Friday, July 31, 2009

Quit whining, Suck it up, & Go Do Your Job 7/31/09

Quit whining, Suck it up, & Go Do Your Job 

Friday July 31, 2009 written that night 5 minutes after coming in the door.

Sometimes it just seems like too much. Working within Russian culture with an American mind set makes Elder Simmons crazy. As Sister Guschen said, they wake up in the morning and expect to have a problem (many self-imposed) that they cannot fix and will have to live with. I wake up and wonder what someone is going to do that will make my day exciting.

This one today was something like the perfect storm; a series of missteps, misstatements, and missed opportunities. There is a YSA Conference in Yekaterinburg starting August 6th for which our mission only had to figure out how to get people to it. My job was ONLY to receive the entry fee and account for it. Finally 3 weeks ago the attendee list was completed and sent to me by the "20-something" young man that was in charge for our mission's effort to do so (he lives in Krasnoyarsk). I was only to give this list to the travel person in our office to buy the train tickets. He complained about the list being late and those tickets might not be available and then waited another week to start buying them.

August 2, 2009

I had to quit writing Friday night because I had to help prepare the table for dinner. The Zone Leaders were bringing an investigator to dinner and a discussion and we were late getting home because of the foul-ups that came to light all during the day.

This is Sunday and I had some extra time and thought I would finish the posting. I sat down at the computer and received another of God's "Tender Mercies" (little blessings); I cannot remember what was so upsetting Friday. I know the general subject, but I cannot write about the details. My mind is a total fog.

It is a miracle for which I am grateful every day. These frustrations caused by the culture clash seem so unnecessary and wasteful at the time that I can barely contain the negative energy they spawn, and yet the next day I am there doing my job as if yesterday didn't happen. It truly is a miracle.

OK, here is the one for today. I just got a phone call from the Zone Leader in a city 40 hours away from here telling me that he has a YSA Conference attendee from Novosibirsk who is visiting her family in that city and wants to know where her train ticket is. She says that a young adult who is in charge of the tickets in Novo said that she could have such an arrangement because she told me what was needed and I agreed to make it happen.

First of all, this young lady in Novo (name withheld) never mentioned it to me, mostly because she doesn't speak enough English to say that to me. She can hardly get out hello and good-bye, let alone explain what this traveling girl wanted and get my approval. Besides that, I am not the one that gives approval for anything on this Conference. I JUST COLLECT THE MONEY. Are you people listening? I AM NOT A DECISION MAKER HERE. I have assiduously referred all questions about tickets to our travel clerk employee who bought them. The fog has lifted for the moment, and I am back to the culture clash, feeling that anger and frustration again.

An hour has passed.

I just had an hour's venting with Sister Cindy about what makes me crazy here and the miracle is back. It is a fog in my mind that prevents me from recalling and mulling over the details of those things that make me absolutely . . . I'm not sure that there is a word for it.

I am angry that things are happening that should not occur, frustrated that I have not been able to correct or prevent them, personally hurt that I have not been able to do a better job in preventing these situations or handle them better, and ashamed at my own weakness in getting angry in the first place. Is there one word for that?

Anyway, the fog's back and I welcome it. It is a protection from all of the things that would cause me to violate the prime directive here which is, "Keep the Church in Russia and do what ever is necessary to keep the missionaries here to find those people who would accept the Gospel if they heard it."

I am ready to get to the office again on Monday and do what I can and what I am allowed to do. God has blessed me with a low tolerance for my own errors and I am praying every minute of every day for him to bless me with a high tolerance of the endemic inaccuracies and fallacies of the world I live in here.

What a job. What a country.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Patriot's Lament 7/28/09

Just a few rambling thoughts.

