Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Week 7 - Out of the frying pan...

...And into the fire.
First off, I should explain. Sister Thrall and I have a new companion so we are now in a three person companionship. She is the new native sister in our Branch along with 3 Elders. She is from Ukraine going to the Russia Moscow West Mission. She always does not speak much English. This is going to be very interesting because whenever she is not with her Elders or in class she needs to be with us. And since she does not speak English everything will need to be in Russian. this is going to be an interesting change, but a good one I think. Last night after the devotional the natives were done for the day but no one else was so we needed to stay with her because there was no one else in her temporary room. We must are Russian to the test. Well, we know that we can ask about families and asked her about herself and she showed us pictures. It was a very humbling experience for Sister Thrall and I and helped us realize just how little we know. The sister complimented us though and said we spoke pretty good Russian after only two months. Thankfully, she is patient and expressed a desire to help us as much as she can.
In about a week and a half all of the older districts will be swtiching to 100% Russian for the two weeks before we leave. In preparation for that, our district decided that this past week we would have two days where we speak 100% Russian. It was interesting. By the end of the day we were all very very tired. I actually had a harder time switching back to English. It was a much more quiet day than it has been in the past. I can understand most of what my teachers say but it is sometimes hard to respond back.
Our district is at an interesting stage. We are all anxious to head off to our missions but also terrified because that 100% Russian days show us that we are not ready. At one dinner I was talking to my companion and she said that she was tired of Russian and did not want to talk. We all understood the sentiment. I had another interview with my teacher and he says that I am doing well with the language and that I am a good teacher. It was very comforting to hear and uplifting because at the time I was getting frustrated with myself for not using a grammar principle correctly when I knew the rules.
Someone warned me before coming to the MTC that I would find dumb things hilarious. I have seen that. At our meals sometimes we play banana phone where we talk to eachother with bananas to our ears as if they were telephones. It helps keep our sanity and always brings a good laugh.
Yesterday we had another great devotional, this time by Elder Russell M. Nelson. Our group has been particularly lucky. So far we have heard from 1/3 of the Quorum of the 12 Aposles. We are hoping that before we leave to hear from two more. He encouraged us all to continue using Preach My Gospel, even after our missions. He also talked about recharging our batteries. He told us that we should be like car batteries that recharge themselves while on the road.
Tonight Sister Thrall and I will be teaching in the TRC again. Tonight we will be talking about why we are here on earth, where we came from, and where we are going after death. Our lesson last week went all. Sometimes it is hard to prepare for TRC because we are teaching our progressive investigators about 3 times a week. Those are going well and it is interesting to realize how everyone is on different levels and with some your need to take concepts more slowly than with others.
I love you all and am continuing to work hard. It is not easy but it is worth it. The Lord is blessing me so much and it is amazing to know how much He loves and has already helped me. This work is so important.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Week 6 - Over the hump!

