August 27, 2012

We had a fun week with the YSA in Moscow for their annual conference. It is something similar to EFY just on a smaller scale. There were about 160 kids and five senior couples from Moscow, Samara, and St. Petersburg. The theme was "Together is Better than Alone." These youth look forward to this conference every year. It is amazing for them to be with so many other people similar in age and belief. They had scripture study every morning, seminars, sports activities, speed dating, a talent show, and a dance every night. From what we could tell, everyone had an enjoyable time and was glad they chose to attend. Many of them expressed in their testimonies that they rejected the offer to come several times before agreeing to come, and then they were so grateful they did.

The facility was kind of up in the hills about an hour outside of Moscow. Someone had told us that many years ago it was built by the government because they were required to have a place where their employees could go for "rest." So there is a large building similar to a hotel, a large dining area, dance hall, assembly hall with a stage. For sports, they have a basketball court, tennis, bicycling, swimming, and I don't know what else. There are lots of swings around the property and a fun playgrounds for kids. We have been in several homes obviously, and this place would be considered quite luxurious for many, if not most, of these young adults. We felt guilty when we were wondering why we didn't have a "luggage rack" to put our suitcase on. Elder Peterson said, "Every hotel has one." I had to remind him that we're not in Kansas any more. The room did have a fridge and the beds were quite comfortable--or maybe it was because we were just so exhausted once we went to bed every night that we would have been able to sleep on a bed of rocks and be comfortable:)

We ate three meals a day and learned that the midday meal is larger than the evening meal. For breakfast one morning we had buckwheat and a hot dog (well, they would call it a sausage). Another morning we had noodles and some kind of meat. We did have a hot cereal that I've never seen before one morning. For lunch we always had a small salad, soup, main course and fruit for dessert. Dinner was usually a soup and yogurt or fruit. Every meal is served with breads and tea, never water. The best part of it all was that I didn't have to cook it!!

On the first day, they divided up into twelve different groups and got to know each other in their groups. These are the groups who studied scriptures together in the mornings and planned a skit for the talent show. We thought the senior couples should participate in the talent show, too, so we did what we know how to do best..."Ain't no mountain high enough." We got one of the kids to download the song, type the words up and copy them so the other couples could read the words, and then hook up his ipad to the sound system so we would have something to sing to; which was hilarious because the music was so loud you couldn't hear us...just as well! Needless to say, we were the hit of the show. Keep in mind, these are couples in their 60's and 70's except for us, but they were all good sports. Our district president videoed it and showed it to us afterwards. He panned the audience, and they were all standing, dancing and clapping. The rest of the night many of them were coming up to us and telling us how much they enjoyed it. But you know what that's like; it was so silly, but we were able to show them that old farts can have fun, too!

Let me tell you about the other couples. The Jones' and Pearson's are in Moscow, Brewer's and Adams' are in St. Petersburg, and the Stevens' and us, of course, are in Samara. We hung out with the Stevens while we were there. We ate our meals together, went on walks, etc. We so rarely get to see the other couples in our mission that it was a treat to be with them all week. I wanted to tell you about the Brewer's. They are from Snowflake, AZ, are serving their second mission, they are the CES couple in their mission, and they're 75 years old. We came to admire them so much because they have such faith and are so diligent despite their age. Sister Brewer said they had many people ask them how they could possibly serve in Russia and at their age. She would always respond that the prophet signed their call from the Lord, and that was all they needed to know in order to serve. Before they submitted their papers, they were actually asked to serve in Nauvoo, but when they received their call, it said they were going to Russia. Brother Brewer's grandmother was a Peterson, and he sat us down one night to tell us a wonderful story about his grandpa, Neils Peterson, Pete Peterson they called him. We're sure we're related somehow. Anyway, Brother Brewer told about how the land was divided between the "warsh" to the Mortenson family on one side and the Peterson family on the other. We loved hearing his faith-promoting stories about them there parts of the land. You should see this couple dance, too! Brother Brewer is a crack up, and I know the kids in his area will love them! He has a full head of natural, black hair. They've only been here a couple of months. It really is amazing to see all of these couples fresh courage take and forge ahead to try and make a difference.

