Sunday, August 31, 2008

More Rolls and Roles 8/25/08

More Rolls and Roles 
After our inspections we walked back to the office to start our day, which today will run until 8:30pm because Cindy is in high gear learning her job from Elder Lunt before he goes on his Visa Trip on Saturday.
Sister Cindy works in the front office next to the entry door where she can greet everyone who enters as she sets the tone for the office. Sister Olga works at a desk to my right (as I took this picture) and Brat (brother) Pyotr (Peter) sits at a desk to my left. My place is just behind me and to the left. This picture is taken from the same spot, just 3 steps back and turning to the left. Pyotr is on the other side of the wall that I am facing.

As you can see, both of our spots are a little snug, but I'm in the snuggest spot. I have to turn my chair to the right to get up because the back of my chair hits the wall in back of me. I do have a window there on my left with the flash glare. I'm working on a plan to move Pyotr's wall a foot into his space, but haven't decided how to move that concrete wall yet. Give me a little time.

My other role is as commissar of clean veggies. After we return from shopping, Cindy puts away the non-perishables and I wash the fruit and veggies. It is a little labor intensive (that's missionary for "A lot of work") and takes me from 2 to 3 hours to complete.

First, everything is washed in detergent to get rid of the gross dirt. The cucumbers and tomatoes are not too dirty, but the potatoes and onions closely approach "gross". Sometimes the potatoes are crusty with black, flakey dirt that has to be scrubbed with a brush. They must be growing these in a Mongolian river bottom.

Here is the setup with the sink full of soap water and the two bowls full of filtered water and a cap full of bleach. I do the cleanest stuff first, here it is the apples and tomatoes, and do the dirtiest stuff last. They all stay in the bleach for about 15 minutes. Cindy thinks she read some place that we need to bleach then for 30-45 minutes. A biologist in our group at the Krasnoyarsk YSA Conference said 30 seconds to 2 minutes would kill everything killable, so who knows.

The onions pose a unique problem because they grow mold under the first couple of layers and have to be pealed down to the mold, scrubbed and bleached. It is hard on my hands and on the onions, but neither of us has a choice. I try very hard not to let any onion skins pass down the drain . . . shades of clogged sewer last week.

After things are washed and "nuked", I set them out to dry before they are put away. The most sensitive go in the refrigerator, but most of the time a lot has to stay in bowls because there is not enough room in our TINY refrigerator.

Some of our friends are familiar with the "wall of food" that our home refrigerator showed when the door was opened. In our apartment, we hardy have the "lineup of food", let alone a wall. Since we feed the missionaries several times a week and 16 of them every other Friday we really need a bigger refrigerator.

In our present condition, Cindy cannot prepare anything ahead and freeze it or even refrigerate it. That means that we have to come home at 3:30 pm to serve a 5:00 dinner and then go back to finish the day at the office. If she had a larger refrigerator, she could make things on our P-day and just heat them for dinner. We have looked at units that are as wide as ours but 2 feet taller that would work swell in the space we have. We just have to meet with the landlady to get her to take out her old fridge that needs defrosting every two weeks and let us install our own. Everything has to go through the landlady and it's a pain, between the language, her limited availability, and her procrastination. It ain't like at home.

Here is a sample of what Cindy does for the District meeting every other Friday. This week she made enchiladas, but not just enchiladas, OH NO. She had the missionaries on the hunt for avocados for a week so she could make guacamole,. She (we) stayed up until 2 am the night before hand making chips from what looks like won ton shells. She made refried beans from 8 cans of red & white beans mashed (by yours truly), several pounds of shredded cheese, onions, and I don't know what all. She produced Spanish Rice from scratch in the big cream-colored pot using Russian stuff never intended to be Mexican. She then made a dessert from caramel candies, chocolate chips, and oatmeal. This lady knows no boundaries in her dedication to feeding the missionaries, feeling that she is lifting their spirits with food from home; and she's right.

After the meeting and the lunch or just at our several-times-a-week dinners for them, they go away stuffed and praising her great food, feeling her love, and feeling renewed. I am still in wonder at her energy and dedication to helping these missionaries feel good and re-energized for their work on the streets. She is a one-woman rejuvenator.

The only thing I can do, in my role, is to provide her with the tools to lessen the burden and make what she does as efficient as possible. We have a lot to do in the office and she cannot keep up this pace for much longer. It will end up to be a $900 donation to the mission, but buying a bigger refrigerator is the right thing to do for her.

This assignment and this country will absorb all you can give to it and still beg for more. I could spend 12 hours a day solving problems, paying bills, doing analysis and reports, and still feel like I'm behind. Cindy could spend the same time at her office tasks, cooking for the missionaries, loving them, taking care of her friends at home, and feel the same way. It is 11:25 Sunday night and she is two-fingering her monthly letter to our friends and will no doubt be up til 2 am finishing it. It is a great work filled with joy and pain, but we are glad we are here.

What a mission . . . what a country.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Apartment Inspections 
One of our jobs is to inspect the missionary apartments. Not just for cleanliness, but also for safety, health, and possible problems with the physical facilities in the apartment. In Kemerovo, a problem with old vibrating plumbing and a faulty connection in the water shut-off under the bathroom sink involved our elders in a major flood of their apartment and the apartments below and we don’t want that to happen again.
These pictures are of the office elders’ apartment that we just visited. Their building is on the south side of Voshod Street, just 2 blocks south of our apartment through a group of apartment buildings and businesses. We can see their street from our sun room.

The entry is typical of the apartment buildings. They are usually dirty and need repair. Theirs is a Khrushchev era, 5 story building with no elevator. The next generation of apartments was built under Brezhnev and is 9 stories with an elevator, usually starting on the second or third floor. You see these two formats all over Novosibirsk.

They don't have any snow doors so immediately inside the exterior entry door that is controlled by a magnetic lock like ours, but is opened with a code rather than a magnetic button on the key ring, we find the mailboxes for the building. The steps are not all the same height so it is a little challenging to gage each step.

Their apartment is located on the 5th floor so we have a little climb ahead. Their unit has only two doors because they don’t share a hall like we do. Their entry is a little cluttered with shoes because it is customary to remove the shoes when entering a home; lots of snow & mud around.

Their clothesline is also in the short entry hall, between the front door and kitchen door so we have to duck under the recent wash. Elder Worthen deftly removed the hanging garments as we passed under them.
The picture to the right is a view from the window next to the couch. You see the second desk, required, and the entry door. They have a small rung in the living room, but most of the floor is nailed-down linoleum.

We quickly check out the living room and bedroom to see that they have the proper furniture and beds. The furniture is old and worn and in the bedroom the beds are typically narrow and short for our big elders, but they meet the standard. This bedroom has a rug; a cut above the norm.

