Monday, February 23, 2015

2/22/2015 Skype, Pie Crust, Frozen Fish & Zone Conference

First - There were a couple of pictures from when we were in Samara I forgot to post - the first is a Catholic church, we posted a picture of the tall part of the building on the right, but forgot to put in the whole building.  The other is one of their big squares - there are several in most cities and the architecture on the buildings in the square is beautifully detailed and the size overwhelming and there is always a massive statue.
In the 2.1.15 post we told about the miracle at the District Conference when, about 20 minutes before the meeting, the power went off in the building but with cellphones and laptops they were able to go on with the conference and broadcast to three other locations.   So now, a kind of fun side story.  The only light in the chapel came through the now fully opened blinds, not bright but at least sunlight (rare this time of year, especially as cold as it was and with a bit of snow.)   As we were sitting there waiting for the meeting to start, some of the sisters stood and started singing .. the song was "The Lord Is My Light."  I don't think that was planned by the way.  We didn't even notice it but one of the Elders pointed it out last week.  Another side note - the power came back on about 20 minutes after the meeting was over.
Sorry this is so blurry, we took it from a moving taxi - if you look really close you can see two mounted policeman.  They are in the area we call the walking street which runs in between roads on either side.  It was fun to see them.  I guess they have a mounted police unit here.  
A couple of weeks ago when the sisters were contacting, they met a young Angolan girl, early twenties, who has come to Saratov for university and speaks Portuguese, a very few English words, and is learning Russian.  She is a new member of the church and had been trying to find it here.  They set up an appointment with her, then called to see if they could use the Google Translate on the i-phone where you can talk and supposedly it translates back and forth - sometimes not exactly correct, but it works.  When they got to our apartment with her, one of our Elders, Elder Harrison was just leaving.  He had been helping Mike in translating an English training document into Russian.  When he heard the story, he said his sister Elizabeth had just gotten home from her mission to Angola.  So .. long miraculous story short - we got his sister on Skype - this is 3:30 a.m. in Utah by the way - and she and the sister missionaries sat in front of the laptop here with Elizabeth - three days home from her mission - on Skype in Utah, 7-8 thousand miles away translating and helping teach this young woman.  There were even some people Elizabeth and this young lady both knew.  They have had another Skype session, and will meet again Wednesday of this week.  The Angolan girl is bringing a roommate who is interested.  The whole experience, timing and everyone being where they were and etc. etc. - - those things are not coincidences .. the Lord is in charge of his church.
This weeks cooking adventure:  We found some cookies that look like the Teddy Grahams, so assumed they could be crushed and used for a graham cracker crust.  So we could have chocolate pie with some of the instant chocolate pudding and dream whip that we received Christmas time.  I followed the recipe for graham cracker crust,  and fortunately did not cook it quite the length of time it asked, cooled it and filled it with the chocolate pudding.  President and Sister Schwab were here for a Branch conference Sunday and then the Zone conference today so we had them drop by Sunday evening for chicken and rice - thanks again to our Christmas packages - before they went on to more meetings.  And for dessert,  we served the pie.  It is blessing I didn't cook it the required time because to say the crust was plenty crunchy is an understatement, you can see by the picture that there was no bending when Mike picked it up with a knife.  And you had to chop down through it, but once you got a bite sized piece it was quite good - kind of had a heath bar taste.   It was much more fun than if it had turned out right.  They even came back over tonight after our Zone Conference for soup and sandwiches before heading home - and we finished it off.  Sitting in the fridge didn't soften the crust a bit - but it did make the taste of the crust and the chocolate pudding richer.

We told you about the carts at the market that you have to have a 10 ruble coin to insert so they detach from the other carts.  We gave the bus a 50 ruble note hoping for some 10's in change, but they gave us four 5 ruble coins instead.  We weren't sure how to ask one of the clerks for change, but we had seen this little machine on the way into the store, and since it has the 10 ruble sign on it, then slots for 1, 2, or 5 rubles, we put in two fives and out came a 10.   We were pretty excited - doesn't take much to make us happy when we figure something, even something simple, out on our own.  And I also see I need to curl the back of my hair different -- two good things to learn in a day.
 You have to look close also to see this one -- this is the display of a frozen fish vendor on the sidewalk .. the fish you see standing up on their fins are frozen into that position, pretty clever.  We were going take a closer picture, but the vendor came around the corner to see what we were doing and he was very big and he wasn't smiling.  
 In our Zone Conference today, President Schwab told of them going to Turkey for the East European Area Mission President's Conference.  He said he and Sister Schwab decided they were going to do what they tell their missionaries to do and talk of the church with everyone they meet.  So they committed to that in their prayers and asked for help, aware of the problems with their very limited Russian.  Their trip included two flights both ways .. and on three of those flights, they "just happened" to have seats next to Russians who also spoke English.  One was interested in the church, one kind of and one not, but with all they had good conversations and exchange of numbers. You never know.
     Also, during the lunch break, several of the Elders' companionships went out on the streets contacting.  There had some interesting experiences.  One set met a young man who had just come in from another country with his wife and small child -- they were interested in the message and are coming to English club on Tuesday night.  Another set, however, talked to a larger, older man who at first seemed friendly, then they asked him what he knew about life after death.  He changed from being friendly and asked the elders why they were here, they were not of his country.  They tried to explain and talked politely to him but he said .."If you keep talking, you better believe in life after death." They eased quickly to the end of the conversation and left.
      Finishing up this week with a thought that President Schwab brought from the Area Presidency to the missionaries - "Obedience brings blessings, but exact obedience brings miracles."  


