09 July 2018

20 years ago today - Pictures - May-June 1998

We all attended a concert on Red square for victory day.

Morris, Hutchings and more, getting down at the concert.

Before we knew it, a crowd had gathered.

This moment.

Salisbury trusting me to cut his hair.


Rupp and I.

Giving my first blessing in Russian. (Note with the correct verbage taped to my companions chest.)

Igor, Rupp and I.

The Sofronov Family

Taganski District

Taganski Branch

Ludmila's baptism

One days worth of the neighborhood recycling. 

Construction backed up for miles when they blocked the road to do construction. (The view from our balcony)

When you're alone on transport, you goof off.

Milford dimples!

13 June 2018

20 years ago today - Kinder Eggs - 30 Apr 1998

30 Apr 1998

I received a phone call from President Wright this morning. My first reaction was Oh no! I'm in trouble for something! I answered and he wanted to know if he could have my extra star wars figures from the kinder eggs I have been collecting. His kids like them but he really wants to make a chess set with them. What a relief! I'm so going to give him all of my extra star wars figures. Cool eh?! Thought I'd write that in the journal. I've been decorating my other journal with star wars stuff.

Here are a few other highlights I missed sharing:

Moved today in today with my new companion, Elder Rupp. We are sharing the apartment with two members who will be going on splits with us. Kolya Maximov and Igor Kupaev.

22 April
Cool day contacting with Igor. We started out the day by running around the lake in the park near our building.

23 April
Ran again this morning with Igor. Took my camera this time because there is a  hole in the ice in the lake where people in the "polar bear club" go swimming.

24 April
Too sore to run with Igor today.

27 April
7 hrs finding with Igor. We visited a Russian Orthodox temple. Had a fiasco with the language in the temple. I learned the word for pocket (Kaman). Turns out it is considered disrespectful to keep your hands in your pockets in the temple. 

08 May 2018

20 years ago today - Learning to Follow the Spirit - 08 May 1998

I find it important to follow the spirit in nearly all things I do. I feel that for the most part, agency is what we are supposed to use to make our daily decisions. However, every so often we are faced with a more difficult decision and if we are humble enough to ask our creator for guidance, then listen, the outcome can be miraculous. Through little decisions made better through divine guidance, our lives can be directed towards a miraculous path.

Twenty years ago today I had a senior companion whose focus was on following the rules to a "T". One day he decided we were going to simply stay outside contacting all day long, getting our "hours" in. The goal was made to give away a book of Mormon. We street contacted unsuccessfully all day. We spent all day on the street that day, countless hours on our feet nearly running between people on the street trying to find a potential investigator. It was exhausting. My companion began getting irritated with my pestering that we were not following the spirit, and towards the end of the day, he finally relented and allowed me do it "my way". Which was to follow the spirit. I started leading with a prayer between my companion and myself. Within the following ten minutes, we gave away not one but two Books of Mormon that included a basic first discussion.

This was a struggle that I was faced with several times throughout my mission. We once had a visit from our regional authority that gave me a sense of comfort that I was doing it right. The two Moscow missions met together to hear him speak. His message was pure, simple and filled with love. The gist of his message, follow the spirit. It felt so good to hear this message. Up until this point I had felt somewhat ostracized. So many other missionaries were focused on rules and getting numbers. There was an immense focus to "get numbers". ie: Baptisms, investigators, discussions, Books of Mormon given away. Hours spent street contracting. Hours spent doing service. This bothered me. To me, I came out to help people, to serve them. To me that meant following the spirit. When the meeting opened up to Q and A. There was a focus from the body of missionaries on numbers and deep doctrinal questions to which his reply was "Oh I don't know, ask your mission Presidents". Then he redirected the discussion back to following the spirit. This was liberating to me. My focus was in line with his. Following the spirit trumps focusing on numbers.

While I certainly wasn't the best at following all the made up rules. Getting to bed on time, waking up on time. Getting all of your hours in etc. I was excellent at following the spirit. I followed the advice of my patriarchal blessing, which was to have a love for the people. This was easy, I have lots of love to give. I don't worship rules or religious culture. I worship God. I served how I saw he would want me to serve. Which was as Christ did. Serve the people, have a love for them. I'm pretty certain Christ didn't have to turn in a monthly report mapping out his progress. But I am certain he followed the promptings of the spirit in all that he did. This is what I strove for. This is still what I strive for today. Sometimes it's not easy, especially on occasions when the feelings and inspiration received go contrary to popular opinion or religious culture. My best advice; follow your heart, for on the heart of all of Gods creatures is written his law. It's in our genetics. It can't be denied because it's who we are to the very core.

