Sunday, 26 October 2008

District Conference

Our district meeting Saturday was in Russian, but we had a missionary sit behind us to translate into English. Sunday our meeting was televised from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City with Elder Quentin L. Cook conducting; and the speakers were President Paul B. Pieper, Member of the Seventy and Area President of the Europe East Area; Sister Vicki Matsumori, 2nd Counselor in the General Relief Society; Elder Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and President Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Thomas S. Monson

President Pieper, having lived a number of years in Russia, gave his talk in Russian; but he had dubbed over the talk in English for those listening to the English translation. He said the Church was in Stage 2 in the area. The first stage was getting the Church officially recognized and members allowed to worship together. Now there is one stake in the area, one temple being built, and branches are small. Full-time missionaries will continue to be called, but more members will need to be active in being member missionaries if the Church is to grow here. He presented four parts being important for this second stage. First, the Lord requires a willing heart and mind. When we tell the Lord we are ready, He will help us find someone to teach. Second, we should go about doing good. Share kindness. Lend help in times of need. Third, invite others to come and see - Family Home Evening, branch activities, youth conferences, Sunday meetings. Once they see, they can use free agency to see more. Fourth, pray to find the elect.

Sister Matsumori spoke about the eternal nature of families.

We should place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the center of our lives, said Elder Cook, and not stand on borrowed light; and he compared the Celestial Kingdom to the sun, which has its own light, while the Telestial Kingdom is like the moon with only reflective light. He quoted President Harold B. Lee, "Create Zion in our hearts and homes." President Lee admonished to not get near the cliff of sin and said it is better to build fences around the cliff than to have an ambulance at the bottom.

President Monson's talk was centered around Doctrine & Covenants 88:119: "Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God; . . ." Where could you find a better blueprint for the temple in which we reside than following this counsel, he asked. It is a blueprint for life.

Mayakovsky Museum

We had district conference on Saturday and Sunday, October 25 and 26, at the Central Building. Sam and I attended the Saturday meeting with the Moscow West Mission at 6:30, but earlier in the afternoon we met the other senior couples from the Moscow Mission and had lunch and then went to the Mayakovsky Museum.

At the entrance of the Mayakovsky Museum
(Narene, Greg & Chris, Clark & Renee)

Mayakovsky is known for his poetry, numerous prose works, and his political cartoons. He is perhaps Russia's most famous Futurist poet. He was born in 1893 in Georgia, but moved to Moscow in 1906 with his mother and two sisters after his father died.

The crooked chairs in the room where
we checked our coats was a preview of the
asymmetrical images yet to come.

This is one of the numerous displays.
It features pieces of furniture, sketches, and
objects to form a themed collage.

Mayakovsky's political cartoon posters, art work,
original manuscripts, and photographs of the poet
were assembled by artists and architects
into unorthodox displays as if the visitor
were wandering through Mayakovsky's brain.
The sign at the right say "Good" in Russian cryllic.

These displays are on several floors in the communal apartment building where Mayakovsky moved into one of the rooms in 1919 and lived intermittenly until 1930 when he took his own life. We were shown one small room on the fourth floor with a desk and couch which is said to be preserved as when Mayakovsky lived there. This room was unlocked by the lady supervising the floor for visitors to see it and then locked again. These ladies on each level spoke Russian but seemed pleased to tell us about the displays, and one lady was especially enthusiastic and accommodating.

It doesn't show up well in the picture, but this
was a sculpture of an airplane with pictures of
fellow writers of Mayakovsky's time as passengers.
The propellers are small upside down airplanes.

Mayakovsky attended the Moscow School for
Painting and Sculpture where he became
interested in the Futurist movement.

He was a supporter of Bolsheviks, and his work published immediately preceding the Russian Revolution established his reputation as a poet in Russia and abroad. Near the end of the 1920's, however, he became increasingly disillusioned with Bolshevism and propaganda.

Mayskovsky committed suicide in 1930
and is buried in Novodevichy Cemetery.

The senior couples had lunch at this "American"
diner; but the $20 hamburger, fries, and poor
substitute for a milk shakeshake did not
measure up to McDonalds for only $5.00.
However, the company was great as usual.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Small Boy at Paderewski Concert

Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano, a mother took her boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her.
Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door marked "No Admittance." When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing.

Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit. Keep playing."

Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

That's the way it is with our Heavenly father. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren't exactly graceful flowing music. But with the hand of the Master, our life's work truly can be beautiful.

Next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. You can hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't quit. Keep playing." Feel His loving arms around you. Know that His strong hands are there helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces

Remember, God doesn't call the equipped. He equips the called. And He'll always be there to love and guide you on to great things. [Title and Author Unknown]

I read this story at Family Home Evening yesterday, and the other senior couples wanted a copy. I decided to share it with those reading my blog, as it has such a good message.

