Monday, February 25, 2013

Hello From Russia (Karen's monthly letter)

Dear Family and Friends,

We are looking at March in the face and wondering where February went.  Oh yes, that is the month we traveled 14,000 miles within a thirty day period.  Frank has done a great job posting these excursions, so I won't go into any of that.  We just have to say that being in Ephesus, walking where Paul walked and taught, made us realize what a driven missionary he was. When we look at the maps and see the distances  he traveled to carry out Christ's plea "to spread the gospel to all the world" we can only be grateful that we are able to travel by plane, train, and bus. I was reading in Acts the other day and loved this verse, talking about Christ.  Acts 14:17  "He left not himself without witness, in that he did good and gave us rain, from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." 

We can tell that you are all praying for the work here.  We had a baptism on February 1st.  Her name is Leena. She began coming to FHE (Family Home Evening)  a few months ago so we got to know her.  She is now married and has baby so she no longer attends FHE. Each week she comes to our branch meetings.  Her husband takes care of the baby at home for her.  He told the missionaries that they were invited over any time.  

Last Saturday while we were in Novosibirsk for a mini YSA conference, there was another baptism in Krasnoyarsk.  This lady is in her forties.  Her name is Neena.  She is married to an atheist, and they have two children.  She has been taught by several missionaries because of transfers and such.  She has from the start loved the gospel.  She loves the commandments, and knows that they are for our good.  She never questioned any of the commandments that she was asked to follow.  She also comes every week.  I sat by her today (Sunday), we sang the hymns together and it was nice because she didn't know the tune, and I don't read the words perfectly, so between the two of us we got through it. She is a sweetheart. ..".Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love." D&C 6:20

Our next baptism is scheduled for March 9th.  Artiom is seventeen years old.  He is a nice looking young man who met the missionaries at english class on Wednesday nights.  He says that the gospel makes sense to him and he wants it in his life.  His mother actually has come to church with him twice.  We are excited to soon add another member to the  priest's quorum.  
Keep praying for the work to continue, it is helping.

On Feburary 10th I got word that Galia, the YSA nursery leader and her visiting teaching companion Tonya and a couple of ladies from the Relief Society were going to visit sister Galeena a shut-in.  They were planning on making her some food and then all walking to her apartment.  I asked if I could be in the kitchen while they were making the food, and of course Galia said, "yes, and would you come with us to see Galeena?"  Sister Olga had previously made the dough for the dish, so we just rolled it out into two rectangles.  We put one on the bottom of a cookies sheet while Olga made the filling.  She opened a LARGE can of sardines  put them in a bowl then added some cooked cooled rice that had been cooked with some flavoring.  She began to mix the two together until it was like a paste.  She began to spread the combination onto the bottom dough.  After that she put the top layer on and put it in the oven.  It raised as it cooked until it was about four inches high.  It cooked for about 20-30 minutes, and then cooled a little while we were getting our winter clothes on.  As we all gathered, I counted nine people.  One of them was Antone, a YSA who was going to bless the sacrament for her.  We walked quite a ways and finally reached her apartment.  She was so happy to see everyone.  The visiting began, then the sacrament (that is always my favorite part), and then the food.  We all sat around a small table while tea cups, sugar, candy, and juice cups were being placed about.  It was a wonderful little lunch.

After eating and things were put away the visiting continued. Antone left and went back to the branch building.   I was sitting on a wooden stool with no back to it.  The visiting went on and on until I thought that my bones were going to touch the wooden bench.  Galia got up from her stool and began to rub Tonya's neck.  I got the idea of standing up and rubbing Galia's neck.  So I did.  I wanted to call Frank and tell him that I was still alive because I told him that I would be about one hour when I left him at the branch.   We were now on hour three.  My phone was dead, and so I borrowed Galia's.  As I was standing there taking all of this in, I realized that time is so precious with these Russians.  We will be gone soon and we will never have this chance again.  To see them visit with this lady and care for her was such a tender experience.  I can see that things run a little slower here, and visiting is an important commitment.  "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.  And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.  Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind..." D&C 64:33-34
Galya and Karen cooking bread for a primary activity.