As I experience things here I have come to more fully understand why the men who drafted the American Constitution insisted on fragmenting the center of power. As has been said many times by many people, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." As I often do, I researched the quote and found what might be the origin of this thought from Lord Action:
"This arose as a quotation by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902). The historian and moralist, who was otherwise known simply as Lord Acton, expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

The Doctrine and Covenants section 121:39 says it this way, "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

God counseled the children of Israel not to have a king. Nephi counseled the people not to have a king. The founding fathers in America agreed not only to not have a king, but hobbled the executive of their new government model to the extent that he could do very little without the consent of congress and vice versa. Why?

Precisely because they had experienced the tyranny that almost always accompanies monarchy or any other government where power is concentrated in one place. They feared power, they distrusted power, and they knew the world's history related to power. Normal men, natural man, cannot wield absolute power unless they are governed by a higher, more absolute power. The only exception to that axiom is when the absolute monarch is a perfect person; God.

As a perfected man, God cannot misuse his power or He will cease to be God. Isn't it silly to even imagine that a being who can create anything, have anything, be anything would want more of something? That is why Satan became the devil. He still wants more of something. On the other hand, Jesus is the perfect servant of the Father, wanting only what the Father wants and desiring nothing for himself.

That is the key to America's former, and still potential, greatness. Normal men, men of means it is true, but normal men took on a period of public service and then returned to their farms and businesses to continue to be normal men. Undeniably some sought for power, but the majority sought only what the country wanted, or what they thought was best for the country; the public good. It was a SERVICE, not a career, not a vocation, not a personal fiefdom. It was a sacrifice and they made that sacrifice for the public good. At every level of public service there are people doing just that, serving, with no expectation of gaining anything personally from it.

In the whole world, you will not find a more generous, giving people than the American public. They give their money and their sons and daughters for a cause they believe in without regret and without expecting something in return. It is called duty, loyalty, honor, and it is a part of the American heritage; the American soul.

That is what is so troubling about watching the blatant abuse of power. Every country with a long history of monarchy or some other centralized point of power will struggle unsuccessfully to fragment that power base to protect themselves from tyranny. Those people have no model for the righteous use of power. In their history, power was, and still is, an opportunity to gather all you can before the next revolution, or assassination, or invasion. Power was and still is a door to personal wealth and more power. Everyone expected that the leader would do just that. It came with the territory. There was no shame in it because it was part of the job, and everyone down the food chain acted just that same way with whatever little power he/she had.

Only in America, with our history of divided power, is there hope of freedom from tyranny, but when we give one branch, one party, one man too much power we will suffer like every other country. The difference is that WE KNOW THE DIFFERENCE! We know what happens when one entity gains too much power and it will be tyranny; the tyranny of the poor, the tyranny of the protected classes, the tyranny of the intellectuals, the tyranny of the media, the tyranny of the godless, even the tyranny of the religious. That is why there is no state church in America. It is to prevent just such tyranny, but it has nothing to do with God himself, it has to do with power.

I am angry, I am hurt, and I am deeply saddened about what has happened to my country while we have been in Russia. It didn't start in 2008, but it has come into full bloom. At first I thought that this new president was just an empty suit, but now I'm not so sure. If this is all his personal plan, he should be put out of office. If he is just a front for someone or something else, there is someone behind the curtain pulling the strings and we need to know who that is. We are in a well-orchestrated process of demolishing the America in which I grew up and the America that led the world in righteousness. In either case, you should all be burying your political leaders in protest letters. Don't let them do this to you; please, don't let them do this. You will not be happy living in what Cindy and I are living in and that's where you-we are headed. This is not utopia.

God bless you and God bless America

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pioneer Day Picnic 7/18/09

Pioneer Day Picnic
Clear after rain the night before
Wind calm

Last week Sasha Ozerelev asked us what kind of food the pioneers would eat. I suggested and described Jonnie Cakes and he thought that would be better than buffalo so he settled on that. Later in the week, not finding anyone to make 200 Johnnie Cakes, he asked Sister Cindy to make SOMETHING, anything because he was getting desperate. She agreed to make corn bread and made four cookie sheets of it, cut into 2 inch squares.

