October 29, 2012

Welp, the "battle" begins...our radiator heat was turned on last week and even though we keep the temperature controls turned to off, it still warms up in our apartment. I open the windows, Elder Peterson closes the windows, I open the windows, Elder Peterson closes the windows. The temperatures aren't too cold yet, 40's and 50's, but at night it can get pretty cold with the humidity. Haven't had to pull out the heavy guns yet (hats, big coats, etc.), but I'm sure it won't be long.

We have had quite the week. All things said and done, it has been a great and memorable week. We helped our missionary-bound couple with their remaining required paperwork before they left on Saturday, and it became quite more involved than we expected. Like I said, Satan works overtime to hinder the work going forward! But we had a good learning experience and were able to overcome the challenges and see the Lord's hand in helping things to move ahead. Brother and Sister D really had their faith tested, but they are strong Saints and had a determination to follow through with their desires. An email from one of their missionary sons this week particularly inspired and encouraged them to keep the faith and stay the course. We know his email was an inspired blessing for them on a day when they needed it the most. One day when we were visiting at their home they had just returned from taking their cat to their friend who will be taking care of her while they are gone. The cool thing about it was that the caregiver is a younger, single sister in the branch who lives alone because her parents are not around, and her grandmother who she was living with died a few months ago; so she really needs someone/something to care for. Taking care of this cat is providing a service to this family but will also provide a great service to her as well. The D's had a very hard time leaving their cat and learned the following day that she wasn't eating or drinking so they are quite concerned and sad. I'm sure everything will be fine within a short time. Another day Elder Peterson mentioned to Brother D that he was going to have to shave off his mustache, something that has been with him for decades; but when we returned the next day, he had shaved it and he looked just great. President and Sister Sartori came on Friday night to set the D's apart. It was a wonderful meeting, and the spirit was very sweet. President Sartori prepares himself so well and was able to bless Elder and Sister D with exactly what they needed. Sister D made each of us a beautiful lap cloth (they use those here as napkins). I had told her not to prepare anything to eat because she feeds us every time we come, and I knew she would be busy getting ready to leave the following morning (at 3, mind you). But, of course, she had gone and bought some different peroshkis and served a snack for all of us. I added snickerdoodles and oatmeal raisin cookies to the mix. I still marvel at this family's sacrifice and commitment to serve. All four of them will be terrific missionaries and will return to be such a strength to their branch. We have been wondering how their trip went, their first Sunday in church, etc. It has been 30 years or more since either of them had been on an airplane so everything about the experience was a new adventure. It was hard to say goodbye, but it will be fun to keep in touch with them throughout the years, especially while they are on their mission.

I didn't think very far in advance but wanted to do something Halloween-ish for the missionaries' lunch at district meeting this week. Being limited in both time and resources, I managed to cut ghosts out of cheese with round olive slices for eyes, made Tang with gummy worms hanging on the cup edge (they actually lasted for just a few seconds before falling into the cup), carrot wheels with cream cheese and black olive for an eyeball, and Elder Peterson drew pumpkin faces on oranges for me. It was the thought that counted! We haven't seen any pumpkins in the stores so I guess we won't be doing any carving this year.

We had a great day today! We had two really good lessons. Our first was with our investigator who is the husband of our RS President. He had not wanted anything to do with missionaries for such a long time. I believe I told you before about how we felt impressed to go and visit him. Today was the third time to his house and we gave him a lesson on temples. When we got there his wife was not there. He invited us up and we visited and then got into the lesson. She eventually came home (she was at the dentist having teeth pulled). It was really good to be with just him for a while. He is such a good man and with the right help I think he can come into church and be happy. He has a daughter in Virginia. She is very active and they are going to go see her in a couple of months and stay for a year or so. We feel like he can make real progress here and then find his way into church in Virginia. The spirit was wonderful as we taught and answered questions. I love him…when we get home I will have to imitate his favorite word to me “normal”. He tells me all the time “normalna”, which means just that, it's normal.