I have always had a difficult time remembering names.  Children's names not so, but adults, I just struggle.  So here in Russia, I have really tried hard to connect with these people and learn their names.  I have written them down, and studied them.  But, just when I think I have it, I don't.  The other day Frank told me about a young man named Pasha.  While he was talking about him he said, Pavel.  I interrupted him saying wait a minute I thought his name was Pasha.  Frank said that his name is Pasha, but they also call him Pavel, and Panya.  About that same time I asked a sister missionary the name of a lady and she said Leena, I told her that I thought her name was Elena. Sister Brown said, yea, it's the same name.  That same week I found out that Galia is the same as Galina and Tonya is the same as Tatianna, and  Masha is the same as Maria.  Oh my gosh, I am so confused.  Each week, I learn more names, but now I have decided that if I just learn Leena, Antone, Masha, Galia, I will be safe because the Russian people do not have a lot of different names, just a lot of the same names, so my chances of getting their name right is much better here.  

We were invited over to eat dinner with  and give a family home evening lesson to the Vetsel family.  Grandma, Mother, daughter Mary (14) son Matthew (7)  and a young girl living there attending the university. One set of missionaries also came to interpret for us.  The grandma told us that when the missionaries came to her apartment years ago, she knew that she wanted to join the church.  She knew that it was true right from the start.  She said that she and her two daughters and son were all baptized.  (Her son is in our district presidency) One daughter lives in Orem Utah and is married to a returned missionary, and one daughter Ludmilla (primary president) lives here  with her two children Mary and Matthew.  Grandma told us that the day after they were all baptized the branch had a picnic.  She brought her family to the picnic and was so surprised and grateful to see no alcohol, smoking, or hearing bad language.  She said, this is how I want to raise my family. 
Frank had a wonderful lesson on the Holy Ghost and afterwards we ate dinner.  Ludmilla and Mary and the other young gal began to bring out the food.  A beautiful potato salad, carrot salad, and then, who would have guessed, another fish pie, they call it.  It was really good, and we felt so blessed to be in their apartment to feel the spirit there.  Grandma had been working all day cooking this dinner.  They told us that they love us and wanted to show their love by cooking for us. Wow, how humbling.  

Frank took me and our three sister missionaries (we are waiting for the fourth)  to TGI Fridays for Valentines day lunch.  There was Sister Denkers from ILL. Sister Brown from Palm Springs, and Sister Xanthos from Highland Utah.  They made us a cute valentine and were so happy to go to lunch, we had a great time.

Frank has been aware of the euorpean man purses that the guys wear over here.  The missionaries also use them for all of the materials that they have to carry.  He has fought the idea until the other day when it was near his birthday and I mentioned that I would like to get him one for his birthday.  He hesitated, and then decided that we would go check them out.  Sure enough, he found one that wasn't too over-powering, and decided that he would get it. So now he looks just like all the other Russian men and missionaries here.  It actually is quite handy, who would have thought?  But, the best gift was from all of our kids and grandkids who sent letters to dad and grandpa with the memories they had of him. He had such a great time reading through them  Many of the things he read about had been forgotten by him, but, long remembered by his kids and grandchildren.
That night (Franks birthday) we were invited to a musical at a large auditorium.  Sister Vetsel, teaches some singing classes and also sings in a group so she got tickets for us.  Galia helped us find the address and came with us.  The audience was full of grandparents, just like home.  The singing and dancing was top notch.  The little kids danced their hearts out.  The music and costumes were so Russian, all except one American dance.  The groups came on and off without a glitch. Everything was flawless, from the beautiful light show at the beginning to the large screen tvs on each side of the stage to introduce each act, to the numerous wireless mikes on the stage at the same time to the fantastic lighting and in one hour it was over.  They didn't waste anytime, we really enjoyed it. 

Sister Vetsel of our branch is in the middle of the group.

