Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Lost and Found

The Lost and Found
Weather -- Bright and sunny this morning, now beginning to cloud over
Temp -- plus 20F Wing 5-7 mph

This morning I was cleaning up my computer desktop and came across this post I never completed. It was from April 2009 and I wanted to save it here rather than trashing it.
Tonight we had the Zone Leaders, Olga (office), President Chudinov, Lena (first branch), and President Gushchin for dinner to celebrate Jesus birthday and the birthday of the church. It was not a kosher meal, but it was worthy of the celebration with salad, pork chops, buttered noodles, asparagus, rolls, butter, and jam.

After dinner we had a lesson from the elders on Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. I contributed some answers to two questions, “Why do we have Christmas on December 25th”, and Is the evergreen tree a pagan symbol. The first, about the date was quite simple. Constantine tried to unite the Roman Empire with Christianity by meshing Christian holidays with the old pagan calendar of festivals. The end of the year celebrations were ideal for celebrating Jesus’ birthday and Christmas was born.

As for the evergreen tree, "yes" it was pagan at first as a symbol of life in mid winter at the winter solstice but was combined with Christmas as the symbol of Christ’s living and resurrection.
After the lesson we had dessert and while eating, the elders started on a discussion of how bad their apartment was and how they would like to move into the building where the Assistants and the Office Elders live, called “The Palace” because it is so large. After about 5 minutes of the virtues of the Palace and the shortcomings of their current apartment, Elder Bindrup said that they were going to look at it tomorrow and I said not to get too excited about it because both of you will someday be transferred and moving into better digs would not benefit them. Then Elder Bindrup made the fatal slip, saying, ” Well, I wouldn’t just go there and buy it”. I smiled and quietly interjected, “you are not going to buy anything”, meaning that I make those decisions. That caught him off guard and he was speechless for a few moments. Then we all laughed and had fun with that little play of words.

What a country.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The 1,000,000th visitor

The 1,000,000th visitor
Weather -- Warming, overcast, melting
Temp--plus 40F Wind--3-5 mph

When I began this blog, I intended it for family and a few friends around the country. I never dreamed that other people would want to read about our experiences in Novosibirsk. I guess we each think that our lives are uninteresting and that no one would care, but the truth is that everyone's life is interesting and full of stories with life-lessons, humor, pathos, sorrows and joys. The blog has certainly changed from what I intended, and once people began to tell their friends and friends told friends, and the online Mission Moms group found it, the hits keep on coming.

Around September of 2008 I began to learn about Blogspot and some interesting things I could put on the blog. I am very ignorant of this technology so everything was an adventure. Among other things I found a counter that could be put on it to tell me how many looks I received and I expected that it would be maybe 100 a month. You can see the counter on the left side under our picture.

I kinda lost track of it until Christmas time and when I happened to look at the counter in December it was about 80,000. I was stunned! It was at that moment that I became aware of the exposure this blog might have and that I needed to be careful that what I put on it was factual when I was talking about anything serious because people from all over were reading about us, our mission activities, and the people of Russia that we met here. I certainly didn't want to give anyone an incorrect impression, so I tried from that point to be factual and even-handed with any comments about events here. I hope that I have succeeded.

Occasionally, I checked the counter over 2009 and saw that the speed of the hits kept increasing. At first there might be 1,000 a month and now it runs about 10,000 a week. I just don't know what to do with that. It is amazing that so many people around the world have read, and apparently continue to read what comes out of our experiences or out of my imagination.

I have enjoyed reading the comments from the readers. Some members of the on-line missionary moms group read it to keep up on life in the mission. Even young men who are called to Russia and are preparing to go to the MTC have read it. Some of them have even come to Novosibirsk and left comments. Many of the young members here in Novo have read it, but none have commented that I know of. Several comments have been made by Russians that I don't know, but wish that I did. The readership is diverse geographically, demographically, and in some way very random.

Thirty-five people have registered as followers and even that blows me away. Even though most of them don't leave comments, apparently they read it and get something out of it, which is really gratifying. For people to come back means something, doesn't it?

