Monday, November 30, 2015

11/29/15 Where the Sidewalk Ends, Thanksgiving Party, RS Conference

One of our new converts moved from Saratov to Tuarse, which is in the Rostov Russia mission about 540 miles from here, 11+ hours depending on roads and traffic.  Mike got in touch with the Elders there so they could follow up on the lessons and help her where they could.  After they met with her and her mother, who is now interested in the church, the Elders called to tell Mike what her schedule is if they came in to church.  They would have to get up at 3:00 a.m. and walk for three hours to get to the next village in time for the 6:00 a.m. bus.  There are very few and that is the only one that leaves in time for them to make it on time to church. The bus trip is three hours, the block goes from 11-1 (only two hours).  Then they have to wait until 6:00 p.m. for the first bus that goes back to the first village - and they arrive about 9.  They still face the three walk back to their home in Tuarse.   The cold and snow that we are getting now makes that pretty much an impossible trip; also makes our bus trip to the church here seem like a short stroll in the park, and makes us wonder why at home in Bunkerville we don't even walk from our home the very short distance to the church.
For Shel Silverstein fans everywhere - always brings a smile and warmth in your heart when you read his poems.  If you haven't read any, might be fun to look up a few.  Mike uses these poems in his English gospel study class.  

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
,And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends
                                   =                               =                                           =                                      
      We held our combined "ward" (not branch anymore) Thanksgiving activity last Saturday.  It started as a ward activity, but they wanted an American Thanksgiving so it was turned to the missionaries, the district leaders in that branch.   It is hard to get turkey here - in fact, even a normal sized turkey wouldn't fit in most ovens, certainly not ours - a large chicken would have a squeeze, but they sell lots of rotisserie chicken here and the elders knew a good place. so we used chicken instead of turkey (had to buy 10). It was done just right and easily came off the bones.
   All the missionaries helped, some of the elders even did some great cooking.  The zone leaders used our kitchen because they don't have an oven.  Below, our German elder, Elder Plettig,  is making Schnitzel, which is amazing.  As a note, he went into the Provo MTC speaking only German and now, at his one year mark is doing very well with both English and Russian.
 and our Indiana elder , Elder Farmer, making his mission famed Snickerdoodles.
We (when we use "we" it means us and all the missionaries) made mashed potatoes, using all the potatoes in a 20 lb bag, and gravy (some hadn't tasted that before), corn, salads, drinks, desserts, the members brought their favorite dishes too .. and it turned out great.  Lots of prayers and planning went into this and we're always grateful that our Father helps us in these kinds of things, as well as so many other.

              Looks like a lot of food until everyone starts filling their plates, then it goes pretty fast.  There were 60-70 there, including members, inactives and investigators.                              
 There was a Stake Relief Society conference at 4:00, the Thanksgiving activity at 6:30 -- so Elder Waite and the new member of the Bishopric took that over.  It was so nice to come into cook and have all the carrots and potatoes peeled and cut up ready to be cooked.  
Our new Bishop is in the center - formerly in the District Presidency - the one on your left is the new counselor in the Bishopric that helped Mike peel and cut.  He and his wife have been back from a mission about 6 months.  She is the Stake Relief Society President.
Below, Sister Petrunin (Lydia) is setting up the tables for the light luncheon after the RS conference.  (Kind of a side note - the Relief Society was very grateful to the Elders for setting up tables for them to use -- which they actually set up for the Thanksgiving activity.  Sometimes it is better to just say Thank You than explain and that is what they did.  It worked out best for everyone.   
      Look at how she stacked the clementines. When these ladies come, whether it is their activity or someone elses, just like home, they pitch in and help, quietly and without show. After we finished the basic cleanup after eating at the Thanksgiving activity, I slipped in to watch one of the games,  and by the time I got back, she already had the kitchen floor mopped.
Lena Markelov is translating for Sister Schwab, the main speaker for the RS Conference. Lena speaks English, but it was her first time translating and she was pretty nervous, but did very well.  Her husband, President Markelov (President Mission Presidency before and President Stake Presidency now) is the one who translates always for President Schwab - and almost everyone else. The theme was unity and how important that is, especially now as this young Stake moves forward.  The other speakers were leaders in the Stake, and spoke on the same.  They are so grateful and excited for this new stake and are willing to put in the time and effort needed.  There was a very strong and very peaceful spirit there which I can't exactly explain, but certainly could feel.
        Fun Thanksgiving fact we didn't know:  On October 3, 1863 Lincoln proclaimed the official Thanksgiving holiday,  expressing gratitude for a pivotal Union Army victory at Gettysburg and announced that the nation would celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863.   The speech, actually written by Secretary of State William Seward declared the fourth Thursday of every November thereafter would be considered an official US holiday.  That went back to when George Washington was in his first term in 1789 after the nation had come through the American Revolution.  At that time, George Washington called for an official celebratory "day of public thanksgiving and prayer."

