Sunday, November 29, 2009

Makhail's Baptism Letters 11/28/09

Makhail's Baptism Letters 11/28/09
Temp 29 F Wind calm

Our granddaughter Makhail just turned 8 and will be baptized next week. Her mom, our daughter Trisha, asked us to write something about our feelings and testimony about baptism so I wrote this little story to illustrate what I think baptism is and why it is important.

Dear Makhail,
I am so pleased that you are going to be baptized soon. It is such an important thing for you to do. You know, I think of baptism as the gate to a big castle where the king lives and where we each want to live with the king forever.  When we are baptized we go through the big gate because this is the only way into the castle and his kingdom. By doing this we become part of the king’s people where we can live free from the bad things that we have done and we can change each day to become better and better by repenting of the bad things and doing more good things.

With your baptism you become a part of the kingdom of God and you can be happy all of your life by doing all the good that you can do. The king also has a special assistant who will help you to do the right things. After the elders of the kingdom give him to you, he will be with you always to tell you the truth, to help you feel better when you are sad, and to help you to be the best you can be.

Grandma and I are part of that kingdom too and so are your mom, dad, sister and most of the good people you know. I know that being part of that kingdom is very important and I know that God wants the best for all the people and welcomes them into his castle, but they must come in through the gate. We are proud of you and love you very much.
Grampa Doug

Grandma Cindy wrote the following

December 5, 2009
I’m so happy that you have chosen to be baptized and strengthen your place on the Lord’s team. Baptism is a very special ordinance that opens the doorway to eternal life with your Heavenly Father. He loves you so much and wants you to come back and live with Him again someday when you have finished your work here on the earth.  Through your baptism and confirmation, you will be ready to be a new member of the Lord’s church. What a blessing! You have learned about our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation and about His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, at home from your family, and at church from your primary lessons and leaders. You have been a good student and Heavenly Father and Jesus are so pleased with your choice to join their church and continue to be such a good example.

There is another very important member of the Godhead that is, also, very happy with your decision. It’s the Holy Ghost.  You won’t be able to see Him, but you will feel His presence and influence around you. His special job is to ALWAYS tell you the TRUTH. Most of the time you will just feel what’s right and what’s wrong. You will know what you should do in your life if you pray and ask for guidance and direction. No matter what, you will always know the truth if you are righteous and listen to the Holy Ghost. He will always lead you correctly. He is a very special friend that you can always count on.

I want you to know that I have a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I know that these things are true. Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost know you and love you. And so do I.

Love from Novosibirsk,
Grandma Simmons/Gram/Grammy/Me/Grandma Cindy

Saturday, November 28, 2009

9 More Dogs 11/25/09

9 More  Dogs   11/25/09
Weather -- Snow, sun, total overcast, sun, overcast
Temp 12 F (-11 C) Wind Calm

About 2 weeks ago we noticed a blond dog that was obviously nursing puppies. She was heavy in the utter and was seen only occasionally during the morning. From the vantage of our 9th floor apartment window I noticed her going into the building across the street that has been under construction since before the 18 months that we have been here.

About a week ago I saw her litter, all 9 of them. A local babushka was inside the construction site in front of the door the mother (right above) normally used and in front of her were these 9 puppies; 7 black and two gray. That was a reminder of the genetics chart I saw in school that predicted how many black mice and how many white ones would result from a white and black mouse union.
I have watched the more frequent venturing out of those puppies as the babushka started feeding them at the gate rather than going inside the construction site. Each morning, about 8:00, the nine come out of the building and start looking around for the babka who they expect will show up. Most mornings she does, but one morning she didn't. The pups stood around on their side of the gate and waited a long time. Finally, they wandered off by ones and twos until they'd all gone back inside. The next day she showed up again and as soon as she got to the gate, all nine came running out to meet her. I don't know if she called them or they were watching from the shadows inside the building they call home.

I have thought a lot about those puppies and recalled a story about the bears in some park (don't remember the location) that starved to death, standing on the park roads during the winter, waiting for the tourists to feed them. They had forgotten to store up for the winter because food was so easily obtained. With the tourists gone and without their foraging skills, they died.

How do 9 puppies reach maturity in the winter? When they are weaned, how do they survive without the babka bringing table scraps to them? What is the humane thing in this case? Do I buy dog food and take my turn feeding them? Do I wait to see the little black bodies lying in the snow one by one? Can the mother scavenge enough for herself and the nine all winter? Will they learn to find food for themselves, and if some of them, or all of them, survive the winter, will I enjoy 15 homeless dogs (this nine and the other 6, two of which made them) roaming my neighborhood? Where is the humanity? Where is the compassion for these puppies? What is the right course?