Monday, February 16, 2015

2/15/15 Buses, Ice and Lunch

We are convinced that there are no people more steady on their feet than those here as we observe them on icy sidewalks and standing or walking in buses whose drivers, though skilled, still have a fair amount of jerking when the bus starts and stops, not to mention the swaying when they turn corners - but they stay on their feet, even without holding on to the poles or overhead hand-holds.  Some buses have conductors who walk up and down to get your money, and they move with amazing poise and ease.  However, yesterday we did make a mistake as Mike directed me to the only empty seat which was just a row up from the door, a single.  We were a bit surprised because there were people standing, but found out rather quickly why as the conductor descended upon us, unsmiling, talking and pointing to the sign we couldn't read so hadn't paid attention to - it is reserved for the conductor.  Whoops - won't do that again.
A popular church very beautifully built.  It is located across the parking lot from one of the large markets here. A lot of the churches have the tall domes.  
This is in the parking lot of that market.  This big loader scoops and moves the snow off the parking area to the back of the lot in big piles that look like the piles of sand you see in a sand and gravel lot at home - except these piles are cold and white and wouldn't be much fun to play in .. actually, maybe they would be.  
 The church does humanitarian projects throughout Europe, we were here taking pictures for the preliminary submission-- this picture is for our dear friend Betty Hartley who wondered what my haircut looked like -- this is far away and fuzzy enough to post -- and it is several weeks better now.  
 We go with either a companionship of Elders or Sisters every other Monday for a FHE with a family - either member or investigator, that the missionaries have set up.  Every time it has been good .. except maybe this time when they turned off the lights and didn't answer the door, our first experience like that.  We had taken a taxi which was gone, so we had to wait for another to come to take us back, it is quite a ways out so the road is just two long ruts in the snow, but the apartment building complex and the trees look a lot the same as in many other areas.

Hmmm - maybe we need to add something to our Ward Conferences at home -- these are the tables set up and bountifully spread for everyone after the block at the Branch Conference we attended on Sunday, although the fact that they have 35-40 compared to our 150 at home could make a difference. Nevertheless,  is nice - and everyone eats before any after-conference meetings are started.
Along with the good times, it seems that all during their life face difficult times, we have man here who has been a member about a year.  He likes this scripture and feels it a directive to him - we like it too:  Timothy 2:2 - Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.    And a scripture that goes with that - Helaman 5:12 - And now, my sons, remember, remember, that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it all have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build,they cannot fail.     Our love and prayers are with you.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2/8/2015 Nice Busy Week and More Snow

We like the snow because it covers up the ice and makes walking a lot easier.  Before the snow at the end of this week, I had my second, Mike his third fall.  We were walking to get our cleaning,  I slipped once, stepped to rebalance and slipped again - the missionaries say you can recover from a once, but when it goes into second, you're down so the trick is to finish the fall as gracefully as possible.  Not sure we accomplished that.  I had my arm through Mike's so when the second slip came almost the same time as the first, he went down too.  Another miracle - it should have been, but wasn't a hard fall.  Our fathers must have been there holding us to let us down gently, because I hit my face and came away without breaking glasses or nose, a only a slightly bruised and swollen top lip, Mike with nothing.  And we landed on a clean spot, so we didn't get dirty.
   It has been snowing now, and it is really beautiful. You can see how high the snow is getting on the sides on one of the "walking streets" that are here and there throughout the city.  They come in daily with a little bobcat to clean.  He dumps it into a truck that carries it off to who knows where since there is snow everywhere already.
This is one of the statues with his lacy cape and hat of snow and a couple of our Elders.  We have permission from the President that if a missionary is leaving our area, either a transfer or a go home, we can take them to dinner - as long as it is during the time they have planned for dinner and for not more than an hour.  We have a restuarant that is close - isn't that funny that we think it is close and it is about a 20 minute walk - it is good and amazingly inexpensive since the ruble is where it is now.
This is on our way back, I'm in the middle.
Our building is still closed so our church was moved to the conference rooms of a Planetarium - everyone was hoping we could see the displays, but it was just rooms.  There is also an exercise area there too, so occasionally there would be someone in sweats walking around probably wondering what in the world was going on.   
Very short  blog this week, wanted to be sure you all knew we were doing well.   We never continue to be amazed and touched at the many things in this wonderful world we live in .. the variety of seasons and plants and varying shades of  blue and green and grey and even white, in reality, all colors.  In some places where people have walked, the snow can vary in color from the froth on a good rootbeer float (no rootbeer here however) to dark brown sugar .. quite pretty.  There are some  black spots too, but right now they even look clean with the snow around them.  We think that might change when the thaw comes.  Makes us think of D&C 59:16-20 summarized: "the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth (and I guess even those things that biteth the missionaries :) ..and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for rainment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards:
and then more great verses that show how much our Father loves us and wants our happiness:
Yea all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart...for food and for rainment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul...
and it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man.
And we are grateful for that - and grateful for all of you!!!  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2/1/15 Dog Bite, Picture & District Conference

