Thursday, October 29, 2009

The miracles are beginning to come 10/29/09

The miracles are beginning to come 10/29/09
Partly cloudy, cold, not much snow, morning fog
Ice everywhere High 10 F / Low 5F

Sister Calderwood, a relatively new missionary who arrived on the 19th of August (second from the right in the second row) today reported the following Miracle in Tomsk in the mission email.

Each Tuesday and Thursday the missionaries conduct an English Club meeting where interested people can come and practice speaking their English with native Americans. After the club meeting on Tuesday a woman named Lubov came up to Sister Caulderwood with this story that she writes to us:

I had given the spiritual thought about the Plan of Salvation at the end of Tuesday's English Club. After the end of the meeting, a woman who had been sitting over on the side came up to me very intently and I could see that she was dying to know more about the church. I got her phone number and I did my best to talk to her in Russian, promising that we would call and make an appointment. We went home and called her the next morning but the number was incorrect and we were very disappointed that we could not meet with her.

On Thursday, she came again to English and afterward she came up to my companion, Sister Bistrova, in an excited fluster, explaining how on Tuesday night she had had a dream about our church and in it she had seen a book that she had never seen before, but in her dream she knew somehow that it was the word of God. When Elder Nelson held up the Book of Mormon as he gave his spiritual thought on Thursday and she recognized it as THAT book that she had seen in her dream.

As we met twice with her later, she shared her search for truth. As we all watched the DVD on the Restoration she was almost in tears the whole time. It was clear that there were many events in her life that had pointed her to this moment. She was prepared of God, no doubt or question. She has been prepared in every aspect of the gospel and it really is a miracle. We were able to meet with her twice, but she actually lives 4 days away by train in a town 300 km from Ulan Ude, but wants to move to Tomsk. Lubov is truly one of those miracles that have been promised."

What a miracle. What a country.

It has finally happened 10/29/03

It has finally happened 
Overcast, cold, foggy, lots of ice
Temp high 10F / low 5F Wind 3-5 mph

Someone has fallen in the storm drain in the street in front of our house, next to the drive way; Sister Woodhouse! Here she is on the far right with her companion, Sister Boggs.

The right bank sisters, Sister Woodhouse and Sister Boggs, brought one of their investigators, Anna, to dinner tonight before English Club. We had a great meeting during dinner and Anna felt the Holy Ghost as we bore our testimonies of God's love for her and the truth that the sisters were teaching her. Here she is with Anna at a Family Home Evening a few weeks ago.

Deep background:
From the first day we moved into this apartment, I have been expecting someone to fall into an uncovered storm drain in front of our house. It is located in the gutter on our side of the street about 10 yards from the driveway. The picture below shows it during the spring thaw last April, looking at our building from the opposite side of the street. The open storm drain is the first in a series of four, end to end, with this second one missing the grating so that it is about a 18 x 36 inch hole in the gutter. The picture at the right shows it during the thaw with a hole in the center, probably made by some "newby" that stepped on it just at the right time to go through. Earlier in the winter the ice was a foot thick and able to bear even the weight of cars passing over it.
The picture below is just another of the winter hazards. Here is the uncovered maintenance entry to the heating pipes buried in the ground in front of the houses between them and the street. Someone tried to cover it with an old door, but here it is eschew. During the deep winter these are covered with ice and snow with only the covers, or in this case the collar, showing because they stay warm even when it is 40 below. At night they are all but invisible as you walk past them to our building. With that as background, here is the story.

The three ladies, Sisters Woodhouse and Boggs with Anna, left our apartment in a hurry to get to English Club; they were late of course. From our front door, they could either go through the "woods", the thicket of trees between our building and the street, or right, through the parking lot and then left across the street toward the office and the Oktyabrskaya Metro station on Kirova, right in front of the office.

They chose the latter and headed out almost at a gallop. As they hurried across the parking lot, they missed the driveway and decided to cross the dirt area between the parking lot and street (now covered with snow and ice) just at the right place. Sister Woodhouse was in the lead and stepping off the curb plunged chest-deep into the afore mentioned open storm drain. She describes it this way:

"There were two cars coming from the right and two from the left. We were in a hurry, so we (I) decided we could cross before they got to us if we hurried. I was focused on the cars and making sure the three of us got across the road before they arrived and just didn't see what was there in darkness along the curb of the street.

