Sunday, July 27, 2014

Its Official... We are leaving St. Petersburg

What an amazing journey the Lord has given us over the past 6+ months in St. Petersburg, Russia. We still miss all of you back home in Utah, our work family at Preferred, and our other dear friends throughout the world. We are thankful that the Lord has called us to serve of the people of Russia at this time and grow together as we serve others. As many of you know, working in the mission office was a temporary assignment to help the departing and incoming mission presidents run and administer the mission through their transition. 

We had the best of both worlds, because we could work in the office in the day and go out teaching with the missionaries each evening. We were able to hit the streets with the missionaries :-), participate in many baptisms, serve closely with two different mission presidents and watch each one act on inspiration from the Lord in guiding the mission.  We have been asked to serve the next portion of our mission in Kaliningrad, Russia. The missionaries who have served there say it is an amazing area to serve with wonderful members of the church, and we are very excited.  The gloves in this picture were given to us by some very dear friends and represent true companionship. There are only 3 gloves and the third one has a place for both our hands :-)

We have enjoyed the views of many buildings as we walk along the river. As you can see from the map at the beginning of the blog, Kaliningrad is a small remote area of Russia. We have to go through several countries as we drive to that area. It is a strategic area for Russia, because of its access to the waterway and strategic position to the other countries. I will provide a link to information on Kaliningrad for those of you who would like to learn more about our new area.   Kaliningrad was given to Russia after WWII and still has a German influence in the country, that will be fun to experience. I am glad my Russian language skills are improving, as we hit the streets full time in our teaching. 

One thing we will miss the most in St. Petersburg is its beautiful architecture and culture. Each week we are able to share the beauty from all around St. Petersburg. We set a goal each week to have a date night and experience the area for at least 4 hours. The pictures to the left and below are of a Russian restaurant we like to go with dancing waitresses. Many times we just walk through the street amazed at the detail in the buildings, statues, pictures, churches, metro stations, bridges and streets. 

I love stopping to talk to the fisherman along the river to see how they are doing and watching all the beautiful cars go up and down the streets.  We are traveling to Novgorod and Pskov next weekend to look at some new apartments for the three other senior couples that will be coming into the mission. These are also amazing cities and we plan to post some pictures of these areas next week. 

Kathy and I went to the flea market yesterday with the Briggs.  They are finishing their mission in August and will leave to go home after serving 18 months. They will leave the same time we leave for Kaliningrad and will be missed. They have been amazing friends that we hope to continue that friendship and visit them in Idaho after our mission. 

The flea market was an amazing experience because people come from all over to bring their wares and put them out for others to buy. These items ranged from old underwear and shoes to pieces of engines, old electronics, videos, coins and probably anything you can imagine.  I will post some pictures of the area for you to enjoy while you read about our other adventures.

This mixture of people is a good example of Russia. This culture is shaped by the survival of people who survived all the different political, economical and emotional transitions over the years. Their ancestors survived the 900-day siege by Germany, they survived the transition from old Russia to the new Russia, they are a very proud and wonderful people. You can see that in the faces of each person as you walk along the path.

Many of the people selling stuff at the market were older and I think this was also a social opportunity for them. They bring their blankets and carry their wares from all over in hope of a sale that will put some food on their table. There were hundreds of people milling around and we enjoyed the time together. 

After we went to the flea market we took the metro over to the Herimtage. On the way there I snapped a quick picture of one of the wedding limos they use when someone gets married. They go all over town taking pictures on their wedding day with the whole wedding party.  

In the Hermitage we visited the lower floor to see all of the Greek and Roman sculptures. There were also several ancient burial chambers and a mumified body that dated back to the time of Christ. It was amazing to see the various sculptures and think of this amazing civilization and the stone masons who sculpted these amazing works of art from stone. 

These past two weeks were action packed with training, teaching, exercise and laughter. We said goodbye to our good friend, Sergei, as he transferred to another area of the mission. We also had Ivan, another one of the staff depart, so the transition has been difficult. When you work so closely with the staff they become family.

This time allowed us to share in the lives of all the missionaries instead of just those called to serve in our smaller area. The new office couple arrived last week and we will train them on all the responsibilities of running the mission prior to our departure. They are excited to be here and will carry forward many of the traditions and open loving environment we have enjoyed and fostered for the missionaries. 

