Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good bye Bowdens--Hello Elders 9/29/09

Good bye Bowdens--Hello Elders 

Rain, sun, rain, over-cast, rain, clear with clouds at sunset
Temp 42 F low, 55 F high Wind 5-8 mph

This afternoon we said good bye to our friends, visa trip companions, travel partners, and fellow Family Enrichment Program promoters; Elder Gil and Sister Heidi Bowden from southeastern Utah. They have become an important part of our mission experience and we will certainly miss them. Even though they live in Tomsk, 5 hours to the north of Novosibirsk, we have become close because of the things we have shared and done together.

The day after they left, we received a new set of missionaries, green as grass and ready for anything.

The most telling sign of our relationship is "their sign" on our wall. We have a ". . . Slept Here" wall above the beds in the guest room where our visitors stay. We have had a few missionaries stay for several days, getting over an illness. We have had as short a visit as a nap by Elder McBride and as long as a week from our friend Lelia Gilbert who stayed with us while visiting last summer.

Well, the Bowdens OWN the wall with 21 nights on our twin beds. I have never slept on them, but several missionaries have said that they are more comfortable than their own apartment beds. I expect that they don't stay with us for the beds, but we certainly enjoyed them being with us.

We met them right away after we arrived, riding to Krasnoyarsk to the Young Single Adult conference in July. Then we shared the Family Enrichment Program and they really took off with it. We traveled with them on visa renewals, we went three days on the train to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude for their Humanitarian projects, and had a great time doing FEP seminars.
Here we are at a maternity hospital where they were looking at funding some neonatal monitors for premature babies.

In La Mancha we visited the ancient capital Toledo where Sister Bowden was admiring the bread in this stall.

In Kazakhstan Elder Bowden and Elder Royer bought sheep skin vests. It takes a big man like Elder Bowden to wear this kind of thing and it fits him well. He's a big man with a kind and soft heart. I remember he said one time that he never cried until he had daughters and then he cried all the time. He then said he got over that and stayed pretty dry until he went on a mission and now he cries all the time again.

The Bowdens are the heartland of America; uncomplicated, straight forward, honest, genuine, full of love for their family and others they admire, and most of all . . . real. We would all do well to grow up to be like them.

They have gone now to their children and their grandchildren, to their business affairs, to their church assignments, to their neighbors, to their home, and to their lives. I miss them. I wish them well in all that they do. I love them like family and I hope that we will at least stay in touch and maybe even meet again to reminisce and play Uno again. I cannot say that I have ever been associated with finer people than Heidi and Gil Bowden. God bless you Elder and Sister Bowden.

What a couple. What a country.

Elder & Sister Simmons Russia Journal: The Death of Elder Gardner 9/29/09

Monday, September 28, 2009

Real Missionary Work 9/29/09

Real Missionary Work 9/29/09

Thunder storms, hail, heavy rain, sun, cloudy, sun, heavy rain, overcast.
And in the afternoon it was . . . wel I guess you get the picture. Changeable
Temp High 48 F Low 37 F Wind, Heck yea--big time;

Our son Brian commented the last time I talked to him on SKYPE that I don't write much about our real missionary work. Well Brian, we do precious little of that. Our days are spent in the office trying to keep our staff and their Moscow bosses at an uneasy truce while we get some of our own work done.

About 3-4 nights a week we feed missionaries and their investigators, provide a place for them to have a discussion, sometimes involving us, and cleaning-up to cook another meal for the next set that will be coming in.

At these firesides we have met Dasha and Donna and Pyotr and Vincent, Lenna and Leon and Olga and Olya. (That sound like the roster of Santa's reindeer) Here Donna and Olga are looking at a book during a Monday night Family Night activity at our house.

Last night at the YSA fireside we had another Dasha and her mother and baby sister. They are some of the less-actives that are being fellowshipped and she could be a real asset to our little choir at right, below, (you remember the choir don't you?) for our District Conference debut and the Holiday Concert being planned for the second week in December along with an open house at the branch.

While at the office we try to keep focused on our work and help the Elders stay on task. Here, Elder Rainsden is working while eating lunch of Raman noodles, bread, and a bag of Skittles. Elder Petersen, at the far end of the desks, is trying to make the umti-umt change in the mission calendar before the Mission Presidency meeting.

