Sunday, May 24, 2015

5/24/15 Guess, Water, Balakova, Marks and Saratov

We liked this from Steve Cluff, don't think he'll mind if we share - "GOOD NEWS FOR MIKE:  When you guys get back home, he can catch the bus on Virgin Street, ride it up to the front door of Walmart and back home, all without having to walk so far and take less than a hour round trip.  I'm sure this will be such a pleasant experience, he'll want to continue the shopping experience even at home. (HA!)"  

See if you can guess what this is -- we'll post it at the first of next week's blog:  
  It has been a year since, at our family's annual Memorial Day reunion, we opened our mission call.  Who would have ever thought we would be where we are today.  What a great blessing it has been to us and to our children and grandchildren.  They have gathered again and although we miss them, and very deeply at times, we are okay with not being there and are grateful they are all there and that they enjoy being together.  It has been a busy and peace-filled weekend for us - another of our Father's many tender mercies.  
There is a song that says "because we have been given much, we too must give."  We have been given much in our lives and are grateful to be able to serve.   
(Reunion - May 2014)
(Reunion - May 2015)
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Sometimes this blog may seem only a report of fun adventures - and there are those for sure; and because those are generally more interesting, that is what we post.  .  , but our week remains full of hopefully what our president calls consecrated missionary service. 

One of the things we have been grateful for here has been hot water and good water pressure .. but we are now even more grateful.  Earlier in the week they turned off the hot water "just for the day" so the pipes could be cleaned out.  We did have cold water, and by evening the hot water was kind of back on, but was about the same color as the Virgin River after a flood, barely warm and very little pressure.  (One of our tender mercies - I had just washed the whites.)  That color mostly cleared up after running it for a while. The next morning - still low pressure, less than lukewarm and pretty much clear.  It was good enough for a quick shower, which adds another tender mercy because within an hour, the water pressure went up, the water was clear, but very, very cold - not a drop of warm water.  Apparently some apartment buildings turn off their hot water when summer comes so we had almost resigned ourselves to trying to figure out how to heat all the water we would need for bathing and dishes and all.  Then, when we came home after Institute Wednesday, we had hot water and good pressure.  We thought we appreciated it before, but nothing like we do now.  There are others still waiting for hot water to come back on. The sister missionaries haven't had hot water for two weeks although it is getting so the hot tap is at least warmer than the cold tap.  Also, we have an investigator who is one of those who never have hot water during the summer -  the hot water is not as cold as the cold water, but still isn't really warm. She wasn't complaining, it was just matter-of-fact.

We were able to go with our CES director of the Samara mission to Balakovo for their Institute Closing Social.  It takes about 2 1/2 hours - two lane roads like we used to have more of.  They have a helpful passing system .. it goes for so far with the passing lane on one side, then it switches to the other side, works quite  well.  On the way we stopped at an small magneet (like a Circle K probably) to get some water.  They also had an outdoor fish market.  The pictures start with a larger overview and then get closer.  There are a lot of trucks on the road and this must be a parking area, because you can see them lined up on the left.
 The vendors set up their tables - the umbrellas are the clue that warmer weather is here.  They set up side by side even if they are selling the same thing.
 These are dried, salted fish, kind of like our jerky, but no smell.
 Our CES director is buying some of the best for his family.
 Here are some pretty scary looking catfish.
Now - on to Balacovo, which is about 200,000 in population compared to Saratov's 850,000.  The building here sits on a large piece of ground next to the Volga, and also right next to one of the dams used for electricity.  The building originally was used for those building the dam and is fenced and has a locked gate that you have to be let in and out of if you are in a car or motorcycle.  The church leases the second and third floor, but the owners still have the first floor and maintain a 24 hour security guard because of the dam.  You can see just a bit of the river on the left of the first picture and the right of the second. 

