Monday, July 27, 2015

7/26/15 Sacrament Meeting, Silver Car, Flowers & Mission Call

Alma 26:36-7 .. blessed be the name of (our) God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land... we see that God is mindful of every people whatsoever land they may be in; yea he numbereth his people and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth.  We like this scripture -- certainly our Father has been mindful of us and we certainly are wanderers (and sometimes lost wanderers) in a land that isn't so strange anymore.  It is easy to see wherever you go, here and at home that he is mindful of every people.
 *   *   *   *
     Sunday afternoon we sat in the room in the "office" as the kids call it,  where the institute class is held.  The apartment building is below, we have 5 or 6 rooms on the bottom floor, you can see the lights on and also below is a closeup of the door...not sure if that is very exciting, but thought we'd send it anwyay.
  It had been set up to hold sacrament meeting for the seminary youth that were coming from the conference in Moscow.  We had nine young people there, fresh off a 19 hour train ride.  (Pictures of a similar train were in last week's blog.)  The small table with the sacrament, covered with white, brought in a spirit just because it is the sacrament and is the same and has the same blessings no matter where you are.  The counselor in the Engels Branch Presidency (on the left below) and our District Young Men's President,  blessed the sacrament which was passed by a couple of the young men there.  Then the youth stood and shared experiences and testimonies, of which we get an occasional word  or familiar phrase here or there, Mike much more than me.  But, as we sat in that small simple room in Saratov, Russia, what was amazing was the feeling in our hearts as the spirit bore witness to the truth of the testimonies they gave.  We were touched by the strength of those testimonies.  These young people are the future of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia, which was organized here in 1992.  
As we were coming back into Saratov from Solnechney last week, Mike took these pictures, another view that we've always liked but never had the camera up fast enough to get a picture.

We had been with the sisters in Solnechny (probably spelled different every time) at an Asian restuarant.  We sat out on the porch, second story, and enjoyed the view and the rain - and great food at a great price.  It was good to see lemonade on the menu, so we ordered it, thought they made a mistake when they brought us carbonated pear juice, but that is called lemonade here and is very good.
Walking home the other day we ran again into Liza.  She said Josh was working at getting a job here and also said that the people at immigration who had to send her home were very kind and worked with them so it would only take a year instead of the usual five.  She has to get what is called a wife's visa.  Had they not left the country, they would have been OK and it would have given them the time there to get the visa.  Josh had checked but they gave him incorrect information, not sure what else they could have done.  He has been doing some interviewing via Skype so they're hoping soon.  She is working temporarily for a friend.
We haven't ever seen a car like this before but since we took the picture most of the missionaries have seen it in our area.  Can't even imagine what it must look like in the winter.  
Craig may be able to tell us what kind of a car it is - the Elders thought it started with an A.  The sisters saw another car, an Audi TT that was this kind of shiny but purple.
And we are learning to read the ads - a lot easier when the English words are on the bottles.  We're doing orange floats (the Fanta was on sale) and chips/cheese for Institute Wednesday because it has been so warm... sounds quite nutritious , don't you think?  
 Closer up you can tell - Koka-Kola, Sprite (C is S, the next little sign is a P, and the P is an R ..) and Fanta (the line through the circle is F and the H is an N)
Back at the Post Office -we even needed less help this time.
They really do have shaded, nice walking streets now, did we ever say it was nice to not have to walk on ice.
Flowers are one of the favorite traditions here - these are flowers for everything.  This member is taking some to her aunt for her birthday, we saw her along the walking street ..
Remember this is the flower bed where they put all the dirt several weeks ago, the red/orange flowers are taller now than I am.
Interesting - sometimes I wonder who thinks of these things .. 
  Finally, to top of this evening, a group, including some investigators,  gathered at the institute building as one of our young men opened his mission call.  He will be going to Moscow "speaking Russian" :)  He is a "good boy" as Elder Bednar would say, active in the presidency of the Institute Council this year, and he will do well.  

With our son Taylor Lorum's permission, we're taking this week's scripture and thought from his weekly email:

"Recently one of my go-to scriptures is 1 Corinthians 10:12-13: 'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.'

I think these verses capture a large portion of the human struggle. We all (at some point or another) rely too much in our own flesh, in spite of direct warnings to "take heed lest we fall." Additionally, we all (at some point or another) are taken by those temptations that are "common to man," whether that be greed, lust, idoltry, or the rest of the various ways we are tempted. I do think it's interesting that we want our sins to be different. That is to say, we want some justification that our sin is not as bad as the other guys (some circumstance that makes our choice harder). Finally, and most important, the promise that is also common to all; 'God is faithful' and has prepared a way for us to bear the temptation, to make the right choice."
It is an exciting time, we're grateful to be here.  


