Sunday, February 17, 2013

Last Week in Siberia

It has been snowing all week and as the snow continues to pile up and the ice build-up on the sidewalks grows larger we ask ourselves – will it really be hard to leave Siberia?  The answer is always the same – absolutely!  Our last week in Siberia was filled with tears (mostly frozen), sweet goodbyes, lots of hugs and promises to stay in touch and possibly connect again sometime in the future.  Last Sunday evening we spoke in a fireside meeting with the Young Single Adults (18-30) in Novosibirsk, Monday a little last minute shopping, Tuesday some final training with the Gundersens who will fill in for us, Wednesday our daughter Sarah arrived so we spent some time showing her a little bit of the city and then attending a “going away” party at the church – we spoke again!

Having Sarah come is really a special treat and she brought much cheer with her.  Although, we are sorry that she walked into the middle of a Siberian Winter, we think she did quite well for her first day.  She flew from Salt Lake to Moscow with the US Ski Team on their way to Ukraine so that was kind of fun and as it turned out quite fortuitous (a story for another time).  She had a long layover in Moscow so one of our recently returned missionaries and a friend met her at the airport and showed her around Moscow which she really enjoyed. – Thank you Max V.

Thursday afternoon we had lunch with everyone in the office.  This was a pretty poignant event but we enjoyed taking a few moments to tell them good bye and share special memories they each have contributed to our time here.  In the evening we hosted our building podeze for a little open house to tell everyone goodbye and a big thank you for being so kind and helpful this past year we have lived in the building.  Russians don’t do this sort of thing they hardly speak to the people on their own floor let alone the building so it was interesting but quite fun although only one person came.  Our landlord also stopped by with a little gift and  Marina V and her mom Lenna came over and visited for awhile.

Friday we finished up at the office, finalized our packing and then in the evening we took Sarah to the Opera House and enjoyed a Ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty – quite breath-taking as usual.  Then Saturday morning we left for the airport around 4:00am.  We missed seeing President and Sister Gibbons who were returning from a Mission Presidents Seminar that same morning.  Their plane arrived at 5:50 and ours departed at 6:30 so of course we were in different parts of the airport.  We arrived in St Petersburg at 8:30 am (3 hour time difference) dropped our luggage at the mission home and boarded a train for Finland.  We needed to activate our new visas so we rode the train to Finland, turned around in the train station, re-entered Russia and returned to St Petersburg.  Sarah stayed at the Mission Home with President and Sister Clark while we made the little jaunt to Helsinki.  They have been so gracious and kind and helpful.  They just returned from the week long Mission Presidents Seminar as well so we knew they were tired but they greeted us and took care of us in grand manor.  We spent the evening and all day Sunday with President and Sister Clark getting briefed and going over schedules and calendars of upcoming events. We met some of the missionaries and members and will be ready to go in the morning.

This is an overwhelming assignment but we look forward to the next few weeks with great anticipation.  St Petersburg is an amazingly beautiful and historical city so we hope our duties will give us opportunity to experience much of what the city has to offer.  We know it is our love of the Savior and His gospel that has brought us here and we will serve Him and the people of St Petersburg the very best we can.  We love you all and look forward to seeing you soon.
George and Alicia from our English Group
Hard to say goodbye to good friends

Pyotr - also from English
We learned more from Him than he from us
of this we are certain

Nastia and Dasha from the Young Single Adults with
a parting gift for us
Very special album of some precious people and memories

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Delayed Departure - Humbling Assignment

Just when you think you have things figured out and plans fairly well set they start throwing curve balls.  This past week we received a telephone call that did just that.  Our Area President, President Lawrence, who oversees all the missions in Eastern Europe, called with a request.  The Mission President in St. Petersburg needs to return to the States for about 4 weeks and they asked if we would be able to stay in Russia, move to St. Petersburg and fill in for him while he is away.  The practical part of us said NO, this will not work, we have plans, flights and are ready to return home but our hearts, beliefs, and testimony had us saying yes of course we will help.  SO –

We will NOT be home on the 22nd of February as planned – instead on the 16th of February we will move to St. Petersburg and will serve  there as the Mission President  for anywhere from two to four weeks.  We are excited for this additional opportunity and will of course let you know, when we know for sure, concerning our return.

This week was transfer week so things get pretty busy around here with Elders coming in from the outlying cities, changing companions, greeting new incoming missionaries, etc.  We received 4 new elders this week, one from the Tri-Cities.  It was fun to have a chance to visit with him a bit as we did orientation for all of them.  Two Elders went home – one to Utah and the other (a Russian native) to Moscow.  It is always sad to tell them goodbye but we rejoice for them as well as they begin a new phase in their life having been prepared in the Mission Field.  This one was doubly sad as we knew it would be our last transfer here in Novosibirsk.

After sending off our two elders and orienting 4 new ones we prepared for our District meeting on Friday.  We will have one more of these meetings this coming Friday and then Saturday morning we will travel to St Petersburg.  This week we will spend finalizing things in the office, packing, and trying to say goodbye to everyone here.  We will write next week from St. Petersburg and fill you in on the details.