Sister Carter (Kathy to most of you) is an amazing person and accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. Her organization and smile quickly became a light in the life of each missionary and an amazing standard of truth in my life. We shared these first few months of our mission hand in hand as we walked or ran nearly 1000 miles to date. I figure we will log another 1000+ miles before we go home.  Kathy will kill me for putting this in the blog, but she is a model for the love and beauty a companion can bring to her husband on a mission. Kathy I love you and thank you for your willingness to serve the Lord under any conditions or circumstance. 

The people we have met and served within the mission and in the local wards and branches are amazing and welcomed us with open hearts. We have developed some amazing friends as they helped me understand the Russian language and we learned the gospel together. I wish I could name all the names, but we aren't allowed to post that information. Hopefully those of you who read this blog know who you are and how much you mean to us. 

We also had two of our youth teachers from the missionary training center visit us in Russia. We were able to take them to the Summer Gardens, and you can see from the picture we had a good time. They were on a study abroad program in Moscow for the past 2 months working in an orphanage and helping to teach life skills to the youth of Russia. They both served missions in Russia and are now in the Russian language study program at BYU. They are awesome.

The office staff and both mission presidents and their wives are truly divine and inspired of the Lord in their callings.  We have had the honor of watching them lead and inspire the missionaries and members within the wards and branches with a loving hand and big heart. 

The picture to the left is one of my many friends. He is not a member of the church and has also become a true friend. Many of you have asked about our family of birds. They continue to grow and we have one handicapped bird (one leg and a stump on the other). We named the handicapped bird Stumpy and we still have several new babies and it is fun to watch their mothers feed them. They sing to us each morning and wait on our porch to be fed.  We feed about 20 birds now and make a special food pile for Stumpy. He jumps down onto our porch to get the food while the others eat from the bowl. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Spear Fishing in Russia .... Check Out My Beautiful Adventure

I had the honor this week of using my personal day to join two great men in the office for a day of spearfishing. Sergei  is an employee of the church and is being transferred to another area, so we decided to do something together before he left. 

He has been a great friend and help to Kathy and me on our mission and so I am glad I had the chance to spend the day with him and Sasha, another church employee.  We rented some spearfishing equipment from a local vendor and decided to leave early on Friday morning.  

Sergei had spearfished before, but never in this area, so we headed about 4 hours north to a location near Petrozavodsk.
This is an area that has 600 lakes, so we thought we could find some good spearfishing areas. 

As you can see we didn’t shoot any big fish, but had a lot of fun checking out new areas and watching all the small fish. 

We took everything to make a fish stew, assuming we were successful. We spear fished there for about 4 hours and swam to multiple locations within the lake.  After this lake we drove about 50 minutes north to another area that was supposed to have good fishing. 

Finally at 1:30 in the morning we decided to bag the stew and just head back to St. Petersburg. We returned home the next morning at 6:30 am. It was neat to drive through the night, because it was a beautiful full moon and with the white nights it never really got very dark.

As you can see from the pictures it was a very successful outing and we got to see some amazing country, lots of little fish, many different lakes and had many wonderful laughes. We listened to Russian music all the way up and Sergei sang along with the music and it was awesome. Sergei and Sasha spoke mostly in Russian so it was good for me to hear and try to study the language. They could also both speak English so when I needed help they could talk with me in English. It was an amazing adventure and one to definitely be remembered.

Understanding I just got home at 6:30 a.m., I jumped into bed for 2 hours and then we headed off for the ward picnic. It was about 1 hour on metro and bus and then we walked about 20 minutes to the lake.  

We had about 70 people show up and it was a great time. We visited, played games, sang and ate some great shashlika.  The games included water balloon toss, relays, sand temple building, question and answer, etc.,  

I think everyone really enjoyed the picnic. We had several investigators come to the picnic and it was a great opportunity to meet them on a personal level and develop some strong friendships. We have met so many people in Russia and feel we have some strong friends.The picnic and spearfishing were the end to a very busy week.  

We had 12 missionaries going home this week, so we had to ensure all their bags, paperwork, finances and emotions were in check to return home. It is a very difficult time to see those young men and women who you love like your own children leave the mission after 18 months (girls) or 2 years (boys). Since these missionaries were going home we were able to share some pictures.