We occasionally get a chance to bear our testimonies or ask thought-provoking questions at dinner but for the most part, we are not involved, invited, or really wanted in these discussions. We understand that anything we do is limited by our lack of language skills, but it would be nice to at least be sitting there when the investigator asks a pithy question.

We have gone to several baptisms and have supported them whenever we know about them. Here is the third generation to be baptized in a family. First the grandmother joined more than 10 years ago. Then the married daughter was baptized just a few months ago. Now a week or so ago the granddaughter was baptized after a huge life-style change. That was quite an event for both the grandmother and mom.

We just don't get to do much of the active teaching, but we make sure that the elders and sisters have what they need to do the job. Some are sowers and some are reapers. We are the plowers before the sowers, and by the time the seeds get tossed. we are long gone, but that's OK. It is the measure of our creation in this job. Sorry there isn't more Brian.

What a mission. What a country.

Men and Themselves 9/22/09, edited 9/29/09

Men and Themselves 9/22/09, edited 9/29/09

How does a ruler keep his subjects docile and easily controlled? Some say with force. Some say with gifts. Some say with promises. Some say with all of these used in a prudent, thoughtful, and random mixture to keep the people unsure of their enemies and wary of their friends. Satan works the same way.

As we all have, I have a lifetime of experience with people in general, but I have had a very limited experience with the Russian people over this last year and a half. We walk under 15 minutes from our apartment to the office, ride the Metro for about that long to the Zoloni Kupola (green roof) train station area where we rent the fourth floor in an office building for our branches, we shop at Megas, Ashawn, or Ikea, mostly, and we go to an occasional ballet or museum. We are prisoners of our inability to communicate with the general public, but we have made some observations of people in general, and specifically here, that I think I can defend.

Amidst our limitations and fears, we have made many acquaintances and some, I hope, life-long friends, mostly with members of the church here, but we have no relationships with people outside that circle, so the things I want to write about here are based solely on observations from afar and conversations with our Russian friends who are willing to speak candidly.

From this limited, and admittedly biased point of view, I believe I see some things that help me understand people a little more and I have concluded that the men that I have met, as a class, have lost their reason for existence. They have little or no purpose and therefore are cut adrift in each man's own culture that really does not value them. As a result, they have turned inward to themselves in search of meaning and, finding none, turn to some means of making the pain go away.

OK . . . I'll defend that thesis, but while you are asking yourself "what is this guy talking about" think to yourself, what was a man's role in the world a thousand years ago? He was a warrior, a defender, a hunter, a provider, a lawgiver, a law-enforcer, the collective strength of the village, the tribe, the family, and the center of everything. How about 500 years ago?

Then came the industrial revolution, massive leaps in technology, weaponry, fortification and production; fewer men and more technology. How about 150 years ago? They were still sitting at the head of the family, village, and state, giving and enforcing. Then came the 20th century and the world turned up-side-down. Women began to assert themselves. They began to smoke in public. They began to drink in public. They wanted to do the things historically reserved for men. They wanted to enjoy the same rights and the same vices as men. They began to earn their own money, buy their own things.

And then it happened. Men went off to war and women went to work wholesale. When the men came home the mold was broken and women, refusing to go back into the kitchen and began to seek equality in earnest until today they can do anything they want without a man. The old saw about not buying a cow is turned around to say, "Why put up with a bull when beef is cheap." They can earn their own money, own their own property, have multiple relationships, prevent or instigate pregnancy, get married, conceive babies artificially, be protected by hired men of the police and the courts; a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

So what do men do to gain some esteem. They get rich, get tough, get hostile, get mean, get drunk, get other women, get cars, get lands, get, get, get, but what's the point? No one really cares except people who want to take advantage of what he has gotten. Men are simply not necessary in our modern world. They are like buggy whips in a land of the Porsche. I see it here in Russia too. Men congregate together on street corners at night, drink themselves into oblivion, and ignore their families while demanding the right to do so as a cultural heritage. You NEVER see women standing in a group, passing around a bottle. They don't need to. They have their role and their identity. Even the most abused woman knows who she is.

To what do Russian men aspire? After whom do they pattern their lives? To whom do they look for a model? For what purpose do they even exist? Centuries of culture have been erased by the Social Engineering of the modern world and now what does the Russian man-on-the-street, or any man in any country, do for self-esteem. Where does he get his sense of himself? What is his reason for living?

