Monday, January 30, 2012

Transfer Week for Missionaries

This past week we had missionary transfers.  This entails many of the missionaries receiving new assigned areas and new companions for the next cycle.  A transfer cycle is 6 weeks.  This time around we had many changes so there was much travel to book as missionaries moved from one city to another, moved across town to be with a different companion, etc.  We also sent two missionaries home and received only one from the training center.  That all happens on a Wednesday so for the first part of the week we were pretty involved with that whole process. And then—we prepared for a two day stay in our eastern most city – Krasnoyarsk (Kras knee arsk).  This was really a great experience for us and gave us the opportunity to visit another major city of Siberia. 
Our trip began when we boarded the train at 9:30pm on Friday night with our Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Gibbons.  We “slept” on the train overnight and arrived in Krasnoyarsk on Saturday morning at 9am where we were met with 41 below temperatures.   WOW!!  All bundled up to keep warm only works for a little while in those temps.  It was great though.  We spent Saturday hosting the various missionaries as they came in to the church building for interviews with the Mission President.  Sister Webb and Sister Gibbons even played a little ping pong with the missionaries.  They seemed to have a pretty tough time of it and for those of you who know of Sister Webb’s “passionate” competitive nature you would have been proud of her composure under those losing circumstances.  The day passed quickly and then we spent the night at the Hotel Siberia, a very nice and upscale 8 story hotel and we were 4 of only about 12 guests in the whole place.  It was actually a little spooky to have so few people in such a big hotel.
There are currently three congregations in Krasnoyarsk so Sunday began with a taxi ride to the first group where we both had to speak, our Russian is getting a little better so we try to do part of our talk in Russian and part we use an interpreter.  Then a quick taxi ride across town to the 2nd group for a repeat performance and a quick taxi ride back to do it all over again at the 3rd meeting.  We finished up church with the 3rd group at 5pm.  Then we visited with some of the members until 5:30 when they had a Young Single Adult (18-30 yr olds) fireside at which President Gibbons spoke.  While he was doing that Elder Webb was meeting with one of the local leaders to do a year end audit.  6:30pm came around pretty fast and then we were whisked off by taxi to our hotel where we ate dinner, rested, and packed for the trip back home.  We boarded the train at 10pm and rode the 12 hours back home arriving at 9am this morning.  There is a 1 hour time difference between Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk so we gained an hour on the return. 
Krasnoyarsk is a beautiful city of about 800,000 or so but at 40 below it is hard to see much of it so we are hoping for a return trip this summer or fall sometime.  In two weeks we will go for another weekend trip not quite so far away to the city of Novokuesnestk.  There is a small group of the church there and we are looking forward to visiting that city as well.
This area is vast, we have seven cities in our mission each with over 750,000 population where there is no branch or any members.  Imagine.  We visited one city of 500,000+ that has a small branch of 10 (that counts 2 missionaries) meeting in a small rented corner of a large building.  There are established branches in 6 other cities all of which have about 1,000,000 in population.  Our Mission has a total membership of less than 2500 in all of Siberia.  Lots of missionary work needed!!

The experiences we are having with some of these members and the missionaries are very humbling; and when we see the conditions some of the people live in and how difficult life is for most of them we are so humbled considering all that we have been blessed with in our lives.  We will never complain again!!!
Great news for the people here – this weekend we received approval to reorganize our mission into one large district in preparation for them becoming a stake.  So on March 18th we will be consolidating some of the branches into larger ones, releasing all the district officers from the three existing districts and sustaining new district officers for the one new district as well as sustaining several new branch presidents.  More about this as it unfolds.  Have a great week, stay warm, and thanks for all those e-mails.  We love you all.
In front of the church in Krasnoyarsk at -41f below.  Quick pic then we hurried inside!!
That's us on the left with Pres & Sister Gibbons
The Big Game

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another very interesting week.

