Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ending the Month of August

More notes of our daily travails!

One thing I hadn't posted is that one of the many different cultural differences here then in America is that newly married couples may spend a week together after being married but then one spouse lives in Moscow (or another city) and the other here in St. Petersburg. They need to keep their jobs and figure out how to live together when a job can be found for them to live together the same city.

The law states that couples that are members of the church have to be married civilly in Russia before they can go to the temple in Helsinki and be sealed for time and all eternity. Elsewhere church members go to the temple and are married (sealed) and they don't have to go through any other legal formalities for their union to be recognized by the state.


Whenever anyone leaves the city for one day and return they have to register with the city that they are back (and pay a small fee of course.) We have found Russia has quite the tracking (and fee based system) to keep track of residents and visitors. Even visiting the city requires you to be registered. So if you are wanting to tour make sure your travel agency has that procedure included.

We've also noticed that when members are meeting in church or activities they are affectionate to each other. They sincerely show love and interest towards each other by putting an arm around someone when walking down the hall, or sisters will hold hands. In church services as well there is just an overwhelming sense of love towards each other.

It's common for women to hold hands or walk arm and arm in public, whereas, in America it would mean they are a "couple" not just friends or relatives.


In compiling the baptisms year to date we have a total of 43 so far for the year compared to 29 for all of 2009.


We attended a satellite broadcast of the Kyiv, Ukraine temple dedication Sunday, August 29th in our church building. We all brought our white handkerchiefs to complete the dedication with the hosana shout. It was a beautiful dedication with President Thomas S. Monson giving the dedicatory prayer. More interesting facts about the process to build the temple can be found on the web. One fact was that the announcement of the temple to be built was July 20, 1998 and the groundbreaking and site dedication was 23 June 2007 by Paul B. Pieper.

East Europe Area President Schwitzer spoke and mentioned how Heavenly Father had this land pre-destined for his work as one of the princes of a previous king claimed the religious base for the city of Kiev would be Christian. Also, a major street that runs through Kiev has a root word in it meaning baptism. (He didn't say what the street name was.)

He continued that the east no longer is being held back from receiving the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or be blinded by the craftiness of men. President Schwitzer concluded that for the people to show their love and gratitude to the Lord is to prepare their lives to use the temple for the works of righteousness in performing the saving ordiances for those past on and for the living.
It was a very special meeting and Joe and I were grateful to be able to attend the dedication because we were not at home to participate in the Vancouver, British Columbia temple dedication which is in our stake district.

We have two new missionaries arriving Tuesday August 31 and several missionaries will be transferred on transfer day Wednesday, Sept. 1. One thing the church has changed is that zone conferences will be held every 3 months instead of every 6 weeks. Therefore, our next zone conference will be after the next transfer and new missionaries arrive in November.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Visit Inside Church on Spilled Blood

Joe and I toured inside the church this Saturday with the Hazlewoods. It was very beautiful inside.
This church (although named as a church but was never used as a worship facility) is also known as Resurrection Church of Our Saviour. It was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assissinated on March 1, 1881.
Alexander III wanted a permanent memorial for Alexander II and had this church built. There are more than 20 types of minerals that was used inside to create the mosiac pictures depicting scenes from the New Testament. Materials used inside are jasper, rhodonite, porphyry and italian marble. After 20 years of restoration the interior was reopened in 1998.

A few facts about the exterior: Jeweller's enamel was used to cover the 10,760 sq. ft. surface of the five domes. The window frames are made of Estonian marble. A little over 75,000 sq. ft of mosaics embellish the church's exterior.

Full view of the exterior of the church (in winter time).

The Spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated

Looking up inside one of the domes

All the walls lead up to curved ceiling and domes.

Looking up inside another dome

Each pillar has a mosaic of Christ's disicples.


Writing a few highlights since my last post.

