Missionary Highlight

   We have an exciting missionary story to tell! We had been sworn to secrecy since at least March (it's been so long I can't even remember), but today we can officially share the good news about a family in one of our branches. The parents and their two sons have received their mission calls! The brothers leave next week, and their parents leave the end of October. Let me back up and start from the beginning. We were meeting with this family on a routine member visit, and they told us that they had some important news to tell us and that they needed our help. They had decided to all serve missions simultaneously and needed our help to communicate with the Mission President without anyone else knowing. Of course, their branch president would know because he had to generate their applications, but he was sworn to secrecy also. We're not certain why it was so important to not let anyone else know, but we agreed to their wishes and moved forward. I will never forget that evening. The spirit was so strong, and I was quite overcome with emotion. This family is willing to answer the call of a prophet, take a leap of faith, rent their apartment to the church for the two years they're gone and go wherever the Lord calls them. We will really miss their influence in our district. The father is a counselor in his branch presidency, one son is the president of our student youth council, the institute instructor, as well as the district young men's president. Both he and his brother are actively involved in young adults and are a big support to all of the youth in the district. They also speak a little english which is often a lifesaver. The mom is a gospel doctrine teacher and a great influence for the members and less-active members. We have been meeting with them every other week the last four months for missionary preparation training which has really been a treat. They will all be such effective missionaries and will return to continue being terrific leaders in the district.
   There are always so many details and documents to get in order before they receive their calls. They were hopeful to leave by the first of September, so they're not too far off. But their calls have been long in coming, and so we have had to be quiet for a long time! Their desire was to all leave at the same time and so their situation is somewhat unique. The parents will be serving in the Baltic States Mission beginning the end of October, and the boys are serving in two of the Ukraine missions but will not be reporting to the MTC in Madrid until January. So they will be going directly to St. Petersburg next week for three months on a special assignment to the Mission President, then to Madrid from there. Their two-year term will not begin until January when they enter the MTC. They consider their time in St. Petersburg as a "bonus!" The sons received their calls about a week before their parents, leaving them three weeks to be ready; their parents, five weeks. But not to worry...they have been telling us they are ready for weeks before that. And they mean it in every sense of the word. Their suitcases have even been packed for just as long.
   I have learned a lot from their example. The most important things are taken care of and there is no need to worry about the frivolous things I would worry about. The younger son will receive his endowments in the Madrid temple...without his parents in attendance. But that doesn't seem to matter. It's only important that he is receiving them. No need to organize a social gathering before leaving...in fact, it was our suggestion that they even speak in church next week before they leave. They didn't have a house full of people when they opened their calls, obviously. Our traditions back home aren't even thought of here. It's just a simple, humble experience. We are so grateful to have been able to share this experience with them and know we will be forever friends. We had our last lesson with them on Saturday night at our house and made tacos together. They saw it as a celebration dinner. We just saw it as quality time with good friends. They were worried about eating Mexicanski food, especially the dad. But he ate more tacos than anybody! We made homemade tortillas, and they really were quite delicious! (Thanks, mom, for the taco seasoning!

September 24, 2012

   We had President Zolotov and his family over for FHE last week. He is really working hard to learn English so he talks to us in English, and we talk to him in Russian. Pretty hilarious! He even said part of his prayer in English which was so impressive. We know exactly how he feels trying to remember words or even put some semblance of a sentence together. The first thing their girls, 8 and 6, saw when they came in the house was our toaster and asked for toast. So they had toast with Nutella. We had watermelon. September is the month for watermelons here and people buy them like crazy. We have eaten a LOT of watermelon this month!
   Every cycle each missionary district is supposed to have a cultural activity. In the past, we have gone to the orchestra, a singing performance, an exotic fish exhibit, museum, etc. This cycle there wasn't anything appropriate or worthwhile to see so Elder Peterson suggested going into the forest for a picnic. Technically, the forest is "out of their area" so the missionaries had to get permission to go. Honestly, it would be a shame to be here and not go into the forest because it is so pretty and has such a distinct peaceful feeling to it. We scouted out the best gathering place beforehand and ended up having a great time, as you can see from the pictures. Some missionaries brought foil dinners to cook; others, hot dogs; us, big fat sausages. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the missionaries loved taking a break and enjoying the scenery. We still walk in the forest regularly and have seen a lot of people lately gathering mushrooms to sell on the street. We asked some members how they know which mushrooms are okay to eat, and they told us that children are taught from the time they are small to distinguish the edible mushrooms from the poisonous ones. People walk out with bucketfuls of mushrooms. Personally, I'll continue to buy mine at the market.
   Nothing to complain about the weather these days. We have been enjoying beautiful fall-weather days and pleasant, warm evenings. It will be changing soon so we are trying to soak it all in while we can. It is dark by 7 o'clock at night now.