When Frank and I first arrived in Krasnoyarsk and began to shop for food we were (I was) always complaining about the small packages of things that I needed.  Small bags of flour, sugar, salt (for playdough).  Small, small, small.  I just couldn't understand.  But, now after six months of grocery shopping,and  lugging literally  hundreds of pounds of groceries from the grocery store and up 78 stairs each time, WE ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR SMALL BAGS OF FOOD.  

Frank put a few pictures of love locks on our blog.  We had Sergey and Julia for dinner the other night and asked them about the tradition.  Sergey said that when two people get married they buy a lock and then write the date of their wedding on it. Then they find a gate to attached it to and then throw away the key.  They want their hearts to be locked together for ever.  Sounds familiar right? 

Right above us on the hill is a church with a metal gate around it. Everyday at 12:00 noon the cannon there goes off.  The blast is so loud that it often sets off car alarms in our parking lot.  Around this church is a fence with dozens of love locks.  We love the idea of the love locks, so before we leave Siberia, we are going to get a lock, put our names and the  date that we served here on it, and attach it to a gate near the cannon church. It will be a constant reminder of the love that we have, not only for each other, but, for the saints of Krasnoyarsk.  
The "Cannon" church Karen spoke about.  These photos were taken in September.


While out with Sergey and Julia the other day, they showed us some more of Krasnoyarsk. They took us to a fish market where they sold nothing but fish.  I have never in my life seen so much fish.  There was a tasting table there with some cubes of bread, and some dark slimy slices of raw fish.  Julia took a tooth pick and began to put bread and fish on it.  I thought that she was going to eat it, but she handed it to Frank.  I quickly picked up my own tooth pick and put bread on it and stuck it in my mouth.  Frank is not a big fan of raw fish. He looked at the tooth pick and saw that Julia, Sergey, and the clerk were all looking back at him.  He tried to stall by asking the name of the fish.  He didn't get a name.  I felt so bad for him, he really isn't a fish person, and raw fish just puts him to bed.  He was so brave and put the whole thing in his mouth.  He chewed it up and said, "wow, that's great!" I was so proud of him, he didn't even have water to wash it down with. 

 They took us on the East side of the city where there is an aluminum plant.  As we got closer you could see a huge cloud above it.  Sergey told us that this plant uses forty percent of the electricity that the damn here genrerates.  The plant employs 10,000 people.  One of our YSA's works there.  Frank rolled down the window to get a picture and the smell was horrible.  We were coughing and choking immediately.  The pollution is over the top.  The plant covers hundreds of acres of land with power poles going back and forth through it.  He told us that the people who work there don't live very long.  He also showed us a prison located just up the hill from the plant. 
The Aluminum plant

After dinner we showed Julia and Sergey our slide show of Turkey.  They love to travel and really enjoyed seeing our pictures. 

One of our trips this month was to Novosibirsk for a YSA mini conference.  While we were there we hung out with the Gundersons who are the senior CES couple there.  After the conference we attended the ballet "Sleeping Beauty" at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater.  We have written about that theater before.  It was a great production with live orchestra and really first class dancers and musicians.  But it was long.  Three hours!  
The YSA's from Krasnoyarsk who attended the conference.  They all rode 12 hours on a train to get to the 1 day conference and 12 hours back to Krasnoyarsk.

All of those from throughout the mission who attended the Conference.

Karen and Sister Gunderson

Sunday they met us on the Metro so that we could walk with them to church.  As we were walking we were amazed at the amount of snow they had there.  It had to be close to two feet in some places.  It was actually snowing as we were walking.  All of a sudden a women, a new member came up and walked with us.  Sister Gunderson introduced her to us.  I looked at her and to my surprise her face had snow and frost stuck to it.  She was smiling, but her face was covered with snow.  I had never seen that before.  She just kept walking and talking and getting more and more and more snow building up on her face.  It took us about twenty minutes to reach the building.  After we got there she took out a cloth and wiped off her face, like this is what you do.  Sister Gunderson told us that she is the only member in her family.  Her husband is an atheist and her daughters are not active in any church.  She will never tell her family that she is a member of the LDS church because it will cause tension and problems.  Sister Gunderson told her that we are not a church of secrets, and she said, I cannot bring tension into my home.  I want peace, and for this reason I will not tell.  
I can remember thinking as I was walking about how cold it gets here, but, how warm you become when you enter the church and meet with the saints.  Their hearts are so warm and their testimonies so strong.  They treasure the gospel, they have never had anything like it, and some have been searching for their entire lives.  What a blessing to feel of their love and commitment, to Christ.  Luke 12:34 For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