The month of August brought historical heat! About a week ago it was nearly 100 degrees one day and down to about 54 the next. The heat hasn't returned. It's much cooler and one can tell fall is around the corner. We are both grateful for the cool air now. Moscow has about 500 wild fires and the smoke came over St. Petersburg one day causing it difficult to breath. The news reported at one time there have been 700 deaths a day. This summer has had very strange storms of sudden rain, thunder, lightening, and hail.
There was a family of five from our branch that went out on their sailboat on a lake just outside St. Petersburg the beginning of the month. A freak storm hit the area (again) causing 12 foot waves. Many people on the lake lost their lives - this particular family still has 3 members missing. The 17-year-old son and mother's bodies have been found but the father and 2 young sons still have not been discovered. The boat hasn't been found either. It has been a devastating loss. We keep the family in our prayers and hope the other 3 will be found. Members of the branch have posted signs around the area in hopes of any news. The lake is extremely large (135 miles in length) with many islands.

I had been pretty sick with a cold and couldn't go into the office for 3 days. Today I'm finally feeling much better, however, Joe is home sick. As I write it's 1:30 p.m. and he is still sleeping. Fortunately for him his body gets over colds quicker then mine. I hope it's just 24 hours as mine as been nearly 2 weeks!

The office work has been pretty routine. This last week brought a special time to us when several missionaries gathered around my desk and talked about sports, America, trials, family, etc. Joe and I enjoy those moments as it helps all of us put aside the language barrier and relate to our culture and our future plans.

We've been walking again. I've lost 30 pounds to date. Joe has lost as well but I'm not sure how much. My goal is to lose another 10 pounds before the end of the year. It's going to be difficult now with the holiday treats, but I will try to keep up the exercise and therefore I can enjoy a little treat a day and still lose weight. Walking is pretty easy to get into our daily routine as we have to walk anywhere we go. Planning a trip to the store is at least an hour walk round trip in itself and then plan on the shopping time. It sure has been a different way of planning then at home when you get in a car and go to several destinations in an hour time. Not complaining, just appreciate our transportation we have at home and have a better understanding for those at home that rely on public transportation.

I have been knitting afghans. My sister Jill has sent me yarn. I have one completed and working on another one. I'm giving both as gifts for Christmas. Jill also sent two skeins of yarn to make stocking hats. Once I've completed this one afghan then I'm going to knit the hats. I found a craft store downtown and I might try their yarn when this runs out. I hate for my sister to keep spending money on the postage. She sent a very large box that we received this last week! It had clothing inside for me to make about 5 different outfits. The exciting thing is the clothes are colorful! The missionary checklist we received when we received our mission call told us to where solid skirts, blouses, etc. However, as a senior couple I've discovered that we wear different clothing then the younger sisters that proselyte on the streets. I've been really sick of the few clothes I brought. So they were very welcomed. She also included more powdered sugar, instant cake mixes, instant frosting mix, Snickers for Joe, and my beloved popcorn!! I love popping corn in the pan on the stovetop. It's such a treat. I don't like microwave popcorn and that's the only kind I have found here.

We went exploring Saturday (August 21) with the Hazlewoods and toured inside the Spilt Blood Church (I'm going to post a separate blog for that and the pictures). We also toured an Orthodox church. We found it interesting that people were inside taking communion, and the opposite end of the church they were selling souveniors (?) Odd place to worship. Reminded me of the people selling goods in the temple that Jesus threw out!

Last night we had dinner with the Mission President Podvodov. Sister Podvodova cooked up a fabulous dinner (as usual). It was the last dinner for the Clements (CES couple). They go home on the 24th.
It's going to be sad that they're gone. That makes Joe and I the "senior" senior couple. It seems like we just got here. The Clements will be the 3rd senior couple to go home since we arrived last August.