Tonight we taught a young couple who Sister Peterson made dinner for and then we watched Together Forever (church video). They are dating and it is getting serious. He is 30 and so he is looking to the future. They are both very successful individuals and very smart. We had a super time and it was good being with them. We will see them again tomorrow.

We also met with the woman who has been over to our home a couple of times to help us translate a spiritual thought into Russian. We had the missionaries come over this time to warm her up to them. We watched, "The Restoration," and talked about basic beliefs. She commented that she thought the church would be good for younger people, but she is too old - maybe about 40 years old. She had some good questions though about why God allows bad things to happen to good people. We mentioned life beyond this life, and she wasn't too crazy about the idea but when we told her we had answers about that, she perked up a little. We invited her to come back and hear about The Plan of Salvation. She didn't say no; we'll call her in a couple of days and see if we can get her to agree to meet with us again. We gave her a Book of Mormon, too.

We spent Saturday back at the Zolotov's dacha. I helped cover hydrangeas for the winter, transplant plants, and went with Sister Zolotov to one of her friend's dacha to transplant some bushes into her yard. Elder Peterson helped President Zolotov with the roof on his sauna house. We barbecued pork, had a traditional salad of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, as well as boiled potatoes, and, of course, bread. Then we went for a walk down by the Volga and saw the ending of a beautiful sunset. The sunrises the past couple of mornings have been beautiful too, what we can see of them anyway. The tall apartment buildings block out the actual sun, but the sky color is still brilliant.

We were reminded of a powerful scripture in district meeting in Helaman 10:4-5-- "Blessed art thou, Nephi (insert your own name here), for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works;..."

We know that no matter what our callings are in the church, as we serve and keep the commandments, we will be blessed forever! When we realize the power of this great promise, we can put our best foot forward each day to do the Lord's work. The church is true!

1 - Zolotov's Dacha
2 - Barbecuing at the Dacha
3 - Progress on the Sauna House
4 - Sunrise
5 - A Woman Beating her Rug - They hang their rugs on the playground equipment and beat them with fly-swatter-type instruments to clean them.  This is done year round, no matter what the temperature is.

October 22, 2012

Last week was temple week for us which was great. It was time for our every-three-month visa trip again, and this time our group went to Kiev, Ukraine. We had not been to Kiev yet and were excited to visit the temple there. Unfortunately, flight schedules and temple session schedules didn't work well together, and the group was unable to even leave the airport in Kiev. So we requested to go a day early in order to attend the temple. Our next visa trip in January is during the scheduled maintenance closure of the temple so we thought this might be our only chance to go to the temple. We flew into Kiev on Monday afternoon; the church made arrangements for a driver to pick us up from the airport and take us to our hotel which was within walking distance of the temple. Victor, the 23-year old driver, proved to be quite invaluable for us, as he agreed to spend the following day with us showing us points of interest in Kiev. He also speaks very good English so we had the best of both worlds--knowledgeable local who we could communicate with! We visited the place where Christianity was brought to Russia in the late Eighth Century, the first-built cathedral the following century, a reconstructed village of how the people would have lived hundreds of years ago, and a famous enormous metal monument called the Motherland.

Kiev is a big city that looks more European than where we are. The buildings are very large and ornate, dating back hundreds of years ago. The streets are more narrow, cars are allowed to park almost anywhere (even on the sidewalk, as long as they leave room for pedestrians), and public drinking is forbidden. Ukranian language is evidently similar to Russian, but they have some different letters and some of the letters that are the same are pronounced differently than Russian sounds. Their currency is different. Elder Peterson thinks it looks like monopoly money. The bills are different sizes and colors.
Traditionally painted eggs likely displayed in parades or just decorative purposes of today

