Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Christmas Week

Monday – Christmas Eve Day-was spent preparing for the BIG day on Tuesday.  We had all the Elders and Sisters in our District over throughout the morning to skype with their parents.  Sister Webb of course fed them each breakfast when they arrived at their designated times which to their delight included her home made cinnamon rolls.  It was a real treat for us to be able to meet at least some of the families and to be able to say hi and Merry Christmas to some of the moms.  These are wonderful missionaries and we love them all so much.  All the calls went fairly smoothly throughout the morning from 8am when the Sisters came over until around 1pm when the last ones finished up.  Then it was off to the Mission Home for Christmas Dinner.

We had a wonderful time sharing Dinner, some counsel from our Mission President, a couple of musical numbers and a “happy” white elephant gift exchange.  We all pitched in to clean up a bit and then we were off to the Opera House to enjoy the “Nutcracker” - on Christmas Day.  Missionaries are permitted one cultural activity every other transfer so everyone chose this one – since there were 23 of us we had purchased tickets scattered throughout the opera house.  It was a terrific evening.

The rest of the week was pretty much business as usual except that Thursday the lock on the office door froze and broke so we couldn’t get in.  The office Elders and Sister Olga climbed through the kitchen window so they at least were able to get in but Sister Webb and I were not for that kind of activity so we waited patiently in our WARM apt for it to get fixed.  They came and took the lock out of the door so we finally got in around noon and then by 5pm or so they were back with replacement or refurbished lock sets and everything was back to normal.

Friday evening we spent with Elder and Sister Gundersen just visiting and having a little gift exchange.  We went over to their place after our Districts Meetings were over.  It is so fun to visit with them, compare notes on our activities since the last time we visited, and just reflect together on our experiences in Siberia.  We feel so blessed to have such close and wonderful friends serving with us here to share these experiences.

Saturday it was off to Barnaul, a city south of Novosibirsk about 5 hours by car.  We travelled with President and Sister Gibbons and Elder Guschin and Sister Guschina.  Barnaul was the only city in the mission which we had not yet had an opportunity to visit so this was really a special trip for us as it gave us a chance to be with the members in this wonderful city.  They have just completed a new church building in Barnaul and we went down for the dedication.  The Holmes, a senior couple serving their 3rd mission to Siberia and their 5th mission total are in Barnaul so this was a great opportunity to see them as well.  It will probably be the last time we will see them before we finish our mission so it was a little sad as we bid them goodbye and headed home to Novosibirsk.

We are not too sure how the next couple of weeks will shape up.  We remember from last year that this is the time that Russia pretty much shuts down as they celebrate the Old New Year on January 1 and the New New Year on January 7.  Everyone is on holiday from the 1st to the 13th so things should be kind of slow which we will not mind as it will give us a chance to get everything organized before our departure in February.  We are so looking forward to seeing you all.

Happy New Year to everyone and may the Lord smile upon you and your families and bless you with a prosperous and joyful 2013.  See you soon.

Santa visited - left something for all the missionaries
Ded Moroz (left) Snegarochka (right) and
New Years Tree in front of our Library
next door to our apt

Christmas Night at "The Nutcracker"

Sister Missionaries at Barnaul with
Sister Gushina (middle)

Elders at Barnaul with Mission President (right) and
Area Seventy to his left

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunrise in Berdsk

After our entry of last week we were thinking it just couldn’t get any colder – but – IT DID!!  It has warmed up a touch this weekend but the end is not in sight – we still have a good 2 months of WINTER left to go.  Check out this link (control click) about the record colds all over Russia.  This has been the coldest winter in over SEVENTY, yes 70, years – and we are here.  WOW.

Except for the cold it has been a fairly normal week for us with missionaries going home, new arrivals coming in, visa trips and transfers; pretty exciting to say the least.  Sending missionaries home is always hard for us as we come to love each of them so much and knowing we will likely not see them again makes it very difficult.  This time was particularly hard because we sent home Sister Sanford who had served most of her mission very close to us and we watched her grow in her missionary service.  She is a shining example of devoted service and one who will forever be close to our hearts.  We also had two sisters and one elder who arrived this week to begin their missions here.