From our own district, we had 17 young adults attend. One was a girl who doesn't come to any of the activities, but she came to the conference and had a great time. A couple others are inactive, and our eternal investigator Sergei also came. It was a great opportunity to strengthen our relationship with these terrific young adults. Just being there with them and seeing them on a daily basis was terrific. They even allowed us to dance in their circle at the dances!

Elder Bennett, of the Quorum of the Seventy who serves in our Area Presidency, and his wife spoke at the conference, as well as the Moscow Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Sorensen. Elder Reshetnikov was also there; he is also a member of the Seventy and lives in our mission. He's the one who came and spoke at one of our branches a couple of weeks ago. We have seen him several times now and just love being around him. They all spoke on the importance of God's plan, families, celestial marriage, choosing to follow God. Elder Bennett told the youth point blank that the reason the church spends millions of rubles each year for this wonderful conference is so that the youth can get together to meet, fall in love, and get married. The church depends on these young adults to be the next generation to move the work forward. Of all the things I heard throughout the conference, one thing that rang true to me was spoken by one of the young adults who said he had been to a youth conference in Spain and has been to church in other parts of the world, and the youth always say the same things no matter where he is. He realizes that they are all the same; they all have the same desires, the same hopes and dreams, the same testimonies. I absolutely love that!

I just have to mention the train ride as part of the experience. We were on the train for 17 hours getting to Moscow and 19 coming back. Yes, that's a long time!! The mission takes very good care of us and purchased a 4-bed compartment for us so we didn't have to share. I can't even imagine being in those tight quarters with two more people you wouldn't know (and who undoubtedly would not speak any English:)! The rest of the young adults and President Zolotov and his family were just in the open-compartment area which meant they weren't separate rooms, but one open area where everyone sleeps. You don't have any privacy. We felt guilty; but at the same time, we felt protected. We got a lot of studying done and we even managed to sleep now and then as the train rocked back and forth. I felt like I was still on the train for at least a day afterwards, as well. We rode through some beautiful country. As soon as you get away from the city, the fields and trees and villages are so green and pretty. The only thing that is missing is animals! Elder Peterson can't believe that in all the open space, we never saw anything more than a cow.
I saved the best part of the trip for last. We were able to see a friend of ours at the train station in Moscow on the day we left. She is an investigator who met the sister missionaries while she was visiting her parents during the summer here in Toliatti. She lives in Moscow, and we told her before she left Toliatti in June that we would call her when we came to Moscow. She has continued to take the lessons from the missionaries and is being baptized this Saturday!! We are so excited for her and know we have made a friend who we will keep in touch with forever. We are able to email back and forth in English; she doesn't speak any English, but google translate does a job of somewhat getting the point across. This is a tender mercy and shows us that love bridges the language gap. We can communicate somewhat, but the most important thing is that we feel each other's love. Her name is Tanya; she is in one of the pictures I posted of our water balloon volleyball activity this summer. While she was here in Toliatti, she came to every activity, church every week, and really embraced the gospel. She explains that she has found the happiness she has been looking for for a long time. She is such a giving person and will be a fabulous member of the church. She waited at the train station over an hour for us to arrive so she could tell us her good news in person. Another tender mercy is that she has met another YSA in her branch who is originally from Toliatti (whom we know) and whose mother lives in the Komsomolski branch. This Lena has taken Tanya under her wing, and they have become very good friends. We wish we could share her baptism day in person, but pictures will have to suffice. Speaking of pictures, we need to buy batteries for our camera before we can get pictures sent of our conference, but you can also go to Elder Peterson's facebook page to view some he posted from our District President.

1.Tanya and me on the train
2.Tanya and me at the train station in Moscow
3.Elder Peterson on the train to Moscow
4.Elder and Sister Stevens and us at the sports' activity
5.Elder and Sister Stevens, Elder and Sister Pearson, us
6.Waiting in the metro station
7.Several of our Young Adults
8.The view from our hotel window in Moscow

August 20, 2012

This week was transfer week. We are adding a new companionship to our district. Cycle before last, one of the areas was closed since we combined the two branches here and the mission was low on missionaries. We thought it would be October before we would get more missionaries again, but President has decided to put elders back into Komsomolski this cycle so that is good. That means we will have two companionships in each branch. Their areas are each so large that hopefully this will help the missionary effort. We said goodbye to Elder Morris who is returning home to Centerville, UT, today. We were only able to work with him for one cycle, but we feel blessed to have been able to have him for that long. He and Elder Hale were the best Russian speakers in the mission and were both AP's when we arrived here. Elder Morris has been helping us a lot with our language, and we told him that the first couple of days he's home, he can call us on Skype when he's up at 3 in the morning with jet lag which is the middle of the afternoon for us. For as good as a Russian speaker he is, he is an even-better missionary. We are humbled by all of these young men and young women who so valiantly "Arise and Shine Forth!"