Elder Peterson and our driver Victor at a wooden windmill in the same village
The gated entrance into the city in the Eighth Century
An old wooden church in an Eighth-Century village
Building in the central square of Kiev
A protest group in downtown Kiev
Cathedral in central square of Kiev
Offices of the Kiev President   
Kiev Cathedral
Prince Vladimer monument commemorating him bringing Christianity to Russia in 988 A.D.
 Historical park in Kiev
Motherland Monument
We loved the opportunity of attending the temple. It is out of the central district a little ways but still right off a main highway. The mission office, ward building, distribution center and guest housing are also on the property. Yes, they actually have a ward there in Kiev with close to 200 Saints who attend--what a miracle!! We know some day it will be like that in many more parts of Eastern Europe. The ward building closely resembled an "American" chapel. The missionaries who were showing us the building were excited that they would soon be getting an organ. The temple is beautiful! The mural paintings are beautiful, the chandelier in the celestial room is one of the prettiest I've seen, and the workers were so kind and helpful. We attended one of four sessions available that day, quite a difference from sessions every half hour in our temple district. Every one of the approximate 40 chairs was full. They have nine missionary couples who are assigned to the temple. One of them whom we met is from one of the branches in our mission; another has a grandson serving in our mission. We realize there are many, if not most, missionaries who are unable to attend a temple while on their missions so we feel very blessed to have been able to attend both the Frankfurt, Germany, and Kiev, Ukraine, temples. Our temple recommends needed to be renewed recently so we now have recommends in Russian; they will be a keepsake.
Kiev Ukraine Temple
Kiev Ukraine Temple night view
Victor picked us up from the temple and took us back to the airport where we met up with the rest of our visa group, including President and Sister Sartori, Elder and Sister Connell (the office couple), and four other elders. You get quite the interesting looks from people in the airport when they see such a peculiar-looking people as us all together. Our district president picked us up in Samara to bring us back home which was very nice because our flight didn't arrive until 11:30 that night. I know the church is working with government officials to hopefully eliminate the need for missionaries to leave the country so often. It really is disruptive to the missionaries, as many of them have to travel long distances just to get to the airport and then lose sleep to accommodate flight schedules, etc. Hopefully, things will change soon.

We had district meeting for the first week in three weeks due to zone training and I can't remember why else. It was good to all be together. Elder Glavatsky from Ukraine is back in our area. He served here several months ago and is a terrific missionary. Two investigators he was working with when he was here and subsequently had been difficult to meet with after he left have come out of the woodwork again simply because they love and appreciate him. There is definitely a HUGE advantage to "talking the talk and walking the walk" of the people here. Besides, Elder Glavatsky is such a genuine person; it would be difficult for anyone to not like him! We have a new sister in our area as well.

We have been helping our missionary family this week work through last-minute details and paperwork to be ready to leave for their mission on Saturday. It has been stressful for them. They have needed to get new international passports, re-ticketed airline tickets to match their new passport numbers, settle housing agreements, etc., etc., to the point where they have wondered if they should even be going. We were grateful for our past experience that we could share with them to let them know we knew exactly how they felt and that we were confident Satan was trying his hardest to keep them from going. Shortly before we were to leave on our mission, we had several problems with our rental properties, our own home had a flooding problem, Elder Peterson's shoulder surgery didn't go as planned, funds that we were depending on were not becoming available...we realized that Satan was fully employed trying to make it difficult for us to leave. I'm sure our situation, along with this family's, is not unusual. But I am also sure that as we exercise our faith and move forward, we can thwart Satan's ways and fulfill our callings as the Lord wants us to. Eventually, things get taken care of and the Lord provides a way. The branch had refreshments and nice sentiments for this couple after the block of meetings yesterday. They will truly be missed.

The big Fall Ball district activity was Saturday night. The committee worked feverishly organizing all of the details, and it really turned out great. If only the members had shown up! It is so frustrating that we can't get people to these activities to socialize and unite together. Thankfully, there were about 15 members from Samara who came down and then about 40 additional people. The theme was movie stars. They taped stars on the stairs that go up to the cultural hall, had movie posters taped up, pictures of movie stars with the faces cut out that you could take pictures in, a "stuffed" Hollywood oscar statue to pose with for pictures, bouquets of star balloons. They divided the group in tables and gave them a genre that they had to act out a scene to, such as western, comedy, melodrama, India, alien, horror, super heroes, and detective. They awarded each group with some kind of academy award. Then they had a Charlie Chaplin scene acted out by a couple of the youth, and they also danced a waltz. Then Sister Peterson taught the "Boot Scootin Boogie." We did the Macarena, some Russian dance, and then had a disco at the end. Elder Peterson was in charge of all the music except for the disco. He searched iTunes for each of the appropriate themes, as well as fanfare music, Frank Sinatra mingling music, etc. Our next big activity will be in December when the young single adults plan the Christmas party for all of the kids.

