Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Transfer Day 5/26/09

Transfer Day 

Clear with occasional big cumulus clouds
Temp - 69F
Wind - of course (5-7 nmph)

Transfers happen every 6 weeks. Some missionaries will move to another city or another assignment and some will stay for another transfer period. Some missionaries may be in a city for 6 months while others may move each transfer for several cycles. It is pure inspiration and that is the beauty of it. However, it still brings up feelings of anxiety and sometimes loss when elders or sisters move from your city to other assignments.

We love every missionary but we have become closer to some more than others because of the experiences and time we have shared. The office elders are a case in point. We always feel close to our elders with whom we work daily. We learn more of their personal side and a bond is created. Elder McBride, in the red tie, is an example. He has been here for 3 transfers and we love him just a little more because of that time together.

Elder Larson, on my right, is a current Assistant to the President and is on his way home. He is a happy person and a good leader. He has inspired the missionaries to be more obedient and has challenged them to reach higher and work harder. He loves costumes and funny hats. I don't know too many people who can wear a pointed party hat to vacuum the floor in his apartment; a great missionary.

Elder Mayorov, in the dark tie to my left, is another one that we will miss a lot. This is his first city in the mission and we have seen him grow into a skilled and highly motivated missionary. He has a deep spirituality and insight into spiritual matters. He is a real joy to talk to and is going to be a great leader. This transfer is also Elder Jensen's 21st birthday. We had the Elders over for dinner before they went to English Club and here he is blowing out his candle.

Transfers also include missionaries being released and heading home, whether that is in Russia, Eastern Europe, or America. Just as we were about to cut the cake, Elder Smith arrived with his family who had come to pick him up and tour his mission. This is discouraged but not prohibited and occasionally we get to meet the families. Here we are all posing with his family.

Elder West, on the right, is another of those special Elders who have been close to us. He was a missionary here and an Assistant to the President which kept him here a long time. He was a strong missionary and a great young man. He will be a great leader now and after some experience, a church leader of the highest order.

Missionaries are special people in general and carry the Light of Christ with them in their work. They lift everyone and just make you feel good to be around them. Some of them have an extra measure of the Spirit and inspire you to be better just by being there.

This is Sister Croper who is in Novosibirsk for the second time. She was only here for one transfer, but her first tour was for two transfers and we got to know her very well. She is bright, spiritual, and a hard worker. When we have Zone Conference they always have quizzes and she often has a perfect score on some really difficult stuff. I am really impressed with her and expect great things from her in the future. She's something special.

Elder Bindrup is on his way to Ulan-Ude to lend his positive attitude and energy to their missionary team. He is upbeat, positive, energetic and a strong teacher of the Gospel. He had a key role in our FEP Seminars in Novo and will help a great deal with the Seminar that we will hold in June in Ulan-Ude. It is great to have him there to lead the charge.

They all love Sister Simmons and take every opportunity to come to our apartment for a home-cooked American meal and a shelter from the storm on the streets. I occasionally contribute something to the dinner activity, but it is her that they come to see. I am so proud of her for doing her "thing" in this difficult place and time. She is a rock. Here she is (clockwise) with Sister Gorlova, Sister Tymochko, an investigator named Anna, and a member named Olga. As you can see, they are having a great time with her.

What a lady. What a country.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Minor Meltdown 5/13/09

Minor Meltdown 

Temp 69F
Wind-of course

Tonight, while working on some reports I have not gotten done over the last week and waiting for the sisters to come with their investigators for dinner, I had an unexpected experience; a minor meltdown. It was totally unexpected and quite a surprise since I thought I had gotten well-adjusted to the life and the location of our mission in Novosibirsk.

While working on my reports at my "desk", a keyboard drawer in the rolling computer stand that now holds our TV, VCR, DVD, I had my IPOD plugged into the speakers atop the TV and was listening to the Tab Choir's album "Love is Spoken Here" and a song came up that I had heard several times before, but to which I had paid little attention when suddenly I was focused on the words at the same time that I was working on the report rather mechanically.

The song is "Home is a Special Kind of Feeling" by John Rutter with words by David Grant. Here is a jpg of the first two pages of the song so that you can get the jest of the words. I tried to find a file that I could insert here, but was unsuccessful so I made this video with it playing in the background. It does not have the same impact on me now, but at that moment it was powerful.

This is the first line of the song. "Home is a special kind of feeling -- the feeling of a place where you belong -- A feeling that the world is left behind you -- Like a shelter from your care that seems to want you to be there."

As I remember, I was transported in my mind to our home in Sacramento and the tears began to run down my cheeks. That's all. I was just transported as if by the Spirit of Christmas Past to our home and I could see all of it, all at once, all at the same instant. As I have read in Moses and Abraham that they "comprehended it" completely, that was what happened in that instant. I experienced my home totally, completely in an instant and was yearning for my home; a deep longing for the place where our children grew up, where I grew up as a parent, where I matured as a husband, where I met the challenges and basked in the joys of my family. I wanted to be home, with all that I imagined, or saw, that being home could include. It only lasted a few minutes and I have not had that feeling before or since, but it was intense.

