Monday, June 30, 2008

In the Office June 30, 2008

Just a short entry to let everyone know that we are ok. We don' t have internet in our apartment yet so I have to compose at home and copy it to the blog in the office. All is well. We will post several things this week.

June 21 to June 22—Moscow to Novosibirsk

Moscow to Novosibirsk
June 21, 2008
The driver met us at 8:00 pm and the trip to the domestic Airport #1 was an E ticket ride, not that it was fast, but that it was very revealing about Russian attitudes and coping. First, the road from the international terminal (Airport #2) is a 2-lane expressway that is part of a beltway system around Moscow. The domestic terminal (Airport #1) is located about 5 miles around the arc to the east. On a clear road it would take about 8 minutes going the speed limit. This trip took about 40 minutes in 4-5 lanes of traffic, three of which are off the road on the right shoulder. It is a contest of wills and size. I saw a woman in a small SUV go all the way around the right side of the three lanes of shoulder traffic, cross about 500 feet of weeds and dirt, get onto an on-ramp and enter traffic again ahead of us by about 100 yards. It was a free-for-all battle not for the timid.

The driver dropped us off at the terminal, driving off with my overcoat in his trunk and we were now faced with getting our over-weight, over-sized luggage up the broken 30” wide ramp, through the 30” wide doorway, through the 30”wide initial security screening (the officer just waved us through) and into a mob of 300-400 people trying to get through 4 doors into the second security screening area and the ticket counter. I had found a single luggage cart on the sidewalk, but that only handled 3 of the 8 bags. I was a real picture of strength and coordination.

A word about traffic control, efficiency, and processing. I was at first daunted by the chaos of the crowds and the physicalness of the queue process in these situations. I could see that it was the same process as in the traffic we had just left. There were no stanchions, no ropes, no “Disneyland-type” serpentine line formation and no process established to get the waiting throng out of the line of traffic trying to get to another part of the terminal. You were on your own and may the best man win. This will be a lesson well to be learned for the future.

Forty minutes in this mob found us at the door where a lady checked our passports and ticket receipt (e-ticket), I loaded each bag into an x-ray machine, stripped myself of all metal, went through the metal detector, and wrestled the 8 bags through the crowd to the ticket counter area. A fellow line-waiter finally broke into English and suggested we get into the line labeled “Business Class”. I said we were flying coach, but she said no one seemed to pay any attention to that; Another little miracle. We were the third group in line and in about 30 minutes it was our turn.

After taking our passports & receipt, the ticket agent, a 20-something blond lady with a definite scowl, motioned to put a bag (I thought) on the conveyor belt beside her. I expected that she wanted to weigh the bags one at a time like Delta did. WRONG. She said something in Russian and motioned for more bags so I started stacking them horizontally atop one another on her conveyor belt scale that was at about a 7-degree slant that would not allow them to stand up without holding them, but the stack got too high. She did not like that and said in pretty good English, “Put them on right.” I took that to mean that she wanted them standing up vertically, but I knew that there was not enough room on her belt for them all. Trying to cooperate, I unstacked them and tried to stand them up on this sloping belt. Each time I put a bag on the belt she moved it to accommodate the next one and since it jerked abruptly at the start and stop, the ones I had gotten on the belt would fall down and she glared at me again. Cindy tried to help by holding the last bag on the belt while I tried to lift the next one onto it. With each new bag, starting with the biggest, we repeated the process until the agent ran out of room on the belt and spilled the first bag into the conveyor that would take them to the baggage handling area. Now she had to get up from her stool and lift the 70 lb bag back onto her little belt. Because she insisted that we must check our carry-on bags, increasing our “checked bag” weight (which ended up to be a blessing because there are stairs everywhere), adding them to the four big bags that would not fit on the belt anyway, she finally relented and weighed the six bags in two groups and adding them up; apparently quite a feat for her.

She printed out a paper that instructions said we would take to a cashier and pay for the extra weight. She insisted on keeping our passports, making us very nervous. It cost us 13,434 rubles (about $575) for the extra weight over the allowed 44 lbs & I was just happy to get through the process. I have no idea how much she claimed our luggage weighed.

Returning to the same ticket line, the agent finished with a group ahead of us when her cell phone rang. She got up and left the counter, heading for the entry door we had used and she was gone about 5 minutes. Apparently she could not take personal calls while on duty; maybe. When she returned, she took our receipt, gave us back our passports and boarding passes, and ordered us to go to gate 9.

The rest of the boarding process was pretty routine by now. We carried our personal bags (a 40 lb backpack with two laptops in it and Cindy’s overstuffed, overnight bag) up the thirty or so stairs to the terminal gates, found #9 and tried to locate two seats together in the waiting area. In front of each gate that was preparing to load, a queue was forming directly across the path of traffic instead of parallel to the railing defining each gate entry. There was no indication where the people should stand and no one tried to move the crowd out of the traffic lane, so everyone passing to another gate had to break through the queued people. I guess it works.

As our boarding time approached, we joined the mob gathered at gate 9, waited until called, passed through the check-point, descended another flight of stairs, loaded on a bus, and were driven about ¾ of a mile to a group of planes parked parallel to each other in military fashion, each with a mobile staircase and a crew member waiting to receive passengers.

The flight was pretty uneventful with the exception of the heavy drinking from bottles passed among the passengers and two occasions of loud cheers when the captain came on the intercom and announced something (in Russian of course). Knowing that Russia was playing in the semi-finals of the World Cup, we presumed that the first was the half-time score with Russia ahead and the second being the final score where they must have won. 

A third announcement came during a time when 90% of the passengers were in deep sleep (aided by the alcohol), about an hour out of Novosibirsk. The captain’s information caused a deafening roar from those who were awake in the apparently sleeping crowd that startled those not able to directly listen to the communique. That called for another round of bottle-passing. The group around us had finished at least two liter bottles that I saw and that was among about 12 people.

The Novosibirsk arrival at 5:30 am on June 22 went pretty smoothly, meeting the Mickelsens just inside the baggage claim area. They were happy to see us and seemed genuinely interested in our condition. After a 35-minute wait, the luggage belt began to move and, another miracle, all of our checked luggage arrived. After a 40-minute ride through the Siberian Summer, we stopped to drop our luggage at our apartment (a bit of a culture shock). We walked through each room and Cindy asked, "We can move can't we?". President Mikkelsen said "yes, but wait a month before making any decision". That was good advice.