Friday evening we had dinner with President and Sister Gibbons and spent a wonderful evening with them as we reviewed many of the aspects and highlights of our time in the mission.  Saturday we spent some time packing, working in the office and we also received some information on our new assignment from Pres. Clark of the Russia St Petersburg Mission.  I think when that info came into the office was when the full impact of our new assignment finally hit home!!!  We walked over to Elder and Sister Gundersen’s apt for dinner later that evening and then returned home to a little more packing.  I think we are about there???

Sunday (today) was another tear jerker for us.  It was our last Sunday in Berdsk and the people there (2 Elders and 3 members) made it very difficult for us to say goodbye.  It was, however, a very sweet experience with them today.  The people here are so wonderful, kind, loving, and patient (especially with our bad Russian skills).  We have come to love them so very much.  We know they have changed  our lives forever.
Elder Kelly - Going Home

Still room for a couple more pounds

Making Progress

Tatyana from Berdsk
An accomplished Russian Chef and a parting treat for us
It's called a "Granite Ring"
Looks like a dessert but is really a potatoe/beet salad.
Pickles, Shredded Potatoes, Shredded Beets, Chicken & Mayo
topped with Pomegranate
The beets bleed through the mayo and it looks like Raspberry frosting
VERY deceiving but VERY tasty

Our Last Evening with Pres and Sister Gibbons
"Parting is such sweet sorrow"

The truck of my dreams.  I want to take this home
with me but haven't figured out how just yet.
Don't you just want one?!!

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Winding Down"

This week was the start of “the lasts”.  For example Today was our last Fast Sunday in Russia.  It is hard to even imagine that because in so many ways it seems like we have just arrived.  It is hard though not to think about coming home to family and friends and when those thoughts do surface then it seems like such a long time since we have seen those so close to us. 

We had another great Sunday in Berdsk.  This week we didn’t go out there until Sunday morning.  The Elders serving there were both on visa trip and didn’t get back until very early Sunday morning so we just stayed in Novosibirsk Saturday night and took a taxi to Berdsk this morning.  The first Sunday of every month is set aside as “Fast Sunday” where we all fast for two meals and contribute the cost of those meals to the Church Welfare Fund to care for the hungry and less fortunate. Also the regular Church service that day is for the sharing of personal testimony.  Our two ladies who are being taught by the missionaries came to our meeting again this week and both of them shared very sweet and touching testimonies about how they have come to know the truthfulness of the gospel and the teachings of the Savior.  It was a really great meeting.  We will attend again next week (our last in Berdsk) then we’ll all meet with the Branch in Novosibirsk on the 17th (our last Sunday in Russia) and that Friday (the 22nd) we will start for home.  Absolutely unbelievable!!

This past week has been pretty busy and full.  We were at the Gundersens on Monday evening for Family Home Evening.  Natalia was the only other person there but we had a great time with her.  After the lesson we played a few rounds of UNO which is one of Natalia’s favorite games.  Tuesday evening we went to dinner with President Gibbons and two sisters serving in Tomsk.  One of them had to return home for some medical issues and they had come into the city so President could interview the sister going home and get all the arrangements finalized for her flight home on Wednesday morning.  Since Sister Gibbons was away we were privileged to accompany President while he took the Sisters to dinner.  Wednesday evening there was a special performance of a Leonard Bernstein musical at the Opera house which we had been able to get tickets to attend.  Quite interesting – the lyrics of course are in English but sung by Russian performers so not totally understandable.  Thank Heaven they had subtitles projected over the stage – IN RUSSIAN!!  Imagine.  The music and singing was great and the performers were magnificent. 

Thursday evening we made Banana-chocolate chip bread for district meeting the next day.  Since several of our Elders were out on visa trip and the Sisters were confined to their apt (doctor’s orders as they were feeling poorly) we expected a small crew.  Boy, were we wrong!  Friday rolled around and the time for District meeting arrived – they just kept coming.  We ended up with twelve Elders from around the mission who had accompanied their companions to the city for the visa trip and then were waiting for them here for the day.  Anyway, we always have way more food than we need but we were well under prepared for this group.  Twelve young men, large in stature and appetites began to eat everything they could find.  We were going through cupboards looking for more before the afternoon was over.  It was fun and enjoyable and we managed to get them filled up for their afternoon and evening of working in the cold.  The District meeting was awesome as well.  We talked about setting goals and working toward making them happen.  This was particularly good for the two of us as our future begins to play out over the next several months. 

We feel so blessed to have had this wonderful opportunity to serve here in the heart of Russia.  The people have been fantastic and our time here has been amazing.   We know that our Heavenly Father knows and loves all of his children no matter where we live or what our circumstance may be.  We have seen evidence of His care for his children in the lives of the people of Siberia and we have seen and felt His love in their eyes and through their hearts.