He also asked me what kind of drink they would have. After turning down putrid water and sour milk, he settled on my home made root beer. I made 6 liters Monday and they were finally ready that Saturday.

Sasha was the member of the district presidency in charge of the event and we wanted to help him out so we agreed to make our stuff and come to the event; something we had not really planned to do since no one seemed to know exactly where it was. We kept getting, "Over by Ikea" and "It's not too long a walk from the bus stop." To these people, not too long is about 5 miles.

We got President Yuri Gushchin to take us in his van since we had "sooo much stuff to carry" and we didn't know where it was anyway. With the transportation settled and the food assignments clear, we were committed.

Saturday morning around 9:15 he picked us up, then the Trejo's and we headed to the left bank and the picnic area. This was supposed to be a park. You know, grass, trees, tables, benches, a duck pond; you know, a park. Well, not all parks are created equal and this one was at the lower end of developed. That development consisted of a half mile walk along a jeep road to a clearing with waist-high weeks and two soccer goal frames set in the middle of the absolute wilderness. To make it even more authentic, there were thousands, no millions, of little flying bugs and about half that many mosquitos looking for a meal. I wore my suit and was pretty well covered up, but Cindy and the Trejos were the main target.

We arrived at 10:00, just at the time the event was to start and of course we were the only ones there for about 40 minutes. When the people started to come, we got debugged by the locals. The Russians have a traditional, homemade mosquito repellent made up of powdered vanilla mixed with water and sprayed with a trigger sprayer. Here Sister Cindy gets her "treatment" from Sister Gushchina who took some pleasure in spraying her.

The Trejos were good sports and tried to look like they were having a great time in spite of the bugs. They are kind, and caring people and will soon win the hearts of the people here.
Each branch gave some kind of play or reading about the
American pioneers. Two were very good with costumes and a nice story. The second branch skit involved the writing of "Come, Come Ye Saints" by William Clayton and was both accurate and well played out. As I was asked to tell a story at the last of the skits, I chose to tell the one about the Indians who, some years later, told Brigham Young that this song saved the lives of some Mormon travelers one night because the Indians could not attack them due to the influence of that song.

Here they are singing all four verses as they pretended to be the first group to sing the song. Elder Tanner and Elder Luddington are under the blanket.

Here, I am telling my story with Ivon Shmakov as my translator while I used the area we were in to describe the setting. I took advantage of the clearing as being similar to the place where the immigrants were camped and the surrounding trees as where the Indians were hiding, ready to shoot their arrows at the chief's signal that never came. As the chief said, "As we heard the singing of that song, our hands turned to stone and we could not give the signal nor release our arrows. The Great Spirit was in that song and we could not kill people who were friends of the Great Spirit."

Later they played pioneer games and ate the "pioneer" food consisting mostly of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, some breads, Cindy's corn bread, and my root beer. At left, Sister Cindy is setting out her bread and honey-butter.

At left, Elders Gardner and Luddington get read to square off in the stick pull. They were a pretty even match until Elder Luddington lost his grip. They also had the standing broad jump and other games of the period. In spite of the bugs and the wet conditions, everyone had a good time.

If it were not for the bugs, this would have been an ideal spot with the open meadow, the fragrant grass, and the clusters of wild flowers; daisies, bachelor buttons, irus, asters, and lilies. Someone gave me a bug chaser, a branch from a willow, and that made it bearable. Cindy got many bites while I had only two, due to my suit, the vanilla spray, and the bug chaser.

What a picnic. What a country.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Mean Metro Man 6/20/09

The Mean Metro Man 

70F and fair--been having thunder storms in the PM but not today
wind calm
High broken clouds

Well, we finally hit a milestone of sorts; being openly threatened by someone. A threat through a translator looses much of its punch, but afterward I felt the full impact of it and it made me mad.