We then went on to the mission home. The mission home is located about ½ mile from the office on the 4th floor of a tall, blue-glassed modern building, Apt12. Starting at the entry, it has a large foyer & bathroom, kitchen, three bedrooms on the right, another bath and utility room on the left, a LARGE living room and master suite on the left. It is very nicely furnished by any standards and plush by Russian standards. We were required to take a rest and would find that we slept about 5 hours. Before going to sleep we sat on our twin beds, looked at one another and both began to cry. This was all real and really bleak. Upon waking up we showered and presented ourselves for dinner at 4:00.

We later had our orientation to the mission and general question/answers about the mission and our duties. The Mickelsens are very business-like but warm and friendly. We will work well with them. We stayed the night and the next day they took us to the office and to a Renik for an experience and some shopping. Finally we landed for the night in our apartment. We were too tired to make a good assessment of our digs, but would do so Monday morning.

In Moscow June 21st

In Moscow
June 20 to June 21, 2008
The flight from Atlanta left at 3:45 pm On June 20th and got into Moscow a little after 10:30 am on June 21st although it lasted only 10 ½ hours. Our next set of miracles involved the Passport Control and Migration paperwork. Being one of the last to disembark, when we finally arrived at the platform above the Passport area we looked down at the 200+ people, wall to wall to staircase, and trying to get through 4 checkpoints one at a time. To get into this mob I had to carry my 44 lb carry-on, my 40+ lb backpack (remember the two computers and accompanying power-cords & connector), and Cindy’s 30 lb carry-on and 15 lb travel bag down a long staircase (about 40 steps) to the bottom where we could join our fellow passengers. It took three trips down and two trips up the stairs and I was about exhausted, but as it turned out, I had plenty of time to rest up.

I scooted the 4 carry-ons along the floor to the closest line and we waited for new developments. After about 15 minutes we switched to the next line to the left and found ourselves behind an English-speaking man with a diplomatic passport who worked at the US Embassy in Moscow and was coming for another tour there. He helped us to know what to expect and we relaxed a little.

Their immigration system (they call it “migration”) is similar to Mexico in that you fill out a half-sheet form that has two identical halves. When you get your passport and visa stamped, they keep the “A” half and you have to retain the “B” half with your passport and visa.

In Russia they have many policemen stationed along the streets, each one standing at the curb with a white baton. They are supposed to be controlling traffic, but when things are slow, they pick an approaching car, wave them to the curb with the baton, and check the “papers” of the car’s occupants. If their papers are not “in order” they are given a citation that has a fine associated with it, but you can pay a smaller amount to the policeman and he will let you go free.

Any one of these policemen can stop you on the street at any time and demand to see your “papers”. Visitors can be deported if they do not have this migration coupon and visa with their passport. According to their laws, you do not have to show them the original of these documents, but you must carry the originals on your person. If they are not satisfied with the copy you give them, you take out your originals and hold them tightly in your hands, not allowing the policeman to actually take them from you. An American passport is worth hundreds of American dollars on the street and these men don’t get paid much.

After getting through that checkpoint we broke into a room jammed with people waiting for their luggage and we arrived just in time to get our bags. I found two carts and as each of us pushed a cart we were able to get our luggage out into the public general waiting area. Cindy was ahead of me and was the first to meet our next miracle; a tall English-speaking man in a Utah State University golf shirt. He was waiting for his daughter who was on our plane. After some conversation we discovered that he knew my uncle Don and aunt Louise Simmons who live in Providence, south of Logan. He spoke Russian and helped us connect with our driver and get him to reluctantly, agree to take us to the hotel in one trip. He was upset about the size and amount of our luggage and wanted to make several trips(I suspect that he gets paid by the trip), but after calling our contact at the Area office he finally decided we could make it and we loaded two big ones in the trunk and four in the back seat with Cindy.

The Church had arranged for a day room at a nearby hotel that was a three-star Motel 6 with a rack rate of $300 per night; Clean, but very spartan. We had a lunch included in our room and after eating slept for about 5 hours. We had to transport our own luggage up to and down from our 5th floor room and that was a bit of a challenge but we worked it out. Three men stood behind the desk most of the time, but none offered to help these two old Americans with their bags. Customer service was not included in the room, even for a tip.
Elder Doug

Salt Lake to Moscow 6-20 to 21-2008

Salt Lake to Moscow
June 20, 2008
This is the morning that we leave for Moscow. Up at 4:00 am, dressed & packed, checked out at the front desk, and in the minivan heading for the Salt Lake International Airport. It takes just a few words to cover the hour and twenty minutes from alarm to car, but it doesn’t describe the mixture of feelings at leaving this spiritual storehouse and the so-familiar burning in my nose that precedes the tide of tears that begins to rise in my eyes threatening great waves to crash down my cheeks.

The corridors are silent as I make my way from M2-150 (our senior housing unit apartment in the basement) up the covered walk to the Admin building door that young elders held open for us so many times each day, up the fifteen steps kept clean by the hand-washing of missionaries (doing service hours) and BYU student workers, down the wide hall that passes the cafeteria where young elders often asked to take our trays to the scullery, and the B101 chapel where we learned those wonderfully spiritual elements of Preach My Gospel presented to us and where the families of new missionaries have their orientation and tearful last goodbyes, past the corridor where the Travel Office staff answered our concerns and met our needs, up the few stairs to the main entry foyer where I signed out with the lone Security person on this warm, quiet Friday morning.

At the Delta terminal we unload and thank our driver, get the help of a Skycap with our 6 biggest suitcases, and head past the dozing Lunds as they wait on the bench next to the entry. These great friends had to be in Utah for some family business and came down from Layton just to say a last goodbye and see us off; wonderful friends that we will miss.

The first miracle of the day was the discovery that as Silver Medallion members we did not have to pay the over-weight charges for our two 70 lb. bags. It would have been nice to know that before we spend the money and time to buy a smaller suitcase and struggle to get two bags to weigh 50 lbs. But, it was good to avoid the $80 per piece fee for the two heavy bags. I still had to take 2 lbs. out of one of them and put it in one of the 50 pounders, but that was an easy fix.