Along with all that we had a pretty big transfer intertwined with a big visa trip so we had elders and sisters coming in and out of the office all week.  Things finally settled back to some state of “normal” if there is such a thing just in time for our Branch Christmas Party on Saturday.  An interesting point – at our English Conversation Group on Wednesday evening we talked some of Families and traditions and the conversation naturally came around to Christmas Family traditions.  Most of the young people in attendance really couldn’t think of any in their families and then one of them explained that during the Soviet Times they did away with the religious holidays including Christmas and began celebrating the day on Jan 7th as the Russian New Year more of a political holiday.  So “traditions” shifted to different days and Christmas was lost - quite sad and interesting.  Today much of Christmas is re-emerging and the people and of course the “businesses” are making much more out of Christmas.  We went shopping on Thursday evening to one of the malls close by and it looked like Christmas at any city mall back home.  We also can notice a great deal of difference between this Christmas season and last as there is just more “Christmas” everywhere this year.  And people are much the same the world over; i.e. when I was browsing through one store I saw an older couple shopping together in the women’s department.  The husband looked bored out of his mind and kept looking for a place to sit and I thought to myself – “I feel your pain”.  Anyway, I just chuckled inside thinking about how much we are all the same no matter what language we speak or in what country we happen to live.

Yesterday we were back out in Berdsk for Sunday meetings with the little group out there.  Elder and Sister Gundersen came out with us on Saturday evening so we had a “sleep over” and then on Sunday they both spoke at our meeting.  They did a great job speaking mostly in English but some in Russian.  It was great to have them with us.  On our way home we took a little detour t into a different part of Berdsk to visit what is purported to be the oldest Orthodox Temple in Siberia, built in the 1600’s.  We have been told that Berdsk is also one of the oldest towns in Siberia.  This church/temple was much more elaborate on the outside and the inside was more simply decorated than many we have seen but very impressive all the same. 

We want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and hope that the Spirit of Christ fills your hearts and homes this holiday season.  We love you all very much and are excited to be coming home soon to our family and friends.  We will cherish our last couple of months here in spite of the cold among the many new friends we have met. 
Sunrise in Berdsk
from the Apt window

Berdsk Ice Sculpture Park
taking shape

Russian Orthodox
Very Impressive and Unique

Just us on a cold Sunday afternoon
in front of the Xpam(Temple)

Huddling with the Gundersens
Trying to stay warm

Sunday, December 16, 2012

44 Below - Ouch

A true Siberian Winter.  We have discovered that last winter was just a tease with its small amount of snow and only a few days of really cold weather in late January.   It has been in the minus 40’s this week and the outlook is for more of the same - maybe sneaking into the minus 30’s next week.  It was a -44 on Friday and a balmy -42 for our big dual zone conference on Wednesday.  Zone Conference was amazing as always with great counsel and instruction from President and Sister Gibbons the Zone Leaders and Assistants.  We heard very special testimonies and parting words from 2 Elders and 2 Sisters who will be returning home next week and then Sister Webb and I were asked to speak and share our testimonies since this would be our last Zone Conference. 

It was hard to wrap our heads around the fact that we will be back home before the next Zone Conference rolls around.  It doesn’t seem possible that we have been here that long.  Standing in front of these amazingly good and spiritually strong young missionaries was quite intimidating to be sure.  We both enjoyed the opportunity to share our feelings about this great work with them and the wonders of Russia and its people as they seek for a better life and a hope in Christ.  It is amazing to watch and to be a part of what is happening in this land of the lost tribes of Israel.

All of our Senior couples were here for the Zone Conference  so we all rendezvoused at the mission office and walked over to the conference – (check out the picture) it was as mentioned just a minus 42 for our short walk to the Branch Building.  The next day our dear friends the Gundersens flew out to Helsinki on their first visa trip, hard to believe they have been here long enough to need a visa renewal.

We finished up the week with District meeting on Friday and then out to Berdsk on Saturday for the weekend and church meetings on Sunday.  Church with the members in Berdsk is a special time and this week Pres. and Sister Gibbons came out to visit our little group.  President spoke to us in our Sacrament Meeting, joined with us in Sunday School and then Sister Webb and I were blessed to catch a ride back to Novosibirsk with President and Sister Gibbons – (remember our experience last week when we missed our stop on the train ride back).  It was great to get a ride right to the door of our apt in this cold weather (-40 today). 

