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.....