This actually happened over a month ago and I finally decided to write about it. It happened around 9 or so at night as we headed home from the branch building at Zoloni Cupola where the Novosibirsk first and second branches meet. We were returning from a training seminar put on by a senior elder from Moscow who was touring the three Districts in our mission, training auditors in preparation for the August semi-annual branch and district audits. We were traveling with him and his wife, Cindy and I, and the two office elders.

As we got on the Metro in the middle of the first car, I glanced around at the people already in the car and noticed a large, mustached man in his early 40's at the front end of the car staring at us. I'm used to this my now because commonly people are trying to read our name tags and are just curious, but this guy was more than just curious.

I made a point of avoiding eye contact, much the same way as you do with a stray dog, and just conversed with the other couple that was with us. Elder Lynch was next to me, Elder Petersen was on the other side of our companions, and the four senior missionaries where standing in the middle of the car, holding on to the rails. As we proceeded to the first of three stops before ours, this man began to make his way toward us from the front of the car.

As we left that station he leaned towards Elder Lynch and softly mumbled something to him that made his eyes open just a little. I asked what he said and Elder Lynch said that the guy was just drunk. At that the guy whispered something else that opened Elder Lynch's eyes a little more. To my inquiry he said that the man said that we had to get off the train or there was going to be trouble. My first response was to take this guy down before he had a chance to make good on his threat, with the help of 200 lb Elder Petersen of course, but our training is to avoid any conflict and decided to ignore him for the time being.

As we lost and gained passengers at the Plosha Lenina station, the one just before ours, the man leaned forward again and whispered his threat to Elder Lynch again who by this time was getting visibly nervous. I told Elder Lynch to turn away from him and talk to me. As we made our way to the Octobraskaya Station the man continued to glare at us but didn't make a move on us. Finally the car stopped, we all left the train, and it left the station with the Mean Metro Man aboard.

As I pondered the event over the next couple of days, I decided on a different strategy if confronted in a confined space again. We are instructed to get away from any threat if possible and I know that is the right action. However, when confronted in a place you can't leave, I am considering a different strategy, but am still mulling.

First, it is obvious that the Mean Metro Man didn't want others around to hear his threat. He whispered it to Elder Lynch, all 140 lbs of him, and waited to see some reaction. We didn't react at all and that confused him; good strategy. However, I think another is equally effective. I would have the elder translate, at the top of his lungs, something like the following.

"Sir, we don't know you. We don't know why you are threatening to harm us and we think you should just go about your business and leave us alone." If that doesn't do it, we might escalate the confrontation to the following, "Ladies and gentlemen, this man is threatening to harm us. We do not know him and do not know why he hates us, but please understand, when the police drag his lifeless body off this train, we have nothing against him and wanted nothing more than to be left alone. We hope that some of you will stay around and give your statement to the police."

The reason for this dialog relates to my prior blog. People who whisper threats are powerless people who want to keep their aggression under-cover, much like the old enforcers did in years gone by. They are trying to scare and threaten in their powerlessness as a grab for some particle of power over a perceived weaker person. They don't want to be in the light. They do their work in secret, in the dark, under their breath, away from public scrutiny. The best counter to darkness is light and bringing this behavior into the public eye seems right now to be the best way to diffuse it. Maybe I'm wrong, but it is my thinking right now.

As missionaries, we must avoid conflict, even with powerless bullies, and we must even run if necessary to avoid a problem. However, when you are trapped and have no route of escape, we have to do something to disarm the offender. This will take more thought; I'm considering.

What a country

Power 7/20/09


As I was walking home the other night, I saw a car, no, I felt a car, whiz by me at high speed and then saw it come to the intersection ahead, force two pedestrians to retreat to the curb, and then pull into traffic without hesitation or deference to the cars coming in either direction. As I reflected on the oft-repeated scene, I thought about how that driver felt in his/her 2,000 pound steel cocoon as he/she careened down a side street and veered into major traffic without slowing or so much as a look in either direction, forcing pedestrians and responsible drivers to avoid him/her; feeling powerful.