Our next miracle was Maurice. He was a 20-year-old sailor in his whites sitting with his mother in the next row of seats in the baggage area where we sat with the Lunds. I usually try to thank military personnel for their service when I see them in airports so I went over to him and thanked him for serving and his mother said, “Elder Simmons, would you pray for my son?” I was a little taken aback, but said I’d be honored, got Cindy & the Lunds to come over and I prayed for his health & safety, peace of mind, and admonished him to remember what his family taught him and follow that counsel to be well and safe. It was a gift to be asked to pray for this young man and his mother was grateful.

We later saw Maurice in the Atlanta airport, on the train that goes between terminals and had the opportunity to ask him what he knew about the LDS Church. He had some LDS friends who had given him a Book of Mormon and Cindy encouraged him to read it. He said he had it with him and would read. I gave him a pass-along card with the website on it to give him a contact for questions; another gift. 

We’re feeling like real missionaries by now. Back in the Salt Lake Airport; another little miracle. After saying a last goodbye to the Lunds, we parted and got into the Security line that had grown quite a bit since we arrived. A female TSA worker came up to us, looked at our name tags, and without a word motioned us into the first class line where we went directly up to first screener. What a nice thing to do.

The flight to Atlanta and on to Moscow was uneventful and pretty much as expected. It will get a little more exciting in Moscow.
Elder Doug

Friday, June 20, 2008

MTC 6-19-2008

Thursday June 19, 2008
Thursday, our last full day at the MTC. We ended up (pardon the pun) going to bed at 1:15 am because we (Cindy) kept thinking of people we needed to call and things we needed to do on her computer email. I'm learning to be a good sport about this, but I'm getting really tired about 2:00 in the afternoon.

A few days ago we bought another clock, this time a battery powered digital because the wind-up one from Rite-aid would run for only about 30 seconds and Trisha returned it. We couldn't fund another mechanical clock at the MTC/BYU Book Store. We took it home and found that it would not work either. I returned it and got another that we tried out in the store.

After two nights using the new clock, Cindy said that she did not relate to the clock. About 1:15 am I suggested that she have the clock on her night stand instead of on mine so they could get acquainted. She said she didn't want to get acquainted with it, but after 10 minutes of "yes you should" & "no I won't" she finally gave in. Then in the dark she asked what time the alarm was set at. I wanted her to learn how to tell for herself and answered, "I don't remember". After several minutes of looking and talking we decided it was set at 5:45 am so we could be on time for our ride to the dentist. S0 she could not go to sleep until I set the alarm on my phone as a back-up. She didn't trust the new clock that she didn't yet relate to. Fun huh?

We had our last office training sessions today and learned mail-merge and other computer functions to keep track of the office. Cindy is really being brave, learning about making news letters and correspondence that are very important for the mission. This is way-way outside her comfort zone, but she's making a big effort to get it right. I know she will be fine after a few weeks.

We had our "last meals" tonight in the cafeteria and they must have known it was our last. Cindy got to have macaroni & cheese for lunch and chicken fried steak for dinner. I had a steak sandwich for lunch and salmon for dinner. Both were our favorites. We also had our last root beer and fudge cicle/dream bar and felt very blessed.

We talked to many young missionaries heading around the world. Some young men were headed to up-state New York where the Formans were heading tomorrow by car to live in Brooklyn at the Bishop's Storehouse. We met some sisters heading for Chile, one going to the mission where the Masons will be the office couple. Next we talked to a young elder named Payne from Carmichael Stake. He was involved in the Sacramento Temple open house and remembered Cindy as the sister over the shoe-covers. He wasn't sure about me. His dad worked for Bishop Summers and did a lot of the graphics for the Temple materials and he worked in the prints shop producing the stuff. We also met several of the mission presidents who had come a little early for the Presidents' Conference next week. Great people.

We SKYPE'd Brian & company this evening and watched Hannah dip her food in "ketchup" and lick it off without eating the food. She recognized us and talked to us a little. We called Scott and talked to him for a few minutes about his new job downtown. Trish, Chris, and the girls came for one last goodbye, carrying Baskin Robbins ice cream cups for each of us. Trish has been such a great help during our stay. We would have struggled a lot without her. We called the Johnsons, the Salways, the Wilberga, the Frangels, the Larsons, and the Lunds called us. We've done about all we could do.

Finally, as we a
re about to "jump off" into the darkness of a new adventure, I have a few reflections. First, we are not afraid. We have traveled enough to know a little about it and most of the do's and don'ts. We have been in Russia twice and found the people good and the place interesting. The darkness comes from not knowing exactly what we will be doing on a grand scale and having no experience in our roles. Our living quarters are a mystery, the food, water, streets, people, customs, weather, police, mafia, are all a mystery. It's not the hardship, it is the not-knowing what the hardship will be. We are not afraid, but we are aware of our ignorance of what lies ahead and that is darkness to us.

Second, our faith, and our knowledge is that the Lord sent us to Novosibirsk and will support and protect us. Our faith is that the Holy Ghost will light our path one step at a time and tell us the truth as we walk our path into the mysterious darkness and we will see just far enough ahead to know what to do at the time. Our faith is that that light will continue to light our path for every step we take along that now mysterious way and we will accomplish our mission with joy and rejoice in the knowledge that we are about the Lord's errand. We love Heavenly Father and know that we are his children. We trust our Savior Jesus Christ now just as we did when we accepted Fat
her's plan for the our time on earth he said that he would come to earth and be our savior and atone for our sins. We know Him, We trust Him. We serve him. We were commissioned by Him. We are loved by Him.We are blessed by him. It is as good as it can get.

See you in Siberia.
Elder Doug

Thursday, June 19, 2008

MTC 6-18-08

Wednesday June 18, 2008
A note to our friends who read my blog. Hi! Thanks for dropping in. In case you have never read a blog, you can comment on the content or even just say Hi. They may ask you to create an account in order to comment, but that's a simple matter. Please comment if you can. OK?

