January 14, 2013

We are celebrating another holiday in Russia today, actually Jan 13-14...Old New Year. Can't quite explain it because most of the Russians can't either, but it has something to do with saying goodbye to the past year and welcoming the new year. So Happy Old New Year! Christmas was last Monday, January 7, here in Russia. Families exchange gifts on December 31 for the New Year so Christmas is basically just a day off. In America where New Year's ends the holiday season, it is the beginning of the holiday season in Russia. Christmas was never celebrated here until the last twenty years approximately and, for the most part, still takes a backseat to most of the celebrations as far as we can tell. The churches have special midnight services which a lot of people attend. As for us, we chose to go to the New City Branch winter picnic. We played badminton, soccer, relay games, and roasted hot dogs for lunch. There were a ton of people in the forest since many had the day off. Lots of cross country skiers, sledding, etc. The weather was perfect, too--not too cold. It is fun being in a casual situation with the members like this because they all are good sports about running and playing, even the babushkas! Speaking of Christmas, we received all of our Christmas mail this last week. Thank you to everyone who sent such thoughtful cards and gifts! We love that we have been able to celebrate Christmas all year long but especially to have extended "traditional" Christmas greetings into January! We love you!

Our week has been filled with good visits with one of the branch presidents, our eternal investigator Svetlana, YSA's, and branch families. We had a successful family home evening with five investigators and four church members. Add eight missionaries to the mix, and we had quite the house full! We always share a spiritual thought and then play a game. One of the investigators brought Jenga and then we played "The Couch Game" which they really like. It's a good game to work in teams and get to know each other's names in a roundabout sort of way.

We went on our last visa trip on Tuesday to Lithuania. We were with President and Sister Sartori and seven other missionaries, all of whom have served with us in Toliatti, so that was a blast. It's a long day though. We were up at 3:30 in the morning to get to the airport and didn't get back home until 1 the following morning. You sure feel like a part of the jet set when you're on four different flights in one day. We fly from Samara to Moscow to Vilnius, back to Moscow then Samara. In fact, we were on the same plane with the same flight crew back and forth from Vilnius to Moscow. I'm sure they wonder what we're all doing. It cost about $1200 per missionary just for the airfare. That doesn't count the transportation costs getting the missionary from their various areas to Samara. It will be so nice when the visa restrictions can be adjusted which will eliminate a lot of this travel. Missionaries will still have to leave the country every six months to have their migration cards renewed but that will probably be accomplished by a drive to Kazakhstan. It will save the mission hundreds of thousands of dollars and exponentially more for the entire Eastern Europe Area.

We braved door-to-door contacting in our apartment building. We tied ribbons around several "Joy to the World" DVD's and took them around to our neighbors. We had our "door approach" memorized, but it was still pretty scary trying to talk people into opening their doors. Our apartments are behind two metal doors, and the person speaks to you through the metal door. Some of them have peepholes so they can see us and some will open their doors while others just say no. Surprisingly, we had several people open their doors and even had three or more invite us in. A few of them recognized us from seeing us come and go. Others were just very friendly and patiently listened to us. We had one of the elders standing behind us in the background to help us when we didn't understand what was being said. We'll follow up with those who were interested this next week.

I read the chapter in Alma about Amalikiah and Lahonti this last week, and it always reminds me of the morningside with John Bytheway that I invited myself to with my high school kids years ago. As only he can do in such an animate way to tell the story, Brother Bytheway would refer to the phrase in the verse, while banging his fist across his chest, "they were fixed in their minds with a determined resolution." (Alma 47:6) This is something we definitely need to have as missionaries...a fixed mind and determined resolution to be obedient, to work hard and to share the gospel. We see such great examples in the missionaries we serve with, in our own missionary son, in our niece and nephew, in many of your sons and daughters, and know there are thousands whom we don't see, all of whom are fixed in their minds with a determined resolution to share the good news of gospel. It's true!!!
 Sister Olga race to the finish line

Sister Peterson has skills
Plane to Vilnius
Elder Woolley
Sister Upshaw and Sister Pearce
Elder Malloy and Elder Anderson

Trying to stay warm at the winter picnic
Elder Peterson standing in between "Tanya's."  Russian legend has it that your wish will come true if made while standing in between two people with the same name.

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