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

7/19/2015 Liza, the Train, the Volga and A&W

Joshua Hedges

    This week is kind of a smattering of random experiences.  By now most of you have seen the new story of the young couple, Joshua and Liza Hedges, married in Salt Lake.  He is from Ely, Nevada, she and her family are good friends from here; she was in our young singles institute class.  In case you haven't seen it -  "Caught in Immigration Nightmare, Newlyweds Ripped Apart after 6 Days of Marriage - They were married July 3 in the Salt Lake Temple and the next day left for a four-day Mexican cruise.  Last Thursday they disembarked and prepared for the drive home to Ely. But first, the border agent had a question.  Joshua says 'He asked us why we were standing together and I told him we had just gotten married.'  Then he asked if we had filed to change her status which they had not.  Josh had called the US Citizenship and Immigration and they told him it wasn't necessary.  The border guards checked and he had in fact called and had been given that information - but it wasn't correct.  They determined Liza's tourist visa was invalid, it was in her maiden name, and she was in the country illegally.  After several hours of interrogation, the 18-year old bride was sent back to Russia."
     Not sure where she has been, but she got to Saratov today (the 19th), was on the same train our institute group that had been to youth conference in Moscow came in on.  They were headed to BYU in the fall, but she said they are now trying to get him a job over here until they can get the visa problem taken care of.  It could be a year and he was supposed to start at BYU in September, but they prefer that to being 8000 miles apart.  He served in another mission in Russia (Josh & Liza met before he went into the mission field) so he speaks fluent Russian. She remains pleasant and positive but obviously this has been a very difficult time.  We're grateful we were at the train station headed in to see the Seminary youth off that are headed to Moscow today for their youth conference just as she was coming out. 
         A few more tender mercies came our way as we barely found the group before they left.  We left the building in time, but the taxi driver had a difficult time finding the church address so by the time we got there it was about 15 minutes to leaving time and we were not sure which train.  Fortunately now Mike can get us to where the trains leave, but we still couldn't see the group.  We have good friends our age who are going with the youth (he was the first temple sealer in Russia) and he was waiting outside the until the last minute to get on the too-warm train and we saw him.  We were even able to go on the train to give the kids their treats.  It is a 17 hour train ride, not in private coupes like we traveled in, but open.  It isn't a trip we envy.  We were willing to go but they didn't use senior couples this year - probably because with the language barrier we are more trouble than help.

This is the train car that has coupes with doors, you can see them on the left and the long walkway on the right There are usually fold down seats below the windows, and the windows open.  On all the cars there is a bathroom at each end.  This is the kind of train the senior missionaries usually travel on. 
Below is the train with the open coupes.   Most of the people here are used to these - not so great for adults, but fun for the youth, like riding on a big school bus, but there are berths that fold down from the top on each side of each coupe, plus the two bench seats in each, so all four do have a place to try to sleep.  There is a dining car but apparently it is quite pricey so most bring their own food.  
Sometimes we feel like James Stewart in the movie Rear Window (some of you may have to google that to know what it is) as we observe people through our glassed in kitchen porch window.   The other day I heard loud, angry voices, then the slam of a car door, then more loud voices and another car door slam.  There were two cars kind of nose to nose, not an accident, more like one wanted to go down the alley and the other up the alley - the one was more aggressive and had his fists up to fight, just like the movies :) , and the other one did the same .. but then another sound, maybe a window going down, but the one that seemed more aggressive realized that there were several more guys in the car with the guy he was going to fight.  He yelled some more things, but retreated to his car and backed it away from the alley.  It happened so fast I didn't have time to get Mike - not sure what we'd do anyway.
  We've seen the clothes before, just not the lady that hangs them.  She hangs clothes every day so I wonder if she does laundry or something and wish I could call out across the narrow street but she doesn't even know we are friends.  :) 

Another Volga view - we really like the reflection of the sky in the water. 
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      A story one of the counselors in our Relief Society, just a cute, fun lady, tells of her home evenings.  Her husband was active for a long time and they would always have FHE at their home, usually having from 5 to 25 attend.  Somehow at church her husband was offended and the home evenings stopped, but not for her. She says that on Monday night she organizes the program, welcomes everyone-herself, and announces: "The opening song is -- and will be played by Luba (pronounced loo-ba).  After that the opening prayer will be given by ...  Luba.  Then our lesson tonight will be taught by ... Luba.  When she is through we will have the closing song --  played by ... Luba, the closing prayer will be by ... Luba who will remember to bless the refreshments prepared by ... Luba." It is really funny when she tells it - says her children sometimes would say .. Mom, are you talking to yourself.  No, I'm having family home evening and any of you who want are welcome to join in, and often some would.
* * *
           Some of you might know Dixie and Anne Leavitt's son David.  He was here with his son Ethan and wife Chelom who presents a marriage seminar for strengthening families.  It is taken from a book she has co-authored and they give a free copy of the book in Russian to each family.   She did very well.  They have done this in Moscow and the Ukraine and other places in eastern Europe.  Their daughter, Hannah, Sister Leavitt, is in this mission, in fact serving in Saratov, but she was moved to another area for a few days while her parents were here.  You've seen pictures of her before on the blog. Below is Elder Waite, Ethan and David Leavitt. The picture under that is Sister Hansen, Sister Leavitt's companion, Sister Martinez, who goes home in about two weeks, Ethan, Chelom and David Leavitt.  It was really great to have them here.