That experience was a great gift, a tender mercy from Heavenly Father to feel what these missionaries feel in their quiet, homesick moments. When they have met that last brusque Russki, when they have gotten that final refusal of the day to hear their message, when they get the "Dear John", when they just miss their family, in that midnight quiet hour when they wake from a dream of something at home and they experience what I did; I understand because I felt it.

If I were ever of a mind to minimize that feeling of homesickness, if I were ever inclined to say, "Suck-it-up Elder", if I were ever to be in a position to listen to a missionary's confession of these homesickness feelings, I will be the one to say that I understand because God has shown me what that feeling is.

God bless these missionaries; sisters and elders. They are doing one of the hardest things a 19 year old can do, go to a strange land, learn a language and culture, offer disinterested people an opportunity to repent of sins they have not considered sins and give their lives to serving God and Jesus Christ, and leave all they love and value for two years of relentless rejection and precious little encouragement. Without the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost this would be a pretty dreary prospect for any young person, but these Elders and Sisters are doing it, and doing it well. They are wearing the full armor of God and doing His work. I love them, I admire them, I trust them, and I forget entirely how young they really are.

God bless these missionaries, God bless the senior couples who make their own sacrifices and give comfort to them, God bless the mission presidents who make an even greater sacrifice and give them counsel and direction, and God bless the members who give them the encouragement and contacts to teach. God bless us; everyone.

What a country

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Great Sensations 5/2/09

Great Sensations 

Sunny at times with high cumulus clouds
Temp 65F Wind 10-25mph westerly

I woke up today thinking about what a good night's sleep I had (although it started at 1 AM because Sister Cindy cannot go to bed the same day that she wakes up) and thought about why. What made last night such a good night of rest?

Well, it starts with one of the necessities of being here and that is our division of labor. Sister Cindy spend a lot of time cooking for the people who visit us, either for missionary discussions, game night, firesides, and district meetings or when we just feed a companionship or two to give them some comfort and a meal of something other than cheap, instant pasta.

As a result of being in the kitchen a lot, where her new little computer is on from the moment we enter the apartment until the wee hours of the morning, she also spends the time reading emails, sending emails, or listening to last week's internet news.

With her virtual absence from all other forms of housewifery, I am the maid. I do the cleaning, clothes washing, ironing, hanging, repairing, opening, closing, fetching, and am a general gopher; except I'm not allowed out of the apartment alone because I might get lost or accosted and she would lose her maid and have to deal with getting the body back to the states, etc.

Now, I have thought a great deal about sensations lately, partly because I am experiencing fewer of them as I age, and about how we discover them, use them, enjoy them, and mourn their demise. I observe that children, as scientists, experiment with things they discover and decide what they are, how they work, and whether or not they generate some form of pleasurable sensation. Somehow forbidden things are higher on the list of "to do's" for many than those on the permitted list, but it seems that sensations quickly loose their attraction after they become routine. Eating, excreting, crawling, walking, making sounds, throwing food, etc. all become routine and in doing so lose their attractiveness.

I have never been one to focus on the forbidden. I'm not sure what that means, but I have found obedience to norms, morals, mores, God, and my mom were usually the best choices and resulted in fewer painful sensations. I love adventure, but I'm not high on pain so that has modified my exploring somewhat. That leads me to the discovery of my latest pleasurable sensation.

I remember a line from a movie I saw once, I think it was "Dances With Wolves", where an old Indian says, there comes a time in every man's life when the best thing he can have is a warm fire. So . . . back to the point. One of my duties is the wash and I have discovered a new pleasurable sensation that I came upon only by accident, but it has been a joy since then. It was stimulated by something that I saw Kathy Clayson do one day at her cabin in Tahoe the morning we were to leave. I had never seen anyone do this and I marveled at the thoughtfulness, not knowing the pure joy it can bring to the sensation-starved. She said that she started doing it for Don, her first husband who died some years ago, and he loved it.

So, as I was doing the wash several months ago that memory came to me and I decided to try it. I was thrilled and amazed at how such a little thing like that could stimulate and please. It has been a part of my washing routine ever since and I have tried to augment the sensation-rich experience with new laundry products and ancillary accouterments, but the basic concept is still the core.

OK. I have strung you out long enough. You are yelling at your computer, audibly or mentally, the question that has been at the heart of mankind's search for the new and exotic since Adam, "WHAT IS IT?' Well I will tell you. It is getting into bed and experiencing . . . freshly washed and IRONED sheets. Try it.

What a sensation. What a country.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spring Cleaning 5/1/09

Spring Cleaning 5/1/09

Heavy overcast
Rain and thunder storms
Wind 10-25 mph
Temp currently 70.9F

What inevitably comes with Spring? Spring cleaning, of course. Here Sister Cindy is admiring the hyacinths in the dry cleaner's window. We miss the flowers of spring that we have at home in Sacramento and this cleaner, The Green Earth Cleaners, had bulbs growing in the window even while the ice still graced the landscape.