We had a bit of a small miracle this last week. We needed help getting to a lab facility and were trying to think of the best option for taking someone with us to translate. We happened to be talking to the elders in our area, and they mentioned that they had just contacted someone on the street that afternoon who spoke very good English. So they called her and asked if she would be willing to help us. She is waiting to get a visa to Germany and so she isn't currently working and said she would have time to help us. We thought that was pretty amazing that a complete stranger would spend their time with us. We contacted her on the phone and made arrangements to go the next morning. Her name is Laina, she's 24 years old, and, yes, she speaks very good English. She said her dad has a car and would be going to work in that direction so they would pick us up and drive us there. So the next morning we went out to the street to meet them, and her dad is Brother Sergei who was a progressing investigator a few months ago who the missionaries lost track of! When Laina told her dad she was going to help us, he remembered who we were and wanted to help us. They both even came to church yesterday! The missionaries are trying really hard to get a meeting with the whole, dad, Laina, and the 22-year old brother. Laina had met with the missionaries some time ago and so she knows a little about the church. She likes to speak English with the missionaries, but she is also searching for a church. Brother Sergei had some really good experiences with the missionaries but for some reason found some other priorities and didn't continue meeting with them. He has elderly parents who he spends most of his discretionary time taking care of. Bottom line, though, the Lord has put them in our paths again, and we hope we can help them to feel the Spirit.

Saturday we went on a picnic with one of the branches for an activity. They "chartered" a bus that took us out to a nice beach area. It was quite pretty on the river with mountains (big hills) with little villages nestled in the valleys across the river. Cars drive right down onto the beach to choose their spots and some people were even camping in the area. Keeping with Russian tradition, we began the activity by singing a hymn (they brought photocopies) and a spiritual thought. Then we had our picnic lunch of roasted sausages, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, bananas, juice. They just lay out a big piece of plastic for the table and we all sit around on pads. The members were very generous in catering to us to make sure we tried the different Russian cuisines they had brought. We had some unusual string cheese, delicious sunflower seed snack cakes, Kvas (will never learn to like that!), and the typical fresh cucumbers and tomatoes. We were able to visit with some nonmember friends of one of the members who came. The member doesn't want us to talk to them about the church yet, but maybe we can fellowship them as friends for awhile first.

Sunday was a great day. President and Sister Sartori made a special trip to the branch to address some serious issues that are affecting the functionality and spirituality of the branch. Elder Reshetnikov from one of the quorums of the Seventy who lives in Saratov came and spoke also. His talk was so fabulous regarding our priorities and how serving Christ and putting Him first in our lives will ensure that our families and other priorities are put into proper order. President Sartori gave a very direct talk helping us to realize where we need to improve. I told him it's the best "hell, fire and damnation" talk I've ever heard!:) All of us missionaries here had been praying for him all week to be able to deliver his message with the Spirit. He had a very difficult task and handled it with such wisdom. Elder Peterson called it a "masterpiece."

At the end of a very long day on Sunday, we came home and watched President Monson's 85th birthday celebration online. Besides enjoying the wonderful talent, we were reminded of what an exemplary life President Monson lives. He will leave a legacy of a life of service. I was reminded that he was called to be an apostle at the age of 36. Can you imagine knowing that you would hold that calling for most of your life until the end of your life! When I hear church members complain that they're tired and don't want to serve any more, I think of President Monson and realize that none of us can complain about being tired. We just have to "buck up," put a smile on our face, and keep on going. I have a testimony that the Lord sustains us when we are able and willing to do His work. President Monson also practices what he preaches; he often reminds us to acknowledge others with thankfulness. He had prerecorded a video message that was played toward the conclusion of the program thanking everyone who had anything to do with putting together his special birthday event. He is certainly grateful and is always so considerate to express his gratitude. We are so grateful for a living prophet on the earth today.

