Sunday, February 17, 2013

Last Week in Siberia

It has been snowing all week and as the snow continues to pile up and the ice build-up on the sidewalks grows larger we ask ourselves – will it really be hard to leave Siberia?  The answer is always the same – absolutely!  Our last week in Siberia was filled with tears (mostly frozen), sweet goodbyes, lots of hugs and promises to stay in touch and possibly connect again sometime in the future.  Last Sunday evening we spoke in a fireside meeting with the Young Single Adults (18-30) in Novosibirsk, Monday a little last minute shopping, Tuesday some final training with the Gundersens who will fill in for us, Wednesday our daughter Sarah arrived so we spent some time showing her a little bit of the city and then attending a “going away” party at the church – we spoke again!

Having Sarah come is really a special treat and she brought much cheer with her.  Although, we are sorry that she walked into the middle of a Siberian Winter, we think she did quite well for her first day.  She flew from Salt Lake to Moscow with the US Ski Team on their way to Ukraine so that was kind of fun and as it turned out quite fortuitous (a story for another time).  She had a long layover in Moscow so one of our recently returned missionaries and a friend met her at the airport and showed her around Moscow which she really enjoyed. – Thank you Max V.

Thursday afternoon we had lunch with everyone in the office.  This was a pretty poignant event but we enjoyed taking a few moments to tell them good bye and share special memories they each have contributed to our time here.  In the evening we hosted our building podeze for a little open house to tell everyone goodbye and a big thank you for being so kind and helpful this past year we have lived in the building.  Russians don’t do this sort of thing they hardly speak to the people on their own floor let alone the building so it was interesting but quite fun although only one person came.  Our landlord also stopped by with a little gift and  Marina V and her mom Lenna came over and visited for awhile.

Friday we finished up at the office, finalized our packing and then in the evening we took Sarah to the Opera House and enjoyed a Ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty – quite breath-taking as usual.  Then Saturday morning we left for the airport around 4:00am.  We missed seeing President and Sister Gibbons who were returning from a Mission Presidents Seminar that same morning.  Their plane arrived at 5:50 and ours departed at 6:30 so of course we were in different parts of the airport.  We arrived in St Petersburg at 8:30 am (3 hour time difference) dropped our luggage at the mission home and boarded a train for Finland.  We needed to activate our new visas so we rode the train to Finland, turned around in the train station, re-entered Russia and returned to St Petersburg.  Sarah stayed at the Mission Home with President and Sister Clark while we made the little jaunt to Helsinki.  They have been so gracious and kind and helpful.  They just returned from the week long Mission Presidents Seminar as well so we knew they were tired but they greeted us and took care of us in grand manor.  We spent the evening and all day Sunday with President and Sister Clark getting briefed and going over schedules and calendars of upcoming events. We met some of the missionaries and members and will be ready to go in the morning.

This is an overwhelming assignment but we look forward to the next few weeks with great anticipation.  St Petersburg is an amazingly beautiful and historical city so we hope our duties will give us opportunity to experience much of what the city has to offer.  We know it is our love of the Savior and His gospel that has brought us here and we will serve Him and the people of St Petersburg the very best we can.  We love you all and look forward to seeing you soon.
George and Alicia from our English Group
Hard to say goodbye to good friends

Pyotr - also from English
We learned more from Him than he from us
of this we are certain

Nastia and Dasha from the Young Single Adults with
a parting gift for us
Very special album of some precious people and memories

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Delayed Departure - Humbling Assignment

Just when you think you have things figured out and plans fairly well set they start throwing curve balls.  This past week we received a telephone call that did just that.  Our Area President, President Lawrence, who oversees all the missions in Eastern Europe, called with a request.  The Mission President in St. Petersburg needs to return to the States for about 4 weeks and they asked if we would be able to stay in Russia, move to St. Petersburg and fill in for him while he is away.  The practical part of us said NO, this will not work, we have plans, flights and are ready to return home but our hearts, beliefs, and testimony had us saying yes of course we will help.  SO –

We will NOT be home on the 22nd of February as planned – instead on the 16th of February we will move to St. Petersburg and will serve  there as the Mission President  for anywhere from two to four weeks.  We are excited for this additional opportunity and will of course let you know, when we know for sure, concerning our return.

