Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Christmas Week

Monday – Christmas Eve Day-was spent preparing for the BIG day on Tuesday.  We had all the Elders and Sisters in our District over throughout the morning to skype with their parents.  Sister Webb of course fed them each breakfast when they arrived at their designated times which to their delight included her home made cinnamon rolls.  It was a real treat for us to be able to meet at least some of the families and to be able to say hi and Merry Christmas to some of the moms.  These are wonderful missionaries and we love them all so much.  All the calls went fairly smoothly throughout the morning from 8am when the Sisters came over until around 1pm when the last ones finished up.  Then it was off to the Mission Home for Christmas Dinner.

We had a wonderful time sharing Dinner, some counsel from our Mission President, a couple of musical numbers and a “happy” white elephant gift exchange.  We all pitched in to clean up a bit and then we were off to the Opera House to enjoy the “Nutcracker” - on Christmas Day.  Missionaries are permitted one cultural activity every other transfer so everyone chose this one – since there were 23 of us we had purchased tickets scattered throughout the opera house.  It was a terrific evening.

The rest of the week was pretty much business as usual except that Thursday the lock on the office door froze and broke so we couldn’t get in.  The office Elders and Sister Olga climbed through the kitchen window so they at least were able to get in but Sister Webb and I were not for that kind of activity so we waited patiently in our WARM apt for it to get fixed.  They came and took the lock out of the door so we finally got in around noon and then by 5pm or so they were back with replacement or refurbished lock sets and everything was back to normal.

Friday evening we spent with Elder and Sister Gundersen just visiting and having a little gift exchange.  We went over to their place after our Districts Meetings were over.  It is so fun to visit with them, compare notes on our activities since the last time we visited, and just reflect together on our experiences in Siberia.  We feel so blessed to have such close and wonderful friends serving with us here to share these experiences.

Saturday it was off to Barnaul, a city south of Novosibirsk about 5 hours by car.  We travelled with President and Sister Gibbons and Elder Guschin and Sister Guschina.  Barnaul was the only city in the mission which we had not yet had an opportunity to visit so this was really a special trip for us as it gave us a chance to be with the members in this wonderful city.  They have just completed a new church building in Barnaul and we went down for the dedication.  The Holmes, a senior couple serving their 3rd mission to Siberia and their 5th mission total are in Barnaul so this was a great opportunity to see them as well.  It will probably be the last time we will see them before we finish our mission so it was a little sad as we bid them goodbye and headed home to Novosibirsk.

We are not too sure how the next couple of weeks will shape up.  We remember from last year that this is the time that Russia pretty much shuts down as they celebrate the Old New Year on January 1 and the New New Year on January 7.  Everyone is on holiday from the 1st to the 13th so things should be kind of slow which we will not mind as it will give us a chance to get everything organized before our departure in February.  We are so looking forward to seeing you all.

Happy New Year to everyone and may the Lord smile upon you and your families and bless you with a prosperous and joyful 2013.  See you soon.

Santa visited - left something for all the missionaries
Ded Moroz (left) Snegarochka (right) and
New Years Tree in front of our Library
next door to our apt

Christmas Night at "The Nutcracker"

Sister Missionaries at Barnaul with
Sister Gushina (middle)

Elders at Barnaul with Mission President (right) and
Area Seventy to his left

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunrise in Berdsk

After our entry of last week we were thinking it just couldn’t get any colder – but – IT DID!!  It has warmed up a touch this weekend but the end is not in sight – we still have a good 2 months of WINTER left to go.  Check out this link (control click) about the record colds all over Russia.  This has been the coldest winter in over SEVENTY, yes 70, years – and we are here.  WOW.

Except for the cold it has been a fairly normal week for us with missionaries going home, new arrivals coming in, visa trips and transfers; pretty exciting to say the least.  Sending missionaries home is always hard for us as we come to love each of them so much and knowing we will likely not see them again makes it very difficult.  This time was particularly hard because we sent home Sister Sanford who had served most of her mission very close to us and we watched her grow in her missionary service.  She is a shining example of devoted service and one who will forever be close to our hearts.  We also had two sisters and one elder who arrived this week to begin their missions here.