1-4 New City Picnic
5     Komsomolski Branch leadership; President and Sister Sartori; Elder Reshetnikov

August 13, 2012

A baptism in the Volga River is a good thing. Saturday an eight-year old member of one of the branches was baptized. His parents and older sister had all been baptized in the river ten years ago and so it was their desire that he would also be baptized in the same place. It was actually quite a story of faith and prayer because the previous night it was raining really hard for quite some time. His mom told him that if it continued to rain, it was okay because he could just get baptized in the font at the branch building. Well, he wouldn't have any part of that and said he had to be baptized in the river like his family was so they decided they would pray and ask for the weather to be good enough for him to realize the desire of his heart. Saturday morning was cool and cloudy but not rainy. Their prayers had been answered! What a great experience for this young boy who will remember an answer to prayer on his baptism day. There was some concern for having the baptism at 11 in the morning because other people might be in the area, but the branch president wasn't able to attend any sooner than that. The cooler weather was a blessing because it kept a lot of people inside, and we didn't have any interruptions at all. There was such a great spirit there, many of the district members were there to support him, and he was so excited he could hardly contain himself. We have become friends with this family; they asked dad to offer the opening prayer and me, the closing. So I had to study up on my grammar and kind of what I wanted to say beforehand. It's a different experience to actually have to think about what you're going to say in a simple prayer, but I'm still not confident enough and don't have enough vocabulary to be spontaneous. I'm sure we were understandable though and hope we added to the spirit of the meeting. The elders had to get special permission to attend and it worked out just great. The area in which we were was not a beach, and it was quite a ways down from the parking lot and public area of the place so there wasn't any immodesty, loud music, or other distractions that could have been a concern. After the service, we all noticed the stark contrast in spirit as we walked back up the hill to take our bus back home. Many wedding parties were gathering for pictures because this is at a park where there's a big monument and a pretty view of the river. So there were a lot of cars, music, party atmosphere...a definite "spirit killer." We were so grateful to have been able to be set apart from the world even though we were not too far from it. Baptisms are my absolutely favorite meeting of the church because of the strong spirit that is always there.

As I mentioned last week, we are trying to meet with more members of the branches to strengthen our relationship with them. We love meeting with them and getting to know them better. It makes such a difference when we see them at church. All of a sudden we are friends instead of just strange missionaries. One of the members we met with is Brother Ivan. He's probably 60 or so, comes and plays ultimate frisbee with us every week, bicycles, scuba dives. He's quite the sports enthusiast. He had been taking care of his ill mother for many years up until she died several months ago and so he hadn't been to church until recently. He is such a loving person and is good to have back in the branch. He is the only member of the church in his family. He shares his apartment with another less-active member, Albert, who works long hours each day to make enough money to bring his wife and three chlidren from Madagascar or somewhere to live here.

We also met with Segun, our Nigerian member, and finally met his wife Lena this last week. She is actually in the hospital today and will be having their baby in the next couple of days. She'll be in the hospital for two weeks after that. Quite a difference from the two-day stay in America! They are sad because Segun is unable to renew his visa and will have to return to Africa September 1 for six months. I just hope he will be able to come back. Lena was very friendly and has agreed to let us call her and visit. She and Segun speak English to each other; in fact, her English is quite good so we get along just great. She lives with her mom who will help take care of them, but it will be a hard situation.

We are changing things up tomorrow night for FHE...going to a stadium to watch a soccer game. Admission is free so we're not expecting too much, but we think it will still be fun to watch. I don't know how many of the YSA will be interested enough to come, but Brother Ivan is coming and inviting a less-active member to come along so that should be great. We're gearing up for the big YSA Conference in Moscow the following week. The kids are so excited! We're just hoping to survive:) We don't have any specific assignments other than to hang out with the kids; hope we'll be able to help with some of the cooking or something. There should be plenty of kids who speak English so we'll have lots of translators when we need them.

