and eat them.  I have never been an eggplant fan, but I thought it was quite good.  We were also served a vegetable salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh basil.  As you might be able to guess from the pictures below, this family has a large garden with probably 30+ tomato plants, a hot house full of cucumbers (they pickle them by the gallons), strawberry fields, eggplants, peppers, herbs.   On the way to their house, they stopped at a neighbor’s to buy fresh-baked bread native to Uzbekistan.  It kind of looks like pizza crust with a double-thick edge.  We had ice cream with fresh strawberry “jam” for dessert.  It is fun to spend time with these families who enrich our experience so much.  It is always amazing to me that every time we have played the simple game of bingo, the people have so much fun.  Of course, we always make it interesting with fabulous prizes for the winnersJ
We always love hearing from dear friends and family and knowing that you and your families are “holding to the rod.”  We are encouraged, uplifted, and motivated to try harder and be better because we know you are rooting for us.  We are humbled by the responsibility we feel to reflect your love and examples in everything we do.  The gospel is true, missionary work is directed by the Lord, and prayers are heard and answered by Him.  We love the Book of Mormon and know it is true.

1-Izmalkov's Garden
2-Vagik and Elder Peterson

June 3, 2012

We have had a good week.  We were able to be in Samara for a combined Zone Conference.  Our mission driver was due to pick us up at 3 p.m. on Monday to ride with another couple to the mission home.  He called us at 1 to say he was here.  Yikes!  We didn’t get the memo!!  We hadn’t packed, eaten lunch, nor baked the cookies I wanted to bring.  It’s the story of our lives here…FLEXIBILITY!!  So we threw our things in a suitcase and left without lunch or cookies.  We walked to KFC as soon as we got there and then called another senior couple who live in Samara to come over and play a game.  Instead we just visited and shared ideas.  We get together so rarely that it is more fun to just get caught up and visit. 

Our Zone Conference was a one-day conference this time on Tuesday.  One of the things we enjoy most is seeing elders who have been transferred from our area.  Since we work with four companionships in our district, that adds up to quite a few missionaries over a period of time.  As we have mentioned before, we grow so attached to these great young people.  It is like seeing one of our own children again after being separated for awhile.  We always love seeing our “trainers,” Elders Bullough and Woolley.  They are the first companionship who found our apartment for us, showed us our neighborhood, and taught us to work hard.  It is also fun to see these elders teach each other.  We talked about effectively using the baptismal interview questions, better using the “Area Book,” and working with our members and branch presidents.  President Sartori focused on the importance of our own personal conversion.  We cannot be effective missionaries without first having our own conviction of the truth we are teaching.  Of course, the conference is concluded with a testimony session which is always a highlight.  We appreciate our interview with President Sartori; he is so genuine and makes us feel like we are contributing.  He has a good way of dispelling our inadequacies and disappointments and motivates us to recommit to do better.  This conference was good timing for us.  It was an opportunity to be away from the daily routine for a couple of days and to be energized by being together as a group.

We continued to have our Skype lessons even while we were in the mission home this week.  Monday night we were still with the other two couples when it was time for Elder Peterson to have his lesson so we all sang the opening song and had the opening prayer together.  His tutor, Ryan Smith, also taught one of the other couples who was at the mission home with us so it was fun for them to see him again, too.  While we were still visiting, Ryan told me to “look,” and I had a fun surprise to see our dear friend Beverly Ririe.  She is a service missionary at the MTC and had asked Ryan if he knew us.  He mentioned he would be teaching us that day so she dropped by and said hello for just a minute.  It was so fun to see her!  

The district president’s daughter was baptized on Saturday.  She is so adorable!  We sang “Silent Night” for the opening song.  Maybe that’s her favorite song, I don’t know.  After the baptism there is a short testimony meeting for the family to bear their testimonies.  Her non-member grandma even bore her testimony.  They are a terrific family!  We invited our investigator to come so she could see what a baptism is like.  She came—AFTER the baptismal ordinance!  Oh, well.  She was able to see the font.  She talked to the elders yesterday and voiced concerns about her family being against her joining the church, and she doesn’t want to disappoint them.  She is probably close to 40 years old – old enough to make her own decisions, but it is a typical response for people here to be loyal to the “traditions of their fathers.”  She knows the church is true and has had every evidence it is the right thing short of an angel appearing to her.  She has come to church regularly for months, and I’m sure that will continue regardless of her decision whether to be baptized.  Hopefully, she will eventually want the blessings of being baptized.

The Zolotov’s invited us to attend a concert with them one evening.  It was so fabulous!  There were music performers from 14 different countries who are part of a music academy.  Most of the performers were prodigy children anywhere from probably 7 to 16 years old who played piano, violin, flute, guitar, saxophone, cello.  This one little boy who couldn’t have been more than eight years old played a flute solo unlike anything I’ve heard or probably every will hear.  It was out-of-this-world incredible!  Of all the performers, he was the only one whom the audience applauded back onto the stage.  All of the performers were deserving of the same, but he was over-the-top great.  It was a treat to enjoy such a great event and to spend the evening with treasured friends.