Power is a core element of life in many places. Those who have it protect it at all cost. Those who don't have it seek it. Those with it benefit personally from it without conscience as a matter of right, those without it endure their condition. Whatever particle of it one possesses is used as though it was absolute. Those with some fear only those with more. Those with more power fear only losing it to those with less who are seeking more.

To the extent of my limited experience, power is evidenced in every facet of life; at work, at play, driving a car, walking on the street, riding the Metro, buying at the Renik, selling at the Renik, crossing the street, paying a bill, business deals, social interactions, school and university, getting medical treatment, crossing the boarder; it's all about power. Those with it wield it like a club and those without it duck. When someone has a bigger club, you smile and say thank you for whatever they do or say. When two have the same size club, they acknowledge one another's power, step to the right and avoid unnecessary damage.

It is like two dogs we see meeting on the street below us. They may both strike a dominant pose, but eventually one will drop its head and acknowledge the other's dominance and further conflict is unnecessary. The only time two dogs fight is when neither is willing to "roll-over" or when the dominant one leads a pack that requires it to show its power to maintain it; much the same with humans. Young powerless males with enough alcohol and enough friends will inevitably have to prove their power by attacking some less capable or numerous person(s) or thing to prove that they are not powerless.

Wait a minute, that sounds like urban, ghetto America or even a gang of powerless high school, or even college, boys after the Friday night football game in a middle-class neighborhood looking for a lone victim upon whom they can prove their manhood. Well, powerless people have to prove themselves to their peers all over the world, I guess. That's not so much of a Russian thing; that's a "powerless attempting to exercise power" thing. Maybe I'd better rethink this whole scenario.

I'll get back to you on this.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lelia & David going to Sain Petersburg 1/11/09

Lelia & David going to Saint Petersburg 

This is an email we got from Lelia some days after they left us on 7/6/09. As you can see, they had a REAL Russian experience with the airports. This is unedited, but with some inserts [ ] for clarification. This is a picture of one of the airline's early planes. Below is one of their current ones.

"Dear Cindy and Doug,

We got here as planned but had a couple of glitches. First one – the ticket agent for our flight [from Novosibirsk to Moscow to St. Petersburg] would not book us through to St Petersburg and of course we did not understand her explanation just that we had to pick up our luggage and go through the whole process of security and ticketing when we got to Moscow. When we tried to board the plane in Novo the boarding agent told us we did not have a ticket even though we are standing there with boarding passes. She had to call someone who approved our boarding. [This is the Novosibirsk Airport entry and the Aeroflot logo]

In Moscow we stood in line at the proper security point, went through without problem, but at the ticket window she said we were not listed on the flight so we had to go back out to find an Aeroflot agent who didn't seem willing to help us - she called another agent who told us to go through the line again and we would be ticketed. This after only looking at our paper confirmation so David demanded that she go with us to which she reluctantly agreed but we had to get into the long security check line again. In a few minutes we saw her go and talk to the ticketing agent and when we got through security we were given our boarding passes and from there everything went smoothly.

We did have some concerns about missing our flight. We slept all the way to S P and took a taxi to our B and B - finally was able to go to bed and instantly asleep."

Welcome to Russia
What a country.

Lelia & David 7/13/09

Lelia & David 

Weather Clear at times with thunderstorms most afternoons
Temp 70F
Wind calm

After months of planning, Lelia came to visit us in Novosibirsk. Who is Lelia?

In 1964, Cindy spent a year in the dormitories of Sacramento State College while attending during her last year there. Lelia was a Resident Assistant, an assistant to Molly Galbraith who was the dorm Mom.

We have stayed in touch with Lelia over the last 44 years through marriage, kids, various businesses, divorce, and a B&B in South Dakota. She shows great taste by being an avid reader of this blog and generally is a person worth knowing for so long. Of all of our friends who said, "We'll come and visit you", Lelia predictably did just that. If you were ever limited to just one friend, Lelia would be the right choice.

