Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunrise, sunset

Well, another week and passed and Thanksgiving is now gone and it is hard to believe that November is almost over. This week Sister Rasmussen hits her year mark. 

Now for our investigators: Maria, our Filipino, passed her baptism interview and will be baptized on December 11! I am pretty excited for her. Her baptism will be on a Sunday so we will see how many people will come just because we only have one baptismal fount and it is a little ways away.

Valeria is doing great and wants to be baptized. We set a date for the 24th of December (News Years is a bigger holiday than Christmas. There are giant Christmas trees but they are New Year's trees) but that might get changed due to other mission plans. But Valeria is great and the more I teach her the more excited I am for her and the more I grow to love her. In our area we have been blessed with some investigators who had been prepared by their member friends. I am lucky that I get to be apart of their preparation for baptism. 

Thanksgiving was great. Sister Rasmussen and I went over earlier in the morning to help Sister Hatch get cooking. I'll admit I had a lot of fun just preparing the food and spending time preparing a big dinner. Since we only have an hour for lunch and dinner I need to think up quick meals that are also nutrious. At noon we were all gathered together and ate. It was good. The star was the stuffing (but I'm biased because that's my favorite part). After eating we had dessert and then cleared the table and pulled out the pool table. The Hatch's dinner table is actually a pool table. We played while the elders rearranged some furniture and everyone weighed themselves. Then we got permission from President to watch Cars 2. Since it was the first movie I have seen in almost 8 months it was great. It also reminded me a lot of Elliott and his love for Cars. 

Thanksgiving was great but I'll admit that I did not like the days leading up to it because everyone kept talking about it and getting so excited. Anytime we talked to other missionaries all they could talk about was Thanksgiving. It was fine but I did not want to focus so much on Thanksgiving that I got distracted. And of course, Thanksgiving went so fast and then it was back to work as normal. It was very nice

As for other things that have happened this week... we had a zone conference. It was good and I felt more committed to doing better. Afterwards my companion had a slight breakdown so we worked through that and there were a few rough days but things are better now. We are also working on finding and making contact with less active members. One answered the door and let us in and she ended up talking to us for 40 minutes by her door. Thankfully, we know a lot more about her and all in all it was one of the most successful finding less actives has been. 

Oh! I almost forgot! I have a nickname. There is an old lady in our ward who is wheelchair bound. She is known for giving everyone nicknames and we went by with the elders and took her shopping. She saw my hair and immediately deemed me "Goldilocks". Then she kept asking where things were and I helped her find them so she changed my name to "Goldibrains". Later on she looked at my companion and decided her name would be "Huck Finn" and then wondered if she should change it to Tom Sawyer but then decided that I would be Tom Sawyer and Sister Rasmussen would be Huck Finn. Later on during our trip Sister Rasmussen became Jane Eyre. 

It has snowed a few times but it hasn't stuck for more than a day. It is pretty dark in the morning and we don't see light until about 9 or 10am. But we have pulled out our winter boots, mainly because it is muddy and you get strange looks from the Russians. But the metro is pretty hot and all the Russians keep their coats on even in the sweltering metro. 

That has been about it for the past week. It is hard to describe everything. Time is flying by. I am loving my time here and still trying to make every minute count. Time goes by so quickly and is so precious. We also got the General Conference Liahona issues yesterday and Elder Holland's talk was very interesting and made me want to recommit to being better and opening my mouth more. 

Thank you for all the emails, letters, and packages. They mean a lot and always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for all your support and prayers. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here but more importantly I am so thankful for Jesus Christ and his Atonement. Without Him none of this would be possible. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

And out of a worthless lump of clay God has made a man today!

This week has again been another week full of revelations and getting myself back into shape. We have wasted more time than we should. Granted, we have filled our time with important tasks but reflecting we have concluded that perhaps those were not the best ways we could have spent our time. We have been talking, like always, and starting putting into action plans to overcome our shortcomings. Most of all I keep asking myself, "If I saw myself from another person's eyes would I recognize myself as a servant of the Lord or trust me." Honestly can be hard and I realize how far I still need to go. But I don't let it discourage me. Instead I try the approach the angel used with Alma when he reminded him that he has already come a long ways from the time the angel first appeared to him. 

