Sunday, February 28, 2016

2/28/2016 Volga, Fiji Temple, Men's Day, The Lift, Learn of Me

We were excited to find this very old picture which was taken at a time before they were asked not to take baptism pictures.  This is from the island underneath the middle of the bridge that you've seen pictures of before.  No one knows who it was, but we are grateful for the picture and the feeling it brings and also being able to see the bridge in the background as it drops into Saratov.
Just in case you haven't seen this picture:  SUVA, FIJI After the winds and rain of Cyclone Winston (the worst storm ever recorded in Fiji history) pounded Fiji during a long and devastating night, the sun rose on the Pacific island nation—shining its light on the Suva Fiji Temple. The storm, which struck Fiji with winds up to 175 miles per hour came in the nighttime hours between the LDS Church’s youth temple cultural celebration and the temple rededication.  No Latter-day Saints or missionaries were reported injured by Tropical Cyclone Winston.  Early in the morning after the cyclone, birds flew above the temple—a sign to Elder Johansson that the rededication would go on. “President Eyring came here to dedicate the temple, and he will do that." 
        Suva Fiji Temple, seen as the cyclone hits the island nation on Saturday, February 20, 2016.  
I had just started baking some peanut butter cookies so we would have treats for an Armenian family with three young children the elders were bringing over, when the sisters called and needed me to go with them to their old apartment so they could finalize with their hazain (landlord).  I had one tray in the oven (our oven is only big enough for a dozen at a time) and one ready to go in, so asked Mike if he would take out the one when the timer went off, then cook the other tray for the same time and then turn off the oven.  
      This is what I came home to.  He didn't know how to turn the oven off and didn't want it to just stay on heating everything up, so he took the cookie scoop and tackled the job, and only had these two trays left.  He even did the double cross with the fork on top. 
           They celebrate a day for the men similar to our Father's Day, and here they are putting together food plates - this is from the activity at Zavadskoy branch.  They often have a couple of kinds of fruit, bread with meat and cheese, a treat and juice to drink.  The programs are great - there are some readings, some musical numbers, some skits and many participate and all enjoy.
 If you look close you can see the front car towing the one behind with what didn't seem like a very strong band, but it worked, even going up over a curb and across a divider section and then on down the road, hope it has good brakes.
The snow is starting to melt and the beautiful white soft looking snow is gone, leaving the dirty snow that was shoveled underneath, but we're not complaining because the snow is melting and it is great to have more dry sidewalk to walk on.
 When we were moving the sisters, the elevator took that opportunity to quit working.  Two of the elders were in there along with a load they were taking down - or planning to take down -  two floor fans, some boxes and a couple of the twin size thick foam mats rolled up so it was pretty crowded.  A neighbor called the people who fix the elevator (they probably have a full time job here) and we put a scarf in the door so they had some light, then had them stick their hands out so we could take a picture.  Always using their time wisely - they did companion study while they were waiting.  This is the same apartment building where the lift didn't work at all when Sister Leavitt was leaving to come home and suitcases had to be brought down the 9 stories of stairs.  A couple of weeks ago the sisters crowded into the same elevator with their Christmas tree  The door shut, but the elevator wouldn't move.  Maybe it is good they have moved to another apartment. You can by the top picture the elevator isn't exactly roomy.
 This is the walking street when we were out running some errands the other day.  It gives you a better idea of the width of the street with the stores on either side.  This was almost surreal and quiet as the people moved around and toward and past us .. a light snow and we were bundled so it was a comfortable walk.
 Also got a picture of the full conservatory that day.  Many Russians start here as children and study voice, piano or an instrument and quite a few take it to a professional level even if they don't become professional.  We've gone to a couple of recitals there and were impressed.  The building is amazing - there are stages and recital areas and practice rooms and teaching rooms and get ready rooms and waiting rooms and the list goes on.  It is old but well taken care of and beautiful inside and out.
We met a lady on the bus that attempted conversation and was so friendly we finally got out the iphone and used google translate, it was fun and she was so pleasant.  We were both headed to church and got off at the same bus stop, she went another way at the first block to the evangelist church.
 At church: The lady on the left is wearing the women's version of the shopka.  During the cold part of the winter, you see quite a few of them, although mostly in the natural fur colors.  Occasionally you get a color, the blue or red most often.
We have a babushka in our ward that used to be in professional music and she likes music led the proper way.  There was a picture before of them outside in the cold practicing when we had the fire drill.  There was another sesions today and it is fun and touching to see them work together .. Grandma just snatched up Laila today after sacrament meeting who had struggled with the upbeat and then always staying with the count. It is both fun and touching to see them work together.  Laila got the 2 - das, diva; the 3 - das, diva, tri and the 4 - das, diva, tri, chiteri.  She got it down right and Grandma praised her as they laughed and hugged and led music together.  It was great.
 We had to pull everything out so we could get a box ready to send with the Schwabs in their crate, huge blessing.  We had wondered how we would get Mike's books back that we mailed over.  You can see it had been a long day!
President Schwab told an interesting story in our zone conference.  In one of the Samara districts they had a woman who had been taught, read the Book of Mormon and continued to read daily.  She studied and prayed and asked questions and accepted everything they taught her, but she just wouldn't get baptized although she was completely active in church meetings and in activities. After several sets of missionaries, one finally asked again the question that had been asked before and then pushed it a little .. "If you know all of these things, why won't you be baptized."  Finally she, with apologies and some embarrassment,  gave the reason -- she was afraid of water.  They worked through that and she was baptized.  She was thrilled -  and glad to have it over. 
                                            *      *      *      *
     Something to think about !!
From President Monson's March First Presidency Message, Learn of Me:
 ...we are all teachers and we are all learners. To all comes this gentle invitation from our Lord: “Learn of me … and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” I invite all to ponder their efforts to teach and to learn and to look to the Savior as our Guide in doing so. We know that this “teacher come from God”2 was more than a mere teacher. He who taught us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, and all our minds, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, is the Master Teacher and the Exemplar of the perfect life....The Savior’s entire ministry exemplified love of neighbor. Indeed, His love and service were often His lesson...Help God’s children understand what is genuine and important in this life. Help them develop the strength to choose paths that will keep them safely on the way to eternal life.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2/21/2016 Rain, Dom, Saratov Lights, 44th Anniversary