We love you all, and give God thanks for the tender mercies he has shown to our family and extended families this past month.  We are so grateful for your prayers and never ending concern.  May we all be worthy of the blessing that God has in store for us. All our Love Elder and Sister Noel
Every day we see this little lady in the morning feeding the pigeons.  This was taken from our bedroom window 5 stories up.

One of the good sisters from our Relief Society has a connection with a local university museum.  She took us with the missionaries and some of the sisters in the Relief Society on a tour.

An actual sleigh from a by-gone age.

They made "sleeping platforms" near the wood stove so they could keep warm from the rising heat while sleeping.

These are actual chains used to transport prisoners to Siberia.

Karen with some of the Relief Society sisters who went with us on the tour.

Notice the wood plane in the center (blue color)

Our wonderful missionaries in the Krasnoyarsk district.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Key To My Heart . . . and more ice.

        First the good news.   Another women has been touched by the Holy Ghost and accepted the Gospel, here in Krasnoyarsk.  She was baptized last Saturday.  Karen and I were at a Young Single Adult Conference in Novosibirsk so we were not able to attend and so far we have no pictures.  Karen might be able to fill you in on more details in her letter.  But the work is going well.  A young 17 year-old man has also expressed a desire to be baptized. (Hoorah! That will increase the ranks of our Aaronic Priesthood by about 30%. . .if I did the math right.)  He has already attended our Aaronic Priesthood.   He will be baptized on March 9th.  So the work  of the Lord goes on and we are blessed to be a part of it.
        Also some of you have asked about the meteor that hit Russia.  It was about 1,400 miles away in Chelyabinsk.  We didn't fell, see or hear it.
        Last Thursday the temperatures soared into the mid-teens F (today it is actually 24 degrees, the same as Eden, Utah) and so Karen and I decided to take a long walk.   We walked to the end of our street,  Mira Street, where there is a foot bridge that goes part way across the Yenisey River to an Island in the river.  There is an interesting and charming custom in Russia.  Often when couples get married they will write their names on a lock and fasten it to the fence on a bridge or the fence around a church or park etc. and throw away the key.   It shows that their hearts are locked together tightly and it is a hope that their marriage will be strong and lasting.  So we will often see these locks.  When there are a significant number the city maintenance people come along and cut them off with bolt cutters and they start all over again.  Here are some pictures. Surprisingly the river hardly ever freezes over.  The reason is because there is a large hydroelectric dam just upstream from the city.  The water is sent down from the bottom of the river through the dam and is therefore warmer and doesn't freeze until it gets almost out of town.  However it often has a lot of mist rising off the water, I think because the water is warmer than the air.

This is a small portion of the Yenisey River over which they have constructed a foot bridge.

Another portion of the river.

       During our walk we came across some more ice features.  Just before you get on this bridge there is a large concert hall.  During the winter months they flood part of the parking lot and make an ice rink.  Also notice the perfectly built igloo.  These people really know their ice.

Notice the ice wall built partially around the rink.

Inside the igloo.  It was actually kind of warm.

A young boy just "chillin" inside the igloo.  (His mother gave us permission to take the photo.)

This is a log cabin ice house built around a plywood shed where they rent the ice skates.

They carve figures into the ice block and then pack it with snow to highlight the figure.  Clever!

           We send our love to all of you.  We hope and pray that everything is going well for you back home or wherever you are.  We are so thankful that our dear niece, Heather, is progressing after a terrible automobile accident.  She has a long way to go, but prayers are being answered and she is getting the best of care.  Please remember her and her family.
Elder and Sister Noel