The kitchen is also typical; about 6’ x 8’ with a small sink, refrigerator, stove, water filter, and two cupboards. The refrigerator is the same size as ours, but with a separate freezer and fewer things in it.

The cupboard has their dishes and elder Lunt is showing us his favorite bowl. Not too much required for two elders.

Three of the stove top burners work, but one of the working ones has a bit of a bulge that makes frying eggs a real challenge.

Under the sink we see a common plumbing technique, using flex pipe, like a radiator hose, to connect the p-trap to the old cast-iron sewer pipe. I could not decide whether the wall paper was pealing to reveal the blue paint, or the missing paint was revealing the wall paper, both of which were missing in the rest of the under-sink cabinet.

Finally the bathroom; this one is not typical because it has a toilet in the same room as the tub. Most toilets are in their own closet. This particular arrangement requires that the user sit somewhat sideways because the tub and toilet seat actually touch, making it a little snug for big boys like elder Worthen.

It is also atypical because there is no sink. The elders have to use the tub for hand washing or teeth brushing; note the long-neck spigot on the tub. One thing that is typical is the accumulation of rust in the aerators on the end of each spigot. Few of the elders know that this is the source of their “low water pressure.” I showed them how to clean them out and improved the water flow dramatically.

Sister Simmons counsels them on the basic preparedness items of a week’s supply of food, two days of water, and $100 U.S. on their persons at all times. The recent earthquake in Irkutsk gave everyone a moment of reflection on being prepared. Things can go south here in a hurry.

As we exit, sister Simmons gives them a new scrubby-sponge and an American candy bar with a word of encouragement and one and a half “attaboys” for having a pretty good-looking apartment. We will see them in a few hours in the office and share sister Simmons’ cookies with them. We love them and hope that we have given them some encouragement to keep a clean orderly, and safe house. They have a lot to do and keeping up the apartment is easily put off.

What a great group of elder in this wonderful country.
What a Country/

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Construction Across the Street 8/4/08

The Construction Across the Street 
The construction across the street often provides some entertainment and sometimes a look into Russian culture, at least it seems so to me. A case in point is the day the cement truck broke down. Actually, I think it could more accurately be described as the “mortar” truck.

Each morning I noticed that a cement truck would arrive early and dump its load into a large rectangular bin, about the size of a pickup truck bead. The bin was then lifted by a crain to the roof or other area where the masons were laying brick for the day. Not being home during the day, I did not see the mid day activity, but I presumed that the truck came all through the day, supplying the masons with fresh mortar.

One morning I saw the truck arrive as usual, but it did not leave. I never saw whether it dumped its load, but I was struck with the fact that it did not leave by the time Cindy & I left for the office. Having other things to occupy my rather cluttered mind, I didn’t think about the truck until we returned home that afternoon to fix dinner for a companionship of missionaries. There next to the building being constructed was the “mortar” truck; motionless.

Well, not exactly without motion because two young men, 20-somethings-, were sitting on the top of the mixer tank, working on the plate over the inspection port. That seemed a little odd, but I again returned to my own thoughts and needs like finding the huge set of keys in the zippered pocket of my crowded purse (yep, a man-purse . . . very guy in Novo has one) and finding the appropriate magnetic button (I have 3) to press into the receptacle by our door that would release the magnetic lock and let us in through the first of 7 (count them 7) doors we must pass though to get into our apartment. First is the steel security door with the magnetic lock, then two wooden door about 6 feet apart (probably to keep in the warm and out the cold), the elevator door, on the 9th floor a steel security door into a square common hall we share with our neighbors, a steel door covered with tongue-and-groove uunfinished pine, and a solid wood door into our apartment. That doesn’t count the bathroom door at the other end of our entry hall that is usually accessed by Cindy upon arrival.

Back to the truck; as I was changing clothes I noticed the two men again, this time with more interest because they were obviously struggling with the bolts that secured the plate over the inspection port and each of them took turns with the wrench they shared. As I was helping set the table, I saw that they finally got the bolts out, the cover off, and one of them was head-first halfway into the port. This became more interesting by the minute.

It took me only a short time to figure out what was happening. They were dealing with hardened mortar inside the apparently inoperable truck. Normally, if you keep the mortar churning inside the mixer, it will stay semi-liquid for a long time, but if allowed to sit for an extended time, gels would begin to form and quickly the mortar would become the rock from which it was mined. The probable events of the day passed through my imagination and the situation gained a new dimension. If the truck had stalled, they would have been unable to empty the mortar in the normal fashion and they would have had to open the inspection port, roll the mixer by hand, and dump the mortar out the underside of the tank into the bin or onto the ground. If they had simply had a delay and turned off the truck for an extended period of time the mortar would have solidified and stronger measures would have been required. In either case, they had a problem.

First, they tried banging on the outside of the tank with large hammers.

Then one of them crawled inside the tank through the inspection port and I heard more banging. Finally his partner worked his way into the tank from the end where the mortar normally is discharged; more banging. By this time I am leaning out the window with my elbows on the window sill, taking it all in and Cindy is trying to get me to help more with dinner.

As we sat down to eat with the elders, we all heard muffled, rapid banging inside the mixing tank and looking out at the truck we saw a black rope or cord passed into the port and we heard more banging, more banging, more banging; then silence. Suddenly out of the port shoots a load of rocks and gravel, then another load, and another. Now it is clear that they have an electric jackhammer inside the tank and are chiseling out the hardened mortar. All through dinner we hear the sounds of two desperate men.

This went on until about 12:30 am. Finally the noise stopped and I looked out to see what they were doing. They were both crawling out of their respective entry points, shirtless, and covered with sweat and clinging dust, but they were apparently finished for the night. The next morning the truck was gone and I never saw it again. Thereafter, dump trucks would come with the bins already full of mortar on their backs. The crane would just lift them from the trucks and hoist them to the roof.

I wondered what happened to the two young men who worked so hard and so long at this thankless task. I’m sure they were both deaf for a time and probably had to hose themselves off outside before showering in their homes because the mortar dust on them would surely have clogged the 70 year old plumbing in most apartment buildings and that would have been another long story.

I think that I observed several important things worth noting. On the prevention side, first, the problem could have been solved or minimized with a little quick ingenuity and initiative. Second, if the truck had been maintained it would not have stalled (and I’m sure that was the case because I never saw it again). Third, if they just turned it off for some reason, hopefully they won’t do that again.

On the problem solving side, first these men did not give up. They worked at whatever level of expertise they had with whatever tools they had for as long at it took to get that truck cleaned out. They never gave up. Second, they did not consider their own safety, the long-term harm to themselves, or the discomfort while doing the job. That tank must have been absolutely filled with mortar dust from the coating they had on them. They breathed that stuff for hours in that hot tank and the noise must have been mind-numbing, not to mention damaging. They either didn’t consider their own wellbeing or knowingly sacrificed themselves to get the job done.

