Dear Friends and Family,
Most of you know of my fascination with geography and history. I have become especially fascinated by the wonderful mosaic of different ethnic peoples who make up the former Soviet Union as well as the current Russian Federation. It has been interesting to learn about the home towns and areas of the two young Russian girls who serve here as missionaries. One is from Rostov over in the West and the other from another very interesting part of Russia called Kaliningrad. Won’t take time to talk about them here, but I have helped these two teach a young lady from Armenia named Lucenya. When I first met her I commented on her big beautiful eyes and she explained that they are part of her heritage and told me that she left Armenia about 7 years ago. It is an independent country now but her father was in the Russian military and was transferred to Georgia and then here to Usserisk where he retired. I have learned some very interesting things about Armenia and its long and sad history. She speaks Armenian, Russian, English and French. The end of this story is that Jim baptized her last Saturday, the 30th. This is his third baptism while we have been here.
We had a gathering at our apartment after the baptism and I think I could make money if I could get the rights to sell Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix here. Everyone loves it when I serve it with vegetables and I still have several packets that I have been hoarding. Everyone enjoyed the time together and some said they hated to leave. I could understand that, not just because of the fun and spirit we feel when we get together but also because I know what many of them go home to. Our apartment is like a mansion to them. I told my sister last week that cooking in our kitchen is like being in an RV but it is still way better than so many have.
On the Friday before that we were heading to the church for an appointment with a young lady who wanted me to help her to prepare her lesson for Sunday. We had to get off the bus and walk a long ways because the street was completely plugged with soldiers, tanks, trucks, etc. The formations of different soldiers were all lined up in the town square and soldiers stood guard all along the street. I was sooo nervous walking past them. Jim thought I was being silly. On our way home they were finally marching to the music provided by a band. We figured they were practicing for May Day because I thought that was supposed to be a big holiday here. But we found out on Tuesday at English Club – (yes, I forgot to tell you that English Club started again at the beginning of this month on Tuesdays) that it was actually a practice for Victory Day which is on May 9th. “But,” I said to the folks in English Club, “there were lots of fireworks on Sunday night, May Day. I could see the tops of them from our fourth floor apartment at about 10:30.” None of the people at English Club seemed to know anything about the fireworks. They said that May 9th is a much bigger holiday. It is the holiday when they celebrate victory in WWII (The Great Patriotic War), in which one in every four Russians died. They remember it well.
At English Club we were told that those who have garden space usually spend this holiday planting potatoes. The trees just this week have started to turn green and I would say that Spring has arrived. The weather is still unpredictable from one hour to the next but I guess that is how this season is in many places. Just last week it was snowing like crazy in the northern part of our mission.
We had a busy week preparing for an open house at our little branch which was held on Friday, May 6th and Saturday, the 7th. It was to commemorate the church being in Russia for 20 years and I am told that it has been in this town for ten. Jim and I taped the hallway doors, light switches, etc so that it could get a fresh coat of paint. We also prepared a special display for Humanitarian Services and the many projects that have been done in this area in the last 10 years. On my way home from the open house (Jim was in a meeting) on Friday night I saw the same line up of military equipment and soldiers practicing for the Victory Day parade and had to walk a long way to catch a bus. I don’t feel that I need to see the parade now that I have seen two practices. And it is a good thing because the young missionaries have received permission from the Mission President to come and use our computer so that they can have a Skype call with their mothers for Mother’s Day. We have them all on a schedule for Monday morning, which will be Sunday there. The two Russian Sisters will come over Sunday night to call their mothers in western Russia because it is only 7 hours behind us here.
I guess the last and most difficult news from us is that Jim was made the President of our little Branch here in Usserisk today (Sunday). For those of you not of our faith, that means he is like the Pastor of this congregation. He was so overwhelmed when the mission president first asked him but he is getting used to the idea. Though he speaks very little Russian the people here love him and he has been “Mr. Fixit” for all of the single ladies. All I can do is quote Luke 1:37 – “For with God nothing shall be impossible…”
On what old TV show did they used to sing, “Thank you for all those cards and letters, you folks in television land”? We received very welcome mail last week : a wonderful newsy letter from our friend PJ (in Mitchell, Oregon) and two cards from our dear Hilary (in Aberdeen, WA) all in just 2 1/2 weeks. They sent them to our apartment address rather than the mission address. We also received an Easter Card from the Evelands in Madras this last week which arrived in about the same time and was sent to the mission address in Vladivostok. We LOVE mail from home!
I am going to close this and send it off earlier than usual because the missionaries will have the computer tied up. Happy Mothers Day to all of our precious female friends. Whether you have born children or not you are all mothers in God’s eyes because of your nurturing and loving hearts. We love and miss you all sooooo much! Next Mother’s Day in America! Love, Elder and Sister R