Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First off, I will address the long-awaited question about the weather. I don't know if a lot of people know this but the summer is pretty humid. July, in particular felt very humid. I would be sitting on a train and I have to wipe my forehead quite a few times. Since August first the weather has not quite as humid. In fact there have been a few days where I wore a sweater. I could have gone without the sweater, but it was nice to wear it still. It hailed one day as we were coming home from church and we have gotten some good rain. Typically, when it rains it does not rain all day, but there was one or two days where it rained all day. I remember that day because Sister Bullough discovered a hole in her shoes and we walked a few hours to find a less active woman.

Despite the hot weather Russians will still drink or offer "chai" (tea, herbal for us, or hot water with a lemon or honey). You know me and you know that I don't like hot drinks. However, I can drink a cup or two. I have also eaten a lot of watermelon. I tolerated more than my companion who -hates- watermelon. But Ninel insisted that we keep eating. Really. She put her foot down when we tried to tell her we were full.

Sister Bullough is very excited for the cold weather to come because she loves winter and Christmas music. I know some people don't like to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving or December. I think we broke out the Christmas music my second week here. I'm anxious but excited for winter to see if Moscow winters live up to their reputation. I am not looking forward to buying a winter coat or winter boots. 

As to the possibility of a native companion, I really don't know. In a former email I wrote that there are not a lot of natives. There are three natives sisters in our mission and one is going home at the end of next transfer. The other two came not too long before me so there is a possibility. I don't know how high the possibility is but it is possible. Transfers are coming up and so many sisters have been in their areas for 4 transfers. I think we all expect a big change for the sister but we don't know who will stay or leave. 

Now to the work: 

We have not been able to meet with many of our investigators. We met with Ninel (that was when she forced us to eat watermelon). In our meeting we extended the invitation to be baptized and, at first, she said yes. Then when she found out we meant baptism like her granddaughter was baptized she said she did not want to because she was already baptized. We explained the priesthood and then extended the inviation again and she said the same thing: yes at first and then said no when we clarified. We aren't entirely sure why she changed her answer, whether there is a fear or doctrinal concern because we had to leave to get home on time. But hopefully in our next meeting we will find out. 

Because we have had a hard time meeting with our investigators we have been doing a lot of less active hunting, contacting, and updating the area book. I'll admit I have loved updating the area book because I have gotten frustrated with the lack of thoroughness. When I write about our meetings I try to put information that help missionaries that will come to our area. Often we will look at a teaching record and hear how great things are going and then it stops and never says what happened with the person.

Monday we went less active hunting and thankfully a member showed us the way to the lady's house. We went and called the apartment phone. Like in France, you either need to know the code or have to dial them on a speaker outside. No one answered. We were about to leave when the member pointed out that a lady was on her balcony. The less active lady lost her legs a few months ago. But this lady was on the balcony and smoking. We asked her if she knew the member and she responded, "She moved. She switched apartments." When she asked why we were bothering her we told her we were missionaries. Almost immediately she said, "I don't understand." And kept cutting us off, telling us to leave, when we tried to say the name of our church. And when we called the phone number for the less active lady the lady on the balcony picked up. So... we think that was her. We aren't entirely sure because she never said her name. 

That was my week. Aside from fixing our clogged shower it has not been too eventful. The pictures are from when we went roller blading last preparation day with our district. Today we played ultimate frisbee (my first time) and gator ball (a mix of soccer and football).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Watch out for that step! It's a doozy!

Well, this week was an interesting week that strengthed my testimony of the Book of Mormon and the need to read it everyday. We had to drop two of our investigators: Margaret and Irina. Unfortunately, dropping them both happened on Monday. On Monday we met with Irina Victronova and last time we asked her to read three verses in Ether 12. She didn't. Although we had planned a lesson on faith we decided to read with her. We would stop to ask questions to see if she could apply the scriptures to herself. She only corrected us on our Russian, which was appreciated but not the reason we wanted to read with her. Afterwards she complained about her eyes and head hurting. We tried to talk about faith and the importance of the Book of Mormon but at one point she flat out told us that she was not going to read. She said the only reason she read with us was to correct our pronunciation. She has an audio copy of the Book of Mormon but she doesn't like listening to it because it hurts her head. She also told us that she thinks she is going to die in a few months. At the end of the lesson Sister Bullough and I shed a few tears. Afterwards, Sister Bullough told me that was hard because in the 6 months she has been here she has seen the same thing happen. Irina will progress a little bit and then not progress at all.

