Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another week of "firsts" for us in our mission

Last week was another week of "firsts" for us. We attended our first Zone Conference, which involved half of the mission. (the first half had met the week earlier) We had a chance to meet some of the missionaries that we have had contact with on the phone but had not met in person.

President and Sister Sorenson both instructed and taught, a missionary returning home after his mission bore his testimony and said his goodbyes and a nice lunch was provided by the local Relief Society (women's organization). It was a time for missionaries from other parts of the mission to enjoy each other's company.  The missionaries were sent on their way having been spiritually uplifted.

One set of missionaries that Dave had helped a lot with finances, brought him one of their favorite candy bars to show their appreciation. Barb got some hugs from some of the sister missionaries. We both enjoyed spending time with some of the senior couples and getting to know them better.

The next "first" was the arrival of a group of missionaries from the U.S., 2 elders and 2 sisters. One of our responsibilities is to help in their orientation. Barb had met one of the young sisters briefly in the MTC and had been looking forward to seeing her here. They are fine young men and women and we anticipate becoming very close to them as we work with them in the coming months.

The third "first" was transfers. Transfers take place every 6 weeks and involves the assignment of new missionaries to their new geographic area and the transfer of some current missionaries to a new geographic area. The missionaries  spend time in different areas w/ different companions throughout their mission.

Last week was very busy indeed as we greeted these 4 missionaries. Also,there was the arrival of 7 new missionaries to the Russia Moscow West Mission the following day.  (we all work in the same building). It was a very busy, chaotic (in a good way) time as our office was literally wall-to-wall missionaries.

Our first month of service in the Russia Moscow Mission is over. We continue to learn our responsibilities, we love the missionaries that we work with and our wonderful mission president and his wife. We are starting to feel more comfortable here and continue to have many new experiences and opportunities. Until next week, dos vidonya.

Moscow - an exciting but expensive place to live.

Saturday we walked into the heart of Mitina to buy a metro pass, bus ticket, enjoy the sunshine and get more familiar w/ our neighborhood. We needed a muffin pan so we went to the local mall to check it out. There were many nice clothing stores and in the basement of the 3-level mall, we saw a kitchen supply store. In we went, found the muffin tins, the girl took it from me and walked to the counter (I guess she was afraid I was going to run out of the store with it). I was pleased to be able to make Dave blueberry muffins.....until I took the time to look at the receipt.  We ended up paying the equivalet of $34 for one nice muffin tin. WOW. They saw us coming! In order to make up for that extravagant purchase, I will need to make muffins twice a week for our entire mission! From now on we will ask "skolka stoit?" meaning how much is it. Live and learn.

We are delighted that Spring is really here. We are amazed with how quickly it came and how quickly the snow, which was piled up a foot high or more in frozen dirty clumps of icy snow, disappeared. No time was wasted in using shovels and picks to move those icy clumps away. In three days time, they had the snow removed, had raked and tidied up the lawns and there was grass growing! Today we saw buds on some of the trees as well. The temperatures have been in the 60's and the days are getting longer. Because we are so far north we experience more daylight much in the same way as Alaska does. We may need sleeping masks as before long we will be going to bed when it is still light out!

Also, people are coming out of the woodwork it seems to enjoy the sun after the long dark days of winter. Roller blading and biking is very popular w/ the younger people and kids and people are sitting on benches outside, kids are playing on the playground and couples walking their babies.

We have noticed that the Russian people are an industrious people. They work VERY hard to keep things clean. There is a constant crew using brooms made of sticks tied tightly together, to sweep sidewalks, sides of the street, painting fences, picking up trash and removing snow.

The metro stations are filled w/ thousands of people every day. There is a crew that cleans up after those careless enough to toss cigarette butts or paper down. Sadly, as in any large city, there are those who are very poor and some of them take up residence there during the day hoping for a few coins. We have gotten in the habit of grabbing a large handful of spare change every time we go on the metro for this very purpose.

