February 26 marks an important day in the life of Elder Peterson!  He is another year younger!  Yes, instead of having gone over the hill to the downside, he has rolled backwards and is increasingly more youthful every year.  He even had just nine candles on his birthday cake which was kindly donated by a fellow missionary, Elder Bishop, who had received a "REAL" Pillsbury cake mix and canned frosting from home at Christmastime but did not have a functioning oven to bake it in.  So we frosted it up with the pink strawberry frosting, used matches for candles, and sang a rousing happy birthday at our missionary district meeting.  Indeed, it tasted pretty darn fabulous!  On his actual birthday, he will be speaking in church and is feverishly memorizing some of his talk in Russian, which is a classic example of his obsessive nature to achieve great heights and continuously improve himself.  He is an inspiration to all of us and helps us to achieve things in our own lives that we most likely would not have done otherwise.  He is a caring and loving marriage companion and a supportive and fabulous missionary companion, as well.  He provides acts of service every day like grocery shopping, drying dishes, and even visiting "babushkas."  Even though he might have a few more gray hairs than he did last year:), he also has more patience, more strength, greater influence, and marches to a greater purpose every day.  Happy birthday!  I love you more!!! 

February 15, 2012

   We have had some fun experiences this week.  I have mentioned before about Elder Peterson’s dislike of lifts (elevators).  Well, for you Disney World fans, we rode the “Tower of Terror” lift!  Normally, we would choose to climb stairs in apartment buildings to find the desired apartment, but in this particular building the stairs are outside and in subzero temperatures, that didn’t seem to be the best option.  So we dared to take the lift.  Fortunately, it was double the size of the typical lifts so four of us could fit comfortably.  Just don’t look down because you can see ALL the way down to the bottom level in between the floor and the entrance of the lift.  Once the door closes, the dim light within flickers and the elevator noisily creaks from level to level.  You know you’d arrived at the level you chose when the internal light flashes and you hear some electrical “ZAP.”  I was waiting for the free fall from 9 stories high…maybe next time!
   We have been meeting with a woman in our city for a few weeks now.  She has a strong religious background and enjoys discussing different religious topics.  She has started to pray differently than she had before.  Instead of reading prayers, she now says her own personal prayers and has found much strength in this more personal way of talking with God.  This week we showed her the DVD, “The Restoration,” which describes the story of a 14-year old boy, Joseph Smith, who prays to ask God which church he should join in his community back in 1820.  His answer came as a personal visitation from God and His Son in a grove of trees telling him to not join any of the churches and that God would prepare Joseph to restore His true church again on the earth.  After viewing the film, Ludmila described the feeling she had when she watched the part of God appearing to Joseph as “a tingling…like ants crawling up and down her arms.”   That was a cool way of describing how she was being told what she had seen was true.  We have that same feeling EVERY time we hear this true story!
   We had our first experience of being lost in Russia this week, too.  We were traveling to one of the neighboring cities to help the sister missionaries teach a family we have met with several times.  So we were even going somewhere we had been before only this time it was dark, snowy, and the inside of the bus windows were frozen so you’d have to scrape a little circle of ice in order to peer out the window to try and see where you were.  The sisters told us which bus stop to get off on.  In his superb Russian language, Elder Peterson asked a family to tell us when to get off which they did, but it didn’t look familiar.  Before we got off, we asked the bus driver and he agreed that it was the correct stop; but we didn’t see the sisters who would be there waiting for us.  We were already late because the traffic had caused several delays so we knew they were waiting.  Well, if we didn’t get off there, we wouldn’t know where else to get off because the bus driver said that was it.  So we got off and called the sisters…which didn’t help matters a whole lot because neither of them speak English.  We couldn’t describe where we were – duh – there weren’t any stores or landmarks within sight.  So we tried to talk someone into talking to the sisters on our cell phone so they could help determine where we were and where we needed to go to find them.  Well, the first couple of people wouldn’t have anything to do with us.  Finally, Ken was able to talk a man into talking on the phone.  After speaking with the sisters, he tried to explain to us where to go but we weren’t getting it.  So in frustration, he motioned for us to walk with him, and he took us to the next bus stop which was so kind of him.  But it wasn’t the right one either.  To make a long story even longer, he called the sisters again but it didn’t sound like they understood each other.  We made the executive decision to go back to the original bus stop, cross the street, get on a bus, and return home.  Needless to say, that night we spent three hours on a bus getting nowhere!  And the sisters weren’t happy with us!  Elder Peterson’s next language session focused on “getting lost tactics” and learning how to say, “I’m lost; please talk to my friend!” in a stern, convincing way.
   We had a fun Valentine’s Family Home Evening with the Young Single Adults on Valentine’s evening.  This is the group ages 17-30 who we meet with every other Tuesday night.  We wanted things to look festive so we had been looking throughout the week at different stores for things we could use to decorate our apartment.  Without any luck, we had to resort to the “big mall.”  We did find the Russian version of Michael’s craft store, but there wasn’t a “valentine’s aisle.”  We managed to find a package of heart-shaped balloons, a red accordion-style thingy to hang, and pink tinsel on clearance from Christmas.  We made it work.  We also bought some paper and heart-shaped confetti for them to make valentines with.  We had 13 youth come which included three investigators so that was awesome!  We’re going to need a bigger apartment!  We shared a short message on Christ’s love, made valentines, played “mafia,” repaired hymnbooks, and ate heart-shaped sugar cookies that I even managed to frost with pink frosting colored with some strawberry-looking powdered drink (no such thing as food coloring that I could find) and the only sprinkles I could find were multi-colored.  But, hey, they were sprinkles!  We didn’t know what the youth would think about making valentines, but we were pleasantly surprised!  They were really getting into it.  What we thought would be a 5-minute activity at best turned out to be hard to get them to stop after 30 minutes.  A couple of them were getting help from the other missionaries on how to write in English and then presented us with their valentines.  We took pictures, developed them the next day and made posters to hang in each of the three church buildings to encourage them and others to keep coming.  We will be going with them this weekend to Samara for an all-day activity with other youth in surrounding cities.  Working with these quality people is definitely a highlight of our experience!
   Along with valentine decorations, Elder Peterson bought his early birthday present at the mall.  It will be a shock to many of you that we have been here two months without quality speakers!!  I know—hard to imagine!!  After all, we might as well be listening to MoTab and Especially For Youth soundtracks in high def!  Life is good again!  We have also found real doughnuts, lasagna noodles and worcestershire sauce.  I guess we’re good to stay a couple more months!!
The District
David and Elder M
Valentine FHE
Susha and Julia
Valentine FHE

