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


Trisha said...

What a fun picnic. Nothing like ours but fun just the same. Good job on getting there. And remember it is better that you do the fire than Chris.

Belva said...

Hello, I keep checking back to my blog to see if anyone out there is reading all the things that we write. I know that they are looking, but they never let me know what they are thinking. It is discouraging. Then I discovered that you had entered a new post so I found your picnic experience. though we are in two different cultures, I have so many of the same feelings that you do there. We are teaching people from all over the world. Last Sunday I taught a wonderful boy from Italy and for the past month, our good friend from China. (He wants to be baptized- and when the missionaries called to tell us- They also said that he wants me to baptize him- what a compliment, maybe I can get special permission to do it..)

Anyway, I have learned to love this place, and all its diversities and surprises and unanswered questions about why the Danes do what they do. But I have also learned that I am furiously in love with America and all that it stands for. I miss our "land of promise" even though politics have been eroding our hold on prosperity...I love the place. I will never take for granted my backyard, my frequent visits to Target, and Michaels for supplies for anything. I will never take for granted cream of chicken soup, the flavor of mayonnaise (ours here is so bland that its almost inedible), my wonderful big steno pads, and supplies on the shelves everytime you want to shop. Here I go again, writing a book instead of a comment. You get me thinking to much. Love and miss you both. And love that you are out there doing such good work. I know that they will never forget the hard work and enthusiasm the the Simmons have brought to a country that needs a taste of what can be- with a little hope, and enthusiasm. Love you, Belva