Monday, April 30, 2012

We are still alive

This has been an interesting week in a lot of ways. I feel like every week I am learning something new about myself and who I want to become. 

Well, this was the first full week that Sister Gish and I have been together and she's not dead or injured so I assume that I am doing a good job :-) Kidding, of course. In all seriousness we are doing very good. So I suppose I should tell you about Sister Gish. She is from West Jordon, Utah. She is very positive and ready to work which is great. Before her mission she studied elementary education. She was in the MTC for 9 weeks so we are still working on the Russian.

I think that patience has been a constant theme throughout my entire mission. Every transfer I am learning some new aspect about patience. Sometimes it is patience with oneself and other times it is patience with someone's personality or their weaknesses. I'll been in a reflective mood today and ruminating about the lessons I have learned on my mission. 

This week we have done quite a bit of contacting. At least once a week we go contacting as a district where we sing hymns out on the street. In addition Sister Gish and I set a goal to contact for at least one hour everyday. Contacting is still to me the hardest. To quote our district leader, "it's not natural or a part of my personality but I promised God that I would do it." At least now I have learned that to me it is the approach with which I struggle. Once we move past the beginning then I can speak just fine. Thankfully, Sister Gish does not have that problem so we are able to balance each other out as we contact.

We did have something great happen to us on Sunday. First, a little backstory: about a week ago another sister in the mission gave me a contact that lived in our area. I called this lady and she said she wanted to come to church. That Sunday morning she called saying she would not be able to but said we could come by. Unfortunately, by the time I received the message we could not go to her and then throughout the week we were not able to meet. On Saturday I called her to ask if she would come to church the next day. She said she couldn't because her daughter had a fever but she invited us over! So after church we ate a quick lunch and went over to meet Yelena. We did not have a lot of time to meet but we became aquainted with her and answered her questions. Because of church and other things we did not have time to plan for her lesson. I surprised myself at how much I managed to explain in a short time and I think she was even more interested to come to church. I'll admit I was just happy to get to meet her so that now I am more than just a voice on the telephone.

After church we went contacting with some of the young single adults (YSA) from our ward. It was great and most of all they had fun and a few of them talked afterwards about coming contacting with us next week. Hopefully, we will get a trend started. One of our goals is to get the ward more involved with missionary work. The ward has come a long ways since I first arrived in October (hard to believe that I have been here already 6 months!). 

In other news I received an email from Anna today! She is having a good experience in Israel although the circumstances that brought her there are sad. But what made me the happiest was a brief comment: "I can't wait to tell you about my reading [The Book of Mormon] and my experiences." My heart soared. It appears that she has had some great spiritual experiences.

The weather has getting nicer and warmer. It is time to pull out the summer outfits and the umbrella. Yesterday, it rained in the morning and then it was hot and sunny by the time we went out contacting. Parks are becoming more crowded but people are not yet swimming in the fountains. Last night it started to get dark around 8pm. 

I apologize for such a short email this week. I think I spent so much time reflecting that I did not notice how fast the time flew! Rest assured that I am doing well and eating well. Slowly we are improving and getting better. I even started the Bible and it has been interesting to read and full of wonderful insights. I love you and am so grateful for your support and your prayers on my behalf. 

Love, Sister Daniel

Monday, April 23, 2012

Well, first of all I know have a companion! Training so far has been good. It was an interesting week in several ways. There were some disappointments and some happy surprises. 

I'll start with the bad news. I suppose it is so bad as it was a little disappointing. This week I was really hoping to have a great lesson with Anna and help her see that she is ready for baptism. After all, we have covered all the commandments that most people have problems with before baptism. Instead of hindering her all of these commandments inspired her and she understood why they are so important for us. Anyways, the night before we usually meet I got a text message from her. Her dad not long ago was diagnosed with cancer. Here in Russia they could not find out what type of cancer he had so she flew with her dad to Israel to a clinic. The unfortunate news for our missionary work is that she will be with him until at least the end of May. Keep her and her father in your prayers. 

But that was perhaps the downpoint of my week. But there were other great experiences. Last Monday during Preparation Day I had the opportunity to watch 17 Miracles. I loved it and those who know me well will not be surprised to know that I cried my way through the film. 

