Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Electric Train to the "village"

The week got off to a great start with Family Home Evening at our apartment.   There were a lot of new faces this week as well as the regulars.  One of the men (Deema) who comes brings us a few new sentences, words and phrases to work on for the week.  He gets a big kick out of our trying but it helps quite a bit to have a native speaker coaching us once in awhile.  We are enjoying having everyone to our apt each week so I know it will be hard to turn them back over to the left bank couple when they arrive.  We are so glad it will be the Gundersens.  We are really looking forward to their arrival although we can hardly bear the thought of the Huffakers leaving us in just two short weeks. 
Our Area patriarch has been in the Mission for the past three weeks stopping in each of the branches and giving patriarchal blessings.  He was in Novosibirsk this past week and it was such a treat to be able to visit with him for a little while during his visit.  He spoke at a fireside for the members and visitors on Wednesday evening which was terrific and then he took an hour out on Thursday afternoon to speak just to the missionaries.  We spent the hour discussing The Sermon on the Mount, particularly the Beatitudes and how they build on each other with the first being the easiest to implement into our lives and the last one the hardest.  We all had a great time with him and then Sister Webb and I took him and his grandson who is traveling with him, to dinner so we were able to spend a little more time with him.  He is a very well educated, informed and most interesting man.

During the week we also welcomed the Noels to the mission.  They will be serving in Krasnoyarsk as the CES couple in that city.  They are from Salt Lake and after spending a couple of days with them we know they will be loved by the people of Krasnoyarsk.  It was fun to spend a little time with them before sending the off across the mission.   
And we can't forget Elder Andersen's Birthday which was the same day as District meeting so we all sang Happy Birthday of course.  Elder Andersen is one of the Presidents assistants and probably the best non-native Russian speaker in the mission.  He is a great missionary and we love having him in our district.  We will miss him when he gets transferred in about three weeks.  I won't say where he is being transferred because I don't think he has told his mom yet and she occasionally reads this blog.  (Sorry Sister Andersen - you will need to hear it from him.) 
This past weekend will forever be a real highlight in our mission.  First, we travelled by Electric train (called the lek trish key for short) for a little over an hour south of the city to the small town of Bertsk.  Everyone calls it a village but the population is over only 200,000).  We went with three of the sisters serving here in the city, Sister Sanford, Sister Barlow and Sister Dement.  Sister Sanford is training the other two who are recent arrivals to the mission and she is doing amazingly well.  It was a blast just to travel and get to visit with them for a little while.  We were going to visit Tatyana who was set to be baptized the next day (Sunday).  We had a great visit and lesson with her and her daughter, had a little Borscht and just as we were leaving she asked if I would baptize her the next day.  Well of course I said I would be honored but I don’t mind telling you I was a little nervous.  Doing this in Russian is a little tricky – the names alone are hard enough never mind the language for everything else.  I spent the evening and Sunday morning reviewing and studying up on the language necessary to perform the baptism ordinance.  I wouldn’t say it came off without a hiccup but all things considered it went fairly well.   Tatyana is a wonderful person and it was such a blessing to be able to actively participate in her baptism.  It was a doubly special baptism as Sophia, we have told you about her before, was also baptized.   They are both pretty special people who will remain forever in our hearts.  Another amazing week has come to a close, the time continues to fly by and our love for the country and the people of Siberia continues to grow.  Everyone have a wonderful week. – Das va donya.

The Noels arrived - hooray

Getting ready to listen to the Patriarch

Elder Andersen's (front left) Birthday

In Berstk w/Tatyana and the three Sisters
who have been teaching her

Tatyana and her daughter et al
At the Baptism

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dolphins in Siberia?

It is nearly the end of July; we’ve been in Russia for 11 months; we have 7 more to go but who is counting.  The time seems to be flying by – the Huffaker’s whom we have become very close to will be leaving for their home in Colorado in just over 2 more weeks.   We will certainly miss them.  In preparing for their departure the weekly Family Home Evening has been moved to our apt and will be here until the Gundersen’s arrive in September.  Our first FHE was this past Monday and there is where the fun began. 