We all love kittens, and puppies, and babies of almost all animals. Is it their innocence? Is it their cute features and softness? Is it a reminder of life, and renewing, and creation? I'm not sure, but I do know that puppies grow up to be dogs and wild dogs, or any untrained dog, are at least a nuisance and in many cases a threat to humans.

I would have paid someone to get rid of the 24 dogs in the neighborhood last fall and winter. Their barking, howling, and pack activity were irritating and at times threatening and I would be rid of them if I could, and apparently someone DID get rid of them because we were down to these five by mid summer. Walking by that pack of 24 dogs lying on the Neighborhood Administration office lawn was reminiscent of the main characters in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, "The Birds" walking past the thousands of birds on the telephone wires and standing on the ground as they tried to get to the safety of their home before the birds attacked again.

Well, anyway, the puppies are cute and their behaviors are interesting and fun to watch, but I can't help being glad that I will not be listening to them this summer.

What a country

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful 11/23/09

Thankful 11/23/09
Weather -- heavy overcast after yesterday's all-day snow
Temp 20 F Wind 3-5 mph

At this time of year, thoughtful Americans reflect on what things they are thankful for and generally about life and the meaning of things. I am no exception.

First, I am grateful to be allowed to serve God in Siberia. I never thought about Siberia as a place to be or to be grateful to be there; but I am. Mostly I am just grateful to be allowed to serve Heavenly Father anywhere. I have felt that way in each of the callings I have had from Scoutmaster to Bishop and back. Serving God is putting Him and your brothers and sisters ahead of yourself and as King Benjamin said, "When you are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God."

Who else would I want to serve? If I focus on serving myself, it ends there. When you serve God it is a message of your love for Him, it benefits others, and God blesses you for your service. Now that's getting good mileage out of what you do. Besides, I cannot pay Heavenly Father back for all that He has given me, both in my life here and before I came to the earth. No matter what I do to serve Him, I am always n His debt, but at least I can try to repay Him in my small way.

Second, I am grateful to be here with Sister Cindy. She is a great missionary; more than I imagined she would be. She has always been into "service" and she is the mother of the world, but her missionary service here goes beyond that. She truly wants the investigators who come to our home to feel the influence of the Light of Christ in our home and to have a witness that the Gospel is true, even though they know so little about it.

Third, I am grateful for my family. Each of them fills a place in my heart that would be empty if not for them. Each is unique, each is working out their own story, each is struggling with the same issues I struggled with (and sometimes still do), and each of them is precious to me.  I love to hear about their victories and even their defeats because they are alive and fighting for their own place in history. God must feel much the same way about his children; enjoying their victories and mourning their defeats.
Fourth, I am grateful for the people I have met here; the missionaries, the members, the neighbors, the strangers on the street. I have reflected a lot this past month on how I was taught to be afraid of the "mean, atheistic, aggressive Russians" who want to take over the world.  Now I see the ones I know as very much like myself; just wanting to be left alone to enjoy whatever gives them pleasure and to be free from fear. Governments and extremists of all stripes will make policies and take actions that make enemies and we must always be ready to defend ourselves, our friends, and our liberties, but the common people that I meet aren't interested in taking what I have and just want to get along.

Finally, I am grateful for my country. With all of its problems, with all of its conflicts within and without, I will be grateful to go home to the liberties and justice I have come to more fully appreciate. In spite of its flaws, people from all over the world are doing unspeakable things, suffering untold hardships and dangers, and paying an enormous price to get into the US of A. It is still the best place on earth to live. I only hope that the right-minded of us can find the energy and courage to reinstate moral values into ourselves and our government leaders or find some others who have them and throw the rascals out. When we as a people give up our duty to control our government in exchange for free bread, we will go the way of Rome and every other great world power.We cannot permit this.

I am looking forward to coming home to join in that struggle to take back my country, starting with my community and my state. Patriotism and service are not dead in America. They are just taking a nap. Well, Satan and his henchmen will soon wake up one morning in April and say, "Oh damn. They're back".

What a country

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Goodbye Serge 11/8/09

Goodbye Serge 11/8/09
Weather -2 F
Clear and cold Wind 7-10 mph

Serge was the first baptism we attended after coming to Novosibirsk in June of 2008. He is a friend of Mesha Nikolaichev, son of Pyotr Nikolaichev, our office travel clerk and the president of the Novosibirsk District.
From the beginning, Serge was someone special. He is a tender spirit with a great capacity to believe. He accepted the Gospel without reservation and has immersed himself in the culture of the Church here and has risen to leadership in the Young Adults and the Second Branch presidency as a counselor to President Gushchin.

Serge was liable for military service and this was a great challenge for him. In Russia, all young men from 18 to 29 must serve one year in the military.Many young men pay for documents that would exempt them from service and Serge was offered such a document in order to continue working for his current employer and later to serve a mission for the Church. He told us that he thought it was impossible for him to tell others to repent and know that he had lied to get there.

