Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Natives Go to America, 8/30/09

The Natives Go to America

Weather - heavy rain at times
Temp 66F Mind Westerly 2-4 mph

Here I am with a few of our young adults who have formed a choir that I work with now on Wednesday nights before my 2 hours of veggie washing.

This past week three of our young adults left for the Missionary Training Center next to the BYU campus in Provo Utah where they will receive a month's training on how to be a missionary. Non-Russian speakers go to the MTC for 3 months to learn the language and the missionary discussions from the Preach My Gospel manual.

In years past they would memorize these lessons in their assigned language. Now they must actually learn the concepts and the language enough to carry on a discussion about that concept in their own words and according to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Two of these new misionaries are from our YSA group in Novosibirsk; Svetlana (Sveta) Labodna, at the right receiving her Laurel YW medallion from her friend Ina who is also the district Young Women's president, and Yevgeny (Gzenya) Karpenkov, below with pre-missionary haircut. Sveta's friends here gave her some home-made mementos, below, to keep their love in front of her.

That makes four of our young adults who have left for missions during the last few months. We also sent Dema and Mesha, earlier this year. They are all strong spirits with stronger testimonies of the mission of Jesus Christ and His restored Church. We miss them and they have left four big holes in our group.

As I watched Gzenya give his talk in 4th Branch this morning, I was struck with the vision of these young people as the leaders who will come back in 18 months (sisters) or 2 years and take their place in the leadership of the branches here. These are the ones who will take the Russian branches of the Church into "the Promised Land".

By that I mean, they will have a very different set of experiences from their parents who joined the church in their later years. These young people have had Gospel teaching in their homes or in their branches for many years. Then they will go to the MTC and see what the Church really looks like in its fullness. They will get the training their parents never had in Church government and leadership. They will receive daily training in Gospel Principles and gain a deeper understanding of Keys, stewardship, authority, power, the Godhead, salvation through the atonement, and so on. This will be a crash course in four weeks, but it will be thorough.

Then will come the real training. For two years (for elders) they will teach these principles, discuss these concepts, experience leadership responsibility, and really live the Church 24/7. They will have two hours a day to study the scriptures, they will have leadership responsibilities and training along with real-life experience, they will train and counsel branch leadership in the cities where they serve, and they will have mentors to train and teach them before they become mentors and trainers for the new missionaries. This will be the ultimate preparation for their time to lead the church here, a preparation the current leadership never had.

Well, that's not exactly the case. We now have a 26 year old Alexander, returned missionary in stripes, in the Novosibirsk District Presidency. We had a 24 year old Vanya, returned missionary, as counselor and then mission leader in First Branch before he and his wife went to Utah for school. We have another 22 year old returned missionary in the Second Branch Presidency. We have a 30-something member of the Novosibirsk Mission Presidency who is also the Church Education System (CES) manager in ours and the Vladivostok mission (right). We have returned missionaries as Young Women's presidents, Primary presidents, choristers, pianists, branch missionary leaders. Now that I think of it, these returned missionaries are already taking their places in leadership and will soon be running the Church with a new vision of what it can and should be. Their parents are running on vision, faith, and inspiration, but no experience. Soon we will have leaders with the foundation to take the Church, as I said, into "the Promised Land"; into a bright and fast-moving future with less need for missionaries to lead them.

I have nothing but love and admiration for the older generation of leaders here. They are the pioneers. They are the trail blazers who forged a Church out of a spiritual wilderness. Many have fallen by the way for one reason or another, but these have carried the Gospel banner and planted it firmly in the Russian soil, giving their children the foundation to take them to greater heights, mounted on wings like eagles.

Those "old timers" who have survived the trials and temptations that drove others from the Church are strong, they are tough, and they are immovable. They are to be praised, revered, and admired, but soon comes the new generation of leaders with more than stubbornness, more than surviving, more than enduring; they will have experience and vision. They will know where they are going and how to get there.

God has given me a vision of what can and will be and I am stoked! It gives me energy and hope to continue our work in this difficult place. It gives me confidence that even though it seems that good counsel sometimes falls to the floor unnoticed, there will be others who can and will take it and expand on it. It gives me courage to keep teaching, keep exemplifying, keep mentoring, keep pushing today's leaders to put the new ones in place and let them lead. It keeps the fire burning in my gut to do the work.