For anyone interested, it looks like we will be coming home on the 22nd of   February, arriving in Wenatchee about midnight if everything goes right and the weather cooperates.  We are excited to return home but are approaching this time with sadness in our hearts for the people and work we will leave behind. We will for sure leave a bit of our hearts here in Russia and hope to be able to return someday to rekindle the friendships we have made with the people here. At the same time we are so very anxious to embrace you, our friends we have left at home and to share our wonderful experiences with you. 
Getting Ready to go out

44 Below - That's the Mission Home in the Background
peaking out of the "Frozen Air"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nativities in the House

Do you know how I can tell when Christmas is getting close??  Sister Webb starts breaking out the Nativities and all the accompaniments that go along with them.  OK. I admit I love this time of year and all the festiveness that comes with it.  I love how it makes us kinder, softer and just simply more pleasant toward one another (most of us anyway) as we remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.  We don’t have a lot of decorations around here but we have chosen a few pictures to share with you some of the ornamentation we have collected over the past year.  We have had a great time getting our apartment ready this past week and when all the Elders and Sisters came over for District Meeting on Friday they loved it so that made it all worth the effort.  Besides all the decorating the week has been crazy. 

Pres. and Sister Gibbons returned from that extensive trip to visit the members and missionaries in Kazakhstan that we mentioned last week.  So we had a big staff meeting on Tuesday to get caught up and regrouped in preparation for the next round of transfers, new arriving missionaries, Kazak visa applications and due to a change of policy from our Area Presidency we have two visa trips this month one each week coming up in two weeks.  And our washing machine quit!!

We talked to our faithful Bro. Pyotr about the washer.  He in turn called our landlord, who called the repairman.  This is the routine when you don’t know enough Russian to carry on a technical conversation with an appliance repair guy – let alone know how to get a hold of one.    He responded, an appointment was made and he came over Friday evening to fix the washer.  Funny thing here is – Elder and Sister Gundersen came over as well for dinner and a visit on Friday evening.  While we ate dinner the repair guy fixed the washer.  Both activities took place in our small kitchen.  You should have seen the four of us trying to engage the repairman in some sort of a conversation.  He was a great guy and we could tell he was interested in our conversation so we made a gallant attempt.  Between the four of us we learned a little about his family and that his kids spoke some English.  He didn’t.  It was great and another reminder of how much we still haven’t learned.  He had to come back on Saturday morning with one more part but we are back in business so will have clean clothes to wear. 

Saturday afternoon we packed a bag and headed for Berdsk again.  We had nine at church on Sunday – two more than last week but the two extras were our young office elders who we talked into coming out to speak in our meeting.  They did a great job and it swelled the ranks too.  We served borscht and kelbasa for lunch after church.  The borscht we brought from our apt in Novosibirsk.  Sister Webb and I spent one entire evening making the borscht which was pretty darn good and solicited rave reviews from all partakers.  After dinner everyone went home, we cleaned up the apt, packed our bag and then ventured out ON OUR OWN to make our way back to Novosibirsk (a one hour journey).  We decided to try the public transportation rather than a simple taxi ride (about $5us or 150 rubles as compared to$50us or 1500 rubles).  We let me tell you – this was like an Amazing Race adventure.  Although, we knew a little of what we were getting into it still was exhilarating.  We first climbed into a Marshootka (a small van that has seats for 15 plus a driver but usually carries around 20+) for the twenty minute ride to the train station.  Once there we purchased tickets for the train to Novosibirsk, about a 1 hour ride.  Problem – which track to be on to board the train.  We asked several people before we finally found one young girl who took the time to listen to our Russian and tell us we were in the right place.  We got on the train – no boarding platform – you just hop up about 3 feet to the first step right from the ground in the middle of the train yard and began to enjoy the ride home.  We enjoyed it too long as we missed our stop and after several Russians speaking a mile a minute tried to help we decided to get off at the next stop.  Good news – we were still within the city limits of Novosibirsk – Bad news we had about a 30 minute walk to get back to our neighborhood.  We finally made it!!  Thank you all very much for your continued prayers – we are sure it is only because of you that we are surviving.  We now look back on that little episode with fondness, well it at least gives us a chuckle.