1.The forest in September
2.The lake in the forest in September
3.Frogs in the lake in the forest in September
4.Babushki who sit on the bench outside of our apartment building every day. This is very typical dress for the older women in Russia.
5.Elder Peterson with the plant lady in our garden
6.Elder Lythgoe and Elder Long demonstrating their scouting skills
7.Elder Bullough and Elder Taylor
8.Elder Peterson and Elder Malloy making their hot dog roasting sticks
9.Sister Scoville and Sister Pearce
10.Missionary campfire
11.Hiking into the forest for our cultural activity

September 17, 2012

We have met with a few member families this week who we have been trying to see for a long time, so that is a great thing. We share The Starfish Story and then play General Conference Bingo, which is always a hit. There's something about competing for a trivial prize that makes it fun and exciting and it gets the kids involved. We went out to Prebrejnee for FHE this last week and met with three of the families who live there. This is the town that is about 40 minutes away from our Komsomolski Branch. Sister Izmalkova always treats us to a delicious dinner. This week she and her husband made Plov, a very traditional Russian rice dish, in the dutch oven. We met with a family in New City, a mom and her three sons; and we met with a family in Shloozavoi Sunday night who have five children, a very uncommon thing here. We admire those who are trying so hard to remain true to their faith amidst ridicule and persecution. We are having our District President and his family to our home for FHE tonight.

I've been grateful for my rain boots this week! We have had a lot of rain! That's a good thing I suppose because it keeps things nice and green. The leaves on the trees are starting to turn colors. We went on a little field trip Saturday to a neighboring town called Jigliovsk. We can see it across the river from where we live and have been wanting to check it out. It is a small town that is in the "mountains." The streets are definitely more quiet than where we live--not many cars, friendly people on the streets, older architecture, just a different feel to it all together. The hillsides were very pretty! In a couple of weeks, the colors will be full on. One of the funniest things we saw while we were there was a frantic push for everyone to get onto the marshutka (taxi van). Have you ever played, "let's see how many people we can fit into a Volkswagen?" Well, that's pretty much what this looked like, only more like a tiger pouncing on fresh meat. The marshutka pulled up, and obviously this particular one hadn't been coming very often because it was practically full before it came to the stop, and 15-20 more people pushed and shoved their way into the van...strollers and all! It took about three tries to get the door closed! It also reminded me of the old Heatheridge Fourth Ward days before the ward was split--the ratio of soft-benched seats to people was rather low, so as soon as the chapel doors were opened after Sunday School and before Sacrament Meeting started, members would toss their scriptures onto a bench from where they were standing and wherever they landed, that would save their family's spot. Good times.

We had our first YSA FHE of the new year. We had about ten young adults come so that was encouraging after a slow summer. We talked about the scriptures being our books of instruction in our lives and made cookies with the ingredients that we determined from scriptures we looked up. They enjoyed it--something a little different and interactive. Our Sport Night activities are winding down since it is practically dark by 7 now. The elders love to be able to be outside running so it will be sad when that comes to an end. Elder Peterson has an idea to bring it inside and teach everyone how to line dance. Ha, we'll see how that goes!!

Friday night was a Relief Society Women's Conference organized by our RS Distict presidency. The theme was "Do You Love?" They showed a cool video clip that illustrates when we give love to others, they will be more willing to share their love with others as well, kinda like the "pay it forward" idea. Then they had sisters speak on loving yourself, loving others, and loving the world. The district president prepared and served dinner to everyone with the help of the two branch presidents and Elder Peterson. We had plov, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, grapes, and don't forget the chai (tea)! The meeting didn't end until after 8:30 and then we ate after that so it was a long night, having started at 6:30. The best part of the activity is that we were able to bring an investigator with us named Valyentina. The missionaries have been teaching her for a couple of months, and she is progressing just great. She is 70 years old, lives alone, is very kind, and is also very patient with us because we don't understand a lot of what she says. She says she knows the Book of Mormon is true, but she doesn't really understand why she needs to be baptized. Elder Peterson taught a good lesson to her on the apostasy and prophets the other night. We are praying she will continue to feel the spirit and desire to be baptized. She thought the RS meeting had a very good feeling so that's good. I just wish the members would have talked to her.