After spending the day in the office we slipped out a little early to go home and prepare for the meeting.  We needed to fix something for everyone to eat as most come straight from work and don’t have a chance to eat.  We had a small problem in the kitchen but everyone seemed to enjoy the soup, bread and desert so “all’s well that ends well”.  Tuesday it was back to office stuff and our weekly meeting with President and Sister Gibbons.  We had 4 new missionaries (2 Sisters and 2 Elders) that came into our mission from the Moscow West Mission as part of that consolidation so we went over everything with them that we would do for new missionaries.  Wednesday evening Elder Webb attended Mission Presidency Meeting where we video conference with the two counselors who are overnight train rides away, one in Omsk to the West and the other in Krasnoyarsk to the East.  Isn’t technology wonderful.  Sister Webb went to English Club where she had to conduct the last part of the meeting.  Going to English is so fun – different people seem to come each week, some are very regular but there are always new faces.  We get to work with those who speak a little better English than most, so meeting them and learning about their lives, goals, and aspirations is really an amazing part of our whole experience here.  

Thursday evening we had the two Elders serving as Assistants to the President over as they taught a lesson to a young man, Alexsey.  He is living here with his mom and going to the University studying to be a steam power engineer.  He will be baptized on the 29th along with Sophia who has had several lessons here in our apt as well.  We are very excited for them – it has been a wonderful experience for both of us to be able to participate in their teaching.  Friday the Sister Missionaries brought Jenia over for a lesson also.  She is about 40 something and recently lost her son to a sudden and mysterious illness that took him in about 2 months.  She is really struggling with the pain and emotion of that loss and after the lesson she wanted to hear our thoughts on why such things happen and how we deal with them and if we do actually have a Heavenly Father how can He help; will He help?  She is in a very tender place and the physical pain of this recent loss has been very difficult for her to handle.  I think we were able to help as we discussed God’s Plan of Happiness, the eternal nature of our earthly relationships, and the blessings of eternal families.

 Saturday morning we up bright and early and headed out to our local renok.  All the local farmers were in (a giant farmer’s market) so we loaded up with fresh fruit, produce, and eggs, bought some weed barrier to act as a sunscreen for our kitchen window and headed home.  After dropping everything off, we headed out to the nearest mall where we finally broke down and bought an air conditioner.  It has been super hot and humid here, and since we don’t have air conditioning it is about as miserable inside as it is out.  It is just a little portable one but it has cooled our apt down to a tolerable 79 degrees.  It has been nearly 90 inside our apt so this has been a welcomed relief for the past couple of days.  We are going to enjoy this for the rest of the summer.

Then in the afternoon we hooked up with Alexsey (from Thursday eve) and the Huffakers and we all went to the Dolphin Show.  It wasn’t a big show – only two dolphins and a small tank but it was really fun.  We sat in the 2nd row so as to have a really good view, about 5 feet from the tank but when they came by and handed the people in the front row a big piece of plastic to keep the water off we knew we were in trouble.  After the show we walked to the Huffaker’s, soaking wet, for a visit before heading home.  Today was Sunday and it was great to have a quite Sabbath to rest and rejuvenate for the week ahead.

We are having a marvelous time in Sibera and one thing has been manifest over and over.  People are the same no matter where you are.  They love and care for their families, for the most part they care about others, they work hard, play hard, and want to be good.  I think if we as human beings could just get out of our own way and all be a little more trusting and caring what a wonderful world we could have.  Everyone  have a marvelous week.

On the Beach

One of our new Office Elders and
his version of PB&J

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Birthdays, Wedding, Babies & More

When we sit down at the end of the week and reflect on all the activity that takes place we wonder how we keep packing so many experiences into such a short time.  The weeks seem to just fly by.  We have decided that with so much sunlight it makes it a little easier to just keep going but we do get worn out by the end of the week.  The office stuff stays about the same each week – missionaries coming and going, visa problems, dealing with money issues in three currencies (dollars, rubles, & tenge) and just trying to keep each other up to speed so one of us doesn’t get left in the dust on one thing or another.  In addition to all the normal stuff this week we celebrated both President and Sister Gibbons’ birthdays, paid a visit to the Big Reenok, had a Sr. Couples conference, said goodbye to one of the regular employees (leaving to have a baby), held our district meeting, attended a Branch activity and prepared talks for sacrament meeting today.  Oh – and we attended the wedding and reception (by Skype) of our beautiful granddaughter Brenna and her husband Will.  Congratulations to the new couple – Mr. and Mrs. Davis!!