In either case, this demonstrated to me what a tough, hardworking people they are, willing to sacrifice themselves for the task, and willing to work until it is done. They may or may not be doing it right, or well, or effectively, but they aren’t afraid to work.

What a country


Friday, August 22, 2008

Weather Report/Internet Report 8/22/08

Weather Report Thursday: Rain
7:55 am Thursday 10.2c and raining
Today it was 14.9c and cloudy at 9:00 am when we went to the office. One of the missionary apartments in Tomsk needed some new appliances, so I sent Pres Gushin with the van to transport a stove. . . I think I need to start a little farther back.

In Novo (Novosibirsk) we have a large apartment (in a previous blog on inspections) that has become the warehouse for the stuff that no one wants or that comes from apartments we are vacating. It is a big place, but it is getting crowded with a lot of discards. This includes a stove from a senior couple's apartment and several washing machines.

Now, at the last transfer, the new Zone Leader in Tomsk moved into the dump of the mission. It is the cheapest rent, but is evidently a real mess. Specifically, the stove doesn't work at all and
the refrigerator and washing machine quit unpredictably, leaving water on the floor in both cases and spoiled food (in the fridge of course). This Zone Leader decided to see if we could move him and after some investigation we found that anything else in Tomsk would be at least 6000 roubles ($300) more per month. for a couple of month's rent we could upgrade this place and be ahead. The current rent is 9000p (roubles) or about $370 per month.

With the range and washer at the "Palace", a locally purchased refrigerator, and a couple gallons of paint we could decided we could make the place comfortable. Check this . . . when the landlord heard our complaints about the appliances he said it was our problem. Now when he heard that we wanted to do some painting and move in our own stove and fridge, he is raising the rent 3000p a month. Fun huh? Even at that, we are still ahead, but it is irritating to have someone benefit from your upgrade when he wouldn't do it himself. We'll get even by baptizing him and taking 10% off the top for life.

Anyway, today I sent Pres Gushin to Tomsk with the mission van loaded with the fridge, washer, the Bowdens (senior humanitarian couple) and Gushin's daughter, Dasha, who is visiting from BYU for a few weeks. We saved the Bowden's bus fare and the cost of the appliances, provided Pres with a chance to talk with his daughter for 7 hours, and got two big items out of the "Palace". Good management, huh?

Pres Gushin and his wife (& Dasha) are all exceptionally nice people, as is Olga who also works in the office. They are all indispensable and I feel very close to them, even in this short time. Last night I took them all to dinner to celebrate our 42nd anniversary, including the Bowdens who were staying with us, to "Mexico". Yea, right. No, not a plane ride, it is a Mexican restaurant a few blocks from the office. It is actually quite good. We had authentic Mexican guacamole, salsa, chips, Fajitas, taco salad, and stuff. Mom felt all "Cabo" like and said that all we needed was some sun and some heat. All agreed.

We wrapped up the evening with an hour's meeting with the Bowdens trying to plan out how we can get and use the Family Enrichment books in Russian. The Humanitarian Services Director for Eastern Europe in Moscow is supposed to be sending us a CD with the book printer ready and we are supposed to find a printer and the money to pay for them. President Mickelsen is supportive, but we don't know the costs and just how much money we have. The Bowdens can get Humanitarian funds and together we hope to print enough to make the books affordable.

Lots going on and busy every day. My cash-box balanced today and that always make it a good day, but in Russia, any day you can end with a smile and good friends around you, it is a good day no matter what else happens.

What a country


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weather report: Rain all day

Weather report: Rain all day
Current Temp at 11:10 pm is 13.8 c (That's about 56 F)
Personal Condition:
I'm waiting for Cindy to come and read scriptures. She told me she was ready at 10:32 and I have been doing things to keep awake while she finishes her emails. I have mixed a pitcher of powdered milk, read my three direct emails and her 6 she forwarded to me, ironed my last shirt, and written this blog.

Stuff around here:
The telephone company left a recorded message on our phone last week telling us not to forget to pay the phone bill or our phone will be cut off AGAIN. We got another call tonight and I could only understand "telephone" and Siberian Bank. I think it is another reminder about the bill. Looks like we are going to have our phone cut off again for a time. This lady (landlord) is a nice person I'm sure, but she's got too much on her plate.

Cindy's ready and I'm gone.

Oops, she just got another email. This is going to be a long night.

What a woman.


Monday, August 18, 2008

8/18/08 Elder Lunt'sBox

Elder Lunt's Box
Friday 8/18/08
Elder Lunt, Cindy's elder, got one of those flat-rate US Postal boxes like we sent to ourselves. The only difference in his box was that it came in a bag. Yep. His bog came in a big, plastic mesh bag, courtesy of the Russian Postal Service.

Which brings me to an observation that I am reluctant to make. It is too easy to ridicule these people. They have very little of this world's goods and most of it is poor quality. Their infrastructure is suffering from terrible neglect and a harsh climate and the place looks like it is like it is disintegrating before your eyes. But I look at the people and see that, for the most part, they are doing the best they can. Sure, there is the mafia and the corruption in office, but the ordinary Russians are doing the best they can, and I see really nice people behind the scowls.

Sunday, as we rode the Metro, there were two fun incidents that illustrate my point. The first was a young mother with an 14-16 month old toddler who wanted to walk while the train was moving. At that age they aren't all that steady so I guess the moving train wasn't too much of a challenge. Anyway, as the mother stooped over and acted as training wheels for the little girl, they "walked" together down the center of the car from the front to the middle door. Every eye was on that child and smiles were on every mouth. Everyone enjoyed the sight of this unsteady, lerching journey through the car and some even put out a hand to steady either the mother or the child. As the car slowed and both mother and child lost their balance, the mom swung the child into her lap as she crashed onto a space on the bench provided by other passengers moving over. Everyone had a moment of shared joy. Then we all put on our game faces and went on with our business.

The second occured as the train left that station. A young 20-something man was sitting on the bench seat as an older woman came through the door at the last minute and was trying to steady herself as the train moved. he leaned forward to give up his seat and as he cleared the bench, she slid into the seat a little out of control. Just then the train jerked forward and the young man started to stumble down the center isle, working to catch his balance and the woman began to slide in his direction; off the seat. I grabbed her arm and swung her back onto the bench as the young man continued to stagger down the car to the middle doors where he graped the pole and stopped his staggering assault on the back doors. Everyone, including the young man and the older woman were smiling or even laughing at the sight. We all had fun with it and the woman thanked me as she smiled up at me. I gave her my best "pashalsta" and a big smile and we were all friends for a moment.