This week was transfer week so things get pretty busy around here with Elders coming in from the outlying cities, changing companions, greeting new incoming missionaries, etc.  We received 4 new elders this week, one from the Tri-Cities.  It was fun to have a chance to visit with him a bit as we did orientation for all of them.  Two Elders went home – one to Utah and the other (a Russian native) to Moscow.  It is always sad to tell them goodbye but we rejoice for them as well as they begin a new phase in their life having been prepared in the Mission Field.  This one was doubly sad as we knew it would be our last transfer here in Novosibirsk.

After sending off our two elders and orienting 4 new ones we prepared for our District meeting on Friday.  We will have one more of these meetings this coming Friday and then Saturday morning we will travel to St Petersburg.  This week we will spend finalizing things in the office, packing, and trying to say goodbye to everyone here.  We will write next week from St. Petersburg and fill you in on the details.

Friday evening we had dinner with President and Sister Gibbons and spent a wonderful evening with them as we reviewed many of the aspects and highlights of our time in the mission.  Saturday we spent some time packing, working in the office and we also received some information on our new assignment from Pres. Clark of the Russia St Petersburg Mission.  I think when that info came into the office was when the full impact of our new assignment finally hit home!!!  We walked over to Elder and Sister Gundersen’s apt for dinner later that evening and then returned home to a little more packing.  I think we are about there???

Sunday (today) was another tear jerker for us.  It was our last Sunday in Berdsk and the people there (2 Elders and 3 members) made it very difficult for us to say goodbye.  It was, however, a very sweet experience with them today.  The people here are so wonderful, kind, loving, and patient (especially with our bad Russian skills).  We have come to love them so very much.  We know they have changed  our lives forever.
Elder Kelly - Going Home

Still room for a couple more pounds

Making Progress

Tatyana from Berdsk
An accomplished Russian Chef and a parting treat for us
It's called a "Granite Ring"
Looks like a dessert but is really a potatoe/beet salad.
Pickles, Shredded Potatoes, Shredded Beets, Chicken & Mayo
topped with Pomegranate
The beets bleed through the mayo and it looks like Raspberry frosting
VERY deceiving but VERY tasty

Our Last Evening with Pres and Sister Gibbons
"Parting is such sweet sorrow"

The truck of my dreams.  I want to take this home
with me but haven't figured out how just yet.
Don't you just want one?!!

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Winding Down"

This week was the start of “the lasts”.  For example Today was our last Fast Sunday in Russia.  It is hard to even imagine that because in so many ways it seems like we have just arrived.  It is hard though not to think about coming home to family and friends and when those thoughts do surface then it seems like such a long time since we have seen those so close to us. 

We had another great Sunday in Berdsk.  This week we didn’t go out there until Sunday morning.  The Elders serving there were both on visa trip and didn’t get back until very early Sunday morning so we just stayed in Novosibirsk Saturday night and took a taxi to Berdsk this morning.  The first Sunday of every month is set aside as “Fast Sunday” where we all fast for two meals and contribute the cost of those meals to the Church Welfare Fund to care for the hungry and less fortunate. Also the regular Church service that day is for the sharing of personal testimony.  Our two ladies who are being taught by the missionaries came to our meeting again this week and both of them shared very sweet and touching testimonies about how they have come to know the truthfulness of the gospel and the teachings of the Savior.  It was a really great meeting.  We will attend again next week (our last in Berdsk) then we’ll all meet with the Branch in Novosibirsk on the 17th (our last Sunday in Russia) and that Friday (the 22nd) we will start for home.  Absolutely unbelievable!!

This past week has been pretty busy and full.  We were at the Gundersens on Monday evening for Family Home Evening.  Natalia was the only other person there but we had a great time with her.  After the lesson we played a few rounds of UNO which is one of Natalia’s favorite games.  Tuesday evening we went to dinner with President Gibbons and two sisters serving in Tomsk.  One of them had to return home for some medical issues and they had come into the city so President could interview the sister going home and get all the arrangements finalized for her flight home on Wednesday morning.  Since Sister Gibbons was away we were privileged to accompany President while he took the Sisters to dinner.  Wednesday evening there was a special performance of a Leonard Bernstein musical at the Opera house which we had been able to get tickets to attend.  Quite interesting – the lyrics of course are in English but sung by Russian performers so not totally understandable.  Thank Heaven they had subtitles projected over the stage – IN RUSSIAN!!  Imagine.  The music and singing was great and the performers were magnificent. 