The answer is in discovering mankind’s real purpose for being here and men’s role in God’s plan for his children, but men generally, and especially men in Russia, are distrustful of religion because it was used for centuries as a means of control, not of liberation. Karl Marx is quoted as saying, in his article on Hegel, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

Lenin said the same thing slightly differently. "Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression that everywhere weighs on the masses of the people, who are crushed by perpetual toil . . . Religion is the opium of the people. Religion is a kind of spiritual gin in which the slaves of capital drown their human shape and their claims to any decent human life." (Lenin, Selected Works, XI: 658.)

Dr. David Livingston said it well on his web site. “When religion has been devised or manipulated by man to control people, it becomes a binding, blinding system. No doubt, this is what Marx and Lenin considered to be the situation in Germany and Russia." This is how a ruler controls the people. This is how Satan plans to defeat us. He uses promises of heaven, threats of hell, and gives the control of both to minions of the state. No wonder Russian men run from religion.

So what is the cure? What is the hope? What is the savior of men and, as a result, their families? It is the Savior Himself, His Gospel, His Church, and the truth about men. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ men learn that they are sons of God, younger and in need of much training, but brothers to the Lord Jesus Christ. They learn that God the Father has a plan that puts full responsibility on them for the welfare of their families. That IS what men want, that IS what gives men a reason to live, that IS the measure of their creation; responsibility, work, leadership, providing, protecting, guiding.
And in that Gospel, as part of that plan, men carry the authority of God, the priesthood of God, for the benefit of their family. Not for themselves, not for their own power and aggrandizement, not for their own vanity and lusts, but for the benefit of all mankind. That is why the men hold, carry, provide, and honor the priesthood of God, because it is their job, their duty, their right, their charge, their school to learn to be "like" God; giving of themselves for the good of others.

I have seen the miracle of the Gospel change a man in 4th Branch as a classic example of my point. Here was a drunk. Here was a father, husband, child of God literally laying (actually sitting) in the gutter with a bottle of booze trying to make the pain go away when along came Elder Kravchenko and his companion. After months of teaching, cajoling, promising, blessing, and more teaching, this derelict of a man was clean enough to be baptized. I was there and I saw the light in his wife's eyes. I saw the love in his daughter's face. This man was loved and was becoming worthy of that love.

I later was there when he baptized his daughter. Here is this "lost soul" now holding the Priesthood of God, literally a student in the School of the Prophets, learning to be a real man. I was there when he was sustained as the Financial Clerk of his Branch and I saw the joy in his wife's eyes and the love in his daughter's face. I don't know if all is forgiven, but I saw what I saw and that was priceless. He is surely not perfect and he is probably not whole yet, but he has discovered what men around the world are lacking and he's holding on; the priesthood of God and his true self.

God bless him for his efforts. God sustain him in his personal struggles. God grant him grace to continue.

What a man, What a God. What a country

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Coveted a New Coat 9/12/09

I Coveted a New Coat 

Temp 56 F
Wind 3-5 mph

Sometime this week, two of our missionaries, Elder Hinkson (center) and Elder Luddington (not shown) were on a visa renewal trip, and two of our missionaries, Elder Young and Elder Potter, showed up at our house with new winter coats. They were heavy, warm, with fur-trimmed hood, nylon zipper, zip-out liner, and ONLY 1,100 rubles. That's less than $40 and cheap at three-times the price. I HAD TO HAVE ONE!

I asked them to take me to the Renik on Saturday and show me where they got the coats and they agreed to squeeze me in between meetings. This picture is of the Renik in Almaty.

We rode the Metro to the Krasny Prospect station and exited directly into the Renik. They asked if I wanted to look around or just go directly to the stall and I opted for the direct route as I had a lot to do in the office even though this was a Saturday.

Arriving at the stall in a pouring rain, Elder Young got reacquainted with the proprietor and asked for another of the coats he and Elder Potter bought. She looked me over and went out in the rain to her plastic-covered rack of coats and pulled out the exact size I needed. Since they all were the same color which made the style element irrelevant. I gave Elder Hinkson my camera because I could not take my own picture and most of the time I don't get in my own blog for that reason.