Our young friend Lydia says there is an old Russian expression that roughly translated says, "Don't get involved with strangers" or "Don't smile at strangers". Well, that is the way most of them deal with life. Just don't get involved with strangers. Let them alone and mind your business. I think that explains a lot. As a Temple Square missionary, she says she has a new perspective on her own culture and can laugh at some of the things her people do to get through life. She is proud to be Russian and loves her country, but she has a good laugh at some of the things they do as a culture.

Back to Elder Lunt's box. The box had apparently ruptured and spilled its contents as the end of it was torn open along the fold. These boxes take a real beating and this one didn't have any reinforcing tape around it.

Some postal worker had taken the time to scrape it all up and put it into a bag, including the ruptured box, and tied it up so as to not loose anything. They could have just thrown it away or kept its contents, but they didn't. From the customs list we figured that everything was there and in pretty good shape, considering. Somebody did a nice thing, just because it was the right thing. I think I like these people.

What a country


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday 8/17/08

Weather Report
Last night while writing a blog post, the temperature outside began to fall and by 11:00 pm it was 17 c or 62 f outside. It was like someone just opened the freezer door and let in the cold air. It was a 4 degree drop over a 2 hour period. That's a dramatic change in my book. It is still heavily overcast, but I haven't seen any rain today. The temp at 10:15 pm is 19 c and breezy.

Today at First Branch, Gresha was confirmed a member of the church and received the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He is so calm now. It is hard to believe that his mother was concerned for him at school. It is a miracle.

Also today Dasha Gushina, Pres Gusin's daughter, and her roommate, sister Smith, spoke in Sacrament meeting. Excellent talks translated by Lydia. Sister Smith served in Novo and was released about 9 months ago. She and Dasha are very close. I am very impressed with her and like her a lot. Strong spirit.

Tonight we had the office elders for dinner and a planning session for the next two weeks before both of them go on their Visa trips the end of the month. We are trying to be sure that the work gets done even when they are gone. Sister Simmons is going to step up to the plate on her side of the office. I have every confidence that she will do great.

For the past three days workers have been digging huge holes in our street, doing something, and filling in the homes with sand. Sasha, the PFR, said that they were repairing the hot water pipes that heat the buildings on our street. Someone is working on the project around the clock. I wish them well.

What a country

8/16/08 A Packed Saturday

Today, Saturday, is our "P" Day when we clean the "house" and do the other non-missionary stuff you need to stay in control of your life. Today we planned to do house stuff, read the priesthood/RS lesson, write, read, and generally catch up with everything, attend Gresha's baptism at 3 pm, go to IKEA, and end the day with Lydia at "The Diner".

Wow! This all requires background to make any sense doesn't it? OK, Gresha is the 13 year old son of Valentina and brother of 23 year old Vira who came to our home with the missionaries two weeks ago for dinner (when we got 7 around our little kitchen table) and a baptism challenge.

Valentina had been baptized several months ago after being introduced to the church by a coworker. She felt that church membership would be good for her children also, but Vira was less willing than Gresha, Gregoria Vektoriya Roosikova, who was semi-interested, mostly in the attention and the missionaries. She said he was wild and having many behavior problems at home and at school. She hoped the church would calm him down and it seems to have done so. He has been attending for the past several weeks and is a different boy.

The baptism was excellent. Even the rain didn't dampen our spirits. For the first time, the Branch Presidency was all present and the president baptized Gresha. There is going to be a bond there I believe. The missionaries of the zone were all there as well as his mom's friends and some investigators. Great event.

The IKEA trip was necessitated by a mistaken purchase of a blanket, rolled in a tube-shaped plastic wrapper, thinking it was a pillow we were asked to buy for Elder Lunt. The pillows were packaged in the same wrapper, but with blue lettering. This one was green. Even the Gushins, who were our interpreters and guides Friday when we bought it were fooled because the writing on the package referred only to the construction material and not the name of the item inside.

Dinner at the Diner with Lydia (the returned Temple Square missionary) was planned during the week to hear her report on the YSA Conference she attended in Sweden instead of going to the one we chaperoned in Kresnoyarsk a couple of weeks ago. (see earlier blog).

Superimposed on this plan was the Royers, a senior CES couple in Krasnoyarsk, who were coming to a CES seminar from 11-5 at the left bank chapel where the baptism was to be held. Their train didn't leave until 10:30 that night so they would join us for the evening's festivities.

Oh, also, Elder Worthen would join us for the morning because Elder Lunt was assigned to translate for the seminar and he would be companions with Elder Royer so Elder Worthen needed to be companions with me. After the baptism and seminar, we would trade companions and get on with life.

I'm kinda worn out with all the explanation, aren't you? ANYWAY, after the baptism, we (Cindy & I, Lydia, and the Royers) started out to the IKEA shuttle bus stop in a strong rain. It had been raining off and on all day, but this was definitely "on". We had brought an extra umbrella that we gave to Lydia and the Royers had one between them (why would two people bring one umbrella?) and we started off through the housing projects and park to the bus stop, about 1 1/2 miles through unpaved paths, across major streets, and through a good, steady, cold rain.

By the time we got to the bus stop, Elder Royer was pretty soaked and sister Royer had several head wounds from Elder Royer's gallent attempts to hold the umbrella over both of them. He gave that up about half-way and just walked uncovered.

The IKEA bus picks up people at the last Metro stop on the left bank and takes them the 2-3 miles to the store and returns them to the Metro. Very good marketing. At the store, Lydia and I return our "pillow" for credit and meet the group in the bedding department where we get the right pillow and a throw for the end of the bed where we pray. Oh, I didn't mention that Friday we bought a "fall" blanket because our "summer" blanket was too light and we were getting cold with the windows open. Some people would say, "close the window dummy" and that will probably be the decision in January, or maybe November, but as long as we can stay warm and get fresh air, we wanted to do so. The blanket was white and I thought we should get something to protect it where we pray twice a day, so we bought a blue throw that just covers the end of the bed. (so get on with the story, right?)

OK, after a we got back on the but and into the Metro, we got off at the Lenin Square stop, crossed the street to the west underground in the Metro walkway lined with tiny shops selling, flowers, shoes, sunglasses, bread, etc. and came up on the west side of Lenina Street, walked the two blocks further west past the Universam store at which we shopped Wednesday and came to "The Diner".

More background. A man from Milwaukee came to 17 years ago and opened a pizza parlor called "New York Pizza" which was an instant hit. Since then he has opened something like 30 businesses in Novosibirsk, five of them in this building housing The Diner.

