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. 

31 March 2018

20 years ago today - Friendship - 17 Mar 1998

One of the common methods we used to try and contact people was through signboarding. This day, after district meeting we went near the metro stop Rimskaya, set up our signboard and began talking to people.

I set out on this day to make friends. I didn't want to just focus on numbers as so many do. My companion at the time found it amusing that I was drawing in the snow and snapped this shot of me making a map in the snow to show my new friend where I was from. After our conversation, he took a pin from his shirt and gave it to me. The pin says, "Friendship".

30 March 2018

20 years ago today - Kidnapped Missionaries - 20 Mar 1998

A pair of missionaries were abducted in Saratov. That's about 450 miles southeast of Moscow. We were instructed to not wear our name tags. The missionaries were taken for 5 days and held ransom for 300K dollars. The US government, LDS church and missionaries Families all refused to pay the ransom and the missionaries were eventually released. I should probably see the movie.


21 March 2018

20 years ago today - Ice hole contacting - 21 Mar 1998

One of the ways we used to try and contact potential investigators was to set up a signboard with the gist of our message and then try and talk to anyone who might be interested. During March in Moscow, this meant hanging out at a park in the cold with drunken ice fishermen.

This day twenty years ago, we tried contacting using this method. After a little while I got bored of not being able to talk with anyone and arranged a "split".

Missionaries are assigned a companion and they are supposed to be with them 24/7. This can be difficult when you don't get along well, so occasional splits can offer a reprieve and are generally used for a variety of reasons. This split was arranged with Elder Reiksik and Sister Stephenson.

We decided to go walk around the park and try to contact away from the main group of missionaries because there were already so many of us just standing around.

I like to have fun and make things an adventure. There were more people on the ice than people to contact in the park. I had a thought, since they are just sitting there fishing, perhaps they would be interested in talking. The general missionary rule about staying away from water and swimming couldn't apply because the water was frozen, right? Hehe! Fortunately, the two missionaries I was with were laid back, so out on the ice we went.

We had fun and were able to actually talk with people as opposed to standing around trying to keep warm in a large group of missionaries. While our efforts were fruitless at trying to convert any drunken fishermen, we had an adventure and scored some cool pictures. 

12 February 2018

20 years ago today - Lucky Friday the 13th in Moscow - 13 Feb 1998

I'm not superstitious. I believe we manifest our own luck, be it good or bad. But on this day, twenty years ago I had an adventure that shook that thought. Here is an article written about that day:

Not unlike Americans, many Russians are superstitious. Perhaps this explains a little about the following experience.

It was Friday the 13th February 1998. The day started out the way it typically did, my companion and I getting ready for the day, get dressed, scripture study and eat breakfast. As the morning light began to slowly fill the apartment, I looked outside. It was beautiful the way the frost and snow covered everything, glistening their brilliantly unique shapes in the light from the uniformly illuminate sky.

We were in the south-east part of Moscow, near the last metro stop Vuixhina. There was much more city at the end of the stop, but to get there it would take either a train or bus ride to go any farther.
It took some extra motivation to go outside this particular morning because the thermometer was in the negative. Once we stepped outside we were slapped in the face by the bitterly freezing temperatures. So cold it hurt. The temperature, minus 21 degrees Celsius not considering the wind chill factor. My companion and I made a quick decision to find a warm stairwell to knock on doors and look for potential investigators. Street contacting made no sense because no one sober would want to stop and have a conversation in these temperatures.

We made our way to a set of high-rise, communist built, apartment buildings several miles south east, from our own apartment building. We began our usual routine, ride the elevator up and work our way back down, knocking on doors as we went. After about the second or third stairwell, we rode to the top floor and began working our way back down. However this time, people started yelling and screaming as we made our way down. We were met with some stiff criticism and many harsh words. People yelling back and forth, threatening to call the police. The people we were trying to start a conversation with couldn’t hear us over the other residents yelling down the stairwell. We decided to cut it short and take the elevator back down. When the elevator doors opened, standing there were two cops carrying fully automatic, military style rifles and a lady sharply accusing and pointing that these were the guys! I’m not going to lie I may have shat myself a little. At the command of the officers we proceeded out of the elevator and they quickly asked for our documents. I got mine out but my companion had only a copy of his, because he'd lost the originals. The first officer began to check over our documents while the other called to a third officer who had ridden the elevator to the top floor and was making his way back down, searching for us. After checking our documents and searching our bags, they took us outside, put us in the back of one of the two police cars and drove us to the local police station.