She got me into the coat, tugged, zipped, and generally got me comfortable in it and, standing back, admiring her work, she said how handsome I looked in the coat. I was sold. Amazing what a few kind words can do for sales.

As I looked the coat over, I asked about the fur and what animal it was. She didn't know, but said that she had several different types and I could look at them. Going back out into the rain she retrieved another one and we danced again. I liked the fur on this one better and she agreed that it would not matt down as much as the first one; another sales tool I'm sure. I finally chose that one and paid the $35 or so dollars joyfully. I had my coat.

I sure hope it turns out to be as good as I think it is. Just wearing it in the store for a few minutes, I began to sweat and had to get it off. I think it will be a good coat for the winter for me.

As the missionaries got me back down to the Metro station, headed in the right direction, we chatted as we waited for the train and I noticed a family, mom-dad-2.2 children, and thought they looked different from the rest of the crowd. When I got on the train and we over-came the inertia of the initial jolt forward, the man said in perfect English, "You are an American". As it turned out, he was also American and was very happy to meet another one. His (about) 9-10 year old son was also talkative and pleasant. Mom and the younger daughter were more reserved and I didn't push it with them. I asked the boy if he spoke Russian and he said, "I was born in Russia" in that sort of innocent, "what did you expect" tone of complete incredulity. We chatted only a few minutes and they got off at Plosha Lenina Station while I continued to Oktyabraskaya Station and the office.

I can hardly wait for the first cold day to try out my coat. I surely cannot wear it any sooner.

I am planning to take two things home; my coats and 50 Russian ties

What a country

Friday, September 11, 2009

Potatoes in Harvest at the Dacha 9/10/09

Potatoes in Harvest  at the Dacha 

Weather - Indian Summer
Temp 68 F-48 F
Wind, Calm
Sky Clear

Thursday afternoon we got to go to a dacha and dig potatoes for a family in 4th branch, Snigirie. That is a small "Carmichael" sort of suburb separated from Novosibirsk by a stretch of woods about 5 miles deep. We have a companionship of elders there and about 40 active members. The family we helped is having a lot of financial problems and this crop will be a major part of their diet this winter.

A word about the dacha system. Dacha (Russian: дача​ ) is a Russian word for seasonal or year-round second homes often located in the exurbs of Russian cities. It is estimated that about a quarter of families living in large cities have dachas. The first dachas in Russia began to appear during the reign of Peter the Great, initially as small estates in the country, which were given to loyal vassals by the Tsar. In archaic Russian, the word dacha means something given.

The dacha plots (usually not more than 600 m² for Soviet collective farm laborers, more in other cases, often 1200 or 1500 m², but virtually never exceeding 0.96 ha) are too small to grow the needed amount of fruits and vegetables for an entire family, but they are enough to be a great supplement to the family budget.

This family's dacha is about an hour north east of Novosibirsk near a village. Each plot is about 900 feet deep and 200 feet wide. They get water in a pipe from a central well two days a week, but otherwise there is no sewer or other utilities. Since they do not irrigate and only work the land a few days a month, their crop is much smaller than their neighbors who live there all summer. However, their potato crop turned out pretty well and yielded about 8-900 pounds of potatoes. They still had carrots in the ground and a few ears of corn to pick, but otherwise what's in the ground is not worth harvesting.

This all started because we have befriended this family and tried to be an emotional support during their hard time. The husband lost his job and cannot work until some legal issues are solved. The wife has a benign brain tumor and she is on medication, they have one autistic child on medication and one with a form of MS also on medication, and no income. I asked Sasha (Alexander), a 28 year old returned missionary who is the second counselor in the district presidency here if they ever had service projects for people with big problems. His answer was something like, "most everyone have big problems". The idea was quite foreign to him.

However, when I told him that I was going to go out to their family's dacha with them and dig potatoes, his reply was that he, another Sasha, and we should go help them. Now you see, there is no organized welfare projects or service projects here, but at the suggestion that I was going to help them, these two immediately stepped up. The Spirit is there, but with no experience in this new concept.

We followed the family's directions to the dacha and saw this skeleton of a house as we pulled up. They had a friend who had an old building he wanted torn down and he gave them the wood if they would do the work. The beginnings of a dacha house, usually 200-500 square feet, are seen here waiting for more nails.