Who's David? This is a story that could be attached to very few people, but is typically Lelia. She wanted a traveling companion for this trip (good choice Lelia) and she tried many people with no takers. Her sister almost came (same gene pool) but just couldn't manage it. Finally, she mentioned it to a man she had "met" on the internet in some way and he said, "That would be a trip of a lifetime" to which she said impulsively (that's Lelia) "You wanna go?" I don't know the details from there except that her kids in Colorado knew of him and he was raised in South Dakota in the same town as she was. Go figure. That started several months of getting acquainted, comparing various values, making tentative plans, and finally deciding to make the trip together; no romance, just traveling companions.

When she told us of her plans we of course had some predictable, immediate reactions like, "What are you thinking?" and "Do you know this guy?", and "What are you thinking?", and "you wouldn't make the trip without a traveling companion and now you are coming with a guy you met over the internet? What are you thinking?" etc., etc.

Well, the final arrangements were contingent on David living in the front room and she in the guest room to which she said, "We have already got that straight. There's no romance here, just traveling companions." Sooooo, with that settled, we all shook hands electronically and the trip was ON.

The morning they arrived, we got the "big taxi-bid driver" and headed to the airport. (You remember the blog about going to the train station with the 300 lb taxi driver in the taxi with no shocks, right? Well he hasn't invested in any repairs yet.) We met David for the first time and immediately felt comfortable with him; nice guy. With that resolved, we launched a week of seeing the "sights" of Novosibirsk and catching up with Lelia's life over the last years.

First thing was to introduce her to the landmarks around our building. Here Cindy is showing her the street and commenting on the drivers who have to do the slalom around the potholes and open storm drains and how we know if a "newby" is approaching by the screech and a thump.

Next, there was the presentation of gifts and some things we had asked her to bring from the U.S. of A that we cannot get here. Foremost of these were the strings of christmas tree lights to re-light Sister Cindy's "New Year" trees whose lights had become defunct.

With that done, we planned to give her the total immersion experience of missionaries in Novosibirsk; nothing extraordinary, just a typical week. We had our usual missionary companionships to dinner each night (normalna), took them to the Mickelsen's fairwell gathering for the Novosibirsk District (she's socializing and he's wondering), took a ride south through Akademgorodok, the science city built from scratch in 1959 intended to gather all of the great minds in Russia to do pure research, the Obe Sea (a lake made by the hydro-electric dam on the river), a Russian Orthodox monastery, a Zone Meeting in our apartment, and lots of contacts with locals.

On one afternoon we did the two little museums in the downtown area, the park across from "Ploshed Lenina" (Lenin Plaza) in front of the opera/ballet house, investigated the chapel that marks the center of Russia (east and west), saw a bride and groom release the traditional doves on the chapel steps just before the matron of the chapel came out to shoo them away, and generally acted like unabashed tourists. We took them with the Zone (as our personal guests) to a cultural day activity and saw Swan Lake (my 4th time) at the Bolshoi (big) theater on Lenin Plaza.

During her stay, she offered to hem the pants of my old; winter suit that had cuts along the bottom of each cuff made by walking on them on the ice during the winter. With the weight I've lost my pants became too long and the cuffs took the abuse. She also gave Sister Cindy a haircut in the entry hall late one night. Cindy got a little nervous when she said, "I haven't cut hair since we were in the dorms together", but it turned out well and provided a sweet memory of days long past.
We introduced them to the office staff and got Olga to go with us on our downtown tour. She's a great guide and a wonderful friend. Our drive to Akedemgorodok and the Obe Sea involved President Gushchin (we bought the gas) and he is always kind and friendly. She came to church with us and survived all three hours, went to the office several times with us, and toured around on their own several times to get the feeling of real Russia.

Over the years, we have mentioned our faith and danced around the subject of our beliefs, but never really explained the church and it's teachings to Lelia. With her coming to visit us on our mission, it became natural to introduce her to the Articles of Faith and have several in depth discussions, late at night of course, about the gospel as we know it and bear our witness of what we know to be true.

