Sunday, September 30, 2012

Again - for the First Time

 While we have been all over the city this past year, it has been a great opportunity to see again for the first time much of what makes Novosibirsk such a great city as we have had Elder and Sister Gundersen in tow on a few excursions.  Monday was our first shopping trip out with them.  We rode the Metro to the end of the line – Karla Marxa, took a bus and ended up to the Mega Mall with the IKEA store and Ashons Market.  I think Elder and Sister Gundersen were as surprised as we had been to see that shopping in Russia is pretty much the same as at home, except of course that the labeling is all in this strange alphabet.  Anyway, we did our weekly shopping had a little lunch at the food court (some ate at subway and some had shasleek at KFC), then Elder Gushin came out to pick us up and take us back home.  All in all a pretty busy and educational day.

Tuesday after a day spent in the office it was off to the Siberian Choir performance.  Some of you might remember our entry in April when we went to see the Siberian Choir and were so impressed.  They made their second tour of Novosibirsk this past week and we went again to see them and took Elder and Sister Gundersen along with us.  The performance was overwhelmingly impressive once again.  I know we enjoyed it as much this time maybe even a little more because we could understand some of what was being sung and said.  Before the concert we stopped in a little “Mom & Pop” corner restaurant for a bite which surprisingly turned out to be quite good, perhaps even worth another visit.  At the end of the day it turned out to be another great evening in the city.

 The US Embassy representatives came to town on Wednesday and held a couple of meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in the “American Corner” of the big downtown library each afternoon.  When they first arrived on Wednesday morning, however, they stopped in the office to visit with us and to meet our office staff.  Since the church processes so many people through the Embassy each year they wanted to meet some of the people who handle all of those details and see how the system works for us.  It  was quite interesting to visit with them and discuss some of the issues facing the Church, the US and the many Americans who visit Russia each year and the reciprocal (or not so reciprocal) agreements we have with Russia.  One thing we learned is that effective the first of September we can now get 3 year multiple entry visas when coming to Russia and will need to exit the country once every 6 months for a migration renewal trip which can be a quick turn-around instead of the every three months trip requiring the issuance of a new visa.  This will be a great blessing to the operation and effectiveness of the missions and the church in general in Russia, not to mention the great help to all Americans visiting and doing business in Russia.  This is something the governments have been working on for quite some time.  It will also ease some of the requirements for Russians entering the US and equalize fees being charged, from what we understood.  The two people who came were very friendly and generally interested and interesting.  It was truly a great experience and special opportunity to be able to visit with them on such a personal level.

Thursday evening we had the Sisters over with one of their investigators to teach a lesson.  The fellow they taught we have met several times before.  He is a widower and the friendliest guy you would ever meet.  He come to church regularly and attends English frequently.  It was fun to have him in our home again and to visit with him for a while.  Friday we introduced the Gundersens to Mexican food with a Russian flair – quite fun.  After dinner we walked around the opera house, picked up a schedule for October (a future visit) and walked through the Centralnie Park.  All of our District was off on Visa trip Friday so Saturday we had our District meeting (normally held on Fridays) and spent some time in the office as visa travelers came back into the city and re-routed to busses and trains for the return to their respective cities, passing through the office as they did so.

It has been a great week, some new experiences, refreshing and reliving some experiences had before, meeting new and interesting people, and enjoying old friendships.  Life is good to us and we feel so blessed to have such a wonderful family and great friends at home.  We think of you daily and remember with fondness many wonderful times with each of you.  We love you.      
Fountain - in front of the Library next door to our Building

Young Single Audlts sing at Sunday Fireside

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Monday and Tuesday passed by rather slowly as we kept our normal routine; Wednesday, Sept 19, the day for which we had been waiting for over a month, seemed like it would never arrive.  Then it was here!!  We arose around 3:30, showered (yes, we had plenty of hot water that day), got ready and met our taxi (mini van) out front at 4:30 for the ride to the airport.  We walked into terminal for arrivals shortly before 5:30 and after a brief wait – there THEY were.  Elder and Sister Gundersen had arrived!!!   It was great to see them – it still seems a little surreal to have such good friends from home serving in the same mission and in our same city where we will see them frequently.