As we walked through the weed-encumbered front half of the plot, we passed several clumps of flowers; some planted and some wild. They are in stark contrast to the clutter and disarray that speaks of the neglect and sporadic work they have been able to do here. Neighboring dachas where the owners live all summer show neat rows of cabbage, carrots, squash, potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables and flowers that speak of daily watering, weeding, and care. Our friends are doing all they can do, but it is not enough.

The actual business of digging and collecting the potatoes commenced with me and one Sasha, now called Sanya by Sister Cindy, (being a legitimate nickname for Alexander), digging while our friend, the other Sasha, and Sister Cindy gathered the potatoes in buckets and brought them to a tarp where they were sorted and bagged. That lasted one bucket-full before Sister Cindy became a sorter rather than a picker/hauler.

Finding the right place to dig was a challenge at first because of the clutter of weeds, the irregular planting, and the dead potato foliage, and it took a while before I caught on to the spacing. Although the tops were dead and the ground was hard, each plant yielded a clutch of potatoes that sometimes was surprising. The final count was 7 bags of potatoes I think and I'm sure they weighed about 80-90 pounds each. That will help them a lot this winter.

I really liked this event on several levels. Helping a family who needs help is personally satisfying to both Sister Cindy and me. Working in the earth is personally very good for me because I miss my own garden and there is something primeval about getting your hands in the ground and making something grow. That connection to the earth is an Adam thing that is still part of man's inheritance. Being with our new friends, the two Alexanders and the couple needing the help, and one another doing something that is a real service fills my bucket and I learned an other reason why I'm here.

Service is not a strong value in this culture; either making your need known or offering help. Close friends often share labor and resources, but it is very unusual to give community service or to serve a stranger. It is even less common for people to let it be known that they have a need. Financial, social, medical, housing, marital, and other problems are just not shared beyond a couple of friends, having a ward service project for someone is almost unheard of, and a barn-raising would be way over the edge.

We have a lot of teaching to do about the basic welfare principles and the development of a community of Saints who are spiritually and emotionally joined together. Changing a thousand years of fear and self-protection is a hard thing, especially for the children of the Soviet era. These folks are primarily concerned with self- protection and survival. Anything more is a real stretch, but we are going to give it our best try.

What a country

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I got this yesterday as an email

I got this yesterday as an email 9/10/09

This is supposed to have been written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland,Ohio. Even if it is from some spam writer in Borneo, It has some good ideas for living life.

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step,
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.
Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood, b
ut the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift."
Yes, life is
a gift and every day is ours to use or waste. Here in the mission, it is hard to waste a day because there is so much to do. Use yours the same way.

What a life.

Monday, September 7, 2009

At the Picnic 9/5/09

At the Picnic 


When we finally got to the "picnic" everything in all of the confused talk about its location was almost correct. It was at the president's house, in the back lot (not exactly a yard) where we arrived to find him trying to start a fire in a rusty, rectangular portable bar-B-Q. The only other people there were the children and mother Maria who plays the piano for church.

So, here we are at the picnic in the back of president's house. The yard is as long as the building (about 200 feet) and about 75 feet deep to a precast, sectioned concrete fence. It was filled with knee-high vegetation, some of which was nettle from which we both suffered some discomfort. Along the fence, the yard was lined with trees and bushes. I looked up and saw a tree-house platform reminiscent of some I had made as a child.

Directly below that tree was a hole covered partially by boards. I could not see the bottom of the hole and feared that it might be a well, but said nothing to others. It had obviously been there a long time and no one had bothered with it.

President disappeared for a time and I noticed that his fire had gone out so, being a Boy Scout with some little experience, I commenced to revive it to the delight of the observers among the group. I just don't seem to be able to help myself. A gasping fire just needs a friend and I haven't had a chance to play with fire for over a year. It felt good to use my skills again.

As the afternoon wore on, others arrived bearing various additions to the picnic. Sister Cindy and I ate a piece of cheese and a banana while waiting but thought better of anything more. We watched Maria and the photographer sister cutting the veggies on a blanket under the tree-house. Salad here is a jumble of cut-up vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, squash, and onions.

Our Russians are generally not familiar with a lettuce salad and find it very unusual, even when we incorporate those other things they are used to, and American salad dressing is way over the edge. President Gushchin likes it and has begun making it at home, but most of our native friends eat the salad plain. When they come to our house for dinner, they get a real piece of Americana. In this case, I know the veggies were washed in unfiltered water so I know we can't eat them and anyway, we are cautioned not to eat uncooked things at members' homes and this was a good time to abstain.