We're kind of jumping back and forth from the RS meeting to the Thanksgiving activity, at which one of the sister companionships did some of the Minute To Win It games.  Nobody had seen them before which made them extra fun.  Here they are doing the one where a box of Tic Tacs is fastened to the end of a ruler and they have to hold the ruler in their teeth and just by bobbing their head have to get them all out in the 60 second limit.  

 Next was the game where you use chopsticks to transfer M&Ms from one bowl to another.

 Then the "pie eating" contest .. except instead of pies we made jello and then mixed it up with that whipped cream that comes in the cans .. from old to young wanted to do it and it turned out very well.  The older ones got as much jello on their faces as the younger ones, and licked their plates just as clean. The Russians always do games at parties and they always have great participation.  They enjoy gathering and have fun together.  As we mentioned before, in ways it sounds much like the way Grandma Waite used to describe their town parties when everyone got together.

.After our Sunday meeting with Institute Council, Mike was talking with one of the council members who had just been to St. Petersburg to a training.  It is a typical pose and expression that I really like, thought you'd enjoy seeing it too.

This is the entry in our apartment and our bedroom on District Conference days at the time one district is leaving and the other coming in.
From Mike's writing - on the missionaries: "they are sunny and positive, facing their calls as emissaries of the Lord seriously. The missionaries are not allowed to congregate in one place, except for district or zone meetings. After such meetings they leave with staggered timing, allowing a few minutes between the departure of each companionship, so they are not all together on the streets. But when together, when gathered as young energetic, miraculous missionaries, young men and women in their late teens and early twenties, in those district meetings, they are an exciting group, full of stories to tell about embarrassing language blunders, cooking mistakes,  “incidents,” on the streets— when someone gets in their face or tries to manhandle them--, and revealing scenes about the idiosyncrasies of companions or members. It is a physical group, so there are always tales of successes and disappointments on the soccer field or wrestling mat, and they are all authorities on tasty places to eat and homemade recipes. Within a few weeks of being in an area, they all become well acquainted with the unusual street names, the parks, and the renocks (small markets) where there are good sales on juice or Russian cuisine,. And they know how to work. Gracious, they know how to work. They understand the value of strict obedience to the rules of the mission."
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And you most certainly are in our thoughts, hearts and prayers.  We are grateful for each and all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

11/22/15 Sam's Helicopter, Kissing what?, Yeva, Winter

        To honor Memorial Day, an interesting non-mission topic to start with, although it is a mission, just in a different way.  My brother-in-law, Trudy's husband, Sam, served during the Viet Nam war, as gunner and crew chief of a "Huey" helicopter that is being re-dedicated at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.  The rocket pods and turret guns are gone.   He is third from the right in the blue shirt, cutting the ribbon with the museum director..  We're proud of him and all the others who faithfully and unselfishly served our wonderful country.
On Saturday, Sam Grimes, the crew chief of that Bell UH-1C “Huey” helicopter, was there for its rededication.  “At least she’s not in the scrap pile like so many end up. It is close to when I had it, a lot cleaner,” Grimes said.  Grimes, 70, of Snowflake, Ariz., served in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1968. He was stationed at Pleiku. Grimes started out in maintenance for five months and then transferred to the flight platoon in April 1967.   “We resupplied food, weapons and transported troops. We were then known as the Courtesy Cab. If you needed to go someplace, we’d come get you,” Grimes said.  He was a helicopter crew chief for nine months, until he left the military in January 1968. “I turned the ship over to a friend, and that was the last I saw her until 2013,” he recalled.   

Grimes was doing research, trying to find his helicopter. He discovered it was at Central Flying Service in Little Rock. Grimes and his wife, Trudy, went to Little Rock in 2013 to find the helicopter and visit the School for the Deaf, where his father went to school.  “As soon as I saw it, I knew,” Grimes said.  “Originally, she had rocket pods on the side and a 40 mm gun turret on the front of the nose. The door gunner and I shot a 160 machine gun off through the door. It had 14 rockets, 500 rounds of 40 mm shells and 2,000 rounds of M16 ammo for each of us,” Grimes said.
He also said his helicopter was always the lead ship. They flew low, level with the tree tops. Sister ships would take hits from the enemy because the enemy fighters on the ground would see his helicopter first and would start spraying shots toward the other helicopters.  “I never took a round. When I went on leave, that is when it got hit,” Grimes said. .
As Carol & Cecil, we have a "rest of the story."  We told you about Yeva, the young lady whose husband was converted after his interest was piqued from seeing Mitt Romney on TV during his campaign and hearing about the Mormons.  Now to the story of her son, Daniel, being baptized.  He was 9 when they joined the church.
    We'll jump back first to when he was born.  When Yeva was pregnant, she wanted a girl.  Her husband had a dream one night and saw an old man in white clothes who told him ''You will have children.  This baby is a boy and you need to name him Daniel."   She wanted a girl so bad she said she brushed it off telling him it was just a dream.  But when that little boy was born, there was no question that his name was to be Daniel.
       When they first started telling their son about the church, he said .. "All of my life you have taught me that God does not exist, but now you are saying he does?"  "I was wrong," she said and explained as best she could, bearing her testimony of our Father's existence and the plan of salvation and families.  She told him if he wanted to join, she was inviting him.  He wasn't sure,  just said he would think about it.