The last few Family Home Evenings we have been learning to sing "I Am a Child of God" in Russian. Our goal is to sing all three verses by memory in Russian at Christmas time when we do a service project at a home for the elderly with dementia .

For our activity last evening, we had a brainstorming session with everyone sharing things we have noticed or experienced different in the culture here. The list grew long and varied; to name only a couple here: cashiers tearing the receipts, renoks & kiosks, and every shade of red hair. We concluded our list by sharing the thought, "It's been a great experience, and Moscow has become our friend."

For refreshments, I had baked an oatmeal cake that we served with ice cream and lemonade. Last Family Home Evening we met at the Curbishleys, and Beryl had made three delicious pies - lemon meringue, banana cream, and an apple/berry pie. Beryl and George Curbishly are shown in the picture, and Beryl is cutting one of the pies.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sundays are Different in Russia

President Karneov
(branch president of Yugo Zapadanya branch),
Sister Ireland, Elder Hunter, Elder Armstrong,
Elder Harker, Elder Mills,
Elder Aiken, Elder Terrell,
Elder Ireland

Serving as missionaries in Russia, our Sundays are quite different than our Sundays back home. We still enjoy them, but they are different. Today is the third Sunday of the month, which is the Sunday I give the lesson in Relief Society before Sacrament Meeting. (Sam gives the Priesthood lesson every other Sunday.) I am finding it challenging to be the teacher to Russian speakers, because I have to use an interpreter to relay everything I say. Then when they ask or answer a question, I have to have what they say translated back to me. The natural flow of thought is thus interrupted. The young missionaries are amazing at how well they do with the Russian language, but they will be the first to admit that it is much easier for them to translate to Russian what an English-speaking person says than it is for them to translate a Russian speaker's words to English. Therefore, there are times when I don't get all the details translated when a sister answers a question. I only hope my reply is on target.

Sister Natalia, our Relief Society president,
and her husband (counselor to the branch president)

Another difference we are having in church here is with the music. I really enjoy singing hymns, but it is difficult to sing in Russian unless it is a slow Sacrament hymn where we have time to read the words. One Sacrament meeting about a month ago, we were singing along rather quietly due to being unsure of our pronunciation when we came to the words in "I Stand All Amazed" where the line goes, "Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget? No, no, . . . " Of course, we're singing the words in Russian; and when we got to the "Net, net," which are words we instantly recognized, we sang right out. That made us almost loose our reverence, and we had to concentrate hard not to laugh.

We also miss children at church, since our little branch is made up of older members and college-age members. Once in awhile, someone visits with a child; but we have no Primary because we have no Primary-age children.

Lydia (second from left) introduces herself in
Relief Society as the "baby," being the newest
baptized sister in the branch.
(Natalia, Lydia, Elder Terrell, Elder Harker,
and Sister Ireland)

Through the years, I have not kept up on my piano playing except to accompany the hymns in our little branch back home. Before coming on this mission, I considered I might be in a branch where they needed someone to play, and I thought I would be able to do this. However, I didn't expect this opportunity to come on the second day of our being in Russia. We attended a small branch with the Browns since we had not yet been assigned to a branch, and they asked if I could be their accompanist that morning. Well, Sam readily volunteered me, and I went up to the front and sat down to a small keyboard instrument that I didn't know how to turn on or regulate the sound. As I began to play the introduction for the opening song, it was too loud. My nervousness doubled. Part way into the first line, I hit the wrong key and my nervousness doubled again. I don't know whether it was not having played on this type of instrument before or whether it was jet lag and my brain was numb, or a combination of the two. Having everyone singing in Russian while I was used to singing along in English while I played for our branch at home might also have been a factor. Whatever the reason, my confidence for playing dropped to an all-time low; and since then I have tried to downplay the fact that I know anything about playing the piano. Which brings me to today. Elder Terrell, who had been playing for the branch, has been made one of the assistants to President Collins; so I was asked to play today and it went okay. Now I have to worry about next Sunday and hope I can do as well.

Elder Terrell (left) and Elder Harker (right)
with newest members of the branch.
Anthony (confirmed two weeks ago),
Lydia (baptised last April),
Vasily (baptised in September), and
Peter (baptised last April)

Elder Terrell, Anthony, and Elder Armstrong

Of course, our Sundays are much more relaxed now that we are assigned to the Yugo Zapadnaya branch here in Moscow compared to when we used to go to Tver and had to spend about five hours on Saturday to get there and another afternoon to return to Moscow on Sunday. As much as we loved the people in Tver, we are happy to be able to stay in Moscow on weekends.

