Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Karen's May Letter

        May began with parades and celebrations for "Spring and Labor Day" and "Victory Day" (to celebrate the Soviet victory in WWII). (We have a previous blog on these two holidays.)  We got off the train from a conference in Novosibirsk in the morning, pulling our suitcase and went straight to the parade.  It was a very cold day, but everyone was excited about the festivities here in Krasnoyarsk.  We enjoyed seeing the children eating their ice cream cones and waving their balloons.  The white balloon I am holding in the picture was a gift from a small child.  Since the first of May we  feel like we have been going backwards weather wise.  We are now wearing our winter coats, and sometimes our hoods.  We are looking forward to the June weather.  Just today, May 29th we were out in our winter coats wearing our hoods.  I am so glad that I wore my long John's.
These two pictures were taken yesterday on May 29th.  The tulips are just starting to open up. It will be gorgeous in a week or so.

        The Novosibirsk mission will have sixteen missionaries leave for home by the first part of July (including us).    President Gibbons said that he feels like a kid who just got the training wheels taken off of his bike. These missionaries were in the MTC with President and Sister Gibbons.  All of his office help, will be leaving, or have already left.   He told them that they are like shining stones that will light the way for their families, friends and all those they meet.

        We have received new missionaries in Krasnoyarsk which is always refreshing and interesting. We were able see some leave on the train and new ones arrive.  After four trips to the train station in one week, we finally got them all where they were supposed to be.  The new ones look so young, although we do have a twenty-two year old from Texas. They are all fired up to do the job.  They jump right in, and give us all a new lease on life.  New missionaries are on fire and it is contagious.  The missionaries that are leaving are full of wisdom and are on fire with experience.  They are ready for life and all that God has planned for them.  They go home men and women, with strong testimonies that light up their eyes.

        Being  on a mission has given us time to spend together studying the scriptures.  We decided to study the life of Paul.  Sometimes our scripture study is thirty minutes and sometimes it is two hours.  Once in a while we just get going and can't stop.  One day while studying 2nd Cor. 5:7 we realized that walking by FAITH is what we do on earth because we cannot see God.  We were wondering how Paul learned so much about the gospel, after all, he is the teacher of all teachers.  So we learned in Gal.1:1,11-12 Paul tells us that he was divinely taught the message of the gospel and that he had no human mentor in the faith.  So Gal.1:15-17 while in solitude in Arabia with only himself and Jesus he came out of that experience convinced that Jesus was both Lord, 1 Cor. 9:1 Phil. 3:8 and the Son of God, Gal. 1:16. What a powerful teacher he was.   Right now I am reading a book called "Saul of Tarsus, a biography of the Apostle Paul."  We are so thankful for this time we have been able to spend.  We are also thankful for parents who brought us up in the gospel, and line upon line, we are slowly learning.

        Knowing that Mothers Day was coming the missionaries scheduled their skyping home, times with us.  They began Sunday evening and came again Monday morning.  The Friday before was still a holiday, and our internet went down.  Frank figured that it was because our billing period was up and it was time to pay again.  We never get a bill, or a call, or any indication of when to pay, but from experience we know what we have to do.   We were worried that the office would be closed for the Victory Day holiday (it is one of the biggest holidays of the year here in Russia).   On Friday we quickly walked over to the office  and found it closed.  The note on the door told us that the office would be open by 11:00 am Saturday.  Frank went back and got it all taken care of.  Whew!! that could have been very disappointing for these kids. It was so fun hearing the families of the missionaries cheering when they would see their missionary.  It made me a little homesick, but, also warm and fuzzy.
        We invited two families over on Sunday for dinner, (mothers day in America). President Kotov (our,branch president) and his wife, Liza and their two children Lowva and baby girl. They will soon be moving to St. Petersburg and we will truly miss them.
President Vetsel (counselor in the district presidency), his wife Elena, and their two children Daniel, and Adrione.  Daniel and Lowva are both three years old, so it felt like home having these kids around. Adrione is about eighteen months old.  We all sat down to eat just like at home.  Lowva fell off of his chair twice, just like at home.  Water was spilled just like at home.  Lowva and Daniel explored our apartment, just like at home.  They found some treats and bit into them, just like at home.  Lowva found two paper egg cartons I was saving for nursery.  He began to snap them together pretending that he was a crocodile, just like at home.  Pretty soon President Kotoff became the crocodile chasing the boys around the apartment, just like at home.  Daniel fell and bumped his head just like at home.  After they left, Frank and I began to clean up, just like at home.  There was enough food on the floor to use a shovel, just like at home.  As we were cleaning we began to talk about how soon we would be home with our own grandchildren doing this same thing.  Oddly enough, we are excited. 