Dance Hall on Saturday night, Chapel on Sunday Morning

An Evening "With the Stars"

Nikeda and his wife Alona with Mr. Oscar

Anatoli and his wife Alena with Mr. Oscar

Sister Peterson and Sister Oshepkova

Sister Peterson and Sister Nadia

October 15, 2012

We had our conference weekend this weekend. On Saturday we watched both Saturday sessions and priesthood at the branch building. That was a lot of conference! Sunday we watched both sessions. We had about 30 minutes in between each session which is good. We loved Elder Nelson's talk on missionary work. He invited investigators who had questions about anything at all to go and "ask the missionaries; they can help!" We also enjoyed hearing from Elder Larry Echo Hawk. He was the stake president of the BYU singles stake where Elder Peterson served all those years so we got to know him pretty well. Elder Holland never disappoints; he has set himself to such a high standard and delivers every time! We had five investigators come to conference so that is pretty awesome. We also had one member come who hasn't been to church in many years. We went with the elders to visit her this past week, invited her to come, and she came! Her husband is very against the church, but as long as she doesn't tell him where she's going, everything is okay. Her brother is a fairly active member. One of the investigators commented on the music. Even though she wouldn't have understood any of the words, she definitely felt the spirit of the music. Awesome!

We had an interesting meeting this week. For the last couple of weeks, we have been impressed to go and see the non-member husband of one of our active members here. We had a member of our Branch Presidency call and make the appointment directly with him. He (counselor in presidency) was supposed to go with us. We got over there and he never came. So we explained to this person that God talks to his representatives and that we had been impressed to come and get to know him. We also asked him why God wanted us there. It ended up being a very good meeting. We talked about some wonderful things as well as listened to some gripes. Bottom line, he invited us back. The missionaries had been trying to see him before, but he wouldn’t allow them to visit. He just goes into another room if they are visiting his wife. He stayed the whole time with us, and we had a good chat. We looked at and talked about Enos and he agreed to read. We will follow up this week and see what he thought. He is in his mid-70's; he and his wife have been married for 24 years; she was baptized in 1995 along with her daughter so they have been members of the church for most of their married life. We haven't discovered all of his hang ups, but maybe we can be friends and help him think twice about maybe coming to church. He said he would come to the big Fall Ball next weekend. As an update to this story, we returned last night and this couple taught us how to play Sequence (an American board game). It is similar to Connect Four, but you play it on a board with checkers. We had a lot of fun and felt impressed that just coming as a social visit was more important than trying to teach a lesson this time. Many times, just being patient and friendly ends up paying better dividends in the long run.

We had a zone training meeting this week. Our Area Presidency has said we are to have a zone training meeting once a month. The mission has a zone council meeting once a month, district leaders join that council every other month, and then the zone training meeting replaces district meeting that particular week. They are trying to get information passed along from leadership to the other missionaries more effectively. Missionaries living two or more hours away from where the zone leaders are will not be able to attend, but this week, being the first meeting and with a lot of training information which the mission president learned at the recent mission presidents' conference, all of the missionaries in the zone came together. It is so great to see elders and sisters again who we served with in the past and haven't seen in awhile. President Sartori taught us the concept of "drag vs. lift," as directed from the Area Presidency. There was quite an extensive list of items that tend to cause distractions, or "drag," in missionary work; for example, hanging out in the church building longer than necessary, shopping other than on P-day, not exercising etc., etc., etc. We came home and made some goals where we can improve.

We are headed to Kiev, Ukraine, this week for our visa trip. We arranged to go a day early so we can check out the city and go to the temple a couple of times. We will have to exchange money and get around on our own which will prove to be interesting. Hopefully, someone at the temple will speak English and will be able to give us some hints. We have met the mission president and his wife; they are from Rexburg, but I'm sure they don't have time to be tour guides.