Christmas Corner w/window decor sent from our daughters

Nativity from Prague

Nativity from Kazakhstan

The Fisher-Price "family favorite"

Door to the "Crazy Americans" apt
also from our daughters

overlooking the train
this is where we got off but also looks like where we got on

Enjoying the "long walk" home
stopped for a quick rest in front of a big Russian Orthodox church
Please have a great week, enjoy the Christmas season and know that we love you all.  Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers you send our way.  We will see you all soon.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blessings in Berdsk

We just returned from Kyiv, Ukraine on our last visa trip.  We now are holding our last 90 day Russian visa and must be out of the country no later than 25 February 2013 – 87 days but who is counting??  We travelled to Kyiv on Monday arriving there in the early evening after spending the entire day flying or in airports plus gaining 5 hours in the process.  Needless to say we were pretty wiped out so sleep came easy.  Tuesday we had the day in Kyiv so we went to the Kyiv Temple and spent some time there doing temple work as well as taking in the three major cathedrals in the city, St Sophia’s, St. Michaels, and St. Andrew’s.  These were amazing to see and learn about.  We didn’t have much time as this was a quick visa trip but we would definitely love to return to Kyiv someday and see the rest of this beautiful city, the cradle of Christianity in Russia.  We hope you enjoy the pictures we included .   We spent the day Wednesday flying home, losing the five hours we had gained, arriving at 6:00am on Thursday morning.

It was then business as usual back at the office on Thursday, District Meeting on Friday and Saturday was spent preparing for our first official organized church meeting in Berdsk on Sunday.  We had many supplies to gather and items for the Senior Couple apartment to procure before making the trip to Berdsk on Saturday afternoon.  That afternoon we spent in District Meeting with the 2 Elders assigned to Berdsk, planning our upcoming meetings for December and reviewing the work being accomplished in the city.  It looks like we will be having a few lessons taught in the apartment there on Saturday evenings and Sundays after church.  Everyone is anxious and excited for Elder and Sister Beck to arrive the middle of January so there will be a Senior Couple in the city 24/7.    

Church on Sunday was simply the best.  Sister Webb played the piano (an electric portable keyboard), Elder Bunnell led the music, I conducted the meeting (mostly in Russian) and Elder Leonhart and Bro Vatalie administered the sacrament.  All seven of us bore our testimonies during testimony meeting and Bro Vatalie taught our Sunday School Lesson.  We then shared a light meal after the meeting to “break the fast”.  The three members attending were so warm and appreciative of being able to attend church in their own town and not having to make the long and expensive trip into Novosibirsk every Sunday.  Everyone had a very uplifting afternoon as we traded stories and shared experiences before, during and after our meetings.  Sister Webb and I made it back to Novosibirsk safely by evening.  It is a little over an hour to Bersdk from here so it is a bit of a trip in the winter.  It was easy to see why the members were so thrilled to be having church so close to home.

Pres. and Sister Gibbons have been in the Kazakhstan part of the mission these past few days so we look forward to their return this week and getting back to a state of normalcy if there is such a thing.  Everyday seems to bring new and exciting challenges and experiences making serving here an unbelievable part of our lives.  Everyone have a fantastic week, stay warm, work hard and know that Heavenly Father knows who you are and what you desire.
St Sophia

St Michaels

St Andrew's

LDS Kyiv Temple

-19c & Snowing
Siberian Zeema is HERE

Kite Boarding on Mora Ob (Ob Sea)
Actually a lake
If you click on the pic I think you can see the sails?