Thursday evening we made Banana-chocolate chip bread for district meeting the next day.  Since several of our Elders were out on visa trip and the Sisters were confined to their apt (doctor’s orders as they were feeling poorly) we expected a small crew.  Boy, were we wrong!  Friday rolled around and the time for District meeting arrived – they just kept coming.  We ended up with twelve Elders from around the mission who had accompanied their companions to the city for the visa trip and then were waiting for them here for the day.  Anyway, we always have way more food than we need but we were well under prepared for this group.  Twelve young men, large in stature and appetites began to eat everything they could find.  We were going through cupboards looking for more before the afternoon was over.  It was fun and enjoyable and we managed to get them filled up for their afternoon and evening of working in the cold.  The District meeting was awesome as well.  We talked about setting goals and working toward making them happen.  This was particularly good for the two of us as our future begins to play out over the next several months. 

We feel so blessed to have had this wonderful opportunity to serve here in the heart of Russia.  The people have been fantastic and our time here has been amazing.   We know that our Heavenly Father knows and loves all of his children no matter where we live or what our circumstance may be.  We have seen evidence of His care for his children in the lives of the people of Siberia and we have seen and felt His love in their eyes and through their hearts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How Did She Know?

You know you’ve been around too long when strangers know what floor to push for you in the elevator of your apt building.  The other day a young lady stepped in the elevator with us, she greeted us kindly, pushed her floor (number 4) and without asking and before we could say anything she punched our floor (number 9) for us.  Now how did she know that,one might ask?  I know we thought it quite amusing that she would know what floor we live on without even the slightest hesitation.  We have seen her around a couple of times over the past year but I guess when you are the only Americans and the only native English speakers in the entire apartment complex – everyone knows what floor you live on!!  We got a real kick out of it for sure.     

Another fun thing this past week was receiving our Russian Liahona.  The Liahona is a Church Magazine very similar to the Ensign which is published in North America except in foreign countries it is called the Liahona.  When we received this month’s magazine and glanced through it we found an article written by our own Elder Yuri Gushin (Area Seventy) on the “Wonderful Blessings of the Atonement”.  It is hard for us to read the Russian of course but we are getting through it.  Also there was a picture of all of us who attended the Young Single Adult Conference last August in Krasnoyarsk as well as a picture of President Gibbons baptizing the young girl from Kazakhstan in the lake at that conference.  It was fun to recall and relive that special week last summer.

This week we also attended English Conversation Group where I had the story time and Sister Webb gave the spiritual thought.  Our topic this week was Books and Authors so naturally the spiritual thought was about the Book of Mormon and the guiding principles it contains and the special testimony of Christ found within its pages.  Sister Webb was perfect.  We are now onto showing the Gundersens some of the office duties and routines and trying to cover the myriad of “impromptu” situations that continually arise.  They will be filling in for the interim few days between when we leave and the new office couple arrives.

Once again we finished up the week in Berdsk.  This week was not quite as wild as last week at our meetings there but we did have 3 investigators who came and participated with us, two women and the husband of one of our members.  They were great and asked a lot of really great questions.  Also, Sister Tatyana taught our Sunday School lesson, it was her first time to teach and she was pretty scared but she did a wonderful job.  I think she was glad when it was over though – I know when I have to teach I am always happy when it is over.

Yes, we go home on February 22nd, getting excited to see our kids and our grandchildren, including one new granddaughter who we will meet for the first time!  Our kids are spread throughout Washington, Idaho, Utah and California so we will be making the loop to see then as soon as we get settled. I think we are ready to go home, but it also is hard to imagine being home. So it will be a little adjustment for us maybe. We have certainly loved being here in Siberia, what a great experience, it will be so hard to leave President and Sister Gibbons and the wonderful missionaries and members. They are like our second family.

We looked all over and discovered we had taken zero pictures this week – sorry about that.  I guess we have other things on our mind!!  Thanks to everyone for the emails, the prayers, and the support.  We love and appreciate everyone, our family and wonderful friends so much.  We look forward to seeing you all in just over 4 weeks.  Have a great week – we love you all.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January Snow Sculptures

Christmas just keeps coming in Siberia!!  Just this week, we got a Christmas package from our youngest son and his wife (Tyler and Janae). They sent us 12 individual presents 1 for each of the 12 days of Christmas so we had a lot of fun lining them all up, reading the little verse that was on each one and then opening them up one at a time.  It was really fun. 