It is a classic east-coast diner with basic diner food and specializing in hamburgers; stainless steel, red Naugahyde-covered booths, and the smell of hot grease. After we had ordered our burgers, a bearded, heavyset guy in a well-washed red knit pull-over shirt came in the door and I knew him. It took a few seconds, but I remembered him from a History Channel documentary in our apartment that had about a 10 minute segment on the new entrepreneurs in Siberia. His name is Eric Shogren.

As he passed, I said to the group, "That's the boss". He turned and said something about us being Americans and who were we. We introduced ourselves as missionaries and he immediately warmed up. He likes the missionaries and has had a relationship with several mission presidents over the years.

He talked about his businesses and then invited us to take a tour. He was obviously excited to show some Americans what he'd done here and was proud of his businesses. In this one building he had a bar, three restaurants, a bakery, and a pizza parler. He gave us samples of some of the food he sells and took us through the back halls of the place. A very interesting guy with a fascinating ability to build businesses.

He also talked about his brother who is in politics as a staffer for some of the Republicans. His name is Brett Shogren. He said that Romney had contacted Brett about working for him if he gets the VP nomination and was excited about the prospect of Romney on the Republican ticket. I think Eric could be a good friend to have in Novo.

Well, after the burgers and shakes, we went to the mission office where Elders Lund and Worthen were to meet them and escort them to the train station for their 10 your trip home to Krasnoyarsk. This was a busy, but a good day filled with lots of adventures. We headed home in the dark about 9:45 pm past the various construction sites on our street and into our warm home. Life is good with a baptism, a Swedish store selling Chinese blankets, a Milwaukee jew selling New York pizzas and burgers, and two Sacramento softies walking miles in the rain.

What a country


Friday, August 15, 2008

8/15/08 Fridge going, going, ?

FridgeGoing, Going, ?
The final days of our refrigerator are close. We have been struggling along with a small, very poor quality unit provided by the hazika (landlord) that needs defrosting every two weeks and can barely hold a week's food. With our feeding the missionaries 4 or 5 times a week. we are spending about $300 a week for food and a significant portion of that is wasted because the fridge won't keep it cold enough.

We have been looking for a larger unit and found several that could serve our needs with about 50 % more capacity and being frost-free. The problem is that most of these units are $600-$800 dollars and this would be a donation to the mission if we bought one. We are debating the merits of the new unit, but every time we can't get something out of the freezer or into the fridge, the alternatives get very clear.

As you can see in this picture, The "wall of food" we used to have in Sacto is smaller, but still an issue. We are getting desperate and I think we will have to do something drastic soon. This little fridge can't be 50% as big as our one at home and it can't hold a week's food for everyone we feed. We can't go shopping more often because it takes so long and time is becoming a premium. I think we will just have to shove this one down the stairwell and get a bigger one.

We went with the Gushins shopping today and compared prices at the El Dorado store (like Best Buy) and the Ikea store on the left bank. I think El Dorado wins with a Electrolux unit that has the same footprint as ours but is almost 24 inches taller. They will deliver it for 250 roubles (about $10) but they will leave it just inside the door of your apartment. If you want it put in the kitchen it costs more.
What a country

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

8/13/08 More Adventures in Apartment Living

More Adventures in Apartment Living
Tuesday night Cindy called from the kitchen those always frightening words, "The sinks stopped up." Well, with my skills and confidence, I advanced on the recalcitrant sink with the plunger and absolute confidence in my abilities, soon to be deflated.

First, my plunging with the tool I'd bought some weeks ago in anticipation of such a crisis made absolutely no change in the sink's water level. Worse yet, when I stopped, I heard water running under the sink. When I opened the doors to the under the sink compartment, water ran out on the floor and into my slipper. Score: sink one, Doug zero.

What I had done with my plunging was to work loose the joints that had heretofore been held fast together with blue electrician's tape. (In Russia electrician's tape is blue, not black) Rather than being held fast now, the joints were spraying water in all directions. With the grace of a ballet dancer, I spun around the cupboard door sprinted to the other side of the kitchen (about 2 steps) grabbed the trash bucket and stuck it under the waterfall that now covered the entire under-sink area and began sopping up the water. Eventually I was able to open the bottom of the trap and direct the deluge into the bucket. Score: Sink 2, Doug Zero.

After disassembling the trap and pipes, I found what looked like plaster-of-paris mixed with 20 years of sludge. It was obvious that this was the problem and I made plans for the correction. After cleaning out the trap and pipes, which required removing about 20 yards of blue electrical tape, I attempted to reassembled the drain, but found that there were no gaskets in the joints. This may not mean anything to you ladies, but to the guys it's obvious, this thing is going to leak like a sieve, which of course it did in spite of my tightening the joints so much that I couldn't get them apart later. Now I knew what the blue tape was really for; an external gasket.

The next day, Wednesday, I got President Gushin, the mission driver, to take me to a building supply store to get the gaskets. . . wrong! They don't sell parts. They sell kits; period. Well, at 135 roubles (about 7 dollars) I bought an entire new p-trap and pipes to fill the gap. When all was assembled, I ceremoniously turned on the water and watched it accumulate in the sink. Score: Sink 3, Doug Zero.

That night (Wed) I called Olga, the office do-it-all lady and reported my defeat and asked if she knew a plumber. She said that she knew a guy and would call him. She later called and said he would be here by 9:00 pm. In the mean time, I washed the dinner dishes and the diswasher full of dirdy dishes from the night before in the bathroom sink and tub. Quite a process. Well, you guessed it, by 9:30 he had not come and I called her again. She called back and explained that the plumber had come but forgot the apartment number and called Olga for the info, but her phone was turned off so he went home.

Today he was going to call by 9:30. After deciding to go to the office instead of waiting for him, we arrived about 9:45 to find the office empty; no Olga. Several phone calls and it was established that he would be here after doing a job at the Mickelsen's. He had his priorities straight. In the mean time, Sister Gushina said we should use drain cleaner. (She's a plumber now) She asked her husband (pres Gushin) to bring some to the office for us, which he did. The plumber finally came to the office about 6 pm ready to work on my pipes.

Sasha, the new physical facilities director for the area, was in the office checking the installation of a new cabinet that sister Simmons had ordered for the "library". He decided to go with me and the plumber to work on the drain. After an hour of drain cleaner, wires poked into the 3 inch sewer line that runs from the kitchen three feet to right and connects to the 4" main sewer line that runs through my utility closet down from our 9th floor to the basement. Rotorooter, no. Snake, no. Drill auger, no. A coat hanger I gave him after the piece of electrical wire (about 20 gage) he happen to have in his plastic grocery bag of tools kept bending, was the only tool he had.

