Thursday, August 27, 2015

8/30/2015 Will Post Tuesday

Hi all - We are doing some traveling Friday-Monday to attend the Institute opening socials in Samara, Izhevsk and Kazan, so will update the blog Monday night and have it posted Tuesday.

Monday, August 24, 2015

8/23/15 Liza, YW & YM, Temple Trip

Good news update on Liza from his mom  - For those who may be following Liza's and Josh's story, we have an update. Josh was offered a job in Russia, and received his visa today. He is very soon headed to join his sweet wife and they will work on her visa together. Thank you for your prayers and kind wishes. While their situation has not been completely resolved, they will at least be reunited.  We might mention that she is a very happy and very grateful young lady.  He will get here tomorrow and will be teaching English at one of the schools and will be provided with an apartment as part of his salary package.

Here is a random post.  In looking for youth information, we came across some interesting information from "the olden days."  Kind of fun.
          The purpose of the YMMIA - Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association" was to "help young men develop their gifts, to stand up and speak, and to bear testimony".In 1911 the YM organization adopted a Scouting Program which stressed virtues and physical skills.  By 1913 the Church became officially affiliated with the BSA and lowered the age of entry into the YMMIA to 12. 
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    For the girls, Primary was called “Home Builders” (and the subcategories of Larks, Bluebirds, and Seagulls) and was established as the program for 9–11 year old girls.  The motto for the nine year old Larks was "Love Lights the Way;" for the bluebirds, 10-11,  “The World Needs Happiness Makers.”
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 And in 1915 these were some of the requirements the girls had to pass off:
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  • Care successfully for a hive of bees for one season and know their habits.
  • During two weeks, keep the house free from flies, or destroy at least 25 flies daily.
  • Each day for one month, commit to memory a quotation from either Bible, Book of Mormon, or Doctrine and Covenants.
  • During three consecutive months abstain, between meals, from candy, ice cream, sundaes, sodas, commercially manufactured beverages, and chewing gum.
  • Mend six pairs of stockings, two knitted undergarments, and hem six dish-towels.
  • During three months, assist the Relief Society in their work of caring for the poor and sick.
  • Without help or advice, care for and harness a team at least five times [and] drive 50 miles during one season.
  • Clear sagebrush off of one-half acre of land  (for anyone who reads this from Snowflake, Arizona - this reminded me and my siblings of the half-acre across the creek we named Hell's Half Acre because it was always full of tumble-weeds and we always had to clean it a couple of times a year,  Our parents must have seen this requirement sometime in their early years.)   
  • )Work Horses Stock Photography
Now - back to a report from Saratov.  When we worked at the St. George Temple, it was almost exactly 45 minutes from door to door (that is at 4:00 a.m however) and other days we could decide to go up and do a session within a very short time of going. Here, the Kiev Temple is the closest and is 22-24 hours away.  There is always a concern about crossing the border from Russia into the Ukraine although those who can go in cars have fewer problems, but a group by bus is more often delayed for some reason or another.  Also by car it is much less, about 2500 rubles but most don't have access to cars; those going by bus per person with travel and everything this last time was 8000 rubles which is about $153 right now so they have to save up to go. Then they have to have a current visa.  So much for quick trips to the temple.  
      This time the group hired a member from Engels that drove an old yellow school bus, no AC and just the regular uncomfortable school bus seats, but there were no complaints, they were all happy just to be able to go.  (Tom Leavitt would have been excited to see this bus - he had an old handicapped school bus he bought when they went to Utah that he would take his grandkids around in.) When they got to the border and all the papers were checked, the guards wouldn't let the bus across because it didn't have the right license to be in the Ukraine - or something,  they didn't know for sure, but the bus was not allowed to cross.  It was hot and they were pretty much worn out, but

