Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Last Visa Trip 2/5/10

The Last Visa Trip
Weather -- Gathering overcast
Temp -- minus 21F (-29C) Wind -- 3-5 mph from southwest

Last Monday we returned from our last visa renewal trip. This is sort of a benchmark because as you all know we have had to leave the country every 90 days to renew our Russian visas and those trips usually take about 5 days; some longer. Where else could you go on a mission and get a 5 day trip to exotic places like Madrid, Prague, Riga, Almaty, Kiev, and Helsinki every three months? Come on you retirees. The Novosibirsk Mission needs you and you need this great experience. Nicki, come on--these are your people!

The morning we left it was -37C (-34.5F), but it didn't feel much more than -20. Look how we have become acclimated in 20 months. A warm day is -10 and we have to consider wearing something lighter.

We landed in the new Terminal D in Moscow and would have had to change terminals to Sheremetyevo International Airport, Terminal 2. By shuttle bus except we got picked up by a van arranged for by our friends at the U.S. Embassy. We needed to meet with the people in the American Citizens Services department who service and track American Residents in Russia to discuss how best to register our missionaries with the embassy. We met them several months ago when they visited Novosibirsk and came to our apartment for lunch. These employees of our government are not the stereotypical government workers. They are genuinely very nice, fun people and very concerned about serving the needs of U.S. citizens in Russia. I cannot praise them enough for being so dedicated to my personal welfare. I have some nice pictures of them in our apartment but for security reasons I will not publish them.

After our embassy visit, we wanted to visit the Moscow Central Baptist Church where Ezra Taft Benson visited and spoke in 1956 on a tour to evaluate the humanitarian needs in eastern Europe. He bore a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation right in front of his government guides and guards. Recently, President Uchtdorf visited the same church while on a tour of the Europe East Area with Neil L. Anderson. It has become quite famous among those who know its history.

We had a bit of trouble finding it even with the directions of the embassy folks and our local driver, but we finally located it and had a wonderful visit. When we went inside, the "guard" came out of his little office, greeted us and when he learned that we were Americans who had come to visit his famous church, I think he knew who we were and was both helpful and gracious in letting us take pictures and telling us of the church's history. He even found an English-speaking lady who told us about the building. Here, Sister Cindy is taking in the moment of victory as she finally got to see the church after two years of plans that fell through.

This was the culmination of a dream for Sister Cindy. Ever since we came to Russia and had to pass through Moscow twice on our visa trips, she has wanted to visit here. Here she shows the #2 Pastor and the watchman the articles about Elder Benson in 1956 and President Uchtdorf in 2009. We first became aware of the then Secretary of Agriculture Benson's visit when we were coming to the USSR in 1990 with the Sister City tour to Moldavia. Our friend Charlene Hunt told us about it and felt that we needed to make a pamphlet about it to take with us and . . . well, that's another story, but our interest in this church goes back that far. It was such a joy to finally BE there to see and feel the place we had talked about to those gospel-hungry people we found almost 20 years ago. Wow, what a thrill.

The rest of the trip to Helsinki and our hotel was pretty routine. During the three days we stayed downtown we shopped, attended a concert, ate, walked, took a bus tour, and generally enjoyed a beautiful city amid the falling snow and visibly pleasant people; with few exceptions, the Helsinkians are courteous, happy, and helpful.

We especially enjoyed the concert and the eating. The concert by the Helsinki Philharmonic featured a Sibelius concerto that was outstanding.  The eating included seeing an ice-bound sailing schooner and the Chapel. The schooner is moored at the dock near what would be the craft fair on the waterfront during the warm months. Even now the fur dealers and fish mongers were there in tents amid the falling snow.

The Chapel has an interesting story we learned during our bus tour of the city. In the early days of the city, its western boundary was what is now a boulevard that lines a 5-block long park that ends at the marina. The park was a meadow where a sheepherder tended his sheep and lived in a shack that stood there for many decades after his death; known as the chapel. When the park was dedicated and the roads extended, a cafe was located on the site of the chapel and took the same name. It was built in the mid 19th century of iron and glass and has become a landmark as well as a great restaurant. Of course, I had the lamb and garlic potatoes; heavenly.

Friday night we moved to the Temple "Guest House" which is a hostel build just south of the Temple. The accommodations are spartan, but clean and comfortable considering that it is fully occupied Sunday through Friday with patrons from as far away as Ulan-Ude who must travel 3 days, stay 5 days, and return for 3 days on each trip. Most are only able to attend the temple once in their lifetime because of the time and cost. Attending a temple session and doing other work was  highlight of our trip.

Another highlight was having lunch with a member of the Helsinki stake presidency, Ilkaa Aura, who was a teenage exchange student with a Utah family many years ago. Our traveling companions, the Moleffs, have a son-in-law from that family and got us connected with President Aura. On the way to his home he showed us a place on the Baltic Sea that the city plows in an oval and people cross-country skate. It was so unusual to be standing ON the Baltic. We saw skaters from infants in carriages to grandparents. There was even several skaters using parachutes like the wind-surfers in Hawaii.

Ilkaa took us to his home for a wonderful lunch of typical Finnish fare that included smoked/baked salmon, smoked trout, potatoes in creme, mung bean sprouts, cheese, and reindeer salami. We met his new wife Paula, his first wife died last year and he married this lady just a few months ago. She is only a couple of years younger than he and had never been married. What a great lady and so gracious. I didn't even mind when she poured black licorice syrup over her ice cream. I love new things, but that was way beyond my tolerance for the exotic.

Sunday we drove with several of the temple missionaries through a pretty good snow storm about 45 minutes to a ward conference in the Helsinki Stake and enjoyed their block meetings with the help of an interpreter most of the time. Three cute sisters sang the special musical number. They were so cute and right on pitch.

After the block, we had an extra surprise; another Finnish meal. This time it was to celebrate their conference meeting and starred salmon soup, bread, and a table full of beautiful desserts. I enjoyed it all.

We have enjoyed our visa trips, but I am glad they are over. The short trips are exhausting, the time difference is confusing to my body, and the uncertainty of the government officials all combine to make these trips primarily a disruption in the work. I am grateful for the work of Olga, Pyotr, Sister Cindy and all the embassy and Moscow central office to make sure we get there and back safely.

What a trip. What a country


Shannon said...

I love that last picture of you and mom! Sounds like a fun trip.

Carol said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. That is great that you have been able to see so many places during your stay in Russia. Well I guess that Sister Gneiting has been sent to Irkutsk which sounds like it is a long way away from Novo. I am anxious to hear all about her trip and about her new area in her next email. Thank you for all you did to help her adjust to life in Russia. I just pray that their are wonderful people in Irkutsk that will take her under there wing as you have done. Thank you again for all you do.

Trisha said...

I love the new main picture. I love to hear about your adventures. Sara is learning all of Europes countries and capitals so seeing the pictures of Helsinki made her smile. I am too glad that this was your last visa trip. I can't wait for your trip home. Thanks for the blessings.

Bob Steed said...


Thanks for all the extra details. I really like feeling like I was there experiencing it with you.

I have to say it is a good thing you like fish.

Nicole Petersen said...

My son Elder Sage Petersen just entered the MTC on February 10th. He will be headed to Novosibirsk in April. I have really enjoyed your Blog and look forward to the day when My Husband and I can follow suit and serve a mission. Your commentary is inspiring!

Nicole Petersen
Washington State