We were surprised with rain Tuesday evening, and unfortunately did not have an umbrella. Suffice it to say we found out that my coat isn't waterproof, but at least it is warm when it isn't wet.
Dasha and Alyona - the ones who went with us on our walking tour of the Zavadskoy buildings - 
took us to see their room in the dorm - dom in Russian which means any kind of home.  It took me back to my Arizona State University days and living in Gammage Hall.  This is a common kitchen area to the floor they are on .. they can only use the stove top, not the oven, no microwave, but they do have in their room a small crockpot and one of those electric pitchers that heats the water fast, something I'd like to have when we get home, amazing how often that comes in handy.
 They were in a room for three which was more than double the size of this one.  They like having fun, but they are studiers and not party-ers, so preferred having just the two of them. They are the only members of the LDS church in this dorm - dom.  There was one other member in their university, but he is in the mission field now, serving in Moscow..
 Both like reading.  Alyona major is English which she loves, Dasha's is Political Science, which she doesn't like,but once they declare a major, they cannot change it unless they change schools or until move on to another level.
 It says have a happy day.
 With their "commandant" who is in charge of this particular dorm and went out of her way to be nice to us.  She really likes them - and even had the guard let us in without showing our passports.  When they go in to the dorm, they have to stop at the window where the guard is.  They give him their university ID and he gives them the key.
 We met one of the retired teachers from their school.  Her husband also worked there and their son now has been one of their teachers.  We were at the curb and she asked if they could help her across the street.  She, probably in her late eighties now, and her husband have devoted her life to teaching and preparing young people for living in the "real" world.  (whatever that is).    
These two and Laila (our member from Angola) and Yulia came again Saturday to help make sugar cookies for the Institute Valentine party.  Another day of the little tender mercies that make things so much better.  We had a similar project last year but this is the first time I had to make sugar cookies here and I'm grateful heaven listens even to silly prayers about cookies.   Everyone helped and they turned out just right.  Then the three girls frosted them - it would have taken me forever - they are good at it and all did theirs a little differently so it was more decorative.
The party went well although we didn't have as many as we expected and would have liked to have had, but the evening was well planned with food and games.  At the parties here, everyone seems to be willing to take part in whatever is going on, and enjoy it.  
They even had a game that used the glow wrist bands like we use at the 4th of July.
Some of the best pictures are of people taking pictures as you all remember from watching your children trying to make their children smile for a picture.
A member just sent us these pictures, the members love them and so do we.  They are pictures of the lights in the sky just before Saratov was made a Stake.   There certainly was a great feeling of peace that weekend, appreciated much more because there had been such resistance before.  Everything was in place for any "just in case's", but there were none.
Remember the board Mike did for the Saratov District Time Line -- which took us a very long time to put up at almost a piece of paper at a time.  It shows all the branches, when they began and the branch, district and mission presidents from 1990 through 2015.
We knew it wouldn't take as long but expected to spend a fair amount of time taking it down:
 Less than 10 minutes from start to fold and in the trash.  We tried to find that poem about taking longer to build than to demolish but couldn't, but did find this quote which will do - 
By definition, the process of creation has to be structured and logical in order that you have a useful end product. Destruction, however, can be random and incoherent. Actions which take little or no thought can be done much faster than those which must be carefully considered.
We are told to go somewhere exciting for our anniversaries - how many have been to Saratov, Russia.  And it was exciting and memorable to celebrate our 44th at a Zone Conference with President and Sister Schwab, their daughter Jenni and all these young missionaries we have become so fond of.  We do miss our family at these times, but in a couple of months we'll have that too.  We also celebrated February birthdays.  February 29 is an unusual birthday, and it has to be even more rare to have two sisters serving in the same mission who are leap year babies. They will be five years old this year.  (the two with their heads together).   
Mike picked up some Baskin-Robbins ice cream for our anniversary treat for everyone.  We went the day before to see what the had (and found some cranberry-raspberry sorbet that was yum - to me anyway).  With the Google Translate and the little bit of English one of the ladies there knew, we were able to make sure they would have what we needed, but one of the Elders went with Elder Waite to pick it up - just to be sure. 
It it always good to be together and to be taught.