The Young Single Adults hosted a talent night for the district on Saturday night.  There were several less-active members and a couple of investigators who attended so that was positive.  One of the investigators, who is 82 years old,  brought several of her needlepoint pictures of the Savior.  She does a lot of hand stitching and invited everyone to visit her at her dome any time.  I am going to go with the sister missionaries soon to see all of her work.  As we were nearing the end of the program, she asked to stand and share her recipe for a salad.  How cute is that!  Just about as cute as Milena Zolotova singing a traditional Russian song; she's destined for stardom!  We had a violinist, magician, poetists, singers, and infamous missionary rappers!!  We are taking it upon ourselves to plan the next District activity which will be a Minute-to-Win-It shindig.  The Russian translation just doesn't have quite the same ring to it but hopefully it will be fun all the same.

It feels like we are coming into summer.  The temperatures are in the mid 80's, but with the humidity that is plenty warm!  We've had a couple of impressive thunderstorms.  Of course, the buses are not air conditioned so my favorite seat is next to the window so I can feel air.  Most people choose to keep their windows closed--seems crazy to me.  I'm way past the "it will mess my hair up" stage I guess.

Every day continues to bring new adventures, challenges, new words, etc.  One thing that remains constant is our testimony of the Savior and of His plan.  We are striving every day to stand as witnesses to His great work.  We are grateful to all of you for your love and prayers!  We definitely are blessed because of them!

1-Ksusha, Vitali Talent Show MC's
2-Pres Bushuev Magician
3-Talent Display
4-Lena, Christina, Milena Komsomolski
5-Komsomolski branch
6-Komsomolski District Bldg     

May 28, 2012

We had district meeting over the telephone this last week because our district leader is in a town four hours away from here now.  It wasn't very effective because it is hard for everyone to hear over the phone.  The rest of us met here at our apartment as usual and we put the phone on speaker phone.  We will have to try and think of some way to improve it, but I don't know what that will be.  Part of the challenge is translating the language; our district leader is a native and me and dad and our new sister still need translation.  Our new sister, Sister Upshaw, participated in one of two groups who were in a pilot program at the MTC recently.  They were only there for 9 weeks instead of 12 and spent little time learning the language so she is here knowing very little Russian.  She explained that the thinking behind it is that most of your language learning is done in the field anyway so they are seeing if it will be of better benefit to spend more time learning in the field than in the MTC.  Her companion here is a native who speaks some English so she will learn quickly from someone who is very capable.  It will be really tough though, I'm sure.

Well, our YSA FHE this last week came in at a count of 14--ONE SHORT of our goal!!  But we are encouraged to know that we will make it soon.  The missionaries are doing a great job of bringing investigators.  We will be losing a couple of our regulars who will be leaving to go to school in Utah soon so we need to work even harder to bring back less actives and strengthen our group.  We went to the Seminaries and Institute graduation program Saturday evening.  The youth from Samara came down to be a part of it, along with President Kozmenin, the counselor in the mission presidency over Institute.  Several of the youth in Samara are from Ghana and have been in Russia about as long as we have.  It was good to speak English with them.  They are a happy, strong group.  We marvel at their character because it is very difficult to be a Latter-day Saint youth here.

We took a field trip last P-day to a village just outside of one of our towns called Fyorodkova.  It is nestled between the Volga River and what they call mountains (but to us they are hills).  We took the little van out to the "beach" and then walked back about 40 minutes to see the large church that was built back in the time of their Revolution.  Natasha said every village had a church like this.  We walked along rows of dachas and an occasional, unusually large and modern home.  There were large ponds here and there that were pretty.  The whole time we were in the village we didn't see more than just a few people and they were in the little store where we stopped to buy an ice cream.  The elders said they have gone out to the village before but it wasn't a very productive finding area, and we can see why.  It was nice for a change of scenery and good to see another style of living for the Russian people.

We had a couple over for FHE on Monday night; she is a member, he is not.  They have been to church the past couple of weeks and have a desire to start coming back to church after a long period of inactivity.  We had them over in December when we first arrived here but still hadn't seen them at church.  Sometimes the timing just has to be right.  They are good people, and we hope they will find their way back.  Dad helped a brother with his home teaching one evening.  It's encouraging to see that at least a few people are taking President Zolotov's vision of home teaching to heart.  Our investigator Svetlana is thinking more seriously about baptism.  We asked her what she wants us to teach her so that she can be ready to make her decision.  She said faith to trust her thoughts and emotions.  For several months, she has said she would be ready to get baptized in June--we'll see...  Dad was asked to speak at a priesthood leadership meeting that was presided over by a member of the Second Quorum of Seventies.  The meeting was Saturday morning, and President Zolotov asked him Thursday afternoon to speak.  That was a little stressful for him, but I'm sure he did great.  He spoke on the real growth of the church, how to retain our members.  We are still struggling with making the branch leadership changes here as we prepare to consolidate branches.  It is difficult to find someone who is worthy and willing to accept callings.  It is an interesting challenge, and we will learn a great deal from this humbling experience.

We are headed to Samara today for zone conference.  It's good timing; we're needing a boost.  We will stay in the second apartment again and come home Wednesday.  We were hoping to take a stroll along the river front when we get there, but it is raining.  After our rain, we are supposed to get into the mid 80's which will feel very warm and muggy.  

We are realizing how fast the time is going by and want to try harder to make the time count.  There is so much good to be done!
1- Church in Fyodrovka
2- Dom garden
3- Dom sweet Dom
4- Elder Glavatsky, Andre and Svetlana, Elder Malloy
5- Fyodrovka
6- Garden in bloom
7- Home in Fyodrovka
8- Our Football field
9- Our grocery store
10- Our Volleyball court
11- Post Office and Barbershop
12- Seminary and Institute graduation
13- Wooden home in Fyodrovka