1. Costia, Dima, Stas, Paulina, Sister Oshepkova
2. Sister Peterson, Elder Taylor, Elder Morris
3. Baptism Attendance
4. Rada, Nadia, Lucina, Tanya, Elder Long, Elder Taylor
5. Oshepkov Family
6. Brother Oshepkov and Fsyeva

August 6, 2012

We have had a bit of a slow week. A lot of the elders' appointments canceled or didn't show up. FHE and Sports Night were both poorly attended. Mama told me there'd be days like this! We were able to meet with Marina, the woman we met several weeks ago on a bus who has been kind enough to come and help us with our Russian, and we help her with her English. She has come three times now and wants us to call her again which we definitely will! We gave her a Liahona, and she read it cover to cover. She says it is "interesting." She always tolerates our beginning each meeting with a prayer. She is a very pleasant woman, and even if we can do more than change her opinions about the Mormons, we will have done something good.

We are feeling a need to strengthen the morale and unity of the branches so we are going to concentrate on meeting with the more-active members this next month. We have enlisted the help of the junior missionaries; they don't spend as much time meeting with the members, and it will be good for them to show their love and support as well. Elder Peterson has translated a story that our son Wade shared with us about a boy and starfish as part of a spiritual thought to share with the members regarding the worth of souls. So our week ahead will be very busy in the evenings meeting with members. We had another one of our YSA leave for America today. It makes such a difference when one leaves. She will be studying English in Provo so we are hoping to see her again some day.

We are enjoying a missionary prep class we're teaching every other week. It gives us a chance to highlight Preach My Gospel principles and address the blessings of missionary work. As usual, the teacher gets more from the lesson than the student!

We had an interesting experience on the bus yesterday. We were traveling home from our New City branch and at one of the bus stops a man who was exiting the bus said hello to Elder Peterson and shook his hand. We have never seen him before, but he must know something about the church. It is VERY unusual for someone to be friendly like that to a stranger. It reminds us that we are examples wherever we go, and you never know who is watching you or what impressions you are leaving. We pray every day to be good examples; I think our prayer was answered that day.

We are enjoying the fruits of the summer, literally. The apricots, nectarines, varieties of peaches, grapes, etc. are so delicious. People have stands set up all along the streets. Watermelons are coming on and we see them for sale everywhere! Have yet to buy one but will need to get one for district meeting this week.

I was reading in D&C this week about the mission statement of Latter-day Saints: to share the gospel with everyone. It's a blessing to be a part of this great work and hope we will be diligent in adhering to our purpose not only as missionaries, but simply as members of God's true church. Here's the starfish story:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. 

Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing? 
The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die. 

Son, the man said, don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can't make a difference! 

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said
I made a difference for that one.

I hope we will all realize the opportunity we have every day in one way or another to make a difference!

1.  Kazan Saints
2.  Monastery in Kazan
3.  Sunflower field
4.  "The Love Tree" in Kazan - couples in love hang a padlock on this tree signifying their hearts locked together in love.  We saw this on bridges in Frankfurt also.
5.  Serving in Kazan - Elder Bahr, Peterson, Hill
6.  First meeting with Regina in Kazan
7.  Street musicians in Kazan
8.  God's love in Kazan
9.  Our Tartarsan tour guide at the Kremlin
10.  The leaning tower in the Kremlin
11.  Looking toward one of the Kremlin walls
12.  Elder Peterson and President Sartori - mosaic door on the monastery in Kazan
13.  Agricultural building in Kazan
14.  Our hotel in Friedrichsdorf (We would recommend it)
15.  Our hotel in Friedrichsdorf
16.  I like red phone booths

July 30, 2012

We have had a busy and enjoyable week. We spent the first part of the week in Frankfurt, Germany, on our visa trip and then the last part of the week in Kazan, a city four hours north of us, with President and Sister Sartori. So we are productively using our P-day to return to our schedule and responsibilities that await us for the upcoming week.

We were able to stay in a hotel just a couple of blocks away from the Frankfurt Temple which allowed us to attend two of the days we were there which was wonderful. One of the mornings we were able to do some initiatory work before our session started. I had an ordinance worker who spoke German and one who spoke French, and then I read the words in English. It really brings into perspective the reality of a worldwide church. I love it! We were stopped by an American family in the grocery store one day. They noticed our name tags and said hello. They live in Stuttgart where the dad is stationed with the military. The one son was in Frankfurt to receive his endowment before entering the MTC next month on his way to a mission in Korea. They have another son currently serving in the Pusan mission, and the dad served his mission in Seoul West in the early 80's. We think it is so great that these family members were able to serve in the same country. They'll have so many similar experiences and the language to share.