So how fun is this – President Gibbons’ birthday is the 10th and Sister Gibbons is the 11th of July.  We had a great staff meeting on Tuesday, as we celebrated both birthdays together and since it was transfer day several of the missionaries who were in the city stopped by to share a birthday wish as well.  They are so great and everyone enjoyed being with them on their special days.  We also sent two of our best missionaries home this same day which is always sad.  One was Elder Ortner who was serving as our District Leader – the other Elder Bounous had been our District Leader when we first arrived.

Then it was off to the “BIG” Reenock after work where we bought new shopkas (hats) for winter – it will be here sooner than we would like.  They are supposed to be cheaper in the summer but we weren’t sure they were.  Then Wednesday was our Senior Couples Conference.  We gathered at the Mission Home in the afternoon where President and Sister Gibbons shared a few thoughts with us and we each shared our testimony.  It was insightful to see what motivated each of us to serve a mission.  None of us ever dreamed we would be in Russia, let alone Siberia but here we are.  It was a strength to each of us to share our feelings of faith and the joys and experiences we were each having.  There were 4 Senior Couples in attendance – 3 of us serving our first mission the other couple was serving their 5th mission together ( 1 in Scotland, 1 in Cambodia and this is the 3rd time they have been to Russia).  Not sure we are up for that but they were amazing.  After meeting for a while we all went to dinner at the Mexican restaurant (Russian version) – It is really pretty good – not like home but it will do in a pinch.  Then after dinner we walked to the Opera House to see the Russian Ballet – Copillia – of all the performances we have seen there this one we think was our favorite.

Friday brought our weekly district meeting from 1pm to 4pm give or take.  One of the senior couples, the Holmes’, (the ones on their 5th mission) was still in town so they attended as well.  We ended up with 15 counting us for our meeting and lunch.  Sister Webb fixed burritos which were a huge hit and then after we got everyone off we went back to the office for a farewell party and baby shower (sort of) for one of the employees and a welcome on board party for her replacement.  It was hard to say goodbye to Yulia, she is the accountant that works for the church and has been very helpful to both of us in helping us understand many of the procedures and much of the language as we have learned our way around things in the office.

Saturday rolled around pretty quickly and it was a hot one.  The humidity was high, the air still, the sky clear as a bell, and temperature around 90 - a perfect day for a boat ride with our Branch.  There were just over 80 who came and once we all got loaded onto the boat we took off upriver.  It was nice to be on the water.  This is third largest river in Russia and although it runs south to north we didn’t get far enough upstream to make much of a difference temperature wise.  It reminded us a lot of the Columbia River back home except for the color of the water!!  We enjoyed the afternoon ride, most of the folks got off the boat at a big island upriver for a couple of hours (they would catch the boat back on its next run) we returned with the Huffakers, a few of the missionaries, and our District President and his wife and new little daughter Sophia.  We all went to Carl’s Jr. for a hamburger before heading to our separate homes.

All we can say about Sunday is – it is great to have it over.  We both had to give a talk in church so we were greatly relieved when that was over and we could let go of the stress.  Speaking in church partly in bad Russian and partly through an interpreter and hoping that what you want to say is coming out okay is a very exhausting experience.  We think it went pretty well though.  The people were very nice in telling us we did well and are getting better (a little) with our language. Anyway, we did what we could and let the spirit handle the rest.

It has been a magnificent week for us (as we have discovered every week is) and we hope it has been for you as well.  We are loving our time together and taking care of each other as we go from day to day.  We know there will always be a piece of our heart here in Siberia. 