   In closing, this from the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults on January 10, 2016 at BYU-Hawaii, President Russell Nelson speaking of personal revelation:

   Revelation for the church from the Lord to His servants  is a sacred process, and so is your privilege of receiving personal revelation. My dear brothers and sisters, you have as much access to the mind and will of the Lord for your own life as we Apostles do for His Church. Just as the Lord requires us to seek and ponder, fast and pray, and study and wrestle with difficult questions, He requires you to do the same as you seek answers to your own questions.  You can learn to hear the voice of the Lord through the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.  As helpful as Google, Twitter, and Facebook may seem, they simply do not provide answers to your most important questions! . . . you can know the mind and will of the Lord for your own life. You do not have to wonder if you are where the Lord needs you to be or if you are doing what He needs you to do. You can know! The Holy Ghost will tell you “all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5)
D&C 9:8 .. you must study it out in your mind, then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause shall feel that it is right.


Monday, February 15, 2016

2/14/16 History, Saratov Buildings, English Club, Peace

The Elders were talking about counting their blessings at the end of the day .... well, he yelled at us, but he didn't swear; he swore a lot but he didn't hit us or spit at us.                                                                                      
Related image
 An entry on one of the Engels Branch history discs reminded us of a headstone in the Santa Clara cemetery Aaron Michael and his family saw when they were looking at family headstones:   
                            "Accidentally Killed By An Indian"                       
Image result for picture of old headstone

