Monday, August 26, 2013


Kazakhstan is the definition of diversity.  Over the last two hundred years, Germans, Jews, Slavs, and others have joined the Mongol-influenced ethnicities here, and with the egalitarian treatment of the Soviet Union and the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms granted by the independent Kazakh government since 1991, there is a great deal of individualism and personal freedom, a rarity in a country ruled by a strong central government.  One of those guaranteed freedoms is freedom of religion.

One of the first surprises for me was the discovery of this lovely Jewish Synagogue.  I wasn’t sure how far away it was, and for a moment I thought it was a lot larger than it really is, but if you look carefully, you can see pigeons resting on the Star of David on the top of the building.  Sorry about the blobs on the lens – didn’t realize they were there until I had left the scene.

This beautiful mosque, called the Mosque of the Holy Sultan, is truly huge.  The mosque and the grounds around it fill a city block.  And the work is exquisite – inlaid turquoise and gold, and lots of marble work.  The heavenward reach of the towers and the eastward facing of the main gate to the mosque remind worshippers to lift their arms and their faces to heaven in all their works.  A worthy reminder.

This pyramid is called the Palace of Peace.  Once a year representatives from all religions in Kazakhstan are called to attend a conference, to help construct harmony between faiths.  The rest of the time the building is used as a conference center, a museum and a concert hall.  The building is complete, the construction crane is really a block or two in front of the property of the Palace of Peace.

Other churches include Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic  - when I find them, you'll see them!

I have no pictures of an LDS chapel either, for we are three and half hours from the nearest branch (congregation) of the Mormon church.  Oh well.  We are in the process of finding out what the mission president here wants to do (the Mormon mission headquarters for Kazakhstan is actually in Russia).  But we can hold out for a while!

One of the nicest things we have had is an introduction to classic Kazakh culture, including dress, dance, song, food, and the interior look of a traditional yurt, the old-style home made from skins and lined with wool and rugs.

A couple poses in traditional formal dress, in front of
and interior view of a yurt.
A British Citizen from Africa now living in
Kazakhstan sings a traditional song and
wears a traditional coat and hat.

With all the variety of life here, we can't possibly get bored.  The adventure continues!!!

Monday, August 19, 2013


This is a war memorial - that little light spot to the left of the 
base of the column is a full-grown man - that's how big this is.
We are spending a few days in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.  This  city is similar to Brasilia and Canberra in that it is a chosen site for a national capital that was designed intentionally and built purposefully. Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union until the Union's collapse in 1991, when it became an independent republic.  Some of the statues in this capital city reflect the heroic scale of Soviet monuments, while others reflect the history, cultural touchpoints, and humor of the people of this region.
The war memorial is called Mother Motherland.  Here she holds an empty amber bowl, symbolizing the suffering caused by war. 

Walk around behind the column and you see that the globe includes a representation 
of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route which runs through Kazakhstan.  

Obviously the dates in this sundial-themed statue are significant - I haven't found an answer 
as to why 2012 is on the statue. I have lots of questions, but can't ask them in Russian yet, 
much less understand the answers!

The Bayterek Tower connects the new and the old.  There is an old Kazakh story about a bird laying its egg in the sacred tree of life.  This 97-meter tall tower symbolizes the tree and the sphere is the egg,which represents both happiness and new beginnings.  Visitors can ride elevators to the top of the tower and explore from inside the egg, viewing the promises of the new city being established in all directions, honoring the past, cherishing the present, and looking forward to the future.

Sitting in the middle of a patch of petunias, a stylized camel and rider.  

A mare and foal, on a streetcorner.  Signs of wear and tear, but still beautiful.

Painted topiary horses, too, along the sidewalk.

Fanciful dromedary and bactrian camels - baby camel symbols are everywhere here, much as baby rabbits in the US.

The statues are for touching, as well as looking, and who wouldn't want a ride
 on a painted pony?

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Wow.  Four weeks in the US has gone by quickly.  But the "it's been nice" list has grown.  We have been released as full-time missionaries, but the benefits have not diminished at all.  We have been counting our blessings as we travel, and though there are too many to share here, we need to acknowledge some of the categories, at least.

1. The blessing of loved ones.  During these short weeks, we have spent time with over one hundred people whom we love.  Blood ties or not, we are connected by time and experience, and the influence you have had on our lives is clear in our desire to keep improving ourselves.  Thank you for your love, your support, your encouragement – you have no clue to your influence.  