There are tiny businesses everywhere (as before mentioned - productees, vegetable trucks, flower stands) where people earn a modest living. Wouldn't it be wonderful if America adopted some of the work ethic we have seen here by putting those on welfare to work in keeping our communities clean?

Russian people love dogs. I can look out the window almost at any time and see someone out there w/ their pet. The dogs we pass on the street w/ their owners seem to be very well behaved. Even the strays which are plentiful, are used to people and appear to be well behaved. I wonder if they watch the Dog Whisperer?

It is delightful when we meet friendly people and it is becoming apparent to both of us that we need to improve our Russian skills a bit so we can interact with those who show an interest. This past week on the bus it was VERY crowded and Dave and I were standing near the front of the bus. When a seat was vacated the woman next to her motioned for me to sit down next to her. She was chatting cheerfully and I felt sad that I couldn't communicate with her.  We have both decided to make studying Russian a little more important. Our days are so full and we are usually tired when we get home but it is important. We will keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring is REALLY here

What a difference a couple of days make. Only a few days ago it was snowing and there was muddy icy snow everywhere. Today there is not a trace of snow anywhere, the snow having been removed by hard working men who removed all the snow. Grass has already started to grow. Temperatures are warm enough that we have put aside our winter coat, boots and scarves. (hopefully until the winter returns in October or November). Mothers are out with their babies, toddlers are on the playground, dogs romping and kids on bikes and rollerblading are seen everywhere. Welcome Spring!!

A WONDERFUL DAY at Zone Conference

Today was the first Zone Conference that we attended. It is divided into two zones, North Zone (which we are in) and South Zone. We traveled to Moscow near Red Square to the Central Building where we met with about 40 missionaries and the mission president and his wife. It was a spiritual feast. We had a chance to meet some of the young missionaries that we have  only heard of or communicated with by phone the past 4 weeks. I enjoyed getting hugs from some of the sister missionaries. and Dave received a candy bar from a couple of elders who were showing appreciation to him for work he had done for them this past week.

There was spiritual and "common sense" direction given. We are so proud of these young men and women who have traveled half-way around the world to serve the Russian people. After close to 3 months of intensive language training they are out among the Russian people. They saved to be able to pay for their missions, prepared themselves spiritually also and have left behind college, employment (or work), family and friends to come to a country where there is a totally different culture to serve the Lord. They are remarkable young people. They are full of faith.

We have missionaries in our mission serving from England, America, Latvia, St. Petersburg, Russia and other places in Russia. Today I watched a young Russian woman translate for a newer sister missionary who is Russian and couldn't yet understand fully the English. Our English missionary (from England) was translating into English for a senior missionary who still struggles w/ the Russian language. I was moved to tears as a young Elder, new to the mission who is from Russia bore a sweet testimony in English of the power the gospel is having on some of the Russian people he is meeting and the hope that the gospel can bring to those who have been without light for so long.

Some of them have sacrificed greatly to be here. One young elder, who is soon to return to his home here in Russia, came on his mission without the support of a loving family. I am sure there are others who have sacrificed as well in one way or another.

I am looking forward to getting to know them.I know that as I get to know them I will love them.  I know I will be able to learn a lot from them. And we are enjoying very much getting to know the senior missionaries who are away from children, grandchildren and are working hard and don't believe in the word retirement! There is much a senior couple can accomplish that the younger missionary cannot, due to age and experience.

In 10 short weeks the Russia Moscow Mission is going to nearly double in size as it merges with the Russia Moscow West Mission. There is so much to do in preparation for the blessing of having over 100 missionaries here. Dave and I, as the office couple and secretary (me) and finacial secretary (Dave) to the Mission President, will have an opportunity of getting to know and serve these young missionaries well and from time to time, be a "parent" when needed. These young missionaries range in age from 19 - 23 or 24 years of age.

It is humbling to find ourselves in a country where the Church is so newly being recognized. It was only within this past year that the first Stake in Moscow was created. A stake consists of a group of wards (congregations) or branches, which are smaller than a ward.

