It was a delightful change of pace for us today as we left the bustling noisy cities behind us. The high rise apartment buildings, clusters of little shops and people rushing to and fro, gave way to green meadows, little shuttered cottages w/ flower beds, farms with rich soil ready for planting. The countryside reminded us of the USA. It was refreshing to be in the country and drive through wide open spaces.
The further we drove, we passed through little towns sprinkled here and there where it was clear that farming is the mainstay. We saw women sitting out by the road selling bottles of homemade preserves and pickles and potatoes and we saw a family in their large garden plot planting their seeds the old fashioned way - no machines, but their backs and hands.
It took us close to 2 hours to arrive at the little home of the Garbuz family where we would be attending Church services.
What a remarkable family we found here. This little Lotoshino Branch has been in existence for about 15 years. The Garbuz family came to Lotoshino from Kiev, Ukraine. There are about 20 members of the Church here. Sadly, in a matter of years, members of this little branch have gone inactive, leaving only the Garbuz family, Brother and Sister Garbuz, their son Alexander and his wife Luba and little girl, Nicole.
Nicole and Sister Garbuz with their hairless cat and a 4 week kitten. This friendly cat adopted this little kitten when she was rejected by her mother. Nicole loves kittens.
Here I am with Sister and President Garbuz and Elder Francom in the garden
Another picture of us with Elder Brown this time. This couple were so loving and so happy to have us in their home
Here we are with Alexander our driver second from the left.
President Garbuz mentioned that this little branch has suffered persecution for their religious beliefs. President Garbuz himself has been fired from a couple of jobs because of his Church affiliation. This faithful little family has Church services every Sunday in their humble home. Brother Garbuz is the Branch President and presides at these meetings. In spite of everything, they are holding tight to what they know to be true and it is a source of strength to them.
They take turns giving talks and teaching Sunday School. Of course, they are delighted to have visitors. Knowing we were coming, Dave and I were asked to bear our testimonies and the two elders, 20 year old missionaries, were asked to give the talks. In our limited Russian, we were able to share with this little branch our feelings about the Church and the joy we felt in being with them on this beautiful summer-like day. There was a sweet spirit in that little bedroom/living room where we had our Sacrament and Sunday School class and where we were taught about prayer, the Atonement and given a lesson from the Book of Mormon and sang (as best we could) the familiar hymns but in Russian instead of English.
They were also overjoyed when we came bearing gifts. The Liahona (church magazine), a children's Church song book, new scriptures in Russian and other Church materials that we had been saving for them. The little branch is so far away they don't have Church visitors very often because the only way to get there is by car. There is no bus or metro that goes that far out. It was a blessing for them, but most especially for us, to share in the spirit that was there.
We were given lunch afterwards, a delicious soup of potatoes, carrots and rice and homemade bread. The little table was only big enough for us, the visitors and little Nicole. The rest of the family would eat later. Such is Russian hospitality. There was an atmosphere of warmth and welcome in that little kitchen and the 4 of us felt humbled to be there with these wonderful people. We realized that this meal was provided at a sacrifice for this family who have little but are so willing to share.
Afterwards, Nicole and President Garbuz gave us a tour of the rest of the property. They certainly are industrious. There was a large vegetable garden where onions and potatoes were coming up, goats, chickens, and 3 fat pigs. Further in the back there was a large plot turned over for more crops.
It was a joyous day for us and we left feeling uplifted and blessed to have been in the presence of such strong but humble members.
How grateful we are to live in a land of freedom, where we can worship as we see fit without fear of persecution. GOD BLESS AMERICA.
How grateful we are to rub shoulders with the strong and humble Russian people. It truly has been a wonderful day.