July 16, 2012

We are trudging through the streets in this lovely heat!  But when we're not on the streets, we are riding in non-airconditioned gazelles in which people often will not open the windows; and we are sleeping in a nice, toasty non-airconditioned bedroom.  But, hey, what's there to complain about....except the orange water we've had for the last four days.  It's a toss up whether to shower in tinted water--are we really getting clean?  Hmmm, what's worse--to keep feeling sticky and stinky or to be tainted with who-knows-what is in the water.  We've gone with tainted.  We're hoping for a clear-water day tomorrow.  The dishes are really stacking up! 

It was pretty funny the other evening when we were visiting the branch president at his home--on the ninth (top) floor of his apartment building.  It was plenty warm indeed.  He sat and visited us while spraying himself in the face with a water bottle every few minutes to try and stay cool.  We have also been introduced to a national drink called Kbac (Kvoss) which is a carbonated drink sold on every street corner like a lemonade stand.  It's made out of bread, water, maybe a little sugar.  It's not a favorite!!!  One member family talked us into tasting it even though we've heard from all the missionaries how nasty it is.  Another family gave us some they had made from scratch at home.  The secret is to drink it really fast in as few gulps as possible to avoid minimal after taste.  The Russians love it!

We have been working with the new elders in our city a lot this week.  They are wanting to get to know the members, work with the investigators, and seek out inactives.  They are hard workers, very efficient missionaries, and have kept us hopping.  Yesterday we went out to visit a family who has recently returned to church.  We had never been to their home so we mistakenly took the wrong bus and ended up on the complete opposite end of town.  Fortunately, we're with elders who speak excellent Russian and are able to get good directions where we need to go.  So we set off walking...I thought we were walking to another bus stop to catch a different bus.  But, NO, we're walking the two miles at least, uphill both ways, across the train yard, to get to this family's house.  And it was hot!  But they had a nice glass of Kbac waiting for us when we got there:)  They also have geese and lots of chickens. 

The other new member we have been meeting with is Segun (Shagoon) from Nigeria.  He was baptized at Christmastime in Samara and just got married a few weeks ago.  We have had him over for dinner, and he has come to family home evening.  He likes to be able to speak English, although he has lived in Russia now for three years and speaks it pretty well.  I forget the name of his native tongue, but he has a very strong accent.  We have been unsuccessful in getting his wife to come along to church, meetings, or even over for dessert and a social visit.  He said that she is very "heavy" and doesn't feel well.  We have seen their wedding pictures, and she is heavy.  In fact, I told him, "yeah, I'm heavy, too."  I had to chuckle a couple days later when he told me his wife is pregnant and I congratulated him.  His reply was that he had told me that the last time we met.  "Don't you remember, I told you she is heavy?"  So it just goes to show that miscommunication happens even when we're speaking English:) 

We also met with Sister Antonina this week.  She is a less-active member who we have met with a couple of times, and she has been to church a couple of times also.  She loves the missionaries and is so kind and thoughtful to us.  This last time we were at our home she taught us how to make a traditional Russian pie called pirozhki.  The best way to describe them is "hot pockets."  They are a small bun filled with potatoes, cabbage, meat, rice, or she made these with green onion and hard-boiled egg.  It was fun working with her and learning about one of the Russian cuisines.  I don't know if I'll be able to duplicate it myself!

On Sunday I was asked to teach the Relief Society (RS) lesson on visiting teaching.  The RS president wanted me to share some ideas of how visiting teaching works in America because it just doesn't happen here.  We have been preaching visiting and home teaching all year, and I knew it would be the last thing the sisters wanted to hear about again.  So I really prayed to know what to say and how to say it so they would feel encouraged instead of guilty or beat upon.  I also brought chocolate chip cookies because I figured if they were eating, they wouldn't be able to debate:)  The cookies were a big hit and made the sisters smile!  Many asked for the recipe; there is nothing like homemade American cookies here, and they are much more sweet than most of the Russian pastries.  So I have a little project ahead of me to convert my recipe to metrics and translate the ingredients into Russian.  Ahhh!  Anyway, I brought a framed picture of my Heatheridge 7th Ward RS sisters that I took on my last Sunday in the ward, as well as a framed picture of Brother Swenson and his sons, who had been our home teachers for nine plus years.  It was a blessing to be able to share stories of how each of them have blessed the lives of our family throughout the years.  We are so grateful for your wonderful examples of dedication, sacrifice, and commitment to watch over and care for us!  I explained to the sisters that example is the best teacher, and so I realize their disadvantage of not having had examples to lean on for 180 years like the Americans have had in the church.  The church has only been in Russia for 20 years.  In the same breath, I told them they can't wait for 160 more years to start doing their visiting teaching!!  They are the modern-day pioneers who will pave the way and be the examples for their posterity.  Even if the sisters show love and care for each other outside of their visiting teaching assignments, the spirituality of the branches would increase tremendously.  So our first goal is to get the sisters organized into companionships and assign visiting teachers.  It's hard to do your visiting teaching without knowing who you visit teach!:)  After the closing prayer, I took a picture of my awesome Komsomolski RS sisters and told them that some day I will have an opportunity to share their picture with my sisters back home and tell of the many things I have learned from them.  They are such strong, stalwart women!  We really can learn from each other even though we are on opposite ends of the world!