As I stepped into the hole, my book bag hit the ground and scattered its contents of books, English Club invitations, calendar book, and the usual miscellaneous purse items; across the entire width of the street. As I hit bottom, between four and five feet down, and the purse went flying, the cars stopped with their headlights shining right on me with just my shoulders, arms and head showing. I am sure the occupants got a good laugh as I did my little trick. You can bet that none of them rushed to my aid.

As Anna and Sister Boggs hurried to pick up my bag's contents in the glare of the four cars' headlights, I stood very still in the storm drain, assessing my physical condition. Finding no pain and everything intact, except for a bump on one knee, I struggled to get out of the hole, but with my dress and coat wedged into it with my legs and torso, I couldn't get out. I could not even try to get a leg out of the hole for lack of space. Of course, I started to laugh.

Seeing my struggles, Sister Boggs came over to me and tried to pull me out of the drain by the arm; no good. We were all laughing so hard that it was just impossible. I was wedged in pretty tight and could give no assistance to any attempt to pull me out as well as laughing uncontrollably. I couldn't even jump up to clear the hole because I couldn't bend my legs. I finally had to press myself up enough to bend at the waist and lay on the street. Rolling over, I cleared the hole with as much grace as possible, being on stage and under the spotlight as I was, and got to my feet.

Finally, free of the hole and collecting my things, we waved to the cars and got across the street, again headed for the office and the Metro station beyond. We took a short-cut across the big parking lot next to our building, still laughing so hard it made it difficult to walk straight, when suddenly Sister Boggs disappeared. She had slipped on the ice and landed in a heap of sheepskin leather coat, bag, hat and scarf laughing too hard to get up. That caused another seizure of hysteria in all of us as we helped her up and tried again to hurry to the Metro. We were now hopelessly late and out of breath with laughter."

As you can see, the sisters enjoy each other and Anna was right in the thick of it. Laughter is the cure for almost everything in life and these sisters are abundantly blessed with it. Especially when things happen that you didn't expect and could not control laughter is the remedy, even here in Russia.

We first heard this story from the sisters themselves as they reported in to Sister Cindy after English Club. Thank you sisters for that story and for being such wonderful example of how to handle life's little surprises and bumps. We love you and hope your knees heal up quickly.

What a pair of great missionaries. What a country.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


SPRASNIKOM to ME! 10/27/2009
Clear skies with occasional cloud coveringTemp 19F at 9:00 pm Tuesday 10/27/09Low tonight 10F Wind 3-5 mph

Sprasnikom is a greeting of congratulations given on celebratory occasions. In this case, I give it to myself on my birthday because today I am beginning my 68th year of experience on this world and 67 years of absence from God's world where I was given a spirit body and was taught at the knee of those I have forgotten for the moment.

With more of my life behind me than ahead, I often think of those days, as if there were days in eternity before my birth, and wonder how it all came about. How did I progress from being a disembodied intelligence to becoming a spirit child of Heavenly Father to eventually warranting birth into this mortal existence with its wonders and challenges.

What did I love? Whom did I love? Who were my classmates and my friends? Did I love music then? With whom did I make promises much like the "I'll write you every day" promises after a summer together or with whom did I make more solemn oaths to find and bring into God's kingdom during mortality because I was to be born in the Covenant and they were not. Have I done well? Have I found them? Of those we have met here or in Sacramento or in Germany or on cruise ships or in elevators, or . . .? Have I found them?

I feel sure that I found some of them, those whom I recognize immediately as strangers that I know intimately, and I think I have planted seeds with some others who might be them, but where are the others? I know I found Sister Cindy and that's an oath that I fulfilled, not without doubts and not without wanderings before she made the commitment to baptism, but with complete fidelity and eternal continuance once she joined me in the Kingdom. How can I find the others?

Well amidst all of this reminiscence, I enjoyed the day with many renderings of "Happy Birthday"; cookies from Julia; candy from Pyotr & Olga; lemon-chicken, mashed potatoes, and crispy non-chocolate chip cookies from Sister Cindy; a baptism commitment from Lenna at dinner tonight with Sisters Woodhouse and Boggs; and three playings of Neil Diamond's "America" and two playings of John Denver's "Country Roads" all played much too loud. What a day.