Despite realizing that I have a lot more of myself that I can put into the mission we are stilling seeing quite a few miracles. Of our three investigators, two of them are baptismal dates. Both are progressing and it has been inspiring to see these people change, even after two weeks. Maria, our Filipino, has been talking to her member friends and finding out about the commandments. Before we taught the Word of Wisdom she had heard about it and had already stopped drinking coffee. We never had to ask her to make these changes, she made them herself. When we asked her about this she said something to the effect of if she wants all the blessing of the church she needs to accept all of the Lord's requirements. 

We talked about baptism with our Russian investigator and again, she has been prepared by her member friends. Although her friends did not come to church she did and she brought her cousin. We planned to talk about baptism and confirmation and enduring to the end. In the room we taught her there is a picture of Christ being baptized. She asked about baptism by immersion and before the lesson began she asked, "When I am baptized how long will I stay under water?" Notice, she said when and not if. We were much better prepared this week and she asked thoughtful questions. She talked about having a desire to be baptized and she said that you need to have a desire and that having that desire makes you want to change your life. And she made the comment that if you aren't committted to enduring to the end there is not a point in being baptized. All and all I have been so impressed and reminded that the Lord is preparing these people and in case of our investigators it happened because they had member friends who didn't push but also did not shy away from telling why they were different. We just helped her fuel her desire. She said she wanted to be baptized before she started meeting with us and that thanks to our lessons her desire has grown.

In case you are wondering we will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week. P-Day is ending at 3pm today because on Thursday we still celebrate Thanksgiving at our Senior couple's apartment from noon until five at night. We can't wait.

And now for your Russian culture tidbit: Proper Escalator Ediquette (sp?). When exiting a metro or crossing to another metro requires the use of an escalator there is a procedure to follow. If you want to stand on the escalator you must stand on the right hand side of the step. Have a friend you want to talk to? They stand behind you. Also, respect personal space and leave a step in front and behind you empty. When you want to walk up you can walk up the left side of the escalator with ease. Rush hour? Russians will still follow this pattern, so the escalator line can get very backed up. Occasionally, metro workers at the bottom of the escalators will tell people to stand on both sides.

In other exciting news I am almost through Alma! I have come to really love the war chapters. There is a lot of evil but you see a lot of faith and desire for liberty. I also got a hold of the book, "Daughters in my Kindgom" which talks about the history of the Relief Society. Sister Rasmussen laughed at how excited I was and she said I kept looking at it like I wanted to devour it. There are just too many good and inspiring books that I want to read. 

Also, I thought I would share my P-Day language study routine. In our apartment we found a Russian Beauty and the Beauty cd (the soundtrack of the musical). I have been listening to it and writing down all the lyrics and translating them. It is good practice because I have to listen and write what I listen and then disect it to make sure the cases agree and make sense. Russian is still coming along and taking Sister Lawrence's advice Sister Rasmussen and I are trying to memorize 2 Nephi 31 in Russian. 

Well, that has been my week. Thank you for your emails and letters. Let's see what the Lord has in store for me this next week!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Well, this week I had my birthday! And thank you everyone for your birthday wishes. I'll admit for the most part it did not feel too out of the ordinary. Sister Rasmussen did make me buttermilk pancakes and syrup which was very tasty and I really appreciated it. Then it was off to district meeting and I got a pack of m&ms and it was all good. After district meeting we were supposed to go on a split with Sister Bullough (we called a lady from an old contact sheet and she agreed to meet but we found out she lives in Sister Bullough's area) so we hurried to meet her at the Central Building. On the way there she called and rescheduled for later that night. So while we waited we sat down and began mapping out how we are going to make a baptism for our Filipino investigator work. Then Sister Bullough arrived with her district and they sang happy birthday and I received a wine colored scarf from my former companion. Sadly, our meeting rescheduled again but for Thursday. To end the day we got a call from two elders in our district and for my birthday we all had dinner together and then handed out English Club flyers. All in all it was a good day. President Sorenson also called me as well as our legal advisor, Luba, which was pleasantly unexpected. 