the group talked and prayed, wondering if they should come home, but the unanimous decision was to walk the distance and cross with all their luggage and whatever else they needed to carry and find transportation on the other side to take them on.  The problem then was that nobody really had any extra money.  So they called our District President who scraped up some emergency funds and the group found someone to take them.  Through a series of miracles and a lot of prayers they got him from 20,000 rubles per person to 10,000  and made it to the temple later than planned but excited to be there.  Once they get there, the church has a large apartment building they can stay in. 
              Two from our district went through for the first time - Renat who is going to the Moscow Mission, and will go into the Spain MTC on September 29, the day we went in ten months ago. -
Maxim, young man in our English Gospel Study class,   
And one couple was sealed.
Between the bus and the cars, there were 40 people.  They spent the rest of the week at the Ukraine Temple doing temple work for ancestors they have researched.  They do baptisms, initiatory, sessions, sealings and would willingly take their turn to help clean if it was needed.  On the way back to the border, their bus was stopped by an armed guard who asked the driver the nationality of the people he was transporting ..He smiled and answered -  "Ukrainians."  They didn't even check, just let them go on.  Another tender mercy/miracle. 
So we will close this week with the story of their miracle - from the Elders in Zavadskoy.  They found the name of a less active family and decided to attempt to locate them.  They found the apartment building, but couldn't get in because they didn't have the code.  As they were standing there, "it just happened" that the people in one of the apartments opened the window and asked who they were looking for.  They didn't know the people the elders were looking for, but buzzed them into the building.  (Explanation - you have a keypad outside the building where you enter the apartment number.  It rings in that apartment and the residents there hit another button that releases the door - a very big heavy door by the way.)  They went up and "it just happened" as they got to the apartment, the kids were coming out, the mom saw them and was excited to see them, 
said they hadn't seen the missionaries for a long time, invited them in.  They talked and had a lesson, and actually she came yesterday to church and gave a talk about how they had been baptized 12 years ago and were very active, but moved to Sochi where they didn't know many people and eventually quit going to church.  They are back now and had been coming off and on, but the missionaries coming had made them feel welcome and they want to return to activity and friendship with the people here.  She was pretty teary.  After a lot of people went up and welcomed them.  They have a son who was able to meet the institute president, and their young daughter went to primary.  We're amazed and touched at the little miracles that add up until something good is brought about.  
Closing with this thought from Alan Packer, August 2015
: God created us in His own image. The plan for us on this earth is to obtain a body, have experience, receive ordinances, and endure to the end. Standards have been established and tolerances set that we need to live to qualify for exaltation. God has promised that we can be exalted, but He has also said, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10).  In God’s plan of salvation, we are being molded, shaped, and polished to become like Him. It is something each of us has to experience individually.  “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
God has established what we must do and the standards we must meet. Something quite remarkable is that He gives us the moral agency to decide whether to accept and meet those standards. However, there are consequences to our decisions. He gave us agency, but He does not give us the authority to change the standards or the consequences of our decisions.
Because there are standards and because we have agency to choose, there is a Final Judgment, at which time each of us will be reviewed to see if we meet the standards—in other words, to see if we have lived within the standards and tolerances God has defined. His judgment will be final.   
The doctrine of repentance allows us to correct or fix defects, but it is better to focus on meeting God’s standards than to plan on invoking the principle of repentance before the Judgment. 
We are grateful to be here and associate with these Saints who continually try to improve and who change their lives.  (As a final note, I have no idea why some things are highlighted nor why the fonts change .. but at least we are happy we can get it sent.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

8/16/15 Grandma Waite, pancakes and baptisms

Just ran across this picture again, so thought we'd share.  One of our favorite missionaries, Mike's mother for those of you who don't know, and one of the most amazing people you would ever meet - fun, love, faith, hope and charity personified.   She served in North Carolina about age 67.
It is a really cool thing here.  After sacrament meeting, the rest of the sacrament bread is put in the kitchen for people to eat.  There are people at church who don't have enough to eat.  Doesn't make sense to throw food away.  This is certainly what our Father would want.

While we were waiting to clean up after an activity, Mike and the elders were entertaining themselves with a large jar like they use for pickles and a ping-pong ball.  Mike was the only one who got in in from the fair distance.