We are reminded every day of the dedication, discipline, and hard work that it takes to be a diligent missionary. We feel so honored to serve with such valiant young men and young women who are doing their best to be the best possible missionaries! The church is true!

1 - Missionary Meetings
2 -  This is a street in town that is lined with flower shops.  In the winter, they just bring the flowers inside. You buy an even amount of flowers to give someone for mourning or sympathy and an odd amount for birthdays, love, everything else.  There are a lot of flower streets in the different cities of Russia.
3 - Rainy-day Sunday
4 - Missionary Meetings

October 8, 2012

We have spent time with our "missionary family" this week. We were in their home Monday evening when President Sartori set the two brothers apart for their missionary service. It was a humble and sacred opportunity. They both speak some English, and so it was their responsibility to translate for each other's blessings in order for their parents to understand. I know they were each blessed with the gift of tongues that night. Needless to say, I was a weeping willow; it was seriously like sending off our own sons. I was crying more than their own mom! But in talking with her throughout the week, she is making up for it now :-) She says she and her husband sleep, then cry, sleep, then cry every day. Other than the older son serving in the army for a year, they have never been separated and 27 months will be a long time to be apart! We know exactly how they feel, and that is why it will be such a blessing for them to get on their mission in a couple weeks and have their thoughts and actions consumed in missionary work themselves.

The mom prepared a wonderful dinner for all of us after the setting apart including all of her sons' favorite dishes. She also had Elder Peterson's favorite coconut cookies for dessert. As we said our tearful goodbyes and left the building, we looked back up to their window from the street, and they were all lined up waving to us. Twenty-seven months is a long time for them, but it is likely we will never see them again. We are getting a taste of what it will be like to have to say goodbye to all of our Russian friends eventually. We'll get to do it all over again in two weeks when the parents are set apart and leave! We have thought about what a blessing it has been to be here now when we have been able to know and learn from this family's wonderful example.

Our family home evening this week was interesting. Elder Peterson was adamant that we teach the young single adults the "Boot Scootin' Boogie." Just a side note, we don't know the boot scootin' boogie. Thank heavens for the Internet:) I took a crash course on YouTube and taught the few kids (and even a couple of adults) the basic steps. Most of them picked it up really fast. One of them made the comment that Elder Peterson was dancing free style. Our district is having a big Fall Ball in a couple of weeks, and the young single adults will teach the dance to everyone there. Russians listen to the contemporary American Top 40-type music, but country music is completely foreign to them. I don't know how much they like it, but many of them just like learning something American. They want to know what other dances we know:) So we'll also be teaching the Macarena at the Fall Ball. HA!!

Our walks in the forest this week have been on a carpet of leaves. It is definitely taking on a new look as we move into Fall. Today we bundled up for our walk because it has been cold the last couple of days, but we were pleasantly surprised that it was rather warm and were shedding layers as soon as we got outside.

We were able to watch each General Conference morning session live on Saturday and Sunday nights. We will be watching all sessions together at the district building next weekend. It was exciting to hear the prophet announce new options for missionary service. Young men can now choose to serve missions as early as age 18 and graduated from high school, and young women will have the option of serving as early as 19 years old. As the brethren mentioned in a subsequent press conference, the Lord is "hastening the work." How exciting to imagine the increase of full-time missionaries, eventual new missions being created, and the good news of the gospel being spread to more people than ever before! The gospel is true, and we love being part of this great missionary effort!