And, this is the entry from the Engels, Russia history:
"2005 March 9  Engels:  Marina Azarenkova baptized, given a calling in RS, dies in November
*   *  *
Image result for picture of history disc
        Mike has been working on a history of Saratov, and one of the areas in that history is the buildings they met in.  Mikail, from Zavadskoy Ward was willing to take us to the buildings for that Branch/Ward, so we met him Monday at the church building.  Dasha and Aloyna (converts of about a year, Institute Youth, English speakers and good friends) came with us to translate.  We thought it would be fun for you to see the buildings and how many places they have met.  Only the first one would be considered easily accessible.  (You can tell that some of the notes are taken from Mike's journal.)
We took a bus and rode for a very long time before Mikail finally gave us the sign of only two more stops, and there we got off to a day of hiking on icy sidewalks.  One of the nice miracles is that, though we slipped several times and walked great distances between buildings, no one fell. We enjoyed his enjoyment, his talk of playing Santa Claus, his explanation of each building. After the first building (below), where they used the bottom floor and were in for about a year,
Mikail said we had a ten minute walk, which I’m certain was nearer thirty than ten.  But the day, though chilly, and the snow frozen hard, and the ice glassy, 
we liked the walk: 
once up over the tracks, 
once across the tracks. 
He wove us through complexes and across long stretches of tracks, but got us to four of the six—I think six—buildings.  This is building number two - the part you see here was just a huge room where they had sacrament meeting.  Where you see the yellow trim, the building extends over to the rooms where they held classes.  They were here four or five months, 
and this was where Mikail was Santa Claus.
The next three pictures constitute their third meeting place and they were there almost three years.  They had 170 members, with over 100 coming each week to Sacrament meetings.  Now they have a little over 50 each week.  As mentioned before, many faithful members from here and the other Saratov branches moved to Moscow for work, starting in about 1998 when the value of the ruble dropped.  Those that came to organize the stake here even joked that this was really the second Saratov Stake, the first one was organized in Moscow. 
The white and blue building below was where Sacrament meeting was held  The classrooms were in the parts of the building you see in the bottom two pictures.  
This is their fourth meeting place, and the most difficult to get to, we had another short bus ride and then walked around buildings and across empty lots.  They met here a year and a half.
When Mikail finally said it was the last building we would be visiting, not one of the four of us had any idea where we were. We had walked through nice wooded areas and into some “sketchy” streets, trash on the sides of the road, and it all was another world. 
We were still in Saratov, Zavodskoy section, but there was nothing familiar. 
Mikail showed us the tram to get on, told us when to get off, and the number of the next tram to catch, and the girls followed his directions, and after a long ride on the hard seats of the tram, 
and traveling by the most humble of homes.
 We ended up on Rockova Street, only  two blocks from our apartment (and that was only because by then Mike recognized where we were and had us get off.  The walk from where we had been directed to get off would have added four blocks - 
and their blocks are longer than Salt Lake blocks. ) 
 Рахова ул (Rockova Street)
 One of our Elders who is from Arizona, has a talent for cartoon type drawing, so when that companionship is in charge of English club, he adds his talent.  This first picture says:
"You didn't read the Book of Mormon?  Then, I am sad"  and was more effective than anything he could have said. 
In English Club they were doing phrasal verbs - so he illustrated - a big help to those 
that are trying to figure out English.

 Couple of close-ups

We went again to the game center that some of the wards/branches rent out on Saturdays.  This time, along with the sports participants, one of the scout leaders was there teaching this young man to rappel - not as good as a cliff but it is a good beginning.  I'm not sure what it was built for, but they have adapted it very well and it isn't far to fall if you make a mistake.
Friends from the Zavadskoy branch and the zone leaders ate with us last Monday.  He would like to retire, but is also known as the "idea man" and they don't want him to leave because what they want to build, he can visualize and outline; they just follow his lead.  She works as an engineer.  They are fun to be with,  they obviously enjoy one another.  They tell stories, actually she tells and he fills in details along the way.  Their first daughter had some problems in her legs when she was a child and when the doctors tried to fix it, they made a mistake resulting in the amputation of both legs. Not to be discouraged, they worked hard and taught her, along with their next two that they could do anything they were willing to work for, regardless of handicaps.  She had a good voice and musical ability, so they enrolled her in the best music schools here.  Now, with an amazing singing voice and prosthetic legs, she professionally sings and dances, does very well.  They are very proud, for which they have reason.  (If you study and do well, the state pays for your education - and their three did.)
A tender moment between the two of them as they were getting ready to leave and he knelt down by her to help her put on her boots.
This is the fiance of one of our Institute members.  Her smile and fun personality reminded us of Meresa Woods so we immediately liked her.  I think we expected her to speak English.
She is from Vladivstock, Russia and served a mission in Rostov Russia, which is where our Russian sister is from.  It was fun to see their reunion as they met in hall of the Institute office and spoke in rapid Russian as they talked of people and memories there.
 Her fiance - or his fiance - whatever you chose
Somehow peace has been a consistent thread through the studies recently.  The topical guide says:

       In the scriptures, peace can mean either freedom from conflict and turmoil or the inner calm and comfort born of the Spirit that God gives to his faithful Saints.

Since all of us have trials we have to face and things we have to work through, it seems the peace we are looking for is the inner calm and comfort that comes through the Holy Ghost.  As always, our Father gives us simple directions and another great promise if we follow them:  
 D&C 19:23 - Learn of me, listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my spirit 
and ye shall have peace in me.  
We are constantly touched, impressed, awed, amazed - what is the word - at the many, many things our Father in Heaven has given us - in our wonderful world, with the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ and through the restoration of the gospel.  We are grateful.