About a week ago we called Margaret to see how she was doing. We asked how her Book of Mormon reading was coming and she said she has not read. Inspired, Sister Bullough asked if she believed it was scripture. She responded, "Honestly, I can't say that I do." We asked her to keep reading and she said that she would but she never did. But she still said that she wanted to be baptized. Then on Monday we called with the intent to see only how she was doing because it was late and we had no time for a lesson. She asked how we were doing and then told us she would not be baptized. She said she was already baptized in the Catholic Church and did not need to be baptized. She said that all Christian churches are the same and what is important is believing in God. She explained that if she will no longer read or is not interested in learning about the Church we can no longer meet with her. She said she understood.

So last night we gave her one last call to see if we could figure out when she started to doubt and lose her testimony. She asked her about previous spiritual experiences we had had with her. She kept bringing up that she believed in God and Jesus Christ and did not need another Church. We explained that we could not longer meet or call her anymore. She said she had a hard time believing that God would tell her not to drink coffee, tea, or alcohol and she could not believe in a modern-day prophet. We needed with our testimonies and I definitely felt the Spirit so strongly. Although we could not see her we could tell that she did too but she kept trying to explain or rationalize it away. As she started to ask questions or question our testimony the phone connection suddenly died. Sister Bullough and I looked at eachother and felt that we did not need to call her back. It was hard but we felt peaceful that we did the right thing. 

But not all has been bad! On Thursday (terrible day as well) we had a lesson with Ninel (note that it is Lenin backwards). We got out of the lesson and we thought that it was terrible. Afterwards we ranked the worst lessons we had had during our mission. Our lesson with Ninel was ranked No. 1. However, the next day the elders called us (they meet with Ninel's grandson-in-law) and told us that Ninel loved our lesson. We were blown away and could not believe it. And she has been reading that Book of Mormon on her own! At least one of our investigators is progressing. 

And we have a new investigator who came to church on her own 3 weeks ago. She knew no one but she came anyway. She met the missionaries in Rostov and the office elders gave us the referral. Imagine my surprise when we met with our referral and I recogized her from church!

Well, those are all the exciting news about our investigators. Personally, this was a rough week. I felt like I did not do the best that I could. I felt so weak and useless and I felt like a burden. I got frustrated and kept meeting myself up. I focused more on myself than I should have. Then yesterday I offered a heartfelt prayer and things became all right. I can be patient with everyone around me but I have never been very patient with myself. I worry about my language skills and my own shyness and timidity. At times it was a real struggle and I had a hard time feeling a desire to work. But everything is alright right now. I let fear and doubt overshadow my faith. I am probably not explaining myself very well but I know everything will be okay and the Lord called me here and he knows my potential better than I do. It's a slow process (it feels like) but I am opening my mouth more. Going up and talking to strangers is hard but I am doing better than last week and Sister Bullough and I set goals that will make us stretch and require courage. I'm excited to see what will happen.

Sister Bullough and I are doing well. We decided to defrost our freezer so had to clean out our fridge yesterday. I think we ate enough protein for the transfer. We had bacon (American is better and not as salty), hot dogs, pelmeni, and scrambled eggs. We were so full! Speaking of food, I had one of the most disgusting things that other day. Ninel made us a cold soup. It had vegetables but the broth was kvas, that digusting drink I told you about a few weeks ago. Then she put mayonnaise in it. At one point I thought I was going to be sick. We ate all the vegetables and then tried to drink the kvas. It was rough. At one point Ninel left and Sister Bullough and I exchanged pained glances. Then we saw the sink. We were bad and poured the rest down the sink. We "slammed" when we returned home.

We have started a new tradition that we call slamming. There are these cookies called Super Kontict. We fill a bowl with milk, take a bite from each end of the cookie and drink the milk through the cookie. It is just like a Tim-Tam slam but we make due with what we have here. We have even transformed it into a Russian verb "slamiravat". It may be summer but we listen to Christmas music a lot as well.

I have about 4 minutes left so I will address the weather next week. Since August started the weather has turned interesting. And I will share what I have been learning from my scripture study. I love you all. Thank you for the letters and emails! And I promise more pictures next week as well. It is written in my planner so it will be done.