Another interesting thing about my birthday: it snowed. The first snow fell on my birthday but thankfully it did not stick. It is getting colder and most of the sisters have pulled out their winter boots. Sister Rasmussen and I are stubbornly holding out until we really need our winter boots and jackets. Don't worry, we keep warm. 

Wednesday was a great night. Every month we have the opportunity of hearing from Sister Lawrence. Elder Lawrence is in the Area Presidency and gave a talk in General Conference a year ago, I believe. So far she has talked to us about the role of angels and zion. Everytime we come away with our minds blown, in a good way. She knows her stuff and this past week she talked to us about scripture study and I came away dedicated to having a better scripture study everyday. She compared studying the scriptures to feeding our body because when we read we are feeding our spirits knowledge. She also gave helpful advice on family study and studying the scriptures in pairs. We found out that she and her husband play, "Stump the spouse" where one give a chapter reference and the other has to tell either the theme or what happens. She even gave marriage advice: "Marry someone who loves the scriptures."

Our weeks in Sokolniki are interesting because we have a unique problem. We have a hard time, at least at the moment, meeting with people but on Sunday investigators come to church so our Sundays end up completely full. Most missionaries get meeting but it is hard for their investigators to come to church. We have been blessed lately with investigators who really are prepared for the Gospel.

Church yesterday was really good. Fast Sundays are always special but yesterday the testimonies shared were particularly uplifting. We went to international first and I love the Africans so much. They are so humble and remind me of the Lamanities who, once converted to the Gospel, grasp on to the Gospel and remain faithful. One man, Festis, was baptized this summer and he bore his testimony and I got teary-eyed. He mentioned that he is happy to be in Moscow (most of the Africans here are in tough situations) because he found the Gospel of Jesus Christ and will forever treasure his baptism in his heart. And he said he could not wait to tell his children and grandchildren about how he found the Church.

Then during our Russian meeting all of the testimonies were great. Nothing crazy happened. After church we had a meeting with two members referrals. The lesson went fine and they said they look forward to coming to church on Sunday each week. They like all that we teach them and made comments that it all sounds familiar and feels right in their hearts. The elders in our district also had a great meeting and were called "beacons of light" several times. 

I'll admit I have become a little rusty and I have a lot of teaching skills I need to review. Sister Rasmussen agrees and we talked about all the things we have learned in the MTC and which areas we were really good at and how far she have come and all that we have forgotten. So we are using this transfer to whip ourselves back into shape. We recommitted to being 100% obedient and we talk a lot about potential and how to reach our potential. 

There is never enough time to write everything. And I know I did not include as many details about life in Russia. The streets are getting colder and the metros and houses are roasting hot. We are starting to see more fur coats and fur hats. So far I have survived but winter has not really begun yet. 

Thank you again for all our your prayers. I know that this is the Lord's work and I am grateful for this opportunity to participate in it. The Lord truly does prepare people and I have seen how much happiness this Gospel and this work can bring to others. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Without our traditions ours lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!

This week was a little bit of a crazy week. I got spent four days in my actual area. Sister Rasmussen had her visa trip and then the day after we had a split with the newly assigned Training Sisters, one of them including my former companion Sister Carlson. 

First to answer some questions: Russia recently decided not to follow daylight savings time. The last time they moved their clocks was this past spring and then they decided not to. Some Russians really don't like it. Also, it is starting to get a lot colder here. As we walked home from buying our groceries this afternoon we could see our breath. It has not snowed yet but we are already seeing ice patches on the ground. Next week we plan to go tie shopping and buy some warmer clothes.

Wednesday my companion went to Kiev and to the temple. I was pretty nervous on Wednesday. I was on a split with Sister Workman and I was the senior companion. In the mission age wise only Sister Workman is younger than me so I was not only senior companion but I was also senior language wise too so I was nervous. Thankfully, I said a prayer and the day went just fine.