Well they hit the ground running.  We picked them up got them to their apartment, showed them where things were, generally, and then left them to get a little rest.  It is about 20 hours on planes and 16 hours of layovers to get here given the mandatory stop in Moscow to secure passports at the US Embassy.  It was back to the office for us where we tried to work in spite of our excitement waiting for them to rest up a bit and then call, which they did around 3pm.  So off we went over to pick them up, show them the metro system and how to get to the office, got them registered in the city, went to dinner, and then at 6:30 took them to week one of our new session of English where we meet with any people who wish to come and learn and/or practice their English.  We had 45 people at this session so we are really excited for this 8 week session and another opportunity to meet new people and help them in their efforts to learn English.  After English was over we all stayed around for a while and visited with some of the people and then we took the Gundersens back to their new home.

Thursday, they explored a little and then ventured out to the office on their own arriving without incident.  We had a little dinner and then it was off to their first Institute class (Thursday evenings at 7pm).  The kids were excited to see them and greeted them by signing a traditional Russian folk song with costume.  It was pretty fun and of course they wanted to know all about the “newbies”.  The kids warmed up to them right away and are looking forward to some FUN TIMES with the Gundersens.

Friday we were back over to see them and attend a baptism and Saturday they had a Seminary training meeting all day.  Sunday after church, they attend with a different congregation on the left bank while we attend on right bank, they came over to our “Dom” for Sunday dinner.  We had planned to attend the CES/YSA Sunday evening fireside at 6:30 but since it was cancelled we took advantage of the time and just visited.  It has been quite a first week for them with all the activity mixed in with trying to get unpacked and settled in to their Russian home.  It is so great to have them finally here.  We have had quite the time catching up on home and planning out what to do in the coming days and weeks.

The work continues to move forward here and we are really enjoying working with the missionaries, meeting the people they are teaching and participating with them in the many baptisms and activities they are continually planning.  Our next such activity will be Mexican Fiesta Night on October 6th.  

We have been hearing quite a bit about all the smoke back home from the many fires all around and we sure hope things clear up soon for everyone.  We think about you often and remember you all in our prayers every day.  Have a wonderful smoke-free week.  We love you.

Friends from Home
Serving together

At Institue Class
with a few of the Young Single Adults


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Moscow Afternoon

This week many of the “new leaves” that we turned over as a mission were implemented and many of those individual and mission wide commitments made during our Zone Conference of last week were put into place.  A couple of those I will mention.  First – our District meetings will no longer be held in the Senior Couple Apartments but will be held at the Branch Buildings and no meal will be served.  This will enable our district meetings to be all about the work and less about socializing and sharing a meal.  All of us can return to our work for the day much sooner than has been the case previously.  This means we will no longer be spending time cooking and preparing to feed a dozen missionaries every Friday.  This we will miss (we still think this might have been the “meal of the week” for most of them) and we know the missionaries will miss it as well but we are all excited for a new course.  This past Friday was our first such meeting and it was great.  We will admit that we fudged just a little and took some treats for everyone as they left our meeting.  Another change is that our FHE will no longer be mission sponsored but rather under the direction of the Branch Presidents.  This is of course the way it should be and since we had to be gone on Monday night anyway, Family Home Evening was canceled for this week and the next one as well while the Branch President considers what and how to organize for this.  We may still end up hosting FHE every Monday but things could be a whole lot different and we might not be involved at all.  So – two big meals a week we are no longer preparing – at least for now.  Although we will miss doing this and the obvious associations that it brings we are going to enjoy the break I believe.  Those are a couple of the more temporal changes coming out of our Zone Conference which were just a small part of much more far reaching commitments to study, serve, and teach more diligently. 

