Saturday, March 31, 2012

Home Sweet Home

I thought I'd post a few pictures of Pokrovsky Hills, the town home community where KLynn and I live. It is one of the nicer areas of Moscow, and we feel very fortunate to live here. This is the pavilion and play area. A lot of young expat families with children live here, because it is built next to the Anglo-American School. (The picture was taken March 31, 2012.) We don't really live in Moscow. We live in an expat enclave within the city. It's gated, safe, and pleasant.
One of the advantages we have for much of the year is use of an expansive outdoor freezer/refrigerator just outside the sliding glass door from our dining room. (We're having guests for dinner this evening from the International Women's Club, so the drinks are "chilling" in the refrigerator. Last week it was definitely a freezer.
This is the view from the balcony off of our master bedroom. It's a beautiful view in each of the four seasons. Most Muscovites don't live like this. The great majority of people live in small apartments. KLynn and I are totally spoiled.
Here is home sweet home, Pokrovsky Boulevard Number 27. We have enjoyed living here. It has truly become home, all except for the grandchildren!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Ides of March Plus Two, 2012

Women's Day Troika Ride in the Forest (It sounds like more fun than it was).

Ten days ago was a Russian holiday, International Women's Day. KLynn arranged for us, her brother Lary. and his wife, Marianne, to spend the day near Sergiev Passad, a monastery city about an hour or more drive from here. We met at a home with a group of other tourists who were enjoying a day outside of the city for the holiday. We followed our guide in the car for about 30 minutes out into the forest where sleighs ("troikas") were waiting to take us to a campsite about ten minutes away. They had a campfire going, hotdogs on skewers waiting to be roasted, and sundry things to drink, some of which were Word-of-Wisdom-permissible. We roasted hotdogs, took a few more sleigh rides into the forest, visited with the others in the group, and had a reasonably good time considering how cold it was. (What were Napoleon and Hitler thinking when they invaded Russia?) The woods were pretty, and we enjoyed the blue skies. Later that afternoon we returned to Sergiev Passad for dinner at the home of the tour guide's mother. The best part of the day was a lecture about the history of the area from the mother, who speaks excellent English. It is considered by many to be the most sacred spot of Russian Orthodoxy. KLynn and I had visited there our first summer in Moscow and toured the monastery and churches, which are beautiful. The monastery was founded by St. Sergei several centuries ago, and since Soviet times it has regained its earlier prominence in the Orthodox world.

This last week we had the pastor from the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy over for dinner. He is a delightful young man who just graduated from Yale Divinity School last year. He is a year older than our youngest daughter, Lizzy. He mentioned that he had told some of his parishoners he was planning to have dinner with us, which prompted mixed reviews. I'm constantly amazed at how much prejudice there is against the Church in the world. We enjoyed a lovely evening together, though, and we are looking into the possibility of joining resources in some of their humanitarian activities. The pastor and I are planning lunch next week with our area welfare director. Some of the Chaplaincy's projects are partially funded by the International Women's Club, which is how we made the connection. I hope this will be an opportunity to build some friendships with other faith based groups. There is much more that binds us together than separates us.

Meanwhile, KLynn has now been invited to take a leadership role in the American Women's Organization. This is in addition to her work with the International Women's Club. She is busy almost every day doing good things and making good friends.

The other day I spoke with one of the humanitarian missionaries in Istanbul. He reported that the Elders have now completed their initial language training and will now begin teaching in earnest. They have already started teaching some people, and there were half a dozen Turkish investigators in Church last Sunday. It's going to be great fun to watch the Church take hold and grow there. President Roth, the mission president, and I agreed to meet some day in Istanbul for the creation of the first stake. On a more mundane topic, we now have both of the rugs I bought in Turkey laid out in our townhouse here, one in the dining area and one in the living room. They are both exquisite and will be happy reminders of this period of our lives.

It is now past the middle of March, and the thermometer has crept above the freezing point a few times for part of the day. We still have a lot of snow on the ground, and it still snows a few days each week. The days are getting longer, though, and spring will arrive eventually. I am still wrestling with some sticky issues at work. Ukraine and Kazakhstan are keeping me particularly busy right now. I enjoy my association with KLynn's brother Lary, and Marianne. They are faithful souls. Lary had a health incident this past week that gave us a scare, but it turned out not to be serious and he was back in the office on Friday.