This is a photo I wasn't supposed to get and didn't plan on. I simply wanted to thank him for his inspiring message and to confirm to him that the message was exactly what I needed to receive. A former companion ran up and quickly grabbed this shot before I knew what had happened.

I love that President Nelson's message is still the same, twenty years later. Doing away with numbers, shifting the entire body of the church to a focus on following the spirit.

Another example of when I learned to follow the spirit. I was put with the assistant to the President because I was seen as a trouble maker because I didn't share their enthusiasm for following the made up rules. Rules that had nothing to do with following the spirit. For example, at the end of a long day, I wanted to put on headphones and decompress listening to uplifting music, loudly. Our rules were very strict on what was "approved" and what wasn't. Keep in mind, these are rules that can vary from mission to mission, depending on the mission president.

This companion was also very strict about following the rules and getting your numbers. So much so that I feel it impeded his ability to follow the spirit. I had to run in order to keep up with him anywhere we went. His pace reminded me of the adage, don't go faster than your guardian angel can fly. He was very dedicated to serving and didn't want to waste a minute of the Lords time. When I confronted him about how he wasn't very approachable at his pace. That he was likely scaring people away because of it. Frustrated with my stance, he eventually gave in and allowed me to lead. With a prayer, we went to a park nearby, Tsaristina park. It is a beautiful and popular park that has an unfinished castle. Walking along at a leisurely pace my companion became uneasy at my slower pace and became notably agitated. I persisted to follow the spirit when it guided and directed our path, eventually pointing us to a park bench to sit on. This was quite contrary to what my companion wanted to do. We sat down and he asked, what are we doing? Not sure how to respond, I stated the obvious, "Sitting", I replied. Visible protesting, he eventually relented and we sat for a few minutes. After what must have seemed forever to my companion. Along came Andre, a tall, scruffy, metal worker dressed in a leather jacket and chains. He looked as though he belonged to a rough and tumbler biker group. After we made eye contact, I blurted out, "Hi!, wanna chat?" To which he happily replied, "sure!" In the short time the AP and I were companions, Andre took all of the discussions and was baptized. Had we been going at my companions pace that day, we'd likely have outrun him or perhaps been unapproachable at the pace my companion preferred.

To me the message is simple, Follow the spirit. 

At the end of the month long companionship with the AP, he sent me a package with a note apologizing for judging me. Along with the note, he gifted me his walkman. 

“Imagine the miracle of it, whatever our Church calling, we can pray to our Heavenly Father and receive guidance and direction, be warned about dangers and distractions, and be enabled to accomplish things we simply could not do on our own.”
-President Russell M. Nelson

19 April 2018

20 years ago today - Pictures - 19 Apr 1998

Seeing someone off at the train station.

Elder Nelson and Koch at zone conference.

Where you from Dave?

Omar always made pizza for us.

Side street just off of Red square.

Red Square

A favorite treat was to dine at the starlight diner.

Scott Morris at the arcade on P-day.

Gatorball, a cross between soccer and football that we made up. 

District meeting.

Omar and his infamous pizza.

Sending Dave  home.

It was illegal to take photo's in the subway. But the art is fantastic, I had to take a few.

When the temperatures don't get above freezing, the snow doesn't melt, so it has to be collected and hauled away. This contraption has two arms that collect the snow and pull it onto the conveyor belt. Then a dump truck backs up behind the conveyer to collect all the snow. 

Top row: Adrian Ungritch, Sister Yulya Kuznitsova, Alina, Jenya, Myself
Bottom row: Lena (Biker chick) and Ben Erickson

Red square from the back corner.

Erickson and Biker chick.

Changing of the guards

18 April 2018

20 years ago today - Second Finland Trip - 18 Apr 1998

I don't actually remember the date of this trip. but it was fun because the train stopped long enough in a city that we could go visit the first LDS meetinghouse in Russia.
Picture story:

Our group at the meeting house. The building manager happened to be there, took pictures of us and let us in, even this late at night. 

Just two years after it was built.

Our MTC group in Finland Trip #2

In Helsinki

Mark Rupp, Myself and Jason Brinton on the train to Finland to renew our visa's.