Hello our dear friends and family:
Joe and I thought we would write and say hello and let you know we've survived our first winter in St. Petersburg. It was a very harsh winter (the locals stated they haven't seen this much snow or cold in over 130 years!) Today is a warm, sunny day and the piles of snow are melting! For the past 4 months the city has been hauling out truck loads of snow to make way for an easier meltdown as well as navigating the public transportation, cars, and walking. The large piles of snow left have melted down to the black, brown coloration of the original snow back in December that was shoveled. We love standing water and rain! It means weather progress towards summer!
These first 8 months have gone by real quick! We love the brothers and sisters we serve with. Not only the missionaries, but the members of our branch. When we first arrived it was a culture shock and it has taken us several months to feel more comfortable with our surroundings, public transportation, and how people live here. We have a really nice three room apartment. Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom/living room. We have a futon couch that doubles as a couch and double-size bed. Fortunately Joe and I are short enough that we sleep comfortably.
We have to use water filters for drinking and to help minimize the yellow discoloration in the toilet and bathtub from the water used. There is no potable water here. As a result of introducing new foods to our diet we have to take de-worming medicine every 6 months. We wash all our fruits and vegetables and bleach our cutting boards to help prevent parasites into our bodies. Thus far, other then a little head cold for Joe, we have been really healthy. This the first time neither one of us was bedridden with severe flu like some people suffered at home.
Joe and I have become spreadsheet junkies in organizing our duties. Joe as financial secretary and myself as secretary to the mission president. They're a lot of details that would be missed otherwise. Our duties in the office can be demanding some weeks, but for the most part we have a few hours a day that we actually work on projects and general duties then we have free time to either leave the office and see some sites, or work on obtaining personal goals.
We have grown so much closer as a couple as well as independent. We are learning more of each other serving together than the first 20 years of our marriage when we've pretty much had a part-time relationship due to bringing two families together of 11 children, working on family dynamics, working in our careers, and church callings. We love living alone and having peace and quiet to reflect on our lives and also see how much more we need to teach our family and plan for more adventures in our future after returning home from our mission.
This year in the mission has been fairly busy with 17 baptisms thus far (the mission had 29 in all of 2009). The mission president has told the missionaries that 2010 is the year of miracles.
We are working on conquering the Russian language, but know we'll never speak it fluently as we just don't have the same amount of time or practice as the younger missionaries that proselyte. Our callings have been English assignment in the office. However, we have learned enough to purchase items, greetings, and general terms in the office. We have quite a few members at church, as well in the office, that speak broken English which makes communication easier.
We had visited a few museums and historical sites late last summer after arriving in August. We were going to visit museums through the winter leaving the outdoor tours for spring and summer, however, the winter was so bad there was no way we were going to travel by foot other then to buy groceries. Our form of transportation is walking and hauling our groceries home. We take public transportation, but we have to walk to and from those stops. So with the sun out and the warmth of today we are getting spring fever and look forward to discovering more parts of this large city of nearly 5 million. We are careful to venture to far off the main streets because a lot of the buildings look the same and streets are not straight (they're are a lot of half streets that angle differently then the main ones) and it's easy for us to get lost. The buildings are of European design and are quite beautiful.
We visited the Russian Museum with the CES couple The Clements yesterday. We rented audio-guides in English which opened up a whole new understanding of the art history of Russia. It was a fantastic tour in a beautiful building. After 3 hours we were tired and hungry and hadn't completed the tour so we will finish it up on another Saturday.
We have found several restaurants to our liking. We have also discovered that because St. Petersburg is a large tourist town most of the waitresses speak English and have English menus. However, we eat most of our meals at home with Joe's homemade cooking talents. He is an excellent cook! It's turned out that Joe does most of the cooking and I the cleaning. Of course, we help each other out when needed.
We are so grateful to be serving on this 2 year mission. The Lord has blessed us in so many ways it's difficult to put in words. The other interesting thing that has happened to us is that prior to our coming on this mission we would have dreams of this place and have realized that upon our daily tasks and places visited those dreams are being recalled. We didn't know these places existed and didn't understand them in our dreams, but it's all coming together. Another confirmation that the Lord was preparing us to come here. We are so thankful for our choice to plan and follow through with serving wherever the Lord wanted us to go. We don't think that we would have grown (and know will continue to grow) in ways we ever thought possible. Both spiritually and temporally. We have always trusted in the Lord and will continue to do so. We know He keeps His promises and we are continually seeking child-like humility to follow His teachings so we can understand His teachings and Love to return to Him one day.
We love all of you and are grateful for your love and support.
Elder and Sister Luna