After the film we finally met with Adella. Adella is from Cuba and I have been trying to meet with her for over 3 months. Unfortunately, she works a lot so it has been hard to meet with her. Thankfully, we got a meeting for Monday at 7pm. We did meet with her but she was an hour late. But we had a good meeting and got to know her. She has had a hard life here in Moscow and is constantly working to try to support her family. Her first language is Spanish, but she knows English, Russian, French, and Italian. Early in our meeting I learned that family is very important to her and she is just tired and overworked. I felt like we should talk about the Book of Mormon and how it provides comfort and by reading we learn that nothing is impossible for the Lord, if we have faith. There was a special moment. Not long ago our mission president asked us to memorize the questions of the soul that the Book of Mormon answers along with the references. We finished talking about faith and there was a long moment of silence. Whenever there is silence there is an urge to fill it but I determined that I would wait until she spoke. Finally she broke the silence with a question, "What does it have about families?" I was thrilled because I had memorize a reference about how to strengthen our families. She was happy and seemed excited to read it. Hopefully, we will continue to meet with her and at least now I have some ideas on how to at least provide some comfort for her.

In other news Zhun Zhun is doing good. We did not get the time to meet this week but we are continuing to read. I can tell that she is actually starting to enjoy reading. There was one night we read two chapters together and I think if it weren't for the time we would have continued to read all night long.

As you know I am training this transfer. So far it has been good. I'll admit that I am really excited to train. A few weeks ago Sister Horspool and I, when we were serving together, talked about what our role is as we come towards the last phase of our missions. One area that we identified is training the next generation and helping them be prepared quicker than we were. I'll admit that I am excited for this chance and so far it has been good. My companion's name is Sister Gish and she is from Utah. She is ready to work and to learn which is very good.

There are also some exciting things happening in our area. Yesterday the young single adults in our area came to us and asked us how they can help with missionary work. One goal our district has this transfer is to really work with the ward and help get them more involved with missionary work. I think that as we work with the ward amazing things are going to happen.

It is finally spring time! No more winter jacket and some days I don't even need my lighter coat. It is also starting to rain a lot more. It was weird this week to walk to church and see grass along the way. Just a few weeks ago there was snow on the ground!

I am sorry for the shorter letter this week. Next week I promise to include more details about spring time in Russia and about my new companion, along with all the wonderful insights that I have been gaining from my personal study.

I love you all! Sister Daniel

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nakonyets! (Finally!)

So yesterday and Saturday we finally got to watch General Conference. It was really good and I can't wait for the chance to read all the talks over again, especially since we could not hear at times. I say that we could not hear at times because our central building is right next to a Russian Orthodox church and yesterday was Russian Orthodox Russian. That meant that they had their bells ringing quite a bit. 

As I mentioned last week I am back with Masha, the short term missionary that was with me at the beginning of this transfer. It has been fun and good Russian practice, of course. Although it has been fun to have a short term missionary I am excited for transfers on Friday. As I mentioned last week I will be training a new missionary, Sister Gish. President showed me her picture this week and I am very excited. The interesting thing about this group of new missionaries is that they were only in the MTC for 9 weeks. The MTC is experienting on cutting the time spent in the MTC for those serving in Russian speaking areas. 

This week we did a lot more contacting since we knew that Easter was coming up. Yesterday we sang hymns on the street. One lady bought my companion and me roses to thank us for our singing. Although we focused a little more on contacting we meet with both Anna and Zhun Zhun. Both are doing great.

With Anna we talked about the Law of Chastity. This might seem strange but I love teaching about the Law of Chastity. Thankfully, Anna also liked it and we had a good discussion about why it is so important for us. She even highlighted some sentences that she liked in the pamphlet we gave her previously to read. Like always I came away for the lesson inspired and so excited. We have now taught all the commandments that most people struggle with before baptism. I have realized the importance of worthy goals. Anna wants to get baptized and that desire has overpowered any desire that would keep her from being baptized. She has enjoyed learning about the commandments so that she knows what she needs to do to "keep her Holy Ghost with [her] always". 