We hope everyone is doing well. We are happy here and most especially grateful to God everyday for our many blessings and for sending us here to St. Petersburg. It's truly a beautiful city full of culture and we are blessed to be here and discovering a part of history we would otherwise never have bothered getting to know more of.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

One Year Mission Anniversary

We celebrated Joe's 64th birthday on August 14 and will be here in Russia for one year August 19. Hence, the one candle on Joe's cake. He said "It signifies the one year we've been here."
To sum up our first year would probably take a lot of space but I will write highlights.
When we arrived last August 19 it was hot and humid. (This summer is even worse with world record heat and wildfires - go figure.)
We were met by 4 missionaries. Elder Brandon Wignall, Elder Carter Holm, Elder David Hepworth, and Elder Jeremy Krause. When we walked out of the airport in St. Petersburg after our 20 some hour flight I made the comment "Ahhh, family!" They were all smiles and welcomed us. We were driven (very fast) to our apartment which is next to the church building. (It seems that all drivers drive very fast, even through downtown). The elders had made up our bed, fixed us dinner, and cleaned up the dishes. They bid us good night and we both went directly to bed and left the unpacking for the next morning.
Joe and I were grateful for our safe arrival, the help of the missionaries, our apartment was nice and cozy and had everything we needed, and grateful to be here on our mission.
The next morning Joe was ready to explore the area and see what our responsibilities are going to be in the office. When I awoke the first thought I had looking at the ceiling was "Well, I'm in Russia for two years. There is no turning back." I begun to cry. For the first 3 months here on our mission, I cried most weekends and missed my family terribly. I looked out our living room window onto the playground that rests in the middle of 4 huge apartment buildings and watched the little children play. I would cry again missing my grandkids. One day I was reading in St. Matthew and was reading about the Sermon on the Mount and when Christ teaches about not worrying where you will be because when your in His service he will take care of all things. I had planned with Joe for 10 years to be on this mission and was losing sight of that goal. Joe didn't suffer from jet lag like I did.
Throughout these first few months Elder Hepworth taught me about my responsibilites in the office. Elder Holm instructed Joe on the financial end of things for a couple of days and then resumed his other responsibilities. In November a lot changed with Joe's job as the Church downloaded a new program that directly linked us to Salt Lake City. So all the work we performed on this program (iMOS - internet Missionary Operating System) was direct time and updated files right away. I began writing up instructions on my job description as I continued to learn. It helped me with checklists and I also want to be able to have a notebook detailing everything to help the next secretary when we leave.
Joe begun a notebook as well. We now have completed spreadsheets and instructions to help the next couple that come next summer.
We learned where the grocery store was that was the cheapest place to shop. It reminds me of a smaller scale WalMart. It takes us a half hour to walk one way. We discovered new muscles walking to and from EVERY WHERE and pulling home carts full of groceries and other items. Tom and Pat Arave helped us our first shopping day (they were the Humanitarian couple). At the Oken (Walmart of Russia) they showed us how to buy produce. After selecting your product you need to take it to a scale and push in the number that corresponds to that item. It prints out a slip you stick onto the product so the cashier can scan your food. We also realized most of our packaged food items would have to be purchase by looking at the picture on the label! This was also a rude introduction to Russia because the shopping cart we had brought along to haul our groceries back to the apartment was stolen. We ended up purchasing two more carts.
During the winter (the coldest in 140 years!) we had a real difficult time pulling carts full of grocery over the snowy, ice packed side walks and streets, so we purchased less items and carried them home in bags. It's also extremely difficult to lift heavy carts onto a bus. The public transportation has a rather tall step up into the bus/trolley and about 3 large steps the rest of the way in. Some newer buses have no steps which makes it real nice to walk right in and barely lift the cart.
We saw a few tourist attractions during the first few months. When we arrived, we told ourselves we would visit more of the museums during the winter and enjoy the outdoor attractions and gardens during the rest of summer/fall. Well, it was so cold we only went out to the store when absolutely necessary and to the office and back. We were pretty much secluded to our apartment. There is only about 5 hours of daylight from December to March. Fortunately the office is only about 30 feet from our apartment building so we didn't have to be out in the cold too long.
To help pass the time we had books, our laptop with internet, and got hooked up with satellite TV that has about 8 english channels. Discovery, National Geographics, Hallmark, CNN International News, and a few others. They are very educational and helped as a diversion when we read about all we could.
We studied the Russian language and prayed we would pick it up living here amongst the people. After one year we know the basic greetings, a few other key words, and how to order food from the little corner store. The smaller stores are different then the large Oken we shop at. It's still designed after the Communist Era in which everything is behind glass cases and you have to order your items. So I had written down the sentence of what we want and replace the product we're needing leaving the rest of the sentence the same. There is a gal that smiles when we come in and has helped with the pronunciation. Joe cheats and takes in the empty carton or package. Everyone tells us though that we've picked up the words real well, sing the hymns well, and know a lot more of the language then most couples. We would like to know more, but it's a very difficult language and probably never will be able to speak fluently. The good thing is that with one Russian word can mean a whole sentence in English. For instance, the Russian word "Skulka" (not spelled that way but typed to read it in English) means "How much does that cost."
We also couldn't believe the short time between seasons. When fall and spring arrive it only last about 3 weeks and the weather changes dramatically. Particularily in the spring - one day thee were no leaves on the trees, the next day they had leaves and the flowers were growing.
Our typical week in the office is Joe making sure the missionaries have money on their MSF cards, and all other expenses, audits, budgets of the mission. He also works closely with Sister Efimova with rentals on all the apartments. (Sister Efimova's husband was the first Russian mission president here in Russia. He died about 10 years ago from a heart attack. He was only 60).