KLynn and I will be coming up on our two year mark here in another few months. Most days it seems like I just deal with a stream of frustrations and problems, and I often wonder if I am really accomplishing anything. Looking back, though, we can see some great things that have happened here, and the legal work has played some incremental role. I don't know how long KLynn and I will be in Moscow, or what will come after. I do know, however, that our lives have been altered by this experience already, and we will not be the same people when we return to the U.S. Among other things, my attitude about serving a senior mission has changed dramatically. KLynn and I are now planning to serve multiple missions. The biggest limitation will likely be how long the Office of General Counsel wants to keep me on board and whether we have other international opportunities (such as rule of law initiatives etc.) that would be the functional equivalent of serving a Church mission. There is a lot of work to be done, and it's a great ride - even better than a troika ride in the forest.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

More from Turkey and Moscow

A few days after the last posting, I (Bob) left for Istanbul again and KLynn left for the U.S. to visit our daughter Rebekah and family in Chicago and daughter Lizzy and family in Durham, N.C. She enjoyed seeing children (grandchildren mostly) and the warm North Carolina weather and sunshine. My trip to Istanbul was for the Area Interim Mission Presidents Seminar. This particular seminar was expanded to include the area authority seventies and the two stake presidents (Moscow and Kyiv). They and their wives are an outstanding group of people. It is a privilege to be able to associate with them. I had a few small parts on the program dealing with legal issues, but it was mostly fun to be a fly on the wall and listen to our area presidency train the priesthood leaders. I have grown to admire and appreciate the members of the area presidency a great deal. They have been a powerful influence for good in my life. It is also useful to spend time with the mission presidents and establish personal relationships with them, so they are more than a voice on the telephone or a name on an email. A highlight of the week came on Thursday morning. I left the seminar to meet with our local counsel, Nuri Bodur, to discuss a number of legal matters. At the end of our meeting I invited Nuri to walk over to the new rented Church meetinghouse, which is near his office, and to meet the "young volunteers" (we don't use the term "missionary" in Turkey because it carries a negative connotation). Nuri and I had done a lot of work to help prepare for the volunteers' arrival in Turkey, and Nuri was happy to come with me. It was a moving experience for me to meet these four young men, knowing what they represent. I felt that I was in the presence of greatness. Three of them are from the United States (one from Kaysville) and the fourth is from England. They carry a remarkable spirit with them. I posted a picture of me standing with the four of them. A second picture of the young volunteers is with one of their teachers, Terry Smith (the older man on the left); a young woman who is a member of the Church and a native speaker who helps with their pronunciation; and Nuri, the young man on the right. Terry has lived and taught in Turkey for many years. The next morning at the seminar we sang "Called to Serve" as the opening song. As we started singing, President Roth (the Bulgaria Sofia Mission President) and the four Turkey Elders walked into the room and stood at the front. Several of the sisters in the room took out handkerchiefs and wiped their eyes. The Elders each then bore their testimonies in Turkish. Murat Cakir, the branch president in Istanbul and a native Turk, told me that after one week the Elders were at a second semester college level. They will do well. Murat established an LDS website in Turkey a few years ago, and he has over 1,000 referrals from people who have responded to his website asking to learn about the Church. I sat next to Murat at dinner one night and he shared his remarkable (I would say miraculous) conversion story, which took place many years ago. Preparations for the Elders' arrival in Turkey have been underway for a long time. Istanbul is a great city. I posted a picture of the Haggai Sofia, one of the city's great architectural gems. It was build by the Romans as a Christian Church in the sixth century and is now a mosque. (I also posted a picture I took last night of KLynn at our favorite Uzbeki restaurant. Sometimes it seems like we are living in a movie set.) I sat next to one of the mission presidents and his wife on the flight back to Moscow last Saturday. I shared some of my experiences about helping the Church to get more established in Turkey, and he with great solemnity told me I need to record it in detail. He's right. That will be a project for the next few weeks. KLynn got back from the States yesterday, and there was much rejoicing. I'm glad she gets to visit family, but it's not fun for her to be gone. One more thought, the Moscow stake presidency has asked the local members to fast and pray that we will be able to obtain land for new Church meetinghouses (a project that has been going on for years). I am not at liberty to post the details in a public blog, but this past week I could see and feel the affect of those combined prayers and fasting. I am optimistic that we will be successful. It's a privilege to part of this work.