Monday, March 30, 2015

3/29/15 Volga Thawing, Talk, Cell Phone in Church

"We're not lost, I just don't know where we are." Mike's comment as we walked back from the Volga last week.  He is getting so he can get us back home from lots of places, even though the sun sets in the East for him over here.  The ice has started to break up although you still see some fishermen closer to the Engels side of the river.  There are more people out walking now and the young ladies are changing from tights to nylons or bare legs, not a favorite change for the Mission President.
One interesting thing is that right off the bank where you can see down further into the water, there are ice chunks up on top, then water and down deeper is another large section of ice.  The swimmers are glad now they don't have have to chip out the ice before they swim.
         We went with the elders Monday night to visit a member who lives with his parents.  His dad is about Mike's age and is retired from one job, but working at another.  He fishes in the summer, but only from the bank and he's excited to take Mike fishing this summer.  I'll watch.  He said they catch fish to feed to their cats.  The Volga trip was our best weather this week although it is actually colder since it has warmed up because of a very cold wind, but at least now, instead of always blowing in our faces, it sometimes is at our backs.
One more picture, taken on our way to a baptism in Engels - you have to cross the bridge to get there.  You can see where the river is running and beyond the bridge more ice.  
We have seen crews out on different projects, but this was the first real dump truck.  It will take quite a few more loads to fill the hole which has been so full of ice you couldn't tell how deep it was until the thaw - then a virtual mud hole.  It is on our way from the bus stop to the church
The mission president's wife couldn't come to the women's conference here, so they asked Mike if I would do it.  He assured them I would be very happy to accept that assignment.  We have a friend who translated for me. The subject was forgiveness and we were talking about why and how, etc.  One sister stood up and was making her comments (they always stand when they share).  I was smiling and nodding, assuming that what she was saying was very good when Anya, my translator, quietly told me that she was telling us that her home burned down, someone had choked her chickens and that gas prices were going down.  I hope they thought it was the gas prices bringing my smiles and nods..   

Hope I can tell this story good enough that you can picture it.  At church today we met together the third hour for the 5th Sunday, there were probably 50-60 in attendance.  Our branch president had finished his comments, we had the closing song and the lady giving the closing prayer was up front, arms folded and head bowed.  The congregation the same.  She was just ready to start when a cell phone went off - one of those rings that plays a favorite classical, but snappy tune.  It was fairly loud and everything paused while the sister, probably late sixties, finally and unfrantically, searched through her large purse, found the phone and fished it out.  She held it up, we all thought to turn it off, but she held it up to her ear/mouth and answered it - and in an only barely hushed voice -- "Aa-lo."  Most started laughing, but the sister behind her leaned up and indicated to turn it off, which she did, but not until after she said what she had to say.  It was quick - probably telling them to wait until the prayer was over.  It was hilarious.
Image result for picture of older woman talking on cell phone
This is Sister Palmer - she has been here since we got here and has taken good care of us.  She is the one, with her companion of course, that has gone with me to my hair cuts/colors/ etc.  She is a delightful personality and a hard worker, was able to get us into homes of active or inactive members and investigators.  We will miss having her here, but glad for her new adventure in Samara.  
Here are a couple more pictures from the work of the lady from last week who is amazingly talented in so many areas of sewing.  She made the jacket and did the decorations .. she is teaching a class for relief society work meeting, she specifically invited me so I'm attending and have started a picture .. somehow I don't think she will have to worry about me taking any of her business.  :)   I'll post the picture of my creation next week.

So, closing for now with a couple of quotes on forgiveness, since that was my subject for the talk:  

From one of Elder Hollands talks -  - “ to harbor anger and not forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. 

President Uchtdorf: Brothers and sisters, there is enough heartache and sorrow in this life without our adding to it through our own stubbornness, bitterness, and resentment.  We are not perfect.  The people around us are not perfect.   People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.  Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.  Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive.  Lay your burden at the Savior’s feet. Let go of judgment. Allow Christ’s Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another.  The merciful will obtain mercy."
     And from President Gordon B. Hinckley:   If there be any within the sound of my voice who nurture in their hearts the poisonous brew of enmity toward another, I plead with you to ask the Lord for strength to forgive. This expression of desire will be of the very substance of your repentance. It may not be easy, and it may not come quickly. But if you will seek it with sincerity and cultivate it, it will come. And even if the one you have forgiven will not accept that forgiveness or if they don’t stop what they are doing, you will know you have done what you could and there will come into your heart a peace that cannot come another way. That peace will be the peace of Jesus Christ who said:  “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: “But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”        
  Hope all is going well with each of you !!  