Now for
today. Wednesday is "New Missionary Day" and it is a wonderful sight. The following are some pictures that I took coming back to the main entry about noon after our morning Office Skills class. Many families were dropping off luggage and missionaries, taking pictures of one another, getting directions, separating to get the missionary registered, and going in for the farewell meeting. What a joy.
Each time we leave the campus we must sign out so they know where we are at. We are pretty free to come and go as we wish, but they want to know what we are doing, presumably because they are responsible to our kids for their parent's welfare. 

Today Norm & Joann Challburg came down from Morgan to have lunch with us and I got these pictures on the way to meet them at the front entry. As you might expect, Norm parked in a space reserved for MTC Branch Presidents, but he can get away with anything and everyone loves him; as we do. Trisha met us at TGI Friday's and we had a fun time bragging about our kids and reminiscing. After lunch we gave Trisha our last load of laundry which she will bring to us this evening. She has done everything we could ask while we were here. What a choice, beautiful woman.
While at lunch, Cindy wanted some free medical advice. She had found a crease in her skull just above the hair line and in line with her nose a few weeks age. A couple of nights ago, in our cozy double bed, she asked me to feel this place on her head; this was just after prayers and getting into bed. I thought she was getting friendly and somehow this made her feel warm and fuzzy, but it was not the case. She was worried about this crease in her skull and wanted to know if I knew what it was. Well, she got Norm to feel it and he explained that it was the place where the cranial bones come together and was very normal. I told her it was an expansion joint and was stretching apart as her brain was expanding with all of this learning at the MTC. Well, she believed Norm and ignored my explanation. Isn't that just how it goes.

When w
e got back and signed in we passed many parents, red-eyed, heading for their cars after the farewell meeting. Boy do I remember those three times we experienced it. You think you won't cry and bang, there you are with the rest of them.

Our office training today focused on the MOS program and the finances of the mission for the men and doing the mission newsletter for the women. The finances are really a complex job, more than I had imagin
ed. Especially in Russia where much is done in cash without receipts and that does not fit well into the Church's bookkeeping protocols. I'm sure I'll get it eventually and I'll try hard to keep the president (and me) out of jail.

Tonight was our last Russian lesson with Katya. She is a sweet 26 year old Ukrainian girl here to go to graduate school in America. We have had a lot of fun with her and learned the alphabet pretty well by the end of th
e session. We also learned a simple prayer and testimony. From now on it will be practice, practice, practice.

After class we got our clean laundry from Trisha, & gang. Those granddaughters must be experiencing whiplash from all the goodbyes with us. Tomorrow night it will be final for two years.

Now we are trying to pack and we said goodbye to the Masons who are leaving early tomorrow for Chile as the office couple there. What nice people we have met here.

Tomorrow Cindy goes (with me) to the dentist to get a small filling replaced before we leave for Russia. We have seen videos of medical procedures there and decided it was best to get the work done here before we left.

Time to sleep. Good night
Elder Doug

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

MTC 6-17-08

Tuesday June 17, 2008
Tuesday morning found us doing the same routine as Monday. Breakfast at 7:30 am, Class at 8:00 am, & Lunch at 12 pm. In class we learned more about the MOS (mission office system) and how to enter the most common types of transactions. We have a lively group in class and we have fun as well as learn. Today I was responsible for the opening song. I chose "I have two little hands" from the Primary because it tells how I feel about my job in the office. It goes like this:
"I have two little hands folded snugly and tight. They are tiny and weak, but they know what is right. During all the long hours 'til daylight is through, there is plenty indeed for my two hands to do."

Cindy was the spiritual thought for the day and told of how every minute and every thought while here was spiritual. We have been here a week and have cried at almost everything all week. She recounted the ice cream story from yesterday and closed with how much she loved her mission. Praying for the missionaries in homes and Temples has a new meaning now that she is one and she is grateful for those prayers.

After lunch I tried to get the 50 lbs of stuff out of one of the large suitcases and into the new one we got last night. It just came to 50 lbs and I was done with that one. After dinner and the devotional we lightened Cindy's smaller suitcase to 50 lbs as well. There is no hope for the two big ones. We'll just have to pay for the weight both on Delta and Aeroflot. It will be about $480 of which we will be reimbursed about $300.

During class, sister Randall was looking at her email and began laughing uncontrollably. When she gained her composure she said that someone had sent her President Hinckley's recounting of the famous "brick layer request for sick leave". I have attached it below for your pleasure.

The devotional speaker was Elder Walter Gonzales of the 70's presidency. We loved singing the hymns with the 2500 missionaries. It was a close second to the Tab Choir.

Cindy has an upset stomach tonight, probably from all the food we have been eating. We just don't eat this much at home, but I am still loosing weight from when we left home a lifetime ago. I think both of us will be a little more careful what we eat for the next three days until we leave.

I have been getting along on 6 hours of sleep a night since we arrived and I'm just about at the end of my endurance. Cindy has gotten even less because she is working on cleaning up her email contacts list and it takes her a long time to make a single change. I admire her tenacity. She is really trying to master this computer.

At 10:30 pm I think we are about to go to bed. It's not too soon for me.
Elder Doug

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

MTC 6-16-08

Monday June 16, 2008
Today, Monday, we began our office training at 8 am with a general intro to computers and to MS Word in the morning and the Church's MOS (missionary office system for tracking the missionaries and their activity) and Excel in the afternoon. It is pretty elementary for me, but Cindy is finding it very new. She is doing really well for someone who hates computers. and she'll be fine after a few months of experience. It is a different kind of thinking than she is used to.

After dinner we had our first Russian lesson of the week and worked on the alphabet and reading simple English words in the Russian lettering. This is really hard for me to learn a whole new set of sound symbols. I have a pretty good ear, but a so-so memory. I guess the Lord will have to fill in where the gray-matter is missing.

Tonight I decided that I needed a slightly smaller suitcase. Each of our bags was at 70 lbs. coming here and we (Cindy) have bought more stuff (shoes, etc.) and I need to "lighten-the-ship" and leave some stuff home. I called Trisha's house on the SKYPE system and asked her to check on Ross' closing time in Orem because they have some inexpensive luggage that might work for me. She found that they closed at 9:30 and it was already 8:20, but she jumped in the car and came to take us to Ross. We found a suitable suitcase (pardon the pun) and I forgot to take a picture in the store so I took one in the Baskin Robbins parking lot with her and the suitcasse, which brings me to our next nice experience tonight.