It has been a truly wonderful day and we are grateful to this opportunity to serve as missionaries for The Church of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Smile! You're on Candid Camera!

We have finished another week! We are continuing to learn a little more every day and even though the learning curve is huge, we are loving our mission and being in the mission office. Our Russian, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired  :o)  

This past week one of Dave's galoshes broke. He really felt it necessary to find another pair due to the rain, slush and mud that is prevalent this time of year. So, he decided to go to the Renock across the street in the Neptune building and see if he could find a pair of galoshes to wear over his dress shoes. He said the salesman didn't speak any English and after going back and forth, the salesman requested that Dave draw a picture of what he wanted. Well, he's no artist and all that happened at this point was a lot of laughter between the two of them as they each tried unsuccessfully to communicate with each other. Needless to say, Dave left without galoshes (which he didn't see anywhere in the store anyway). I guess it was a real Candid Camera moment. (he later got a pair of new galoshes from another missionary at the office who had an extra pair.)

A couple of days later we were shopping again at the renock looking for some potatoes at one of the open air markets. I asked for three. The woman started loading this huge bag of potatoes (3 kilograms) I wanted only 3. It was a process of frantically trying to get her to understand I only wanted 3 katoshkee, not 3 kilograms. David found the whole thing quite amusing as he was watching me make a spectacle of myself).Anyway, she was very kind and gave me my 3 hard-won potatoes.

A couple of days earlier on Wednesday we went to Zelonograd for English group and at the bus stop a man stopped and asked me a question in Russian. I said "I don't speak English." He said "good-bye" and walked away. He must have figured if I couldn't speak English being English I certainly wouldn't be much help to him in Russian. (I was a bit flustered,can you tell?) Then on the way home as we were getting ready to get off at our bus stop a young woman asked me a question in Russian. Silly me, standing near the bus driver, spoke to him in English and said she needed help. Hmmmm. I wonder if she got the help she needed. It was just not my day.(or hers - she definitely asked the wrong person for help) I really do need to spend some more time studying the basic Russian language. I have very good intentions and have a book at the office to study but haven't had much time to look at it.

Our washing machine was fixed this week thanks in part to two wonderful Russian missionaries (natives) who were here at the apartment to talk to the repairman and answer his questions and guide us through this. What would we do without our Russian missionaries? These two young men are actually missionaries from the Moscow West Mission (we are the Moscow Mission) but we work in the same office space and since our missionaries were out of town.

Russians aren't exactly known for being on time (kind of like our repairmen maybe) and we had an hour and a half to get acquainted as we waited for our repairman to show up.

We both have a goal to continue to work on our Russian. We'll let you know how that goes. We actually feel it's very important to try to communicate with these wonderful people in their native tongue. I think they appreciate our efforts, as ineffectual (and humorous) as it can sometimes be.

Anyway, these past couple of days have been BEAUTIFUL. Saturday was our p-day and we were able to walk around Mitina (our city) and enjoy lovely weather in the 50's. It felt like a heat wave!
We were pleased that we were able to make out a lot of the signs and read and recognize quite a bit.

One of my goals was to get something at the opteka (pharmacy) that I needed to have in stock for the missionaries who are returning home. We are sending one home next week and I needed to find this one kind of medication. I promise you this is something you have not bought at home or probably something you will ever need. Are you ready for this? I needed to pills. That's right. Every missionary leaving Russia has to take two different kinds of de-worming pills. I was able to find the first kind with no trouble and they each cost another $1 each. It wasn't until the 5th opteka that I found the second medication needed so I bought 10 boxes at about $4.40 each.  I'll tell you I can hardly wait until we go back home and we get to be the ones on the receiving end of taking these de-worming pills, that our doctor here in the mission says is a must. YUK.

There are some "firsts" coming up this week. We will let you know how we do. :0)

We have been here a month now and while we still are quite clueless about things, we are less clueless than we were and are feeling a bit more comfortable than we were. We are LOVING our mission and are looking forward to what is ahead. There are some big changes ahead which I will share with you later.