It is always nice to have some time to regroup, re-focus, organize and clean-up and this has been a week for just that.  Sister Gibbons is back in the U.S. for a few days, President Gibbons is on the road teaching and training throughout the mission and with no visa travel or transfers we have had the week to reflect and reorganize.  It is amazing how much there is to do in a mission office but we love and have loved every minute.  As time winds down though we are busy updating everything to leave it all in tip top shape for Elder and Sister Palmer who will replace us.  They will be coming to the mission on the 6th of March so there will be a couple of weeks gap.  Elder and Sister Gundersen will pick up the slack in the office duties for those 2 weeks until the Palmers arrive.

We took a couple of hours Friday evening and with the Gundersens went to Ploshed Lenina (Lenin Square) downtown to see the winter snow sculptures.  They are really something.  Big blocks or snow are hauled in and representatives from the various cities and regions around Siberia come in and carve (sculpt) the blocks into amazing works.  It was about -31F so needless to say we didn’t linger long at any one piece, made our way around to all of them and then headed back to our apartment to warm up and have a little dinner.  We visited for awhile and then after Elder and Sister Gundersen were warmed they bundled up and headed out for home, about 5 minutes walking, 10 minutes on the Metro, and another 20 minutes walking.  We know they got home safe because we saw them again on Saturday at Olga’s baptism.

Saturday after attending the baptism we returned home and our Landlord (hazika) stopped by to collect the rent.  We are just getting to the point that between us both we can communicate fairly well with him and he has attempted to learn a little English as well.  When he found that we had been to a baptism he shared with us that just that day he too had been baptized – into the Russian Orthodox faith.  He was very proud and we congratulated him of course.  He will make one more visit to us before we leave.  He and his wife are the nicest people and very accommodating - they are two people whom we will miss.

Sunday we were in Berdsk again.  We so look forward to visiting each week with the members there.  They are such special people and try so hard to live good lives in the midst of all they have to deal with each day.  They look forward to our time together to worship on Sunday as much as we do.  There is just something about sharing in the spirit of Christ that binds people together no matter whom or where they are; and those ties are reallyy strengthened when common beliefs are shared each week.  Meeting with these wonderful people has only reaffirmed our testimony that our Father in Heaven knows and loves each one of us – wherever or whoever we might be.

Sunday night – back home and getting ready for another week – hope all is well with each of you.  We are getting excited to see everyone and to feel the love of family and dear friends.  33 days.  Have a wonderful week.
12 Days of Christmas
Thank you Tyler, Janae, Harrison and Emily
The Red card right of middle is from Harrison

Snow Sculpture by Kazakstan

Sculpture by the City of Sochi (see sign)
Host to the Winter Olympics 2014

Sister Webb and Sister Gundersen at the Snow Sculptures

Cleaning up the Parking lot
Wherever you find Snow you find Snow mounds
the world over

Our Friend Yanna who cuts our Hair
Sister Webbs last visit - maybe

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another Christmas ??

How about that, boys and girls – TWO Christmases!!  Yes, Monday, January 7th was Orthodox Christmas in Russia or the Russian Christian Christmas – and it is just as big a deal as December 25th Christmas.  Everyone was still off work until Wednesday so we had a fairly quite couple of days.  Our meeting Tuesday was just President and Sister Gibbons, the Office Elders, AP’s and us.  We reviewed and mapped out the next few weeks and it seemed kind of weird that we will be home and have left all this behind during this next cycle.   We have one more transfer (Feb.6th) and then before the next one rolls around we will be gone - very strange.

Wednesday everyone (our 3 Russian employees) came back to work.  We did a “welcome back to work lunch” for them and they got a real kick out of it.  The big comment was “we will have to take some more days off so we can do this again when we return!”  It was fun for us to see them enjoy the gesture so much.  All three of them are the absolute best and try so hard to help us with our Russian and to learn some English themselves so we can all communicate better.  We are so thankful for Olga who speaks English so very well and can help out so much.  Actually, she runs the whole place so we are always glad to see her return whenever she has been away.  We are trying to get her to come to visit when we get home.