While we were en route, I recall the warmth of the vehicle, how nice it felt nice to be out of the bitterly freezing cold. I was also enjoying the different perspective. Viewing Moscow from a car as opposed to mass transit or walking. The officers scolded us about knocking on peoples doors nearly the entire trip, telling us that it was forbidden. The only reprieve from the verbal onslaught was when one of the officers began cursing at another car that had pulled out into the street and was blocking traffic. As he cursed, he made several hand gestures. I was proud that I understood some of the curses he used, calling the other driver a "придурок", which translates to moron, which I found amusing at the time. My language study was working!

When we finally arrived at the police station, they took us into a room and began taking down all of our information, passports, address, where we were from, what organization we were with etc. After waiting some time, the police chief came in and instantly began furiously yelling at us about knocking on peoples doors, saying that people here already had a religion, (Russian Orthodox) that they needed no other. After quite the extensive ass chewing, the Chief went out to do something with our documents. We were left with several officers in the room who mostly rebuked, teased and poked fun at our expense.

My companion told me in English not to say anything. (he seemed quite frightened). One officer began asking questions and seemed genuinely curious about our religion, they all poked fun, but this one in particular withheld any teasing remarks and maintained his curiosity. Against my companions advice and better judgment, I spoke up. I didn't really have anything to lose. I never saw my life much past my mission anyway. This was a big fun adventure to me and I was going to live it to its fullest. Even if it were to be shortened by my big fat mouth. Besides, these were typical law enforcing, bribe accepting, Russian police officers. I felt fairly confident they weren't going to hurt us.

The one officer jestfuly asked about the book of Mormon he had seen in our bags. I told him about it, I told him how it had brought me so much joy and purpose. That it was the only thing I had found that filled the void of sorrow and woe that had once filled my young life. That this book was the reason I was there in Russia. To share the joy that I had found with anyone who would listen. That we give it free of charge, to anyone who would read it. He asked if he could have it. Instantly another officer interrupted sharply with a, “No” and contorted “Why do you want something like that!?” He replied “I’ve read the Bible and the New testament.” The scolding officer rolled his eyes and rebuked “молодец” in a teasing tone, which means good job or way to go.

Now Russian culture is quite interesting. Most Russians who didn't know us were cold and harsh. However, once they open up and let you in their hearts, more often than not, you are treated warmly as family. When someone gives you a gift they typically try to either pay for it or will feel obligated to give you something in return. Knowing we wouldn't take money for the book and not having something to give me in return on his person, at that moment. Igor looked around, then checked himself for something he could give me. He found nothing save his side arm. He grabbed it, took out the clip, cleared the chamber and handed it to me to hold and admire. Looking at Igor then the other officers I accepted and carefully took a closer look, admiring his gift, albeit a temporary one. Now this is a much bigger deal to Russians, guns are outlawed and are only owned by cops and criminals. Your average Ivan only gets exposure to guns in the military (which happens to be mandatory for men). Igor was quick to show me another cool piece of equipment, his bullet proof vest, exposing it under his shirt and giving it a good pounding with his fist as if to prove its durability.

Feeling obligated to include my companion, I turned to pass the gun to him, only to find his eyes glaring back, wide enough to fit a freight train through. Shaking, he kind of looked at it briefly and returned it to me. I returned the pistol to Igor and thanked him for the opportunity to hold it. After that, the conversation turned much softer towards us.

The police Chief eventually came back in, returned our documents, chewed us out a little more, telling us to leave people alone, that if they were interested, they would contact us. blah, blah, blah. He then told us we could leave.