Cindy started this whole thing while I was on the "phone" with Trisha by saying that she wanted her to come and take us for an ice cream cone. Well, after getting the luggage, we stopped at her house to get a piece of ribbon to tie on it for identification and then headed to Baskin Robbins on the way back to the MTC. On the way she mentioned that she needed some electric clippers to help her elderly neighbor. who was also a member of her ward. We asked why and this was the story.

She was touched Sunday by a sister's talk that mentioned how she had been in the ward (congregation) for over 6 months and no one talked to her. She was feeling very lonely and sad and prayed for someone to be nice to her. The next day her Visiting Teacher (a woman who is supposed to visit her once a month) called wanting to get to know her and made an appointment to come by. She said that now she had someone who talked to her and be a friend and how important that was to her.

Trisha identified with the lonely sister because she spent many lonely months in that ward before someone talked to her. This evening, as she drove off to pick us up, she realized that she had seen the same old man in his front yard watering or doing something else many times as she passed several times a day and she would wave, but she never stopped to say hello. Tonight, she stopped and asked him how he was and he said, "Not too good." She asked how she could help and he said that he could do most things still but could not do the trimming with the hand clippers he had. She responded with love and compassion for this lonely old man by saying that she would see that his trimming was done.

Now she needed some tools and some muscle and was going to talked to someone in the Elders Quorum to find some electric clipper. Cindy suggested that instead of doing it all herself that she report the need to the Elders President and get a work party over there for an hour and do it right, and I think she'll do it. What a nice person she is and how wonderful to be moved by one person's story to help another person with the same need. We have good kids.

The final nice thing of the evening was our stop at Baskin Robbins. As we entered (me in my suit and name tag) people noticed, but said nothing. As I stood at the counter reviewing the 31 flavors a man standing next to me turned and said, "Are you serving a mission here?" I told him we were at the MTC and going to Russia. He pulled a $20 bill out of his pocket and handing it to me said, "We want to buy your ice cream." I said that it was not necessary, but he replied, referring to the (about) ten year old boy next to him, "We take care of the missionaries. Please let us buy your ice cream." I accepted his money and thanked him and the boy that I presumed was his son. I asked if he lived in Provo and he said that they were from Las Vegas and were here for a basketball camp at BYU.

I thanked him again as they left with their ice cream and I reflected on what a powerful lesson that father had just taught his son about honoring missionaries, about being a missionary, about their duty to serve those who serve the Lord, and about being a man. I didn't need the ice cream or the money, but that boy will not soon forget what his dad did to honor a servant of the Lord. We all talked about it on the way back to the MTC and reflected on the goodness around us in a world that often seems harsh and uncaring. There is much love being shared with ordinary people by ordinary people. That is Jesus' way isn't it.
Elder Doug

Monday, June 16, 2008

MTC 6-15-08

Sunday June 15, 2008
Today is Sunday and we are on a little different schedule. We went to one of a hundred Sacrament Meetings (our main worship service where we take the Sacrament) with the 56th MTC branch. All of these young missionaries are assigned to a congregation while here. The "Branches" of the church have a Branch President and two counselors just like the regular congregations. They also "call" members of the Branch to jobs in the Branch such as pianist, chorister, teacher, etc.

At this meeting a member of the MTC Presidency released one of the counselors to the Branch President and sustained a new one. The Branch President then called on two missionaries to speak extemporaneously like they would be asked in their mission field ward or branch. The branch choir sang a beautiful song and the outgoing and incoming counselors spoke. It was just like any other ward in the church.

We then went to the Snow auditorium to see the "Music & the Spoken Word" broadcast and the sisters stayed there for a new sisters meeting and Relief Society meeting. The men went off to find a Priesthood Meeting in one of the chapels in the Administration Building. I found one being conducted in German (although the lesson was in English) and found it instructive and interesting. They had a lesson on blessing the Sacrament properly in German and then discussed the importance of retention of new converts and their role.

After meeting Cindy for lunch with some of our group who were still here, we came back to our room to write, clean-up Cindy's email contact list and try to lighten our suitcases.

It is 10:50 pm here and we are about to get in bed after calling some of our friends in Sacramento. Tonight we attended departing devotional for the 228 missionaries who are leaving this week. It was a very spiritual meeting and fun
to see how many were going to each mission as they stood when there mission name was called. The airport will be busy I'm sure.

We then went to the Fireside in the big gym (Snow Bldg) with one of the Branch Presidents as the main speaker. Afterwards we saw the new Joseph Smith movie in the same building. It is a powerful portrayal of Joseph's suffering and constant challenges. I was so exhausted watching him go through it all that I was a little numb walking home to our room. On the way, it hit me that Joseph and the saints of his day suffered year after year to establish the Church as I know it. I, we, have only been asked to give two years. It seems so small a sacrifice after watching what he, and they, did. I am profoundly grateful for their faith and work that gave me this chance to give something of my own to the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Two years in Siberia doesn't seem like so much in comparison.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

MTC 6-14-08

Saturday June 14, 2008
Today we slept in a little late and got to the cafeteria 5 minutes before it was to close at 8:30 am. When we arrived it was packed with young missionaries and the shelves just inside the door, where everyone is supposed to put their backpacks, was jammed with black packs belonging to these hundreds of missionaries. We had our laundry bag filled with a week's wash that we were going to do at Trisha's this afternoon, but there was no room for it on the shelves so I just set it in front of the shelves. As you can see, when we finished our breakfast-burrito and departed, we were the last two people to leave just before 9:00 am when those missionaries had to be to their first class of the day, and there sat our laundry, all alone in front of that long line of shelves. It was both impressive and expected that the young missionaries were so obedient both to the shelf rule and to being on time to class. Even with that pressure, one young elder came by our table and asked if he could put our trays on the conveyor to the scullery for us. Such respect and service is the rule around here. What a place.

Trisha and Chris were going to pick us up in front of the MTC to go to the Temple this morning. We stopped by the mail room on the way and found a package from Paula Green, a friend from Sacramento who had moved to Pleasant Grove several years ago. As we walked to the drive along the front of the campus, heading to the front entry where they were to pick us up, we saw two elders reading scriptures on a bench and stopped to talk to them. I said Dobro Utra and one said buenos dias so we stopped to chat in my best Spanish. One turned to another and said, "We are supposed to make 5 contacts today. This could be our first." So they began asking us questions in Spanish and I answered in my very limited Spanish. We talked for several minutes until the Youells drove up. It was great fun to see them trying out their Spanish on us and doing their assignment.