With Zhun Zhun I have been persistent in calling her every night. We have not read every night but we continue to pray together. Typically, she likes hearing me pray but sometimes she will pray in Chinese. It is fun trying to pick out words and to try to understand. I can now understand her when she says "In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." But we have been reading more. Yesterday was a great day with Zhun Zhun. Sadly, she was not able to come to conference but she met with us afterwards. She says that prayer is helping her and likes that we read together. As we were teaching our lesson she asked us the question, "what do I need to do to be a missionary?" Of course, we told her that first she needed to keep all the commandments, including baptism. We asked her about baptism and discovered a little more what is holding her back. She knows that in two months she is going to China for the summer. But I can see that she is starting to find things she likes from the Book of Mormon. As we read sometimes she will stop and say, "That is true." and then mark it. The steps forward are small but I can see what a difference she is making in her life.

The best part was last night. When I called her she was in the car so she told me to call a little later. Typically when we need together we do not get through an entire chapter. We read a few verses and end with a prayer and then continue the next day. Last night we read an entire chapter. I kept expecting to hear, "That's good for tonight, sister." but instead we read the entire chapter. After we read there was a moment of silence and then she asked, "what you think?" I asked to clarify if she was asking what I thought about the chapter and she said yes. I told her that I liked it a lot and I that I really liked Nephi. She responded by saying, "I like Nephi too." Then she told me that she liked reading the Book of Mormon and liked reading with me. I don't think I can describe how happy I was to hear that. Then she asked what time it was and said, "We don't have time so we will read chapter 4 tomorrow." I felt like I was on cloud nine. One of the sweetest experiences on my mission has been to help people experience the joy of the Book of Mormon in their lives. Nothing makes me happier than to hear that they are enjoying reading. Like Elder L. Tom Perry said yesterday, quoting his friend Scott, "You should read it. It's a great book." I add my testimony that it really is a great book.

A funny little story. After our meeting with Zhun Zhun yesterday she told me that she loved me. I had heard her say 'I love you' once in Chinese so I repeated it back to her. Her eyes widened and she said, "You know Chinese?" I joked that she should give me three years and then I will be able to talk to her in Chinese. She responded, "Three years is long. You can speak Chinese after one year. I will help you." 

I am happy to report that it is warming up here. In fact I think this week I will switch back to my regular dress shoes. The snow is melting and revealing all the trash that had been hiding in the snow. I'm excited for the trees to start blooming. Thankfully, it has been warm and no humidity yet. I am also happy to report that our cockroach problem is better. We bought some stuff to kill them last week and it has been satisfying to sweep up already dead cockroaches rather than trying to kill them myself.

Also this week I did do something cultural. Just like in American, Russians paint eggs for Easter. Our Relief Society had an activity this week where we painted and decorated eggs. They make the designs with beeswax which they put in a little container that they hold over a flame. The small container is more like a little funnel so it comes out thin. You design the egg, paint it, and then hold the eggs over your candle to melt the beeswax, which you wipe off with a paper towel. 

Those are all the highlights from this week. I am excited to see what this week holds in store for us. I love missionary work and I am so glad for this chance to serve. I love the Lord, Jesus Christ and am so grateful for the chance to serve Him and to share my love of Him with the people here in Russia. Thank you for all of your support and all of your prayers. I know that the work is true. I know that following the commandments and the prophets brings lasting happiness. 

With love, Sister Daniel

Monday, April 9, 2012

Back and forth.

Well, I am now back in Sokolniki for at least this week. Masha, my short-term missionary, has returned for another week. Yesterday she returned and so yesterday I moved back to the Sokolniki apartment. I was sad to leave but I know I needed to go. I had fun in the threesome and was able to help but not every missionary adapts well to threesomes. 

This week was a crazy week and it taught me the importance of communication and working together. Monday Sister Frovola scheduled a dentist appointment which took away from some of our Preparation Day time. But at least it gave me some time as we waited to try to catch up on some letters. Then we had a good family home evening with a lady in the Perovo branch.

Two times this week we helped out the Storms (a Humanitarian Service couple from the Moscow West mission) with translation. Mainly, Sister Frolova translated while Sister Horspool and I tagged along. On Wednesday we went and visited a hospital. Sister Horspool and I sat in the lobby with the others toured. It gave us the opportunity to get some studies in that day because after we toured the hospital we went to district meeting. 