What a generation. What a country.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

God's Army in Russia 8/27/09

God's Army in Russia 

There is nothing boring about our job as the office couple. Whenever someone needs help, Senior Couple or young missionary, we are the first line of defense. It can be as simple as, "How much money is on my ATM card?" or "What time do I leave for my Visa Renewal trip?".

Currently I am trying to wrap up the settlement with a landlord in a small city to the south of us for mold damage caused by hot water running in the tub for a month because this apartment was used only occasionally and while the senior couple was there the last time the hot water was turned off as it often is. Unfortunately they did not know that the hot water faucet was in the "on" position when they locked up the apartment until their next visit to that city. The steam in a sealed apartment turned it into blue cheese and we are paying a large settlement to get it cleaned up.

Sometimes we get more serious requests. Tonight around 10:00 pm is a good example. The sister in a Senior Couple in one of our cities called tonight with a medical emergency. She was diagnosed over the phone by her eye doctor as having a detached retina and was in immediate need of surgery to correct the condition and save the sight in that eye. We were the first people she called to get directions and was understandably shaken.

After calming her with some kind words and concern, I told her that I needed to get our president's approval and then the East European Area Presidency's approval and then find out how to get them out of the country to where they want to go. I knew that our leadership would see that they got whatever they needed, but we needed to have the right support and stay within the organizational protocols.

When I called President Trejo, he was sitting on a plane next to the Second Counselor in the East European Area Presidency and after hearing of their needs, he took the initiative to arrange for their transportation and other needs. These leaders really know how to get things done and they take good care of their missionaries. Nothing is left undone. By tomorrow morning they will be in a plane headed to a hospital in the states. We love our missionaries, but no more than these great men love them. This is such a mutually supportive and loving group in the mission field that no one does anything but their best for the others.

We are so blessed to be associated with such loving and responsible people. It truly is a privilege to be here and doing what we can to support these great missionaries. Heavenly Father has blessed us with this opportunity and we are loving the work. This is a harsh country full of tough people, but the missionaries are finding the ones God has prepared to hear his Gospel message and join His church. The members here are strong yet loving and kind; a far cry from their atheist neighbors.

What a country.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Real Meal Deal 8/22/09

The Real Meal Deal 8/22/09

74F high to 55F low at 1:30 AM
Wind? What happened to the wind?

The nice part about living in a country that is 50 years behind in agriculture is that you get real produce. Not some piece of plastic that has been molded and painted to look like produce, but the real thing; with seeds.

Take this watermelon. I have not spit a watermelon seed in ten years and I have not tasted a real watermelon in twice that long. This stuff we get in the U.S. is plastic. It is produced to be picked early, artificially "ripened", and to have a long shelf life for maximum ($) yield and minimal spoilage. This watermelon tastes 50 years old, I mean from my childhood, when watermelon was 2 cents a pound and you could buy one for a dollar that weighed more than I did and tasted like a candy store.

I long for the tomatoes I ripen in my garden, and the peas, and the green-beans (and I don't even like beans) and the basel and the . . . but even all those are hybrid eunuchs that cannot reproduce themselves. They are delicious because they are picked ripe, but they are still not Garden of Eden vegetables "whose seed is within itself". I don't know where all of the produce we eat in Russia comes from, and some of it rots quickly (some is even rotten in the store) and much of it is just plain ugly, but it is what God made, not what science produced.

You can't buy ugly potatoes like these in the store even if you wanted them. You get a pile of spuds all the same size, shape, and perfection. Where is the reality? I grow potatoes. I know potatoes. Most of them are misshapen and random in size and appearance. Raley's potatoes look like they were cast in a mold.

Carrots are random-growing tubers. Most are forked and stubby, not long, slender, and all the same length. What do they do with the ugly ones? Where are the real carrots? In Russia we get all sizes and shapes from long and skinny to short and fat. These come with the dirt still caked on them; black, rich, sticky dirt--real dirt.

Although I have to soak it in soap water and scrub it, soak it again in a chlorine solution, and dry it like a baby with a chapped behind, It Is Real, honest-to-goodness, not-to-be abused vegetables.