Feb. 5, 2012 from Stacy

We made it through January!  February has made itself known with subzero temperatures.  It has been twenty-below-something Celsius all week which converts to about ten to fifteen below Fahrenheit.   But, have no fear, it will be warming up this week to -11C, or 14F. Life goes on as usual here; "It's Russia!"  We had to take our gloves off for a brief moment this afternoon on our way home from church when we were stopped by the police officers for not crossing the street in a pedestrian zone and asked to see our documents.  It didn't take long for our hands to go numb!  The snow literally squeaks under our feet when we walk on it.  I made the mistake of setting a spare bottle of cooking oil in the cabinet out in the enclosed balcony only to find it starting to freeze within a couple of days.
We had our third Young Single Adult Family Home Evening last week.  We had eight attend including one investigator and two less active members.  A recent convert shared his testimony and the blessings he has received from being baptized.  He is a 25-year old single gentleman who recently finished chemotherapy treatments.  He has a thirst for knowledge and does all he can to learn more about the church.  It was good for everyone there to hear his journey in determining truth and being baptized.  He has become a good friend, as well as a good example.  He invited us to meet with his nonmember mom last week.  There was such a good feeling while we were there, and we know some day she will want to know more about the church.  There is a misconception amongst some Russians that the Mormon church is a cult and that we sacrifice children.  There is a lot of propaganda on TV that really works against us.  We ask them why they believe such a thing and they say "I don't know"?  After a few questions many don't believe it any longer and it leaves doubts about the source who pushed the falsehoods.  So it is good when people can see we are normal, loving people.  We played a couple of fun games.  You can see in the attached pictures the game where you had to work together as a team to get a "ball" (we used a rolled-up sock) to wind around a stick.  It's funny to watch people maneuver their hips and make it work.  We are hoping to have successful activities so that the kids will talk amongst themselves and encourage others to come.

We went with the full-time elders to a family's home for their Family Home Evening.  The Branch President and his family were there too.  They fixed us pizza which was so thoughtful.  They made the crust themselves which was triple-deep bread and very delicious!  Everyone shared their feelings on a particular topic.  Elder Peterson shared a thought, and I testified, simply for the fact I lack vocabulary!  It is so frustrating to not be able to express yourself and every time you open your mouth it sounds completely unintelligent!  Generally people are very patient and encourage us to keep trying and not give up.

We love having the missionaries over every Friday for district meeting and lunch.  They tell about who they are teaching and are able to help each other with different concerns.  The two sister missionaries are from the Ukraine.  It is fun to have fellow sisters to be with, Sister Ostopchuk and Sister Braginyets.  Sister Braginyets speaks very little English and Sister Ostopchuk essentially speaks no English except for "sounds good."  Miraculously, we are able to communicate spirit to spirit, as well as with the help of the dictionary.  Sister Ostopchuk has been a member for ten years and is the only member in her family.  They have such great spirits about them and strong testimonies, as do all the missionaries.  I don't know what I will feed them when winter leaves.  All I know how to do is big pots of soup, chili, etc, which are less desirable in the hot summer months.  I found a store that sells french bread similar to American style bread.  I increased the quantity from two loaves to three because they love it so much.  We marvel at how much butter they spread on it but figure they need the layer of fat to help keep them warm on the street:) 

Today in church was our "kick off" in presenting this year's vision of home teaching and visiting teaching.  Currently, and for as long as I am aware, this hasn't been happening.  This is such an essential way to watch over the members of the church and help them feel loved and needed.  The District President feels strongly that if we can follow through with home and visiting teaching that the individual spirituality of the members will increase and that we will be able to rescue less active members.  We are praying for a miracle; there is such a need for unity, respect, and love in this area.

As we were skyping with our daughter Kallie this week, she saw Elder Peterson doing his exercises in the background as we were signing off.  He routinely marches around the apartment with flashcards in hand, studying his Russian words to the beat.  Kallie sent a humorous note that her dad was taking this belonging to "God's Army" a little too far, and that he didn't need to be marching:)   Even so, we feel blessed to be here and are hoping that what seem like insignificant offerings might in some way make a difference.