On the wall in our kitchen is a map that shows where the missionaries come from, just showing you the western states so you can see our/your star.   It looks like there are a lot from Utah, and there are, but if you add up all the others from across the US it is pretty close, right now we have missionaries from Utah we well as from Boston, Sweden, California, Florida, Texas
 We meet with one of the members and her son twice a month to work on her English and our Russian.  It has been quite fun.  We had the kids send us Cat in the Hat, she has been reading it just from the words, so will give her the book this Monday, later Green Eggs and Ham.  She gave us the Russian book by Pushkin about the fisherman and the goldfish - in Russian - and we've attempted, Mike mainly, with her help to read in it.  Last week she and Elder Waite read from the Book of Mormon alternating verses - she read in English and he read in Russian.  She only had to correct his pronunciation a couple of times.  She is a very good artist - below is one of her paintings - very detailed and very colorful - this one in pastels.  It is hard for her to sell them during the winter because she can't take them to one of the outdoor Renigs (lots of shops in one area) to sell them.  
Elder Bruce Porter and Sister Porter, he is our Eastern Europe area president, were here with our mission president, President Schwab and his wife for a special District Conference.  Our regular building was closed down so we had to meet at another main location and then  they had to transmit to 3 other locations.  It was a cold, windy day, cloudy at first and still lots of people, members, investigators and friends were there and excited about all going on.  
  It was early but everyone that needed to be on the stand was seated and many of the congregation were already in their seats.  The Elders and some of the brethren were working on the Skype to the other buildings.  Then, about 20 minutes before the meeting the power went off in the building.  In just a few minutes one of the District Presidency stepped to the podium and asked that everyone pray that they could get things fixed.  It quieted immediately except for those working on the transmission equipment and those checking through the building.  It was pretty tender to see all the bowed heads and to feel the strong, peaceful spirit.  The power didn't come on, but laptops and cell phones were gathered and set up - the wifi still worked even though the electricity didn't.  Those speaking spoke loudly and those working on the transmission alternated the equipment, which miraculously outlasted normal battery life (they said batteries usually drain pretty fast with that kind of streaming) and  they were able to carry the full session to the other locations and everyone in our building could hear even without a microphone.   In her talk Sister Porter mentioned she was grateful for sun and light.  The sun had come out - still cold though - and they had opened blinds so there was plenty of light.  It was an important meeting for Saratov and there were many miracles today.  We are grateful we could be there.  (You've seen various view of this, it is the church we have to travel to for the extra district meetings.  This is the front and the path you see is the only non-ice in the whole yard.  We had a taxi driver today who would have made a good Indy driver - the fastest we've ever made it home, which was another tender mercy - so we could be ready when people came to eat. )
When there are visitors, we have dinner for them at our apartment so they can eat before they go to the airport.  We're impressed with our leaders here - humble, kind and very dedicated servants of our Father and His Son.  They are comfortable and fun to be around.  We move the kitchen table into the frontroom where there is more space. (You can see our grandchildren's Merry, Merry Christmas photos behind us.)  So Elder & Sister Porter (in picture), President & Sister Schwab and President Blinkov  of the mission presidency came today and enjoyed some Bunkerville favorites - turkey (chicken) stew and the jello poke cake with the dream whip/pudding on top - ingredients gratefully sent from home.   I'm always pretty nervous about the meals, but pray a lot and heaven has really blessed us; things seem to work out and taste good - one of what Wilda always called  "modern day miracles."  Certainly for us it is a very tender mercy.  

We learned a very important lesson this week, or I learned and Mike learned from my experience -  don't pet the friendly family dog even if it cute and fluffy and snuggled down in the arms of one of the family.  It was between a small and medium sized dog.   I wasn't even close to the head with the hand I was petting it with, but it turned quickly and bit the little finger on my other hand, got both sides, so there are bruises and teeth punctures here and there and is pretty swollen and sore, but is getting better.   Good lesson learned on a healthy dog.  We wouldn't pet a dog on the streets anyway, but this just x'd off any in homes too.  We did have a picture, but decided it was kind of yuk to post.

A scripture that really jumped out that we've seen probably many times .. Alma 13:5 - ..being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared -- "  and that is all it says and He certainly was prepared -- such a simple statement that says so much.  
Also, one of the Elders shared a quote his mother has always used from President Ezra Taft Benson.
"When obedience ceases to be an irritant
and becomes our quest,
in that moment God will endow us with power."

love you all -- the Russia Waites - and happy grandparents today again for the 19th time