Thursday turned out to be just another day except for the Ballet we attended with Elder and Sister Gundersen in the evening.  It was a beautiful snowy evening as we walked to the Opera House.  It is always a treat to be able to attend the super performances there.  Then Friday came and brought with it our weekly District Mtg with all the missionaries in our District.  After our meeting Sister Webb went with our Sister Missionaries to visit an American girl who is in the hospital here (the hospital is a story for another day) and I went with our District Leaders to visit a young man from Kenya, working for the circus here in Russia, who was in the TB hospital in another part of town.  We both had very interesting, yet wonderful, experiences and it was a little different to “split” and not be together.  It is always an uplifting experience to go visiting with the missionaries.

Saturday we had an all-day training meeting with all the Branch Presidents, District and Mission Presidency and the District Council.  For those reading this that don’t get the “church speak” these are the people who are the leaders in the mission and the various cities throughout Siberia.  The Church is firmly established in the 7 major cities across our mission; Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Barnaul, Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo, and Krasnoyarsk.  All of these cities are big cities of over 500,000 which is still mind boggling for us to realize that are so many big cities in Siberia.  But then again Siberia is a pretty big place.  After the meetings were over we ordered up a taxi and headed once again to Berdsk for the weekend.  It is a very special little group trying to get established in Berdsk.  We are still meeting in the apt we have rented there but are working hard to secure a permanent place to meet.  After Church was over and everyone went home we, that is to say Sister Webb, fixed a little something for the missionaries before they left and then we packed up and headed back to Novosibirsk and our little apt which has become home to us in Russia.  
We hope this coming week is the best ever for everyone.  We love you all and hope you are enjoying good health in the New Year.

Leaving the Opera House
Gundersens in the foreground

Church Leaders in Siberia

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 - It's Here!!!

And so it begins – 2013.  It hardly seems possible.  Each year brings its own special set of blessings and challenges and then passes on more quickly than the one before.  2013 will certainly follow suit.  As everywhere in the world 2012 went out with a bang and 2013 entered in like fashion.  There were fireworks going off all around us – in an overabundance – from 6pm on the 31st until after 5am the next day and then it started up again in the evening on New Year’s Day.  It is a holiday from the 31st to the 13th here so we imagine there will be plenty more fireworks throughout the next few days.
Monday, New Year’s Eve Day, we made our weekly run to the grocery store and since everyone was preparing for the next day it was more crowded than usual and the traffic was pretty insane.  So we took a short cut to the store and drove down the tramvai tracks (pic included).  It worked out pretty well but we were all a little nervous that the tram would come barreling over the hill at any minute.

New Year’s Day was a little slow – the financial and business world is closed and all the government offices so there was not much going on in the Mission office either.  We took some time and went to the Ice Sculpture Park with Elder and Sister Gundersen then out for dinner before returning home.  Most businesses try to stay open through the Holiday, however they operate with just a skeleton crew but it is nice to be able to navigate the icy sidewalks without all the people so we had a very enjoyable afternoon and we were the only 4 people in the restaurant.  We chose Fennimore Cooper’s, like in James Fennimore Cooper the author and although it was a little expensive it was quite unique.  Some of the d├ęcor included a Colonial US flag, Indian teepee, Cowhide and Bear skin rugs, and numerous early American Indian artifacts and pictures.    Sister Gundersen went for the Moose Sashleek while Elder Gundersen, Sister Webb and I settled for the Wild Australian Turkey steak.  It was really quite fun.
The rest of the week has been slow but pretty much business as usual for us.  The mission office seems to always present a few issues each day which need some sort of resolution.  Then there was English on Wednesday evening, District meeting on Friday and we were back out in Berdsk for Saturday afternoon and for Church on Sunday.

2013 seems to be off to a great start and we are excited to see what the year has in store.  It is quite exciting to think that we will be home in less than two months, 47 days to be exact but who is counting?  And we are very much looking forward to our daughter Sarah’s visit the week before we return.  It will be great to have her here for a few days as we make preparations to return. 

Where is the Tram!!?

Snegerochka - Snowmaiden (times 2)

Novosibirsk - 120 years

Who needs a Corn Field?

Our Christmas Tree
Our apt bldg is in the background

Each weekend when we go to Berdsk
this is where our apt is located
We are standing with our backs to the Lake

See you SOON