When Mike started doing pancakes, his one culinary skill (not complaining, just stating) not long after we came and the Elders started "one-upping" each other to see who could eat the most.  We have USA maple flavoring and are able to make good homemade maple syrup. Elder Peterson beat Elder Harrison's record of 15 with 15 1/2, and that has stood for 6 months.  Last Saturday after our District Conference, Elder Parker and Elder Farmer each ate 17.   
              We had some members over for dinner last week - a grandmother probably close to my age, mother late 30's and divorced, daughter - just turned 16 and feeling the freedom you think you are supposed to have at that age.  It is customary for the Russians to bring something when they come, she brought us an oil painting - about 8 x 10.  It is very beautiful.  They were the victims of a ponzi scheme about a year ago and lost their apartment.  It is pretty sad and the justice system here doesn't do much with something like that; but their branch president has apartments he rents and he is letting them rent one for very little, just enough so they feel they are paying their own way.  They said it would take about five years for them to get so they can get their own apartment again.
In the two free-standing buildings the church owns - Engels and Solnechney - they have regular baptism fonts which is where all the branches around here have baptisms.  We have a family, farmers, that you can get to by car in about an hour.  But if you use the walk/bus system, their village is about 2 1/2 miles from the bus stop, so when they come in to church they have to walk to where the buses come and catch a bus for another hour or better, then about a five minute walk to the church.  They make it to church as often as they can. There are two girls maybe 14 and 12 and a boy, 9, who was baptized by his father last Saturday.  They are a close family and very faithful.   It was  pretty touching to watch the tenderness they show to each other.  The mother and daughters were just a little late because of the bus, but when they came in, her son gave her a great big smile and she responded with a wink and a smile.  After Dima had baptized his son, Dima, he wrapped him in his arms and they just held on to each other.   
The missionaries come to our apartment on Mondays to write home on the computers.  This is a thought one of the Elder's dads sent him:
When you drive home today you've got a big windshield on the front of your car and you have a little rear view mirror and the reason the windshield is so large and the rear view mirror is so small is because what has happened in  your past is not nearly as important as what is in your future.
Patience has been a topic at church of late as they work toward the goal of becoming a stake, so some thoughts: 
Robert C. Oaks - Presidency of the Seventy .....there are   seldom-reported but marvelous-to-consider stories of great patience. Recently I attended the funeral of a lifelong friend. His son told a beautiful story of parental patience. When the son was in his youth, his dad owned a motorcycle dealership. One day they received a shipment of shiny new motorcycles, and they lined them all up in the store. The boy did what every boy would like to do, and he climbed up on the closest one. He even started it up. Then, when he figured he had pushed his luck far enough, he jumped off. To his dismay, his dismount knocked the first bike down. Then, like a string of dominoes, they all went down, one after another. His dad heard the commotion and looked out from behind the partition where he was working. Slowly, smiling, he said, “Well, son, we had better fix one up and sell it, so we can pay for the rest of them.”
 Patience may well be thought of as a gateway virtue, contributing to the growth and strength of its fellow virtues of forgiveness, tolerance, and faith. Elder Neal A. Maxwell linked patience and faith together when he taught: “Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than His” “Patience,” Ensign,Oct. 1980, 28). We can grow in faith only if we are willing to wait patiently for God’s purposes and patterns to unfold in our lives, on His timetable.
  • In your patience possess ye your souls:Luke 21:19
  • Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.  Ps 37:7-8
  • Continue in patience until ye are perfected.  D&C 67:1

We are doing well - happy to be here and able to serve.    

Monday, August 10, 2015

8/9/2015 Liza, Farmer's Market, Meeting Places, Tender Mercies aka Miracles

We'll update the story of Liza first. We were going in to pay the cell phone bill when we ran into her, so she came in with us just in case we needed hel p, which we often do.  The green and white sign behind us says Megaphone, the cell phone company the church also uses.  Liza's husband has been hired by a school in Moscow to teach English which will also provide them with an apartment.  So, as soon as Josh gets his work visa and gets into the country, they will move to Moscow where he will teach English; she will finish her last year of university.  She should have her spouse's visa in a year and they will return to the US and BYU.  Although it has been a very difficult, she doesn't complain about being sent back, but seems to be able to see the positive things that come.   Another tender mercy for us has been the cell phones which "just happened" to take the Russian chip so we can get in touch with each other and also the i-phones can be used as translators of sorts which has been very helpful - and funny sometimes since it doesn't always translate exactly what you have said.
Before we went to the Dacha last week we went to another farmer's market that is only open during the warmer months.  There are trucks and stands all the way around the perimeter and then rows of trucks in between, all with produce to sell
 The produce may look alike but Zhenya, picking up cucumbers so Lena could make pickles, carefully examined them at many stands before he finally bought a box.  He has on the blue shirt, Mike is right behind him in the baseball cap.
Just waiting for buyers ... 
These are the bottles they use for the pickles, close to gallon size.

