Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Area Humanitarian Conference in Armenia - More Goodbyes

In my last posted blog, I shared events and photos of things done with the senior missionary couples during April in Moscow. This post will continue with our final days before flying home at the completion of our mission, including our trip to Armenia. You can appreciate how busy we were with preparations for the conference and then being gone four days in Armenia, getting things ready for our replacements at the office and in our apartment when we leave, packing all of our stuff into the allotted two checked bags plus a carry-on and purse or laptop for each of us, and saying our final goodbyes. We also wanted to have final reports done for the projects we have done in Moscow that were ready to be closed.

Closing our humanitarian project at a baby hospital
where newborns to 4-year-old orphans were treated.
Here Sam is pictured with
President McCullin (district president),
the director of the baby hospital,
Anna (our interpreter), and
Elder Steve Rees (Area doctor).

The director of the baby hospital was very appreciative of the equipment the Church donated to help these babies. About 500 infants are treated here every year. Often these have been born to mothers suffering from mental diseases, alcoholism, drug addiction, syphilis, etc. Usually, after treatment, the children are strong enough to be put into an orphanage; and about 10% are adopted. However, some children with severe neurological pathology stay at the hospital until four years old. The infusion pumps the Church donated are used to feed babies who cannot take food or medicine orally, and the aspirators and nebulizers help babies with breathing problems.

We have been impressed with the good the humanitarian projects are doing in the Europe East Area. Every cent of the money donated by caring people is used for humanitarian projects to relieve the suffering of the poor and needy and none is spent for administration costs. It has been a pleasure to be part of this charitable effort and to know this service is helping to improve the lives of others, who are usually not members of our church.

Anna Smirnova, our interpreter. It
was difficult to say goodbye to Anna,
who has become part of our family.
We feel the same way about Nactya,
our first interpreter.

Nactya - we love her, too.
She is shown here with the director of an
orphanage where the Church donated medical
equipment so they could get
their medical wing certified.

April 20 (Monday) - Elder & Sister Grey serving in Samara and Elder & Sister Lowry serving in Voronesh had to come to Moscow by train to fly out of Moscow for the Area Humanitarian Conference scheduled April 23 and 24 in Yerevan, Armenia. Wanting to do some sightseeing in Moscow, they arranged to come two days early. The Greys stayed with us, and the Lowrys stayed with the Masons. Monday evening, after having a chili supper at our apartment, we went one last time for a favorite Moscow memory at Red Square with these three couples.

Here we have the clock tower and
Kremlin wall behind us.
(Red Square, April 20)

Elder & Sister Grey (Roger & Sue)
in front of Lenin's Tomb on Red Square.

It was a cold evening for April, but the sky was pretty.

The Masons with St. Basil's in the background.

Here are the four couples getting warm in the
high-end GUM department store located on
Red Square. We are waiting for the lights to be
turned on outside to give the magical look
to Red Square that we never tire of seeing.
(Denelle & Dan Lowry,
Sam & Narene, Sue & Roger Grey)

A bird's-eye view inside GUM department store.

Red Square lighted at night.
I guess other sightseers thought it was too cold,
as the Square looks deserted.
It is worth the wait to experience this sight.
(Narene dressed in her warm Russian coat and hat.)

April 21 - Early Tuesday morning Sam went to the office, and I came later with the Greys. While I took care of e-mails, Sam took the Greys and Lowrys to meet Vlad. Then we went to the Asian Market, which is a humongous, mostly indoor market with thousands of stalls selling a great variety of things. If you should find something you want, you had better get it while you see it, because you may never find your way back to it again. Prices are good, and bargaining is expected.

Leaving Ismaly Park and heading for the Asian Market
with the Greys, Lowrys, and Masons.
(Tuesday, April 21)

This day was one for buying Russian hats, which we actually got in Ismaly Park before going to the Asian Market. Most vendors are set up to sell in Ismaly Park only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but there were a few selling on this Tuesday. The hat salesmen were eager to sell us Russian hats and the prices came down to suit us.

Here are Elder & Sister Lowry (Dellene & Dan)
with their new Russian fur hats on the metro
going to Family Home Evening.

We had our farewell FHE the week before, but it was nice to be able to take the Greys and Lowrys to the Yorgesens to meet the other senior missionary couples in Moscow at another of our enjoyable weekly Family Home Evenings. We are really going to miss these special times.

Here we are with our new Russian hats.
(Renee, Roger & Sue Grey, Dan & Dellene Lowry,
and Narene. Sam has a Russian mink hat, but it
was sent home with Scott & Kristine.)