I take care of missionary flights home, letters to parents, bishops, and stake presidents when they're soon to leave for home. I also manage photos and started the mission newsletter again. The mission hadn't had one for a little over a year. I record baptisms and make sure the originals get to Moscow. I maintain files on the missionaries both serving here and the members that have left here to serve missions elsewhere. I also have to apply for a 2nd passport for all U.S. missionaries. Joe and I go together to the U.S. Consulate to drop off the applications and pick up the passport about a week later. We got lost the first time going to the consulate on our own. Joe then looked it up on Google and we were able to find it the next time. (We were shown by the Arave's a couple of times but when we went on our own the first time we got lost.) We are very happy now to know our way around and don't fear being lost any more.
The main tourist street is Nevskiy Prospekt. Walking along this street you look at all the buildings in European-style design. Lots of people from around the world. During the summer there are a lot of tourists. Most Russian women are absolutely beautiful. Whereever you walk you see them dressed like models and wearing high heels. Even in the dead of winter they wore boots with spiky heels. We were told that although most don't have very much money to eat they make sure they look good. During the summer it's a bit difficult walking around and avoiding looking at clothing that are pretty much as short as possible and see through.
We have to renew our visas every 3 months. We normally go to Narva, Estonia (a 3 hour car ride one way). Our first trip was the end of October. When we arrived with a few other missionaries it was 6:30 a.m. and we had to stay outside until 10 a.m. when the stores and restaurants opened. We were sooooo cold. Elder Wignall knew the number of a couple of missionaries so he called them and we hung out at their apartment until 10. We were so grateful. Since then the mission president said we can no longer do that. We are still trying to figure a way of making things work better for us missionaries that have to stand outside in the cold (or hot) while waiting for businesses to open. (This is for the first group of missionaries that have to get their visas renewed.) The reason for the wait is that the driver that takes us there from St. Petersburg and has to take a bus to Tallin to the consulate there to pick up everyone's 2nd passports with the new visa in it. It is about a 6 hour round trip on the bus. He brings back everyone's passport that will have to go to Narva over the next several days. We all don't go at the same time. So the next groups will already have their 2nd passport with the new visa in it and they just have to leave Russia and go into Estonia, turn around and go back through the Estonia border showing the 2nd passport and walk over the bridge to the Russia border and reenter Russia. No long waiting outside.
This March we were surprised to learn that we could go with the mission president and his family to Helsinki, Finland because they renew their visas there and we went to the temple. The temple is quite beautiful. There is also a church hotel there that we stayed at. It has a very large common kitchen/dining hall. There are numerous refrigerators that has room numbers on the front. So depending on what room your staying at you put your food in that refrigerator. The rooms have 4 sets of bunk beds. The men and women sleep in different rooms - separate from each other. They also provide towels, soap, etc. We just took an overnight bag and food.
This is Joe's and my first time living alone. No kids, or grandkids. When we married and brought our families of 11 together and held 2 careers most days it was nothing less then chaotic. Each child had their own set of problems and we each had a lot to work through from our past. So, that being said, it's the first time to really discovery each other. There is very little if no stress here on our mission. We've focused on what we love - each other, our family, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We've made so many mistakes in parenting and other things. But we've also become so much closer and more wise. We have changed in so many ways and will have different relationships with our family members and with each other when we get home. We hope that through our mistakes of the past and our new found understanding we can be more beneficial to our kids and grandkids.
We love the people here that we serve and worship with. Russian people are very hardworking and most very poor. They work very hard but for very little money. We know of a branch president who is a neurosurgeon stated that when he earned his degree his pay was increased by 500 rubles a month! (That is only about $15 a month U.S.) He said that public transportation drivers makes more then he does.
We have seen quite a few drunk people passed out on the streets and one time a dead person at a bus stop near the consulate. It looked like he had been a bad fight. There have been other occasions particularly after holidays when we have seen blood in the hallways and sidewalks. It's extremely sad to see the lifestyle of some people - especially children. A lot of children suffer physical abuse because their parents suffered the same and discipline their children such. The main idea about marriage is you don't marry - you live together to see if it works out first. The gospel has literally changed the lives of people. In the way they see life and gives them hope of a brighter future. They are taught about good parenting and loving yourself and others.
In addition to our office responsibilities we have been asked to give talks in our branch, other branches, and the Institute. We taught the marriage relationships class and have recently been asked to visit one of the more distant branches outside the city. It is a three-hour ride by car to get there. Joe has also been called to be second counselor in the Elder's Quorum presidency. We have also on occasion been asked by the missionaries to assist with discussions particularly with English-speaking investigators. Joe has conducted and or presided at some of the convert baptism's.
What we anticpate for this next year. Having an opportunity to serve the members more and help share the gospel with the younger missionaries to those who are investigating the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. We both have a firm testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ's Church. That His gospel that he taught when he first walked upon the earth has been restored as has the Priesthood and that all God's children can come to know Him and know how to receive revelation and truth for each of their own salvation to live in His presence when we leave this mortal existence.
We welcome any questions you may have that we haven't covered thus far. You can email us at jeajoe1@gmail.com or respond to this or any other post.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Narva, Estonia