Institute started back up this week. We are studying New Testament. I remember teaching primary one year when we were studying the New Testament and how much I loved reading the stories of Jesus. We have two teachers who will be sharing the teaching this year. One of them has been a member less than a year; it will be a great learning experience for him. There's no better way to learn from the scriptures than to teach from them!

We feel so blessed to be part of the missionary effort here in Toliatti. Our unique opportunity is to able to serve in the same place for the duration of our mission which gives us the opportunity to become well acquainted with the members here. Our lesson in RS Sunday was on missionary work, and I was asked to share what blessings we receive as senior missionaries. Definitely one of the biggest blessings is our association and love for the members here in our branches. It is life changing to see their sacrifices in overcoming deep cultural traditions to become dedicated Latter-day Saints. We are growing to love them so much.

Here is the link to the video clip we watched for anyone who is interested:

1.Leeza and Nastia Izmalkova
2.Brother and Sister Izmalkov
3.Elder Long, Elder Hangen, Brother Alexander, Sister Vera, Sister Gallina, me at Izmalkov's home
4.Making Scripture Cookies - Anatoli, Vitali, Oleca
5.Making Scripture Cookies - Sister Pearce, Lucina, Anatoli
6.Making Scripture Cookies - Stas
7.Making Scripture Cookies - Elder Malloy
8.First Institute class for the 2012-2013 year
9.Playing Charades at Family Home Evening
10.This decorated SUV is typical to a wedding entourage.  People decorate their cars like this and then drive down the street honking their horns.  There are always several on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Last 7 pictures are of a field trip to Gigliosvk

September 10, 2012

We have had a good week. We were able to meet with a member family for FHE last Monday. The elders taught an object lesson of how God will provide a way for us to do hard things when we rely on Him (1 Nephi 3:7). The elders helped us fold an origami bird that really "flies." Just by looking at the finished product initially, we would not have been able to accomplish the task by starting with an unfolded piece of paper. We had to rely on our teacher to help us one step at a time towards achieving our task. The kids particularly enjoyed this activity, and I personally felt like a klutz! Patience is also a necessary attribute when we need to do hard things:)

We had Zone Conference in Samara which is always a treat. President Malm, second counselor in the Eastern Europe Area presidency, was touring the Russia Samara Mission and was presiding at the conference. In fact, he did most of the training. He and his wife are from Sweden where six of their eight children currently live within a couple-block radius from their home which they haven't lived in for several years because they were serving in Norway as the Mission President and then other church assignments as a member of the Quorum of Seventy. President Malm is a great instructor, speaks perfect English, and has a great way of involving the missionaries in the discussions. He taught the principle of the Plan of Salvation in a way that I loved thinking about. He portrayed a picture of someone standing on one end of the room holding a string and another person standing on the complete opposite side holding the other end of the string. In the middle of the string, he tied a small piece of ribbon into a knot. This small piece of ribbon represents our earthly life, the string to one side represents our premortal life, and the string extended to the other side represents our post-mortal life. We talked about the time we live on earth being so short compared to the time we lived before and will live after our earth life. We especially thought about how much learning and experience we must have had in our premortal life in order to prepare for our time on earth. That preparation was so important to our mission here on earth. Each of us has a mission to fulfill while we are here, and we have such a small amount of time to do it in. I like thinking about this concept because it motivates me to want to seek out and seize opportunities. We are still in the learning process and information-gathering stage of our existence that we need to learn all we can in order to add that learning onto what we already know but have just needed to set aside until we move on to the "other side of the string." Honestly, I'm not motivated to go back to school or anything crazy like that:) But I do want to prioritize my life to doing things that matter most, things that will benefit others and hopefully teach me things about myself along the way. President Malm assured each one of us that our mission calls to Russia came from the Lord. We prepared for them before we were born, and we can have confidence in the Lord to accomplish this part of our missions while we are here.

We loved hearing from Sister Malm, as well. She was baptized with her family when she was 14 years old. Sister missionaries knocked on their door in Sweden, and Sister Malm recognized one of the sisters as the "angel" she remembered coming to her in her dreams as a small child to calm her fears. This sister missionary explained her disappointment in having to remain in this particular city instead of being transferred as she had requested. This experience let her know why she was meant to stay in that city and find this family to teach. I know the Lord directs each of us to be where we need to be. We just need to have faith and then recognize and follow the promptings of the Spirit in order to be an instrument in His hands.