The president's little girl is so photogenic that I took a number of pictures of her as she wandered among the weeds and the people. Maria's 3 year old, Igor, was also active in the yard and generally running around the yard.

The yard also had several bushes with big red berries, like pyracantha without the thorns. Probably not good to eat, but they are beautiful. One of the sisters also took pictures of this bush. She said that she loves to take pictures of flowers and plants.

The main dish at the Bar-B-Q was sashlik. This is what we would call shish-kabob, but without the veggies. It is usually pieces of pork, lamb, or chicken marinaded in a spicy or acid liquid like vinegar or wine and roasted over coals. It usually has a lot of fat on the meat or even pieces of fat alternating with the meat. We were definitely going to avoid this. Even though Andre washed his hands at the branch building an hour or so ago, and you can see he's up to his elbows in raw meat at the moment, this is not our dish and not a good time for a sneeze.

Around 2:00 people were still coming (remember it started at something after 11:30) and we decided to make a graceful exit. After standing in the weeds for two+ hours (there were no chairs and we were not smart enough to bring a blanket to a picnic) and realizing that we could not eat most of what was going to be offered, it was time to fade into the surrounding woods.

Fortunately, at that moment, President Drachyov brought the Zone Leader Elders and their watermelons in his car and we got a ride from him to the office. We said our thank you's and "sorry we had to run's" to the president and quietly vanished.

After we got to the office, we had a long talk about the event and about being here in Russia and even moved on to "what's next". Basically it came down to this:

1. This is where we need to be and we need to find ways to help the people be "all that they can be." Not to try to make Americans out of them, but to model skills and teach them to those who want to do something more. At the same time, we need to find joy in doing what we do and be positive about life here.

2. We are in no position to judge them or anyone else. It is what it is and we are not appointed the official critics of this culture. We are here to love the people, value them for who and what they are, and contribute when given the opportunity. There is much that a person with a little desire can learn and benefit from that will put them head and shoulders above their peers; but no judgment. They have been who they are as a culture for a long time and we must value that. The branch members who did come to the picnic had a good time. We were the ones who were uncomfortable in our suit and tie missionary outfits. For them, it was just a very fine event.

3. We need to broaden our circle of friends to give us more people to influence. We need to reach out more within the limitations we have. The language barrier is tremendous, but we can love those we meet and invite more of them to our home to bond and make friends.

4. We are questioning the value of our lives at home and what we will do next year in Sacramento. After being here, seeing the need, and serving every day, what are we doing to pay the rent on the space we take up on this earth at home in Sacramento? Life is more than having dinner with our friends, keeping up the house, and SKYPING with our out-of-town children. Of what value are our lives there? It is worth thinking about.

The field really is white, ready to harvest. Can we stay home and let others do it? How about you? What are you doing with the rest of your life? What are your reasons for what you do? Is it enough? Is it all you can do? Something else to think about, huh.

What a country

Sunday, September 6, 2009

To The Picnic 9/5/09

To The Picnic 

Saturday weather
Clear skies
Temp 55 F Wind 15-25 mph

Wednesday night we were told by one of the young adults about a picnic for First Branch and that we must go to support the branch president who is trying to get better branch unity by having this event. What we experienced was typical of such events.

First, we had to make a decision between helping some friends in 4th branch dig potatoes at their dacha (small garden plot outside of town), attend this bar-B-Q with First Branch, or do what we had planned; clean and cook at home and work in the office in the afternoon.

Since the dacha event was an hour away and we had not actually been invited to help them and we have been asked to be more involved in the First Branch as mentors, and since we could opt-out of the picnic at some point and still get in a few hours in the office, the picnic won the coin-toss.

Now it starts. First we call the Zone Leaders Friday night to clarify the picnic starting time. The original invitation involved meeting at the church (Zoloni Kupola) at 11 AM and walking as a group to the picnic place which was to be at a park near the branch president's house. The answer comes back that president's wife would be near our office that morning and could meet us there at 11 AM and accompany us to the picnic. We decided that our starting time might be unpredictable so we'd just go to the church at the new time 11:30AM. All set, right? Nope.