        We have said it before, but, it is more and more evident as we are out and about.  While waiting for the key to the gate at the Branch, Frank and I stood looking around the neighborhood.  As cars were turning the corner, and children were playing, an old babushka caught my eye.  She was standing at her window (no screens) with her scarf wrapped around her head.  The apartment building was old and dilapidated.  As she gazed out to get a breath of air, I thought about what she has seen in her life, and what her future holds.
        While walking down Mira street in the center of the city the other day we passed beautifully dressed women, men with their expensive suits and children in their brightly colored coats.  Then, out of nowhere came two  babushka's with canes.  Their dresses were plain, they wore black coats, long black stockings and scarfs on their heads.  It is a common sight, but we just can't get used to it. 

        We were able to attend the baptism of Matvey (the russian equivalent of Matthew) who is eight years old.  His mother is the primary president.  She said that Matvey wanted me to speak about the Holy Ghost at his baptism.  Matvey's baptism is the first eight year old baptism we have had since we have been here.  We were so excited for him and happy to be able to participate.  Thanks to the missionaries, who translated, it all worked out fine. 
Matvey was baptized by his uncle Sasha (Alexander) Vettsel. Matvey's mom Ludmilla is on the left and Sasha's wife Elena is on the right.

Karen's "The Holy Ghost Is Like a Warm Blanket" talk.

        We were sad to hear about the death of Sister Monson.  Those two were such an amazing couple.  We were watching a CES fireside talk by Elder Walker, for FHE with our YSA's.  It was a talk about President Monson to help the youth get acquainted with him.  The speaker gave us five ways that we can be like President Monson.  1.  Be positive:  You can't change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.  2. Be kind to children, wiggle your ears.  3.  Follow the promptings of the spirit, feel it and then act upon it.  4.  Love the temple. 5. Be kind and considerate and love others. The pattern of our prophet is the way we should go. We also learned that his favorite scripture is one of my favorites.  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all they ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy path." Prov 3:5,6.  President Monson, we ever pray for you.

        This last winter, while looking at ice sculptures, we fell in love with the paintings that were being displayed down by the river.  As time passed we got more information about the artist and learned that he is a famous artist from Krasnoyarsk.  Two weeks ago we found a museum with some of his paintings in it.  Then last Saturday we went for a walk to see what we could see.  First we ran into children dancing together in sort of a line dancing technique.  As we were watching them some older high school graduates joined in the fun.
We kept walking and ran into a museum with Surikov's name on the gate.  We had been there once before but it was closed.  Today we were able to go inside.  As we opened the gate there were four buildings built out of wood.  One looked like a shed, the other, like a very small cabin, the third maybe another small home or studio, and the fourth was Surikov's HOME. The yard was grassy with an area for a garden.  It was amazing inside.  When we opened the door we were met with five huge stairs which led to the main floor.
        The walls of the rooms were covered with his paintings.  The furniture was original, as was the doilies (made by his mother) and the handiwork on the towels.  He and his wife had two children.  There was a huge painting of a man sitting in a chair.  We found out that it was his wife's doctor.  The script in the book informed us that he told the Doctor that if he could save his wife from dying, he would paint him.  His wife died, but he painted him anyway.  We felt a lot of love in that home. We feel like they had a very happy family.
        When we went downstairs we had to watch our heads because the stairs went straight down and the stair well was very narrow and steep.  We were told that a home built at least somewhat below the ground  was helpful to keep the home warmer.  The windows were right on the same level as the sidewalk outside.  We saw Surikov's coat, and some of his wife's clothing.  We also saw one of our favorite paintings.  It is a winter scene called "The Taking of the Snow Fortress".  It is a game they played where two teams each build a wall, or fort out of snow.  The teams would throw snowballs at each other and run at each other individually or with horses to see who could knock down the other teams wall.  This picture shows a man on a horse coming through the wall. There are smiles on the faces of the children and adults.  I think that is the main reason we love the picture.  Surikov died in 1916 just before the revolution. 
This picture of one of Surikov's paintings is on this fence all year in all kinds of weather.