Along with all that we had a pretty big transfer intertwined with a big visa trip so we had elders and sisters coming in and out of the office all week.  Things finally settled back to some state of “normal” if there is such a thing just in time for our Branch Christmas Party on Saturday.  An interesting point – at our English Conversation Group on Wednesday evening we talked some of Families and traditions and the conversation naturally came around to Christmas Family traditions.  Most of the young people in attendance really couldn’t think of any in their families and then one of them explained that during the Soviet Times they did away with the religious holidays including Christmas and began celebrating the day on Jan 7th as the Russian New Year more of a political holiday.  So “traditions” shifted to different days and Christmas was lost - quite sad and interesting.  Today much of Christmas is re-emerging and the people and of course the “businesses” are making much more out of Christmas.  We went shopping on Thursday evening to one of the malls close by and it looked like Christmas at any city mall back home.  We also can notice a great deal of difference between this Christmas season and last as there is just more “Christmas” everywhere this year.  And people are much the same the world over; i.e. when I was browsing through one store I saw an older couple shopping together in the women’s department.  The husband looked bored out of his mind and kept looking for a place to sit and I thought to myself – “I feel your pain”.  Anyway, I just chuckled inside thinking about how much we are all the same no matter what language we speak or in what country we happen to live.

Yesterday we were back out in Berdsk for Sunday meetings with the little group out there.  Elder and Sister Gundersen came out with us on Saturday evening so we had a “sleep over” and then on Sunday they both spoke at our meeting.  They did a great job speaking mostly in English but some in Russian.  It was great to have them with us.  On our way home we took a little detour t into a different part of Berdsk to visit what is purported to be the oldest Orthodox Temple in Siberia, built in the 1600’s.  We have been told that Berdsk is also one of the oldest towns in Siberia.  This church/temple was much more elaborate on the outside and the inside was more simply decorated than many we have seen but very impressive all the same. 

We want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and hope that the Spirit of Christ fills your hearts and homes this holiday season.  We love you all very much and are excited to be coming home soon to our family and friends.  We will cherish our last couple of months here in spite of the cold among the many new friends we have met. 
Sunrise in Berdsk
from the Apt window

Berdsk Ice Sculpture Park
taking shape

Russian Orthodox
Very Impressive and Unique

Just us on a cold Sunday afternoon
in front of the Xpam(Temple)

Huddling with the Gundersens
Trying to stay warm

Sunday, December 16, 2012

44 Below - Ouch

A true Siberian Winter.  We have discovered that last winter was just a tease with its small amount of snow and only a few days of really cold weather in late January.   It has been in the minus 40’s this week and the outlook is for more of the same - maybe sneaking into the minus 30’s next week.  It was a -44 on Friday and a balmy -42 for our big dual zone conference on Wednesday.  Zone Conference was amazing as always with great counsel and instruction from President and Sister Gibbons the Zone Leaders and Assistants.  We heard very special testimonies and parting words from 2 Elders and 2 Sisters who will be returning home next week and then Sister Webb and I were asked to speak and share our testimonies since this would be our last Zone Conference. 

It was hard to wrap our heads around the fact that we will be back home before the next Zone Conference rolls around.  It doesn’t seem possible that we have been here that long.  Standing in front of these amazingly good and spiritually strong young missionaries was quite intimidating to be sure.  We both enjoyed the opportunity to share our feelings about this great work with them and the wonders of Russia and its people as they seek for a better life and a hope in Christ.  It is amazing to watch and to be a part of what is happening in this land of the lost tribes of Israel.

All of our Senior couples were here for the Zone Conference  so we all rendezvoused at the mission office and walked over to the conference – (check out the picture) it was as mentioned just a minus 42 for our short walk to the Branch Building.  The next day our dear friends the Gundersens flew out to Helsinki on their first visa trip, hard to believe they have been here long enough to need a visa renewal.