2.  The blessing of trials.  We know many of you are enduring hardships of economics, physical or emotional health, loss of family members, or the other struggles that are part of the learning of this life.  And we have been awed by the determination you demonstrate in meeting and dealing with these struggles.  We all have good days and bad days, but thank you for strengthening us by your words and your examples.  And we thank God every day that you are able to persist, to endure, to remain true.  We hope our poor service has provided you some of the blessings you have needed. 

One portion of the Air and Space Museum at Dulles.  
3.  The blessings of modern living.  We have so much to be thankful for.  Our belongings are surviving very well without us, in climate-controlled storage.  We were gifted with a cell phone, the cremated remains of a dearly beloved pet who passed while we were in Tonga, family cars, hotels, and chauffeurs while we traveled.  We were able to ship suitcases ahead of us, rather than lugging our entire lives with us to every stop across the U.S.  Life in this country is nothing short of amazing.  And if you haven’t gotten there yet, the new Air and Space Museum “wing” at Dulles Airport is very cool – the Enola Gay, the French Concorde, the supersonic “stealth” Blackbird, and the Space Shuttle Discovery all under one roof, along with about 500 other planes, gliders, satellites, and assorted flying machines.  All within about 100 years for a time frame – amazing.

Kudzu overtaking an old farm silo.
4.  The blessings of beauty, created by God and by man.  The variety of life we have seen in these last four weeks is nothing short of a marvel.  From the vistas of the Rocky Mountains to the hot sands along the Gulf coast of Texas, to the lush green of Virginia  and North Carolina - this world is a beautiful place.  

We came out of a restaurant the other night and a young man stopped us and pointed to the sky.  "I was just looking at those white puffy clouds, and that particular color of light blue in the sky," he said, "and I've decided that God must be a Tarheels fan!" That man just might have a point!

"The Golden Warrior" in front of the Kazakh
Embassy in D.C.
The man-made beauty that impressed me was the city of Washington, D.C.  Now, I admit, I'm partial to that town, but the cleanliness, the abundance of plant life and of families, the variety of glass and stone, of old and new construction, and the increased efficiency of the city is just impressive.  Metrobuses have come a long way since I was in town last, in appearance and function.  And it only took us 45 minutes to drive from 16th and P Streets inside DC to Manassas, Virginia - I can remember when that took a couple of hours.  The high-speed highways in, around and through the DC area are truly a wonder – especially the parts framed by green vines, bushes and trees. 

To those of you staying behind in these United States:  count your blessings.  Be a blessing to someone else today, and strengthen the bonds between you and someone else.  Be aware of your part in your trials, and continue to teach those of us around you through your trials.  Be conscious of the abundance of advantages in your own life – not just the physical and economic advantages, but the advantages that come because you are living in the United States of America.  You are blessed beyond compare – I know that from first-hand experience.  Enjoy your blessings - and more importantly, make use of them.  Go BE a blessing to someone else, and seize the opportunities that your own blessings bring you.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I recently met a woman who left a remarkable imprint on my mind and heart.  Zarrah was my hair stylist at a randomly-chosen salon in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.  If I could sum up Zarrah in one word, that word would be mild.  She epitomizes womanhood in many ways – humble, gentle, constantly serving, and serving happily.

This might not be information that carries any weight until I tell you that Zarrah spent her childhood in Afghanistan.  I tried not to pry into her personal background, but anyone who has paid any kind of attention to the news in the last 40 years knows what conditions are like for girls and women in Afghanistan.  Yet I could not sense one drop of bitterness in Zarrah.  She busied herself in the salon in a happy, calm manner, and demonstrated a kindness and gentleness that I marveled in watching.

  During the two quick hours that we spent together, I watched her.  These are some of the things I witnessed:

1. She supported her fellow workers in their efforts, thanking them for small kindnesses they did for her (like sweeping up the cuttings of my hair) and quickly moving to help a colleague fold freshly-dried towels.

2. She held my hair in her hand like it was valuable, and used the lightest touch I have ever experienced in preparing my hair for a color and cut. (And I thank those of you who actually thought my color was not straight out of a bottle.)

3. She took care of other customers while the color set on my hair, making the most of her time (and that of her other customers).

4. She not only shampooed and conditioned my hair, she took the time to give me the most relaxing scalp massage I have ever had. When I joked that she was going to put me to sleep, she joined right in and promised to wake me before she went home that evening – haha.

