I’ll Be Glad: A Personal Narrative
By Cory Bushman
I’ll Go Anywhere That You Do
And If You Don’t Go Before
At approximately 7:40am I board a minibus in a village near Baryatino, Russia to begin the 300km journey to Moscow. As the minibus jolts along the pock-filled road, I am reminded of the irony of my traveling 300km to hear LDS Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf speak. A few days previous to my departure, I inform my brother who is currently in Utah of my travel plans. His immediate response was, “Cory, he speaks here all the time.” I realize my complacency when I am living in Salt Lake City, so close to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How many times have I neglected to attend a meeting where Church leaders are speaking, that is being held just minutes away from my home? But now I am a foreigner in a land far from home, and I yearn for some connection to ‘my people’.
Lord, I Don’t Want To Go
Without You Anymore
With a copy of Richard Bushman’s biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, in hand, I board a commercial bus at 8:20am, which takes me from Baryatino to the city of Kaluga and then on to the capital, Moscow. I watch out the window for hours as the landscape changes. White and lavender lilac bushes line the streets and once again my thoughts turn to home. My maternal grandmother, Nola, was raised in Utah, where every spring lilacs bloom and penetrate the air with their intoxicating scent. My grandparents left Utah and the lilac bushes for Southern California when my mother was a teenager. Years later my mother found herself living in Utah once again, and, feeling the separation from my grandmother, she devised a plan. She filled a box with freshly-picked lilacs, placed the stems of the lilacs in balloons filled with water, and shipped the box to California. When Nola opened the package, the aroma of lilacs filled the air and she wept with joy. I carry a picture of Nola with me throughout my travels. Though I have never met Nola in this life, the lilacs act as a link, connecting generations of my ancestors in purpose and in love.
Meet Me In A Pillar Of Fire
Shade Me With A Big White Cloud
My hope as I travel throughout Russia is not to be a foreign observer, but in the words of the late puppeteer, Jim Henson, to be an “extraordinary appreciator.” This hope has been easy to obtain as there have been countless extraordinary events taking place all around me. As the bus stops in a small village, to pick up additional passengers, a woman and man enter the bus and move to the rear. I soon discover that the couple is deaf and that an elderly man, with a kind weathered face is standing outside of the bus to see them off. I watch as the man signs to the couple, giving them advice and expressing his love. I am struck by the beauty and the simplicity of their interactions.
Lord Wherever You Go
You’ll Always Have Me Around
In the evening I arrive at my accommodation, located just north of the Kremlin. At my hostel I meet travelers from Australia, Poland, Germany, Russia, England, the U.S. and Thailand. I meet a man from Wisconsin who was born in Salt Lake City and who expresses his “great respect for Mormons.” I meet a young Russian woman who is an eighteen hour train ride away from home. When I tell her where I am from, she says that she has “friends from Salt Lake City.” She tells me that her friends are two women who live in her city and have invited her to attend Russian classes.
You Will Give My Body Rest
And Never Let Me Thirst
On Monday, June 1, I find my way through Moscow’s incredible Metro system, to the Hotel Cosmos where the church meeting is to take place. Out of fear of not finding the hotel’s location, I find myself being four hours early for the fireside. I watch as the small choir practices and as Russian Latter-day Saints begin to trickle into the hotel’s auditorium. There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. The room fills gradually and just after seven o’clock, the crowd stands as President and Sister Uchtdorf, along with Elder and Sister Neil L. Andersen enter the room. President Piper is first to speak, followed by Sister Cathy Andersen. Sister Andersen shows her love for the Russian Saints by delivering her thoughts in their native tongue.
So I’m Not Going Anywhere
If You Don’t Go There First
Full-time missionaries have been serving in Russia since 1990. There are currently around 20,000 members, 121 branches and now only seven missions, as the two Moscow missions have recently been combined into one. As I sit in the congregation made up of both Russian and International Saints, I am reminded of an idea posed by Richard Bushman regarding the early members of the church, but I feel that it is just as relevant here and now:
“They listen transfixed, puzzled, and sometimes fearful. They know a power beyond the ordinary plays around them. They want to grasp it and make it their own. Can they break mountains and divide the seas? Can they put the armies of nations at defiance? Sometimes they are uncertain. Sometimes they burn with certainty. They feel their lives are being elevated, their persons empowered. The concerns of farms, shops, and families drop away, and they dedicate their lives to the work.”