Mike is helping on a project for the history of the church in Saratov.  President Reshetnikov, baptized in 1993, has started taking us to the buildings where they have held church.  There have been 11 in 20 years.  He has an amazing memory and has lots of stories. 
This was the first building and they were only there a few months.
 This is the second building and where President Reshetnikov was ordained, in the room right above him in the picture.  Also in this building, after a meeting, President Russell M. Nelson gave a blessing to each of the children there.  They were here less than a year before they were asked to leave.
Next they moved to a movie theater that was renting out areas because nobody had the money to go to the movies and they needed income.  The church met in the "green room"  for less than a year.
Fourth is the Aviation College building where they were for four years.  More later.....
                                                                              There is just something happy about a rainbow
You may remember the young Angolan girl from an earlier post in January or February I think.  That post is below and following that an update.  Kind of a long story to join all the side stories, but we think you will enjoy it:
Jan or Feb 2015A 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 fairly new member of the church, had missed being active at home and had been praying and trying to find it here.  So it wasn't by chance that they found her.  An appointment was set up, they called us 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 enough to communicate a bit.  
     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 at a little better hour for Sister Harrison in Utah.  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.
Laila has continued to faithfully attend Sunday meetings, Institute on Wednesday evenings and branch and district activities, even though she doesn't understand most of it.  She is pleasant and fun and the other youth and the leaders and members love her.  Her Russian is improving slowly, her classes are in Russian mostly.  A computer was set up conference time just for her so she could listen in Portuguese and still be there with everyone else.
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The sisters teach her every week either by Iphone or skype with Elizabeth.
May 2015 and August 2015 - Side story that will become part of main story - from May 31 post when we went to the post office and the lady at the information desk who speaks some English helped us.  Turns our she also speaks fluent Portuguese since they lived there for 12 years.  We've "just happened" to run into her a few times because she lives close and shops at the same corner market and outdoor market.  She didn't want to come up to  the apartment until she knew us better, so Sunday evening we set up a time convenient to her and Laila and met Natasha and her son at one of the big plaza areas next to where they hold the circus.  He is 17 and speaks Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and English.  They also lived in Spain a couple of years.  
More meetings will come from this, and if it works out we would like her or her son to translate for the sisters.  The translating would give them the lessons too..  Laila was so excited to be able to communicate and chatted animatedly with both mother and son.  She has 12 other friends from Angola at school with her but they aren't really supportive of her church activities and can be a little mean about her attending meetings in a language she doesn't really understand. Her standards are a bit different also and they don't always like that.  She says her strength to stand comes from daily studying of the Book of Mormon and saying her prayers..  She is an amazing example to all.   She and Natasha exchanged phone numbers and Natasha told her to call if she needed something or just wants to talk.  
August 2015 - More to the story.  The parents of one of our missionaries, Elder Greenburg came  to pick him up because his father's grandmother was born about an hour from here, so at one time they had ancestors here.  A tender mercy for them, they were able to hire a member taxi driver that Elder Greenburg knew from when he served in Saratov and who knows the area very well.  He took them a lot of places in the two days they had here although there isn't much left of the towns their family lived in.  But they got pictures of where things were and old buildings still there. 
 Elder Greenburg's father served in Brazil and speaks Portuguese so Laila was able to talk with him at church.  You can see how pleased she was.
  The Greenburgs came back to our apartment after they had finished everything else to wait for their train, which wasn't until late evening.  So they were at the apartment when we got back from our meeting with the post office lady and her son.  Brother Greenburg then was the translator for the sisters to give a lesson to Laila.  He gave the opening prayer and Laila was thrilled to hear a prayer in her own language.  Then, with Mike and Elder Greenburg, Brother Greenburg was voice in giving  Laila a blessing in Portuguese.  Wish there was a way you could feel the spirit that was there in our small apartment in Saratov Russia as that blessing was given.  
We are grateful to be here .. as Aaron said many years ago when he had to give the FHE lesson - very short and very true:  "The church is true - there's work to do."   