We were able to attend an activity one evening with all of the senior couples who are serving in the Area Office in Frankfurt. It was on Pioneer Day. They had salads and bread for dinner and then one of the couples who is serving there as Church Historian missionaries gave a presentation commemorating the pioneers. Sister Derr, the church historian, has put together a book with collections of writings from Eliza R. Snow. We were told she does a lot of programs on KBYU. Anyway, we sang a lot of Sister Snow's poems and writings that are put to familiar hymns and tell the story of the pioneer's journey. It was very well done, and we enjoyed being able to be with so many English-speaking adults and to have a little pioneer nostalgia that we wouldn't have had otherwise. One of the couples we met had been the Temple President in the Madrid Temple and was called before they left their assignment in Spain to serve as the executive secretary to the Area Presidency in the Western Europe Area there in Frankfurt. So they completed their temple assignment, went home for eight weeks, and left again for Frankfurt. I don't know how long of a calling this one is, but I really admire these faithful Saints who are asked to serve away from home for extended periods of time. I know they and their families are blessed, but it would still be hard.

With this being our second trip to Friedrichsdorf, we were more familiar with the area and able to maneuver through the little town quite well. We have our favorite bakery. I have to say it's a good thing we don't live there because I would become addicted to the pastries! We enjoyed a walk in the nearby forest during some of our free time. It is very green and has many pines and birch trees, similar to what we're used to seeing. It is quiet and beautiful, and we enjoy being out in the nature. We walked by many farms along the way that had beautiful flowers and gardens. We also were able to go to the open market one afternoon to see beautiful flowers, produce, breads, cheeses, sausages, etc. It appeared that many of the locals walked or rode their bikes to the market and filled their baskets with lots of fresh things. The hotel we stayed in was very comfortable. It is customary for breakfast to be included with your stay, and we enjoyed that! Yogurts, muesli, breads, cheeses, fruit, eggs, etc. I even had time and got the courage to get my haircut after eight months without cutting it. I was mostly glad to have it thinned but ended up with a funky layer in the back that is less-than desirable. Oh well, I have another eight months to let it grow before Sharla can fix me back up!:) It was amazing to me the few German words that came back to me from my three years of high school German. I guess sometimes our studying can come in handy after all:) Being in Germany and not speaking Russian for just those few days really threw me for a loop once we returned to Russia. My brain takes a while to re-program!

We got home late Thursday night and stayed up even later to get laundry done in order to be ready to leave the next morning for Kazan. Russia really is beautiful once you get away from the cities and see the many fields and forests. The sunflowers are all in bloom now, too, which is so beautiful! Sister Sartori said we live in the sunflower belt of the world. I believe it, because I have never seen so many sunflowers! They all face the sun! In fact, we learned that as young flowers they turn their faces to wherever the sun is, but once they are mature, they just stay facing the same direction. We also saw many large harvesting machines working the fields. I don't know if it was wheat or barley or something else.

We loved seeing Kazan. It is a city with a population of 1.4 million. One side of the river is the old city and the other side is the new, contemporary part of the city. There was construction everywhere because they are getting ready to host the University Olympiad event next summer. We took a tour in the Kazan Kremlin, meaning fortress. It is a huge area where all of the government officials' offices are, a large Provo Slavic church, a Muslim mosque, many towers, and museums. It is all surrounded by a big wall that served as protection during the war times. There were buildings on the property from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It was very interesting. We learned a lot about the people who settled in that area known as Tatarstans. They originate from Bulgaria and Turkey and speak their own language. They are held under their own government and laws within their territory but are considered Russian citizens and are bound by Russian law when they are outside of their territory. They are of the Muslim faith. Our tour guide spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable about the history there.

