Russian boy with tattered coat left lasting image in her mind

I appreciate Primary Gen. Pres. Michaelene P. Grassli's explanation that the mission of the Church includes children. We are to invite all to come unto Christ, including children.

I must say this was the strongest impression I had when we moved to Moscow for my husband's employment. We came to Russia in August 1991 with a lot of enthusiasm and real desire to serve anywhere we could. Having small children of my own, I was naturally drawn to Primary.Our first Sunday at Baumenskaya - a theater where a Russian branch met - we were greeted by two missionaries. I was drawn to a room where I could hear the sound of children singing in Russian, "I Am a Child of God."

This moved me so much. This was the first Primary in Moscow, Russia. These children, like all children, had eager, bright faces with the desire to learn about their Heavenly Father who loves them so much.

A turning point for me was when I went visiting with the sister missionaries. I had wanted to do this for so long, but I felt so inadequate because I did not speak Russian. How could I participate?

The sisters reassured me that just the presence and smile of a member was an asset. We were to visit a young mother, Valentina, and her two sons. The sisters invited the boys to use their scriptures in the lesson. They were so excited to show the sisters what they had read from the Book of Mormon that week. I was so overwhelmed by the boys' enthusiasm for reading the Book of Mormon. This experience left me with a feeling of such responsibility toward these boys and the other children in our Moscow branch.

But what could I do? I didn't speak Russian. Because the Church was so new here Primary seemed to slip through the cracks in so many ways. I wanted it to be more. These children needed lessons about the gospel. They needed to sing Primary songs that teach so much. But we didn't have manuals, and we had very few hymns even translated at the time. We would have to make do with the scriptures and whatever resources we could pull together.

I can't help but recall the face of a boy when my husband and I took our three small children to a fast-food restaurant here in Moscow. We placed each of our children in portable high chairs, and I patiently waited for my husband to stand in line to get hamburgers. A young boy with a sweet grin appeared behind us, and in his tattered brown coat and gray knit hat, he timidly cooed and grinned at our baby while he waited for his grandmother to buy that rare treat of hamburger and maybe some fries. Grandmother returned, grabbed his hand, and he was gone, but the image was left in my mind. It was one of those moments where I almost felt immediate love for someone, and I have wondered what does this boy go home to. Is it a home full of sadness and despair? Is there a mother and a father? Do they love each other or do they hurt each other? How this boy's life could change if only he had a home filled with the gospel. What could this boy's potential be? Could he be a good example to his peers? Could he be a missionary? Would he then come home to Russia to teach his people?

What a loving Primary teacher could do for this young boy and his family. She or he could be there every week with a smile. Children don't have many places to escape the ugliness in this world. They face contention in school and many times at home. Can they have one place of refuge? A place they know they can go where they know they are welcome and loved? A place where they can learn that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them, a Father who has sent us His Son Jesus Christ to give us an example?

In February 1992, that one Russian branch was divided, and seven new branches were created. I served as Moscow District Primary president. One of my main goals was to try and instill in our Primary presidents the great responsibility they would have to these children. They are so vital in helping these children gain testimonies of their own. Because the Church is so new here and the idea of a Heavenly Father is new, we began first by teaching the children that they have a Heavenly Father, that He loves them, and that He, through His Son Jesus Christ, has shown the way that we can return to Him some day. Our main goal was to motivate them to be at Primary each week. It would be so important that these sisters be at their branches every week to show these children that they really care for them. Second, we wanted to give them some help in their lesson preparation and activities - activities that build and teach.

Periodically, I would visit the various branches to see their Primaries. While visiting the south branch, I saw Sister Cisinia Robinson using all her talents with the children she had been trusted with. At this time there were no lessons manuals, and she knew two Primary songs, "I Am a Child of God" and "As I have Loved You."

What does a new member of the Church do for two hours with 10 children and no lessons? Part of the time they sang songs, and the other part of the time she shared her testimony and her experience the day she was baptized. She let these children know she loved them by her warm smile and by the tender way she greeted each one of them. She is an example to me.

I have had many other experiences in Moscow where I have had the chance to volunteer in the community, but one experience that stands out was when I went to an orphanage. There were 12 little cribs in three straight rows and eight little babies swaddled tight under their comforters. I couldn't help think of my own baby daughter as I peered into each one of these cribs. These were babies less than a year old who have no mother or father to care for and love them. Ten-month-old Serioja peered up with a smile full of six teeth. There was a very tender woman who cared for these babies, but it was difficult to manage as she was one person taking care of eight babies.

Many of the children here were handicapped in mental and physical ways. I had never held such frail little bodies. I felt a closeness to my Heavenly Father through these children. In D&C 50:40-41, we read: "Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of truth. Fear not little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me."

If we all could only look to our Brother Jesus Christ and what He would do. In Moro. 8:17, we read: "And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation."

The branches were divided again, making 15 branches in two districts, and I have been released as district Primary president. What a blessing it has been to me to have partaken of these Russian children's lives. My prayer is for us all to be filled with charity and to love all children with a perfect love.

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