Thank you for all who remembered me, my family, my Russian friends, my missionaries, my great companion and even my friends in Sacramento. Diane Keys, my favorite sister, set up SKYPE in her Seminary class and called this evening about 7:30 pm which was about that time AM in Sacramento, where I got a rendering of Happy Birthday and the opportunity to tell the class, made up of many of our Sacramento friends, about our mission, the weather, the people, and our goal to get 62 more baptisms in the mission by December 31. I explained the background and asked for their prayers for our missionaries. Actually, I, we, were an object lesson for the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5, being grafted into a tree in the nethermost part of the vineyard.

I am grateful for the day, grateful to be allowed to be here on this mission in Siberia, grateful for Sister Cindy and my family whom we had to struggled to find, grateful for my health, grateful for the means to pay for this mission, and grateful to Jesus Christ as my personal savior and the redeemer of all mankind. I don't remember the meeting, nor the confrontation between Heavenly Father and Satan, but I know that it took place, I know that I was there, I know that I choose to follow Jehovah, and I know that he did do what he promised to do for me and for you as part of Father's plan for us.

Now it is up to me, and each of us, to do what WE promised to do. There is no sacrifice, there is no labor, there is no gift, there is nothing within our grasp that we can do to repay that Jesus of Nazareth for what he did for us. If we labor our whole lives to serve him, still we are in his debt. Surely just two years of service is not enough, but it is there on the altar just the same.

I hope that each of us will realize our debt to Jesus Christ and continue to put our sacrifice on the altar. What is it that we can, or are willing to, sacrifice, to give, in His service. What Sister Cindy and I have done here is no sacrifice. It has been a great blessing. I have tried to find the sacrifice in it and just cannot. In fact, we are planning our next mission right now. Oh, I miss artichokes and ripe tomatoes from the garden and my hot tub, and playing Hand and Foot with my friends, but I guess I will have to find something else to sacrifice because being here isn't it.

Happy birthday Elder Grampa.

What a guy. What a country.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here Comes the Snow 10/24/09

Here Comes the Snow 10/24/09
Snow, snow, snow
Temp 26F at 9:30 pm and 21F tonight (at least that will stop the snow from melting on the flashing over the windows of the Cabo Room and leaking all over what's left of my dacha.)
Wind northerly (from the north) 10-15 mph

Well, it has started. The snow began Thursday evening and has not stopped for more than a couple of hours at a time since then. We have about 6 inches on the ground and it looks like it will be there 'til May.

I am always (well, maybe not always) reluctant to attribute what my Russian friends say to all Russians, but, oh heck, I guess I will anyway. Siberian Russians hate the snow. There, now all of you experts on the Russian psyche can comment on the blog and tell me what REALLY is the case. That notwithstanding, Russians hate the snow. That seems rather strange since they have so much of it, but here's the story as reported to me by authoritative sources.

To fully explain this, one must consider a broader element of the Russian mind-set. Russians love freedom; not actually the political kind, but the personal kind; the kind that expresses itself in doing what you want when you want where you want and to whom you want. I have written about this in the past. Russians live with the idea that if you can do it; do it! They hate anything that limits that mind-set and find very creative ways to limit, avoid, get around, or otherwise eliminate limits.

This expresses itself in the piles of trash exposed during the spring thaw. If you are through with something, you simply place it as a token of your prior presence in that spot, maybe in the belief that someday someone will build a monument to your having been there. In the meantime, you leave your own marker.

It also expresses itself in dress, fashion in general, but particularly in women's fashion which makes it perfectly reasonable to wear a black evening dress complete with plunging neckline, rhinestone necklace, long rhinestone dangle earrings and 6-inch spike heels to work during the day, or a sequin, glow-in-the-dark red dress with a plunging back past the waist and cowboy boots on the metro at noon. This is a statement of a freedom-loving people.

Well, that all changes with the first sticking snow. The freedom so much enjoyed and so much a part of the Russian soul is curtailed beyond resistance by the icy grip of winter that sets, and demands compliance to, its limitations. I have seen both young men and young women partially disrobe in the warmth of a Metro car to reveal those flashes of independence, a brawny chest, a well-turned thigh, or ample bosom in defiance of winter; still, they will not be controlled. However, winter does cramp one's style and forces everyone to acknowledge nature's power, and they hate it.

