Friday, 30 May 2008

Judd's Mission Call

This morning we were thrilled to get a call from Judd, our oldest grandson, who shared with us the exciting news that he has received his call to serve in the Guatemala North Mission. He enters the MTC September 24. We knew he had submitted his papers for this volunteer service, and we are so pleased he has made this important decision. He is setting a good example for the other grandsons who will have this opportunity to look forward to when they turn 19. Kyle and Trevor are already talking about the time when they will serve following their first year at BYU this coming school year.

Sam & Narene with their 28 grandchildren.
Judd is left of Narene, Kyle is next to Judd,
and Trevor is on the end at the right.

We congratulate Judd, Kyle, and Trevor on their graduation from high school this spring. Although we could not attend their graduations, our thoughts were with each one. They are young men who make their parents and grandparents proud!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Travels and Family Visit

I didn’t expect to be this long before adding to the blog, but we have been very busy. Our work in the office has had some interesting interruptions. We have been to Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, and St. Petersburg; and we had a great visit from two of our sons and their wives, Jeff & Rochelle and Doug & Shannon, who came to Russia to visit us for one week. In between times, we’ve put in some long hours at the office trying to keep up with things there.

Novodevichy Convent in the background
Jeff, Rochelle, Narene, Shannon, and Doug

The annual Area Humanitarian Conference was held April 24 & 25 in Sofia, Bulgaria, this year. It was great to meet the other humanitarian missionaries serving in Eastern Europe, all of whom we have frequent contact with through e-mails and phone calls, but most of whom we had not met before. Vlad, the Area Welfare Manager, conducted each of the sessions; and President Pieper, President of the Eastern Europe Area, spoke to us three times. Sam and I had a part on the program pertaining to the work we do. We arrived in Sofia on April 22 so we could have training meetings with two new humanitarian couples before the conference meetings started. We had a free afternoon and went with the Bowdens, the humanitarian couple in Novosibirsk, for a sightseeing ride outside of Sofia to see Rila Monastery that was founded in the 10th century.

Rila Monastery about two hours from Sofia
Gil & Heidi Bowden and Narene

Hotel in Sofia - some of the Humanitarian Couples
Narene, Looslis, Fifields, Sister Fluckiger, Gabels, Bowdens

On April 26, we flew to Kazakhstan to help a couple in Almaty who will be doing humanitarian projects in Almaty, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. We had an adventure getting there. First, as we were ready to leave for Kazakhstan, my special comb was confiscated as a potential weapon in the Sofia airport during the security check. Since she thought there was a second one, she x-rayed my carry-on again. She didn’t find what she was looking for, but did find my very favorite comb that is over 35 years old and can no longer be replaced and tossed it into the bucket. Now I thought I would be without a comb for the rest of the trip; but for some unexplained reason, I later discovered that the twin comb she had been looking for was actually in Sam’s briefcase instead of in my carry-on. It may seem like a small loss, but my family know how attached I was to my favorite comb and can appreciate how sad I was. In that frame of mind, I could not find my boarding pass and all the other passengers were in the shuttle ready to be taken to the plane. Finally, the lady ushered me on through without a boarding pass; and we were on our way to Istanbul where we were to change airlines.

Although we had made three trips to the Kazakhstan Embassy in Moscow, only my letter of invitation from Kazakhstan had gotten into the data base. So I had my Kazakhstan visa, but Sam did not. However, they told him it wasn’t a problem and that he could get his visa at the airport in Kazakhstan. The people in charge at the airport in Istanbul saw it differently. Although they were nice and wanted to be helpful, they would not issue him a boarding pass until he had a Kazakhstan visa. We had the phone number of the person in Moscow who had helped us with our visas, but we didn’t know if we could reach him on Saturday; and furthermore, we had trouble making the long-distance connection. Finally, we handed our cell phone to the airline official and asked him to dial the number and request for the information to be faxed. Then we waited for the fax to come, but it was almost boarding time and there was no fax. In desperation, we gave them the cell phone number of the humanitarian couple in Kazakhstan even though they would not have the necessary visa information and wouldn’t be able to speak to the authorities in Russian. By a rare coincidence, they were actually at a birthday party for the mother of the lady who had initiated the required letter of invitation for our Kazakhstan visas and who does speak Russian. She was able to provide the necessary information so Sam could be issued a boarding pass, and we hurriedly got in line. Fortunately for us, although the sign said the passengers were boarding, the plane was late and no one had boarded yet. As we stood in line, the same official who had been helping us with the visa came up to us with our luggage tags. We thought our luggage had been checked through to Kazakhstan and didn’t realize that we were supposed to pick up our luggage upon arrival in Istanbul and check them in again on the Kazakhstan flight. How grateful we were that this kind man had done this for us, or else we would have missed more than combs in Kazakhstan!

Almaty, Kazakhstan
Craig & Pat Vincent

The Vincents in Kazakhstan had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport, and he took us to buy a few groceries before taking us to the rental apartment that they had arranged for us, which they said was preferred to getting a hotel. We were impressed with the friendly branch in Kazakhstan which we attended Sunday morning. After church, we ate lunch with the Vincents and then had our meeting with them that afternoon. We met again Monday morning and had lunch together at their apartment. Before our flight out that afternoon, Sister Vincent took us on a mini tour of the city. Almaty is a nice city with a mountain range separating it from Kyrgyzstan.

Russian Orthodox Church in Almaty

Returning to Moscow Monday night, April 28, we spent the rest of the week working in the office before leaving for Prague in the Czech Republic to renew our visas. Prague is a very interesting place to visit, and we saw a lot in the four days we were there. The church was within walking distance of our hotel, and we enjoyed attending their branch. Although the hymns were in a foreign language, they use the same letters as we do so we found it easier to sing the words than it is for us to sing the hymns written in Russian. I will write more about Prague later.

Prague - St. Vitus's Cathedral

Having two of our sons and their wives come to visit was extra special.
Doug & Shannon flew from Salt Lake to Atlanta where they got on the same plane as Jeff & Rochelle for their flight to Moscow, arriving here May 11. We tried to show them as many Moscow places of interest as we could in the time they were here, as well as taking an overnight train trip to St. Petersburg and spending two days there, returning on the express train the evening of May 15. While we were in St. Petersburg, we had breakfast with the Eastleys, the humanitarian couple there, and visited with the mission president, David Sandberg, and his wife. My parents and President Sandburg’s father, Ivar Sandberg, were good friends in their early years in South Dakota; and I always enjoyed hearing the conversion story of David’s father. I am pleased that President Sandberg gave me a copy of Ivar’s conversion story written by his father. We got rained on a couple of times in St. Petersburg, but we enjoyed our stay there. A friend we met in Tver arranged for our hotel rooms and a guide for the two days. The Hermitage and Peterhof were highlights of what we experienced in St. Petersburg. I’ll share more about this with photos later.

St. Petersburg
Sam, Narene, President & Sister Sandberg