Hello dearest family and friends.
Well, I am officially over the hump. Week 7 has now begun. This past week was nice as there have been a lot less missionaries on our floor with 4 districts gone. Church was interesting with only 20 missionaries. In addition, our Branch President and Second Counselor were on vacation so it felt really small. We sang the hymn, The Iron Rod, in Russian and if one voice did not know the words you could hear it which made it very unfortunate that none of us had sung the song before and the pianist played it very fast. Afterwards, the Second Counselor's wife spoke and said, "I don't think that was our best hymn. We may need to practice it more."
Today we receive new missionaries! In our zone we are getting 48 elders! Sadly, no sisters in our zone but in the other Russian zones there will be 3 more which means 7 sisters in total learning Russian. We are most definitely the minority. And how those you wondering, Elder Dougherty is my district! I have not seen him yet but I am keeping a lookout. It will be nice to have some family learning Russian, even if he is family through marriage.
Last Wednesday as I briefly mentioned in my last email Sister Thrall and I taught in Russian for the first time in the TRC (Teaching Resource Center where we practicing teaching people who know Russian). Before hand my companion had been pretty stressed out and nervous. I was nervous too so I figured I would be the optimistic one even when I was also nervous. We survived the lesson and it went really well. I did not understand as much as I wanted to and often my companion spoke more than I did (she had previous Russian experience in high school, did I ever mention that?). But overall it went well. At the end we asked our investigator to pray to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet. We said something but we did not understand and we stared at her blankly. She asked us if we understood and we shook our heads. "I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet because of your words." We instantly perked up and were very happy.
Afterwards I was so relieved it was over that I burst into tears. It was partly relief and partly because I was only then feeling how nervous I was. My poor teacher was not entirely certain how to respond or act.
What other exciting things have happened? On Thursday as we were preparing for bed the fire alarm in our building went off. Some sisters on the floor above us burnt their popcorn and set off the alarm. We stood outside for about 30 minutes. Thankfully, it was a good night.
Our distrinct is doing fine. This past week we had three half days of only Russian. We did well up until the last hour then it all fell apart. We have lots of laughs in class. Saturday we played "Do you love your neighbor?" with our new clothing vocabulary. When the word for skirt came up two of the elders did not know the word and got up anyway. We all laughed really hard. We laughed even harder when one of those elders stood up when the word for blouse came up.
Then we have progressive investigators. Things with Sergei are going well. He loves meeting with us but is struggling to know Christ. We also now have Sasha who we are still getting a feel for. Our teachers really get into their role. Apartently a bee flew on one of the elders during their lesson and his companion and Brother Gallo freaked out and began blowing on him. But somehow, he still managed to stay in character.
Oh! I just saw Elder Dougherty! It is so exciting to see all the new elders.
Life is going swimmingly here in the MTC. Of course it is easy to overeat and there never seems to be enough gym time, even with the early morning sisters workout at 6am. But only a few more weeks and we will be in Moscow. Crazy how the time is flying by, especially as I realize how little Russian I actually know. But I am working hard or trying to work hard. Last night Elder Richard G. Hinckley (President Hinckley's son) came to the MTC and he stressed the importance of working hard. He reminded us that we are not on a mission to "be cool". As we walk around town we won't be cool so don't try.
I love you all and the longer I am here the more I realize how much I love Jesus Christ. Through all my hard times He has been there and He is the reason I have survived. Through Him we truly can find eternal happiness with our families.
I hope life is treating you well. I pray for all of you and I love hearing from you.
-Love Sister Daniel

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 5

Well, I have so much to tell you all! First off I have an important annoucement:
RUSSIA IS GETTING ITS FIRST STAKE! (The caps should express how excited I am) And the stake will be in Moscow and be established on June 5! My teachers found out on Sunday and could not wait to tell us on Monday. I can't wait to get to Moscow!
Also, we had another visit from an apostle. This time it was Elder Neil L. Andersen. We have been very fortunate. The districts before us only heard two and that was towards the end of their MTC stay. He began his talk by mentioning that when he tells the apostles that he spoke at the MTC there will be a sigh because they all love talking to the missionaries. He mentioned that apostles love coming to the MTC because they feel the missionaries are one of them. 
His talk was about what it means in 2 Nephi 2:6-8 that we are saved by the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. The merits of Christ are the power of resurrection, that all mankind will resurrect and how this will bring hope to people who have experienced tragedy. The mercy of Christ is that through Christ's Atonement, that he died for our sins, we can cleansed from sin. The grace of Christ is the power to become something you are not. And he suggested we read the entry for grace in the Bible Dictionary. I read it last night and it is beautiful.
Things are going really well. They are not perfect but everything is steadally moving upwards. Last week my companion and I taught at the TRC. It was a good lesson, but not our best. However, the observer (teachers observe us via cameras and offer feedback) mentioned that everytime he listened to Sister Thrall and I he felt peace. "This is a good companionship," he said before offering his feedback to the elders.
Then on Thursday I had my progress check interview with my teacher, Brother Wilson. It was overwhelming positive and uplifting. He said that I was progressing very well with the language. He said that the grammar concepts just click and I seem to absorb all the information. This was especially encouraging because one of the wives of our Branch presidency told us that Brother Wilson was a great missionary and they were impressed when he arrived in Russia by how much he knew. So hearing Brother Wilson express those comments about the language meant a lot.
He also said that I was a good teacher and he never worried about Sister Thrall and I. He hears us discuss our goals and said that the way we set our goals will help us be great missionaries. Lastly, he thanked me for my participation in class. I worry sometimes that I talk too much in class but I am glad he appreciates my comments.
Then on Friday Sister Thrall and I taught "Sergei" again. We learned more about the real Sergei too. He was an investigator Brother Gallo taught but he was never baptized. As we taught him, Brother Gallo said he received revelation on how he should have taught Sergei. He also said there was a moment of silence where he almost cried. Overall, things are going well.
We are now the only districts in our Branch. All the older ones went for their missions this week (all the elders wanted awkward sisters photos with us because our district has the only sisters in the Branch). That means that everything is in Russian. We will be giving talks in Russian at church, our elders will administer the Sacrament in Russian, and we will be teaching our investigators in Russian. In fact, tonight we teach our first investigator in Russian. We have been practicing teaching a lot in Russian so I feel we will be ready to give a simple lesson. We shall see how it goes.
All else is going great. I love learning Russian and learning more about the Russians. It seems I will need to learn to like mushrooms and herbal tea, though. I can't wait to get to Russia but I enjoy this time to prepare myself spiritually to teach the Russian people. I love this Gospel and the chance I have to share it. It has brought me the most hope and happiness in my life. God truly loves us, His children. I hope everyone has a great week.
With love, Sister Daniel