"Aleksandr Menshikov in Berezova"   Menshikov was a friend of Peter the Great and defacto ruler of Russia for two years.  He fell out of favor with the royalty and was exiled to Siberia.  This picture is of Menshikov and his family in exile.

The family doctor

This is one of our favorites "The taking Of The Snow Fortress" (1891).  This shows his great love of life and is considered his "most joyous masterpiece."

This shows how the home is partially underground.

A relief of Vasily Surikov.

       Right now the workers are out preparing those huge plant sculptures that are around Krasnoyarsk.  The Giraffe's are close to where we live so we have several pictures of the progress that they are making.  It is quite the project.  There are usually anywhere from five to seven adults working on them at the same time.  We are excited to see them when they are finished.  We can see that the frame is metal, and then filled with dirt, but, not just any dirt.  It seems to be like a cement dirt.  Lines are drawn on the dirt so that they can make the Giraffe's spots out of different colored plants.  After they plant a section they cover it with plastic.  We will let you see how they turn out.

This was taken in the same park as the giraffes and show that pigeons still rule the roost in Russia.

        This time around we were not given a definite date when our hot water would be turned back on.  We knew within a couple of days, so we were fine with it.  Then on Tuesday, the day we were hoping it would come back on we got another surprise.  When I tried to turn on the kitchen lights, there were no lights. Frank was in the bathroom at the same time.  We both said in unison, guess what, we have no electricity. This time we had to go without showers.  We went for a walk, read, watched the news on the computer.  Read some more.  Went for a another walk, and then about five o clock, we went to get a bowl of  soup and a salad.  When we got home at five forty-five, we had power and hot water.  So after five days we now have power and water.  We have learned this past year with all the hot-water turn-offs that you can get a pretty decent shower with one pot of hot water.  We have no idea what went on, but we are loving it, knowing that this will be our last hot water turn-off.

        Having an attitude of gratitude is also one of President Monson's slogans.  We are so grateful everyday for the Lord, our Savior, our family, our friends and the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.  Everyday we see the tender mercies of our Lord.  If we look, we will find the love that he has for each of us.  We know that without him none of this work could be done.  We are so thankful that he let us help him with his work.
        We know that we are not perfect, but the beautiful thing about being imperfect is we get to see things greater than ourselves.  We get to rely on the Savior.  His love makes everything and everyone come together. Lasting changes in the world are made through personal interactions.  The call to repent is a cry for healing not rebuke.  We love the people of Krasnoyarsk Russia.  We pray for the spirit to rest on this city, touching hearts that will receive his great message.  We also pray for all of you who have had difficult moments this year.  We know that God loves us and wants the best for us.  We are so blessed to have his words at our finger tips. May God bless you,

Love Elder and Sister Noel

Sunday, May 26, 2013

High School Graduation

        Our Institute classes ended last Friday, so this Friday, May 24th, Karen and I had a little down time in the afternoon so we decided to take a walk to a park not far from our apartment.  We were entering the park at about the same time as a group of young teen-agers.  They were all dressed nice with suits, nice dresses, and most of them had a sash across their shoulder.  The girls had large white bows in their hair, heels, dresses, and white lace aprons.  We went into the park with them, talked to a few of them in the best russian we could (which is not very good by the way).  Turns out it is a high school graduation tradition.  We talked to one of our young single adult girls today in church and she remembers doing the exact same thing dressed the same way when she graduated from high school.  The park we went into is an amusement park somewhat like Lagoon but on a much smaller scale.  (You might remember from an earlier post last September that  the younger girls in primary school wear similar bows in their hair on the first day of school.) The next day we saw another group similarly dressed with the bows and sashes but the girls had longer dresses and pant suits and heels.  How you dress depends on the school.  (There are approximately 200 high schools in Krasnoyarsk)  But the bows and sashes are worn by all of them.   Here are a few pictures.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Interesting Russian Holidays

