Monday, June 25, 2012

Off to Tomsk

Every week brings some new adventure for us and this one was no exception.  It began with the first of our Kazakhstan missionaries getting their official transfer to our mission.  These first 3, of a total of 12, we will be getting over the next couple of weeks, actually came to Novosibirsk the rest will be staying in Kazakhstan.  We are traveling to Almaty and Astana this coming week to meet the rest of the missionaries and transition all the record keeping and financing arrangements over to our mission as well as holding formal founder’s organization meetings in both cities.  We are going with our Mission President and his wife (President and Sister Gibbons) and our newly called Area seventy and his wife Elder Gushin and Sister Gushina.  Our trip will extend over a week and cover both cities where there is a congregation.  It should be a lot of fun experiencing another new culture and people along with the work we will need to accomplish.  We will report in a couple of weeks on our trip as we will probably not have a chance to post anything next weekend.  We’ll see how it goes.
Tuesday evening we attended a concert of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Conservatory’s top graduating students, vocal and instrumental.  We heard an Opera soprano, mezzo soprano, baritone and bass vocal soloists as well as a mandolin, guitar duet, bassoon soloist, trumpet, cello, violin, piano soloists, and the hit of the evening an accordion (Bahn) duet.  They were all absolutely amazing.  Each performer was introduced along with their teacher.  The teacher then sat in a huge arm chair on stage while they first showed a short video clip of the teacher commenting on their student’s achievements and then the student performed.  Very formal and very nice!  This was a “culture nite” for all of the missionaries in Novosibirsk.
The rest of the week seemed to fly by as we prepared for our weekend trip with President and Sister Gibbons to the city of Tomsk.  It is about a 5 hour drive through some of the most pristine and vast range land, Birch forests, Evergreen forests, and farm land we have ever seen.  No fences, no farm houses, just thousands and thousands of acres of open land and farms.  Much of the farm land, I am sure, left from the soviet collective farming days.  It was breath-taking.  Along the way we passed a cemetery and stopped for a quick visit.  In an earlier posting we commented about how interesting their cemeteries are.  They are located in the middle of the forest (usually White Birch) and each grave has a little iron fence around it.  Each headstone has a picture of the person as well as the normal things you expect to find on a headstone.  It was a very reverent and calming feeling as we walked through the forest and grave sites.  On our way out we met Fyodor and his wife Olga.  They were cleaning up around her mother’s grave and painting the iron fencing.   She talked our ear off even tho’ she could only understand a part of what we were saying and we understood less of her she was talking so fast.  Fortunately, Pres. Gibbons understands pretty well and speaks better than the rest of us did so we got a little of what she was saying.  Fyodor was a little embarrassed by his wife’s carrying on but I was able to tell him no worries – men everywhere the world over understand.  The drive there and back again today (Sunday) was fascinating to say the least.
We arrived in Tomsk on Saturday (late afternoon) and took the 4 Elders and 2 Sisters to dinner then drove around the city and checked into our hotel.  Tomsk is a city of about 600,000, home to numerous universities, and truly the most European looking of any of the Russian cities we have visited.  It is the oldest city in Siberia being founded in 1604.  It was interesting to read that in all the years that the Czars ruled over Russia not one of them ever visited Siberia.   Surprise??!!
We attended church in Tomsk today.  It is a small branch with about 60 or so attending, all very loving and welcoming people.  By the end of our visit there we had been so warmly received we felt as though we had been a part of their group for years.  We both had to speak in Sacrament meeting - you would have been so amazed at Sister Webb.  She gave about ½ of her talk in RUSSIAN and then had an interpreter for the rest.  She then closed her talk with her testimony of Christ, his love for us, and the truthfulness of his gospel – IN RUSSIAN.  Amazing.  She is getting the language down pretty good. 
We arrived home this evening in the middle of the Novosibirsk Birthday celebration – 119 years ago the city was founded and today is populated by over 2 million.  Fireworks everywhere tonight. 
Everyone have a great week.  We love and miss you all.
The Conservatory graduating performers
Cemetery in the trees
Deeper in the forest

Happy 119 years

Sun setting (11:15pm)

Open farmland on the way to Tomsk
no fences/no farm houses

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rain in Siberia!