This week turned out to be quite busy, exciting, and “ochen interesee” (very interesting).  Monday three packages arrived for the Webb’s.  Both of our families sent boxes of goodies and some very dear friends sent one as well.  Thank you all so very very much.  We had a blast opening them and discovering the treats inside.  Even senior couples love care packages from home.  Some things just aren’t the same here so when we saw the powdered sugar, brown sugar, marsh mellows, Reese’s peanut-butter cups, chocolate chips, popcorn, etc. we were pretty excited.  I must say though that a couple of boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts sent by our friends (no names as to avoid retaliation) prefaced with a note about lying on some warm Hawaiian Beach, seemed almost cruel given we are a -30f.  The chocolate went down pretty easy tho’, thank you so much.
 Tuesday evening the young missionaries hosted a music night as a finale for this last group of people who have been coming to learn English on Tuesdays.  It was quite impressive.  We had a concert pianist, a concert violinist, an impromptu jazz trio (piano, alto sax, guitar) and some vocal solos and group vocals.  This group of missionaries is really quite accomplished.
On Wednesday there were about 40 missionaries from around the mission in town for leadership training day.  Sister Webb and I attended along with the other senior couple here and we put on the luncheon for the entire group.  We just did chili, salad, chips and cake and ice cream for dessert so it was pretty easy and actually quite fun.  Then Thursday am we sent off 22 missionaries to Finland for their 90 day visa renewal trip.  This was a pretty large group so we kept our fingers crossed that everything went smoothly – it didn’t - but in the end they got there and back in one piece and are all now good for another 90 days.  No visa trips in February but we have another big group going the first of March.  Sister Webb and I will go then also and we’ll overlap with this group so will be able to help out with any glitches that might pop up.
Today, Sunday was a good day.  Beside all the great lessons we learn at church every week this particular Sunday taught us some interesting life lessons for how to help children cope with the cold. The weather this week has been in the -20’s to -30’s and today was no exception.  We are getting used to bundling up and getting around in the cold.  The people here just simply do not let the cold deter them in anyway and apparently they have a couple of tricks for helping the children deal with the cold as well, at least we hadn’t seen this before.  The last hour of church when the kids are in primary the serve them hot chai (a fruit tea) with an inch cube of sugar.  Sister Webb says the kids dip the sugar cube in the Chai and then suck on it until it begins to disintegrate and then the rest of the cube just goes in the chai to finish up.  Then they all bundle up to go home.  Raises the internal body temp a smidge I suppose.
After church today we had a young single parent family over for dinner, mom, a 10  year old daughter and a 2 year old son.  The sister missionaries came as well.  We just loved it.  The little boy (Deema) is just 5 days younger than Harrison our youngest grandson and he reminded us of him a little.  He certainly was a two year old.  I tossed him in the air a few times (until he wore me out) and we are now bosom buddies.  We served ice cream for dessert (yes we eat a lot of ice cream here – it is absolutely the best ever) and the mom had us zap Deema’s ice cream in the microwave for about 30 seconds to “warm” it up.  This we were told is fairly standard so the little guys don’t go out in the sub-zero weather with “cold tummies” - Who Knew!!!
Enough of the rambling on – we have what looks to be a fairly slow week coming up except of course we have our Russian lesson on Tuesday evening for 1 hour each and Thursday morning for ½ hour each.  So that will of course necessitate some heavy study.  We are also heading out this weekend for a trip to the Eastern most city of our mission with an established congregation (Prehode).  It is called Krasnoyarsk, population 1,000,000+ and a 9 hour overnight train ride.  We will leave the city around 10pm and arrive there about 7am.  We’ll report on that trip next time.
Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers.  Know that we love and miss you all but we are loving our mission here.  We are safe, warm and serving the people of Russia the best we can.  Keep the emails coming and let us know if there is anything you would like to know about this fabulous part of the world.
The Jazz Trio

The troupe doing a group number

Our Sunday guests

Sister Sanford w/Deema

Sister Trottier w/Ana

Monday, January 16, 2012

West to Omck

This was another interesting week for us, as they have all been so far.  After a very busy day Tuesday, which by the way is generally our most hectic day of any week.  We usually have a full schedule at the office with various meetings and the comings and goings of the Mission President, missionaries and many other people delivering or picking up. And then we barely get a breather at home when our language tutor skypes in on Tuesday evening for our Russian lesson.  Each of us has 1 hour and then it is off to bed.  Tuesday eventually ends and the rest of the week we spend our “free” time baking treats, making meals, attending evening meetings and feeding missionaries.  This week however, mixed in with everything else we prepared and packed for the weekend in Omck.  We boarded the train, the Trans-Siberian Railway, at 10pm for a 9 hour train ride west to the city of Omck.  It is the western most city in our mission with an established congregation.  Actually, there are 3 branches of the Church there.
Omck is a much older city than Novosibirsk, founded in the 1300’s, and therefore has a much richer history.  There are several old churches in Omck  which were quite spectacular.  Since Novosibirsk was essentially built by the communists there are very few old cathedral buildings around the city.  We truly enjoyed our time in Omck.  The people we met were friendly and warm and made us feel very welcome.  The train ride was interesting and spending the weekend with President Gibbons (our Mission President) and his wife was a real treat for us.   We have included a picture of our coupe’ on the train; Sister Webb sitting on her side and if you look in the window you will see the reflection of Elder Webb taking the picture.  This is a DELUX coupe (2 people only) – most of the coupe’s have bunks on each side and are designed for 4 people.  Can you imagine sharing such close quarters with 2 or 3 strangers for a 9 hour overnight train ride??
We spent Saturday and Sunday in Omck and then rode overnight back to Novosibirsk on Sunday evening arriving at 7am this morning.  Ready to start the week over again??
We spent most of Saturday with the Senior couple serving in Omck , the Maughans from Mattawa.  He served for a time as the Branch President up in Twisp back home and said to tell everyone hello for him.  We talked a lot about days gone by, common friends and some of the family and friends back in Montana.  He grew up in the same area as my Mom and Dad and knew many of the same people including the Hudsons (Tara – he knew your mom and her family).  Anyway, it was particularly fun for me to visit with an old friend and spend some time reminiscing.  We also attended a ballet at the Omck opera house, The Overcoat, a short story by a Russian author, Gogol.  It was pretty amazing for a town in the middle of nowhere to have this kind of cultural activity.  We continue to be amazed at the depth of the talent and the abundance of various cultural genres in Siberia.  In two weeks we will take a similar train trip to Krasnoyarsk, a city about 9 hours west on the same railway.
The weather is turning cold.  It is supposed to be -27f tomorrow.  Stay warm everyone!  Have a great week.  We will check in again next week.  Right now we have to study our Russian a little and get ready for tomorrows lesson.  We love it.