While the temperature was below freezing, I discovered that you cannot wash the outside of the windows. I was my own "Jack Frost" this past winter as I learned that principle. However, now that the temperature is cooperative, I have cleaned the windows several times, including the screens a couple of weeks ago. Well, now we are in a different cycle of environment; dust.

It seems that the sand used to make the roads less slippery contains a significant portion of dirt that becomes aerosolized when dry. With the prevailing westerly Siberian winds meeting the obstacles of the newly constructed buildings, those structures create a Venturi effect that compresses the air and magnifies the velocity of the wind as it is funneled between the buildings and lifts everything up to the size of a small dog off the ground. The following is an explanation from Wikipedia:

"The Venturi effect is the reduction in fluid pressure that results when a fluid flows through a constricted section of pipe. The fluid velocity must increase through the constriction to satisfy the equation of continuity, while its pressure must decrease due to conservation of energy: the gain in kinetic energy is balanced by a drop in pressure or a pressure gradient force. "

For those of you from Rio Linda, it makes the wind REALLY windy. As a result, the dirt constituency of the sand used during the winter is lifted, along with the small dogs and untethered infants, and we get it on our 9th floor windowsills.

As you look at the picture to the left, remember that I washed the windows and screens within the last two weeks. After several of those windy days, this is what we have. Not only is it accumulated on our windows, but it coats everything in the apartment. You can run your hand over a counter that was washed, not dusted, but washed, last week and come away with a palmful of black grit. It has the feeling of ultra fine sand, but it is black and sticks to everything. As I run my finger across the sill, most of the dirt stays on the sill or falls to the floor.

At left is a paper towel I ran across the sill. You can see the powder on the counter that just fell off the sill. I have started using a dry paper towel for this because the dirt WILL NOT wash out of a cloth towel or rag. I have tried heavy soap concentration, bleach, and physical scrubbing but the stain remains.

Here is a bucket of detergent water after cleaning the two windows and sill in our bedroom. I had to change wash water after each window and even at that I could not get the cleaning rag clean. This stuff is tough and takes a lot of dedication to keep it out of your life.
Here are the dregs of one bucket of cleaning solution. I thought about saving the solids to add to my garden of pots in the Cabo Room, but decided that it might contain stuff that I don't want in my veggies so down the drain. I also followed the cleaning session with a little "drain-doctor" in the tub drain, where I dumped the water to help insure no plumbing problems.

I thought about the possibility that this black stuff was soot from the power plants across the river from us, but gave up that theory because the dirt comes only after a windy day. Certainly there is a lot of particulates (for Rio Linda that's "stuff") in the air and they don't use scrubbers so it was a real possibility, but I'm still not sure of its origin.

Nevertheless, it will come and go during the spring until it too has run its course.

What a country.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Service Project in Irkutsk 5/1/09

Service Project in Irkutsk 

Rain, heavy at times
Wind 10-25 mph
High temp 54F

The following came to me as a report of a service project done in Irkutsk, a city south east of Lake Baikal in the east of our mission. President Lynn Southam (mission presidency counselor for the eastern area) and his wife have inspired the missionaries in the three eastern cities to new and exciting things.

"Twenty members and missionaries of the Irkutsk Branch of the Russia Novosibirsk Mission provided a day of service to a rehabilitation clinic for patients suffering brain and spinal injuries. On Saturday, April 25, 2009, the branch cleaned the large grounds of the clinic by raking the yard, sawing and removing trees, cleaning debris from the yard and preparing the grounds for spring. The directors and patients of the facility were very grateful for the service and invited the branch members back for more service opportunities.
The director of the physical facilities of the clinic exclaimed how pleased she was with the work. She and her kitchen staff provided refreshments. Irkutsk Branch President Arthur Sullemanov (Артур Сулейманов) said, “This is a great day of service for our members. Much good has been done here.”
The day was organized by the branch Public Affairs Director, Victor Ivanov (Виктор Василъевич), Director of Communications for the City of Irkutsk, Galena Kalogena (Галина Калугина), and senior missionary Lynn Southam. Relationships were strengthened, bridges built and work accomplished. A great day for all."
The picture above includes missionaries and the Young Single Adult group from the Irkutsk Branch as well as the center's administrator. We truly are here to serve and we do it in many ways. Our core mission is to preach Christ risen, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins and enduring to the end in a new life of love and service. However, part of our mission is to serve the people where we labor in any way we can that is productive and allowed.
Often our efforts to serve are rebuffed because of misinformation about our church or about us being an American church. The fact that we have congregations in almost every country and many of our Novosibirsk missionaries are natives of Russia or other Eastern European countries escapes our critics, but most critics are not hindered by the truth.
Now that the ice is gone and the weather is more accommodating, we hope to do more of these service projects as a token of our love for the people.
What a country.