What a country

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The best Ford CommercialEver 8/22/09

The best Ford CommercialEver 8/22/09

Some things are just good enough without saying anything more.

I could not get this to activate from my blog so copy the url to your address bar and press enter. It is worth the effort.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts from the "Desert Bakers" 8/19/09

Thoughts from the "Desert Bakers" 

Got this in an email from the "Desert Bakers" of St. George, acquaintances who became friends in Africa. Dick writes us regularly and I thought this was worth repeating. I have added a couple of my own thoughts as well. Thanks Dick and Fran.

"I bumped into this the other day and thought you might find some of the thoughts useful. We pray for your happiness and success.
We love you both.
Dick (and Fran)"

"I BELIEVE", author unknown

I believe- That we don’t have to change friends if we understand that friends change.
I believe- That no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.
I believe- That true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance; same goes for true love.
I believe- That you can do something in an instant that will give you heartache for life. You can also do something in that same instant that will bless someone for life.
I believe- That it’s taking me a long time to become the person I want to be, or the person my dog thinks I am.
I believe- That you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them.
I believe- That you can keep going long after you can’t.
I believe- That we are responsible for what we do, no matter how we feel.
I believe- That either you control your attitude or it controls you.
I believe- That regardless of how hot and steamy a relationship is at first, the passion fades and there had better be something else to take its place.
I believe- That heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences.
I believe- That money is a lousy way of keeping score.
I believe- That my best friend and I can do anything or nothing and have the best time.
I believe- That sometimes the people you expect to kick you when you’re down, will be the ones to help you get back up.
I believe- That sometimes when I’m angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn’t give me the right to be cruel.
I believe- That just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all they have.
I believe- That maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you’ve had and what you’ve learned from them and less to do with how many birthdays you’ve celebrated.
I believe- That it isn’t always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself.
I believe- That no matter how bad your heart is broken the world doesn’t stop for your grief.
I believe- That our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.
I believe- That just because two people argue, it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. And just because they don’t argue, it doesn’t mean they do.
I believe- That you shouldn’t be so eager to find out a secret. It could change your life forever.
I believe- That two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.
I believe- That your life can be changed in a matter of hours by people who don’t even know you.
I believe- That even when you think you have no more to give, when a friend cries out to you - you will find the strength to help.
I believe- That God loves each of us and that He, and His angels by assignment, are intimately involved in our lives. He has not put us here and then gone on vacation. We are his children and He loves all of us.

I have to constantly remind myself that the people I meet here are just as precious to God as I am. The ones who love me are precious. The ones who don't are still my brothers and sisters. We are all his children; regardless of what we have done with His precious gift of life.

What a country.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Week With The Kids 8/15/09

A Week With The Kids 8/15/09

The well-known definition for ambivalence involves watching someone you hate going over a cliff in your new car. That's the way I feel about these visa renewal trips. On the one hand, where else in the missionary service could you get your transportation and housing paid to visit a place you've only seen on Wild Kingdom or the Travel Channel?

On the other, these trips are hard on old people; the sitting, the time changes, being without your stuff, carrying luggage, extra food costs, eating strange food, not speaking the language, etc.

This trip to Prague was no exception, well, the exception was that we ended up in a place we didn't intend to go; Kiev.

Months ago we were assigned to go to Prague for our visa trip and got permission to meet some of our family there during our stay. Since we pay our own expenses except for the transportation and would not stay longer than normal it would have no impact on the mission or the Church expense. With the "two passport" process that is SUPPOSE to be in place, we would send our second passport ahead to be processed for a visa and pick it up in Prague for the return, leaving our other passport with the courier in Moscow for our next renewal trip.

My Jewish business partner once told me they have a saying (they have one for almost every occasion), "Men plan and God laughs". Well, I hope he got a chuckle out of what actually happened.

When our Registrar went to pick up our invitation letter from the agency in Novosibirsk, she discovered that it had our current passport number on it--the one we were going to leave in Moscow. It was a good thing she checked it. The worker explained that the computer program that writes the letters will only acknowledge one passport number and cannot be altered. We could not send our current passports to Prague for the two week processing because we must have them to get on the plane. The only choice was to carry them to another city with a "quick" processing time and then go on to Prague.

