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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.