Gibbons' Birthday & Visitors

Mr & Mrs Davis
Yulia and Yaroslov

Boarding the Boat

Little Sophie on her first Boat Trip

Off Loading at the Island for a few hours of
water fun

Returning to Port
Sister Webb with Elder Ortner
getting ready to return home

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Astana, KZ & home to Siberia

This week brought our trip to Kazakhstan to an end as we visited the capital city of Astana.  In 1997 the capital of Kazakhstan was moved from Almaty to Astana and since that time Astana has blossomed into a very beautiful and modern city.  It was amazing to us that in less than 15 years so much building has taken place in this city.  The new city is a model of urban planning and is so inviting in so many different ways.  From the indoor beach to the “Tree of Life” to the Presidential White House and on to the Pyramid and the “all seeing eye”, a five kilometer promenade, it is a remarkable architectural and construction achievement.

We were privileged to attend another founder’s meeting for the church in Astana.  It takes 50 people (permanent residents of the city) who are willing to sign the charter, and submit copies of their passports and financial records to the government in order to charter a church and apply for preaching licenses in that city.  There are only 25 members in Astana and 16 of those are either missionaries or ex-pats who work for the US Embassy or teach at the university.  This leaves less than 10 members to sign the charter or a shortfall of 40 people.  We were witnesses to a miracle as 42 people showed up to sign their names on the dotted line, friends of the missionaries and/or members or “friends of friends”.  The meeting was a huge success and the paperwork is now being assembled for submission to the government for the necessary charters and licenses.  The spirit was very present as people came and gave their support to a church they knew very little about.  Since the church is not chartered or licensed yet – no teaching or discussion about the church or our beliefs could be conducted.  The missionaries cannot wear their nametags or proselyte in any way.  They can only do service and teach English which is apparently enough to win the hearts of the people as was evidenced by the supporters who came to the founder’s meeting.  Overall it was an amazing and powerfully felt experience.  We were so thankful to have been a part of such an historic event for the church in Kazakhstan.

It was good to get back to Novosibirsk.  When we got back though, we hit the ground running.  There was a visa trip to send off (22 of our missionaries left for Kiev, Ukraine) and organize, Leadership training meeting for 26 missionaries, District meeting, (remember we feed everyone after the meeting is over) and a branch activity (commemorating the 4th of July) organized by the missionaries with food provided by – you guessed it – the senior couple!!   It has been another fantastic week for us.  We feel so blessed to be serving here at this time and we know that the Lord sent us here to support and help the missionaries and members as they grow and strengthen the church in Siberia.  We have seen many exciting and miraculous things and expect much more to occur before we return home.  It is a great time for the Russian people, a great time for the Church in Russia and the perfect time to be here and watch as events unfold in the lives of the people we have come to love as our own family.  We wish you all a very exciting and wonderful week.  We love you all.
The Astana Shopping Mall
one end of the 5k Promenade
Looking down the Promenade from the Mall
Govt bldgs and visiting dignitary lodging

Inside the Mall
This tower is a free fall ride
around the top is a monorail as well
as a log flume ride behind me
the "Beach" and Pools are also on the top level

Krabby Pattie anyone?

The "Tree of life" stand in the middle of the
Promenade and is 97 meters tall

The Presidential Palace aka
"The White House"
We ran out of time so were not able to get a picture of the
Pyramid behind this building

A picture of some of the flower gardens in the Promenade
taken from the top of the tower
Back home
We went out in the Park next to the Church Building for
a closing Prayer after our Leadership Training Mtg