By this time we had already bought the airline tickets for two of our families and made housing arrangements in Prague. Considering the good-faith commitments, President Trejo was kind enough to give permission for us to go to Kiev where we could have a quick process and get on our way to Prague, almost doubling our trip.

Trish and Chris arrived ahead of us on Saturday morning and got a head-start on finding their way around the circular streets and blind alleys of Old Town Prague; getting lost more than once. By the time we arrived they knew most of the wrong turns around our apartment.

After some dinner and light food shopping, we met Andrea and Brian at the end of their walk from the train station that they said was 15 minutes away. Brian is a terrific navigator and got them to us on the first try. They spent three days on the train from Vienna to Prague and when they finally got to sit down in the apartment, Andrea for one looked happy to be off her feet.

We spent a fun five days exploring old Prague and bonding with concerts, tours, and of course several games of Hand-and-Foot. It was great to see our family and even after all the snafu it was a great week.

Two weeks on the road can be interesting, but it is a grind for older folks like us. We met nice people, and saw wonderful things, but it was exhausting and we are glad to be back in our little Novosibirsk apartment, serving the missionaries. It has taken all week to get our "clocks" back to Novo time, being 5 hours ahead of Prague. Our next trip should be to Helsinki, Finland and we hope they can find someone to make the invitation letter with our second passport so the plans don't stumble on that trip. We'll see.

What a trip. What a country.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hello from Deepest Ukrane 8/7/09

Hello from Deepest Ukraine 8/7/09

We are on our 5th visa renewal trip and by several mis-directions, ended up in Kiev. The most common situation we have found ourselves in any situation we did not plan to be in. In this case, our invitation letter to go to Prague was not processed properly and the error was discovered too late for it to be rewritten for Prague so we needed a place for a quick turn-around (processing a visa) and Kiev was the best choice. It complicated our trip to Prague which was planned and paid for much earlier and has extended our absence from the mission by 5 days. Oh well.

We hired a local lady, Olga, who was a translator for Mark and Cherry Hall for the better part of a year here in Kiev as they gathered church history information for the anticipated Kiev Temple dedication next year. She was a great guide and got us to a lot of interesting places, most of which we had seen in 1990 but had only faint memories of.

While waiting for our taxi to arrive to do our visa business, we met an Iranian extended family in the lobby quite by accident. They started filtering into the lobby by family groups starting with a mother, father and three children. They sat near us as Cindy was watching a video clip from her email which featured cute pictures of animals. The mother caught a glimpse of them over my shoulder and asked in her best, but labored, English if we were involved in the environment. We finally understood that she was interested in the pictures and offered to show them to her children who were delighted.

By then most of the rest of her family group had arrived and we were introduced to everyone with warm greetings and kind words. The result was that they wanted to tell us that they loved America and were so glad that we got involved in the Iraq situation and how much better life is now with Saddam gone. That started some other friendly exchanges and we all parted for the day's sightseeing. Nice people I think. We would see them daily at breakfast and the mom and kids always came over to say hi. Yep, nice people.

We visited the Kiev, Ukraine Mission office in time to meet the local District of missionaries having their weekly meeting and the traditional lunch following. They were all glad to see fellow missionaries, but didn't offer any lunch.

We also got to peek through the fence at the Kiev Temple now about half done. They are just putting on the granite exterior slabs. Sister Cindy did most of the peeking and I got a shot over the top of the fence. It is going to be quite a dominant feature along one of Kiev's main highways.

We later drove south to see the Ukrainian Museum of Folk Architecture and peasant homes display south of Kiev about half an hour. It was quite a walk in the warm Ukrainian sun, but well worth the effort. These buildings and windmills were brought to a large (1000 acre or more) plot of farm land from areas being flooded by a dam on the river that flows through Kiev during Soviet times. It was thoughtful to preserve the homes of the peasants that were displaced by the rising water. Someone in the Central Planning Department had a real eye for historical structures. I wonder if the peasants got relocated too. (Dictatorships are so efficient.) Do you think they relocated this artist too? He looked old enough to be one of the original residents.

Ukraine is a prosperous, clean, pleasant place to visit. We felt welcome and comfortable among its people. Even the taxi driver spoke kindly to us. We're not used to that.

Ukraine, what a country.