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