Unfortunately, since we never got to the main entry we forgot to sign out at the office and were AWOL all day. Fortunately, no one needed us during the day; or at least we don't think so. We went up to the Temple and did an hour's worth of sealings, proxy marriages and eternally sealing children to their parents, thus creating eternal family relationships, then went to lunch at Beto's Mexican restaurant, got Cindy ANOTHER two pair of shoes, picked up Trisha's birthday clothes she had selected, had a great "pre-Father's Day" dinner of my choice at their home, and saw the Orem Summer Festival fireworks from a park on 4th west, a prudent distance away from the mob. They were great. Grammie was invited to sit between Sara and Makhail in the back seat of the van on the way to the fireworks. A little crowded but lots of love.

We are trying to get to bed before midnight and I will close now at 11:12 pm to pursue that goal.

It was a great day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

MTC 6-13-08

Friday June 13, 2008
This is the last day of our "Teach My Gospel" training. These are some of our instructors for this week. They are deceptively young looking, but are very well qualified both spiritually and scholastically to be our teachers and mentors. They have given us some extraordinary insights into teaching the Gospel we all think that we know well.

One of these insights came from a Hawaiian sister who used Alma 34 to teach us that we could not procrastinate the day of your preparation to be a good missionary. Just as the same spirit that possesses our bodies in this life will be who we are in the spirit world, the same spirit that controls our actions now in the MTC will control our actions in the mission. We need to start now to be the missionaries we want to be and not claim that we will be good missionaries when we get into the field. This is sage advice for all of us. We need to become the people we want to be now, not tomorrow.

This is a picture of our "class" of senior couples. This is a group of the best of the best. Each of them has their own miracle and angel assistance story in getting to the MTC. After hearing some of them we are impressed with how much satan does not want these couples to do this work and how much more powerful Heavenly Father is in this battle. When the Lord is for us, who can be against us; Right?

During the opening meeting last Monday they organized the week's meetings with pianists, choristers, and prayers. They also asked for a musical solo number and after waiting an appropriate amount of time, I volunteered to sing on Friday. This morning we awoke at the 6:30 am alarm and got prepared for the day. While getting her stuff on (pouches, phone, etc.) she noticed that the time on her phone was 7:50 am and the time on our clock was 7:28. We checked the clock and found that it had changed during the night and was 20 plus minutes late and the year/date had changed to 1/01/2000 as well. We missed breakfast and I figured that we had missed the time for me to sing, so I put it out of my mind.

Just before the final meeting at 4:30 pm the teacher conducting asked if I was still ready to sing and I said, "of course". Sister Owenby accompanied me and I sang , "Be Still My Soul". With a lot of effort I got through it without crying, but most of the group was in tears through the whole song. To sing about calming our souls and trusting the Lord, it was so meaningful for these couples who are stepping out into the darkness with only the light of the Holy Ghost to guide them. What a moment. I was so glad that I was allowed to sing and that it was so meaningful to these great missionaries.

One of the film clips today was an update of the one we used during our mission with the Family Enrichment Program showing the spread of stakes over time from 1830 to 2007. We have the one that stops in 2002 and it is impressive, showing a flash of light and a red dot for every stake and these lights continue to explode and leave red dots as the years pass on the title. This one was even more impressive to us because when it got through there was only one light that burst and one dot representing a stake in all of Russia. Our mission was totally dark. Mom and I both broke into tears thinking about our big, dark mission. Maybe we can help make one more light burst and leave a dot in the next update of this presentation. You can see it yourself by going to, click on Gospel Library, then Media Formats, then Church Videos, then Church Growth By Stake. It is a wonderful video.

Tonight Cindy talked to the Challburgs on the phone and set up a lunch appointment for next Wednesday. They are coming down from Layton especially to see us. The Stoeltzings stopped by around 8:45 pm just as Trisha was leaving after dropping off her scales so we could weigh our bags this weekend. They stayed for an hour and we told them what a wonderfully spiritual experience the MTC is. We sure have great friends.

Friday, June 13, 2008

MTC 6-12-08

Life at the MTC
Thursday June 12, 2008
Today, Thursday, we continued our training, focusing on the less-active and the part member family. Each couple took the part of a family we knew and we roll-played being visited by a senior missionary couple. I thought this would be pretty synthetic, but when we began to interview our "family" to learn their concerns and needs it became so real. I imagined what it will be like to work with a Russian family and how we could love and support them in this place we did not understand. This is going to be a real challenge, but our best tool is listening and feeling (not talking & fixing) what they are really saying. I'm looking forward to it.

Our last activity was to man the call center and take calls from people wanting church materials & bibles. I talked to two men, one ordered a bible and another wanted "The Lamb of God." The first was from Atlanta Georgia and the other from Sylvester Alabama and both pleasant people looking for these free religious materials. I offered the second man
to have his DVD delivered by LDS Church representatives and he said, "Is that paster Elbert?" I said that it wasn't. They would be two young men representing our church with a message about Jesus Christ. He still agreed to see them so that order was passed on to the missionary department. Fun.

We had our second Russian lesson with Katya, a young Ukrainian student at BYU. She has been teaching us the sounds of the alphabet and today we made words and phrases. Fi
nally we put together the elements of a prayer. This is going to be a challenge since there are 6 cases for nouns and we don't know them. We will just have to memorize the phrases and link them together as best we can. We learned to say, "I am a representative of Jesus Christ", "We are missionaries", and simple introductory phrases like, "What is your name" and where do you come from". It was exciting to be able to read these on the chalk board and say them. 

I am just amazed at the care and expense that is expended every day for preparing missionaries. The physical plant is beautiful, the food is quite good, the teachers (mostly 20-somethings) are excellent, the staff is friendly and work hard, and nothing is out of place. I don't know if the young elders recognize how great it is, but I am really impressed.