First Meeting in Berdsk
Big things are about to happen here!!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Arrivals

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday.  Although we certainly missed our family, especially since nearly all of them made it to Cashmere for the first time in a long while, we did enjoy our mission family and had a wonderful Thanksgiving feast and program.  We had a few treats from home that are next to impossible to find here which made Thanksgiving dinner extra special – like Pumpkin for our Pumpkin pies and Cranberry sauce for the turkey.  Sister Webb mentioned on her facebook that we had French Turkeys (all of 7 lbs each) – we roasted 2, Elder and Sister Gundersen did 2 and President and Sister Gibbons did 2, then there was Russian cherries baked into a pie and thanks to our dear Sister Djurich, who has now returned home but was thinking of us, we had some cranberries for our Turkey.  Dinner was fantastic with 28 of us serving in Novosibirsk gathering at the mission home.  After dinner which began at 3pm we were favored by an original adaptation of Angels We Have Heard on High by Elder Dawson, a vocal solo of Once in Royal David’s City by Sister Biggs, and another original adaptation of Silent Night by Elder Bowler.  We all indulged in the dessert offerings of Cherry, Pumpkin, Lemon, and Apple pies with the appropriate amounts of ice cream and/or whipped cream.  President and Sister Gibbons shared some counsel and testimony with us and then it was back to work by 6pm.  The brief time together for food, music and fellowship was a great uplift for all of us.  Thank you so much to a wonderful Mission President and his companion.

That was just the end of the week.  It started with the final round of transfers and of course our 5 new missionaries arriving from the USA on Wednesday morning.  Sister Webb and I did some new missionary orientation with them, they had some training and interviews at the mission home, were assigned their new companions and many headed out to their assigned areas.  A couple of them stayed in the city and we were able to see them again at dinner the next day.

Saturday, we rode out to Berdsk to check out the apartments we have secured for the new couple coming in January who will be living and working in that city, and the two elders who will be serving there with them.  We also checked out a possible meeting place.  Elder Guschin and Sister Guschina accompanied us for the trip along with Elder and Sister Gundersen so this made the afternoon a special treat for us.

Winter has arrived on the Siberian Plain!!!  The temperatures are still quite mild – ranging from 0f to 25f – but we are getting lots of snow.  It has been snowing for about 10-12 straight days and is piling up quite a bit.  It is supposed to start getting really cold next week.  So we will be bundling up for sure!!  We must mention what a wonderful treat to “skype” with our dear friends Elder and Sister Bennion serving a mission on the island of Guadalupe in French Guyana.  It was great to visit with them for a few minutes this past week.  They are doing well and really loving the spiders, snakes and jungle creatures; none of that here for sure jungle that is.  If you get the time drop us an email or something we love to hear from you and so appreciate those of you who have.  We love and miss you all. 
Wishing you the companionship of friends, the blessing of family gathered ‘round, and the warmth of a shared meal.
Our contribution to Thanksgiving Dinner
Check out the size of those Turkeys!

Table set - just waiting for the Guests to arrive!

Let the feasting begin!!

Ice Fishing - on our way to Berdsk

Our adopted Granddaughter - Sophia
with Grandma's Birthday shopka and sharf
She will be hard to leave behind

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dinner Out !!

Closing in on the end of 15 months here in and Siberia and we just experienced another first.  Monday evening the two elders serving as Assistants to the President invited us over for dinner.  Elder Davis and Elder Topham.  Elder Davis had cleaned the apartment spotless, while Elder Topham fixed dinner.  It was awesome.  Fruit salad, Plov w/chicken and Blini for desert.  Elder Topham has been with us in our district since we arrived except for one transfer.  He was serving as our District Leader and was amazing in that capacity, then, he was transferred out to another city.  It was very hard to let him go but we knew he would be back as an Assistant to the President sooner or later.  Little did we know that it would only be one transfer.  This time when he left it was especially difficult for us because we know we will be gone before he gets back to Novosibirsk.  Dinner was the best though and so thoughtful for the two of them to go to all the trouble to entertain two old birds like us.  We really had a great time with them although it was brief because they needed to get back to work.  We also needed to get back to our apartment as the sisters were bringing over a lady whom they were teaching for a lesson with us.  It was a huge afternoon – evening for us and a great way to start our week.