Just a final note...this week marks the one-year mark of our missionary son's service in Iowa!  We can't say enough of what a great blessing it is to share our missionary experiences together!  He is such an inspiration to us and motivates us to work hard and stay the course.  We see firsthand the discipline and hard work that it is to be a missionary.  We also see the blessings and growth that come from that!  We are grateful for Elder Son (as we affectionately call him) and are so proud of him!

1. Komsomolski Train Yard
2. Mission
3.Kristina and Sasha
4. Sasha
5. FHE Elder Taylor, Segun, Stacy
6. Baking with Sister Antonina
7. Elders Morris and Taylor
8. Komsomolski RS
9. Heatheridge 7th Ward Relief Society
10. Missionary son


July 9, 2012

Welp, another cycle gone by.  Our transfer brought many changes in the district as usual.  We will have a new district leader, as well as zone leaders.  The new district leader is an elder who was here in our city when we first arrived so it will be fun to serve with him again; however, he lives in Ulianovsk, the city four hours from us so we will only see him when he comes into town on splits.  The new zone leaders will move to the apartment in our city.  It is the one elder's last cycle and he has been serving as the Assistant for probably nine months or more, and the other elder came to Russia with us from the MTC so we know him and love him already.  We said goodbye to Sister Cemyonova who was transferred to she-doesn't-know-where-exactly yet.  We will miss her.  She is from Novosibirsk, a convert of just a couple of years I think, speaks English pretty well, and is just a delight to be with.  She presented me with a cloth she embroidered that I will love having to remind me of her.  Of course, all the missionaries are so wonderful and we will love the new sister just as much.  We haven't met her yet, but both she and her companion are each starting only their second cycle having been in the MTC for only nine weeks so they will be working hard to fine-tune their language skills together!  Whew, that would be tough!

Our Fourth was just another day here.  I made a flag cake for district meeting on Friday though.  I found some big red gummy candies that I cut into strips for the stripes and then bought what looked like blueberries, but I think they're currants, for the stars.  I thought it looked pretty legit.  The sisters brought a flag cake, too (man, we think alike!).  They used raspberry jam for the stripes and cut stars out of banana slices.  Their cake looked terrific as well.  The elders brought a watermelon that was better than any watermelon I ever bought last year.  So, we had a little taste of home away from home.

Well, our investigator Svetlana has given us a baptismal date of January 13.  Crazy, huh?!  Don't know how she came up with that exactly; we haven't actually talked to her--she has talked to the elders.  So we don't know how that will all work out, but we will encourage her to continue coming to church, reading the Book of Mormon and praying and hopefully she will work towards that goal.  We won't continue to meet with her formally for lessons but will be in close contact.

Our Sabbath was good.  Elder Peterson didn't get home until 6:30 from meetings.  I wasn't required to be at the last leadership meeting so I came home a couple of hours before that.  He has been working hard this last week on this two-hour training to the branch leaderships about disciplinary councils.  He said it loses effectiveness in the translation, but I'm sure it was just great.  We invited a woman over who we met on the bus last week.  She also speaks English and is more interested in meeting to practice her English but oftentimes that is how we can approach people and eventually get them interested in the church.  The missionaries used to have an English Club a few years ago that attracted a lot of people but apparently there was problems getting permission to teach the students younger than 18, and I'm sure there were probably other reasons too, so the class was discontinued.  Anyway, this woman is an English interpreter for some medical company that receives orders from pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer.  She speaks very well and has agreed to help us with our Russian once a week.  So we will choose gospel-based sentences for her to help us practice next time.  As soon as she realized we are Mormons, she said, "Oh, I don't like Mormons.  They have 100 wives."  But she still agreed to meet with us so we must not be too bad and we assured her Mormons only have one wife.