1- Boot Scootin' Boogie!
2-4 Fall Forest

October 1, 2012

     What?!! Did that say OCTOBER?! Today will be a good day. We will be going to hear the two brothers in our branch be set apart tonight by the mission president. They leave pretty much in the middle of the night to begin their adventure. The family spoke in church on Sunday, and I played a piano arrangement of "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." They took pictures with the other young single adults from the branch after the block of meetings. Interestingly, the couple of other young single adults from the other branch didn't come to the meeting, but it doesn't really occur to them. It's just another meeting like every other Sunday. Compared to what we're used to at home with friends, friends of friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., flocking to attend, it is quite different. They will be sorely missed. Earlier in the summer, two other of the young single adults left to study in America and now with these brothers leaving, we really need to seek out our less actives and strengthen our group.
   Today is transfer day. Most of our district is staying the same. We'll get one new sister, one new elder (who already served here and we adore), and the companionship who lives a long ways away from us will be forming their own district with the other companionship who will be added to their area.
   Our Seniors' Conference was enjoyable. We arrived in time to report on our area and hear other couples tell about what they are doing. It's obvious that we all have different talents and abilities and are serving where we can best contribute. There is one couple who just arrived and will be going to start their service as the new CES couple. We remember being in that situation:) There is another native couple who we just fell in love with. They have doubled the sacrament meeting attendance in their branch in the short three months they have been serving there. I'm telling you, if we could get more Russian senior couples to serve, the church would grow by leaps and bounds. They just innately know how to relate to the people. They not only know how to speak their language, but they really know how to speak their spiritual language too, if that makes any sense. The less-active members can more easily trust them. They don't necessarily appreciate Americans, who appear to them as if we know it all, telling them what to do and how to feel. This Russian couple told how they were sent to their area with no idea of what to do. They had a branch list and that was it. So they bought a map, started locating addresses, and went to visit people. They were disillusioned by the fact that nothing was happening after a couple of months. But they were persistent, kept visiting people, and the people are starting to come back to church. We were so humbled and so grateful that they are making such a difference. We mentioned to the president somewhat teasingly (but it would honestly be great) that he should move them around to each mission area every six months and let them work their magic. We know that won't happen; we just need to learn from their example and try harder. We spent quite a bit of time with this couple trying to communicate with them and really enjoyed getting to know them. Elder C was easier to understand than his wife. She speaks very fast. But we managed to get by. They understood most of what we said, and we understood hardly anything they said, but we smiled and laughed and were able to make enough sense to ask related questions. Elder Peterson and Elder C became fast friends when they learned that they shared the same taste in musical groups--Foreigner, Rolling Stones, White Snake, to name a few. Never would have guessed it in a million years! We will keep in touch with them through email.
   We took a boat tour on the Volga River, walked along the new park they are constructing down by the river, played Russian General Conference bingo, had a testimony meeting, had an intense training from the mission president and his wife regarding training they had just received at the mission presidents' training from the area presidency. He had several slides with at least 25 items on each slide of things to be careful of that cause "drag" in the mission; or, in other words, distractions from the work. President wants us to
encourage the elders and sisters to avoid these things and do all we can to keep them on track. We also ate lots of good food and just enjoyed being together.
   We participated in a Toliatti district service project on Saturday morning at a children's school for the hearing impaired. We were asked to clear a field of trees to prepare it for a park that will be put in eventually. There were about 30 people there including members and missionaries. Brethren and missionaries used chain saws and axes to cut down the trees, and the rest of us hauled the limbs off to another field. It had rained earlier that morning but cleared up and let us accomplish what we needed in the two hours we were there. Typical to President Zolotov, he provided lunch for everyone who attended. We built a fire, boiled water for hot chocolate, and roasted hot dogs.
   Amidst these activities, this week we managed to visit with a couple of investigators, attend Institute, and Elder Peterson trained the district and branch councils on effective branch councils. So it's been a busy week. I was able to watch the RS General Broadcast last night and enjoyed that. We are looking forward to General Conference this next weekend.
  We were reminded this week that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and as long as we allow ourselves to be worthy vessels of the Lord, he will tell us what to do. I pray that will be the case for each of us!

1 - The Stevens'
2 - Sartori's, Stevens', Chiperov's, Elder Wing
3 - A "Birdseye View" of the Volga
4 - The Chiperov's
5 - Our awesome district
6 - Several of the Young Single Adults in New City
7 - New City Missionaries and Dolgov brothers
8 - Togliatti District members at our Branch Council Training
9 - Our Volga River Cruise Boat
10 - President and Sister Sartori, Elder and Sister Childers
11 - Looking at the bank from the river
12 - Elder and Sister Connell