     They went into Volgograd for a Family History conference and Daniel went with them.  There were many children he interacted with, then he went to Primary on Sunday.  On the way home, he told them he liked the way the kids were and what they believed and wanted to be baptized.  She told him he needed to talk to their group leader first  to be sure he understood everything.  Their group leader (like a branch president) later told them Daniel understood well - said he knew it could help his family, that his mother and father had more peace since they joined the church and began to live the teachings.  Daniel is almost twelve now, soon to be a deacon.
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       When President Sheridan Gashler was president of the Russia Samara mission from 1998 - 2000 he told the missionaries if they could get 500 baptism that year, he would kiss a pig .. he actually kissed two, one pig in Saratov because they had 352 of those baptisms and another in Samara, where the mission home is.  Unfortunately our numbers have dropped,  Saratov lost about 150 members when a factory closed and many moved to Moscow.  In fact, we may have mentioned before that they sometimes in fun call Moscow the first Saratov stake because so many of our strong members moved there and mostly remained strong.   If a member here moves without giving an address, and doesn't hook up with the church in their new city,  it is almost impossible to find them.
               One of our friends here told the story of a friend of his who fell into the habit of gambling on slot machines, and one time won 2500 rubles, back when 2500 rubles was a fair amount of money, and with the windfall bought four new tires for his car.  Then within two weeks some burglars broke the brick wall of his garage and stole two of the new tires, the jack, and other items in the garage.  When he had replaced what was stolen and repaired the wall, he discovered his loss to have been about 2500 rubles.  That ended his gambling, he said it was a great lesson learned.
Our zone leaders put these on just before they stepped into our apartment for the district meeting last Friday .. they had them for us too, which Sister Leavitt and I tried on before we started the meeting.   We have a great respect for these young missionaries who serve consistently and faithfully despite the fact that when they are out on the street, things often are not very easy.
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Our landlady often brings flowers -- very much a Russian tradition -- these lasted down to just one.

This is just for fun - don't know who thinks up these clever thoughts ..

No need for a caption - a picture says a thousand words and yes, this is in the hall - and kitchen door - of the church.  This is the young boy of sacrament cup story Fame.  He is a cute kid - and lively.
It looks kind of scary, but it tasted good.   I would like to blame it on the fact that here they don't have shortening, so the crust was all butter- but that isn't a good excuse because I didn't do that well at home with crusts.  At least it did taste good - we made the pumpkin from the jack-o-lanterns.
Looks like winter may be back .
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 but, fortunately, the weather nor anything else changes the truthfulness of the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ, so even when we "walk on ice" with our feet, our hearts are on solid ground, and we are grateful every day for that knowledge.
Closing with a scripture - it is good to know that even though the way is narrow, it is straight:
 Second Nephi 9 :41 - O, then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One.  Remember that his paths are righteous.  Behold the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him.  and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
   Maxim who recently took out his endowments in the Kiev Ukraine temple, always has these wise thoughts - in our Pathway English study one of the scriptures was  - Mosiah 4:27 about not running faster than we have strength.  Maxim's observation .."He doesn't ask us to run faster than we have strength but he does ask us to run faster than we think we can."


Monday, November 16, 2015

11/15/15 Saratov Becomes Russia's Third Stake

  From the Church's Eastern European News:

В Саратове основан кол Церкви Иисуса Христа Святых последних дней

  It says that on 15 November 2015 Saratov District became Saratov Stake in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the third stake in Russia.

      For most of you, the chances of knowing any of the people is pretty small, but we will put the pictures in because we want you to see them.  We have gotten to know them and grown to love them; they have been good to us.  It reminds us of Stephen after he returned from his mission to the Canary Islands, saying how small it looked on the map when he first got his call, but how much bigger those islands became as he got to know the people.
     Today in the general session of the Saratov District Conference, the Saratov District became the Saratov Russia Stake, the third stake in Russia.  The other two are Moscow and St. Petersburg.  What a memorable day for the church in Russia and in Saratov and for the many members and missionaries and leaders who have prayed fervently and worked long and hard for this day to come.  It was a quiet, peaceful and very exciting and humbling day with no opposition, an answer to many prayers.  Five of the branches will be made into wards: Zavodskoy, Volshki, Solnechney, Dachney and Penza.  Engels, Marks and Balakova will remain branches, although Engels is close to qualifying which hopefully will come soon.             
  . Anatoly Reshetnikov (middle)  is the new stake president. His counselors are Evgeny Markelov (left) and Evgeny Kosmynin ( right.)