Monday, March 23, 2015

3/22/15 Missionaries, Falling Ice, Classroom

From one of our companionships: "About three months ago, we found a teaching record for a 10 year old girl from eight years ago.  It said that her older sister was an investigator who always brought her little sister with her to church.  Of the little sister the record reported very little, only that she met with the Elders once, loved church, and liked reading the Book of Mormon picture book.  We went to the address listed to try to find her but it turned out that the lady who lived there didn't know her and slammed the door on us.Then, about five nights ago, we had the craziest evening.  To make it short, we got on the wrong bus by accident and so were in a place we normally don't contact.   So we were like "well, we wonder what they Lord wants us to do here tonight."
      We began walking and passed this young couple.  After they had walked past us for a while, we both had the impression we needed to talk to them. We turned and hurried, caught up with them, began talking to them and it turns out that the young girl is the girl we were looking for, now 18.  She  is interested and she is amazing.

Image result for Sister missionary lds pictures
The top picture of the over-hanging ice on the roof  - three stories up - was taken 5 days before the second picture.  The building sidewalk was blocked off with caution tape when we took the first picture - we had to walk out in the street.  You can see why they had it blocked off in the second picture when the ice finally fell off the roof.  Even though they try to block off these kinds of spots, the local people tell us there are several each year who are injured by the falling ice.  This is by where we take our dry cleaning; here and throughout the city, sidewalks on the least sunny side of the streets are still icy.

I went with the Elders to visit a Sister who was baptized in January.  Mike was at the District Meeting.  Her favorite pet is a hairless cat, which I had never seen before and was a bit of a start at first, because instead of seeing hair, you see wrinkles and lines and skin and very cat eyes.  But it has a pretty cute personality, climbed right on to one of the Elder's shoulders.  Grateful it was him instead of me.

She is very talented, works as a seamstress and also does pictures making leaves, flowers and whatever she needs to make her picture.  The picture itself is on the medium weight canvas type material and she adds the three dimension look with the accessories she makes from ribbon and whatever else she needs.   They are pretty amazing.  The one below she did for the Elder that baptized her.  What was so great and I wish I had taken a picture of, was her sewing corner.  There, the two sewing machines she uses stand side by side - her grandmother's old treadle machine, still going strong, and her new, modern serger.  There was a prom type dress she was working on, plus she had done her curtains and table coverings - they look very professional.
 Letters on her fridge for her grandchildren - just like we do except there are some different letters and/or they make different sounds.  The red "y" in the middle says "ooooh" , the orange ^ sign closed across the bottom in at the bottom is a D.  The red circle with a line through it at the very bottom of the picture is the F.  The funny looking yellow letter right above says "zha."   The P at the left of the F is the R and the B to the left of that "says Va".  The H above the P (that is really an R), is an N .... enough of that!!

We got to go into another area of Saratov for a humanitarian project   The homes are more stand alone and larger than we usually see - you'd think you were in Utah.. or close.

The TB children's hospital we visited there had all sorts of learning aids in the classrooms- kind of fun to see them in another language.  The head doctor met us at the top of the street, shook the men's hands and then bowed and kissed mine . was kind of fun.  They are very protective and respective of older people here.  
More than just math, we have found we are alike in a lot of ways.  

The kids will like this phonic chart.  The top right picture is a dolphin - the letter is D 

And this is one of their classrooms.  The church does amazing things for so many differnt organizations all over the world.

The doctor even had an old phone on his desk .. from back in the 50's .. that doesn't sound so long ago to me.
There was a huge bird nest in the trees just to the left of the building where the children stay .. you could see the bird and it was big and had a long tail .. it would come and go so don't know whether it is making the nest or taking care of new little ones.
This is the building where the children stay and they go down to another building for classes and another building for meals.  It looks like it will be beautiful in the spring.  The nurses wear the white coats and hats.