I will close this rambling with thanks to you all who have read this blog over the past almost two years. We will be going home in April and the accounts of our adventure will of course cease. However, I like to write and maybe I would decide to start some kind of general blog to air my ramblings.

In the mean time, I would like to say a big welcome to the one millionth visitor. I never imagined that you would exist and I am stunned by our existence, but I love you and hope that the time you spent here was worth your effort.

We still have a month to go and will continue to write about our mission in this country and specifically this city as the snow melts and spring approaches.

What a country.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

Too Much of a Good Thing
Weather --Started sunny, got windy, now snowing
Temp--plus 26F Wind 25-30 mph

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Have YOU ever had too much of a good thing? Well, I think I have on several occasions here in Novosibirsk.

Weather change is a good thing. Without it we would live either in a rain forest or a desert. However, here the weather changes on a dime. As noted above, around 9 am today it started off clear and sunny. Gradually it clouded over during the morning. Then the wind really picked up about noon. (we always have SOME wind) By 3 pm it was snowing, the temp dropped 5 degrees, and the wind had tapered off. Now at 4 pm the wind is again about 20 mph, the snow has stopped and we are waiting for the next event.

Water is a good thing, right? Well, not if you live below a pair of missionaries who forgot to hook the washing machine effluent (for those of you from Rio Linda that's the drain)  back over the lip of the tub after some operation that required its removal. If you put in a load of wash just before you go out for the day, it can be a disaster because a full cycle of the washer would probably dump 10 gallons of water on the bathroom floor and subsequently down onto the ceiling, walls, and floor of the apartment below.  All of the door jams here have a high threshold because they are after-thoughts to the poured concrete construction. The one in the bathroom acts like a dam and prevents most of the water from running out of the bathroom, concentrating it there to find an opening into the lower apartment.

Water can be a problem even when it gets turned off, a common event in the summer when they are repairing the pipes and boilers of the central hot-water facilities. Over several months in 2008, we learned to grab the hot water pipe that bends out from the wall next to the sink to see if we have hot water today. No sense getting naked if you are not getting wet. (This one was in a Moscow hotel. Ours isn't that pretty). However, the absense of water is not the theme here. The problem comes when the "joy-stick" faucet handle is not centered while the water is off or if a faucet is left on accidentally. When it comes back on, while you are away of course, you have running water until you return and you are billed for every liter of hot water you use.

It became even more of a problem for a senior couple who were assigned to mentor a city about 4 hours from their own city twice a month. While staying in their apartment in that city, the hot water was turned off while someone was in the shower. Somehow, the hot water faucet was left on when they locked up and left for what was to be two weeks, but turned out to be more because of illness. About 4 weeks later the Zone Leader got a call from the landlord to meet him at the apartment and arrived to find a swamp. It seems that the hot water returned and ran in the tub for a month, creating a rain forest in the apartment and growing a rather interesting variety of molds on absolutely everything. It only came to someone's attention because it finally began to rain in the apartment (condensation of steam on the ceiling falling on the floor) and that rain began to run into the apartment below.

One good thing we need here is something to help with our digestive system. We just don't drink enough water or get enough fiber. Without being indelicate, we needed a little digestive motivation and since we are, collectively, health-food-nuts, we were looking for something to add bulk to our diet. We tried bran in the oatmeal, but that was insufficient. Then we had our daughter, Trisha, send us some psyillium to add to the oatmeal and to take with water or juice when needed. This is the "active" ingredient in Metamucil. Well, Sister Cindy discovered that this "good thing" can be over-done as well. Have you ever eaten slime? Above, Sister Cindy tried drinking it. You can see the result of too much of this good thing. 

Another good thing that can be over-done is advice. Ya'know, I love advice. There are several people in this world smarter than me, I married one of them, and I love to get their advice; when I ask for it. I thrill at the insight other people can provide to you when they are not living in your skin. It is mind expanding. It is reflective thinking at its best. I LOVE ADVICE. I know so many wise people, it is like I am surrounded by Lamas like this one from Ulan-Ude who is still meditating after over 100 years.