The rest of this week was spent in dealing with transfers which began on Tuesday and mostly finished up by Saturday.  The logistics of getting people into the city, changing companions, and then catching connecting flights to Kazakhstan and trains and buses to various points in Siberia is really a wonder - and if one little glitch comes up the whole matrix is afowl.  We think it pretty much came together with our last people leaving for Almaty, KZ late Saturday evening.  The final phased of this transfer happens next week when we receive 5 new missionaries, coming in a week after the regular transfer as they were waiting for their 3 year multiple entry visas.  This is the first group getting the 3 year visas and as close as we can figure, it that means our last “traditional” visa group will go out in March and after that – NO MORE VISA TRIPS!!!  It will be great for the couple coming to replace us not to have to deal with that issue.  Which by the way – no word on a replacement yet – any volunteers??  This is a great place to serve.

Saturday afternoon we took Elder Anderson out for lunch as he was leaving for Kazakhstan for the next 6 months that night.  We will really miss him as well – he served as an Assistant with Elder Topham and we have really come to love him even though he is a Vikings fan (sorry for your loss to the Seahawks!!).  We have talked several times about how much each of these Elders and Sisters means to us and how hard it is just when we are getting really close to them to have them transferred.  We know that transfers are a good thing but it is really hard on us Senior Couples to keep losing those who we depend on so much.  We also lost our dear Sister Barlow who has been with us since starting her mission in Russia last May.  She too was transferred to KZ and we will not see her again before we go home. 

As you can tell it has been quite a week as we have transferred out several of the missionaries with whom we have served a very long time.  Guess that is just the way of it!!  We love it here.  We love our mission assignment, the missionaries, the members, the people and the country of Russia.  It will hard for us as well when we transfer home in just over 90 days.  We ended our week with a birthday celebration for Elder Gundersen.  It is always fun to have a few minutes to get together with the Senior Couple from Left Bank.  Having good friends to serve with is the best!! 
Next week is Thanksgiving and then it is off to Kyiv, Ukraine for our “last” visa trip the end of November.  There are miles to go before we sleep so will keep you all in our hearts and will keep working hard and caring for those you send out to serve.  We love you all.  Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  We hope you will be spending it with your families 
Elder Topham and Elder Davis (front)

Sister Webb w/Cherobek (Snowman)
Met him on our way home from dinner with the A/P's
Elder Hyde and Elder Anderson (left)

Sister Barnes and Sister Barlow (left)

Elder Gundersen
Concentrating on the Birthday Cake
which by the way was "to die for good"

We just had to snap this pic
Two little girls out with their Dad and Mom
checking out the Snowbears in the park

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Couples Conference

We thought we had posted this but got to checking our blog this am and noticed it wasn't there. 
What a great week – it was a little different for us but certainly one of the most enjoyable.  Of course we dealt with the bustle of visa trip week as we sent 31 missionaries out on their visa renewal trip.  This is always a logistic enigma and generally brings with it a glitch or two – this one was no exception but as usually happens all worked out in the end, everyone is now back safe and sound and the process of getting them back to their assigned cities is over.  We are so looking forward to the new 3 year multiple entry visas taking effect which will greatly reduce the expense and administrative juggling of this whole procedure.  That will begin by the way with our new 5 missionaries coming in this next week.  It will probably take a couple or three more months before we have everyone on the 3 year cycle but at least we can see light at the end of the visa tunnel.

Tuesday was a historic day for the mission.  After we finished our normal staff meeting, Pres Gibbons, Brother Peter Nikolaiachev (Bpat Pyotr for short – pronounced Braut Peoter) and Elder Webb traveled about 1 hour south to the town of Berdsk, which we told you about a couple of weeks ago, to meet with the city officials there and register the church in that city.  We had a wonderful meeting with the folks at city hall the result of which is that we can now have missionaries working full time in the city.  This week we will be searching for two apartments, one for the elders who will transfer there and “open” the city and one for our new Senior couple coming in January who will serve there as well.  We will also hold church in their apartment so will be looking for a little bigger one than normal.  Being part of opening a new city, visiting with the city officials and getting things started in a totally new area was an exciting experience.  We (Elder and Sister Webb) will be traveling there each weekend starting in December to conduct church meetings and visit with the active and less active members there until the Elder and Sister Beck arrive in January and then this will be their assignment.  We are really looking forward to having this opportunity as our mission begins to wind down.  Hopefully, we will be of some assistance as this small group begins to grow.