April 22 (Wednesday) - We appreciated having a driver meet us at the Service Center to take us and the Greys and Lowrys to the airport to fly to Yerevan, Armenia, for the Area Humanitarian Conference. The driver wanted to leave at 7:30 a.m. to be sure we made it through traffic in time to make our flight, and we had plenty of time. We left cold weather in Moscow and were pleased to have a warm, sunny welcome in Yerevan. After checking into our hotel, we four couples plus Tom & Patti Arave went for a walking tour.

I don't know what this statue represented, but
we decided it was a photo op.
(Tom & Patti Arave, Dellene Lowry (Dan took
the photo), Roger & Sue Grey,
and Narene & Sam)

Our hotel was near Republic Square, so we went through the square and walked quite a distance before ending up at the Opera House. Returning to our hotel, we discovered a shorter, direct route via a new pedestrian street.

Republic Square has impressive architecture.
All the buildings in the square are made with
these similar rose colored blocks.

National Art & History Gallery

A typical apartment building.

The tulips were a welcome sight. They
hadn't bloomed yet in Moscow.

Yerevan Opera House

The Opera House can be seen at the end
of this pedestrian street with new buildings
on each side of the street.

Sam & Tom Arave are headed toward the
Congress Hotel, where we all stayed.

Sam & I joined these couples for supper in a
small "Armenian Restaurant" by the hotel.
(Burtons, Bowdens, Jorgensens, Wellings,
Irelands, and Boehms)

When we came to train the Blotters, we had eaten at this small restaurant and were impressed with the friendly service and good food. This time I ordered the same thing I had before, a vine-wrapped meat mixture. It was very good. The owner brought us their special berry juice, and we thought it was compliments of the house; but I think we paid for it. He also served us special Armenian breads and veggies.

The meat mixture is wrapped in grape leaves.
(I think it might have been
minced lamb and rice with herbs and seasonings.)

Our agendas were full on Thursday and Friday when we heard from several of the humanitarian couples attending regarding projects in their areas. Vlad Nechiporov, Area Welfare Manager (our boss) conducted the meetings and spoke to the group Thursday afternoon. Other guest speakers included President Larry Gibbons of the Area Presidency; David Stapley, Area Director of Temporal Affairs; Ray Whitesides, Area Controller, Elder & Sister VanDyke reporting on their work with Public Affairs; and Elder & Sister Dow telling about their work with employment issues in Armenia.

We enjoyed being with these humanitarian couples who are serving in the Europe East Area. The countries they represent are Armenia (Blotters), Belarus (Wades), Bulgaria (Jorgensens), the Baltic States (Boehms in Latvia), Georgia (Larsons), Kazakhstan (Wellings), Turkey (Looslis, Fifields, and Keelers), Ukraine (Pettys, Kinghorns, and Cudneys), and Russia (Bowdens in Novosibirsk, Howards in Rostov, Greys in Samara, Araves in St. Petersburg, Lowrys in Voronezh, and Irelands in Moscow. The Strawdermans in Vladivostok and the Moultons in Yekaterinburg are soon to be going home and chose not to travel the long distance to attend).

Sam and I had our part on the agenda Thursday afternoon. Sam presented suggestions for improving and administering projects. Then he met with the couples serving in Russia, and I met with the other East European couples going over issues related to finances.

Friday morning, we had a teleconference with Sharon Eubank in Salt Lake introducing the new reporting and tracking system for projects which will go into effect for each couple as soon as they have done the tutorial and are ready to use the system. It should be more efficient and free up time for actually doing projects. Couples will be able to see what stage their projects are in, when they have been approved, when the invoices have been paid, when a project is over or under budget, when it is ready to be closed, and when it is closed. We wish this system had been in place 18 months ago!

Our Friday morning session ended with testimonials; and then after eating lunch, we had a bus tour to see Mt. Ararat where Noah's ark is reported to have landed. Our tour included visiting three historical churches: Khor Virap Monastery, Cathedral of Echmiadzin, and Hripsimeh Church.

Khor Virap Monastery
with Mt. Ararat in Turkey in the background.

Khor Virap Monastery
Saint George the Illuminator was imprisoned here
for 13 years; but when he cured King Tiridates III of a
disease in 303, the king and members of his court were
converted to Christianity and Armenia became
the first official Christian nation in the world.

Vlad took Sam's picture in front of the
Khor Virap Cathedral.
This cathedral was completed in 618 and is one of
the oldest surviving churches in Armenia,
although it has undergone several changes since
it was first built. In 1790 the two-tiered
bell tower was added with an eight-column belfry.