However, advice is like chocolate syrup. A little on your spumoni ice cream can be a delight. Even chocolate syrup on chocolate ice cream can be interesting. BUT, too much chocolate syrup just ruins the whole thing. When there is more chocolate syrup than ice cream, something is seriously wrong and you will probably end up not eating it at all.

Moms and wives everywhere listen up. By the time your son or daughter goes on a mission . . . it's too late. Do yourself and your missionary a favor and save the advice for when they have kids; they'll be listening then. If you regularly give advice on staying healthy, being careful, being a good companion, reading the scriptures; don't. He/she is getting advice and directions from a companion, a zone leader, a senior couple, an office couple, a mission president, and God. That's plenty of chocolate syrup. Come on mom, enjoy the ride.

Read their emails with relish. Respond with supporting, loving encouragement. Be a great cheering section and put him/her into God's hands. You are too far away and too late to make any kind of significant impact in their day-to-day behaviors now. You did a good job. You prepared your missionary the best anyone could. Now let them fly. I can tell you from first-hand experience--THEY ARE AWESOME!!! Especially those assigned to Siberia. I am wiping the tears from my cheeks right now thinking of them and how great they are. Trust me, they are the best of the best and I am personally sinning every day in my pride for them.

Thank you for all you have done to prepare your missionary and the support you are to them. I guess that is one good thing that will be hard to over-do.

What great moms. What great missionaries. What a country.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Greenies Arrived

The Greenies Arrived, March 18, 2010
Weather--Heavy snow, blustery, blowing & drifting snow
Temp--plus 26F Wind--25 to 50 mph

The weather turned nasty last night and today. Very strong winds from the west, horizontal snow, drifts knee-deep, melting ice mixed with wet snow, and cars crashing into one another all over town. It's like these people don't know how to drive in the snow. When the Zone Leaders called tonight, they said that walking on the street was like doing Michael Jackson's moon-walk. They were stepping forward, but actually being pushed backwards because the wind cleared off the snow exposing the foot of ice beneath. During a big gust, one lady grabbed a sign post and just hung on until it stopped so as to not be driven back on the ice.

The good news is that our four new elders arrived yesterday morning in good shape and great spirits. They were greeted at the airport by President Trejo and brought, with their luggage, to the mission home where they were put to bed for the rest of the morning.  That afternoon they were fed and introduced to the mission by the Trejos and the Assistants to the President, followed by dinner at the mission home and more orientation. Here we see them at the table with Sister Trejo while president took the picture. Here we see elders Drasso, Capps, Eborn,  Septon, and the Assistants (Elders Antuna and Rainsden.

After dinner they took a formal picture and got into bed again for some much needed sleep to reset their "clocks".

Today it was up for breakfast, more orientation by the Assistants, lunch at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken store called "Rostiks", a brief tour of the central area of Novosibirsk (the opera house and "Center of Russia" chapel) and finally delivered to the mission office where the office staff gave their instructions.

Olga, the visa clerk, told them about registration and the need to keep their documents in order. I instructed them on the ATM card use, cell phone protocols, and the luggage policy. Sister Simmons gave them the general do's and don'ts and we introduced them to their new senior companions.

During my time I asked them about the trip in and if they had any challenges. The report was that everything went as they had been told. They paid the Delta luggage fee, got on the plane in SLC and transferred to the international flight with no problems. They were traveling with a group of missionaries destined for Rostov (in the banana belt of southern Russia) so they had company all the way to Moscow.

In Moscow they were met by Sister Stapley, the Director of Temporal Affairs' wife who guided them through the second passport process at the US Embassy and delivered them to the domestic airport for their flight to Novo. Everything went smoothly for them except Elder Septon would have liked more sleep.

Later throughout the afternoon and evening they were taken to their various trains and sent off on the last leg to their first cities of assignment. We are glad to see them here and look forward to seeing them prosper in their new surroundings. The weather was quite an introduction to Siberia, but they were all up for it. A strong group of Greenies.

What a group. What a country.