They have projects for the children-here is a picture they made out of teeny pieces of napkins rolled up.
 And this is the one he gave to Mike & I as we were leaving.  The doctor and all the staff are so nice and so very appreciative of what the church does.  The yellow bird is good luck for a happy day.
Everything is thawing so it is really muddy - you can see by this car

Lots of pictures this time - it has been a busy week and we're started into another.  There are little miracles every day.  We are grateful when we are able to find what we need at one of the local stores, grateful that we have hot water and good pressure, grateful that even when it is cold outside, our apartment is warm, grateful that when we do fall we don't come away with anything broken, grateful when the bus is right there those times we have heavy bags to carry, grateful the institute is so close to our apartment, grateful for those times when, although we thought we made more than plenty, it looks like the food won't go around but somehow it does, grateful for boots and hats to keep us dry and warm, grateful to be here together, and the list goes on and on each day.  We're grateful for prayer!!  We are grateful for health to be able to serve when we have good friends (like Jimmie and Angie Hughes and DeLos and Julie Perkins) who would like to be here but because of health, can't be.  They serve their missions from home, lifting and touching lives there.
     More miracles - We "just happen" to run into someone we needed to see.  Situations you think won't work out "just happen" to fall into place.  And it may seem a little thing, but I worry much about my cooking here and it is big to me that we have been blessed so much on that.  Doors are opened and hearts are softened with meals and treats. We have become friends with our little old oven and we are grateful for that.  Our hearts are touched and our testimonies strengthened by the people here as has been true in our lives wherever we have been - your examples strengthen our testimonies and your love and care has blessed our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren..
   So closing for now ..
 “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… we’ll always be with you.” 
The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

Monday, March 16, 2015

3/15/15 Blue Suede Shoes, Ducks and Ice Chunk Graveyards

            Even if we gave you one hundred chances to guess what we did last Saturday, you still might not think of it.  Our district includes eight branches close and scattered, and for the district party celebrating women's day all together, our district president asked Mike if we would dance for one of the numbers. At the Institute's Valentine party we had country danced to one of their popular songs with a good beat - and apparently president was among those who stepped in to watch.  That kind of dancing is a novelty here.  I do like to dance, but was not even a smidge excited about that assignment and a little surprised Mike was so willing to do it, but he doesn't turn down assignments whatever they are. The fun part was practicing during the week in the evenings - but practice and prayer paid off.  We changed into levis for the dance, they turned on Blue Suede Shoes, and it went well even though we were on a carpeted "stage," which is the podium area of church - good sized, they just take down the front panels that divide it in meetings for those who sit on the stand. The older people were enthusiastic and the youth were most likely just surprised that people our age could move that fast. And it seemed to open some doors - members who were friendly but reserved, came up and were warm, smiling and holding a thumbs up, which seems to be a universal positive in every language.

We had one other part to do, so asked one of our members, who is enthusiastic and comfortable in front of a group, teach the line dance, Cotton Eye Joe, to a group of guys he called up from the audience - it was great.  He came equipped with cowboy boots, a dress coat that looked Western and a hat.  We kind of showed him the dance last week, but mainly went to the video on You Tube where he learned it and added to - they don't do it with nearly as much class or pazaz as he does.