Yesterday the new missionaries came in and I was unable to take my eyes off of them. Their eyes are so alive and their spirits so high. The smiles, I mean ear-to-ear smiles, are unforgettable. I saw many "seasoned" elders greeting them with a warm handshake or missionary hug in real brotherhood. It was beautiful.

This noon-time, Trisha and Sara came to the MTC and gave me some papers to sign and our first "care" package of berries and prunes. Very much appreciated, not only for the goodies, but to receive the love and care of our family. Trisha is so excited about our being here and Sara is excited but sad about our leaving. So much love from those two. We also got a call from Shannon with her latest on the move to grandma Amanda's and getting ready for her new job at Anthropology. Lots going on.

All in all, it has been a great day and we are still excited about our mission.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

MTC 6-11-08

Life at the MTC
Monday June 11, 2008
Today we started off getting prepared to teach the Plan of Salvation in a new format. Yesterday we prepared a 45 minute presentation for a sister posing as an investigator. Today we will teach an 8 minute lesson on the Plan of Salvation and then be prepared to discuss that lesson and answer questions using the scriptures and our experience. I like this better because you get to make your points early before the investigator asks questions that take you far afield. That is my favorite approach.

In the afternoon we met with Will Baker, a supposed investigator who had received the first discussion earlier. We began the session with prayer and offered him some Macadamia nuts and water, like last time, but he turned them down. The session went well with Cindy starting off with the pre-mortal council in heaven and the creation. She is doing so well even though she feels less qualified to teach. I hope to help her gain more confidence because she has so much to give to these investigators.

We are trained to continually "invite" the people to do things and commit them with "will you" questions. This is a little hard to remember to keep doing all during the interview, but we'll get it. We are also trained to bear testimony about each point and promise blessings if the investigator will do the behavior. Again, that's going to take practice.

During the day the new missionaries came to the MTC. There are lots of suitcases stacked in the corridors and red dots on name tags of grinning elders and sisters. They sure are excited, and some scared, to be here. Dinner was roast beef and mash potatoes, the traditional welcome menu for Wednesdays. The electricity in the air is palpable. Boy, I wish we could harness that to help the energy crisis.

Tonight we went to Russian Tutoring with Katya, a young Ukrainian student at BYU. She is fun to work with and we hope to learn things quickly. Tonight we went over the alphabet and its sounds. Quite different and a real challenge. Our classmates, the Gregorsens are going to Rostov (sp?) in southern Russia where it is warm and Mediterranean. Nice place in the winter I'll bet.

We are now doing our emails and homework for tomorrow. Lots to do and we are very tired, but happy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life at the MTC

Life at the MTC
Monday June 9, 2008
We arrived at the Provo MTC Monday at 11:15 am after picking up granddaughter Sara from Summer School. We had spent the morning gathering up our stuff, mailing another box to the mission, and gassing up the Youell van.

Chris pulled the van around to the Senior Couples dorm and everyone helped move the 8 pieces of luggage into our palatial room. We then walked around to the entry and left them in the foyer while we got some of our check-in done. Finally we said our goodbyes in the foyer of the main entry and went off to finish getting checked in.

The MTC is very thorough about everything and we felt very peaceful and directed. After a welcome meeting and division into districts of 4 couples, I am the District Leader of 4M131, we had lunch and then a full afternoon of training about Preach My Gospel and health practices they encourage missionaries to follow. Very good stuff.

Monday night we finished getting organized, read our homework assignment (25 pages of PMG) and finally got to bed about 12:30 am. Just like home.

Today, Tuesday, we were taught the first of several lessons on presenting the message of the Restoration. It involves an overview of the whole plan that can be given on a bus or in a grocery line in 5 minutes. It covers:
  • God is our loving Heavenly Father
  • The Gospel blesses families
  • Heavenly Father reveals His gospel in every dispensation
  • The Savior's ministry
  • The Apostasy
  • The Restoration
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Pray to Know the truth by the Holy Ghost.
This is a very powerful tool that can be used in any situation, in any length of time. We practiced doing it in less than a minute and for as much as 45 minutes. Our instructor is a returned missionary from Novosibirsk named Devires. Finally, we did a roll-play with a lady who came to our room as a follow up to a prior meeting. We invited her in, gave her some refreshments (macadamian nuts & water) and spent 35 minutes teaching her. She was a real delight.

After dinner, we checked on our transportation plan. We have a 12 hour lay-over in Moscow and were concerned about what we would be doing. We found out that they had secured a "day-room" for us and a taxi from the International Airport and to the Domestic Airport to make the lay-over more comfortable. We will still need to claim our luggage and check-in again for the last leg to Novosibirsk.

We each needed another Typhoid shot and Cindy needed a Tetanus shot so we had that done after dinner. The nurse took Cindy around the corner to shoot her because she had long sleeves and had to disrobe. She was less delicate with me.

At 7 pm we had a devotional in the Snow building with Elder and sister Arnold, a member of the 2nd quorum of 70. She told a story about a cow that broke through the fence and ate wheat until she bloated and died, likening the cow to missionaries who break the rules and "die" as to their mission. Elder Arnold's message had 5 points.
  1. Understand who you are and that each of you has been given specific gifts and talents (D&C 46:10 & Ex 4:10-12)
  2. Understand the sacredness of your calling & what you covenented to do when you accepted the call (PMG 46 & 139)
  3. Understand and observe the Law of Obedience--the first law of the Gospel.
  4. Understand your purpose here
  5. Work hard and smart
After the Devotional, Cindy & I spent until 10:30 reading our homework assignment and finally got in bed about 11. Getting better.

I love being here. I find myself touched by almost everything that I see or hear. The Holy Ghost is witnessing the truth of everything to me every moment. While bearing my testimony to the roll-play sister I could hardly get it out for the tears. I'm a cryer anyway, but this is over the top.

I am looking forward to our training tomorrow and the language training in the evening. What a place. What a church. What a blessing

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Finally Gone 3
Friday June 6, 2008
Wednesday the 4th we got up at 4:45 am to be at the Temple by 6 am for the preparation meeting. The morning was full of hugs, kind words, and wishes for success. President Winkle told us that when he worked in the Missionary Department they called applicants who were willing to go anywhere for any length "Green berets". He wished us well and said there would be a place for us on the Temple staff when we returned. He was not releasing us, but just giving us an extended leave of absence.