Even the babushkas that ply the streets under our window show a palpable air of resistance to the season. I watched one walking from the direction of Kirova (to the right of our building) probably to her house (to our left) with a heavy shopping bag in one hand and a purse in the other. She was bent forward into the westerly wind, long coat flapping around her calves, her knit cap covered with the falling snow, struggling to keep her balance on the slippery, snow-covered sidewalk, but making her way as best she could, undaunted by the circumstances. It was her shopping day and she would not be denied by the weather, although it made the trip more hazardous as a slip and fall on the street could mean a broken leg or hip and probably no one to help her.

Regardless, this hated snow will cover their world for half the year and cannot be denied. There is certainly a beauty to it and we, as Californians, think it is "fun", or at least a new experience, to live in the snow. The Russians fight against winter by showing it that they are undaunted. They make ice sculptures worthy of an art gallery, ice-block slides to delight young and old, a snowboarding hill for the 20-somethings on the left back near the now-silent amusement park, and a plethora of furs that make quite a fashion statement all their own.

The Spirit also plays a part in winter duties. Yuri Gushchin, our mission driver asked me last Monday for the money to buy new snow tires (with metal studs) for President Trejo's car because he wanted president to have the better set and he would take his old set. The tires were bought on Tuesday, installed on Wednesday, and it snowed on Thursday. You can't beat that for timing.

As fate would have it, we just talked to Elder Kolpakov, one of the Zone Leaders, during his nightly call to check on our condition and he mentioned how much he liked the snow. I thought I was going to have to erase this whole posting until Sister Cindy reminded me that he is from Rostov where they have palm trees and almost never much snow. He said, "Yeh, it is like a lot of ice cream on the ground. I love it." Well, he doesn't count as a Siberian Russian so I am going to keep this posting.

As I watched the "babka" walk along below my window, I also thought about how lonely it must be for the old people who have survived the unhealthy life-style, bad water, winters, and all the changes of the last 20 years to now be left alone in a world they don't yet quite understand. The old ways and the old friends are gone and they are left to try and survive another winter. I so wished that I could have run down the stairs and taken her heavy bag down the street with her and just said that I cared; and that God cares. Not only could I not get dressed and down the stairs fast enough, but I don't have the language skills to deliver that message. Maybe one of the Sister missionaries will contact her, . . . or maybe it will have to wait until she hears the message in Paradise. I don't know.

What a country.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Note to Nikki 10/24/09

A Note to Nikki (a lady-in-waiting)
Snow, Lots of it blowing past our window
Temp 1C (32F)
Wind 15-20 mph

Yes Nikki, Elder Bindrup IS dying on November 11 along with the four missionaries from our zone and the four other across Siberia. He has been one of our very favorite missionaries. He went away a couple of transfers ago to Krasnoyarsk and I've only spoken to him on the phone occasionally. I get the sense that November 11 is circled on your calendar; Yes?

Well, thanks for the reminder about all of those 9 who will be leaving. They include Elders Bendixsen, Bindrup, Illarionov, Jessee, Kravchenko, Luddington, and Young. They also include Sisters Kiselyove and Woodhouse. They will each depart this "life" with much different feelings. For some, this will have been a sacrifice and a separation from all they hold dear. For some, they will leave behind almost all they hold dear because they will go home to people who may not value what they have done the last one and a half or two years.

I am sure that you will be part of the welcome home for Elder Bindrup as will other "Nikkis" for these and other American Elders and Sisters coming home every transfer. Knowing Sister Woodhouse and hearing the stories about her family, I can just hear the squeals and laughter as they greet her at the airport. That will be the day parents pray for and siblings anticipate, but I cannot help remembering that the other sister will go "home" to a new city where she will have to find an apartment and a job because she is not welcome back into her own home in her own home town.

I wish, and I hope, that there will be someone who will welcome these eastern European missionaries. I pray that someone will love them and appreciate them, but most of all, I hope, I pray, that they can stay strong in the Gospel the rest of their lives. Their best hope and our best service to them will be to bring more of God's children into the community of saints to love and support each other and help to keep the world away.

