The facility was kind of up in the hills about an hour outside of Moscow. Someone had told us that many years ago it was built by the government because they were required to have a place where their employees could go for "rest." So there is a large building similar to a hotel, a large dining area, dance hall, assembly hall with a stage. For sports, they have a basketball court, tennis, bicycling, swimming, and I don't know what else. There are lots of swings around the property and a fun playgrounds for kids. We have been in several homes obviously, and this place would be considered quite luxurious for many, if not most, of these young adults. We felt guilty when we were wondering why we didn't have a "luggage rack" to put our suitcase on. Elder Peterson said, "Every hotel has one." I had to remind him that we're not in Kansas any more. The room did have a fridge and the beds were quite comfortable--or maybe it was because we were just so exhausted once we went to bed every night that we would have been able to sleep on a bed of rocks and be comfortable:)
We ate three meals a day and learned that the midday meal is larger than the evening meal. For breakfast one morning we had buckwheat and a hot dog (well, they would call it a sausage). Another morning we had noodles and some kind of meat. We did have a hot cereal that I've never seen before one morning. For lunch we always had a small salad, soup, main course and fruit for dessert. Dinner was usually a soup and yogurt or fruit. Every meal is served with breads and tea, never water. The best part of it all was that I didn't have to cook it!!
On the first day, they divided up into twelve different groups and got to know each other in their groups. These are the groups who studied scriptures together in the mornings and planned a skit for the talent show. We thought the senior couples should participate in the talent show, too, so we did what we know how to do best..."Ain't no mountain high enough." We got one of the kids to download the song, type the words up and copy them so the other couples could read the words, and then hook up his ipad to the sound system so we would have something to sing to; which was hilarious because the music was so loud you couldn't hear us...just as well! Needless to say, we were the hit of the show. Keep in mind, these are couples in their 60's and 70's except for us, but they were all good sports. Our district president videoed it and showed it to us afterwards. He panned the audience, and they were all standing, dancing and clapping. The rest of the night many of them were coming up to us and telling us how much they enjoyed it. But you know what that's like; it was so silly, but we were able to show them that old farts can have fun, too!
Let me tell you about the other couples. The Jones' and Pearson's are in Moscow, Brewer's and Adams' are in St. Petersburg, and the Stevens' and us, of course, are in Samara. We hung out with the Stevens while we were there. We ate our meals together, went on walks, etc. We so rarely get to see the other couples in our mission that it was a treat to be with them all week. I wanted to tell you about the Brewer's. They are from Snowflake, AZ, are serving their second mission, they are the CES couple in their mission, and they're 75 years old. We came to admire them so much because they have such faith and are so diligent despite their age. Sister Brewer said they had many people ask them how they could possibly serve in Russia and at their age. She would always respond that the prophet signed their call from the Lord, and that was all they needed to know in order to serve. Before they submitted their papers, they were actually asked to serve in Nauvoo, but when they received their call, it said they were going to Russia. Brother Brewer's grandmother was a Peterson, and he sat us down one night to tell us a wonderful story about his grandpa, Neils Peterson, Pete Peterson they called him. We're sure we're related somehow. Anyway, Brother Brewer told about how the land was divided between the "warsh" to the Mortenson family on one side and the Peterson family on the other. We loved hearing his faith-promoting stories about them there parts of the land. You should see this couple dance, too! Brother Brewer is a crack up, and I know the kids in his area will love them! He has a full head of natural, black hair. They've only been here a couple of months. It really is amazing to see all of these couples fresh courage take and forge ahead to try and make a difference.
From our own district, we had 17 young adults attend. One was a girl who doesn't come to any of the activities, but she came to the conference and had a great time. A couple others are inactive, and our eternal investigator Sergei also came. It was a great opportunity to strengthen our relationship with these terrific young adults. Just being there with them and seeing them on a daily basis was terrific. They even allowed us to dance in their circle at the dances!
Elder Bennett, of the Quorum of the Seventy who serves in our Area Presidency, and his wife spoke at the conference, as well as the Moscow Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Sorensen. Elder Reshetnikov was also there; he is also a member of the Seventy and lives in our mission. He's the one who came and spoke at one of our branches a couple of weeks ago. We have seen him several times now and just love being around him. They all spoke on the importance of God's plan, families, celestial marriage, choosing to follow God. Elder Bennett told the youth point blank that the reason the church spends millions of rubles each year for this wonderful conference is so that the youth can get together to meet, fall in love, and get married. The church depends on these young adults to be the next generation to move the work forward. Of all the things I heard throughout the conference, one thing that rang true to me was spoken by one of the young adults who said he had been to a youth conference in Spain and has been to church in other parts of the world, and the youth always say the same things no matter where he is. He realizes that they are all the same; they all have the same desires, the same hopes and dreams, the same testimonies. I absolutely love that!
I just have to mention the train ride as part of the experience. We were on the train for 17 hours getting to Moscow and 19 coming back. Yes, that's a long time!! The mission takes very good care of us and purchased a 4-bed compartment for us so we didn't have to share. I can't even imagine being in those tight quarters with two more people you wouldn't know (and who undoubtedly would not speak any English:)! The rest of the young adults and President Zolotov and his family were just in the open-compartment area which meant they weren't separate rooms, but one open area where everyone sleeps. You don't have any privacy. We felt guilty; but at the same time, we felt protected. We got a lot of studying done and we even managed to sleep now and then as the train rocked back and forth. I felt like I was still on the train for at least a day afterwards, as well. We rode through some beautiful country. As soon as you get away from the city, the fields and trees and villages are so green and pretty. The only thing that is missing is animals! Elder Peterson can't believe that in all the open space, we never saw anything more than a cow.
I saved the best part of the trip for last. We were able to see a friend of ours at the train station in Moscow on the day we left. She is an investigator who met the sister missionaries while she was visiting her parents during the summer here in Toliatti. She lives in Moscow, and we told her before she left Toliatti in June that we would call her when we came to Moscow. She has continued to take the lessons from the missionaries and is being baptized this Saturday!! We are so excited for her and know we have made a friend who we will keep in touch with forever. We are able to email back and forth in English; she doesn't speak any English, but google translate does a job of somewhat getting the point across. This is a tender mercy and shows us that love bridges the language gap. We can communicate somewhat, but the most important thing is that we feel each other's love. Her name is Tanya; she is in one of the pictures I posted of our water balloon volleyball activity this summer. While she was here in Toliatti, she came to every activity, church every week, and really embraced the gospel. She explains that she has found the happiness she has been looking for for a long time. She is such a giving person and will be a fabulous member of the church. She waited at the train station over an hour for us to arrive so she could tell us her good news in person. Another tender mercy is that she has met another YSA in her branch who is originally from Toliatti (whom we know) and whose mother lives in the Komsomolski branch. This Lena has taken Tanya under her wing, and they have become very good friends. We wish we could share her baptism day in person, but pictures will have to suffice. Speaking of pictures, we need to buy batteries for our camera before we can get pictures sent of our conference, but you can also go to Elder Peterson's facebook page to view some he posted from our District President.
1.Tanya and me on the train
2.Tanya and me at the train station in Moscow
3.Elder Peterson on the train to Moscow4.Elder and Sister Stevens and us at the sports' activity
5.Elder and Sister Stevens, Elder and Sister Pearson, us6.Waiting in the metro station
7.Several of our Young Adults
8.The view from our hotel window in Moscow