Brother Dow Lewis, a worker on our Wednesday AM shift, owns Dow Lewis Motors in Yuba City and had offered to sell our Maxima for us and deposit the proceeds in our account. He said that it was in better than excellent shape and still smelled like a new car. So, he rode home with us after our shift and after filling out a transfer of title, drove off about 1:00 pm and we were now sans one car. It was so good of him to do that for us. He said that it was one of the few things he could do for people going on missions and was pleased to do it without taking a commission.

The rest of the afternoon was packed with last-minute stuff like putting a safety netting along the sides of the pond bridge, changing light bulbs, final entries in the business books, locking up valuables in the safe, giving away the last of the food, the final clearing out of the closets &
bathrooms. and a million other little details.

My sister, Diane, was a great help during the final stages of packing. She packed up the Dish Network receivers and ran several errands during the afternoon. Time seemed to be compressed this afternoon and I don't remember everything, but we got a lot done with her help. By the time Brian arrived around 6 pm our home looked like a big hotel room; filled with stuff, but not with us.

By 6:30 pm the family was all gathered and went to Lam's for the final Chinese dinner. We often celebrate special events at Lam's and this was the last one for a time. We were grateful that Scott came for this dinner. He was not able to come Sunday and we missed him.

We were talking and having so much fun that we were late for our setting-apart at the stake center. President Randy Smith and his counselors were using the time to have a meeting, but welcomed us when we finally arrived. President Smith interviewed us for worthiness and willingness to go on this mission assignment and then invited the family in for the setting-apart. I assisted with Cindy's and Brian was also invited to stand in.

I don't remember the details of the blessings, but Shannon wrote down some things. I guess I was just a little worn out by the time we got to Wednesday night. I do remember the feeling that everything we had prepared for was finally real and we had "jumped out of the plane" so to speak. A great machine had started in motion and would grind on for the next two years, producing miracles and blessings for everyone. President Smith asked if we had any advice for our family. Cindy asked them to take care of each other and I asked them to watch for and share with us the blessings and miracles in their lives because they would surely come.

Wednesday night was a marathon of final packing. I can't say what took so long, but one thing was the weight in our suitcases. We were trying to hit the 50 lb free limit, but with all of the comfort food "we" wanted to take we were lucky to hit the 70 lb mark. That was going to cost us $80 per bag, but was the best we could manage.

Shannon was staying at our house while she was in the process of moving into Grandma Amanda's home with Michelle & Michael Keys. She didn't get much sleep with us tromping around the house with this packing.

We finally got to bed at 4:30 am and got up at 5:30 am to do the final personal clothes and sheet washing. At 7:00 am the Wilbergs came to wish us farewell and we put them to work filling out our luggage name tags.

Brian, Andrea, and Hannah came shortly after them and we packed up our eight pieces of luggage in the suburban for the trip to the airport. Shannon came with us as well. We said a final goodbye to the house, the pond, and our friends and headed off.

Finally Gone 2

Sunday evening
Friday June 6, 2008

I forgot to mention something about Sunday after the BBQ. We opened the cupboards to Shannon & Andrea/Brian to take what ever they wanted before we offered it to the world. We had cleaned out years of "storage" from the bathrooms as well as the food cupboards in the Toy Room. This picture is some of the bathroom stuff available.

Monday was full of haircuts, dropping off the last laundry load, final shopping, packing, and yard repairs. Rosa Lee Odell came over and spent the morning helping us to weigh and pack 10 boxes that we were sending to ourselves at the Mission office. She was a life-saver because we would have been all day on that project without her help.

That evening we went to our last "Empty-Nesters" family home evenings at the Coop's where Richard and Jerri Clinger thrilled us with songs and Richard's piano skills. He is truly gifted. The refreshment period was again filled with the very kind and loving farewells of friends with whom we have thus met twice a month for the last 10 years, organized of course by Cindy. After taking the Wilbergs home we spent the rest of the night until 2:00 am on projects.

Tuesday, while I did the last entries in my business books for a meeting with Brian later that night, Cindy had breakfast with Bonnie, picked up the last of the alterations, the last massage at Taffey Hoops, more bookkeeping for me, and other stuff for Cindy. We met with Brian for the final look at the business duties he will perform for us and arranged to transfer the Suburban to him. Another late night (12 o'clock) and getting ready for work at the Temple the next day. Sometime after 9 pm the Henshaws taped a sign to our screen door, wishing us well on our adventure. We have such good friends.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Finally Gone

Finally Gone
Friday June 6, 2008

Today, Friday June 6, we are at Trisha & Chris' home in Orem for the weekend recuperating from the long nights and busy days trying to get out of town. I'll start with last Saturday and continue in several other entries.

You know that Cindy and I want to be with our friends and family as much as possible in these last few days and have split ourselves between those activities and getting ready to leave. Saturday was no exception. In the morning we took the Odell's to breakfast, a combination last Home Teaching visit and social time. In the mid-day we tried to finish some projects around the house to not leave anything undone. In the afternoon we went to Lodi to our niece's son's first birthday party, but had to leave in time to drive the hour back home in time to meet the 7 friends who had agreed to help us finish packing up our personal things for storage in the guest room. When they left at 9:30 we spend until after midnight working on more "get out of town" projects. I am so looking forward to the mission's 10:00 going to bed rules.

Sunday we went to the Hurley Ward block meetings for the last time and again received many kind words and well-wishes. People have been too nice to us. I told Cindy that if anything happened to delay our mission, we still had to leave town on the 5th because we could not stand to have any false starts.

After church we went around and visited many friends whom we had not yet seen. We heard that Frank Levett was in the hospital and expected to find Karen and Robert there. We just missed them at Mercy General, but saw Frank for the last time. He later died on Wednesday afternoon. We did see Karen and Robert Lee at home. The Sunday before we had seen the Poplawski's, Mike Kiester, Carol Matich, and the Sherwoods, being concerned that they may not be here when we returned after 2 years.

Sunday evening we had the last BBQ with the family, cleaning out the freezer. It was enough food for 20 people, including three ribeye steaks, 6 pieces of lamb, and the last of the swordfish from our Hawaii trip in April. After they went home at about 9 we stayed up til 1:30 am working on projects.

Continued on "Finally Gone 2"