An Immense Capacity to Endure

An Immense Capacity to Endure 3/18/10
Weather--Bright sun after 4 days of snow
Temp--+18F Wind--3-5 mph

We went to Snegiri (picture below) with the Trejos and the assistants this morning because we rarely get out there to church and we always take advantage of a ride anywhere. This branch is in a small village about 5 miles to the east of Novosibirsk proper but within the City jurisdiction.

The branch has 101 members on the roll, but with about thirty on any particular Sunday. The branch president has begun to get the vision of ministering to his congregation and was greeting people at the door today and organizing rescue visits to inactives during a 15 minute meeting after church. Our friend at right is a new convert in this branch and needs lots of support. Here she is with her youngest daughter and granddaughter.

While visiting with those we know in the branch, we talked to one of our friends whose wife is in the hospital suffering from undiagnosed pain that has accompanied paralysis of her upper body, including her hands and arms as well as a benign tumor on her spine. This is just the icing on the cake for this lady who is the mother of an autistic son and the wife of a man who lost his job a year ago and cannot work because the former employer will not return his "work card".

These folks have struggled with burdens that would bury most of us, but they still try to smile and make the best of it. The autistic son has made a lot of progress over these past 2 years because she has worked with him constantly, every day, using techniques she has learned herself from books (several of which we provided) and the internet because the medical community here does not recognize autism as a legitimate disease/syndrome needing treatment. She has treated this boy at home for the last 6+ years, as soon as she identified his behaviors, without support or even acceptance by medicals or community. They were even afraid to tell the members of the branch because he would be isolated and ostracized thinking that other children could be affected.

If I had this autistic child, wife with a spinal tumor, no prospect of being allowed to work for the foreseeable future, and now the wife is paralyzed with an unknown condition, I would not be able to get out of the bed in the morning, but this family is at church, he is teaching the priesthood lesson, and he is going with her to her medical tests, and he is sounding upbeat about the possible treatment of his wife's condition.
It is astounding, but it is typical of Siberians who see themselves as able to endure anything, after all, they live in one of the most inhospitable places of major population in the world and manage to make a life for themselves. Imagine that you live in a place where serious winter lasts 6-7 months of the year and winter temperatures fall to the high - 30's and stay there for 3-4 months at a time; where government, crime, pandemic corruption, and a thousand years of tyrannical history make daily life miserable; where everything in your life is controlled by someone or something else; where hope is a four-letter-word and initiative is crushed; where you live on so little that any minor setback is ruinous; where most young couples live with a parent or rent a bedroom in another family's apartment because they can't afford their own; can you imagine this?

These people have an iron will and an almost-unlimited capacity to endure and it is way beyond anything I understand. This is why I love the Russians and especially the Russians in the Church that I know. They are extraordinary people and they have my admiration, my love, and my respect for what they can endure. I am grateful to be part of the process to introduce them to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope that it can bring to them. God bless the missionaries in their effort to do so.

What a country

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Children of Siberia

Children of Siberia
Weather--Warming, windy and snow
Temp--plus 38F Wind--10-20 mph

Children are basically the same all over the world. They are explorers, searching their environment for new experiences and new things to test and try out. Mothers everywhere spend much of their time trying to corral and limit their child's searching, but most children find ways to experience the adventure of discovery.

It is the same in Siberia and I have seen some instances of children wandering off, or trying to, when their mothers are otherwise occupied, sometimes without incident and sometimes to their hurt or worse. From our 9th floor bedroom I see much of the adventures of children as they tag behind mom, get pulled on a sled, get picked up while crossing the street or when moving too slowly. Even without hearing the sounds that surely accompany these events, the body language and actions are enough of the story.

I was too late to catch the action from the window of the church meeting hall at Zolani Kupola (green roof), but the tracks in the snow tell the story. Mom is walking (right to left in the picture) with a 2 year old when distracted by another adult and, before she knows it, the little one climbs into the snow bank and is trudging through the snow toward the rail road tracks beyond the fence at the top. When the mother discovers the missing child, she bounds through the snow, picks him/her up and makes her way back to the road. As mom finishes her conversation with the other adult, junior is again off toward the fence and she has to retrieve him/her once again. Giving up the exchange with the other person, the mother and child continue toward the train station. 