Quickly, we want to mention that we had about a 6 hour lay-over in Moscow on Monday when we flew to Helsinki on Mission business.  So we took advantage of that and rode the Aeroexpress train from the airport to downtown Moscow, about a 30 minute ride.  We transferred to the Metro and headed for Red Square.  This was our first visit there and it was quite impressive.  We did not have enough time to tour the Kremlin but certainly saw most everything else, St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin’s Tomb, etc.  We also spent some time touring the various Metro stations.  These stations are quite impressive in their own right.  After the government took over following the revolution they tore down all the churches and many of the furnishings, statutes, etc. were removed and ultimately used to furnish the metro stations.  Huge high backed marble pews serve as waiting benches, and statues of all sizes and shapes, mosaics, stained glass, etc. all decorate the various metro stops.  It was pretty amazing not to mention that the metro itself is an amazing maze of interconnected trains and stops.  We were glad to have another couple serving in Moscow who graciously hosted us for about a “3 hour tour” of central Moscow.  They were great guides and delivered us safely back to the train station for our return trip to the airport.  We continued our journey to Helsinki took care of our assignment there and returned home the next day.   The rest of the week was spent catching up with our regular work and just plain catching up.   We also celebrated Olga’s birthday with a little office party Friday afternoon when we got back from our District meeting. 

We are now looking forward to the arrival of the Gundersens this week. 
                                       Here are some pics in and around Moscow
We thought this "Church" was pretty impressive
Today this is a Museum

rym (Goom)
Moscow's central shopping mall - extends about 1block on each side of this picture
The inside is even more impressive
(Don't let the "girls" loose in here!!!)

A constuction site in the city - nice idea with the canvas

Sponge Bob!! - (for all you fans)
 Angles Gate in the background - the main entrance
to Red Square

One of the many mosaics deep in the Metro of Moscow

Part of the "Old Wall" around Red Square
Kremlin is the yellow building in the background
Elder & Sister Webb standing by "our city"- Novosibirsk
outside the Kremlin Wall

Sister Webb found her favorite Statue inside the Metro
couln't pass this one up!!!

And here is the one we all go to see -
St. Basil's Cathedral
Has not been a religious structure since the Bolshevik Revolution

A little closer look at this magnificent Cathedral
Marks the center of Moscow; Construction began in 1555
by Ivan the Terrible

Sunday, September 9, 2012

District Conference Week

Actually, this has been one of the most quiet and nicest weeks since arriving in Siberia.  The weather has been the best – it is a balmy 77 degrees as we write this on Sunday evening at 6pm.  Blue skies, cool fall nights, some fall colors beginning to show up in the trees, gardens and crops being harvested – it is just like home.  Pres. and Sister Gibbons have been gone on a Mission Tour with a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, Randall Bennett who also serves as 1st Counselor in our Area Presidency, and his wife.  They all returned to Novosibirsk Thursday evening just in time for our Mission District Council Meeting.  This meeting is held twice a month by skype and District Council members (similar to the Stake High Council) and District and Mission Presidency members from across Siberia joined via vidyou for the meeting.  It is monumental for the church in Siberia to be able to reach across these vast distances where the people have been so isolated and repressed for so many years.  You can see the dark clouds of oppression that have been hanging over this great country for so many years, lifting to let the light of hope and prosperity shine through brighter and brighter each day.  This is truly a great and wonderful country.

Friday was our Mission wide dual Zone Conference and all the missionaries came into the city for a day of instruction and training from Elder and Sister Bennett and Pres. and Sister Gibbons.  When we first arrived in Siberia there were about 70 missionaries serving here and those numbers dropped to a total of 60.  We have now ramped up our numbers to the mid 80’s and by December we will have over 90 missionaries serving here.  22 of those will be sister missionaries.  Needless to say it was quite a gathering on Friday to have them all here and meeting together.  The instruction was blunt, pointed and no holds barred but delivered with much love.  One Elder said it was a “spiritual” slap in the face – a real wake-up call for him.  Another said he had never been “chewed-out” and felt so good about it afterwards and another that he had never felt so loved while being “called on the carpet”.  Goals were set, commitments made, and many new leaves were turned over.  It was a great and very successful Zone Conference.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with District Conference leadership meetings and general sessions, all of which were very uplifting and inspiring.  We, ourselves, were motivated to be better in our service and in our relationships with each other and those around us.  Throughout the weekend we have been blessed to have the other Senior Couples in the mission here in the city so we have spent much time with them in between the various sessions and meetings of our conference.  They have all returned to their respective cities this evening and one couple returns home to the USA so things have quieted down considerably for us.  Tonight we are preparing for a quick trip to Helsinki in the morning and will return home Wednesday morning.  Have a great week.  You are each in our thoughts and prayers every day. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Visa Trip to Germany