I have been asked to teach Relief Society this Sunday on visiting teaching.  I have really been praying to know the things to say that will encourage the sisters to do their visiting teaching.  Somehow they think we have some unique secret in America to doing visiting teaching.  I've been thinking a lot about that.  Everyone around the world has the same 24 hours in a day.  Sisters in America work, take care of families, serve in church callings, etc., but many still are able to find time to do their visiting teaching.  What makes the difference?  The main thing I've been able to surmise is that we see the examples around us of sisters who do their visiting teaching.  I saw my mom do her visiting teaching and had visiting teachers visit her.  We've been able to recognize the blessings from visiting teaching.  The sisters in our branches have never done their visiting teaching, have no desire to start doing it, and don't see the need for it.  I want to help these sisters somehow realize how important it is for them to set the example for generations to come.  I'm so grateful for the visiting teachers I have had throughout the years and know it's the Lord's way for us to take care of each other.  We have been preaching home teaching and visiting teaching the whole time we've been here, and I think they're getting tired of hearing about it.  If any of my readers have any wonderful ideas, send them along!

Elder Peterson has been craving coconut.  He came home from the market the other day with a whole coconut.  The YSA helped him crack it open after FHE the other night, which was no small feat!  Much to his disappointment, the coconut was just a hollow piece of mold!  But not to fear!  Grandma Joyce's package arrived to save the day with packages of Jell-O coconut cream pudding.  Life is good again!

We took a trip out to Prebrejnee on Saturday to see Grandma Vera and her husband.  They are in our Komsomolski branch.  She will be 80 next month, and he is somewhere in his 70's, I'm guessing.  They showed us their cute apartment they had just bought and renovated and fed us lunch.  Of course, we sang a hymn and left a spiritual thought.  Somehow we made it through our visit trying to understand each other.  Grandma Vera is very patient to correct us and somehow knows what we're trying to say.  I forgot to take a picture unfortunately.  We also took cookies over to one of the outgoing branch presidents one evening.  They had the other outgoing branch president and his wife over so that was great to be able to visit with all of them.  We are hoping that any small gesture will leave bigger results in expressing our appreciation and love for them.  They know we love them and are not as afraid to try and talk with us even though it's hard to understand each other sometimes.  It's all an adventure!

Here's our quote for the week:  "Practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent.  So practice the right things!" 

Picture 1 -   Our awesome district (notice the air conditioner)
Picture 2 -   Concrete Hunting
Picture 3 -   Elder Hughes and Elder Anderson
Picture 4 -   Stas, Vitali, Arthur, Jenya, Dima

July 2, 2012

We planned a fun Home Evening this week over at the branch so we would have more room to run and race. We did lots of the old relays like pass the lifesaver on toothpicks, then played musical chairs with a twist that each time the music stops you remove a chair and everyone in the circle has to fit on the remaining chairs. It was okay but not a favorite. We came to our "almost made it" number again of 14 young single adults. The important thing is we all have fun together and maybe learn a little too. The best part of the evening for me was after everyone was leaving to go home, one of the sister missionaries had asked for a blessing so one of the elder missionary companionships stayed back to give her the blessing. Elder Malloy, who has been with us since we both started our missions here in Toliatti in December, offered the blessing for her. The spirit was so strong, and I felt like it was exactly the blessing her dad would have given her if he were here. It's such a blessing to see these young men exercise their priesthood because they display wisdom far beyond their years when put into these situations.

Sunday our branch was like a "real ward!" There were lots of kids, families, grandmas, missionaries. We even had to set up additional chairs in the back. It seemed like all of the active members were there this time, as well as having the two branches combined now which adds up to a sizeable group. The branch has a new branch president as of last week. He is in his early thirties, married, no children yet, returned missionary, has been a branch president twice previously, and will do a great job! Our largest challenge right now is getting members to accept callings. Everyone is either tired, doesn't have the time, or just doesn't want to. I want to tell them that if the Lord gave callings to only those who weren't tired, busy or desireless, no one would have callings!! We went over to the district building on Saturday to meet with President Kulikov, the new branch president, and set up a training schedule. We stayed after for a couple of hours to help him clean the building, as he was there to do it by himself. We are in the process of planning a big "Minute-to-Win-It" district activity to bring all the members and their friends together. Hopefully, we'll have a couple three show up!