Joe and I by the river separating Estonia and Russia

Overlooking the river from Estonia into Russia

Left to Right: Elder Punderson, Elder Haggard, Elder Punderson, Igor Balashov (our church driver) Elder Luna and Nielson.
This is a "love tree" where couples engrave their wedding info and using a small padlock attach it to the "branch" of the tree.

Joe and I in front of a fountain by the castle.

Left to right: Sister Schaefer, Sister Luna, Elder Luna, Elder Poulson, Elder Punderson, Elder Haggard, Elder Nielson, and Igor Balashov.

Partial exterior of the castle built in the 1700s

Sight from the outer castle walls looking down at a park (which we later walked to and Joe and I sat in the swing next to the river.)

Little park along the road.

Joe and I with other missionaries went to Narva, Estonia July 29 to renew our visas (we have to leave Russia every 3 months to renew them.) It is nearly a 3 hour drive from St. Petersburg.
Narva is a cute little town right on the Russian/Estonia border. While waiting for the stores to open we toured the outside of the castle (we toured the inside last November in which I published pictures then). We also walked along the river that separates the two countries. It was a very beautiful summer day and the heat was cooler than the near 90s that we've had in St. Petersburg. After the stores opened we went to the one that sells A&W Root Beer and Dr. Pepper. The store also carries other named brand items from America and a lot of the food that you can read the label in English.