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They asked if there was anything they could bring us; we laughed and mentioned root beer, knowing there was no way they could get A&W here without exploding.  But .. add to their kind hearts a lot of ingenuity ..  can't even tell you how good it tasted.  And they brought us enough for later.
Jumping back to Victory Day when we posted a picture only showing the medals, because he and his wife were letting people take pictures, we can post this.  They honor their veterans as we do ours.   He was proud to have served and his wife was obviously proud of him.

* * *
A few weeks ago when we were in Balakova, Mike had the opportunity to meet with a young man who had been baptized last December and is now the branch mission leader.  This is from Mike's writing:  "The branch building is right on the bank of the Volga River, so we stood on the terrace overlooking the water during the sunset and talked about the Church... In the course of our chatting he informed me that just eight months ago, he was an atheist, and that in his family of parents and two sisters he alone has joined the church. ..  I asked him what it was that caused him to turn from atheist to believer:  to see the need for a new approach to life?  The Book of Mormon? I asked.  He replied simply: “The people.”  It was with a sober face that he continued, “They were happy, and I wanted what they had."  There are struggles as they try to change, getting a testimony of the gospel doesn’t make the altering of a life style or moving into a brand new religious culture easy...He admitted that even with his uncertain progress in the church he is happier now than he was eight months ago, and today, because of the youth conference and meeting another young and strong convert, Maria, he is seeing the hope of having more joy, of reaching a greater happiness.”  
     With him and with others, it is humbling and testimony building to watch the changes that come into their lives as they study the Book of Mormon, learn about Jesus Christ and come to know they have a Father in Heaven they can pray to.  As they work and study and serve and pray, their lives are changed because of the truthfulness of the church and their membership in it.  We see their simple faith and those bricks that build the walls of our testimonies are added to.  We are grateful to be here and appreciate what we have experienced and learned.

We can't say that there aren't times that we miss home and family, but we can say as we have said before, for now we wouldn't want to be anywhere else, we're blessed to be here .

Our scripture this week is simple and with a great promise:  D&C 19:23 -- Learn of me, listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my spirit and you shall have peace in me.

Monday, July 20, 2015

7/19/15 Delay

Many years ago Dr. Staheli had a picture in his office of a lone mountain sheep standing on a peak .. the caption "I'm so far behind, I think I'm first."   All that to say -- our blog for this week will be posted later today or tomorrow.    (and I'm so good I don't know if this is a sheep or a goat .. so wouldn't be much good in separating the sheep from the goats I guess.)

Image result for mountain sheep on a single cliff

Monday, July 13, 2015

7/12/2015 Shiryeavo

After our visa trip, we stayed for a senior couples conference in Samara at the mission home.  On Saturday we took a boat up the Volga to Shiryeavo, the village mentioned in last week's blog.  It was very fun and very interesting. Grab some snacks -- there are lots of pictures in this week's blog.
Waites, Yorgesens, Sister Schwab, Dunns, Rowleys
Because for most we don't know the exact names or places of the scenery, we're not giving explanations for all, just want you to see what we saw. There are always fishermen on the river in different kinds of boats, usually only for one or two people. You can see the fisherman in the small inflatable raft boat at the bottom right.
 They have two kinds of barges, one is all one piece; then, like this one where the boat pushes the flat barge.  Sometimes they are heaped way over the top usually with what looks like scrap metal.
 We planned on a cruise at first, this is the ship we would have taken.  It was an overnight trip to Kazan which is said to be the most beautiful city in our part of Russia.  We will be able to go there for CES in September.  But the short trip we took couldn't have been better.
 These are pictures as we went up the river.
And this is Shiryeavo - no buses - we walked from the dock to the museum, probably about a mile and a half.