We seemed to stay quite busy here even though there really was not much going on this week.  It is still quite hot and very humid and we often get a light sprinkle of rain with frequent lightning on the horizon.   However, on Friday afternoon during our district meeting we had an amazing thunderstorm!  It was really close, the lightning was right out our window and the thunder was way loud coming right with the flashes of lightning, and it just poured and poured rain, huge drops with some hail mixed in as well.  We looked out our window onto the street below, and it was a river, clear up to the curbs.  It rained about 2+ inches in less than an hour and then it was over.  The elders thought it was great and everyone was taking pictures.  We haven’t ever experienced that kind of rain storm ever – it was pretty impressive.

We have a companionship of three sisters in our district, two who are brand new and being trained by the third sister.  They are doing great, and we really have come to love them.  Last week was Sister Barlow's birthday (she is one of the new ones).  Sister Sanford, her trainer, told her the night before her birthday that she could be in charge of planning the next day, and whatever she wanted to do they would do.  She said she prayed about it and came up with a strong impression, but was a little afraid to tell it to the other 2 sisters.  Finally they asked her and she timidly said--since my birthday is on the 13th, I thought maybe we could try to have 13 contacts!  They kind of gulped, but said okay, we will talk to literally everyone we see today--they also had three appointments to see and traveling from one place to another takes a long time.  That night they came to our apartment, because we invited them for birthday cake, told us this story, and then said—“so guess how many contacts we made?”  They had gotten 15!!!, and  were so excited.  They talked to everyone they saw that day!  They split up on the buses, talked with people in the Metro, and on the street--anyway they were so happy their joy rubbed off onto us.  They are amazing.

Not only did we share Sister Barlow’s birthday but Elder Webb also got a big Happy Father’s Day from all three.  Since we are so far from home and it was only Saturday back home anyway – it made his day to get that special greeting from these three sisters who are just like daughters to us anyway. 

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful, filled with the usual daily tasks in the mission office, getting from one place to the other and attending the various meetings and firesides that come along.  This weekend we are going with President and Sister Gibbons to Tomsk, so will have to talk in their church meetings.  We are going to try to do at least some of it in Russian.  Wish us luck.  Everyone have a great week.   
Happy Birthday with Sister Barlow

Lots of Rain

A few minutes later and MORE water

Looking down the street

Monday, June 11, 2012

Back to the Task at Hand

We have spent this past week getting back into the swing of things after that wonderful weekend in Prague.  The visa renewal process went smoothly and we are now again safely in Russia with new visas and passports.  The work at the mission office is picking up a bit as we get ready for receiving new missionaries from Kazakhstan, securing new apartments for some of our Elders and Sisters, and preparing for the weeks ahead.  It is a marvelous experience to have this special time in our lives to work so closely together serving in our Heavenly Father’s work and to be able to do so in such a special land with some of the best people we have ever met.  This past week we celebrated our anniversary together very quietly at home and enjoyed recalling some of our life’s experiences.  We won’t tell you how long it has been (it is kind of scary) and for those who know or think you do – be kind!!!!  Life is grand and we have loved living it thus far.

This past Friday we had our weekly district meeting.  We have 6 Elders (the AP’s, our Zone Leaders, and the District Leaders) and 3 Sisters (one trainer with two newly arrived sisters from the MTC), plus ourselves.  We spent a good portion of our meeting sharing with each other a little about ourselves and why we were serving missions.  It was a very spiritual experience to hear the stories of these 9 young people and why they each chose to serve.  Each account was remarkably different from each of the rest.  We won’t recount each story for you but will just say we have one young man a little older than the rest (about 23 when he came out rather than the normal 19) who converted from Judaism about 3 years ago.  He was seeking entrance to law school when he was overcome by the impression that he should serve – He followed that prompting and submitted his papers.  He was called to serve in Siberia and will go home next month.  He just received notice that he has been accepted to law school with a full ride scholarship and will begin his studies in August.  Another young man also a recent convert because of the example of his friends at school who were LDS joined the church just over a year ago and is now serving.  One of our Sisters is serving because her brother left on his mission and she too felt the desire to serve.  Another sister is a college graduate and a Jr High math teacher for two years.  She felt there was something more for her and serving a mission was impressed upon her mind as that something.  With tears streaming from their eyes they each recounted the deepest feelings of their hearts and shared the strongest testimonies of Jesus Christ, his divinity, his love for us and the power of his atonement in each of our lives that we have heard from anyone.

