Open Anna Sterligova’s Book of Mormon, and you’re in for a surprise. Instead of the usual paintings printed in the book, hers is filled with brightly colored illustrations she created herself.
Anna is a 15-year-old art student from Moscow, Russia. She wanted to record some of her own feelings and emotions in the book as she studied it. So in addition to underlining, cross-referencing, and putting notes in the margins when she read about a scriptural event that had particular meaning to her, she pictured it—literally.
“It made the stories come to life for me,” she explains.
Not that the stories weren’t already alive for her, powerfully so. Anna loves the Book of Mormon. She is well into reading it for the fourth time. She studies it on her own and at family home evening, reads it at meetings of the Pokrovsky Branch, and masters its verses for seminary. She particularly likes to share her testimony of it with friends.
And that’s where Zenaida Akimova comes in. An older woman from the neighborhood, Zenaida was a friend of Anna’s mother, Alla, and was quickly becoming a friend of the entire family (which also includes Anna’s father, Konstantin, and her brother, Aleksander, also known as Sasha). She knew they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she wasn’t sure exactly what they meant by that.
“Keep learning more about it,” Anna invited, “and you’ll see what we mean.”
Zenaida thought about what she already knew. For example, this family treated each other well.
“They were always kind and courteous to each other,” she says. “But most of all they genuinely cared about each other.”
She knew—and had personally witnessed—how important the Church is in their lives. She knew about family history and genealogy, since Alla had told her about the hundreds of names she has researched. She knew the Sterligovs* went on trips to a sacred place called a temple. She knew about Konstantin’s commitment to service as president of the Moscow East District.
Soon Zenaida was meeting with the missionaries, praying, coming to church. She was asking more and more questions, getting more and more answers. Thanks in part to Anna’s constant comments about the Book of Mormon, she had a longing to read and understand that holy scripture.
But there was a problem. Zenaida is legally blind. She can’t see well enough to read. She doesn’t know braille, and even if she did, there is no braille edition of the Book of Mormon in Russian.
So Anna and Alla developed a plan. Each evening they would read out loud and record several chapters from the Book of Mormon. The following morning, they would deliver the audio cassette to Zenaida. She was thrilled as she learned in-depth about Lehi, Nephi, and other prophets. Tape by tape, week by week, her testimony became firmer and clearer. Like the colorful pictures in Anna’s personal copy of the scriptures, the stories came alive in her mind.
When Anna was busy, Alla recorded. When Alla was busy, Anna recorded. Sometimes Sasha or President Sterligov read into the mike. But every day, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, the tapes were reliably prepared.
“I wanted Sister Akimova to have the same experience with the Book of Mormon that I had,” Anna explains. “The first time the elders showed me the book, I knew it was true. I had no trouble believing it, no doubts. So it was easy for me to tell her how I felt about it, and easy to record it for her, since I’m reading it every night anyway.”
Now it is one week before Zenaida’s baptism. She has come to meet with the missionaries once again in the Sterligovs’ apartment. There is a feeling of happiness and hope in the air.
“I am ready to be baptized,” Zenaida says. “I am looking forward to the day. This family has been so great to me. I have my Book of Mormon tapes because of them, and I can listen whenever I want to. I have their example and their love, and with that, I’m ready to begin a new life. I may not be able to see clearly enough to read, but thanks to Anna and Sasha and President and Sister Sterligov, I am starting to see exactly what the gospel means.”
And Anna? She’s still sharing the Book of Mormon with friends. Out of her more than 60 penpals, she has found four with an interest in the gospel. She has sent each of them a copy of the book.
“One young woman lives in a little town in Siberia,” Anna says. “There are no missionaries there, and she is far from the closest branch of the Church. I write to her about the things we learn in the missionary discussions, and she likes that. She knows about the Bible, and I told her we study the Bible, too. But I told her the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, makes the Bible more complete. She said to send her a copy so she could see what we mean.”