Sunday's are difficult sometimes just because that is when I really notice the communication barrier.  Often a missionary will translate for us in Sacrament Meeting, but for Sunday School and Relief  Society the sister missionaries go to the class their investigators go to.  In Sunday School we can kind of follow the lesson because of the scriptures and in  Relief Society I do  have the manual in English.  There are usually Elders in Priesthood so Mike is good there.  As Mike has said, sometimes we ache to be able to hear their thoughts and stories, to know how they feel and what they think, to understand those things that make them laugh or be very serious during a lesson.  He is doing better on the language study than I am.  Once we got over here and I finally got into tenses and conjugations and making all the words in the sentence the right tense because if one word changes often the other words change -- enough said,  I think I will have to content myself with simple sentences and knowing the names of the spices and leave the conversation to Mike.  I'll never be accused of talking too much over here.  And, speaking of grocery shopping - you find all sorts of things you didn't plan on finding - and probably don't want.  And it was in the canned fish section, just passing by, not an area we shop in.  However, if we had to pick, we just might take the cat over the canned fish.
We have a duck pond of sorts over here - just a bit more inaccessible at this time of the year.
 Nature is amazing all the time, these ducks are just as content as if they were in a nice warm pool.  And it makes you understand the statement ..  "like water off a duck's back" .. because you never see beads of water on their feathers.
The small kind of storage sheds at the side of the apartment building playgrounds usually have pictures painted on them, very often the story book characters from home.  Children, always accompanied by an adult, play even when it is freezing cold.  They might be bundled so much they can hardly bend their arms, but they can still do lots of fun things.  The apartments where we are, are pretty small and the kids and probably the adults like being out .. but also here they feel it is imperative to good health to have time out of doors. 
Thought you'd enjoy this bus sign .. it goes on to give you the fines you could have if you are not traveling with a valid ticket.  We wondered if maybe David Stratton with his skill and good spirit of always wanting to help people get their finances in order, had contacted the bus company over here.   
Even though the temperatures are still in the low 30's and the "Ice Chunk Graveyards" where everyone puts the ice they chip off the sidewalks are still there, the sun is melting the ice from the sidewalks so walking is much easier.  (Our district leader and his fresh from the MTC companion)

 Thought you's like to see this one .. at least now they have a path to go up the stairs.
We're so very grateful for Skype where we can see and talk to our our amazing grandchildren, always in our hearts regardless of distance, as they grow up.  

Just some short thoughts from some recent meetings:

A translated comment from an 8 year old who was just baptized - "I want to become a friend of Jesus so he can help me stay on the path." 

Having faith in the Lord includes having faith in His timing.

When Nephi is bound by his brothers in  1 Nephi 7:17, his prayer is for strength to break the bands, not just that the Lord take them away.

And the last one for today from President Ezra Taft Benson:  When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes a quest, God will endow us with power.

 Grateful for you all !!  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

3/8/2015 A Poem, A Fall, A Hospital and Holiday Flowers

Image result for black & white picture of Russia
Who Are You Boy?
(Poem to a missionary from a Russian Convert 2009)
Who are you boy?  
From your land of plenty
Teaching of God if there is any.
You have all, we have none
Do you know what that feels like son?
And yet, you ask me to believe
In something that I cannot see
Some force you say will bring me joy.
Do you know what that feels like boy?

Where you are from, faith is free
But it has a price for me.
When I have pain I have my bottle
Hurt dies quick when you drown it in vodka.
That's enough to warm my soul
I work, I sleep, the days go by -
I am waiting for the day I die.
you don't understand this place
You say believe, obey, have faith.
Live life well, serve and give
Here .. we just live.

Who are you boy? Why did you come?
To save a soul who once was numb?
To teach a wretched, hateful man
Who cursed your help, refused your hand.
I thought that we were worlds apart.
So, how is it you knew my heart?
A fraction my age, you calmed my rage.
Mercy paid my generous wage.
I should have been left behind
It is hard to love my kind.
Hope in your heart, power in your hands
Why did you come to this distant land?

I know now, it was for me
The curtain fell, but I was not free
Until a boy from nations away,
Brought me my Lord, I bless the day
He led me to weep at my Master's feet,
The American boy I met on the street.
New and naive, still in his teens
With a message to bring the world to its knees.
I thought that the truth would come from another,
I did not know this boy was my brother.
Image result for black & white picture of Russia
Had a fun fall this week.  We were just coming back from getting some groceries.  As we came down our sidewalk, just before the gate, there was ice on the sidewalk that continued and sloped down the gutter, then to the road .. just enough of a down slant that when I slipped and went down, I was kind of tipped to the right on my backside, my nice slick coat served as a sled, and I just kept sliding several more feet... actually it was kind of fun and I wasn't hurt - we always count that as one of our miracles.
Sorry we don't have a picture - but if you painted this bear black that is probably just how I looked. :)
Image result for picture of someone slipping on ice