Sasha and the plumber worked on it for close to an hour and finally got water to flow. Sasha said that I should continue to use the drain cleaner at least once a month to keep things moving. End of the story, right? Score: Sink 3, Doug (& plumber & Sasha) with a three pointer and we end in a tie. BIG WRONG!

Cindy & I got home a little after 7 and I finished cleaning up the kitchen, which included running water down my now well running sink, when I hear someone banging on our exterior door; very insistently. I opened our two security doors and peered out the peer-hole in the outer door to see a skinny, 30 something lady looking very distressed. After opening the door, I heard her desperately trying to get us to do something I couldn't understand. I have her my best, "ya niponimiyu ruskee", which is roughly, I don't understand Russian, to which she tries to tell us in very difficult English that there is a problem with the water and don't use it in the kitchen.

Just then, my cell phone rings and it is a Zone leader with a question. I got him to listen to the lady and translate. Basically, she is on the 6th floor and has asked that those above her not use their kitchen water because it is flooding her apartment; drain problem. I immediately have compassion for this lady and agree not to run the water. She is expecting a "miastro" tomarrow late morning to fix her problem and we can use our water tomorrow evening.

I have the picture. Whatever was blocking our sewer pipe has now migrated down and gotten stuck at the 6th floor level. I hope it's willing to go all the way to the main sewer. If not, we could be without a kitchen sink for a long, long time . . . one floor at a time.

What a country

. and tightened everything

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sunday 8/10/08 Speaking in Church

Speaking in Church
Speaking in Sacrament meeting is always a little challenging. but doing it while being interrupted by translation of every phrase is a new verse to an old song.

Cindy and I were assigned to speak in the First Branch, that meets second on Sunday, on the topics of Relief Society and Home/Visiting teaching. Cindy's talk was a wonderfully inspirational history and introduction to the importance of Relief Society. We each printed two copies of the talks so the translator could read as well as listen. Hers was translated by a returned missionary from Temple Square, Lydia, and mine was translated by elder McCleary. Mine was a little more complex because the branch president asked me to stimulate the priesthood to doing their home teaching.

When writing my sermon, I found it a little awkward trying to motivate the 8 priesthood holders in the branch to do a better job of home teaching. I was reminded that the entire priesthood of the church in 1832 could sit in one room, so having few men to do the work is not new in the growing parts of the church. However, with 4 times the sisters in the branch, I needed to join the two functions in some way. Otherwise the priesthood was visiting 28 families each.

I reviewed how these functions are the arms and legs of the branch president in serving the members and how they can act together to watch over the families. I sure hope the Holy Ghost was active in that meeting. I felt like I was breaking new ground and needed special help in making it clear. I guess it did something because the branch president decided to have the missionaries partner with the priesthood to start making visits; ostensibly to teach them how to do home teaching and to find less actives or part-member families for the elders to teach. I think he has a good idea here.

I love the branch presidents, but especially this one. He has been a member only a few years and is trying very hard to do what he sees in the Priesthood Guidebooks. It is hard to choose what you will implement in a small branch, and he is very conscientious about his calling.

I am grateful for our assignment to speak and have prayed, and continue to pray, that the members understood and caught the vision. The text of my sermon follows.

What a country

Imagine that next January the entire First Branch was instructed to move to Omsk to join with the members there to build a Temple. There are 100 members of the church already living there and they welcome you into their homes for a few days, but you must find your own homes and jobs. You are a stranger in a new city. You have your Branch Presidency and each other, but you get spread out all over the city and only get together on Sundays.

Who would be your friend? Who would care if you were sick or didn’t have food? Who would help you take care of a sick child while you worked? Who would help you feel better when you were lonely and miss your friends in Novosibirsk?

Is it the Branch President? Is it the other members now in Omsk? Is it someone in Salt Lake City? Is it Heavenly Father?
The answer is ALL OF THEM.
First, it is the Branch President. As stated in Doctrine & Covenants 84:112, “And the bishop, [in this case it was] Newel K. Whitney, also should travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.” He has the stewardship, the job, taking care of the Branch members when they need help. How does he do this? He has tools to do the job which include:
• The Home Teachers & Visiting Teachers
• The Priesthood quorum presidencies
• The Relief Society presidency
• The District Presidency
• The Missionaries
• The Mission President
• The Europe East Service Center in Moscow
• The Church Presiding Bishopric
• The Church Humanitarian and other departments
• Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost

As a member of the Novosibirsk First Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you have the support of a Branch organization that includes a Branch Presidency and Priesthood Quorums to direct the work. The Lord has inspired His prophets to establish these to direct the care needed for the members of His church.

God has also inspired those same prophets to organize auxiliaries, or helping organizations, in your branch to do special tasks within your Branch. The Branch Presidency cannot do everything alone. They cannot visit every member, teach every lesson, train every worker, care for every sick child, visit every hospital patient, or hold every hand of a sick or sad branch member. You have just heard about the Relief Society. You also know about Primary, Sunday School, Young Women, Young Men, Seminary, and Institute here at home. These are the arms and hands of the Branch President to serve the members.

God has also inspired the priesthood leaders in Salt Lake to create General Church helping organizations to train and encourage your Branch leaders with books, manuals, teaching aids, Fast Offering and other social service. The Presiding Bishopric administers Fast Offering and Tithing funds to help the Branch President serve the members.

But let’s go back to the beginning of that list of tools that the Branch President has. The first one is the Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher. They are the Branch President’s eyes, ears, arms and hands to help him take care of the branch members. When someone needs help, whom do they call? NOT THE BRANCH PRESIDENT! Their first call is to the Home Teacher or Visiting Teacher. If possible, the Home Teacher and the Visiting Teacher should talk together about the problem and plan how to help. They will then do all that they can to help the member. If they can take care of the need . . . job is done and the Branch President only hears about it afterward.

The Doctrine & Covenants first mentions Home Teachers in verse 111 of Section 84:
109 Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand?
110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.
111 And behold, the high priests should travel, and also the elders, and also the lesser priests; but the deacons and teachers should be appointed to watch over the church, to be standing ministers unto the church.

If the need is greater than they can take care of, they contact their quorum and relief society leaders to get the help of others. These leaders will inform the Branch President about the need and what they are doing. They might ask him to try to get more help from his other tools like the District Presidency, the missionaries, the Mission President, or the Eastern Europe Service Center in Moscow, but the Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher are the ones who do the work with the family to take care of the need.

I know that the branches do not have many priesthood holders to be Home Teachers. I know that there are more sisters to be Visiting Teachers than there are priesthood holders to be Home Teachers, but there are still very few. I also know that we think that we are short of priesthood, but at the time that Section 84 was given, the entire priesthood of the Church could be seated in one room. If the active members in this branch do their duty it will be as the 110th verse states, “110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.” If we do not do our duty as Home and Visiting Teachers, the whole organization will fall down and we cannot serve our brothers and sisters nor be called “Good and faithful servants” by Jesus Christ at His coming. He expects us to do our duty, for He said to Ezekiel the prophet, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that … feed not the flock.”