Enjoying the ride

The moon in the morning!
Siberian Style

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How is YOUR Russian

Well it has been just over 4 months since we first arrived in Novosibirsk and we are still feeling pretty inadequate when it comes to communicating in Russian.  We can both read it fairly well and our understanding is better every day.  Thought you might like a little example:
Мы изо всех сил стараются и обучения медленно, и мы очень любим русский народ и в Сибири.  Translates to:
We are trying hard and learning slowly and we very much love the Russian people and Siberia.

So there it is – a little Russian lesson.  The language is very interesting and challenging but certainly is a great way to stimulate the old brain.  We are reading the Book of Mormon in Russian which is helping us a lot in our learning but if we are to finish we are going to have to pick up the pace.  Our goal now is to finish by the end of the year which means we will have to read at least a half of a chapter each day.  Now I know that doesn’t sound like much but it takes a little time when you are sounding out many of the words (several times) before moving on.  I feel like I am in kindergarten.
This week we visited Centralie Park again and this time they had completed all their snow sculptures.  We have included a few pictures at the end. Let me just say that they have the system down for photos.  There were a few photo spots, like the one we took of the Huffakers with the stuffed animals, where you pay to take your photo with your camera.  No one there to take the photo – just your money for the privilege of taking your own photo.  Now this is the way to go – no processing costs, no equipment costs, just set up your spot and charge people to take their own photos.  Pretty slick.  Also, it was about 5f, the ground covered in snow and ice, the music playing and people of all ages just out dancing up a storm(mostly without partners) to old Russian songs.  It had the feel of the county fair except that the people were a lot more lively.
We have found out that Siberia (at least in our area) is experiencing an unusually warm winter.  Some of the long timers tell us it hasn’t been this mild of a winter for over 20 years.  If this is mild I would hate to see a real Siberian зима (winter).  Everything else this week was pretty normal until we got to Saturday.  Saturday was Russian Orthodox Christmas so all the missionaries in our district (8 Elders and 2 Sisters) 10 total spent the day in our apartment.  They were supposed to stay off the street so we had them all over to spend the day with us.  A little crowded in our small apartment but we all had a great time.  We played a few games, visited, and ate.  We then played a couple of other games, carved some soap, did some origami and ate some more.  They arrived at 10:30am and left around 7:30pm.  It was quite the day.  These missionaries are absolutely the best.

Sister Webb with snow sculpture at Park entrance

Princess Leia with Master Yoda
(This one is for Tyler)

The BIG city Christmas Tree

The Huffakers with the WILD animals
(This one cost 150 rubles)

A one horse open sleigh - Russian style

Little girls getting in the action 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year Reflections