5. Because of her gentle ways, people treated her kindly. She responded to every kindness with a melodic “awww” or a word of thanks, and a genuine, warm smile.

There were other demonstrations, but you get the idea. Zarrah, a woman who has seen great hardship, has chosen to live with joy, kindness and service. And because of her choices, I was drawn to love her in a very short time.  (We even hugged each other when I left.)  I don’t know if I will ever learn to be as meek and accepting as she was that day, but I can certainly learn to be mild, by remembering her example. When I grow up, I want to be like Zarrah.

Monday, August 5, 2013


We are mostly through our hopscotch-style journey across the US:  Salt Lake City, Denver and the San Luis Valley of Colorado, Corpus Christi, Texas, and now Washington, D.C.  (Fayetteville North Carolina will come next.)  We have loved visiting with family and friends, creating new face-to-face connections and strengthening old ones.  We have also found some new purpose in our conversations.

I need to start an “It’s been nice to find out that…” list. So here are a few items that belong on that list:

1.     It’s been nice to find out that our perspective mattered.  While reporting in New Zealand, we discussed some needs at Liahona, and through emails from friends there since we left, we have found that the issues we brought to the attention of our leaders in Auckland are indeed being addressed. 

2.     It’s been nice to find out that we are missed.  Some of our Tongan friends loaded us up with gifts just as we were leaving, and since then we have received notes, emails, and cards that have provided wonderfully sweet and tender moments.  And I have given myself a Tongan name, now that everyone is telling me things are too quiet with me gone – I am Sister Loud-As-A-Truck!

3.     It’s been nice to find out how personal connections matter.  Reunions with family, relatives, “shirttail relatives”, and friends who might as well be family have been wonderful.  There have been sweet moments when we have shared our recognition of the Lord’s hand in our lives, funny moments when we discovered or rediscovered peculiarities in our habits, and moments of heartfelt gratitude when we acknowledged the influence we have had in each others’ lives.  We are not meant to live in isolation.

One minor illustration of a funny moment:  We told Lindsey, RC’s wife of 5 months, about his habit of doing shots during friendly “poker” games (they really didn’t know the rules, but that never stopped them) when he and Kai were 12 or 13.  The circle of boys would sit around our dining room table, and at the end of each round, would drink from a 12-oz cup of water that had an entire package of Koolaid stirred into it.  Strong stuff!  After we laughed about it, Lindsey said, “That explains a lot about my husband.”  Ha!

4.     It’s been nice to be exposed to the abundant blessings here in the United States.  The first time I walked into a grocery store, I was stunned.  I walked up to the deli counter, where there were about 12 kinds of cheese for sale, and right next to the counter was an oval bank, about 10 feet long, filled with another 50 kinds of cheeses.  (Now, you have to understand that cheese is an expensive rarity in Tonga, so we had it only very occasionally.)  The kind lady at the deli counter asked, “May I help you?” and I looked at her with a bewildered smile and said, “I don’t think so!”  I just had to walk around and stare, in the whole store.  About halfway through the store, the thought came to me, “There’s enough food in this store to feed everyone in Tonga for a week!”  I continue to preach that every American needs to go live outside of the US for a year, functioning like a native of any other country.  Then we could come back and be a lot more content with what we have here.

5.     It was especially nice to visit Monte Vista, Colorado again.  Two years ago, we left under than less than optimal circumstances, but coming back and giving our mission report at our “home” ward was wonderful.  People welcomed us with open arms, spent time with us, expressed joy and anticipation at the next chapter in our lives, and wished us well.  We left with a very warm feeling, a very positive feeling about the people in that place.  We even got to take a tour of the new school that Jim helped design, that has been up and running for year.  We purchased pieces of the old gym floor (the grant money ran out due to cost overruns) to help raise money for the surfacing of the athletic track, and were very pleased at the way the school has turned out.  May the years be good, Pirates!!!

6.     We knew this before we left, but it’s been good to recognize that the skills we developed in Tonga are exactly the skills we will use in Kazakhstan.  In Tonga we spent most of our time coaching teachers and helping them teach in English to students who grew up speaking Tongan.  We taught them research-proven strategies to use in their classrooms to help their students succeed.  And now we will be doing exactly that in Kazakhstan.  It’s been good to acknowledge that we NEEDED to go to Tonga, in order to qualify for these jobs.  And it’s good to acknowledge that we had enough faith to trust that the Lord would take care of us.  He certainly has.