Greetings from Russia,
Another month has zipped by. Winter has tightened her grip on Northern Russia and other than new layers of snow; there is very little change to mark the passing of one day to the next. That said, the Russian people are hearty and take the cold in stride. One morning as we walked past the park next to our apartment there were people walking and a mother watching her child moving about in the small playground area. People are bundled up warmly but their ability to move about in the extreme cold is impressive. We had been having large snowflakes, the kind of flakes that are the size of your thumb, falling that morning. They looked about the way you would imagine goose feathers would look falling from a large pillow in the sky. The temperature that day was forecast to have a high of 14 and a low of 4 degrees Fahrenheit. At home one would scarcely see people in that kind of weather but here it is business as usual. The Russians really are very robust and the locals tell us that February will be colder when the winds come.
As for today, the sun was shining which means it was several degrees colder in the shade but pleasant wherever the sun was visible. We did some shopping in the morning hours then spent the afternoon studying and catching up on anything we had neglected over the past week. This evening we went to visit an adult English class at a local school. It was well attended and the students asked many good questions about where we are from, how we like it here and what our impressions are of Yaroslavl and Russia in general. All of the students were beginner to intermediate English speakers. We enjoyed the experience.
It has been some time since we last wrote. We have been “anxiously engaged in a good cause”. We have been to Moscow on three occasions and we are going there again this coming Friday for another conference. We flew from Moscow to Kiev, Ukraine last Thursday to renew our Visas. We were in Moscow at the time of the airport attack but were fortunate not to be flying that day.
We are very sorry for the loss of life and sorry for the circumstances that would lead groups and individuals to believe that such acts are an appropriate venue for drawing attention to the issues they feels so strongly about. Violence begets violence. Actions of this nature do draw attention but not the kind they are wanting. Any sympathy for their cause is swallowed up in grief and returned with anger. In the book “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas, it says: “for men who are truly generous are always ready to [be] compassionate when the misfortune of their enemy surpasses the limits of their hatred.” The limits of hatred do not seem to subside when a less fortunate enemy only knows to kick at his oppressors. Generosity or compassion, if there be any, will be slow in coming while there is renewed hatred to fuel the flames.
We have had a few personnel changes in Yaroslavl. As we mentioned, we knew that we were getting a set of sister missionaries. When we went to Moscow on January 3rd & 4th we learned that Elder Smith was being transferred to Minsk, Belarus and in his place we were receiving a new missionary, Elder Aniciforov, who was recently called from Odessa, Ukraine. He is good natured and already speaks the language. We were sad to see Elder Smith go. Minsk will be better for having him.
We assisted Elder Smith as he carried his bags with him. The handle on his large suitcase broke and he had quite a time dragging it through the snow. It was good to see the other missionaries. We each enriched our spirits, enjoyed good conversation, read mail from home, ate traditional holiday foods and participated in other festive activities. We put on small skits, sang holiday songs and ate a wonderful ham dinner with potatoes, yams, vegetables and warm wassail.
Before going to Moscow we busily searched for and found an apartment for the new sisters. We spent part of New Year’s Day cleaning it and getting it ready for their arrival. It is on the same street where we live and is about a ten minute walk from our door. After the party we all rode back in the mission van. As for the sisters, we received Sister Naleafkina who is from Sakhalin Island, just North of Japan, on the Eastern edge of Russia. She is a native Russian and has been in the mission field for nine months. She is already helping us with our Russian. Her companion is Sister Taggert from Puyallup, WA. Sister Taggert is a new missionary fresh from the Missionary Training Center. We actually met her when we were there in late October.
In the few weeks we have been with the new missionaries and our time with Elder Weihing, we have gained so much for which we are grateful. Following are a few brief comments on each of them:
Elder Weihing – Elder Weihing has proven to be an awesome missionary in all aspects of the work. We enjoyed working with he and Elder Smith. Elder Smith had a warm spirit and was very giving of his time to the members. Elder Weihing is strong at making contacts; he listens well and is organized in his study and planning. He was a very good companion to Elder Smith and they were focused on their work. We have found Elder Weihing to be compassionate and giving of his time and talents. He gives service, he is a good teacher and he works hard to understand the concerns and needs of each church member and investigator. Elder Weihing is doing a very good job as a trainer and organizer with Elder Aniciforov. He carries with him the Spirit of Jesus Christ and when he bears testimony it can be felt.
Elder (Анисифоров) Aniciforov – We were very excited for the arrival of Elder Aniciforov. For the first week he appeared to be somewhat shy but that proved to only be jet lag. (He was also at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.) He is very open with members and having come from a branch similar to those here in Russia he brings personal experience as to how the work is done in a smaller unit. In branch presidency meetings he is organized and not afraid to speak up and explain how things were done at home in his branch in Ukraine. He has a strong testimony of the Gospel. He knows that God lives and that Jesus Christ is our Savior. As are many missionaries, at the beginning of their mission, he has been a bit reticent when it comes to contacting but when Elder Weihing says this contact is yours, he will jump right in and speak without hesitation. We feel that he will be an awesome missionary.