Until next week, dosvidonya and boods da rove.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Our apartment in Mitina (suburb of Moscow) and other interesting facts

We thought you might enjoy seeing some pictures of our apartment. You would think we live in Fort Knox. To get into the building we use a code and go through a heavy door, a second door that leads to the elevator that takes us up to the tenth floor. Then we have two doors to go through (both locked) before getting to our apartment w/ two more keys. HUGE keys.

We live in an older building, but it is quite lovely and we feel very much at home here. Currently I am doing laundry in the kitchen sink as the washing machine died and the repairman has not responded to our landlady Jana's request to call back to set up an appt. to have it fixed it. In order to do this, we are going through our office elders, Elder Brown and Elder Everett, who speak fluent Russian.

Here is a picture of them taken in our apartment today after coming to share a meal with us. They are wonderful young men!

Here is a picture of me in the kitchen doing laundry. I have it down to a science now! The blue hood on the right side of the picture is over the electric stove. The oven works very well, (once I figured out how to change from centrigrade to farenheit.)

We have an eat-in kitchen w/ a nice big table.

We also have a combined living room/dining room. Behind the living room couch is a beautiful large window and we have a great view overlooking  a school and the big apartment yard w/ a playground and a path leading to a lake which we will explore once the weather is nicer. We have seen horses over there and children playing  and dogs being walked. In the morning the skyline is beautiful.

Our bedroom is nice w/ a lovely little sitting area w/ a chair and a lamp to read. The bed is larg and very comfortable. There is a lot of storage throughout the apartment.

The second bedroom is used for our laundry. That is where the drying rack is to dry our clothes and the ironing board. I have a nice view of the front street as I iron and watch the people bustling at all hours. We have a television in the second bedroom and in the living room. We have had it on briefly as before-mentioned and saw the Smurfs and Simpsons in Russian. We didn't watch them but found it amusing that they were on.

The bathrooms in Russia are interesting. There are two rooms. One room has the sink and shower. The other tiny room has only the toilet.

What else can we share that you might find interesting?

1. The supermarkets have security guards. I'm guessing noone is going to be foolish enough to try to shoplift. They don't look very friendly and we avoid eye contact with them and we don't do anything that would draw attention to us.

2.  In the grocery stores we see a few American products such as Dannon, M @ M's, Nestle products and Colgate. The Russians love juice and have rows of wonderful juice. Buckwheat and oats are also easy to find. Alcohol and wine are also available in large quantities in both the grocery stores and the little prodooktees.
3. McDonalds, Hyundai and Toyota dealerships, Dominoes Pizza and Subway Sandwich shops are readily available.
4. Because of bad water, you will not see water fountains anywhere. Water filters are used a lot (the Church has them in all of their buildings and apartments.) In the restaurants, bottled water is readily available in two "flavors". Gas or still. Gas means carbonated. Still is just plain.
5. Most Russians do not wear shoes in their apartments. Shoes are taken off at the door. It has been quite delightful at our office to change from shoes into slippers or just plain old socks.
6.  We are visitors in Russia. We are expected to have our identification on our person at all times. Missionaries are strongly encouraged to use kanga pouches. We wear them  inside our clothes. It holds our passport and related registration documents.

7. Russia is a cash only society. It is important to draw out enough cash to pay rent, buy groceries or other needed items. There are no bank accounts, no checking accounts, no savings account. Think about it. How much less debt there would be in our country if it was only cash on the barrelhead. Howver, it does have it's own set of problems. It is obviously not a good idea to carry large sums of money on you. Debit cards are used to withdraw needed cash at the numerous ATM's.

8. There are a lot of stray dogs EVERYWHERE. :0(

9. Russians love flowers and there are little flower shops everywhere.

10. Spring is late in coming to Moscow and we anxiously await green grass and beautiful flowers ad warmer temperatures.

We sen our love to our family and friends until next week. Dos Vidonya.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Zelonograd Ward

Today was our first Sunday together in our new ward in Zelonograd, which means Green. We understand that in the summer months it is incredibly beautiful w/ green forests all around. Hard to picture that right now though w/ everything covered in white.

