Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Russian Missionary Couple's Unselfish Devotion to the Work in the Ukraine

Recently I have been reading the couple missionary blogs of a few serving in Russia. I knew that the LDS Church had stopped calling LDS missionaries since July 2008 due to more stringent visa requirements that the missionaries had to leave the country every three months or ninety days versus once every twelve months.The LDS Church has been working on a solution to the problem and "Until an appropriate alternative is identified, new missionary assignments to Russia will be limited to those nationalities not needing visas." I knew that full-time missionaries currently serving would be allowed to finish out their missions and that elders and sisters had their way paid to usually Estonia or some other nearby country like Bulgaria to take care of the visa matter. Most missionaries were reassigned elsewhere in the world who were called to enter the MTC in July. A few actually went to the Moldova area in the Budapest Mission where both Romanian and Russian are spoken.

What impressed me about the missionary couples is that most of them pay their own travel expenses which must be quite costly to fly to other countries for a few days to get a new visa. It is quite a sacrifice to pony up the money out of your own pocket. It takes a real devotion to go on a couple's mission that costs you around $2,000-$3,000 plus out of pocket expenses for visa requirements.

Here is a recent list of couple needed to show that they are still being used in Russia (whereas the young missionaries sisters and elders are not):

Russia Moscow ……………….*3,200
(Outside Moscow) ………….2,000
Russia Moscow West ………..*3,200
(Outside Moscow)……………2,000
Russia Novosibirsk ……………2,100
Russia Rostov-na-Donu ……..1,900
Russia Samara ………………..1,600
Russia St. Petersburg ………..1,600
Russia Vladivostok ……………1,700
Russia Yekaterinburg …………1,600
* Significant additional first month
setup costs.

I don't know what the * means but it can't be cheap to serve there.

A few of the missionary blogs that speak about the couples' experiences in acquiring their three-month visas. One in particular that I enjoy is Bruce and Melinda Kinghorn's Called to Serve blog which describes the visa process:

We left Donetsk last Tuesday to fly to Bulgaria to renew our Visa's. We were met at the airport by th Jorgensen's who are the Humanitarian Couple in Bulgaria. They took us to a very nice two bedroom apartment that is a permanent rental for the missionaries who need to come to Bulgaria for visa renewals. The next day they met us and took us to the mission home along with another couple (The Pattee's) who were there from Dneperpetrosk renewing their visas. Two of the younger missionaries then drove us to the Ukrainian Embassy where we left our visa's and went to the bank to get the Cash required to renew the visa's. It only took a few hours to complete and then the missionaries took us to a very nice restaruant for lunch. That evening we went out for Pizza with the Pattee's and the Jorgensen's. The next day we took a little time to just relax in the morning and then we met the Pattee's and the Jorgensen's for a little sightseeing. We had a nice dinner and then went to the Jorgenson's to just visit and have dessert. It was such a nice relaxing trip. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the Jorgensen's were wonderful host. Bulgaria has beautiful parks with quaint little street cafe's and some beautiful architecture and statues. The younger missionaries were also very kind and helpful. The morning we left President Bennet came out to say good-bye. He had been very busy during our visit with interviews and zone conferences so we only saw him briefly but we know he was responsible for such wonderful care that we were given while visiting his mission and really appreciate it.
I am not sure that there will be a sufficient volume of couples to take the missionaries place but it is a good stop-gap measure to keep the work going in these countries until the church can iron out the visa problems. It is not uncommon in many countries to ask those holding visas to exit once a year and then come back. Three months is too short of a time and very costly. Missionary couples really make a sacrifice in serving in some of the more costly areas of the world. Most don't even have to learn the language but help out in some valuable ways.