We have been on our mission for four months now, and we decided it was time to reflect a little on the things we have learned, the ups and downs, and maybe refocus a little on the reasons we are here.  We came on a mission because we feel we have been so blessed to have the truths of the gospel in our lives, and we wanted to share that with others.  Little did we know we would be coming to Russia, where it is very hard for us to share our feelings about anything, because of the language, and because people here are not very excited about hearing about Christ and His restored gospel.  Nevertheless, in spite of these obstacles, we feel that we are being of help and service here.  The missionaries here, who do speak the language, are finding and teaching people, and we are helping them in whatever ways we can.  It might be going with them to teach a lesson, and sharing an experience in that lesson that they translate to the investigator.  It might be helping them at the office to find teaching materials, or finding a conference talk on the Internet, or it might simply be helping by giving them a haircut, or fixing them a meal to eat.  Whatever it might be, we love the missionaries and love helping them.  So for right now, that seems to be our biggest role and that is okay.  We were called to work in the office and even though it seems a bit temporal at times, it is a necessary part of running a mission, and we are thankful we have the skills to take care of the paper work, financial affairs, and everyday problems that pop up.  We love the Russians who work with us in the office, they are great people and we wouldn't be able to function there without them.  We love the two office elders that help us with all of the computer work.  They are amazing, helpful, smart, organized, responsible, and cheerful.  Even though we know they would rather be out teaching the gospel, they come in every day and do their jobs.
We also offer support to the branch we are in by attending church, activities, and helping out however or whenever we can.  We support the missionaries by attending baptisms, bringing food, attending and helping at their activities.   Sometimes all of these things seem like small and insignificant ways to be serving a mission, but we know these small things are the things that we are needed to do, in this place and at this time, and we hope they will produce at some time a stronger mission, branch and stake.
This New Year gives each of us the opportunity to refocus focus on doing what is needed now.  We pray each day for the energy needed to do all we can to help others, whether it is the Mission President, the missionaries, the branch members, or the people in this great city of Novosibirsk.  We know that as we do this, we are serving Christ and are trying to be like Him.  This is all each of us has been asked to do, and we know that our Savior will bless each of us in all of our efforts efforts as we seek to do His will.
It seems to that the most important work that we can do, or have done here, is to help strengthen the young missionaries.  They are wonderful, with firm testimonies, but we can encourage and build them up, and help them.  And that is what we love to do whenever we are around them.  So if we work to improve ourselves, we can better strengthen them.
Sometimes it is not easy to be here, we miss our family, and it seems everything here is harder to do, especially in the winter.  We feel aches and pains occasionally, and are definitely tired at the end of each day.  But we love the people who surround us here each day, and know this is our time to forget ourselves and give what we can to others.  We look forward to this New Year with anticipation of great things to come, and new opportunities for growth.
Our prayers are for each of you that you will find this year filled with joy, happiness, and peace; and above all may you feel the love of family, friends and a caring Father in Heaven as you travel through 2012.   We love you all.         RANDY N SUE (Elder and Sister Webb).

An then there was ICE

This last week was really something, with everyone making preparations for the New Year.  I think we have mentioned before but this is really the big holiday here.  Everyone decorates for the New Year – not for Christmas.  Most of the people our age grew up being taught in school that there was no God.  So given that it makes sense that Christmas would just be another day.
During the week we spent an afternoon along the river walk and visited the ice sculptures we have seen them working on from a distance.  We had no idea!!  These are amazing.  We have included some pictures (we unable to get very many because our cameras all froze up and wouldn’t open, take pictures, or even do anything – the LCD froze up in everything).  Anyway, you will see in the pictures that they sculpted houses, statutes, stair railings, swings and even ice slides that looked just like you were at the water slide park.  We figured that in a place where it is winter for 6-7 months and summer for only 2 that ice slides were much more practical.  We tried to capture some of the detail so you could really appreciate the workmanship of everything. 
We also attended another festive dinner where some of the guests took time out to dress as Father Frost (Ded Moroz) and his granddaughter, a fairy (Snegu Rochka) which means Snow Maiden.  It was all quite fun and very interesting to learn and experience different customs.
Last nite was of course New Year’s Eve and oh what a festive night it was.  It made our Fourth of July festivities pale in comparison.  There were fireworks everywhere that went on until about 2am this morning.  It was quite something to see fireworks shooting up in front of our 10th story window from the street below and then exploding right in front of our window.  Some of the explosions were very loud and when the loudest ones went off all the car alarms for about 2 square blocks would trip, so there would be horns honking, lights flashing, and of course all the “wild dogs” we have mentioned roaming free in the streets were barking up a storm.  As we type this post for the blog, night number two of fireworks has begun and all indications are that this will go on for a few more days; up until the 14th which is the “old Russian New Year”. 
Today, we attend church and a potluck after.  They announced last week that there would be a potluck after church today so we took some time yesterday to make a dessert and a casserole to take.  Well – when we started putting stuff out today everyone had brought a dessert!!  Ours was the only main dish!!!  Very interesting.  It was more like a tea and cookie party.  Apparently, something was lost on us in the translation!  However, the main dish went first and fast so I guess we weren’t totally out of it.

Sister Webb & Sister Huffaker
In the Gazebo

King of the Ice Castle??

Shall we sit by the Fire?

Anyone for a slide?