Sam & Narene at Khor Virap Monastery
with Mt. Ararat partially covered by clouds.
Since Mt. Ararat is in Turkey, we were cautioned
not to go beyond the neutral zone
where a fence and tower mark the boundary.

We passed this cemetery when we left
the Khor Virap Monastery.

Our tour guide showed us the map of Armenia,
and asked if we could see how it made a profile
of a lady with a small nose and long hair.

Some of the countryside as we traveled along.

Echmiadzin Cathedral
We are looking up trying to see the figure of a man
over the entry. Shah Jahan was told the figure was of
him so that he would not destroy the church.

According to Wikipedia, Echmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest church in the world. It was originally built by Saint Gregory the Illuminator in 301-303. Then in 480, the Roman governor of Armenia had it replaced with a new church shaped like a cross. In 618, the wooden dome was replaced with a stone dome, which rests on four massive pillars that are linked to exterior walls by a series of arches. The guide drew our attention to the church floor plan being in the shape of a cross, which is typical for an Armenian church.

These are Armenian crosses, which are all
different, but typically have carved designs of
flowers or vines and often suns. The lower shaft is
usually just slightly longer than the arms and top.
Each end has double tips.
(Narene at the left; Carolyn Jorgesen at the right.)

The altar in the Cathedral of Echmiadzin.

We are standing in front of one of the
several buildings on the grounds
of the Echmiadzin Cathedral.
There is the residence of the Catholicos
and also the Theological Academy.

Our group had this photo taken at Echmiadzin.
(Sam & Narene center front & middle row)
It has been a pleasure working with these great
people, and we are happy we had this
opportunity to know them.

Hripsimeh Cathedral
(Vlad is taking one of his excellent photos.)

This cathedral was completed in 618 and is one of the oldest surviving churches in Armenia, although it has undergone several changes since it was first built. In 1790, the two-tiered bell tower was added with an eight-column belfry.

The altarpiece (1741) has inlaid mother of pearl
with branches, leaves, and flowers arranged
around an encircled Greek cross.

This is the tomb of a martyred nun,
and the stones that were used to kill her are
enclosed in a receptacle in the wall.

A carved Armenian cross inside the
Hripsimeh Cathedral.

Sam got muddy shoes getting this shot
of the cow in the foreground of the
Hripsimeh Cathedral.

This Armenian man gave me the flower and
seemed pleased to have his picture taken.

We enjoyed our tour and
seeing the countryside as well
as the historical churches.

People are removing the meat from the skewers of the
shashliks served at this nice restaurant at our
meal following our tour.

Before our desert was served from these
pumpkin or squash bowls,
Vlad joined the waiters for a photo.
Inside was some kind of squash mixed with
rice and berries, which was not very sweet;
but it was okay and rather interesting.
The waiters came around
offering second scoops of the "squash," but I
don't think there were many takers.

Elder & Sister Welling (LeRoy & Anne), who are serving
in Kazakhstan, arrived in the Europe East Area
soon after we came. They have done much good
in Astana where they have been living,
and they have enjoyed their mission in spite of
having only one other member of the church in
their city, and she speaks Mongolian.

We went for another walk in the evening
and enjoyed this view in Republic Square.
( Elder & Sister Loosli - Richard & Joanne -
humanitarian missionaries in Istanbul)

Bruce & Melinda Kinghorn were with us in the MTC,
and I have enjoyed reading Melinda's blog
as she has recorded their experiences in Ukraine.

We will miss our frequent association with these and the other great couples we have served with while on our mission, and so there was some sadness as we said our goodbyes to those at the conference. We would love to see them again.

April 25 (Saturday) - As we had an afternoon flight, we spent the morning seeing more of Yerevan with other couples who had later flights. We had been told there was an outdoor market, which some of the couples found; but the group we were with ended up at a park where artists had their paintings for sale.

These interesting statues were in the park.

We bought a painting from this artist
showing Mt. Ararat
with the Khor Virap Monastery
and a field of yellow flowers in the foreground.

Before going to the airport, we had lunch with Vlad
at the Armenian restaurant again.
This time we had Armenian vegetable soup
with Armenian bread
wrapped around cheese and salad greens.

An aerial view of Moscow in the distance with
what looks like dachas (summer homes) in
the foreground.

April 25 (Saturday) - We made it back to our apartment in Moscow by 8:30 p.m. With the conference behind us, our thoughts turned to the three days left to get everything finished before flying to Salt Lake. Those final days and photos will be recorded in the next blog.

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