We missed Sister Sartori at our zone conference. Her 97-year old mother passed away just two days previous to the conference and so she flew back home to handle matters there. It is hard to be away from home at times like that.

Our opening social for Seminaries and Institute was Saturday night. Elder Peterson was asked to share an experience from seminary which he did, all in Russian. I am so proud of him! The members are amazed at his desire and ability to speak the language. We are the first American couple to serve in this area who have tried to speak Russian and, believe me, it's not that much and it's very bad! But we throw out what few words we know and maybe one of these days we'll be able to make some resemblance of a sentence. Until then, we smile, butcher the language, and nod in agreement :-)

We made it through the end-of-the-summer water pipe treatment, meaning no hot water this week. It's interesting that we adapt and just chalk it up to "that's just the way it is." We had running water, and it wasn't orange so it's all good.

The elders and sisters are helping us meet with the members as well as including us at investigator meetings. Even when I'm tired and don't feel like going one more place, the miracle of service takes over and somehow I feel energized and happy when I'm there. Our members here are so great, and we love getting to know them better each time we're with them.

September 3, 2012

We had great Fast and Testimony meeting today. Two little primary girls began with sharing their testimonies. I love listening to children bear their testimonies regardless of which language it is in. These two little girls were doing some serious coaxing trying to get their friend who they were sitting next to, to bear her testimony. Eventually, all three of them held hands together and went up to the pulpit. It was very cute! Dad also bore his testimony and had several compliments on his Russian. We are noticing that we understand a lot more than we used to also which is encouraging. A few of the YSA bore their testimonies and mentioned how much they enjoyed the Moscow conference. Generally, there was just a particularly good spirit about the meeting. One funny thing was watching Elder Bullough, a new missionary in the branch, trying not to crack up while he was leading the music because a wonderful brother was singing in his usual vigorous voice right up on the front row. The rest of us are accustomed to it, but Elder Bullough was experiencing it for the first time. One of those things where you had to be there, but it was pretty entertaining.

We're trying to gear up for a new year of Institute/YSA. Our family home evening last week was a room full of missionaries, one member, and one investigator. Everyone must have been recuperating from Moscow Conference or something. We put together a flyer and handed it out at church today trying to drum up some enthusiasm for a new start. Institute instructors were sustained in Sacrament Meeting, the opening social is this Saturday and then it's time to get going. It looks like we'll be studying Book of Mormon this year.

We visited Grandma Svetlana this week. She is the babushka who helps us with our Russian and listens to us read in the Book of Mormon. She helped us with a spiritual thought we had prepared. In the middle of our thought, she jumped up and went directly to the kitchen; apparently, she had left something in the oven and it had baked to a crisp! I hate when that happens! I do that a lot, too. We are always happier when we leave Svetlana's. She is such a wonderful person and is so kind to help us.

One of our investigators who the missionaries have been unable to reach for several weeks showed up at Sport's Night Thursday night. That was fabulous! He actually had a baptism date but things didn't come together and his work began to require most of his time. We were glad to know he hadn't forgotten about us and is still interested in the church. His time priorities have shifted and we hope he will be able to start up again where we left off.

We had a big district meeting Friday with 10 elders and another companionship via telephone. We love serving with these elders and sisters. They work hard and are good examples. They're getting wet these days, too, since it has been raining. Summer has gone. We are looking forward to Zone Conference this Tuesday because we will see many elders and sisters who we haven't seen in awhile. President Malm, second counselor in the Area Presidency, is touring the mission this week and will be conducting the conference. President Sartori has told all of us to look our best! So our P-day will be a shoe-shining, clothes-pressing, hair-cutting day!

We have been asked to study three different talks for our zone conference this week. One is about covenant making, another about learning by faith, and another about teaching. The common thread in all of them is that this gospel is a gospel of action. We can't just go along for the ride. As disciples of Christ, we need to exercise faith, fulfill callings, live the gospel. We are definitely anxiously engaged in a good cause, and I know the Lord will help us and enable us when we have faith to do things even when we don't know beforehand what we should do. It just requires moving and taking those couple of steps into the darkness, relying on the Lord to light our path. This is a great work! We are so happy to have a family who all strive to live lives as disciples of Christ. Have a great week!