Sister Melinda Kinghorn eloquently shared her anxiety of not mastering the language with us:

Today was one of those days I found myself lacking. As I sat in church I so longed to be able to understand the words that were being shared by the sisters in Relief Society. As I listened to the beautiful hymns being sung I thought of what a great blessing it would be to be able to sing like an angel. There was a sister sitting somewhere behind me who had been given that gift. Oh how I wished it was me singing like that. As I watched the branch members get up to bear their testimonies I wished that I could tell the members in their language how much I love my Heavenly Father. I wished I could tell them why I am here and what my membership in this church means to me. I wish that I was a gifted writer so that I might express to you the lessons I learned today. As I sat in church I found myself thinking, "I want to remember this feeling". I want to take this back to America. I don't ever want to forget this lesson I am learning this very moment."
When I went to Relief Society I found myself wishing for talents I had not been given.
There was something different going on in Relief Society. The air was filled with emotion. Sisters were sharing something very sacred that came from their hearts. I turned to look over my shoulder as I heard the tender voice of one of the women speak and I could see my friend Sister Clark who too had the look of wonder in her eyes. I heard her lean over to Sister Fry and say, "I so desperately want to know what is being said.".
That is how I felt today, Desperate.
I desperately wanted to to know the words that went with the emotions that the sisters were sharing.
I desperately wanted to join in the singing with the voice of an angel.
I desperately wanted to tell the Sisters that I love them.
I desperately wanted to explain to Tanya while I was admiring her new baby that my new grandson Cash is getting blessed today.
I desperately wanted to say more to Yuraslav's mother than just "we love your son". I wanted to tell her what an amazing thing he had just done when he entered the waters of baptism yesterday.
I desperately wanted to explain to Yuraslav what an awesome gift he had received when the men who held the Priesthood today stood in a circle and placed their hands upon his head.
and as I walked home from church and was stopped by a young man who wanted to talk to us about our religion I so desperately wanted to tell him why I was in Ukraine. He wanted to know why we didn't speak his language. "Why are we here if we can't speak Russian". As we walked away we said to ourselves, "I would wonder that too if I were him." We so wished we could tell him all the things in our hearts. We wished we could tell him that we came knowing it would be hard not knowing the language. We wanted to tell him,"we would have liked to stay home and studied your language until we knew it well enough to speak for ourselves". We wanted to be able to explain that that would have taken too long. That we knew that Heavenly Father needed us now. We wished we could have explained to him all the ways the church has blessed his country with Humanitarian Aide in spite of us and other Humanitarian Missionaries not knowing the language. I wanted to explain to him why being here today to see Yuraslav and Sasha be given the gift of the Holy Ghost was so important to us.

Oh how I wished I could speak Russian today.

When I saw Yuraslav's mother walk in the chapel for the first time I wanted to be able to bear my testimony to her. When I heard Anya get up to bear her testimony about the church and how hard it is to be a youth among friends who are not members of the church I wanted to share with her how much I love her and am so proud of her. I wanted to tell her how much the Lord will bless her for her obedience.

Today I was reminded,

And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestation of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
Moroni 10:8

Heavenly Father has given us all gifts. To some is given one and to others is given another.

"and I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ."
Moroni 10:18

I know that we have all been given wonderful gifts from our Heavenly Father. I have been given gifts that are unique to me. I have the opportunity to use these gifts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are days here in Ukraine that I feel like I am lacking. I am very much aware of the handicap I have of not being able to speak the same language of the people I come in contact with. Someday in the not too distant future I will be back in America where I will no longer have that handicap. The question will then be, will I use the gifts I have been given to share the gospel? Will I speak to the Sisters in my ward about how much I love my Heavenly Father? Will I approach the stranger who enters the chapel for the first time and welcome her with open arms? Will I tell the Sister in Relief Society how much I love her? Will I tell the newly baptized member what an amazing step he has just taken?

Will I pick up the hymnal that I can read and sing praises to the God who has given me everything.

Will I remember the lesson I learned in Ukraine today......................?????
Couple like the Kinghorns are an inspiration to me as they go forth and serve giving whatever they have to the building up of the kingdom. In my post yesterday I talked about not being afraid of trying to speak the language. I firmly believe that any efforts we make in communicating will bear fruit if we just make an effort. The Lord is able to use us at whatever level we are at. The thing that overcomes and communicates is a love for the people with whom we are serving. I always get a sense that the Kinghorns love the people and the young missionaries and other couples with whom they are serving. When you see someone like the Kinghorns striving to serve you get a sense of the gospel in action.

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