We were about to head out and go roller blading for Preparation Day! Love you all!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tried to come up with a cool title but failed

I'll admit that I am not sure how long this email will be. I remember that it was a good but as I have been trying to write not much has come to my mind. This week has flown by. I suppose I shall give you all the highlights:

Wednesday: I don't know why but I felt very frustrated and woke up in a bad mood. Of course, because I am on a mission I know that I shouldn't be in a bad mood because I know where all those feelings come from. We had planned to go roller blading but it rained all day long. As my district talked about sports I felt like I could not contribute to the conversation. But I took a little time to myself, still in the same room, and heard about trials and read from the scriptures. I do not remember what I read but I felt peaceful afterwards. Then some other elders came early for English club and I got to know other elders better. Sounds dumb when I typed it all out but by the time we left I found my bad mood was gone. 

Thursday: Met with a less active member and had a good lesson. As we talked about Joseph Smith and the gospel of Jesus Christ I got a little emotional. As I stopped to ponder what I would say I thought about all those you lived between Christ's death and Jospeh Smith. I thought about how long they must have been waiting for the Restoration so that we could do their ordinances, for such as baptism, for them and give them the opportunity to have eternal families. Then that night Sister Bullough and I had our companionship prayer but we almost forgot to talk about the miracles of the day. As we discussed the miracles we saw we had a long discussion about our families, what we wanted in our future families, how we met about the mission, etc. We talked, we laughed, we cried, then we went to bed exhausted. 

Friday: We had a great district meeting where we discussed how we can find people to teach. It was a very spiritual district meeting and helped fired us up because we went chalk drawing with the elders in the Perovo Branch. The elders drew while Sister Bullough and I handed our flyers and talked to people. We did not get any contacts but I felt good because I talked to people and tried my best. That night we had a meeting with a less active girl and she is awesome and ending up sharing more with us than we expected. 

Monday we had an interesting lesson. A lady is my branch is getting married and moving to Idaho next month. We went over and shared a spiritual thought with her and her roommate, also a member of the church. We talked about how we can make our homes spiritual centers where we can receive answers to our prayers and prepare us for what Heavenly Father has planned for us. As I talked the roommate kept looking to the side and at one point put her head on the table. I thought to myself, "Am I doing or saying something wrong?" After the lesson she thanked us and told us that she has been working really late the past few weeks. As we were talking she felt like I needed to make family home evening more of a priority. Then she said that I spoke very well for how long I have been here.

Those are the highlights from the past week. We met with mostly less actives because almost all of our investigators could not meet. We have tired not to get discouraged as we talk about our investigators because they are not making as much progress as they could be. And you know what the problem is? Reading the Book of Mormon. While I have been on a mission I have seen the difference the little things make. Don't neglect the little things. They make all the difference in the world and could affect your entire life.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

So you remember our investigator Margaret? We called her on Saturday and found out that she has no days off for the next month. So she  cannot meet with us or be baptized for another month of two. However, she still wants to be baptized and has a lot of faith in God. We call her on the phone and give her lessons over the phone at night. One cool thing about our investigators is that they are already doing missionary work. When we called Margaret she told us that she was talking to a friend and religion came up. She asked her friend why there are so many Christian churches. Her friend responded that she did not know and asked Margaret how she knew. She bore her testimony and talked about the Church. Then she shared the dvds we gave her and the Book of Mormon. She even gave her friend her Russian copy (she has one in English) to her! How awesome is that?

We also went to Karina's apartment on Sunday. It was a typical Russian apartment with about 1 room, a small bathroom, and a kitchen. We also met her son who is a typical teenage boy. We had a good lesson and Karina had her son make us dinner. He was not happy at firs that we were coming but he warmed up at us by the end. She also showed us her Karate pictures and videos of her taking down people bigger than her. She is a sport trainer and karate instructer. She talks to everyone and pretty much I want to be the missionary version of Karina.

Last week our district slighly changed. We have one new elder fresh from the MTC. Sister Bullough and I drew a little welcome outside the elders' apartment for him. He was in the pilot program at the MTC where his teachers only spoke Russian to him from day one. His Russian is better than mine! And one of our elders (who is from Russia) moved to the international branch but he is still in our district.

I don't think I ever told you about the natives in our mission. We do not have a lot. There are 3 elders from Russia, 1 siser from Russia, 1 sister from Ukraine, and 1 sister from Latvia. The rest are all Americans and we have one elder from England. 