Tver branch members.
(President Akseonov is behind and left of the pulpit.
Next to him and directly behind the pulpit
Sergei, the current branch president.)

We really appreciate the warmth of the people attending Yugo Zapadnaya, and the young Elders are great. We just regret that we can't communicate better with the Russian members. We get and give smiles and hugs, and we exchange a few Russian greetings. Here are some pictures I took of the Relief Society sisters today:

The sister on the left speaks quite good English.

Sister Natasha is Sister Natalia's counselor
in Relief Society.

Alla understands some English.

Sister Lydia is very faithful. She has made
these little booties for a service project to
give to an orphanage.

Sister Lena (right) serves in the district as
a teacher trainer.

It takes us about an hour to get to the mission office where we currently hold our services for this small branch. It's about a 20-minute walk to the metro with another 10-minute walk at the other end after riding on the metro about 30 minutes. We are expecting to soon be moving into another building they have been remodeling, and our branch will be joining with another branch.

Elder Harker's birthday
(Elder Ireland, Elder Harker, and Elder Mills)

We had invited Elder Harker and Elder Mills to supper last Monday without realizing it was Elder Harker's birthday. Fortunately, I had baked a chocolate cake and found some birthday candles; and we sang "Happy Birthday." After our chili supper, the Elders gave us a nice message about the Plan of Happiness."

Sunday, 12 October 2008

General Conference in Russia

It was General Conference in the United States last weekend; but in Russia, it was General Conference this weekend with those attending going to designated buildings where they watched the sessions in Russian. We joined the English speakers in a different room to watch in English. Of course, Sam and I watched the morning sessions live last weekend over the Internet; but we chose to watch the taped afternoon sessions online later instead of staying up until midnight to watch them live. Sam went to the Central building yesterday afternoon for the Priesthood session. We're grateful for the technology that makes it possible for us to not miss hearing these inspirational talks while we're far away from home. We also enjoyed hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Primary choir.

President Pieper gave the opening prayer in the Sunday afternoon session. He is the Europe East Area President with the area office being in Moscow. He and his wife are very nice.

Following the morning session today, we had a nice visit with Nactya and saw pictures from her summer in the U.S. where she had gone to be a lifeguard at a water park in Galveston, Texas. Nactya was our interpreter until she left for the summer, and we love her dearly. Although she didn't enjoy Galveston, she and her sister had some good experiences while in the U.S. We are so glad they were able to spend some time with Todd & Beth's family in Utah before returning home to Moscow.

In Elder Bednar's talk Saturday afternoon, he recommended that periodically we offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude without asking for any blessings. He said, "Ask for nothing; simply let our souls rejoice and strive to communicate appreciation with all the energy of our hearts." That evening, I knelt by my bedside and offered a prayer of gratitude to my Father in Heaven for my many blessings. Certainly, among my most cherished blessings is my family - my husband, our children and their spouses, and our grandchildren. We also are blessed with dear friends. Every day we express our gratitude to be able to serve as humanitarian missionaries in Russia.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

House Museums - Gorky and Pushkin

As Senior Missionary Couples, we have probably seen more parks, museums, and places of interest in Moscow than many Russians, which is quite often the case when someone is a short time in a country and wants to experience as much as possible before leaving. We do appreciate those Saturdays when we get together to experience this culture and learn more about Moscow and Russia.

Outside the Gorky Museum
(Clark & Renee Mason, Narene,
Greg & Chris Shepard and their friend, Chuck)

Saturday, October 5, we visited two house museums of Russian authors with the Masons, Shepards, and a friend of the Shepards. We first went to the Gorky Museum. The mansion was presented as a gift by Stalin in 1931 to Maxim Gorky, the famous socialist writer. Gorky lived from 1868 to 1936.

The Gorky House Museum
This was his home from 1931 until he died in 1936.

By the time Gorky moved to this house, his literary career was declining and he only wrote one play here. He became a propaganda tool for the Bolshevik Party because of his earlier support, and he served as president of the Union of Writers.

Spiral staircase of polished Estonian limestone
in the Gorky House Museum.

The spiral staircase curves back around to
form a small bench at the bottom
where several couples had a picture taken
before we were told we were not to sit there.
(Narene & Sam)

The house had stained-glass windows,
carved door frames,
ceilings with elaborate moldings,
ceramic tiles, and wood inlaid floors.

Gorky's collection of oriental carvings.

Library in the Gorky Museum,
including some first editions.
One of his quotes: "When work is a pleasure,
life is a joy! When work is duty, life is slavery."