                President Reshetnikov - his wife on the right in the yellow

President Markelov, first counselor, and their son
                              Lena Markelov, their daughter and her mother (visiting from Idaho)
Kosmynins (Second Counselor) and the Porters
The new patriarch is Nicolai Vasiliev who also was the first Russian temple sealer. They have served two temple missions - the first in Helsinki and the next in Kiev.   Those who have wanted patriarchal blessings have had to wait until a visiting Patriarch came twice a year, so the members are all excited to have their own. The Vasilievs are among the stalwarts of the church here, faithful members for twenty years as are the Reshetnikovs.   Their countenances reflect what wonderful people they are.  
President and Sister Porter spent time every meeting mingling and meeting members.  Here they are with Mike Kazantsev, a member from Engels.  
Elder Waite has been working on a timeline showing when the branches started, when branches were combined and the names of the mission, district and branch presidents.  We had a fun time putting it up - none of the modern printing conveniences.  They are probably here but we didn't know how to find them or tell them what we wanted if we did, nor could we find poster board or rolls of paper.  So the background and the rest as a matter of fact, went up one sheet at a time.  He also had gone through the historical discs with Sister Leavitt's translating help and we have met with members so had pictures from back through time that he put on a thumb drive and had them rolling through on the family history large TV.
      It was a long project with many little tender mercies along the way as different people "just happened" to be in the right place at the right time and were able to either do what was needed or save us time by showing us how to do something - and we are grateful for our Father's help.  There are three chairs in the second picture but you can see just the backs so they look like they are holding something up 
When the Elders were helping, it looked like the three of them were in a police lineup.
Maxim and Lena pointing to the years they were baptized.
 Our Mission Presidency  and Sister Schwab - President Blinkov, Sister Schwab, President Schwab and President Markelov, now first counselor in the new Stake Presidency.
Our last District Council meeting Thursday night.  The district presidency is in the middle front.
District Presidency w/President and Sister Schwab.  The two counselors are now Bishops in a couple of the wards which will be very good.
          We had a luncheon for the outgoing District Presidency and the visiting authorities and the wives and families on Saturday between the priesthood meeting for the men and auxiliary training for the women and the evening adult session.  Then on Sunday after the meeting, we were able to repeat, this time with the new Stake Presidency, authorities and families.   Kind of fun .. our branch president's little boy, two years plus a little, wandered in and while the blessing was being said, happily and noisily crunched away on the potato chips.  
Jumping back to the luncheon Saturday between sessions.  We made chicken salad to serve on rolls which we usually can get at our Ashans, but they were almost out and the ones left were too hard.  But then, I saw these packages of hamburger buns, they looked soft and were a good size, and we were able to get enough; thought that I should check one, but just didn't get to it.  I stepped out of the women's meeting as soon as Sister Porter finished her talk to do a couple of final things .. one being to make sure the rolls were cut.  You can see them on the right side  of the table and you have to admit they look like hamburger buns.
So I cut into the first -- and there in the middle was a dollop of jelly - they were a kind of sweet roll and had jelly inside of most, chocolate inside a few, which was worse.  Mike was great, he took his "hamburger bun," put on the chick salad and ate it just like that was the way it was supposed to be.  Actually everyone took one, they were good, but some just ate it like a doughnut, and put the chicken salad on the side.  Wish I could describe that first sinking, desperate feeling when I cut into it, knowing that those who were going to eat were within a few minutes of coming in and that there is no such thing as a "quick run" to any store - none close here anyway.  The people here are very much make do with what they have, so all went very well; someone said it just added to the memories.  One of the sisters later showed me on the label where it said пончик which means donut.  I knew the word because our granddaughter, Stephen's Brinlee, likes them enough that for her birthday one year that is what she wanted for her cake, so when we started learning Russian we told everyone the word.
     When we left the meeting - this is what we came out to - four-ish inches and still falling - the first snowfall of the year.  It started part way into the meeting.  After coming out and seeing the fresh blanket of snow, one of the members said that she thought it was fitting that after coming out of that meeting, everything was pure and white, ready to make new footsteps as we moved forward.
We are safe and happy and grateful to be here even though we have to be away from family and friends.  We feel the words to the song .. "Because we have been given much, we too must give."  We are grateful more than we can say for a Father in Heaven who does as he says in D&C 84:88 .. "I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up."