We are so proud of all of them and know that they are our future leaders. One of our office elders, Ty Brooks, went home this transfer and we will really miss him. He is an amazing young man and we definitely grew as we worked side by side with him for 3 months and really got to know him so well.

The morning we took them to the airport, we had to wake at 3:00 in the morning to get the vans loaded with all their bags, say goodbye and then we took them to the airport. Their flights were at 6:15 am so we had to be there by 4:30.  I went in with them and made sure they were checked in properly and paid for any extra baggage fees they had. Our mission president and his wife also got up early and went to the airport with us. They are fitting in well and will be a great contribution to the mission going forward.

We hosted three dinners at our house this week. One to celebrate a birthday, one to see some good friends, Tatiana and Lena, and a big appreciation dinner for Elder Brooks.  We also had the center sisters over with a new member who was recently baptized. We are also getting ready for the new office couple who arrive this week.   We are truly blessed to have such wonderful people in our lives.

This week, along with missionaries going home, we had two missionaries arrive and many others transfer within the mission. We had transfers on Wednesday and so we helped coordinate all the efforts associated with those events and it was fun to see so many missionaries.  

With so many going home there were a lot of changes so most of the missionaries were here during transfers. We had a testimony meeting where all the departing missionaries bore their testimonies and the spirit was amazing. We learn every day why we are here and that the gospel is true.  

The other amazing event we had this week was to travel out of the country on our visa trip. (We had the missionaries turn around to protect the innocent. haha) We have to leave Russia every 3 to 6 months, depending on the type of visa each missionary has and then re-enter. 

We literally drive for 2.5 hours to the border, walk across the bridge to get the stamps in our passports and on our visa’s, and then re-enter Russia.  We went to Narva, Estonia for the trip. 

The pictures you see are from the river where we go for the trip. There are two castles - one on each side of the river, where they used to protect their countries across the river.

In closing we would like to tell all of our kids how proud we are of them. Brandon and Alyse had a major triumph in their lives when Alyse ran a half marathon this weekend and finished in 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Brandon and Clara were at the finish line cheering, and Clara is so intelligent and beautiful. She is talking very well, running around and keeping her parents on their toes.  

Taylor got a new job working for a top roofing distributor in the valley and starts his final semester  at the university in August. Krista completed her final training at her new job with Primary Children's Hospital's newborn intensive care unit and their daughter, Mya, is learning to walk and talk. They just got a new pull-along trailer for their bikes and Mya loves to go riding with Taylor and Krista. 

Shawn got a great new job with Morgan Stanley and is preparing for his next semester of school. His wife, Alise, continues to do wonderful things running her own hair and eyelash company.  We are so proud of both of them for working so hard as entrepreneurs and building a strong marriage in the gospel. They just moved into a new townhome last week and are excited to have more room.  All the kids are doing amazing and spent last weekend together at Pineview Reservoir over the 4th of July keeping our traditions alive.  

The last picture is a lucky ticket. The first two numbers when added together match the last two numbers added together. I got this ticket riding home from the picnic on Saturday. Kathy and I truly are lucky to be in Russia and to have each other. I love her more than words could ever express and thank the Lord each day for restoring this gospel and providing a plan so we can live together as a family forever. We send our love and best wishes to all of you. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

4th of July Celebration in Russia

We made our homeland proud over the 4th of July!  We had to work our activities within a normal missionary day so there were a lot of preparations in getting ready. We started off the day at 7:00 am in one of the missionary apartments for a pancake breakfast.

I sure wish we could post pictures of the missionaries, but you will have to settle for our other pictures of this beautiful area and we will also share with you some pictures of our growing Russian bird family while we give further details of our 4th of July events :-).

We fed our family of birds before we left in the morning and you can see from the picture they are growing and just hanging out. (You don't need to worry that we are getting eccentric until we start feeding cats. ha ha)  

The mission president taught us some core principles and took the opportunity to get to know the missionaries better. The new mission president has only been in the country for a week, so activities like this are awesome for him to get to know them better. 

One of the lessons we teach the missionaries is to open their mouths. We snapped a picture of a van that reminded us of this message to open our mouths before it is too late. HaHa

The missionaries had a Russian flag and American flag hung in their room, in celebration of our love for both countries!  After breakfast we went about our normal day of office and missionary work. The Briggs, one of the other senior couples, helped us prepared for an evening event at the one of the other church buildings. 