We finished up the week with District meeting on Friday and then out to Berdsk on Saturday for the weekend and church meetings on Sunday.  Church with the members in Berdsk is a special time and this week Pres. and Sister Gibbons came out to visit our little group.  President spoke to us in our Sacrament Meeting, joined with us in Sunday School and then Sister Webb and I were blessed to catch a ride back to Novosibirsk with President and Sister Gibbons – (remember our experience last week when we missed our stop on the train ride back).  It was great to get a ride right to the door of our apt in this cold weather (-40 today). 

For anyone interested, it looks like we will be coming home on the 22nd of   February, arriving in Wenatchee about midnight if everything goes right and the weather cooperates.  We are excited to return home but are approaching this time with sadness in our hearts for the people and work we will leave behind. We will for sure leave a bit of our hearts here in Russia and hope to be able to return someday to rekindle the friendships we have made with the people here. At the same time we are so very anxious to embrace you, our friends we have left at home and to share our wonderful experiences with you. 
Getting Ready to go out

44 Below - That's the Mission Home in the Background
peaking out of the "Frozen Air"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nativities in the House

Do you know how I can tell when Christmas is getting close??  Sister Webb starts breaking out the Nativities and all the accompaniments that go along with them.  OK. I admit I love this time of year and all the festiveness that comes with it.  I love how it makes us kinder, softer and just simply more pleasant toward one another (most of us anyway) as we remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.  We don’t have a lot of decorations around here but we have chosen a few pictures to share with you some of the ornamentation we have collected over the past year.  We have had a great time getting our apartment ready this past week and when all the Elders and Sisters came over for District Meeting on Friday they loved it so that made it all worth the effort.  Besides all the decorating the week has been crazy. 

Pres. and Sister Gibbons returned from that extensive trip to visit the members and missionaries in Kazakhstan that we mentioned last week.  So we had a big staff meeting on Tuesday to get caught up and regrouped in preparation for the next round of transfers, new arriving missionaries, Kazak visa applications and due to a change of policy from our Area Presidency we have two visa trips this month one each week coming up in two weeks.  And our washing machine quit!!

We talked to our faithful Bro. Pyotr about the washer.  He in turn called our landlord, who called the repairman.  This is the routine when you don’t know enough Russian to carry on a technical conversation with an appliance repair guy – let alone know how to get a hold of one.    He responded, an appointment was made and he came over Friday evening to fix the washer.  Funny thing here is – Elder and Sister Gundersen came over as well for dinner and a visit on Friday evening.  While we ate dinner the repair guy fixed the washer.  Both activities took place in our small kitchen.  You should have seen the four of us trying to engage the repairman in some sort of a conversation.  He was a great guy and we could tell he was interested in our conversation so we made a gallant attempt.  Between the four of us we learned a little about his family and that his kids spoke some English.  He didn’t.  It was great and another reminder of how much we still haven’t learned.  He had to come back on Saturday morning with one more part but we are back in business so will have clean clothes to wear. 

Saturday afternoon we packed a bag and headed for Berdsk again.  We had nine at church on Sunday – two more than last week but the two extras were our young office elders who we talked into coming out to speak in our meeting.  They did a great job and it swelled the ranks too.  We served borscht and kelbasa for lunch after church.  The borscht we brought from our apt in Novosibirsk.  Sister Webb and I spent one entire evening making the borscht which was pretty darn good and solicited rave reviews from all partakers.  After dinner everyone went home, we cleaned up the apt, packed our bag and then ventured out ON OUR OWN to make our way back to Novosibirsk (a one hour journey).  We decided to try the public transportation rather than a simple taxi ride (about $5us or 150 rubles as compared to$50us or 1500 rubles).  We let me tell you – this was like an Amazing Race adventure.  Although, we knew a little of what we were getting into it still was exhilarating.  We first climbed into a Marshootka (a small van that has seats for 15 plus a driver but usually carries around 20+) for the twenty minute ride to the train station.  Once there we purchased tickets for the train to Novosibirsk, about a 1 hour ride.  Problem – which track to be on to board the train.  We asked several people before we finally found one young girl who took the time to listen to our Russian and tell us we were in the right place.  We got on the train – no boarding platform – you just hop up about 3 feet to the first step right from the ground in the middle of the train yard and began to enjoy the ride home.  We enjoyed it too long as we missed our stop and after several Russians speaking a mile a minute tried to help we decided to get off at the next stop.  Good news – we were still within the city limits of Novosibirsk – Bad news we had about a 30 minute walk to get back to our neighborhood.  We finally made it!!  Thank you all very much for your continued prayers – we are sure it is only because of you that we are surviving.  We now look back on that little episode with fondness, well it at least gives us a chuckle.