Our MTC Skype tutor lessons are coming to an end next week. We have been so blessed to have the support and training continue while we have been here in the mission field. Our teachers are so amazing and have really had to be patient with us as we struggle through this learning curve. We have been praying for resources to become available to us here in Russia, as we continue to try and learn the language. Of course, we have started meeting people who speak both English and Russian and are willing to help us. We also have met a Russian lady who has been a volunteer for us through the MTC and now lives in Lehi who is willing to Skype with us weekly. We know the Lord will continue to help us as we desire to keep learning. One of these days it's going to "kick in!" We just hope it will be before we return home:) We had an older gentleman stop us on the street the other morning when we were out for our walk. He wanted directions to a particular street which we hopefully communicated correctly. He talked to us for a good 15 minutes--all in Russian--and we understood a word here and there. Funny thing, he actually offered us his phone number and address and wants us to visit him and talk more about our church. I think we were good listeners:) He said he knows a lot about the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches and would like to know more about ours. He lives in another town, but coincidentally enough, we just happen to have a trip planned there on Monday so we will be able to see him and bring along our English-speaking member friends. So sometimes knowing the very little we know, and, believe me, it is VERY LITTLE!, is enough. Sometimes I want to crawl under a rock and not hear another Russian word, but I have to try hard to have an open mind and let the words sink in.

The baptism for last week didn't happen. The investigator is still interested in being baptized but will continue to increase his testimony about certain principles and then hopefully be baptized soon. Our other investigator Cvetlana still can't agree upon a date to be baptized. We asked her to pray about now being a good time and will meet with her this next week to see what she has decided.

A big thunder and lightning storm woke us up the other night. The delightful moisture adds to our humidity! We'll have a couple of real warm days but then it cools off for a day which is a nice reprieve. I think we're in for some pretty warm weather coming up though. I'm wondering if I should add rice to my salt shakers:) I even made dad move the kitchen table into the living room when we had company for dinner because that is the one room in the house that has A/C. The kitchen is the hottest room in the house and the sun beats into it at dinnertime.

We are working hard and learning a lot. We are reminded in Preach My Gospel of the great responsibility of being "an example of the believers" and also of the great privilege it is to share the good news of the gospel. It's a blessing to be part of the Lord's work! The gospel is true!

June 25, 2012

Our Old City elders have a baptism scheduled for this Saturday with Sergei. They are so excited; this will be the first baptism for one of the elders. Sergei is a 28-year old gentleman whose parents are both gone so he lives by himself. He has always believed in God and reads the Bible regularly. He has been very accepting of the gospel and its principles and has come to church every Sunday for a couple of months. He will be such a terrific member of the church! He comments often of how it is so much easier to talk to the missionaries than the people "on the street." He will be coming to our YSA conference in Moscow in August. I think it will be good for him. Our investigator Svetlana spoke with her husband about the church and says he is fine with it. Now we need to set her baptismal date; it will be important for her to come to Sergei's baptism, too, so she can feel the spirit there.

We are saying goodbye to our friend Ksusha Zolotova this week. She is leaving for America tomorrow, and we will miss her terribly. She is always so helpful to translate for us at FHE and to go with us to visit less-active members. Our only condolence is that we will hopefully see her again. She will live with her aunt in Seattle for six months and then apply to LDS Business College in SLC. The branch planned a surprise going-away party on Friday night. They played a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" kinda game, and I was one of her lifelines. She called on me to help her with the question of what holiday is observed on November 11. Thankfully, I answered it right. After all, it would be pretty embarrassing to be American and not know the answer! We just love Ksusha and are confident she will adjust well to her new environment; however, I think she'll find herself being more homesick than she thinks she will be.