When I See You Beckoning Me
That’s How I’ll Know
Elder Andersen addresses the congregation next. He boldly tells the Saints that the fate of the church in Russia rests upon their shoulders and encourages the Saints to work toward the creation of a Stake in Moscow. He says that the importance of a Stake is that it not only acts as a protector, but it is symbolic of the testimonies and strength of its members.
“Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted. Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them. But behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are His; and he will raise them up at the last day.” (Alma 26:5-7)
Sister Uchtdorf reiterates Elder Anderson’s words, encouraging the Saints to listen to the Holy Ghost and to keep the commandments in order to have this gift continually. She ends her words by saying, “I’m sure next time when we come, you will have a Stake.”
Lord Following Your Lead
Is The Only Way I’ll Go
President Uchtdorf begins his address by lovingly expressing his happiness in seeing the children of the church jumping around and being joyful. I am pleasantly surprised by President Uchtdorf’s sense of humor and his ability to speak freely, without written script. His interpreter amazingly keeps up, despite President Uchtdorf’s rapidness. At one point in his address, President Uchtdorf realizes the challenge, pauses, laughs to himself, hugs the interpreter and then continues.
Joseph Smith taught, “We believe that all men are born free and equal; that no man, combination of men, or government of men, have power or authority to compel or force others to embrace any system of religion, or religious creed, or to use force or violence to prevent others from enjoying their own opinions, or practicing the same, so long as they do not molest or disturb others in theirs, in a manner to deprive them of their privileges as free citizens…”  President Uchtdorf expresses his belief that free will and moral agency is the “greatest gift next to life itself.” He says that “we will not and cannot force anyone to remain or be active in the church” but that it is up to the individual. He professes that it is our duty to bear witness of what is right, not to tell others what they are doing wrong. “We honor other religions. We respect them…we defend them in their freedom to practice their religion.”
After expressing his excitement regarding the temple in Kiev, Ukraine that will be dedicated in 2010 and will serve the Saints in Moscow, he takes a moment to express his sorrows. “We have way too many wars in this world and there is only one power to overcome this” he continues, “This Gospel is the answer to any challenge in this life.” He lovingly tells the Russian Saints that their “faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” and that they are “known by the Prophet as a faithful people.” He reassures their potential to grow, telling them that they are individually “pioneers that go forward, and others [will] follow.” He encourages the Saints to “Be not guided by your fears. Be courageous.”
Joseph Smith told his people, “The smallest and weakest among us, shall be powerful and mighty.”  President Uchtdorf mirrors this teaching as he tells the congregation that we are individually stronger than Satan and that we “can overcome. We can live pure, if we choose to do so.” The talk ends with a powerful promise, that if we live these teachings, that there will be a “temple in Russia not far at hand.” He smiles as he says, “Let’s not wait another fifty years before we have a temple in this place.”
When You Get Your Flock
Together, Please Take Me Along
The following day I find myself privileged to be eating dinner with two young Russian sisters, both converts to the church. With great admiration I listen to them speak of their experiences and the power that they felt as President Uchtdorf spoke directly to them. One of the women is asked by another party if she has any previous religious background, and in response she shares the story of her grandmother, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, living in Russia during the Soviet Era. Since the Bible was considered to be counter-revolutionary, it was prohibited. Her grandmother’s family shared one Bible with multiple families in their neighborhood. They would pass the Bible along on a week to week basis with the hope of raising their children up in the same religious tradition.
Lord, I’m Too Weak To Travel
I’ll Be Glad You’re Strong
And I’ll Lean On Your Arm
The next morning I travel the 300km back to the community where I am volunteering. Everyone seems surprised that I made it back without getting lost, but I am of the same mindset of Ray Bradbury when he wrote, “Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” I feel blessed to have acted as an ‘extraordinary appreciator’ in the midst of the Saints in Moscow and to witness the strength and beauty of a people who have discovered truth and in the joy that truth manifests.
*I’ll Be Glad lyrics / poem by Shannon Stephens
Deseret News, Monday, July 14, 2008 (Tad Walch).
Bushman, Richard. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. NewYork: First Vintage
Books Edition, March 2007, p.160.
Bushman, Joseph Smith (p.281).
Bushman, Joseph Smith (p.214).