Nikki, I do not want to throw cold water on your anticipation after "two whole years". This home-coming will be a triumph and a championship few others in the world will ever experience. The feelings of love and joy are well deserved and part of the result of a job well done. I just am reminding myself that those of us from LDS families and LDS communities around the world that we have little sense of what these eastern European missionaries will face and endure the rest of their lives as they look back on the best two years they will have. We loose too many to the world and I cannot bear to think of my, our, missionaries losing the battle with Satan. I cannot hold back the tears even as I write this, thinking of the struggles and battles they will endure. Life is hard for the saints of Russia and all of the former Soviet countries. I hope you, and the others who read this blog, will remember them in your prayers and not leave them without at least that support.

God's speed Elder Bindrup, and God's speed to all the Elder Bindrups, but I pray for extra angels to be assigned to these native missionaries who will struggle with the world, mostly alone, the rest of their lives. God's speed and special support for you great Sisters and Elders. We love you.

What a great group. What a country

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Zone Conference and Farewell to Four 10/22/09

Zone Conference and Farewell to Four 10/22/09
Snowing, finally
Temp .08C (32F) Wind gale-force at times, currently 10-15 mph

Today was the Novosibirsk Zone Conference at the Zolani Kupola building from 9AM to 3PM. It included several talks by President and Sister Trejo, several workshops by the Assistants to the President on teaching techniques, lunch, and testimonies.

President Trejo's spiritual message was to the point that we, as missionaries, are the only thing that can stand in the way of our achieving the mission's goal of 144 baptisms this year. We currently stand at 80 and have two months to go. He gave scriptures to support the fact that God the Father is a God of miracles, but He can only bless us according to the level of faith we have. I translated that into, "We are the gate or the stumbling block to the miracles of God." I want to be the gate.

During the lunch time I interviewed Elder Luddington about a miracle that he and Elder Potter experienced earlier in the week. This story is no less a miracle than the one in the Church's "How Rare a Possession" DVD including the story of a catholic priest who discovers a copy of the Book of Mormon, minus the cover and introduction pages, and uses it in his teachings until he finally meets the missionaries and joins the church.

Well, Victor traded a can of beer for this book (The Book of Mormon) in 1999. After reading the book and believing what he read, he tried to find someone associated with the Church but never located anyone. Living in a village about 25 minutes east of Snigiri (a large village about 30 minutes from the center of Novosibirsk) he came into town only occasionally to work and returned home to the village. Earlier he had given up atheism and joined the Orthodox Church, but later joined the Baptists for the fellowship.

The Elders found him quite by accident. They had decided to "contact" in a new area that they don't usually go into and found Victor walking along the street. When they approached him with something about Jesus Christ and the fact that there is a church today with prophets and apostles he was interested. When they mentioned the Book of Mormon, he said that he felt that God had answered his prayers. At their first formal meeting, Victor knew everything they taught him was true because it was in the Book. They expect him to be baptized soon.

After lunch we celebrated the month's birthdays. In this case, it was ours. They sang to us and we got to choose a candy bar of our choice. I almost chose Skittles, but that's Elder Rainsdon's favorite breakfast so I chose a Snickers while Sister Cindy took a chocolate bar with raspberry filling.

Another great part of the Conference is the goodbye song to the departing missionaries this transfer (November 11th). As we sang "God Be With You Til We Meet Again", it was a cascade of very mixed feelings we all experienced. These include sadness at losing them; compassion for what they will face in their decompression back into civilian life; realization that we must press on without their influence, experience, skills, and contacts; and just saying goodbye to friends we love. Elder Young, Elder Luddington, Sister Woodhouse, and Sister Kesilyova will be missed. Each has a story and each is a treasure. Parting truly is a sweet sorrow for everyone.

What a group of great missionaries. What a country.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Death of Elder Gardner 9/29/09

The Death of Elder Gardner 

I must immediately explain that Elder Gardner did not actually die as you and I think of death. It is a mission expression, a way of talking about coming into the mission, your life here, and then your leaving; your death in the mission. When you enter the mission you are born, your first senior companion is your father, those in the district are your cousins, when you are released you die.

Elder Garner is one of those people that is easy to like and hard to forget. He has a highly developed sense of self-worth that is, for the most part, well founded. He can walk into a room of strangers and make a dozen friends and a couple of enemies before he leaves.

He spent a lot of time in Tomsk with the Bowdens and we saw him often in Zone Conferences and finally he was one of our Zone Leaders for several transfers. He came to our home often for dinner and here is wondering if Elder Petersen was going to plant his dessert on his Zone Leader's talkative face.