This Church is a church of workers. This is not a club of nice people that meet on Sunday to socialize. This is not a church where we come once in a while on special Sundays to watch someone else worship God for us. This is not just a nice club; this is the CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST, restored to the earth through the sacrifice and labor of many who came before us to:
1. Serve and perfect God’s children
2. To save all those who lived before or in a place where the Gospel was not yet established
3. And to share the Gospel with everyone.

We are all called to be laborers in the kingdom. None of us can say that it is enough to be baptized or even come to church. THAT IS NOT THE WAY CHRIST HAS RUN HIS CHURCH SINCE HE STARTED IT.
Peter, James and John were not paid ministers, Paul was not a paid missionary, and there were very few of them to do the work. Every congregation that they organized had a leader who had to make a living as well as watch over that group of Christians just like you have to do in Novosibirsk, or like you would have to do in my little story abut OMSK. It has always been that way until men decided to make it a paying job and take away the blessings of service from the people. It is by serving that God blesses us. It is by working that we obtain the honorable title of “servant of the Lord”. You and I are the workers in the field. You and I are the Ten Virgins that came to meet the Bridegroom. You and I are the 5000 that he preached to on the hillside, many of whom became his disciples. You and I are the 70 that he sent two by two to spread the gospel. You and I are all that God has to labor in his kingdom. He said to us in Doctrine & Covenants 31: 5 “Therefore, thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live.”

Some people think that when they die they will sit around heaven and rest for eternity. The only ones who will sit around will be those in Hell who will be tortured by their own guilt and prevented from being near God and serving Him. Our destiny is not rest. Our destiny is to labor and progress. In chapter 18 of the Priesthood manual “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young” we read, “The Lord directs His work in heaven and on earth through the priesthood.”
Satan promised us that we would not have to work, that he would do all the work for us, and we rejected that plan. God has a work for each of us to perform and we must do it or Satan’s plan will succeed for us individually and as Nephi warns against deception in 2 Ne. 28:21 “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell”).

God trusts us to do the work. He wants us to learn to be like Him by doing things that He does. God does not go to His Dacha on Sunday. He does not neglect his children’s prayers because He is on vacation. He is not too busy to listen to our complaints and send help. God is working for us every moment of eternity and if we do not want to be like Him, whom do we want to be like? As the apostles said when Jesus asked if they too would leave him, “Unto whom shall we go?”

Brothers and sisters, Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching are two of the important things God has asked us to do and what excuse do you think He will accept for our failure to do it. I think it is a very short list. Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching are the foundation labor for the welfare of the members of the Church, and to the extent that we do them, your Branch, the Russia Novosibirsk Mission, and the kingdom of God in Russia will grow and strengthen, or it will not. You and I are the workers and that is our joyous task.

What is in it for you and I? What do we get out of it? He has promised us everything that His Father has, but one very important thing that I want right now in this life out of my service to God is for Him to hear my prayer and honor my cry for help. When I am standing over my sick child, or my injured friend, or my kitchen table full of bills I cannot pay and I raise my voice to God, pleading for His help, I want to know that He honors my service, my sacrifice, my labor in His behalf, and that He will answer my prayer with a blessing on my head if it is for my good, and not do as he says he had done to the Saints in Missouri in Doctrine & Covenants Section 101: 7-8
“7 They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
8 In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.”

Finally, when I am dead, I want to stand before Jesus Christ and say as Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: 7
“7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”
and have Jesus say to me, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

This is the Church of Jesus Christ, restored to the earth because wicked men corrupted it soon after the apostles’ death. This is the Kingdom of God on the earth and it is correct and true here in Russia as it is in every part of the world where it is established. Jesus Christ is the head of this church and Joseph Smith was the one he chose to restore it and Thomas S. Monson is his prophet today. I love you. I love this wonderful work. I love my wife and missionary companion. I love these young missionaries and the sacrifice they are making for you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

August 10, 2008 No Hot water for a Week

Noon no Hot Water For a Week
A western movie I once saw had a recurring line something like, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." I feel that way everyday when I discover something that everyone else knows but us. It happened Friday when I overheard one of the Novosibirsk elder's conversation with one of the transferring elders passing through the mission office. He said, "Our hot waster should be back on by the 12th." I asked how long his water had been off and he said, "since last Saturday just like yours. We are all on the same system and the notice in our building said that they would have it back on line by the 12th."

I knew it was a central system and that I had been out of hot water since the previous Saturday, but I just didn't think about EVERYONE being shut off. We were commiserating with eachother about the water, but neither of us hit upon the fact that everyone was taking cold showers (or none at all) for the past week.

I, on the other hand, had decided that being out of hot water was not a noble sacrifice. It was just an inconvenience that had done nothing for my character and that I was going to do something about it. Thursday morning, my third without a shower, I began to consider alternatives. This called for a two-pronged approach. One was to solve the immediate problem and the other was to be prepared for the next episode of missing comfort that would surely come.

Working backward, preparation for the future took the form of either an electric "on demand" tankless water heater installed in the bathroom under the current sink next to the tub. The Research Department brought in a bid of $650 US for such an animal, not counting the shipping from Peoria. I sent it back to Research for another source closer to home. We also have the wiring problem, considering that the walls are 12" thick concrete and there is no electrical outlet in the bathroom. This whole idea needs more work.

The immediate problem was a hot shower, or a close approximation of one. I considered a remodel of the 5 liter plastic water storage cannister with a hose and sprinkler can head. The problem was the only part of that aparatus I had was the plastic bottle. The rest was in my shop in Sacramento. OK, the sprinkler can shower would wave to wait for a trip to the hardware store. The immediate need called for something I DID have available; what was it?

I suddenly (well, about 40 minutes is suddenly for me these days) remembered that we had seen an extra Chainik (those electric tea pots we use) at the "Palace" (the Soviet-era palatial apartment that had been sub-divided into several strange shaped smaller apartments, in one of which our AP's and a companionship lived) had an extra Chainik in the pile of discarded household accouterments they had accumulated over the months from senior couples going home and emptying their apartments all over the mission. That could be the hot water source, but it was a bit primitive. Finally I settled on the big, old porcelain pan I had found in the closet would hold enough water for a "pour over your head" shower until I could get more parts.

By Friday we, I, had a hot shower and was grateful. Cindy thought it too much trouble until I told her the hot water wasn't coming on for another week. Today, Sunday,. she tried it out and gave it her stamp of approval. We had hot water and we had a hot shower before church and it was just fine. I'll work on the shower-can project next week when we go shopping.