Igor walked us out and explained to us that the reason people had freaked out so much at our contacting method that day was that thief’s and thugs used to use a similar tactic. They would knock on the door, quickly grab a person of interest, then that person would never be seen again. A tactic apparently gleaned from the KGB during communist times. Once outside, he explained which area might be better for knocking doors so we could hopefully avoid being hauled in again. While we were walking out, another officer asked Igor “what are you doing with that book?”. He said “they gave it to me as a gift.” As we walked away they teased him by shouting to us; “look, you’ve got one more Mormon in Russia.”

While I never found out if anything came of it. My best hopes are that Igor read the book and felt enlightened in some way. My best hopes are that it changed his life for the better. It definitely changed my life for the better.

The view from the apartment window at the Vuihina apartment. 
This photo brings back so many memories. The scent of urine, the nudy stickers and sharpie graffiti. 

One of our favorite regular investigators, Omar. He would frequently visit and enjoyed speaking english with us while we enjoyed one of his specialty pizzas. 

17 January 2018

20 years ago today - Transfer to Moscow - 17 Jan 1998

I was very sad to receive the news I'd be leaving Voronezh. I felt this was going to be the highlight of my experience in Russia. Early on, it was coined the Disneyland of the mission. It turned out to be so very true. I love the members there and when I speak Russian (which is rare anymore) I notice the influence Voronezh had on my Russian accent. In fact, towards the end of my mission, when contacting people on the street. People rarely believed me when I said I was an American. They frequently assumed I was from a former Russian state from before the soviet union was dissolved.

Jan 17th 1998
Today is my third day with Elder Pabst. He Rocks! He is from East Germany. He grew up on the communist ruled side, before the wall fell. He's not bitter about it at all. (sarcasm)
I was transferred to Moscow. It sucks here compared to Voronezh. My last day in Voronezh, we did one of my favorite activities. We went ice skating. It was a very fun day, except for the part where I was helping my best missionary friend ice skate. I was skating backwards helping him skate and turned for a second to look where I was going. When I turned back he was lying on the ice with a pool of blood growing under him. He had hit his head falling on the ice and had to get stitches. Oops! I will really miss the Voronozh members. So many of them gave me their address and want me to write. I hate writing. I seldom write in this journal. I struggle writing letters home as well. I suppose I can work on it.

I have been sick lately. I've got shiz and I just don't feel well. We ate at the starlight diner my first day here in Moscow. then we went over to Elder Ungritches apartment and played monopoly. I was disappointed that I lost first. Pabst thinks he won. :-P

Jan 18th 1998
Today Elder Pabst and I went to church then came home and played pick-up-sticks and then Risk. He kicked my butt all over. I miss Voronezh. Today in church I was exceptionally sad. I missed Voronezh. I didn't enjoy it almost exclusively because I wasn't in Voronezh. There were 11 missionaries in attendance and only about that many members. Activity sucks here. I'm bored.

Volodia and his family.

Sister K and her daughter, Zhenya. Thanks for washing all of our shirts!

My Christmas wall decorations.

Dinner at Sister Kuznitsova's was always a treat. She took such good care of us.


Igor and Kolya.

Pictures in front of the Christmas tree were fun.

Alex had so many good questions. I was constantly in the bible dictionary and topical guide looking up answers to his questions. So much so, I bought him his own triple combo using the money my Mom had sent me with. So many of the members here were so poor, I ended up using almost all of the money she sent me with for things like this. A new iron for Sister K, She had been using an old stove top iron, to iron our shirts. Igor was living with his divorced mother at the time and was using shoes that were so worn his feet got wet when it was wet out. Towards the end of my mission, I donated my suits and shirts to another member that was going on a mission. I came back with the clothes on my back.

This was one of my favorite ways to get a picture of everyone.

Ilya was my favorite kid in the branch. Such a good kid!

I had made it my goal to make people laugh. The Mongolian Sisters were a fun target for this.

The branch president at the time, posing as Father Frost (Santa) for the branch kids.
Father Frost, the Ice Princess and the branch kids visiting "Santa".

A few of the many members and missionaries that came to see me off at the train station. No, those aren't ghostly apparitions, It was so cold your breathe stayed visible in the air for quite some time.

I still feel guilt about Elder Spruels injury. 

Sad Selfie. Leaving Voronezh.
I'd never felt more myself, than I had at this time.