4 down and 1 to go; in this case not a punting situation, we just completed our 4th visa trip and we will take one more such trip in November and then when that visa expires we will head for home.  It hardly seems possible but we’ll save that discussion for another time.  This past week was another amazing experience.  We were able to travel to Frankfurt, Germany for this visa trip where we attended the Temple in Fredricksdorf, about a 30 minute drive northwest from Frankfurt.  It was great to get back to the temple and be reminded of why we are here and what we have promised our Heavenly Father we would do with our lives.  It is a very small temple but its beauty greatly overshadowed its size.

When we came out of the Temple Sister Webb’s  sister who is living in Wales was there with her husband to meet us.  They had ferried across the English Channel and driven down to Frankfurt to spend a couple of days with us.  It is the first any of her family has been able to “personally connect” since her Mom passed away in June so it was a special time for both of the sisters.  They spent one whole day together while Thayer’s husband Keith and I got in a round of golf at the Mainz Golf Club.  It was great to be back on the course but it has been a long time.  I can say that I ended the day with at least the same amount of balls as I started with but they were all much less quality and much more used than the starting line-up.

We spent one day on a river tour up the Rhine which was breathtaking.  We will definitely want to go back and take a longer trip so we can see more of the Rhine Valley.  There were castles on every bend, some in use and some not, old toll houses in the middle of the river and vineyards growing up and down the steep mountains on both sides of the river.  Those vineyards had to be planted on at least a 60degree incline. 

We stayed in a hotel in Weisbaden which is home to the big American military base in Germany, although we saw no signs of any military personnel anywhere we went.  We spent one afternoon walking through the parks and exploring the city there a little and stopped for dinner in a little sidewalk cafĂ©.  It reminded us a lot of our trip to Prague.  Our last day, as we travelled back to the airport, we stopped in a little town, “Weilbach” I think it was called, for some lunch.  We found a small local restaurant there so we went in and sat down.   It became quickly apparent that this was going to be more difficult that we had considered.  We of course spoke no German and the waitress, cook, other patrons, or anyone else in that establishment spoke no English.  There was no one who could help us understand what we were ordering.  So after being taken back to the kitchen to actually “see” the entrees (which did not help at all), and numerous hand gestures and guttural noises we just ordered one each of the first four meals on the menu and shared.  It was quite fun, the food was tasty, and the waitress let out an audible sigh and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand upon discovering that we truly enjoyed our meal and had eaten everything.

We are now back on duty as it were facing the numerous tasks that pile up when we are away.  Elder Bennett of our Area Presidency is on a Mission tour with Pres. and Sister Gibbons and will be in town the end of this next week.  We have a missionary Zone Conference on Thursday and then a Mission District Conference on the weekend with sessions on Saturday and Sunday.  We will be broadcasting this conference across Siberia and Kazakhstan (our entire mission).  We are hoping that with a successful broadcast of training and general sessions we can set the stage for becoming a Stake very soon. 

Life is good, the weather is warm, we are still able to get up in the mornings and carry on for most of each day!  What more could one ask.  We pray for each of you, our family and friends, every day and thank you all for taking the time to write and email and call to keep us connected.  We love you all.
Worlds largest Cuckoo Clock

A Castle on the Rhine

Another Castle
Notice the Vineyards all the way up the Mtn

Sister Webb w/her sister in Wiesbaden