Another attempt at adventure unfolded below the bedroom window as I was getting dressed the other morning. A young mom with a toddler holding an orange plastic shovel came along the walk-way across the street in a slow, meandering way as the child stopped every few feet to examine something in the snow bank. He/she suddenly picked up something and put it to its face and of course mom intervened, throwing it back into the snow, leaving the child to look back at the object and then to mom a couple of times. Mom moves forward a couple of steps, encouraging further progress and a little distance from the object, but junior heads back to the object. She again intercepts him/her and decides the walk is over. Picking junior up, she walks briskly to the corner and turns right up the driveway to her apartment entry where I finally got the picture. I just hate missing the action shot.

Just going home after a family night at our house can be an adventure. In this sequence, a three year old boy is prepared for the -30 degree night as his family walks to the bus stop for the ride home. By the time they get him into his suit and the parents get their own coats, scarfs, mittens, and boots on, this kid is almost comatose from the body head trapped in his little suit.

The Cabo window looks out onto a school in the back and Sister Cindy saw a cute scene which I again did not get in my camera. A class at the school was at recess and the children were playing and digging in the snow as if they were at the beach, digging in the sand. They had a number of plastic shovels and buckets and were making tracks and digging holes when recess was over and they were called away from the play and pretend to the reality of the classroom again. The same game was seen in microcosm with a mom supervising a toddler with a shovel in a spot near our back door.

At church the music in First Branch is conducted by a 12 year old daughter of the Drachyov family and their 2 year old child has taken to standing by her while she directs. Her mother tries to divert her, but to no avail.

 Even some of our big kids are continually seeking adventure. Here Elder Antuna is trying to drink out of a juice box after Zone Conference lunch without his lips touching the spout on the theory that it would still be sanitary. What do you think? He thinks he made it and feels pretty satisfied.

Even Elder Peterson got into the act. I left my camera on the table after dinner tonight and came back into the kitchen to find him experimenting with close-ups of his face. Another adventure.

 Kids are all alike,
What a country

A Night With Carman

A Night With Carman
Weather Temp--minus 24C Wind--3-5mph from the west

Every quarter each Zone (city) attends some kind of cultural event that is typical of the local people and instructive about their ways and attitudes. We have been to a dozen ballets, a hockey game, and a folk dance and music show. 

This time we were influenced by Alexander, an investigator who is a member of the local opera company and suggested that we attend this production because it is a family friendly show and appropriate for the missionaries. He has been associated with several sets of the elders and has attended church with us so we had confidence in his suggestion.

Alexander invited some of us to come back stage before the performance. Sister Cindy, Elder McConnaghey, and I met him and were escorted around back stage to see how things look from that perspective.

Having been to many performances in this theater, it was interesting to see it from the stage. Here we see the workers cleaning and preparing the stage for the performance as we took the tour. Here is the front view for comparison.

Here Sister Cindy and Elder McConnaghey talk with Alexander about the theater as I take pictures around the back stage area. I noticed that scenery items for other shows were covered and stored beyond the audience's view and I am sure we would see them in other performances.

Walking through the dressing room and other backstage areas, it shows the age of the theater, having been built during the Stalin era and being used four or five performances a week since that time. I cannot even imagine the number of performances that have been staged since that time and the ghosts of all that time are surely haunting that place.

As we met some of the performers and then saw them on stage it was an interesting transformation in my head, seeing the before and after. The costumes and makeup really transform them into the characters.

Alexander played several parts, one being a soldier. Here he is with Elder McConnaghey and the female love interest of the main character before he gets mixed up with Carmen.

Although Alexander said it was missionary appropriate, this production definitely was not. As one of the sisters said at the first intermission, "Well, that had everything (the first act) that I am suppose to avoid on a mission". We all were a little shocked, especially me because I knew the story line and had seen one performance many years ago that was pure white-bread compared to this one. This production had been Russianized and was full of inappropriate touching, revealing clothes, suggestive posturing, drunkenness, and a half-dozen other White Book violations. We all hoped that it would get better in the subsequent acts, but it was still pretty raunchy. That surely ruined our opera experience and poisoned the well for any future performances. It is so frustrating to go to a performance expecting something acceptable but getting embarrassed and surprised. We will stick to folk dancing and symphonies from now on.