Wednesday evening began our Senior Couples Conference.  The couples from all over the mission came in to the city for a couple of days.  They came from Barnaul and Krasnoyarsk and of course Novosibirsk representing the Siberian portion of our mission and from Astana, KZ from the Kazak part of our mission.  We also have a couple from Almaty, KZ who were scheduled to arrive but at the last minute their flight was cancelled and the next available flight was two days later so they joined with us by skype for some of our meetings.  We started with an early dinner at the Mission Home and then all went to the ballet where Spartacus was being performed.  This was really a different more athletic ballet with mostly male dancers but really very enjoyable.  Thursday we spent the morning in training and instruction from Pres. and Sister Gibbons.  Also, joining us by skype for the meeting were the McClelland’s from Almnaty and the Beck’s our new couple coming in January on a 6 month mission.  They will be serving in Berdsk.  After lunch at the Mission Home we paid a short visit to the local Art Museum for a little break and then we re-adjourned for more instruction, questions and answers and finished the day with a nice Georgian dinner.  Friday we reconvened at the Mission Home for a testimony meeting and final instruction and encouragement from President and Sister Gibbons.  The testimonies were wonderful and very inspiring as you might imagine.  Sister Webb and I are the old timers as far as these senior couples go so it was especially uplifting for us to hear thoughts, pre conceived expectations, experiences, and testimony from those who are newer to this whole experience.  The blessings that have come into all of our lives through our missionary service were shared as well and they are many and they are remarkable, miraculous actually.  One couple serving now is here in Russia for their third mission and have served in Scotland and Cambodia as well.  They are both in their mid 70’s and are amazing, a real inspiration to everyone.

We have seen miraculous things happen in our lives and the lives of our family and we attribute it all to our Heavenly Father’s watchful and caring hand in blessing us as we serve.  We know He is aware of each of us and that He loves and cares for us deeply.  We love Him and are so thankful for all He has and does bless us with each day.  So much has happened while we have been here to reaffirm our testimony that He lives and that He knows each of us personally.
Bro Nikolaiachev, Pres Gibbons and Berdsk Admin Staff

Pres Gibbons, Elder Webb in Berdsk

Communist Party Rally infront of the Opera House

Couples Conference

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Moscow to DC

Another Halloween and no trick-or-treaters!!   Halloween is becoming a little more popular as an event here but the door to door tradition is not observed at all.  Some of the people here say that they do a little of that sort of thing on New Year’s Eve but only to selected friends.  It is not the mass affair that we see in the USA.  We celebrated the evening at our English Conversation Group with some really great people and learned from them as we discussed and taught them a little English.

The really big news of the week, however, is that the Church was granted a license to register in the cities of Almaty and Astana in Kazakhstan.  This is a big deal as there are only 17 churches outside the Islamic faiths that have been granted licenses at this time.  We are really excited about what this means for our young missionaries and the members of the church in general living in these cities.  We reflected on our visit to these cities last summer and the people we met there. We are very happy for them.  Also, this past week the Young Guard, a pro Kremlin youth organization staged demonstrations against the church and the missionary efforts in Russia.  There was not much ado here in Novosibirsk but in Moscow they had several demonstrators and held up large facsimiles of an airline ticket for the missionaries reading “Moscow to Washington”.  They were calling us a totalitarian organization collecting information for the FBI and the CIA.  All the missionaries in our mission stayed inside for the day including us.  It was really kind of nice – we spent the day cleaning, reading, and just catching up.  Then it was business as usual on Friday.

We have dealt with a few emergency issues this week and some last minute changes in transfer assignments one of which resulted in a new office elder coming into the office.  We were just getting the new ones whipped into shape and now must start over again.  Elder Bailey is from Burley, ID and a really nice, energetic and enthusiastic young man.  We are looking forward to working with him for a while.  He came with his companion, Elder Hyde (previously in our district – we have missed him), who had accompanied him to the city to our district meeting on Friday.  We had tacos and tamale pie which was a super big hit.  There were 10 missionaries and they put away a few tacos!!!  That evening we went to the Ballet “Swan Lake” with President and Sister Gibbons and Elder and Sister Gundersen.  We also took Sister Olga and Sister Luba from the office with us.  It was an amazing performance enjoyed by all.  Saturday we spent the day at the office catching up there and then Saturday evening we took Elder Hoggan, our office elder who is leaving us, out for a going away dinner.  The Gundersens joined us as well since Elder Hoggan is in their district and we had a very enjoyable time.