Not sure what this building once was, but is all rock with a big arched opening on the left and the square one on the right.
 Sister Schwab and the sign directing us to the museum

 Lots of interesting windows
 Beautiful raspberries, we bought some on the way back to the boat, ate some and made yummy raspberry shortcake for dinner the next day
 The locks are huge and strong - doesn't look like these have been opened for a long time
  Some of the houses on the way to the museum.  All we passed were occupied.
 Really cool weather vane
Hoe with very narrow blade and she was carefully going around each plant.
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Museum, you can see the fancy outhouse out back, for looks, not use.  You can't take pictures in a lot of the areas, but here is what we have.
 The dog was there from start to finish - never moved.

 the horse is made out of twisted branches

 It is a lot like going through the old pioneer homes with ovens and furnishings - but restricted picture taking - so we took all we could.                  

 This is for heating the water for their chai -tea - important then and important now.  The missionaries often carry herbal tea with them because they are almost always offered it when they visit.  We have some  members who make their own herbal tea which is very good; Mike even thinks it is OK.

 The loom above and the spinning wheel below
 One of Repin's brush/paint boxes
 This is the artist - sent pictures of paintings last week - Ilya Yefimovich Repin was a Russian realist painter. He was the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century, when his position in the world of art was comparable to that of Leo Tolstoy in literature.

The cradle above
 and the mobile 
 Some of the cupboards almost look Scandanavian
This was tucked in a corner, has Christ and other religious items on it.
Lots of dried arrangements and pictures and artifacts - really pretty - just a nice feeling everywhere.
 We saw a couple of these very sturdy sleds.  (also, forgot to mention a feature in a couple of the homes that looked pretty good to me - a loft bed right over the oven.)
You can see Mike and I at the back.  Just something fun they added for people to take pictures in.
On the way back to the boat we ate at a small local  restaurant overlooking the Volga and there were local people there.  Their specialty is chicken shishkabobs but not on a stick, and plove, a rice dish both of us like,  flavored rice with a little bit of meat that they cook in  a big wok and serve with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.
Elder Yorgesen and the Dunns
The Waites and Sister Yorgesen
 The Rowleys

 The pictures below are on the way back to Samara.  Even the boats have seamen on them.

Loaded barge.

 Buildings along the river

That is probably enough fun for you all for now.  We do have the train trip to report but will save that for next week.  It is an amazingly beautiful area, but we also agree with Grandma Waite who said she couldn't imagine the celestial kingdom not including the beautiful Nevada desert she loved.

Closing with these thoughts from President Uchtdorf's 2012 conference talk
"Of Regrets & Resolutions"

I Wish I Had Let Myself Be Happier

Another regret of those who knew they were dying may be somewhat surprising. They wished they had let themselves be happier.
So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation,
or the end of a challenging trial.
The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.
We do matter. We determine our happiness.
You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.
My wife, Harriet, and I love riding our bicycles. It is wonderful to get out and enjoy the beauties of nature. We have certain routes we like to bike, but we don’t pay too much attention to how far we go or how fast we travel in comparison with other riders.
However, occasionally I think we should be a bit more competitive. I even think we could get a better time or ride at a higher speed if only we pushed ourselves a little more. And then sometimes I even make the big mistake of mentioning this idea to my wonderful wife.
Her typical reaction to my suggestions of this nature is always very kind, very clear, and very direct. She smiles and says, “Dieter, it’s not a race; it’s a journey. Enjoy the moment.”
How right she is!
Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey. I don’t go cycling with my wife because I’m excited about finishing. I go because the experience of being with her is sweet and enjoyable.
Doesn’t it seem foolish to spoil sweet and joyful experiences because we are constantly anticipating the moment when they will end?
Do we listen to beautiful music waiting for the final note to fade before we allow ourselves to truly enjoy it? No. We listen and connect to the variations of melody, rhythm, and harmony throughout the composition.
Do we say our prayers with only the “amen” or the end in mind? Of course not. We pray to be close to our Heavenly Father, to receive His Spirit and feel His love.
We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. “This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,” the Psalmist wrote. “Rejoice and be glad in it.”6
Brothers and sisters, no matter our circumstances, no matter our challenges or trials, there is something in each day to embrace and cherish. There is something in each day that can bring gratitude and joy if only we will see and appreciate it.
Perhaps we should be looking less with our eyes and more with our hearts. I love the quote: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”7
We are commanded “to give thanks in all things.”  So isn’t it better to see with our eyes and hearts even the small things we can be thankful for, rather than magnifying the negative in our current condition?
The Lord has promised, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold.” 
Brothers and sisters, with the bountiful blessings of our Heavenly Father, His generous plan of salvation, the supernal truths of the restored gospel, and the many beauties of this mortal journey, “have we not reason to rejoice?”
Let us resolve to be happy, regardless of our circumstances.

It is so worth it to be here, the line upon line, precept upon precept continues.
We are grateful always for all of you and your love and prayers and support.