thanks again to all of you for your love and support 

Monday, August 3, 2015

8/2/15 Mission, Boat, Produce, Choir, and Grass

With the missionaries coming in and going home, we have 16 sisters/23 elders, total of 39, down from the 74-5 that were here when we came.  That is unusual because we've always had a lot more elders than sisters, but by December we are supposed to be back up close to 70.   That does mean, however, that some of those training have been in the country just a few cycles (a cycle is 6-weeks) more than those they are training.  Fortunately our Father in Heaven is in charge and He does makes things happen.  Also, two of our five senior couples have gone home in the last three months with no replacement in sight as yet.  We now have the office couple, another CES couple in Samara and we are in Saratov.  They are hoping at the very least to replace the office couple within the next month.
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We were looking for a Russian artist and some history when this came up from who knows where.   But, it is ​​too interesting not to pass on even thought it has nothing to do with Russia or mission.
February 1944: Wait, is that a ship or a modern art instillation? This US Navy Patrol Torpedo ship was designed with a unique zebra stripe camouflage to confuse the enemy as to the vessel's course. This technique was called Dazzle camouflage. 
The zebra-striped French light cruiser Gloire
      It has been a busy week and we do like busy weeks.  It is vegetable season here and people set up everywhere to sell their goods; they can be next to each other and selling the same thing.  If you look at the bottom of the left branch of the tree you can see the babushka with the scarf on her head and up on the ledge of the little wall she has a variety of produce and her scale.  You can't see the man next to her but you can see his scale and produce. This is on our way home from church.
This is our outdoor market that is just a few blocks away.  The produce is fresh and is good. 
 Melons are coming on - really good, but still not as good as Bundy melons.
 There are three kinds of buttermilk - the blue label is sweeter (that isn't to say it is sweet - just sweeter) and many families here drink it instead of milk because it is healthier and the young children don't  become allergic to it.  The gold one is thicker and more sour, and then there is a green one called Kefir that is the best for muffins or pancakes.  Unfortunately we had to learn by experience.
We thought we would try our babushka cart (under Mike's hand on the right) along with our four other bags so we wouldn't have to have a taxi, could still stock up on heavy things like flour, sugar, etc. and come home on the bus. That way Mike wouldn't end up the last lap of our journey helping me carry my bags.  It was fine going over because everything was empty.  In fact it was fine getting back on the bus because there is one that just waits to load across from the market.  The hilarious part was getting off the bus because Mike had to lift the bags out, then lift down the very full babushka cart and then get me and the bags I had off.  We probably made quite a sight, but it made it nice walking from the bus to home.  Probably won't try it again, but it was fun for us and might have given some of those on the bus something to smile about. 
Transfers were this week and we are happy to be able to keep Sister Leavitt (Dixie & Anne's granddaughter, David's daughter) and Sister Hansen for one more cycle.    
Elder Waite practicing with the missionaries for our District celebration of the church's 120 years in Russia.  They had chosen Hope of Israel and Onward Christian Soldiers, but the District Council recommended a change to songs with more meaning for the saints here.  So they sang Called To Serve and Did You Think to Pray which fit everybody - sounded good, 
 the performance - not to upstage the Tabernacle Choir for their European tour next year :)
The celebration was set up for the regular branch building and we were able to hold it there.  After the problems last time, there was a little bit of worry, but we had just one lone protester and he was a nice guy, may have just been someone paid to picket.  The meeting was well attended by church members and we had 45 investigators come, which was good because they were able to get some questions answered and maybe a better view of the church and what we are and are not.  The members here are loyal to their country and loyal to the church.
 Our world and the buses.  Coming back from a baptism in Solnechney (about a 40-70 minute ride depending on traffic) with the elders, some members and a couple of investigators (plaid shirt on the right one of them).  It was nice and open right at first, but
it soon fills up, you can see the seats are full and people are standing.  It is an adventure each time.
Closing today with a story told to Sister Leavitt by a semi-active member from another of her areas.  We have mentioned before that the members here have told us that no family was untouched by World War II..  Anyway, this babushka's mother had five older brothers and they and their father all were taken into the army.  At the end of the war, three came home, the oldest and the father they knew had been killed and the youngest just wasn't there in camp when they got up one morning, so they assumed finally that he had been captured and killed.  The mother raised the four children on her own. Twenty-ish years later the family was sitting around the radio waiting for a music program to start.  When the featured musician was announced, it was the missing brother, who had been captured and finally released but not allowed to leave the St. Petersburg area.  He had become a famous musician, now good enough to be on this radio show.  He was able to say that if his mother or any of his family were listening, he wanted them to know he was alive and doing well.   Every Sunday after that for as long as he was on the show, they would gather around the radio and listen.  She said that was the only time she ever saw her mother, who had been so strong in raising them, cry, but even in her sadness, she was so grateful that Heavenly Father had let her know he was alive.  It is a gift to be able to find the blessings even in hard things. 
Image result for picture of an old fashioned radio
A good thought from one of our meetings - "You may think the grass is greener on the other side, but if you would take the time to water your own grass, it would be just as green."
Image result for picture of dry and green lawn
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Always a good scripture: Proverbs 3:5-7 - Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.  Be not wise in thine own eyes.

We're grateful to be here and grateful for all of you and your love and support.