We are coming out of winter and glad to be alive to welcome Spring. The melting layers of snow are uncovering treasures that have been buried for five months. The mounds of snow have been replaced with mounds of cigarette packs and butts, liquor bottles, bottle caps, candy wrappers, chip packages, bags, dog doodoo, etc. My winter boots have been replaced with rubber goulashes to maneuver the mess and puddles. Our city’s drainage system, if there is one, is less than operable so there is standing water everywhere. Is this really what we were waiting for all this time??:) The sun is up before 6 in the morning and sets past 7:30 in the evening on the days when we see it. That is a good thing.
We have enjoyed a terrific General Conference weekend! We are so grateful for the blessing to watch the sessions online, even if we were a little jealous to see flowers and “popcorn popping on the apricot trees!” We were able to watch Saturday morning’s session live on our Saturday night and the same for Sunday morning’s session on Sunday night. We watched Saturday afternoon session after church on Sunday, priesthood session in between there somewhere and Sunday afternoon session on Monday. We were tuned into the recurring theme of reactivating our members and can truly testify to the importance of growing our congregations by bringing them back. This is a major emphasis for our District this year, particularly through home and visiting teaching, and we know the Saints will be encouraged to realize they are following counsel of the prophets. The members of the church here will be watching Conference on April 14 and 15 since Easter is this Sunday and meetings will revolve around the theme of Christ’s resurrection. So we will watch Conference again in Russian unless we are able to download the sessions in English. During the prophet’s closing remarks, his expressions of love and appreciation for those in distant lands across the sea took on different meaning for us. President Monson really does love all of us no matter where we live. Living amongst such faithful, pioneer Saints, we know they appreciate his being mindful of them. We sure did!
We had another fun Family Home Evening with our Young Single Adult group. After our lesson, we played several “Minute-to-Win-It” games. Of course, this is a whole new concept here and, I might add, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it when you say it in Russian. The kids had a bunch of fun and maybe we’ll be able to challenge a group from another area some time. I’ll have to post the picture of them playing the game where you try to get a cookie from your forehead into your mouth—hilarious! We had three investigators attend, and they had a lot of fun, too. Youth their age don’t get together and have fun doing things like this. They mostly drink or hang out in the “bath house” (sauna). We have been impressed that most new people come and easily become engaged with everyone else. We just need to get them to come consistently!
Elder Peterson helped me orchestrate a large breakfast lunch for District Meeting last week. It was one of the elder’s birthday on Friday, and he really likes pancakes. We inherited a pancake griddle that cooks six pancakes at a time so we made pancakes, fried potatoes and fried eggs for ten people in my “shoe of a box” kitchen. We only have one pan capable of frying eggs and one pot big enough to hold enough potatoes for everyone. It was quite the ordeal but a big hit with the missionaries! They loved it! Thanks again to all of you who help this be possible for these wonderful missionaries!
Elder Peterson and I “worked in the trenches” Saturday. We went to New City on splits with the companionships there – Elder Peterson with the Elders and me with the Sisters. It is fun for me to have a set of sisters I can visit with and talk about what kind of hairspray to buy, swap recipes with, etc. Both sisters are native but one of them speaks English quite well so we are able to manage except for a word here and there when we have to reach for the dictionary. I literally experienced the walked and walked and walked and walked story! Bless their hearts, the sisters were unable to get any appointments at all so we contacted for two hours before dinner and 1 1/2 hours after. I got my work out that day!!! But the great thing about it was we found a family in the park who are now investigators! The sisters were so excited; this was the first time they have found an investigator from contacting on the streets. I'm hopeful this will be a positive experience for them. I enjoy when we go contacting with the missionaries for the fact that it helps me appreciate the courage, boldness, and persistence necessary to do such a hard thing. People on the streets are more often than not quite rude. They look straight ahead and completely ignore you or grunt some disinterested comment. People on buses or other public places stare at your badge like you're some crazy person. It really does take courage to stand up for truth and be not ashamed.
We are looking ahead to a busy month with General Conference, District Conference, and a special conference for all six Senior Couples serving in this mission along with the Mission President and his wife. We have yet to meet most of the couples so it will be fun to get together, become better acquainted, and share notes. We are still studying so hard to try and learn this language. Elder Peterson looks at our District President with tears in his eyes because he loves him so much and wants so desperately to communicate with him. We will enlist the prayers of the missionaries and branch members to help us better understand them. We can definitely see an improvement since we have been here, but we have such a long way to go. We can feel of your love and prayers, too, and appreciate all of your support and encouragement! This gospel is true, and we love sharing the good news with the people we are meeting here in Russia.