There are two sets of missionaries in Kazan. President and Sister Sartori worked with one set, us with the other. We were able to visit with an investigator (her first meeting) and two inactive sisters. The investigator woman, Regina, was very warm and inviting. She told the missionaries she was worried about communicating with us and was prepared with dictionaries when we got there, but she was pleasantly surprised that we were able to communicate as well as we did. She lives alone, has no friends, is 72 years old. She accepted a Book of Mormon and gave me a gift of a small framed picture that she signed on the back. I told her she would meet many friends if she came to church on Sunday. She didn't come this week, but I hope she will have a desire to come in the near future. It is such a treat to meet people like her. One of the less-active sisters we met with did come to church the next morning so that was great. She is probably in her mid-20's, only member of her family. She has been a member for several years but is active only off and on. We invited her to the YSA Conference in Moscow next month; I hope she comes. It was just great to work with the missionaries. The two elders we worked with are elders who we have not known before so it was great to get to know them. They are fabulous missionaries! They took us on the underground metro which was very clean and nice. Other than that, we walked a lot. In fact, combined with the walking we had done earlier in the day at the Kremlin and around town, we figure we walked at least eight miles. My feet still hurt! I don't mind the walking, but we were walking a lot on cobblestone-type roads or dirt and rocks which wears on the feet. My shoes are sturdy and comfortable, but they need a couple more inches padding on the bottom:)

The Kazan branch is great. The Saints just love it when missionaries come to visit. They bring their cameras to take pictures. We spoke in Sacrament meeting and that went pretty well. Elder Peterson is getting professional on his Russian talk. I still use a translator but am able to testify in Russian. It just takes a lot of time to speak in English and then wait for the translation--doubles your speaking time. So I had to cut out half my talk, but that's okay. We were very grateful to the Sartori's for inviting us to accompany them to that part of the mission. These large cities have such small branches, but the Saints are devoted to the gospel and continue to be the pioneers in their respective cities. It is fun to imagine how the church will grow in the next few decades.

July 23, 2012

   Thought I'd start with telling you something good. Our Minute-to-Win-It activity Saturday night was a big success. We counted close to 15 investigators--our district missionaries are so awesome in calling from their area books and inviting people to come. We achieved our goal for investigators attending but missed the mark for ward members being there. We still had over 50 people there which was good. We had 10 different games for both young and old. The kids had a blast. Elder Peterson rigged up some fun music to play while the games were being played which made a huge difference to the party feel of the event. Each of the missionaries was a team leader and helped get everyone involved. I was too busy to take any pictures but hope to get some from some of the members who were snapping a few. Now we need to have another successful party maybe for Halloween, and the word will get out to the members that they will want to come and participate.
   Our FHE activity this last week was a water balloon festivity. After being in the 90's the past several days, the weather decided to turn rainy and cooler on the day of our activity--after we had spent over an hour filling water balloons. But the kids still decided to go ahead with the activity; we just didn't have the number of kids we were hoping for. We played water balloon volleyball where paired groups throw a water balloon over the net using a towel held between them and the opposite team catching it on their towel. The success of the activity was all our neighbors watching the fun. We had a couple little kids join in, and now they always say hi to us when they see us. We have a little playground right in front of our apartment building where we played. We have had an investigator here for a few weeks from Moscow visiting her Mom. Her name is Tanya, she's 34 years old, and is awesome. She has come to church every week she was here, every activity, every FHE. She wants to be baptized so we're hoping that happens when she returns to Moscow. She has really been involved and willing to "put herself out there." She even came to our apt. early
on her own last week before sports night to bring us vegetables from her dacha (they were delicious). She brought me a small gift to church today as a thank you for being her friend. We told her we would call her when we're in Moscow next month for the YSA Conference. She doesn't speak any English, but we'll at least be able to talk a little bit.
   We've also been meeting regularly with Arsini, a convert of over a year, who never really had a testimony and doesn't understand much of the doctrine of the church. He admires Elder Peterson and his knowledge of the gospel and is hopefully internalizing some of what he is learning. He is wanting to learn what the Holy Ghost feels like; we challenged him to pray before he reads the Book of Mormon this week, which he does
every morning but has never prayed about it. He is 32, the best example of service from members, speaks English somewhat, and seems to be making progress towards gaining a testimony.

1. Rada and Sister Upshaw
2. Elder Morris and Dima
3. Elder Peterson and Stas, Alisa and Valya
4. Tanya from Moscow and Sister Pearce