We rushed through our Saturday work; I did two loads of white wash, wet-dusted all surfaces, cleaned the tub room and toilet rooms, watered the garden, vacuumed, and got dressed for the day (sans shower); while Sister Cindy showered, talked to Trisha while sitting in the Cabo chair in the sun, baked, and whatever; and we streaked out of the door at a few minutes before 11.

After mounting the stairs at the Zoloni Kupola train station (30 or so steps from the street level to the ground level at the church and rail station) we ran into the Sisters just coming from their apartment, headed for the church.

At the church entry, Sister Cindy, not wanting to mount the four floors of stairs to the branch level and just come back down again, suggested she just wait at the ground level. We all said she should come with us and we started up the 9 flights of stairs to the church level. Good thing. She could have been waiting half an hour for us to return.

We arrived to find the event chairman , Olga, alone in the kitchen washing produce. Right after we said hello, two other young sisters arrived, one is in this picture.

It was obvious that Olga was not going to be ready to leave at 11:30 so I left the girls to chat and I took pictures of the rooms and corridors of the church floor for my files. As you know, we do not have a building of our own, but rent the fourth floor in a business office building near the Zoloni Kupola (green roof) train station.

Here is Sister Nichiniyeva crossing the entry hall by the door at the head of the last set of stairs. Turning around I caught Sister Cindy sitting on a bench, planning something while staying WAY out of the kitchen. Finally I went down the hall to the right from her bench and took this picture of the chapel meeting room.

Back down the hall past Sister Cindy, still planning, I turned right and went into the Young Women's room with its banners, pictures and closet full of "girl" stuff.

Back out the door and into the Primary room, the Relief Society room and back to Sister Cindy now jointed in her planning by Sister Nichiniyeva.

While wandering around the halls I was still trying to find out where the picnic was to be held. Olga said it was at a park near the presidents', the Zone Leaders said in the president's yard, some said it was near our office (from which we has rushed to be on time) and some said it was not near the office, but near president's. By about 12:20 we were ready to go to the picnic and had not idea where we were going and no confidence that anyone else did either. Sure glad we weren't late.

We started down to the Metro to wait for the train, but Olga had to stop at the "mom-and-pop" store for something on the way. (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance). Wait a minute Elder Simmons. You've got a lot of Chutzpah (Chutzpah (pronounced /ˈxʊtspə/) is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The word derives from the Hebrew word ḥuṣpâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning "insolence", "audacity", and "impertinence.") to be criticizing a 20 year old new convert who is trying to do a good thing with little or no direction or help. LIGHTEN UP!

OK, OK, that was a little, well, a lot, unkind to even mention in a blog read by the whole world, but that is the object of this blog posting isn't it, to have a little fun with a situation that just drives us crazy. Well, crazy; people with little or no experience doing their best at something they have not, cannot, and will not do without some help. Harashol (OK).

By now we have collected Andre, Donna, and the two young girls (neither of us know their names), Olga, the sisters and us. We waited for 15 minutes on the platform for Olga and her new purchases. Donna and one of the unknowns waited on the other side of the turnstiles and I thought they had no ticket so I kept walking up the 50 stairs from the platform to the turnstiles, offering my metro card and them smiling demurely but shaking their heads. (no English & no Russian).

As we waited we met a sister from the branch who was not going to the picnic, but to her dacha to dig potatoes. She knew a better choice.

With Olga finally with us, we boarded a west-bound and got off at Octyabraskaya (our office stop) and began to walk. I kid you not, we must have walked five miles with me carrying the bag that was left in the hall that must have weighed twenty pounds. I didn't know which would give out first, my feet or my arms.

We turned right off of Kirova, our street, and into a residential section, through multiples of housing projects, left at the intersection and down hill toward the freeway that cuts through a gulley near the Sports Night park, then right again and up the hill. Along the way we passed a man holding a stick forced into a hole in a 55 gal drum that contained a pretty good fire. Upon further investigation, I realized that he was melting tar in the middle of the barrel and the stick was plugging the hole where the melted tar would later flow. As I tried to get a good look at him while not being too obvious, I almost stepped in one of the cracks that he was filling with the tar. I fired off this picture as I passed, trying not to be too obvious.

We finally got to the picnic and guess where it was?

What a country