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Snapshot of Russia – Russian is the official language of Russia, though several other languages are given co-official status in certain regions, the most-spoken being Tatar and Ukrainian. The largest church in Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims about 40% of the population. Another 40% does not practice religion. Several other religions are also present, with certain southern regions having majority populations of Muslims or Buddhists. Russia has a rich and diverse history in areas such as architecture, literature and philosophy, science, and music and dance, especially ballet. Modern Russian rock and pop are also popular. Ice hockey, basketball, and soccer are all popular sports in Russia. Another popular activity is washing in banya steam bath houses. Some elements of folk culture remain, such as matryoshka dolls and other art forms. Russian cuisine is varied across the country, but several different types of bread are common. Soups (both hot and cold) are also popular parts of Russian meals, such as shchi, a cabbage and beef soup. Several meat dishes are also popular, such as shashlik (a marinated kebab) and pelmeni (dumplings filled with minced meat).
Russia has 21,709 members 7 missions. The church is fairly new in Russia. It was officially recognized in 1991, however, the first baptism was in 1895.
“When I served, the majority of members were young, single women and elderly women. I was also so amazed at the faith that they had. When I served, our mission president had the rule that tracting was a last resort, so we worked to find people to teach heavily through the members. They were very welcoming to investigators. We also had A LOT of inactive members.” – Jessica
“Most of the wards were quite young. The members liked to help with investigators but not a lot of them invited their friends to the church. To a young missionary I would say just talk to people, it is amazing how conversations of the gospel can come up.”
Russians eat a lot of vegetables and many of them are home grown from their gardens. Some “American” food is available, but it has some local variations. They like bread and cheese. A lot of their food is rich in flavors, especially dill. They don’t have very spicy foods, typically. Russians eat a lot of soup and potatoes.
Most people in Russia travel on public transportation. This includes buses, tram-vys (trolleys), subways, or van. Because so many people use public transportation in Russia, the system is very robust and efficient. The roads are often crowded with cars and buses, but there is an order to it. Missionaries do not have a cars, but for travel purposes you often ride in taxi’s. For transfers between cities, missionaries ride a bus or a train, depending how far away the areas are.
The Russia Yekaterinburg mission is pretty safe. Obedience to mission rules and the white handbook help to ensure the safety of missionaries. As with many missions around the world, evening hours are less safe than daylight hours. Be wise and alert to your surroundings and the areas in which you work. Also to consider is that you are not allowed to carry around your camera nor are you allowed to take pictures of Russian statues and monuments. If you do want pictures at baptisms or on pday, invite a member along who can carry your camera for you. This is also a great way to build missionary/member relations!
Missionaries have to carry their passports and documents with you at all times, and that is probably your most valuable thing on your mission. You will want a good bag to keep those things safe.
One missionary warned, “watch out for groups of young boys at night. They only ever hassled us no harm was done, but the potential for worse things was there.”
Their biggest holiday in Russia is probably New Year’s. The celebration can last anywhere from 2-5 days. The streets are pretty empty during those days. Another big holiday is May 9th, or Victory Day, which is similar to Independence day in the United States. Christmas in Russia is in January and is not as big of a deal as New Years.
Russian customs include a number of superstitions that may seem foreign, but they are very important to many of the people there.
Russians LOVE to celebrate. It seemed like there was some kind of holiday almost every week! A favorite of many missionaries is “women’s day” held on March 8. They celebrate New Year’s much more so than Christmas and the celebrate it with fireworks.
Never shake someone’s hand through a door way.
Russian are VERY superstitious.
“I loved New Years!! We got together to celebrate before but we had some tradition salads”
Each city has a unique dialect. For example, some cities try to speak with as little movement with their lips as possible, whereas another city can be known for speaking especially fast, or another with slow and clear Russian.
It is important to remember that direct translations are not always possible in the Russian language. It can come out funny or insulting depending on local culture, therefore always be careful when translating into Russian or attempting to make jokes with the locals.
Good shoes- You will walk nearly everywhere on your mission. Some roads are nicely paved but some are very gravely and dirty so you want shoes that are comfortable and will last. In some cases, you will where the same shoes throughout the year, regardless of the weather.
Good gloves, hat, boots, long underwear, wool socks- Layers is the key to staying warm and staying cool in the warmer months. It is recommend to buy your actual winter boots in Russia, but to bring a nice pair of transition boots for the fall and spring months that are warm and durable.
All of your snow gear, including your coat can be bought in Russia at a market.
Durable bag- one that is not too bulky because you will be on very packed buses most of the time.
Unless you are entering the mission in the middle of the winter, wait to buy winter clothing until you get there. Russian clothing departments know how to keep warm! Their hats, gloves and coats are great! However, do bring thermal underwear! A handy pair of gloves to have with is the mittens that you can pull off the tops. It helps keep your hands warm, but allows you quick access to using your fingers ie; day planner use.
Take a bag of variety candy! Not only is it a taste of home but you can share it with members and investigators as taste of America. It’s an instant win over.
BRING PICTURES!!!! This is critical! Russians love to looks at pictures and it’s a great way for them to get to know you and help build that “relationship of trust” that is soooo important!
Mailing to Russia:
“AHAHAHAH! Oh where do I begin… Packages took awhile to get, but I received all the packages that were sent to me. Letters and stuff seem to be sent fairly quickly.
I loved mailing packages home! They wrap your package in a brown cloth (fabric similar to a potato sack) and then take a stamp and dip it into a hot clay/wax to seal the package. It was awesome!” – Jessica
“We got mail once a month from the mission home. It was safer to mail to the mission home as transfers were possible.”
ul. Rabochikh 9 office 1
What did you eat the most of?
“I ate A LOT of bread and potatoes!” – Jessica
“Bread, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, eggs, during the summer we had quite a bit of fruit, potatoes, soup, salads”
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Russian Cake” – Jessica
“Cabbage and carrot sald with oil”
What was most surprising about the culture?
“I was so surprised at how friendly the people were. On the streets, everyone is so serious, but if you start talking to them or spend time with them, you instantly become part of the family!
I was shocked by the way the women dressed in the winter. It was SOOOOO cold, but the women always wore super short skirts.
I was shocked by how many people could fit on a bus. You’d think it was full, but they’d find a way to push ten more people in.” – Jessica
“The people were so friendly, just not the impression that I had had previous to serving. They just look severe because not a lot of smiling happens on the streets or in public.
The superstitions also surprised me. Some are very adamant that you cannot do certain things as something bad will happen to you, like sitting on a cold bench or drinking cold water. I wish I would have known more about the holidays that we ended up having to stay in our apartments all day.”
What advice would you give to someone headed to this mission?
“Be open to the experience and learn to love the people. Russians can see through you. They can tell when you truly love them and if they can see that, you’ll become part of their family forever! Also, be willing to speak Russian. Just try. They are so appreciative to those who are willing to embrace their language and culture.” – Jessica
“Love the people as they will want to give as they have to you. Realize that in order to make connections with the people you need to find common ground.”
What do you wish you had known before you served?
“I wish I had known about the history of Russia more.” – Jessica
“I wish I would have had a better grasp of the language before going out.”
“Having served there, I truly believe that Heavenly Father has a special place in His heart for the people of Russia. They’re faith and spirits are so strong. They’re willing to serve and give all that they have to help each other. The members love for the gospel and their Savior, Jesus Christ is incredible. It truly is an honor to be called as a missionary to Russia!” – Jessica