For our Preparation Days we start by doing the usual: wake up at 6:30, exercise, shower and eat breakfast, then we have an hour of personal study and an hour of companion study. Then we clean the apartment and try to do our shopping. We have a washing machine in our apartment but it is small and because it would be hard to get all our washing done on one day we are allowed to do our washing throughout the week but it cannot interfere with missionary work. No dryers so we lay out our clothes to dry. Typically we have an activity with our district that will last the rest of the day. Everyone in my district loves sports so we mostly play sports but we try to invite investigators and have them play with us. Last week we played Settlers of Catan and some card games at a senior couples house. P-Day ends at 6pm when we have our regular meeting with Karina before English Club. 

Sorry for the lackluster email this week. I hope you enjoy the pictures though! Time is just about out! Love you all!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Has it really been six weeks already?

Well, new missionaries just arrived today which means that I am no longer among the newest missionaries. Crazy and yet I feel like I have been here for a lot longer... except when people talk to me. Then I remember just how long I have been here.

Not too much of note happened this week and then, finially, I will have time to tell you all the details and respond to the questions I have been asked. 

On Saturday we went to a baptism. Missionaries can only go to baptisms if we have an investigator to go with us. Originally four people were going to be baptized. But then Margaret decided to wait and then the night before the baptism another called and said she did not want to anymore. Two of our investigators came to the baptism, Karina and Margaret. I think it was a good experience for both of them. Afterwards, Margaret told me she wanted to be baptized and Karina told Sister Bullough that she wanted to but she does not feel ready. We are working with both of them to help them see that they are ready. Oh yeah, and I was asked to give the opening prayer. I was so nervous and butchered it but everyone was nice and told me I did a good job.

The other thing to note is that yesterday we had an interesting day. We were on our way to visit Irina when Karina called us in tears. Phone conversations are already hard but with sobbing it is hard to understand. Sister Bullough turned to me after talking to her and told me, "I think her friend just fell out the window from the seventh floor of her apartment. She said she is on the way to the hospital but she thinks her friend will die." As you can imagine she rescheduled with Irina and booked it to the train station. Meanwhile, Sister Bullough called one of the natives serving in Moscow to call Karina and find out all the details. She made it to the train station when Sister Trunova called us back. Turns out it was not a friend but Karina's cat. Nonetheless, we made our way to the vet and stayed with her. We waited with her about 4 hours and talked with her to help keep her distracted and not to focus on her worries. The cat had surgery since she broke her hip, shoulder, 3 legs, and most of her toes but will be all right. I know our presence helped her a lot and she was really grateful, especially since when she called her son his response was, "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

Now on to the details you have been asking me about. First off, food. We are allowed to have an hour lunch and dinner break. However, I'll admit we usually only take one of them. Occasionally, our appointments will feed us. Otherwise, we'll grab a snack for dinner from a supermarket since coming back to the apartment would take a long time, in additional to preparation and eating. We are not allowed to eat street food due to lack of sanitation. Shopping for food is also a pain. We had a grocery store nearby but it just closed down. There is another small one close to our house but the people who work there are always in a foul mood. I am working on improving our meals but in our apartment we have two stove burners, a microwave, a water boiler, and a fridge. If we want an oven we have to go to the Branch building about 10 minutes away. We make a lot of ramen, belini (like crepes), salads, and soup.

Foods people eat... I have had a lot of pelmeni (dumpling) with mayonnaise or ketchup. Russians love mayonnaise and ketchup. When you are given condiments those are typically the two you are given. They also like Sweetened condensed milk. And kvas but I hate kvas. It is a drink and Russians always compare it to root beer. It tastes nothing like root beer. The only similarity is that only Russians like it whereas only Americans like root beer. The lady we typically serve and for whom we do gardening will bring us "juice" which means kvas. The first few sips weren't bad but then I had a hard time downing the mug. They sell it everywhere on the street and when I see it and remember how it tastes I literally want to be sick. But the cookies and ice cream are very good.

We take all forms of transportation. We live close to the Branch building and the trains but not the metro. We either walk to the metro (30-40 minutes) or take a Matshutka, a big van that is like a mini private bus. We travel a lot since very few of our members or investigators live close. When we plan we have to factor about an hour for travel between appointments. 

Well, I need to end this email. I love you all and am so happy to hear how you are doing. I know my letters are short but I am working on longer written ones. Send your questions and I will answer... eventually :) I love you and pray for you always.

The pictures are from a palace built for Katherine the Second, Tamara is with me in the first.