Twice a week we hold an English conversation group meeting with Russians who want to talk in English at the institute building. We typically have three missionary companionships attend the meeting so we decided to do a full blown 4th of July Dinner.

We got some hot dogs from the store and a large watermelon. Sister Briggs made some potato salad and jello salad and we got a bunch of chips and fruit. Kathy made an American flag cake with strawberries for the red lines and blueberries for the blue area where the stars go. Needless to say the cake was amazing and so was the company. 

Elder and Sister Briggs had decorated the institute building in red, white and blue and I grilled the hot dogs on a frying pan to get closer to a fired taste. We had the mission president and his wife join us along with a couple of Russian investigators and about 10 missionaries.

We had to keep the dinner to one hour so we could keep our missionary schedule, and we also sang songs and shared memories of the wonderful country in which we all live.  As you can see from the pictures, it turned out awesome and everyone had a great time. We also celebrate birthdays with the office staff and this is a picture of me with a good friend after decorating an office.

After dinner we conducted a 2-hour English conversation group and then cleaned up and got back home about 11 pm.  It was a great day filled with people we loved and helped take away the ache in our heart of not being with our family in Utah this day. This picture is a picture with Don Morgan, a friend from Utah who visited us one day. We had lunch, walked into the city and went to church.  Then he headed off to climb one of the largest mountains in Russia. We pray for his safety.

Back in Utah our kids all got together at Pineview to celebrate the

4th. We have been going to the lake every year since they were born and they all kept the tradition alive.  The morning of the 4th of July they all go to the parade in Huntsville and to the breakfast in the park. 

Then during the day we typically waterski, tube, take a boat ride down to the dam for a dam lunch and swim. Then in the evening we do a fire with all our family and friends and then sit on the grass and watch the fireworks. I don't have a group picture from them, but the picture I show here is of our son-in-law and daughter-in-law holding our two precious grandchildren.  We send our love to them and thanks for all their notes, e-mails, pictures and phone calls to tell us that we are still loved. XOXOXOXOXO

On Saturday Kathy and I walked a little over an hour to get to a souvenir store that is off the main tourism areas. Along the way we saw this marina and wanted to grab my waterski and yell "Hit It". 

It was a great day and we were able to negotiate well. The prices were about half what they are in the tourism areas and then I used my bartering skills we learned on our Mexico trips to get another 15-20% off.  It is amazing what things cost in Russia, so this helped with the tight budget we live within.

It has been a very busy and exciting week, as we welcome in a new mission president and his wife. They are awesome people and will bring a different look to the mission and new ideas and ways for us to reach the hearts of the Russian people. We said goodbye to our old mission president and his wife, the Clark's, as a piece of our heart left Russia and will forever be with them. They served an amazing and honorable mission and we were priviledged to serve by their sides. Just like each prophet brings new strengths to the church, each mission president brings new ideas and opportunities for growth. When the Clarks came to the mission, it was just 14 mission areas and when they left there was a functioning stake and structure within the area of St. Petersburg.  Job well done!

The new mission president and his wife will bring strength to the
families and a focus on genealogy and our ancestors. Listening to their backgrounds they have been prepared throughout their lives for this calling and will do amazing things. We are thankful we will be able to spend a year with them during our time in Russia.  We are actually on the downside of a year before our time is finished and we pray everyday for the opportunity to touch the lives of the people of Russia. 

I am thankful this 4th of July weekend for our ancestors who died for our freedom and fought to make us the country we are today. I am proud to be an American and that we were called to serve with the wonderful people of Russia.  You may see or hear things about Russia on the news, but know that the people in Russia are wonderful children of God with big hearts and big smiles who have sacrificed their all at times to support and defend their country. 

We close this blog today with a special thanks to all of you!!  It isn't easy serving a mission and we often reflect upon the sacrifice we have been called to offer at this time in our lives. We love our family and each of you more than life itself and pray that through our service to the Lord that each of you might be blessed. We have seen this blessing in the lives of our children, our friends and even our business associates and pray that it may continue. We know this gospel is true and that we have a loving Heavenly Father who had given us a plan to return to him and live forever. There is no greater thought than a picture in my mind of the day we all stand together as brothers and sisters and reflect on our journey together on this earth. We are blessed beyond measure and the richest couple on earth because of this knowledge of the gospel and our association with each of you. Love Bob and Kathy.