We had another opportunity to go a closing on one of the church's humanitarian projects, this time a children's tuberculosis hospital.  From Mike's writing: "Two months ago we went to this children’s TB hospital to take pictures of the furniture they were requesting funds to replace.  One of the items was a bed stand, for each of the 20 cots that now had no place for each child’s personal storage.  We took pictures of the old desks, chipped counters, cupboards and tables long past due for a big outdoor bonfire, and then we were given permission to slip quietly into the rooms where children were sleeping, covered completely.  It was an emotional moment as we almost reverently moved among the small sleeping covered mounds to take our pictures.  
               Then yesterday we went back for the closing visit,  met again with the doctor and his head nurse - they have both been there 17 years.  They were very appreciative, and we were invited to have cups of chai (herbal tea), cookies and chocolates, but at first there was a formal meeting and the doctor gave us a colored certificate of gratitude for the Church’s generosity.  We took pictures and shook hands, then the nurse led us from room to room, showing us the clean desks, marble counters, large new dining tables and the bedside stands, one for each child.  We were pleased with what the church does and could sense the genuine gratitude of the staff.  But the scenes that gave life to our visit were the children, the bright, happy children, from 2-5 years I’m guessing.  At the dining tables they were smiling and waving to us, posing for our pictures.  They come to this hospital for six to twelve months to be cured, although the effects are always there.    For each of us there was, I believe, the temptation to sit up close to them, read a Russian version of “Cat in the Hat” and hug them – such innocent, bright eyed children.  
               It was our final stop before returning to the doctor’s office (like a business office, not a patient room) and the herbal tea and chocolates, when we happened on an open door framing a nurse dancing with tykes perhaps 2-3 years old.  They were circling the nurse to the rhythm of the music and we distracted a couple of them who seemed curious about these visitors, as fascinated with us as we were taken by them.  We filmed them to be able to refresh our memories of their beauty and happiness, but I’m sure we recorded the tender scene in a more permanent place in our hearts.  We are sure there are many times in their lives that everything is not so good.
(Before and after pictures are posted below.)

These are the beds, now with new bedspreads and new nightstands,  the before picture had children in the beds and although they were completely covered, we can't post the picture.  We were impressed with the staff and the love and care they show the children.

I'll copy two different explanations for their March 8 holiday:  "March 8th (восьмо́е ма́рта) is also known as the International Women's Day (Междунаро́дный же́нский день). This holiday emerged as a political celebration to symbolize the fight of women from all over the world for their rights, full equality with men, democracy and peace. As the time passed, the political motives of the holiday moved to the background and March 8th simply became a women's holiday in Russia and other republics of the former USSR."

"8 March – International Women’s Day - In today’s Russia International Women’s Day has nothing to do with the feminist movement for protection of women’s political rights. On this day women enjoy being taken care of by their men and children. 8 March is kind of a combination of St. Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. It is a wonderful day of womanhood, love, flowers and indulgence. Being aNational Holiday in Russia International Women’s Day is free from work."

We saw men of all ages walking and on buses, carrying flowers.  They have to be fresh and given in odd numbers - even numbers of flowers are only given at funerals.
(side note - the book you see in the bottom left of the picture is Mike's word book; our bus trips give him time to study - some trips more than others)

Interesting, we saw lots and lots of the yellow flowers.  They are from the mimosa tree - the ones he has in the top picture above.  We found out that it is the traditional flower to give because years ago when, because it is still very cold this time of year, they didn't have and couldn't bring in fresh flowers the mimosa tree was the first blooming and had these flowers.

There are cars and stands everywhere selling them, some have the other flowers too - a few roses and some tulips.  This car was on our way from the bus to our branch building this morning.

It has been warmer - mid to high twenties - but enough the ice is starting to melt enough that some of it is gone when it refreezes during the night so there are more dry spots on the walks.  The next week is supposed to be in the low thirties, so more ice will clear from the walks.  There are higher piles now in the "ice chunk graveyards" that line the sides of the streets because the ice is easier now to chip out.
It has been a great experience already for us.  Even those times we feel the longing to have our grandchildren "on our laps instead of our laptops," we would not be anywhere else and are very grateful to our Heavenly Father that we are able to serve.  Our lives have been touched for good by the saints here, by the missionaries and by the people.
There is in Moroni 7 verses we always like for the conviction and comfort they bring: 35-37: "..has the day of miracles ceased, or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men?  Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them?  Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?  Behold I say unto you, Nay: for it is by faith that miracles are wrought and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men...."   (Hebrews 11 is also a good chapter on faith)
So, signing off for this week with what my youngest sister always ends her emails with ..."Onward and upward."    Grateful for each of you.