Sunday, at church we were listening to the announcements when we heard one of the elders behind us translating in English for someone.  Of course our curiosity got the better of us so after the meeting we went to the back and met a wonderful couple from Utah who were in Novosibirsk to adopt a Downs Syndrome  4 year old girl.  They had just arrived on the 5:30am flight this morning.  We visited with them and invited them over for dinner this evening.  It was fun to visit with them and to hear their story.  They have 4 children of their own and one other adopted child with Downs so this will be six children for them, the oldest being 16.  They are amazing people.

Every day in Siberia brings with it a myriad of different events and experiences.  The temperature is dropping fast, the wind is out of the north, it is snowing tonight and we are getting our winter gear dusted off for the coming Siberian Zima (winter) – wish us luck.  For those of you who care – Russia does not do daylight savings time so it is now 1 hour more on the time difference (15hrs for PST).  We love you all and wish for you a very happy and interesting election week.
District meeting
Our new Office Elder (bottom left)

A BIG hello from us to you
At Swan Lake

The Filmores

Morning in Siberia
the Full Moon setting

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Train to Omsk

Доброе утро всем, mы надеемся, что на прошлой неделе был большим для вас.

(Good morning everyone, we hope this past week has been a great one for you.)

We are making this entry on Monday morning, having just arrived by train from Omsk at 7am, an overnight run from 10:30pm to 7:00am.  This means of course that we also took this same train to Omsk on Friday night arriving there around 7am Saturday morning.  The train is a real experience here and we are now pretty familiar with the routine involved in that mode of transportation.  You never have to worry about the schedule for the train as they are always on time even if they have to slow down because they have been making good time – they pull into the station at the exact appointed time i.e. 6:53am – very dependable that way.  Pres and Sister Gibbons had gone to Omsk earlier in the week and I had to do some financial and record keeping training with the leadership there so we went this weekend and then travelled home with them.  While in Omsk we visited two of our sister missionaries who were in a hospital there with a staph infection which required some minor surgery.  They are recovering nicely and should be going home today.  Also, we attended church with Yulia who had worked in the office until just a couple of months ago and her husband and their new little son – Stepan.  It was so good to see them – we have missed Yulia in our office and were so excited to see the new addition to their family.  He is so cute. 

This past week we also had visitors from Salt Lake in our mission.  Sister Stephens from the Gen Relief Society Presidency and Sister Esplin from the Gen Primary Presidency, arrived Tuesday late evening.  Traveling with them were Pres and Sister Lawrence our Area President.  They all stopped in the office Wednesday and had lunch with us before going out to visit a few of the members here.  Wednesday evening they presented some training in a fireside meeting and then headed out on the overnight train to Omsk.  Thursday they spent the day in Omsk visiting and did the same training that evening for the people there.  They flew out Friday morning from Omsk for Moscow before heading home.  It was great to have them here and quite an experience for them to be in Russia as well.

It has been another awesome week, never a dull moment with constant changes and last minute details to handle.  It certainly has kept us busy.  There is much to do yet.  Coming up - Sister Conference this week, Couples Conference the next along with the big monthly visa trip for over 30 of our missionaries (1/3 of our total), then there is transfer which this month is split into two weeks as our new missionaries coming in have been delayed a week so they can process and receive their 3 yr. multiple entry Russian visas.  This is our first group to come with the new 3yr visa.  It will sure smooth things out a whole lot when everyone is on this new visa program.  We are really looking forward to when that finally happens.  Shortly after the new missionaries arrive we will head out to Kiev, Ukraine for our last visa trip.  Time is drawing short and in many ways it seems like only last week we were just arriving.  Time continues to fly by.  We love you all and look forward to seeing you all very soon.  Enjoy the week – they pass by so quickly.
Off to Omsk

Pres and Sister Lawrence, Sister Stephens, Sister Esplin
and "The Office"

Sister Webb, Yulia, Stepan and Yaroslav

Yours truly with Stepan and his parents

Leaving Omsk