I think we have the transportation for Zelonograd down. One long bus ride (40 min), one short bus ride (10 min) and a 10 minute walk to the ward building.

It is very humbling to walk into a building where everyone is speaking Russian. We were greeted by the missionary elders and sisters all of whom who do speak Russian. These 4 young people (3 from the USA, and one from Germany)  are serving in Russia for 18 months (girls) and 24 months (guys). I did have a few people come up and shyly introduce themselves to me. Some stared but didn't speak.

We came expecting to be speaking today so we came prepared to introduce ourselves. It was a little out of my comfort zone, (OK, a LOT out of my comfort zone) but I introduced myself, said a few things about our family and bore my testimony in Russian, A sister missionary stood by to help translate a few other lines that I needed help with. Dave did the same and did a beautiful job.

For the rest of Sacrament meeting, there was a young man sitting behind us who offered to translate for us. He did a wonderful job sharing with us in English (and apologizing when he couldn't remember a word) for us. We did follow the hymns along as best we could trying to read along. We recognized the tunes, (the hymns are the same all over the world) but of course the words are different.

We, as missionaries, are automatically in the Investigators Class. Once again, we listened as the lesson was given to a young woman in her laete 20's, but could not understand more than a word here and there.

In Priesthood, an elder missionary translated the lesson for Dave. In Relief Society, I sat down next to a sister missionary and a lovely young woman by the name of Natasha, my daughter Shauna's age came and sat down on the other side of me.  Without asking she translated the lesson for me. It was about temples. Since Dave and I had served in the Boston Temple presidency for 3 years and have served there for the past several years, I, with my young mentor's help, was able to follow the gist of the lesson.

There were women of all sizes and ages, and as before mentioned, until they know you they are a bit quiet around you, especially the older (70's and up). I was welcomed by the Relief Society (women's organization) president (in Russian of course) and enjoyed the spirit of this meeting. One old sister (maybe 90) had her birthday acknowledged. Even though we couldn't understand each other very well, I wished her a happy birthday (someone told me how to say Happy Birthday), she beamed and held my hand. Another sister approached and thanked me for sharing my testimony and said with tears in her eyes that the gospel was making her life easier. She thanked me for being there.Two sweet sisters told me (in English) that I had pronounced the Russian words well. A few of the members speak a little English or speak it quite well.

This sweet young woman, Natasha shared with me that she had joined the Church when she was 17 years old, 20 years ago. The Church was just becoming formally recognized. The first mission in Russia had been created. Before, Russia was part of the Helsinki Finland Mission. A mission is an organized geographic area in which missionaries are assigned to spread the gospel. There were few missionaries, the Church wasn't recognized at that time and missionary work was very restricted.

She said that when a General Authority, James E. Faust came to visit the newly formed mission in Russia, that he had predicted that there would be a temple built in the area and that more missionaries would come and ward and stake buildings would be built. She said, "I didn't believe I would ever see that happen." (there is a temple in Kiev Ukraine now, about an overnight train ride for these Russian Latter-day Saints.) And there are ward buildings and the first stake (a group of wards) was formally  established this past June.

Now, the Church is growing in Russia. Missionaries are serving here in many different capacities. The young elders and sisters (aged 19 - 25) have the responsibility of spreading the gospel. The senior couples have a variety of responsibilities as mentioned before. These choice people have been suppressed for so long. Now the Iron Curtain is down. The Old Soviet Union is gone and people are enjoying more freedoms than ever before to include religious freedom.

Dave and I feel honored that we are able to be here amongst this proud people. For truly, the Church is in it infant state. The Church is very young and there is much to do to help the members here.

It was a wonderful day. We are both looking forward to serving and getting to know these wonderful people. Dos Vidonya. Until next week.....