“Latter-day Saint Teachers Visit Russia,” Ensign, July 1999, 68
Two Latter-day Saint schoolteachers from Utah were among eight chosen nationwide to participate in an exchange program sponsored by Partners in Education and the American Council for Teachers of Russian. During October 1998, Sara Hacken from the Sharon Second Ward, Orem Utah Sharon Stake, and Bart Farnsworth from the Timpanogos Sixth Ward, Pleasant Grove Utah Timpanogos Stake, visited Rostov-on-Don, located about 650 miles south of Moscow.
“We were asked to visit classrooms to observe how democracy, citizenship, and government were being taught to a new generation of Russians,” says Sister Hacken. Though the classrooms were austere, the teachers and students were anxious to learn about living in a democracy. In the Rostov school district, 15 teachers had developed The Game of Democracy to help students learn about political parties and how to vote. In one school, students and teachers alike wanted to know how to organize a student council, what decisions it made, and how it affected the students.
“It’s all new to them,” says Bart. “In one school we were proudly given a copy of a student newspaper. It represented their newfound freedom of the press.”
During conversations about freedom of religion, both Bart and Sara were asked about their own beliefs, which led to discussions about the Church. Their adherence to the Word of Wisdom also stirred interest in their religion, and in one place they were asked to explain their beliefs to a group of 150 college students and professors.
One night while attending a formal dinner with the president of the Polytechnic University of Novocherkassk, Sister Hacken felt to give him a cassette tape of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Through a translator, Sara asked, “Do you like music?” He nodded, and she offered him the tape, explaining that it included the history of her church.
“Everywhere we went, our religion occasioned as much interest as our civic involvement,” says Sister Hacken. “If you love missionary work, the Lord will open doors.”