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Music to My Ears

Shawsh-lik on P-day!!  We bought a little charcoal box, the Russian version of a Hibachi, and some skewers, wood chips, etc. and had a Russian BBQ on Monday this week.  We fed all the missionaries in the city for their P-Day activity as well as some church members and some non-members.  It was a blast.  Chicken, Pork, and Beef Kebabs and all the trimmings were featured.  It turned out to be a huge success judging from the comments made and all the people who attended.  Anyway, we had fun preparing for and putting it on for everyone.  Just like home except we sure missed the big gas grill.   Then it was off to the Metro and the Left Bank, and a 20 minute walk to Huffaker’s for the weekly Family Home Evening.  It was a great evening and well attended by the young people.  We even had a non- member father and his twin 18 yr. old sons who came to listen.  We all had a wonderful time. 
That was Monday.  Tuesday was our weekly office staff meeting with Pres. and Sister Gibbons.  Much planning and organizing was on the docket as we get ready to bring the entire country of Kazakhstan into our mission.  We received our first three missionaries from Moscow, slated for KZ over the weekend.  They are just great and as expected will be a great addition to our missionaries.  After our staff meeting and taking care of the normal business necessary for the day we headed out to a craft fair.  It was pretty interesting but not a lot different than what we can see every day at any of the neighborhood reenocks.  We think it was meant to be that we should go however, because after roaming around the booths for a while we noticed a KFC across the street and decided to get a quick bite.  While we were sitting there eating a man came by and said – “I heard you speaking English.  Are you from America?  The sound of English being spoken without a Russian Accent is like music to my ears.  I just had to stop and say hello.”  We had quite a discussion with him, met his Russian wife who teaches English and enjoyed a pleasant time filling a needed void in his life apparently.  He and his wife are in Novo taking care of her aging mother and have been here for 4 years.  Prior to that time they had been living in Colorado for 11 years.  Anyway, he is now coming to church and meeting with our missionaries.  So even tho’ we were feeling guilty for leaving the office for a couple of hours it was all good.  We made it back to the office, finished up a few items there and finally made it home.  That evening had our last Russian lesson with our tutor from the MTC.  It was a bittersweet parting.  We stayed up late baking cookies (see below), doing laundry and getting ready for our trip on Thursday.  Along, came Wednesday – exciting news – Brian and Barb Gunderson, great friends from Wenatchee, have received an assignment to serve a mission in Russia, Novosibirsk no less.  They will be arriving in September.  We are anxious to welcome them to SIBERIA!!  The rest of the day was spent playing catch up at the office.  Then we headed out for English.  We are doing the advanced group again this session but this time we had some help from the Sisters.  In fact they did the whole thing, very nice.  They did a fantastic job too.  We had a fairly large group with some amazing English speakers and some really interesting people.  It was fun getting to meet and know them all.  After English we shared Sister Webb’s Chocolate Chip cookies (5 doz) baked the night before (see above) with everyone who came.  They were a big hit as you might well expect.  We saved back 4 doz to pack for our trip the next morning.
Thursday morning it was off to Almaty, Kazakhstan.  What a treat it has been to be here.  The grass is green, the streets well paved, sidewalks are smooth, air is fresh and the MOUNTAINS are green.  We drove up to a ski lodge in the mountains, rode a gondola up another mountain to a spot where the country of Kazakhstan was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel, and spent the weekend with some wonderful Kazak people.  We held a fireside about Family History Saturday evening followed by a Founder's meeting which is necessary to register the church for preaching in Kazakhstan.  Today (Sunday) we attended church and heard some sweet testimonies from the faithful members of Almaty. Elder Webb bore his testimony - (in Russian) and time ran out before Sister Webb had a chance to do the same.  After church the Senior Couple serving here hosted us all for dinner and an afternoon of visiting and sharing experiences of church service.  This is their second mission; they served a couple of years ago in the Moscow West mission.  The 4 young missionaries serving here joined us for dinner as well.  It was a wonderful Sunday.
In the morning we leave for Astana, the capital of KZ for a couple more days and then back to Novo on Wednesday.  Almaty is a beautiful city and the mountains reminded us a lot of our own mountains back home.  Being from the APPLE CAPITAL of the WORLD it was interesting for us to learn that Almaty means “grandfather apple” and they say that all apples can be genetically traced back to Almaty!  Who knew!  Enjoy the pictures and be thankful for the blessings of life we are all privileged to enjoy.  Life is good.  Our love to all.
P.S.  We are posting this entry from Almaty but are unable to see it as all blogs are blocked inside KZ.  We are told that if you download Opera you can read blogs but they are working on making sure that gets blocked as well.  Anyway, please excuse any flubs you come across as we were unable to edit. 

Sister Webb w/Grandfather Apple

Joining us for the afternoon -

Looking over Almaty from the
Dedication site

"Trash Art" in the park
a short walk from our hotel

Going crazy in the "American Isle" at the grocery store

This just looked too much like our mountains
This is roughly 8000' tho & the bare hillsides
are from snow and avalanche damage - not logging

Most of the missionary force in front of the
Branch Building in Almaty