When he began to think about going home, he talked about playing some kind of joke on his parents, like coming a day early and just walking into the house like he'd been there every day for the last two years. He thought up numerous schemes to get one up on them, but never seemed to make them happen. His mother wrote to us to thank us for feeding her son and she remarked that he never talked about the time he'd come home and was never "trunky". I believe that. He was a driving missionary right to the last day.

When he came into the office to give up his ATM card and get checked out of the mission office, I took some pictures of his shoes and suit which he wore to make a point to his family. This pair of shoes attests to the time he spent on his feet in the streets of the Novosibirsk Mission. His suit shows the wear that all of us who wear them share. The sand and ice just eat the hems of the pant legs and you start looking pretty ragged after a short time during the winter.

The other part that shows a lot of wear in the arm-holes and inside pockets of the suit coat where missionaries store their planners, English Club invitation cards, tri-fold literature of various kinds, pens, passports, and anything else they don't want to carry in their hands or book bags. He said that he was going to have the shoes bronzed and the suit put in a shadow box for display. That remains to be seen.

Finally, here he is with Sister Nichuniyeva who was being transferred to Omsk on the same day. There is more than one way to leave a district and she is leaving by transfer while he is dying. We expect to see her again before she dies as well. She spent two transfers with us and we love her.
We wish them both well in their new lives; she in Omsk and he in Utah somewhere.

The flight home was with the Bowdens and this seems to be "the rest of the story". When they landed in New York, they had to go through customs, recheck their bags and make it to their domestic departure gate in record time. As I might have expected, Elder Gardner, being in a bit of a hurry, did not show something required at the new security gate and was delayed, or more correctly, delayed all three of them so that they had to make a dash for the departure gate some distance away.

The story is told by the Bowdens that as they were literally running down the corridor to their gate, rounding a corner, they ran into his parents who were the ones who played the trick in this case by meeting him in the New York airport and flying home with him to Utah. It seems that must have been a fun and noisy ride.

We will miss Elder Gardner as we will miss all of those missionaries who will return home. We wish him, and them all, God's speed and happy lives as they are born again in the world they left behind.

What a missionary. What a country.

Olya Gets it 10/13/09

Olya Gets it 10/13/09
Weather 38 F at 7 PM
Clear with passing clouds 
Wind 3-5 mph
On Saturday and Sunday the branches watched a DVD recording of the 8 hours of the 179th Semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually held the previous weekend in Salt Lake City. Sister Cindy and I also watched it in English while the members went to their regular meeting places to watch it in Russian.

The Young Adult Fireside meeting was held at our home Sunday night and I was the presenter of what they call the Spiritual Thought, or lesson, for the meeting. After watching all but the Sunday afternoon session, I thought it would be good to review some of the talks and reemphasize what I thought were two themes of the conference; Love and the Holy Ghost.

I began by asking the young folks what they liked best about the talks and which were their favorites. There were a lot of ideas and more responses than I expected. I then asked what two ideas seemed to be the theme of the conference and we all agreed on Love and the Holy Ghost as I had expected.

I took that as my topic for the evening and went as far into how the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost are different and how each works as I could do in half an hour. I explained that everyone born into this world received the Spirit of Christ, which was the influence and power of God flowing through Jesus Christ to us. This is that force that draws us to God. In contrast, the Holy Ghost is a person, not just a force, who carries God’s messages to us as we pray for guidance.

I saw that one young lady was particularly interested in the topic and was hanging on every word; Olya. She has only recently started coming back to church after a period of wandering, and is also in the choir group we are rehearsing each Wednesday night to sing at District Conference next weekend. 

After the meeting, during the refreshments, she came over to me and said excitedly that she finally understood how the Holy Ghost works and that explains what happened to her today.
It seems that instead of going in with the others to watch conference, she stayed downstairs and played the piano. She had been wishing that she had a piano and had even prayed about it, but nothing happened. Suddenly she had the thought that Natalia Gushchina had a piano and would give it to her. Embarrassed by the thought of coveting Natalia’s piano, she was a little startled when another young lady came into the room and asked her what she was doing here instead of watching Conference. She said that she was practicing the piano because she didn’t have access to one except at church and she was just wishing she had one. The girl said that Natalia Gushchina had one that she wanted to get rid of because her daughter Dasha was gone now and the piano was not being used . . . and the lightening flashed.