When you know something that is so important and answers the questions of the soul as to who we are, why we are here, and where we are going, you have to share that with the people you love. We cannot leave this world without doing so because we will be judged by God for our neglect. So we gave her a Book of Mormon with our testimonies and hope that she will at least read it. She was respectful and cordial during our discussions, but I got no concrete response. I know that she felt something during those talks, but I'm not sure she can act on it. That ball's in her court. In any case, we love her and we took every opportunity to share our lives in Novosibirsk with her. We hope that her expectations about this trip were met. She is a dear friend and a true Christian.

What a friend. What a country.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Old Stuff 7/13/09

Old Stuff 

Heavy overcast and rain approaching. You can see it coming from the west Wind 1-3 mph, Temp 78F Low tonight 58 F High Monday 79F

The old log house is gone. Remember the log house that I showed you last summer and winter? It is located on the corner of Gushchinstraya and the driveway leading along the south side of our building. You don't know Gushchinstraya? I digress:

Last year the street that connects our street and our building's driveway was a dirt road full of potholes and mounds of trash. Last fall someone laid sidewalks and paved the street next to an apartment that was in the final construction phase. I suspect it was them.

Anyway, the day it was paved, President Gushchin, the mission driver, was to take us shopping and as he drove west down the driveway from the office to the little dirt street we realized that he might get stuck in the new blacktop and as we turned the corner (left onto the street) we shouted "stop". We explained the danger and he said, "I will be first", put it into low and drove up the incline that produces Gushchin lake at that spot in the spring and zoomed down the street. From that day it was called Gushchinstraya by all of us and we love to tell the story to a new audience.

Well, anyway, if you look at the far distance on the right you can see a tree and the roof of the log house on the corner. Here is a close-up of the house's south side and the front window. Since the whole north side was caved in and the tin roof was pulled up and even missing in spots, we believed that it was abandoned, but during the winter we noticed a light on inside and decided someone was in there.

Well, it is gone. A week ago or so, we were walking our usual route to the office and saw the house half gone at the hands of a murderous backhoe. By our return trip that afternoon the lot was empty except for the ruts and the leftover trash.

It was very sad to me. I liked that house. It was a relic of a bygone era right there on Gushchinstraya and we could admire the construction techniques (well, I could. Sister Simmons never commented on it) the way the logs were fitted together to make a tight wall, the cross-hatch lath plastered with adobe mud and painted white on the interior walls now exposed to the weather, the ceiling joists dove-tailed into the wall logs, the blue painted gingerbread around the windows; it was classic 19th century Russia. Now instead of the house, we are treated to this classic view of a job well done. Well, it's done anyway.

More and more I am learning to value, and even admire old things. I have always liked historical stuff and Russia is full of it, but I'm just talking about old stuff like this log house. I also love roses in full bloom, old cars, old wooden housing units, old churches, old clothes, old furniture, old telephones, old kitchen tools, old farm implements, old instruments, and I even have come to admire and appreciate old people. Each of these things have character born of experience, utility in their time, and a special beauty that can only be appreciated by someone who will take the time to look beyond the surface.

Today, the Sunday School lesson was taught by a sister who is probably in her mid 50's (looking much older) with a badly misshapen back and a few missing teeth. I had not paid much attention to her other than to notice her infirmities and mentally noting that she appearing older than I thought she really was.

As I watched her sitting at the table giving the lesson, I saw someone else there. I could imagine her 30 years ago as a young girl in the bud of her life. I saw the twinkle in her eye as she said something sly and others reacted. Her wrinkles smoothed out and her chin became firm. Her hair took on a youthful luster and her shoulders were not so stooped. I saw in the Spirit the girl who was still inside the woman and I appreciated her beauty and poise. She was bright. She was witty. She was attractive both physically and spiritually. I will always see her that way now that I have seen her as she really is.