What a sense of integrity. This is one of the most honest, sincere, genuine people I have ever met. I am sure that he was that way before he was baptized, but his life since then has been an example to everyone as to who we should all be. He is someone very special and some day he will be an amazing missionary, branch president and more. I am blessed to have known him and only wish that I could be here when he returns from the military to enter into the missionary service. God's speed Serge, and may God bless you.

What a fine young man. What a country

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't Even Think About It 11/6/09

Don't Even Think About It 11/6/09
Clear and sunny
Temp -7F Wind 7-10 mph

With more road behind us than is before us, I have made a decision not to think about it. That's right, I will not think about it for one second. Actually, I think that I did think about it for a second, and then I caught myself and immediately stopped thinking about it. I have so not thought about it that I have forgotten what it was I was not going to think about.

What was that? I had it a minute ago, but I lost it. That's maddening. You walk into a room to do something and suddenly you have not only forgotten what you were going to do, but you wonder why you are here in the first place. What was it? Oh . . . darn I almost had it. It was something about ripe tomatoes, Basel, pea pods, and green beans. What did dirt have to do with it? Dirt . . . ripe tomatoes . . . fresh Basel . . . grass . . . lots of green grass . . . and water . . . the sound of splashing water . . . a cool shady pool of water . . . the sound of splashing water as I did something with a ripe tomato . . . a salt shaker . . . what's that got to do with it? Water? Tomato? Salt shaker? Basel, peas, green beans, berries, peaches, lemons, Oh!

I remember now. It's home. It is sitting on my deck, eating a ripe tomato from my garden, lightly salted, with a few Basel leaves that I just plucked off a plant, some mayo, yeah, and . . . oh darn . . . it's home . . . and I had decided to not think of home during this whole Siberian winter. Well, I guess I will just have to start again; not thinking of it. It? What was it? Oh darn, I lost it again.

What a memory (or lack there of). What a country.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ode to Margaret 11/5/09

Ode to Margaret 11/5/09

Margaret Richins, the mother of our close friend, Belva Wilberg, right, died Wednesday in her Sisters Oregon home at the age of 95. We had spoken to Belva and Carl a week ago, just before we left on our visa-renewal trip Saturday. Belva was hopeful that she would get to see her mom in July when she and Carl would return from their mission to Denmark.

What do you do? Do you stay home because your grand- daughter will be getting baptized, or your husband's gallbladder keeps acting up, or your unmarried daughter and her boyfriend seem close to setting a date, or because your 94, soon to be 95, year old mother is getting more frail each month?

I can't answer for others, but for us, no, we don't stay home and neither did Belva. There seems to always be something that will delay our doing what we ought to do doesn't there. Well, that's what priorities are for and I can't set them for anyone else, but the phrase, "If you love them, leave them." Rings in my ears.

Yes, we are missing our granddaughters' birthdays and baptisms; and our daughter's move to Washington D.C.; and our son's daily challenge with stupid people; our other son's new baby; and our daughter's struggle to nurse a surgery-patient husband, a sick daughter, and mentor a newly teenage older daughter, all while keeping up with us. Yep, we are missing all of that and more, but we are where we should be serving God and the people of our mission. Belva and Carl are showing exceptional courage by serving under the critical eye and vocally critical comments of her siblings. YOU GO GIRL!

The following is an email that Belva sent to us which she has allowed me to publish here. She has demonstrated extraordinary courage in doing the right thing in the face of ignorant critics who would have her in Sisters, holding her mother's hand for the last year. There is no sign that Margaret wanted that and there is no indication that it would have helped her live a day longer. Surrounded by a Ward Family in Sisters, a devoted Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher, and long talks on the phone with Belva, she had everything she needed or probably wanted at the time. Margaret has graduated and Belva has passed a critical test, choosing to serve God as well as her mother in these last months of her tour on this earth.

"Just a note that after 95 strong years, my mother passed away in her home on the evening of Nov 4, 2009. I have enjoyed talking to her every few days here from Denmark for as long as we wanted to talk about her busy life and about our mission. It has been a wonderful opportunity to share with her all my discouragements and happy times. Things that you only want to share with your mother. Life is way too short even after 95 years. She will be so missed. All of our children, and Stephanie with her family will fly or drive to Sisters, Oregon for our final good byes. Mother's only living sister, I think that she is about 90..was with her when she died. I was hoping that she would wait until our return home in July.. before she would leave us, but Heavenly Father invited her home this month instead. We hope to fly to Sisters, Oregon as soon as possible and will be there for ten days or so. Then back to Denmark. Life is bitter and sweet. Love you all and wish we could be together to share our lives once again. Keep us in your prayers. Love, Belva"

We love you Belva and we know that your mother, right, loves you and will be closer to you now, with her new-found freedom. Go take care of business and we'll see you on SKYPE when you return.

What a family