      Before I mention the Russian Holidays let me give you the good news.   Pavel was baptized this week.   He is a young man that was taught by Elders Topham and Batson.  We are so looking forward to having him in the branch.  The missionaries are working hard.  Elder Topham and Harrison go home this week and we will miss them a lot. But we will get some new missionaries who we will learn to love just as much.

Elder Topham on the left, Pavel and Elder Batson

       During the Soviet era May 1st was International Worker's Day and was a big holiday in Russia and other countries.  Since the end of the Soviet era the name was eventually changed to "Spring and Labor Day."  It marks the coming of spring and is in honor of the worker.  There are parades and speeches etc.  You see balloons and fruit tree branches with spring blossoms being held by a lot of the people.  The fruit tree branches with blossoms are in celebration of the coming of spring.  The problem is the fruit tree blossoms are not generally out here in Siberia by May 1st so all those we see are fake blossoms.   The parade generally consists of workers unions or political parties.  But before all that starts they let the Communist party have their rally and speeches at the foot of Lenin's statue and when they have finished they leave and everyone else parades and have their speeches at the same location.    The first few pictures are the communist rally and the rest of them are everyone else.
During the Soviet era the flag was red with a hammer and sickle.  Since the Soviet era the flag has been changed to a flag with three large horizontal bars, a white, a blue and a red.  You can see it in the background behind Lenin.

The banner reads  "Communist Party!  With her to the end. We will bring victory"

A little girl approached Karen on the street and gave her a balloon.

       "Victory Day" is on May 9th and is one of the biggest holidays in Russia.  It celebrates the Russian Victory in World War II.  Banks, government offices, schools and some of the stores are closed for a couple of days.  This year it fell on Thursday so Prime Minister Medvedev signed a proclamation allowing the holiday to extend through Sunday the 12th.   You may have seen in the news the big celebration in Red Square in Moscow where President Putin spoke and their were lots of military equipment rolling through the square as well as many many soldiers, sailors etc. marching in review. That was Victory Day.  They have a similar but much smaller parade here in Krasnoyarsk.  Here are a few photos.

This is some kind of a youth political or military group.  Notice the high heels ladies.  These are very typical here in Russia but a little unusual in a parade.

The black and orange ribbons are part of the celebration and you see them everywhere, on clothing, cars, bicycles etc.

This is Maria (Masha) Shishmarova who we ran into at the parade.  She is one of our faithful young single adults.

And of course there are horses for the little kids.  There are horses at almost every public event winter spring and summer.

This is the front of the Russian Orthodox Church right next to our apartment building.  These young people standing guard are members of a group called "Pioneers."  During the Soviet era they were called "Scouts."  And in fact they are similar to our Boy Scouts.  They are a very good organization and try to build leadership qualities in these youth.   This is part of the Victory Day celebration.

Red carnations are traditional at Victory Day.  It is common for the youth to carry them around and then give them to veterans of the war who they run into on the streets.  One young man came up to me and handed me 3 or 4 thinking I was a veteran.  I was touched until it occurred to me that I would have to be about 88 to 90 to be a veteran.  I guess the mission has taken its toll on me.  I couldn't take the carnations of course (I purchased two from a street vendor) but I was touched by this sweet tradition in honor of the veterans.  I think the Russians lost about 27 million lives in that war including both civilian and military.  Total military lives lost they estimate to be about 8.7 million.

Horses again.

I don't think this is a horse but for a few rubles the kids can have a ride.

Most people like to just lounge around the parks on Victory Day if there is good weather which there was on this day.

        We love you all and look forward to seeing you again.
Elder and Sister Noel