On our way out of the metro tonight as we went to the Millers who hosted this YSA Fireside, there was an old woman at the top of the stairs with a plastic cup, begging alms. I had seen her on the metro last week as she fought to keep her balance in the crowded car, unable to reach the hand-holds that were mounted well above her 4-foot high frame. Her body was bent in a question mark that caused her to see only waist high on the people around her, yet she stood her ground against gravity.

Tonight, as she stood there with her cup, I passed her, then reached into my pocket for the change I have been carrying for just such an opportunity, turned and dropped a few ruble coins into her cup. She turned her body slightly away from me, twisted her neck and head around enough to look me in the face, and made the sign of the cross in my direction. Again, as I looked into her face, and she into mine, I saw her true, youthful, bright trueness and thanked God for the vision and the blessing from this daughter of God.

Yes, I will miss the old log house, but I am going to make more of an effort to look deeper into the old people around me before they too are gone. They are worth looking into.

What a life. What a country.

(The rain is here)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We're Bum'd July 9, 2009

We're Bum'd 
July 9, 2009

Temp--High 86F
Wind 2-5 mph easterly most of the day. Dead calm now at 9:30 PM and 72F.
Rain in our hearts

July 7th nine of our missionaries went home; Elders Pister, Christiansen, Russel, Pingree, Jensen, McBride, Pettit, Olson, and Sister Doutre. As it should be with missionaries who have been here two years (for the elders and 18 months for sisters), they are the best we have in the mission and they are gone. Most of them have either served in Novosibirsk or passed through our lives in some meaningful way. Elders Olson and McBride were office elders and Elder Pingree was an Assistant, and we get attached to them more than most.

Here they are as they are departing for the Mission Home for their last meal in Novo and their going home "ceremony" which I have never been witness to. It is now two days later and the full impact of their leaving is with us.

We have welcomed two new missionaries into the mission today, Sister Mitchell from Bluebell, Utah and Elder Gornostayev from Moscow. They are both fine young people, but they ARE young; greenies. They are nervous, a little scared, and not quite focused after their long trip and whirlwind orientation. They will do well and be just as big lights in the mission field as those who just left, but that's in the future.

As Sister Cindy and I were sitting at the table a few minutes ago, trying to do our jobs, scripture reading, ironing some shirts, making the bed with sheet I washed this morning, etc. we both look like someone shot our dog and just had to comment to each other what a loss it is to send these great young people home. They are our support, our lights, our interpreters, our guides in the city, OUR missionaries. This is hard!

I finally let myself acknowledge that this is why we are here; not to be lit by others but to be the light for them. We are the constant. We are the continuity. We are the one who are always THERE when they call, when they ask, when they complain, when they doubt, when they cry. The mission president is their spiritual leader and mentor, but we are their parents.

In addition to those missionaries, others of our friends are leaving, or making noises about leaving. Sister Gorlova went to Irkutsk, Elder Swensen went to Krasnoyarsk, and Elder Kolpakov goes to Kemerovo tomorrow. Misha Nicholiachev, son of Brat Pyotr the District president and one of our office staff, left for the MTC and the Moscow Mission. Ivan and Kasusha Smukov, our real estate employee and our best male interpreter, will leave for the US to go to school at the LDS Business College in July. Anna our choir pianist and Lydia our Russian teacher are talking about moving to St Petersburg together. Who is going to take care of US?!

After some mutual grumping and general commiserating, I decided again that we ARE the light. We have to step up and continue to be the people who do the helping and not the ones being helped. Anyway, one of the great parts (if there is one) of them going home is getting an email from one of them telling what they are doing and seeing them in their new environs. It is a joy.

So, enough of this moping around. We felt the same way when the last large group of missionaries went home and recovered. We have to gird up our loins, fresh courage take, and know that our God will never us forsake. And soon we'll have this tale to tell. All is well. All is well.

What a life. What a country.