We had a fun activity for our cycle cultural event this week. We went to a less-active member's art school and painted a picture. She teaches children at her school and has had a few students go on to study art at the universities. It's amazing to see the paintings these kids create. I wasn't real crazy about going because you know what a rotten artist I am, but I honestly had more fun than I thought I would. Sister Elena helped me get the base colors on the canvas and then I slopped some flowers on. I'll give you three guess what Dad painted...yep, a golf hole. Sister Elena has a testimony; she just doesn't have time to come to church right now. We just keep in touch with her and hope she will soften her heart to return some day. I don't know if you remember me telling you about when we visited her art school once before. The sister missionaries and branch president are good to keep in touch with her and her husband, as well.

We had a very rewarding, tiring weekend. We planned to visit the Ulianovsk branch which is a four-hour bus trip from here. Dad was sick on Friday night so he had the elders give him a blessing while they were here for district meeting because he felt it was important for us to keep our commitment to go. He made it through the weekend just great; we are so grateful for priesthood blessings. We left Saturday morning along with the elders who are serving in that city. They had been here in Toliatti on splits because Elder Glavatsky, who is one of the missionaries in Ulianovsk, is the district leader and visits the other missionaries within the district periodically. They were so gracious to take care of us--buy our tickets, get us to our hotel, haul our suitcase. These two elders have been in the district and we served with them when they lived here, one in Komsomolski, the other in Old City. So anyway, we stayed in a very nice hotel overlooking the Volga. This river is huge! Ulianovsk is a pretty city--pretty buildings, the Volga river, tree-lined streets, and dad particularly loved the full GRASS soccer field, the first we've seen since we've been here. It is the city were Lenin was born so there are lots of historical museums, statues, etc. We walked across the street by the river to check out a statue there and a water-fountain display which attracted a lot of attention, but compared to the Bilagio, it is pretty lame. Saturday night the branch planned a FHE for us to host which was interesting. I presented my little ditty on the power of music that I had done for our YSA FHE here a few weeks ago that went really well. We were told we would have quite a few YSA there, but we didn't have any--until the end when one came from work. So it wasn't quite the same as it was before, and I had to do some on-the-spot rearranging to relate the message more towards the audience. They didn't quite appreciate the songs I played for them like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or Dynamite, or Showdown. I was trying to prove the point of how different music promotes different emotions and feelings. It went over a lot better with the YSA, but hopefully I was able to bring it around with some personal experiences and focus more on the importance of hymns. We even brought our speakers and little subwoofer with us in the suitcase. We played General Conference Bingo after, and that is always a hit.

So a little about the branch--president and his wife are fabulous! There were about ten other members besides them in church on Sunday. We went to branch council meeting before the block meetings started, and this branch president follows the handbook to a tee which is refreshing. One funny thing is his counselor came in a few minutes late, walked through the room onto the balcony where he apparently keeps his church clothes, changed into them, and came into the meeting. He also changed out of them before going home at the end of the day. These saints were very loving and accepting of us. It's amazing that there are so few members in this city of 700,000+ people. There is lots of converting to do! Dad spoke on the Book of Mormon (all in Russian!), I bore my testimony and played a piano solo. One of the elders also spoke and led the music. Thank heavens for the missionaries in these small branches. There were four of us in RS, along with the flower arrangement on the table:) We helped the elders teach an investigator after the meetings, and then we went to get our bus. One of the members went with us on the marshutka from the church house to McDonald's so we could get something to eat, walked with us to the Autovaksal (bus station) with our suitcase in tow, and waited with us for the 40 minutes before our bus left. Mind you, he doesn't speak a work of English so we had to use our limited vocabulary and then pretend we could understand some of what he said. Well, we could understand some of what he said but not a lot. He went above and beyond to make sure we were well taken care of.

The bus ride home was interesting. We would stop every so often to pick up riders when there was standing room only. For one thirty-minute stretch, Dad had a large woman standing next to him with her purse in his face. We had a little baby screaming for about 45 minutes. These little vans don't have windows that open or air conditioning, so that's a treat. We wanted to have the full Russian experience!! But we're home safe and sound and had a nice P-day to recover from it.

We couldn't survive this experience without all of you, our dear friends and family, who constantly love us, support us, help us, save us, write us, pray for us, heal us, and the list never ends. Thank you so much for your help in the missionary effort! We love you!

1 - Art cultural activity
2 - Goodbye to Ksusha
3 - Millionaire game with Ksusha and Mom
4 - Uri Teplikov and wife
5 - Statue in Ulianovsk
6 - Ulianovsk Branch
7 - FHE Bingo in Ulianovsk
8 - Cinderella