I touched earlier on the conundrum of finding stuff to do in a place where there is so much to do. It happened to us on our missions as well: Here we are in a magically foreign place with so many adventures to be sought out, discoveries to be made, and sights to be seen, and no one has any idea what to do during any given day.
"Go to the park, maybe?" "Which park?" "Any park!" "There's too many parks. I don't really want to go to a park anyway." "Well how about go see a movie?" "We come all the way to RUSSIA to go watch movies?" etc.
What usually ended up happening on P-Days on the mission was after internet, we'd all go to McDonalds for lunch, and after McDonalds, at least one person in the group usually needed to go buy something on the market, so we all went to the market. Rinoks (markets) are the magical P-Day lands where all of the MSF goes.
How it was on our missions, so it is with us here. On the days when we don't have school, we have to really concentrate in order to think of something to do. There's so much to do, but none of it really seems interesting at any given time, just a lot of those "Oh yeah, we should totally do that sometime" kinda things. So imagine my surprise today when I call up Brian Pickup, a former Donetsk missionary who served before our time who's in our group here, and he has plans for tonight. "Are you going to go see the apostles or whoever speak?" he asks me.
Now I served my whole bloody mission without a single bloody general authority coming to visit, so I think he's just misspeaking. Obviously a major leader of the church isn't just happening to show up while I happen to be here for a couple months. I inquire further: "Yeah, um, Elder Anderson, the new guy, and President Uchtdorf are speaking tonight to the members." Not just an apostle, but the 2nd councillor as well? Sounds like we may have plans tonight! Where are they speaking? "The 'KOSMOS' hotel or something? It's on the metro stop VDNKh." Oh, you mean 2 major leaders of the church happen to be speaking literally next door to where we're staying here in Moscow tonight? Yeah, I guess we'll swing by.
The interesting thing here is, for example, President Uchtdorf spoke at BYU's graduation, exactly next door to where I was working at the time. I kinda knew it was happening, and it was cool that he was going to be there, but I didn't go because I was working, even though no one would've cared and it was next door. The only thing graduation did for me was make me angry at all of the out-of-towners who don't understand the yield signs around BYU or how to park not like morons. But that was Utah. There are general authorities constantly swarming around Utah. You can't attend a college in Utah without seeing a GA speak. Even if you try to specifically avoid them because you have a fear of balding old men, you'll still be at like some football game or something and then all of a sudden there's a GA speaking. It's like a plague. But, you know, a good, spiritual kind of plague.
Here on the outskirts of the church, though, a general authority's prescence, particularly an apostle or member of the first presidency, is an electric event. President Hinkley came and visited Kiev roughly 8 years ago, and members in Donetsk still talk about what an amazing experience it was. They talk about riding trains in big groups or renting buses and riding for 10 to 15 hours to go see him speak once at a fireside. Where we in Utah swap stories about which member of the Twelve we saw at Costco the other day, these people crowd around them after their meetings like you see people do in those New Testament videos around Jesus. Not to say that Utahns take the GAs for granted, but it's just different here. It's special in a different, and in my opinion, more profound way. A picture with one of the three general authorities you've ever seen in your 10 years in the church is a cherished thing for a lot of members. The handshakes and hugs they get from the only apostle they've ever seen becomes a part of their testimony. To see one of those men you've only watched from the literal other side of the world with dubbed voices or read translated comments in magazines: to hear their actual voice and see them as they address the handful of you who represent the church in your nation, it carries a power and a reassurance that us Utahns don't understand by and large. Even as an observer, it's fantastic to see.
So Elder Anderson and President Uchtdorf came and spoke to the members here in Moscow as part of a larger Russian/Ukrainian tour. The large auditorium they spoke in was only roughly 3/4 full. They talked about prophets, temples, trying, striving, inviting, helping, and working. They talked about the great nation of Russia and about how the people Russia needs were the faithful members of the church there. President Uchtdorf told the people here numerous times that President Monson sees and considers the members in Russia to be faithful, strong people. To have a messenger from God to come to your neighborhood and tell you that the leader of your church considers you to be a faithful, good person is a profound thought. It was a good night, and Paige and I both kinda felt like missionaries again for a few minutes. We even went to McDonalds afterwards (along with what I believe was the entire Russia Moscow Mission, president, sister president, and elders).
So what are we doing tomorrow? Who knows. But we'll get out and see and experience. I take too much for granted as it is.