After my lesson, Olya realized that the impression about the piano was a message from God though the Holy Ghost and that it was a miracle for her. She was so excited to have this flash of understanding. Whether she ends up with the piano or not, she had a complete “aha” moment and got it. The Holy Ghost is a messenger, a comforter, a confirmer of truth, a guide, and she was the recipient of a personal message from God, confirmed by a friend, and now explained by my lesson.

Isn’t God wonderful? He knows us so perfectly and personally. What’s more, he cares perfectly and personally as well. What a wonderful, thrilling experience to be a part of that, to choose a topic that would perfectly nail-down a lesson that God had just taught this young lady who is not sure whether she really believes. What a personal witness to a little no-one in Siberia from the creator of the universe that He loves her and knows her deepest wants, which proves that we are all someone in God’s eyes. We are his children and he is our Father. What a powerful example of that eternal truth, God loves you because you are his child; believe it.

What a God. What a country.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cindy's Birthday in Russia 10/6/09

Cindy's Birthday in Russia 10/6/09

Getting colder--36F at 9 AM High 55F low tonight 28F
Wind gusting to 8 MPH
Scattered clouds and partly sunny

Today is Sister Cindy's birthday.
Trisha, Chris and the girls called this morning to sing to her and wish her a happy birthday. We attended Zone Leaders' Council where they spontaneously greeted her with "Happy Birthday". After ZLC we stopped by the office to pick up some things and found 3 roses on Sister Cindy's desk, candy, and a card. The office staff; Olga, Yulia, and Pyotr; Elders Kolpakov & Young, and the Assistants all sang a slightly international version of "Happy Birthday" and wished her a sincere wish for a happy birthday. At home we fed some of the Zone Leaders who were waiting for their buses or trains to go home to their cities and Elder Bendixsen brought her flowers in the name of the group of ZL's still in the city.

Tonight after the dust had settled, Sanya Drachyov, the CES Director in our mission, called and sang "Happy Birthday" in his best, if slightly stretched, English. Sasha and Lenna Ozherelev called by conference call from different cities, he's in Omsk and she's in Novosibirsk, to also sing "Happy Birthday" in English, which was quite a feat for them. Later the Elders from Snigeri and the sisters called and did the same.

By 10:00 we had heard from just about everyone we know wishing Sister Cindy a very Happy Birthday. Together with the e-cards and wishes from our friends at home, she is getting it from all sides. Here she is accepting one of those greetings in the shadow of the rather ponderous flower arrangement from Elder Bendixsen while checking her list of things to do tomorrow.

So what do you think? Is she loved here; yep, you bet! This is the girl who still does not know why she is here and what she is supposed to do here. So what do you think? Is she missing something here? Yep, I think she is not seeing that she IS doing what she is here for. No, it is not some grand event, some great effort, some stupendously difficult feat that would call for her to crawl across some trackless waste. She is here to listen to the Holy Ghost, act on the promptings, and show God's love to the people within her sphere of influence here in Siberia as well as at home.

So what's new? She has been doing this all of my life with her and I suppose before I even met her. Sister Cindy is everyone's mom, everyone's sister, everyone's friend, and it's not an act; this is who she is. Without the language to fully express it, she goes around showing love to everyone, whether to our friends like Olga or to a stranger like this flower lady in Riga, she is radiating God's love on everyone she meets. Is that missionary work? Is that God's work? You bet it is. Even to new friends around the world like this group of missionaries we went around Kiev with one evening; everyone is her friend because she is everyone's friend.

This is even shown brightly on the 19th anniversary of our first trip to Russia in 1990 as a result of her listening to the Holy Ghost about going to the USSR to spread the Gospel even before we knew it was legal to do so. As she wrote in her journal that October 6th, 1990, paraphrased, "Here I am sitting in this little plane on my birthday going to Russia and I still don't know why." Well, we all know that it was for the same reason she does everything, to show God's love to His kids.

Well, here it is Sister Cindy, my honorarium to you, my Ebenezer to honor you on your 67th birthday. No, you aren't perfect and, yes, we lock horns occasionally, but I am one of your greatest admirers and hopefully your best friend. I love you for who you are, for what you do, and most of all, what I am when I'm with you. I thank God for our life together, I look forward to serving Him with you on other missions to places and people who need you, and I count it a great honor to have the prospect of eternity with you. I love you.

What a girl. What a country.