Week 4

Hard to believe I have almost been here an entire month. Even more incredible is that there are only two months before Moscow! Yikes!
Nothing earth-shattering happened this week. Not like I've been hearing from the outside world. It was only distracting for about 3 minutes and then we buried ourselves back into the Gospel and Russian.
The older districts are leaving on Monday and Tuesday. Which means that we are now the older district and everything switches to Russian. Next week at the TRC (Teaching Resource Center) all our lessons will be in Russian as well as all of our Sunday talks. So far we have escaped being called on because the Presidency only chooses Russian talks. Our grace period is over and the sisters and I are betting which one of us they will call first as there are only four of us. We don't feel ready to be the older district but we are excited for new missionaries. Appartently May 18 we are getting about 50 new Russian missionaries (Americans, not natives).
I don't know if I ever mentioned this but the last two weeks at the MTC we are only supposed to speak Russian. No supplimenting with English words. Sister Thrall and I were discussing it and the thought terrified us. So to prepare ourselves we are going to start doing 100% a few days a week. So this Saturday we are trying to go the entire day only speaking Russian. It might be a quiet day but it will challenge us.
I can't believe I almost forgot! Last Friday Sister Thrall and I "met" our progressor investigator. It is only a roleplay where our teachers pretend to be someone they knew on their missions. We met with this person multiple times so we have practice meeting with the same person more than once and can address some issues real Russians would have. It went so well. I am enjoying the MTC but having an investigator, even in a roleplay, filled what I felt I was missing and he was based off of someone our teacher, Bpat Gallo, knew in Moscow. We bore our testimonies that God lives and we are His literal children. We could all feel the Spirit so strongly and I felt such love for this person we had only just met. Later, when I was interviewed by our teacher for weekly progress checks he commented that our lesson went really well and that Sister Thrall and I taught in unison.
The thing I won't miss about the MTC is the food, especially these past two weeks. Our lunch and dinner times moved with the schedules and there is construction in the kitchens. We are among the last groups to get lunch and on Sunday the cafeteria ran out of meat. The food isn't bad but it is cafeteria food. I try to eat salads and watch what I eat. With so many choices it is easy to overeat. Thank goodness we have gym time.
Oh! I saw Hermano Melandez Monday night. Appartently due to visas he has been serving in South Salt Lake City and now he is in Argentina. But he had to stay a night in the MTC. He came up to me during my computer time. I don't know how he found out my building but it was nice to see him and wish him luck before he left.
Thank you all so much for your letters. They always brighten up my nights. I love being a missionary. I can't wait to be old and married and serve many more missions. I love the Lord and am working hard. I can't wait to get to know the Russian people. This Gospel truly brings happiness and light to my life.
- Ceptra Daniel