She lives close to a beautiful palace where a Russian empress lived long ago. The city where she lives was named for a famous Russian poet. There are magnificent buildings, statues, parks, and museums close to her home.
In such a setting, is it possible for a young girl to make a difference in the lives of people around her? Yes—in quiet, simple ways.
Eight-year-old Masha (Maria) Zemskova lives in Pushkin, a city near St. Petersburg. She lives with her mother, older brother, and grandmother in a small flat on the top floor of an apartment building. When Masha smiles, her blue eyes light up and the dimples in her cheeks deepen. She is a kind, unselfish girl who knows how to be a friend, and she is an important part of the lives of people who know her.
Masha and her family are members of the Pushkin Branch, which meets on Sundays in a rented room in a library. Elder Adam Blodgett, a full-time missionary who serves as branch president, says, “Although there are only three children in the entire Primary, Masha never misses a meeting.” If you were to visit the branch, Masha would probably be the first person to greet you. She would make you feel right at home.
Masha loves to join with other Church members in parties, outings, and activities. She especially enjoys playing in the park on warm summer days and sledding in the snow on cold winter afternoons.
Because the branch is small, Masha has a chance to bear her testimony in nearly every testimony meeting. And for two years, since she was six years old, she has played the piano or directed the singing for nearly every Church meeting. (She and her 13-year-old cousin, Katya, take turns.) At first Masha could play only the melody. Now she plays with both hands. Her favorite hymns to play are “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” “Silent Night,” and “Count Your Many Blessings.”
One of the blessings Masha is most grateful for is the gift of the Holy Ghost. “When I was baptized,” she says, “the water in the pool was really cold and it was hard for me to breathe. But I felt warm when I received the Holy Ghost. I felt really good inside.”
Masha and her family are a great help to the missionaries. They invite friends to listen to gospel discussions. They invite the missionaries to dinner. And for missionaries needing help with the Russian language, Masha is a friendly tutor.
“She always talks with new missionaries and helps them learn to speak,” says Elder Samuel Drown. “They don’t have to worry about making mistakes around her, because she makes them feel good about themselves.” She teaches them games Russian children use to learn words and numbers. She gave one missionary a kind nickname that included a vowel sound the elder had trouble pronouncing. He appreciated the fun teaching method—and learned to say the sound correctly.
Masha is a missionary to her friends. She has told many of them about the Church, and she stops by and gets her nonmember friend Dasha on the way to church each Sunday because Dasha has no one else to go with.
When one of her friends needed help with a problem, Masha taught her how to pray. “She had never prayed before,” says Masha, “so the first few times, I helped her pray. Then after a few times I didn’t need to help her anymore.”
Masha has special feelings for small children—and she simply won’t put up with bullies. Once an older boy threatened a group of little children, yelling that he was going to hit them with a tree branch he was holding. Seeing what was happening, Masha stood up to him and told him to leave the children alone. “When I turned and started walking off with the other kids,” she says, “he hit the back of my legs with the branch.” It stung her bare skin, but Masha didn’t try to get back at him. She was more concerned about getting the little children away from him.
When she grows up, Masha hopes to have children of her own. And she plans to be a teacher of young children and to care for homeless orphans. “Whenever somebody is hurt or crying,” says her mother, “Masha tries to help them. She has a way of caring for others when they feel bad.”
One of Masha’s best friends is her 15-year-old brother, Vadim, a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. Years ago, before their parents divorced, life was unpredictable and difficult. Perhaps as a result, Vadim and Masha are very close. As they joke and play with each other, it’s obvious they enjoy being together. When Vadim compliments Masha on her piano playing, she replies, “I’ll teach you how to play sometime.” And she means it.
Masha’s mother, Ludmila, works long hours Monday through Saturday in a shop downtown. She recently got this new job so she doesn’t have to work on Sundays. Ever since her baptism three years ago, she has been Relief Society president. Masha is learning a lot from her about service.
“When we find out somebody needs help,” says Sister Zemskova, “all the sisters in the branch help as much as they can.” One young mother whose husband has to work on Sundays found it difficult to get her two baby girls to church on her own. On many Sunday mornings, Masha and her mother help her get the children ready and to church. Masha plays with the babies at times so their mother can rest.
Masha loves to write poetry. Some of her poems are about the beauties of nature. Others are about her love for her mother and grandmother. In a recent poem Masha expressed her gratitude that when she can’t sleep during the night, “I wake up and go over to you, Mother. And you comfort and protect me, my loving mother.”
Zoya Maximovna, Masha’s grandmother, lives with the family and cares for the children while their mother is at work. Sister Maximovna used to work as a chef—and she still prepares delicious meals. She and Ludmila have taught Masha and Vadim to wash the dishes, make the beds, sweep the apartment, and help with other chores around the house. “I know Masha was sent from Father in Heaven to this family,” says Sister Maximovna, “because of how much she helps and the kind person she is.”
Now the family’s main goal is to get to the temple together. Masha’s mother has already made the long journey to the Stockholm Sweden Temple with a group of Church members. Vadim and Masha want to be able to do baptisms for the dead, and both plan to be married in the temple someday.
To prepare, they read the Book of Mormon each evening. And they have family prayer. Masha’s piano playing—especially hymns—adds to the spirit of harmony in their home. They love playing games together and eating popcorn or desserts their mom or grandmother have made.
Masha knows Heavenly Father loves her. “He helps me and gives me blessings,” she says. “He has given me a wonderful grandmother, mother, and brother. And I can feel the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost helps me believe in God and keep the commandments. He helps me in my studies. He strengthens me.”