What a country

Saturday, August 9, 2008

August 9, 2008 Report to Pres

Report to Pres
August 9, 2008

President Mickelsen:
The week of August 3rd was very exciting because it was our first Transfer Week in the mission. We came on a transfer week, but were part of it, not affected by it. We got away a little late last night after taking care of all the last-minute needs and challenges. This was the view at the end of our driveway as we turned into it from the office.

First, I am amazed that anyone, you or the Assistants, could organize such a complex logistical event and not loose someone or something in the process. Getting missionaries from city to city is quite a job, but it is complicated by the need to keep each missionary in a companionship and the fact that traveling companions may not be going to the same city. The Visa Trip schedule and the missionaries that are going home or coming into the mission further complicate this. And this is all contingent on getting the right missionary in the right town for the Lord’s purposes that may not be clear at the time of planning. WOW. Who ever plans these sure has my admiration.

Second, I am constantly surprised and delighted by the missionaries themselves. They are among the most intelligent, confident, insightful, and genuinely nice people I have ever met. The office elders’ skills and strength surprise me constantly, but I get used to it. Finding that all of them qualify for that accolade is most surprising and delightful.

Third, I want to specifically praise elder Fry. At first he seemed just quiet, competent, and skilled. As I worked with him over the transfer, I saw depth of thought and kindness that I had overlooked. I overheard his reply to someone over the phone one day that startled me. The caller had apparently used the current phrase, “You’re lying”, to which he said with some sternness, “I never lie.” I believe that. I think he has the depth of character required to make such a statement, and I shall miss him very much.

Our apartment is becoming home and with a couple of exceptions, it is very comfortable, if a bit beat-up. We are investigating a larger refrigerator. The one we have now is 60x60x130 cm and is just too small for the food we have to buy to keep feeding the missionaries. Besides, it needs defrosting every 2 weeks and is iced-up again already. We are considering buying our own and donating it to the mission. That will require our returning the small one to the landlord or storing it in the sunroom.

I have been doing some repairs for the missionaries that came out during our apartment inspections this week. I repaired two fans and ordered the new wooden slats for sister Cropper’s bed from President Gushin so the mattress won’t sag. I can do other repairs, but I need a source for parts. I’m on the lookout. I hope the zone leaders are actually doing apartment inspections. There is one apartment in another city (can’t remember the name) that has an inoperable stove and refrigerator that stops regularly. These need to be addressed by those zone leaders.

We have been feeding the missionaries, including those passing through and our record for bodies around our little kitchen table is 8; 6 missionaries and two of us. We also hosted the zone meeting this Friday and enjoyed the 19 elders and sisters in our home. They were all fed with an old Hawaiian recipe meatball soup, veggies, coleslaw, and jello-lemon cake. They all seemed well fed. The lesson was on using the Questions of the Heart to contact and find the elect. Well done. The video is the opening song of the meeting. It will make you cry.

We are happy in our assignment and working hard to be of service to the Lord, you, and the missionaries. We hope that you will tell us if there is more or something different that we should do.

Elder & Sister Simmons

Monday, August 4, 2008

8-5-08 YSA Wrap-up

YSA Wrap-up
I had this article finished two days ago and the darn internet quite as I was saving and I lost the whole thing. I was so disgusted that I couldn't even think about trying to rewrite it that night. Here is another try at it.

The YSA conference had a costume dance on Friday night and it brought out some interesting dudes. There were ethnic costumes, lot of Hawaiian shirts and paper leis, and an assortment of other stuff that I would not have imagined.

One young man even brought an extra costume for someone else to wear and ended up giving it to one of the senior elders. It was his grandfather's riding outfit. He retired as a general in the Soviet army and this looked great on elder Palmer who was in our class at the MTC and is serving in the Yekaterinburg mission.

During the evening there were several specialty numbers from different groups. Two groups sang, two did special dances, and one young lady did a Mongolian dance. They did line dances, grand marches, the usual circle dances, and even did the limbo. It felt like a 1950's sock-hop in the gym without the bunnyhop or the hokey-pokey. They had so much fun that it was easy to forget that most of them didn't know people outside their own city before they came. The unity and camaraderie was phenomenal.

On Saturday they had field games that focused on water balloons. There was water balloon volleyball, "water balloon egg-toss", and just plain water fights. After displaying my left-curve slider and high suspension Frisbee technique, I was invited to join an Ultimate Frisbee game. Remember, I am in missionary dress (white shirt, suit pants, and tie) and trying to keep some semblance of dignity in this whole thing.

Everything went well until the score got close. At one point I was in the clear and a teammate flipped the Frisbee to me a little high. I stretched myself to my full (now) 5' 8 1/2" (I used to be 5'10") and jumped with all the force my 65 year old legs could manage (about 3 inches) and almost had it when a 6'4+ 20-something guy who was taking this game waaay too seriously crashed into me and took it right out of my hands; well, I almost had it in my hand.

At that point I demonstrated my safety roll technique, tucked my left shoulder under and rolled to a stop on the very uneven turf. After he scored, he graciously came back to give me a hand up from my still horizontal position, looking up at the sky without the Frisbee. What a sport.

Later in the day, after the talent show (more like a series of boy scout skits) they showed a slide show composed of pictures taken by various participants. I was enjoying the show until I saw THE picture. It was of an athletic 20-something stretching to catch the Frisbee with a somewhat chunky white-shirted player was suspended in air at his knees, about 2 feet off the ground. There was no head to the nameless player in the picture, but I knew it was me, demonstrating my prowess on the field and my famous safety roll that nearly cost me a trip to the hospital.

I don't think I actually broke the rib, but I definitely bruised it along with several of its fellows. I got up smiling and said, "Nice catch" when I could catch my breath, and found that I had a previous commitment and left the field of honor, holding my breath to reduce the pain. I think my Ultimate Frisbee days have gone the same place as my snow-board days; over the hill. Without a doubt, these 65 year-old muscles are not holding these 65 year old bones together tightly enough to endure much more of that. I am better now after almost 10 days. I can even tie my shoes without holding my breath.

The conference ended with a "Romantic Dance" on Saturday night, complete with dance cards. More specialty number, line dancing, and even a conga line with the the girls dressed in many of the most elaborate dresses I've seen short of the junior ball. They were beautiful.

Sunday brought a Sacrament Meeting and Testimony Meeting that lasted 2 hours+. The Holy Ghost was strongly manifested in that auditorium and I was impressed with the depth of commitment from these young people, many of whom were members of only a few months. These are truly exceptional, honest, spiritual young people and I was grateful to have been there.

What a country.