Friday night we went out and did service for an older member of our church. She was funny and quizzed my Russian. At one point she turned to my companion and said, "Your companion speaks better than you do." Thankfully, Sister Rasmussen just laughed about it and thought it was funny. Then we helped her clean her apartment for two hours. As we left she insisted we take some food. Her food was a little sketchy looking so we tried to decline. Then we insisted we take some cabbage and we accepted only to realize she wanted us to take a cabbage dish she prepared. We took it home but the next day she called and asked if we tried it. That night we heated it up and man, it smelled a little rancid and strongly of vinegar. We each ate a bite. Sister Rasmussen had to spit it out and I was able to get the bite down. We took out our garbage shortly after. 

On Saturday I spent the day with Sister Carlson back in Perovo. We were able to catch up and discussed our theories for next transfer. (Three native sisters are coming and we have been trying to guess who will be training them). I'll admit that my heart was a little tender. Just before I left the area started to explode and now Perovo is enjoying a lot of success. I know that I was a large part of it and when I consider who is there I know that they are who that area needs. But as I thought through it I was glad for the time I had in Perovo because when I was there was not a lot coming on so with Sister Bullough and Carlson we did our best and I am proud with my work I did there. It was a good reminder that success comes from the Lord and it helped to humble me.

With Sister Carlson we also had an absolutely wild lesson. We were supposed to have a meeting at 1pm and we were supposed to meet a potential investigator at the train station. We waited and waited and an hour later she showed up with a friend. Her friend brought his guitar and wanted to give a concert. We said we needed to start our lesson in 5 minutes. He played for 25 minutes and while he played our investigator fell asleep. Finally we started our lesson and as we were talking about families the friend interrupted and asked me, "Do you two study Russian together?" I answered yes and then he turned to Sister Carlson, "Then why is her Russian so much worse than yours?" Sister Carlson afterwards told me how upset she got at him for that and how hard she had to try not to explode. Thankfully, I did not get offended and took it as a chance to remind myself I still need to practice my Russian. After the lesson he continued to play more guitar music and gypsy music. It was a circus and I think Sister Carlson was a little frustrated so I reminded her how absolutely ridiculously funny the entire situation was.

Sunday was Stake Conference and it was actually stake conference for the entire Europe East Area. It was a broadcast from Salt Lake City and we had the opportunity to hear from Sister Barbara Thompson, Elder Oaks, and President Uchtdorf. They really knew the area well and gave some great advice. Elder Oaks made an interesting comment about tithing. He told the members that by paying tithing we are calling down blessings from Heaven upon the countries in which we live. There was also a huge empathsis on befriending less active members and attending Church on Sundays. Last of all President Uchtdorf spoke and gave three steps for rekindling and deeping our faith. 1: Have a current temple recommend. 2: Study the word of God daily. 3: Communicate with our Father in Heaven daily.

In terms of our investigators small successes are happening. Our Filipino investigator came to Stake Conference on Sunday and brought a friend! We only had ten minutes before we needed to be in our seats and she wanted a lesson. We sat down and she was anxious to hear what new things we had to teach her. Because we did not have time for a long lesson we briefly reviewed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what she will need to do in this life to able to return to our Heavenly Father. Then she asked us about baptism and told us that she wants to make a change and told us she would like to be baptized by the end of the year. We still need to sit down and plan everything out and due to her work schedule all might be a little tough. But I am excited for her and to help her prepare. 

Sister Rasmussen and I are still getting along just fine. We still talk a lot but more of our talks have turned to helping our district or trying to come up with ways to serve members or fellow missionaries. We also have developped a slight obsession for the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack. We have set lots of goals together and are working towards making them happen. Some of them are silly (trying to see how many metro stops we can get to during our transfer together) but most of them are productive to the Lord's work. 

Times are still sometimes hard but I just keep in mind that everything will be for my good. I have learned a lot of lessons and have enjoyed seeing some of the ways I have changed already. My testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has grown deeper. I have learned a lot about me and what the Lord expects of me. I still have weaknesses but I have started to exercise my faith in small ways and things that were hard are becoming a little easier. I have learned to dream big and work towards that big by small steps and lots of help from my Heavenly Father. 

I know that our Heavenly Father lives, loves us, and answers our prayers. I know that change is always possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ so long as we work our hardest. I love you all and am so grateful for your prayers. Thank you.

-Sister Daniel