Common to each of us was the uncertainty we each felt as our assignments to serve in Siberia were read and re read.  Shock, fear and momentary hesitation were the most universal feelings shared by each of us.  However, also apparent was the testimony that God puts us where he needs us and strengthens us with the ability to serve as we answer the call, put our trust in him and do all we can do to learn why it is He has sent us here.  We are still not quite sure about that last bit in our case but we certainly have seen and felt his blessing in our lives and the lives of our families as we have responded to Him the best that we have been able.  We know He blesses each of us in whatever we undertake to do as long as we do our very best to follow Him and when we make a mistake which we are all want to do He will pick us up and heal our hurts, our hearts and our souls as we recommit ourselves to Him. 

God bless you all this week.  All our love, Randy n Sue. 
The day as seen from our window:
and the Gardens keep growing!!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Weekend with the President

Four new missionaries came in this past week, 3 sisters and 1 elder, and one of our sisters went home.  It is always exciting and a little hectic for a couple of days.  Everyone who can stops by the office to say their goodbyes to anyone leaving and since Sister Trottier was so loved throughout the mission many people stopped by to wish her well.  She was Sister Webb’s companion for a week last fall when I had to make that quick trip to Salt Lake so she has a special place in our hearts.  We will truly miss her.  After the goodbyes there are the hellos to new missionaries.  We give them a little training and acquaint them with the ways of Russia, the mission and a little of how to get around.  The basic do’s and don’ts of serving here. 

With training completed on Thursday morning it was time to begin preparations for our visa trip.  So when we got home we packed, got to bed early and then were up at four am to get ready for our flight to PRAGUE!  What a wonderful weekend we had in Prague with President and Sister Gibbons.  We arrived in Prague around noon on Friday, Checked into our motel and then got down to the business of exploring this marvelous city.  Although you can’t do much in two days we seemed to pack quite a bit into our time there.  Old Town Square, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle were a few of the places we explored a little more in depth.  There are performances every night and most afternoons throughout the city, chamber orchestras, individual artists, and various ensembles.  We were able to attend two – a chamber orchestra performing numbers by Bach, Vivaldi and Dvorjak in the Prague Castle and 4 soloists (violin, organ/piano, soprano vocalist, and tenor vocalist) who performed in the Mirror Chapel at the Klementine.  Mozart performed in this same chapel many times.  The history and culture of this old city were a wonder to us and we constantly marveled at all there was to see and do.  Just when we thought we had seen the most breathtaking architecture we would walk around a corner and there was something even more spectacular.  It was a wonderful weekend.  The trip back not so much (another story, another time).  We now have only two such visa trips left – one the end of August and one the end of November.  Then we return home in February.  It is hard to imagine – the time is flying by so quickly.

This weekend also brought with it the passing of Sue’s mom.  It is so difficult for her not to be home with her sisters; our modern technology has greatly shortened the distance but is still not the same.  We have reflected much on all Roberta has done for us and the influence she has had on the lives of her family and friends.  We will miss her greatly but know she is in a better place, happy to be home with Gordon, her parents and friends who have been waiting for her on the other side.  Knowing where she is and who she is with brings much peace to an otherwise sorrowful event.   We are so thankful for a Heavenly Father who loves us all so much and knows each of us individually and how to help us bear up under all of life’s challenges.  Have a wonderful week.  Here are a few pictures from Prague.

Organ in the Mirror Chapel
Mozart played here!
Rub the Statue, Make a wish & you WILL return!
Guess we are planning a return trip

Cathedral Chapel at the
Prague Castle
Two Angels and a Saint

A wonderful weekend with
President and Sister Gibbons

Old Town Square