This is the lobby just as you walk in - old building but well kept.
This is the view of the Volga from the porch area just out of the door from the chapel where they held the Institute activity.  The missionaries said they always close the blinds during Sacrament meeting -- after being there we can understand the reasoning behind that.  
The building sits on about 1 to 1 1/4 acre - very green and beautiful now, but no reason for the owners to spend time and money keeping it in tip top shape.  Mike was already figuring out what needed to be done, trimming and pruning and mowing, etc to have it look its best and how long it would probably take.  In the winter it is pretty much snow and ice.  
We had heard some scary stories about the motel we would be staying in - one of the Assistants to the President who is now serving his last two cycles back out in the field and in one of our districts just laughed and said it would be one of those journal-writing experiences.  It was but in a different way - our director had found another hotel - which rivals anything we've seen at home.   
It is by the side of a wide canal and there are metal stairs going down to it

Just little things, but not only did the bedspread, curtain and chair match, but the same theme was carried on in the bathroom tile and floor.  
 plus they had this pull out mirror that turns any way there is. Such an important thing and Mike didn't even notice it was there.
 Finally - and I hope you can see these two bare feet worked into the pattern on the bath mat - kind of fun.  Their complimentary breakfast, by the way, was almost a 5 course meal.  
We went back through Marks - another area in our mission, which is only a little over an hour from Saratov.  The population is now around 30,000 and it has kind of a small town feel, dirt roads going here and there from the more major roads.  The building will look familiar because it is the same plan as the one with the blue roof that is built in Solnechney - the pictures with the ice and snow.  The roof looks blue here, but it is gray.  The branch president happened to be there taking care of the yard and mowing the lawn so it was good to meet him.  He has been branch president for 17 years and has only a clerk now, no counselors.  They used to have the biggest branch, about 150 that regularly attended, but a large factory closed a number of years ago and many people, members as well as others, had to move to Moscow and other locations for work.  They now have only about 14 that come regularly.
This is a school right across the street - it was the last day of school, called the day of the Last Bell, and it is celebrated with programs and parties all across the country. Just below the green of the trees you can see a lot of kids standing.  We could hear them singing the songs they love that we are becoming more familiar with.  Different songs and different music, but it still sounds like home. 
We got back to Saratov about 11:00 and went with four of our English speaking members who gave us permission to post this.  We meet with them each week, usually Saturday, for an English gospel study group which we both have enjoyed very much.  We really do like these kids.  They all speak quite well so the missionaries don't have to translate for us.
 The one with the dark glasses is a Russian/German translator so he knows the teachers at the university and they invited him to come along with a group of 12-15 students studying English on a two hour English speaking walking tour of  part of Saratov.  The university organized it to help those learning English.  They told him to bring his friends, they like to have English speakers, and we were glad to be invited.   These are some of the original homes built by the Volga Germans -  most a hundred or more years old and still preserved and used for homes, offices and museums.  
 This is the detail on the front of the arch in the picture above right.  
and this is the detail from the top of the building on the left.
To show their ties to Moscow, they also wanted to build on a smaller scale something similar to St. Basil's Cathedral, the famous Cathedral in Moscow, below.  We saw this when we were in Moscow the first day we got to Russia October 14, 2014.  We have now been in the country a little over seven months, which seems both long and not very long.
Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
This is the Saratov church, obviously much smaller and less colorful or ornate, but similar colors and shapes.  It is a famous church here that is still in use by the Russian Orthodox church.
It was all really very interesting - and in English.  We ended up back at the end of the wide walking street which has a lot of stores on both sides.  It has every kind of store you can imagine, both American and local and outside vendors, including that material store we found last week, a Carl's Jr., a McDonalds, a Nike store, among others.  But the best was that we found good scoop ice cream at one of the outside vendors - good flavors like banana, apple, watermelon, several kinds of chocolate.  We'll be sure to see if they stay the same or change.
 Closing this week with quotes from a CES Devotional in January of this year by Brother Randall L. Ridd,  then Second Counselor in the YM General Presidency:  "The real intent of prayer is to open two-way communication with our Father in Heaven, with the intention to follow whatever counsel he gives...Prayer and scripture study naturally go together.  When we study the scriptures and the words of our modern prophets, it primes the pump of personal revelation."
"Don't be discouraged by thoughts of what you have already done or have not done.  Let the Savior wipe the slate clean.  Start now.  Live a purposeful life.  Put the power of the compounding of daily disciplines in place in the important areas of your life.  I promise that a year from now you will either be glad you started today or will wish you had."

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