All twenty of us were seated in the 5th and 6th row and had a good view of the performance. Here we are with the Trejos during the first of four intermissions.  Sister Trejo's expression tells it all.

The curtain call was most welcome and we all left knowing that we should have left in the first intermission. It was another lesson in acting on the spirit's promptings.

A mission includes many successes and a few uncomfortable lessons. This was certainly that for all of us senior missionaries who should have led our lambs out of the theater right away. It serves to strengthen all of our resolve to act when prompted and be the leaders we came here to be.

Every culture has its threshold of tolerance for conduct and ours in the world-wide Church certainly has one a notch above what we have experienced here. The email to the senior couples from President Trejo the next morning reminded us all that it is up to us to show the way and we were all called to repentance and strengthened in our resolve to do a better job of protecting our missionaries. What a lesson.

What a country


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Lord's Earthquake Warning in Chile

The Lord's Earthquake Warning in Chile
Weather--Clear and colder alternating with overcast and snowing
Temperature--minus 26C Wind--10-12 mph from the north-west

I would like to share something that I believe demonstrates another reason why missionary parents can sleep well with their sons or daughters in the mission field. This is taken from the Meridian Magazine dated March 3, 2010. I have selected a few sentences that are the heart of her message. The article text is in blue and my comments are in black.

"Editor’s Note: President Larry Laycock and his wife, Sister Lisa Laycock head the Santiago Chile East Mission and had spent the two weeks prior to the 8.8 earthquake visiting each missionary apartment and preparing them for an earthquake."

Sister Laycock writes this open letter to tell us how the Lord prepared them for the earthquake. They have ". . .  171 full-time proselyting missionaries in this mission."

"When we were set apart for this calling, Elder Scott of the Council of the Twelve Apostles taught us many important lessons." "One message that he shared with us is this: 'At times, during your mission, you will be awakened in the middle of the night or the early morning hours with thoughts of specific things you should do for certain missionaries. Do not ignore these thoughts.' "

"Nearly two-and-one-half weeks ago, I (Sister Laycock) was awakened at around 4:00 AM by just such a prompting. I did not hear a voice, but the thought was as clear as if it had been in the form of spoken words: 'There is going to be an earthquake. Prepare your missionaries.' I sat up in bed and immediately remembered Elder Scott's counsel. That morning I told Larry what had happened. He immediately set to work organizing our missionaries to prepare for an earthquake."

"We set a goal and arranged our schedule so that we could visit every apartment in the mission to check for safety and to review with our missionaries what to do in case of an earth quake. What a wonderful experience we have had as we have met with them and shared scriptures with them about being spiritually and physically prepared '...if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear' (D&C 38:30)."

"When the earthquake came, we were prepared. We did not experience the panic that many felt. We knew we were prepared. Because of the words of the Lord's chosen Apostle, Elder Scott, we had listened and heeded the quiet, but clear promptings of the Holy Ghost. We were blessed with peace in the midst of chaos."

 I think that this clearly demonstrates the other part of why missionary mothers and fathers can sleep well at night. Besides all of the organization and people to watch out for the missionaries, the Lord is actively involved with the missionary effort and His angels are there to protect his missionaries, sometimes in spite of all of us. Frankly, I was more anxious about my son and daughters going away to camp or to college than I was for them going on their missions. I believe that there is no safer place for 19-20 year old people in the world. Here is a look at the Santiago Chile missionaries, almost three times the number of missionaries as in Novosibirsk.

Even without an earthquake or some other threatening situation, mission presidents, and especially their wives, are getting instructions from the Lord regularly, and I know that as I watch President Trejo work with matters needing his thoughtful and inspired decision, he is getting messages all of the time and his leadership shows the footprint of the Lord. It is a great comfort to know that our mission president is actively seeking and getting the messages from the true head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What a Church. What a country.