We were getting hungry and couldn't find a place
to eat our lunch, so we decided this would do.
(Greg, Narene, Renee, & Chuck)

The man standing in the picture above is not part of our group. Unbeknown to me, he was trying to draw a picture of me while I was eating. When he handed me his finished drawing, it was backwards so all I saw was what looked like scribbling. After he walked away, I turned the paper around, and using my imagination I could kind of make out the outline of a person's head. It was like a child might draw a person's profile. Maybe he expected me to pay him for drawing "my picture," but he just handed it to me and left.

This turquoise blue mansion on
Arbat Street is the Pushkin Museum.

The next house museum we visited was the Pushkin Museum on Arbat Street where Alexander Pushkin and his 18-year-old bride, Natalya Goncharova, lived for only three months in 1831 before moving to St. Petersburg. In 1837, at the age of 37, he was fatally wounded in a dual with his brother-in-law following rumors that he was having an affair with Natalya.

To tour the house, each person had to put on
these big shoe protectors.

There were pretty inlaid-wood floors to protect.

This museum features portraits, sketches, some original manuscripts and other memorabilia; but most of it is in Russian. It does not seem like a home, because there was very little furnishings or personal objects. The fact that Pushkin and his wife lived there for only three months also made it seem less like it was their home. I did read that Tchaikovsky lived there for a short time in 1875.

Monument of Alexander Pushkin
and Natalya

Pushkin was 15 when he published his first poem and is considered to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Quoting Wikipedia: "Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling - mixing drama, romance, and satire - associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers."

Pushkin is loved by the Russians, and there are many things in Moscow named after him - a street, a square, an embankment, a museum, a theater, a Metro station, and a library are some of them. I have an illustrated book of "Pushkin's Fairy Tales."

Dancers performing on Arbat Street.

Leaving the Pushkin Museum, we continued walking leisurely on Arbat Street. It was a nice day for walking, and many people were doing the same thing. We didn't know what the occasion was, but we noticed a crowd and heard someone speaking over a microphone. It turned out to be dancers performing, and we stopped to watch and take some pictures.

More of the dancers in costume.

We walked on and saw lots of other activity on Arbat Street - musicians, vendors, artists painting portraits, and souvenir shops. We stopped to talk to an American woman who had come to adopt the brother of her adopted little girl from eastern Russia.

A man and woman hoping passers by would
leave them some money for their
music and dancing.

A street vendor painting dolls and hoping for sales.

Checking out a hotel near Red Square where the
Mission Presidents might stay in February,
as Greg has the responsibility for making
the reservations.

The park by Red Square.
Autumn colors with the lighting of the late afternoon
make for an unusual photo.

As we headed for home, we thought about our enjoyable day. Once again, we had walked quite a few miles while experiencing more of the Russian culture.

The Shades of Autumn

The months have gone by quickly since I started doing this blog last spring. Now autumn is here, and the leaves on the trees are shades of yellow, gold, orange, and red.

It's a pretty walk through the park
as we come home from the metro.

Many of the fallen leaves are huge. On our way
home from the office, I picked up leaves and
dried them to put in these vases.

The view from our apartment is colorful.

The view keeps changing. We never tire of
looking out our big window.

Looking south from our balcony at sunrise.

Enjoying the nice weather while it lasts.
(Sofia (left) is the receptionist at the
Service Center, and Lena is the executive
secretary for Vlad and David Stapley.)

We really enjoy Anna,
our interpreter for doing humanitarian projects.

Elder & Sister Ireland with the director of
a Rehabilitation Center for Invalids.
They were
very appreciative of the physical therapy
equipment donated by the Church.

Visiting a classroom where handicapped children
(called "invalids" in Russia)
are being taught along with children without
handicaps. Many of the children in this
institution have ICP (Cerebral Palsy).

So many people were on vacation or staying at their dachas during the summer that it was difficult to make appointments with directors about doing humanitarian projects or returning to evaluate the success of projects, take pictures, and get final documents. Now that autumn is here, we are having more opportunities to get out of the office to meet with organizations.

Receiving roses from a doctor.

Russians love flowers. There are flower shops on nearly every block plus the ladies that sell flowers on the street or at the metro stations. On the first day of school, children were walking to school with their parent or grandparent and carrying a bouquet for the teacher. It's a common sight to see people in the metro with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I had this opportunity recently when we went to a closing for a project at a hospital where the poor are treated. The doctors were very enthused about the equipment the Church had donated that makes it possible for them to remove kidney stones without surgery in about 80% of the cases, and this reduces the hospital stay and recovery time considerably. Before we left, the hospital director presented me with the bouquet of roses pictured above. It is our policy to not accept gifts when we do projects, but we had already given the donation; and he seemed to enjoy the giving and I enjoyed receiving.