Tuesday, December 15, 2015

12/13/2015 Kazakhstan Visa Trip, Tide, Nativity, Fire Drill

            Good treat for all of you this week - from Mike's journal about our visa trip to Kazakhstan. We may have mentioned this before, but any non-citizens have to go out of the country either every three or six months to renew their visa.  Fortunately we have the six month visa.  This is our transportation - the missionaries call it the Ramon-Von for Ramon, the mission driver who can find anything and drive any road.  Rare picture of it dirty, even in muddy weather he keeps it clean  

This is Ramon with President Blinkov, who works for the church/mission in Samara and also is counselor in the mission presidency.  Ramon, left, graduated from university and has a degree in engineering, but he makes more working for the church.  He is also a professional two-man team volley-ball player and has won several championships.  Now to Mike's Journal entry:

         We woke to a 5:00 alarm, which doesn’t happen often, and moved through the morning routine, then grabbed all those things we had put aside last night. Lynnette took chicken sandwiches and candy. I  took some reading material, but made sure, above all, that I was carrying our passports. We got to the office at 6:15 on the dot, and waited only a few minutes for Roman who had already picked up Sisters McKell and Reed. We stopped for Elder Fry and then escaped, with difficulty, the traffic of Saratov, bound for the border of Kazakhstan on our third and last Visa run. Our other trips were to Riga, Latvia and Kiev, Ukraine.  We were driving due west, I think, into a dusty looking gray. In fact, the terrain was nothing whatsoever like our trip several months ago with Pres Markelov to Izhevsk, which was an inspiring beauty. This would have been more breath taking in a different season, but today it was brown and gray. The tree strips along the brutal road were lifeless and dry looking.
         An occasional panoramic shot gave evidence of what would be in the spring and summer rolling hills of sunflowers, bordered by tree lines. But today was picturesque because it felt cold and uninspired. And we did see cows and sheep.
The villages were small crowds of unlighted sheds, or so they seemed. Sometimes several lines of unbeautified homes under the shadow, so to speak, of the silos or factories. 
Roman was on a tight schedule for he had to return to Samara Friday night.  So he took that patched, pot-holed road with good speed, hitting some bumps and dips that lifted us out of seats—or would have had we not been buckled in. Roman pointed out that it was a good thing, it was cheaper and kept drivers awake.  We made the trip there with only one relief stop in the three and a half hours, which Lynnette and I were grateful for.  
      (They do not allow pictures at the border and there were stories and plenty of border patrol around so it wasn't much of a temptation.  We got the two from the internet and it is almost exact but the white building on the left as you enter was blue, weather the same as in the picture.  
Image result for kazakhstan border crossings
Someone opens every gate you go through after they check to make sure you have the number you are supposed to - the vehicle is checked going in and out when all are out of it. They are nice - just very careful.)  Then came the cold process of getting our passports stamped. This week was the first time the mission had made use of this close neighbor, instead of flying to Kiev or Riga, but we were the third group this week, so Roman knew what to expect. On the Russian side we had to deliver our passports and stand out in the cold, and it was beginning to get quite chilly—Lynnette had debated which coat to take and was becoming more and more grateful she had taken the heavier of the two.  The immigration soldiers or those in what seemed military uniforms were inside a booth each time, but we stood outside a window before a camera in the temperature that was dropping. 
Image result for kazakhstan border crossings
          We stood in Russia, then passing two gates before and after, drove a dirt road perhaps two miles to the Kazakhstan border and went through the same process. Again we loaded up, went through another gate into Kazakhstan maybe a hundred yards and drove back first to second booth on the Kazakhstan border, along that same two mile dusty, cold road to the Russian booth, where for the last time stood again in line. It was then time to wish we had brought our double socks and under armour.  (The pictures below are ok for us to post, you can see the Welcome to Kazakstan in English on the bottom line, above is Russian, top is Kazak.  You can also see they don't want you to honk your horn, they come and get you when it is your turn.  The guards were all business but not unpleasant.
This is a building as you go into Kazakhstan (you can almost read it yourself if you know the C has an S sound and the H has an N sound.  Putin is in the middle.
         After all had received the necessary stamps (two leaving and two coming back in) we headed for the van, but one more delay. For some reason they decided to examine us, to see what we were doing here in Russia. A boy in a uniform selected me and Sister McKell, but it was a young gentleman, not in a uniform, who realized quickly I spoke no Russian.  He took the two of us into a room where he questioned Sister McKell about our purposes in Russian. She gave him an Articles of Faith card and they talked. He asked questions that seemed professional and of personal interest, and the full time he was respectful and kind. After perhaps twenty minutes we were dismissed, he shook our hands and we were on our way. The scenery didn’t improve for the return trip, but the sandwiches were welcome and most, excepting Roman, got a little sleep. 
          Grandma Waite would be pleased to know that we have been able to get Tide here - in fact, it is less expensive that it is at home by almost half.  
EXCITING!!!  We found a nativity, the first we have seen here.  Saturday we went over to an activity center  where a couple of the branches - whoops - wards, have rented a gym sized floor for two or three hours on Saturday afternoons.  There was a man selling a variety of food items as we went in, and tucked in among everything was this .. it is made out of some kind of wax, and we're glad to have it.  It won't melt here but we may have to be careful when we get back home. 
      Sunday we had a fire drill during the Volzhski Ward sacrament meeting.  We had been told and the city was there to make sure everything was done correctly.  It was freezing cold outside, but all stood around and laughed and chatted for the ten minutes or so we were out.  It was cool (in more ways than one)  there were a couple of the sisters who had gone out without a coat and immediately one sister opened her coat and wrapped both of them. Another, with one sister on each side who did the same.
           Sundays are busy because we attend two wards - Zadvaskoy is 10:00 to 1:00, Volshski  from 12:30 to 3:30.  Mike has to be in the clerk's office for part of that time so he can get the reports.  He goes to both sacrament meetings and is in and out of the other meetings.  Even though I don't understand what is going on unless someone is there to translate, I usually go to SS and Relief Society of the Volshski Ward.   A couple of weeks ago we moved the Single Adults middle group to 6:00 p.m.on Sundays because more can come at that time.  Also, a couple of times a month we have Institute Council at 5:00 p.m.  It is good to be busy.  Also, because of this we will try to have the blog posted by Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning instead of waiting until Sunday night and then not getting it done until later - like your Tuesday night this week.
        The picture below will give you some idea of our weather.  The sun doesn't come out a lot during this time of year.  We continue to be impressed with our young missionaries as they now face contacting in this cold weather. We are also impressed with missionaries everywhere who go out on the streets wherever they are and in whatever circumstances they face to bring this important message to all who will listen - and proud of those in our families who are serving - Elder Braxton,Leavitt,  Elder Clancy Leavitt, Sister Hanna Leavitt, Sister Devaney Rasmussen, and of course Elder & Sister Cecil and Carol Leavitt who have been willing to go out for the second time, even if it means being away from family and we all know how they love family.  They bless many lives.
Nice view of the Volga - 
 There are some things that are more than worth your money!!! (Translation - toilet)
Closing with Aaron's FHE lesson from many, many years ago
The Church is true!
There's work to do!
and the scripture:
D&C 128:22 - ...shall we not go on in so great a cause?  Go forward and not backward.  Courage, brethren and on, on to the victory!  Let your hearts rejoice and be exceedingly glad.
  Being here has been a great blessing for us and for our family.  Our testimonies and our lives are strengthened.                                                    

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