Sister (налифкана) Naleafkina – The two new sisters are a delight. Sister Naleafkina is bold and she and Sister Taggert approach everyone they meet. They are settled into their apartment and are working hard to advance the work. She and Sister Taggert are actively engaged in contacting, visiting active and less active church members and teaching investigators. Sister Naleafkina is an excellent trainer and has a good grasp of the work. It is hard to believe she has only been a member of the church for two years. Sister Naleafkina exhibits a thirst for knowledge and continues to build her Gospel knowledge. She bears a strong testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and her love for him. Sister Naleafkina is enjoys giving service, before each district meeting she is teaching Russian to us and her companion. It is our hope that she will be assigned here in Yaroslavl for some time.
Sister Taggert – When we first met Sister Taggert in the MTC we were impressed with her smile. The first week she was here that smile was a bit subdued in the hazy fog of fatigue. We are happy to report that she is over the jet lag and her smile has returned. She has a good memory and speaks easily. She is listening and learning and appears to understand more than she realizes. Sister Taggert has been a wonderful resource in the branch by playing the piano and helping in English Club. She is quiet and reserved in discussions, partly due to being new and the challenges of learning the language. She gave the spiritual thought in Russian at our district meeting and was clear in her speech. Sister Taggert has a strong testimony of Jesus Christ. You can feel her spirit and her love for the Gospel. Her lifetime in the church and her attendance at BYU has given her a wealth of knowledge to bolster Sister Naleafkina’s zeal.
It snowed heavily on our return Yaroslavl and it was late before we got the sisters unloaded and finally made it to bed. The next day, Jamie took them shopping for food and other items to make their apartment livable. She also helped Sister Taggert with her purchase of winter boots, a coat and scarf. Her new coat is brick red, with a fur fringe around the hood. She won’t be cold. At the coat store they were met by the shop owner. She was from her description, a tall, full figured, exotic looking woman; who knew her craft and was not afraid to take charge. She understood color and knew how to make a young woman look beautiful. When Sister Taggert was presented to the woman she was wearing a non-descript, sedate, gray woolen scarf. The woman took it off of her and asked in Russian, “What are you, a babushka (Grandmother)?” She had her try on several coats and each was a different shade of red. In the end the first coat proved to be the best. She then gave her a pretty, textured, pink scarf. Sister Taggert was now put together and looked very nice. Sister Naleafkina has a beautiful blue coat and when the Elders saw them, Elder Weihing complimented them saying, “You look like cotton candy.”
On the evening of January 6th, Russian Christmas eve, we had been invited by a local Pravslavic Priest to attend midnight mass at his church. We had spoken with him previously about service opportunities when he issued the invitation. In the spirit of friendship we were happy to attend. It was very interesting and in many ways similar to Catholic mass. The two churches were once the same and are still very similar in many respects. He was pleased with our offer of service and when the weather warms we will meet with him to see where we can be of assistance.
The missionary work continues to expand. We are still teaching the young Catholic man Sasha. He has been faithful in his prayers and reading of the scriptures. He has expressed a desire to be baptized. He still has issues in his personal life but has met with his grandmother in England and told her of his feelings. Sasha knows that the decision is his. He says that he has received an answer from God that the Gospel is true. We will be meeting with him again.
Alex and Tania, the brother and sister from Abkhazia have been attending church and Alex has been reading the Book of Mormon. They are both very sincere and good people. While we teach Alex, the sisters, in like manner, are teaching his sister Tania. They also come each week on Tuesday to practice their English at our English Club. They both speak very well.
We are teaching another young man from the city of Rybinsk. It is an hour and a half by train or marshootka. We have several members that live there and come here to Yaroslavl to church. His name is Slava, he is Baptist and very interested in the restoration of the Gospel. He came down to Yaroslavl each of the past two weekends to meet with us. We have held scripture study with him on both Saturdays. We discussed the scriptures which foretold of the restoration, taught about living prophets and answered questions regarding salvation, the nature of the Godhead, Priesthood and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He has attended church on Sunday and wants to know more. He read the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price and is now reading the Doctrine & Covenants. At church he spent a considerable amount of time talking to Gregory, a former member of the Baptist Church. When he was at our apartment we would use Google translate to communicate. He would type his comments and questions in Russian and I would type my comments and answers in English. We would each read the scriptures in our own language. It was fairly easy to get ideas back and forth.
In other news, we attended a performance of the ballet “Swan Lake” when we were recently in Moscow. We had been attending a conference with the other senior missionary couples. It was held in the Stanislavski Theater. Tchaikovsky’s music, the sets, the dancers and the choreography were all exquisite. We have plans to attend a performance at Russia’s first and oldest theater, the Volkov Theater, in Yaroslavl.
There is always more that we could write but know that we are well and send our best wishes. Thank you for your prayers and letters. We always love hearing from you.
Elder & Sister Forsyth
PS You may already have seen this but if not, this is a good article from Oct 2010.
Future of the LDS Church in Russia seen as very bright