Christmas Corner w/window decor sent from our daughters

Nativity from Prague

Nativity from Kazakhstan

The Fisher-Price "family favorite"

Door to the "Crazy Americans" apt
also from our daughters

overlooking the train
this is where we got off but also looks like where we got on

Enjoying the "long walk" home
stopped for a quick rest in front of a big Russian Orthodox church
Please have a great week, enjoy the Christmas season and know that we love you all.  Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers you send our way.  We will see you all soon.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blessings in Berdsk

We just returned from Kyiv, Ukraine on our last visa trip.  We now are holding our last 90 day Russian visa and must be out of the country no later than 25 February 2013 – 87 days but who is counting??  We travelled to Kyiv on Monday arriving there in the early evening after spending the entire day flying or in airports plus gaining 5 hours in the process.  Needless to say we were pretty wiped out so sleep came easy.  Tuesday we had the day in Kyiv so we went to the Kyiv Temple and spent some time there doing temple work as well as taking in the three major cathedrals in the city, St Sophia’s, St. Michaels, and St. Andrew’s.  These were amazing to see and learn about.  We didn’t have much time as this was a quick visa trip but we would definitely love to return to Kyiv someday and see the rest of this beautiful city, the cradle of Christianity in Russia.  We hope you enjoy the pictures we included .   We spent the day Wednesday flying home, losing the five hours we had gained, arriving at 6:00am on Thursday morning.

It was then business as usual back at the office on Thursday, District Meeting on Friday and Saturday was spent preparing for our first official organized church meeting in Berdsk on Sunday.  We had many supplies to gather and items for the Senior Couple apartment to procure before making the trip to Berdsk on Saturday afternoon.  That afternoon we spent in District Meeting with the 2 Elders assigned to Berdsk, planning our upcoming meetings for December and reviewing the work being accomplished in the city.  It looks like we will be having a few lessons taught in the apartment there on Saturday evenings and Sundays after church.  Everyone is anxious and excited for Elder and Sister Beck to arrive the middle of January so there will be a Senior Couple in the city 24/7.    

Church on Sunday was simply the best.  Sister Webb played the piano (an electric portable keyboard), Elder Bunnell led the music, I conducted the meeting (mostly in Russian) and Elder Leonhart and Bro Vatalie administered the sacrament.  All seven of us bore our testimonies during testimony meeting and Bro Vatalie taught our Sunday School Lesson.  We then shared a light meal after the meeting to “break the fast”.  The three members attending were so warm and appreciative of being able to attend church in their own town and not having to make the long and expensive trip into Novosibirsk every Sunday.  Everyone had a very uplifting afternoon as we traded stories and shared experiences before, during and after our meetings.  Sister Webb and I made it back to Novosibirsk safely by evening.  It is a little over an hour to Bersdk from here so it is a bit of a trip in the winter.  It was easy to see why the members were so thrilled to be having church so close to home.

Pres. and Sister Gibbons have been in the Kazakhstan part of the mission these past few days so we look forward to their return this week and getting back to a state of normalcy if there is such a thing.  Everyday seems to bring new and exciting challenges and experiences making serving here an unbelievable part of our lives.  Everyone have a fantastic week, stay warm, work hard and know that Heavenly Father knows who you are and what you desire.
St Sophia

St Michaels

St Andrew's

LDS Kyiv Temple

-19c & Snowing
Siberian Zeema is HERE

Kite Boarding on Mora Ob (Ob Sea)
Actually a lake
If you click on the pic I think you can see the sails?

First Meeting in Berdsk
Big things are about to happen here!!