District meeting was good, as always. We talked about the Book of Mormon and how to use it more effectively. The Perovo district had a goal to hand out a Book of Mormon a day so we discussed how to use it better in lessons and as we contact. After district meeting we each had an interview with President. He was funny. As I walked into the room he said, "Well, I don't know what other hard situations we can give you but we are doing our best." He thanked me for the work I have been doing and informed me about next transfer (which is not for almost two weeks). He told me that I will be staying in Sokolniki for 2 more transfers (3 months) because I am going to be training a new sister that is coming from the MTC. I'll admit that I am nervous but very excited. 

Thursday was really the only day that I had in my area. We met with both Zhun Zhun and Anna and I am happy to report that they are doing well. I have been trying to help Zhun Zhun read the Book of Mormon. Last week when I talked to her about it she said that she was not a good student and needed a tutor. I asked her then if it would help her if I called her every night and read the Book of Mormon with her. She agreed and so every night this past week I have called her. Over the last week we only read twice but at least we prayed together over the phone every night. When we read I read a verse in English and then she reads the same verse in Mandarin. 

To grasp her understanding we decided to start the lessons over from the beginning so we taught her about the Restoration. We watched the film with her in Chinese to make sure that she understands. We also stressed using the Book of Mormon more in our teaching, especially with her. As we finished the lesson Zhun Zhun told us, "I know this story." I was happy to hear that she was remembering. Then Sister Horspool asked if she thought it was true. She responded, "Of course." It was a good meeting and she told us that she knows God loves us. Most important for me, though, was when she told us that she knows she forgets God when things are good in life. She said that she knew it was bad because she knows that she needs to remember God everyday.

After Zhun Zhun we met with Anna. I am always so amazed by her. Last week we gave her the booklet on tithing. She read it all and told us that it inspired her. She said she liked how transparent the church is about tithing. She made a comparison to other churches that don't ask for money but really you are paying them through your taxes. She said she could see why it is so important to pay tithing and agreed to pay tithing after her baptism. Then we discussed keeping the Sabbath Day Holy because although we talked about it with her earlier I did not feel like I covered it fully. One thing I love about Anna is that she is willing to understand the commandments or through her own experiences she has seen how important it is. When she talked about not working on Sunday she shared an experience that taught her that working to support her family on Sundays was not as important as spending time with them. I feel that she is so close!

Thursday night was crazy. We came home and were about to plan for the night when we received a call from some other sisters. Sister Horspool had worked with this one investigator for 6 months in her last area. Well, that night the other sisters met with her and Natasha (the investigator) and Natasha told them that she wanted to be baptized and soon. "Coincedently" President was in the building they were meeting with so Natasha had her baptismal interview and told them she wanted to be baptized that Saturday. We were all in shock and Sister Horspool kept asking if they were kidding. That night ended up turning into calling as many people as we could to bring people to the baptism with only a day and a half notice. 

I am so happy to tell you that Natasha was baptized that Saturday and confirmed yesterday. After her baptism she was grinning from ear to ear and said that she could not stop smiling. When I asked her what she thought she said, "I just want the Holy Ghost now. I want to be able to feel him always." It was a very special day for everyone who attended. 

That Saturday night we went to a wedding in Sokolniki. A member of my ward got married and specifically asked the missionaries to come and to do a musical number. Thankfully, we managed to throw a musical number together that was not too awkward. Sister Horspool and I did not stay for the whole time. I'm glad that we could help but being at a wedding and being a missionary just felt awkward. Especially, since all the songs are romantic songs.

Oh yeah I forgot to tell about Friday which marked my one year on a mission. We did more service for the Storms. We went out to visit an orphanage outside of Moscow to see what their needs were and to see if the church could help them. The orphanage exceeded all my expectations. The staff loved the children and had worked hard to find sponsers to supply the needs of the children. The government only gives orphanages money for food and clothes. This orphanage had a lot of toys, a bed for everyone, and even computers and an art studio for the older kids. Most of all I was impressed by the staff who really was trying to find homes for the children. The nurse was very religious and asked us to pray for the children and has a firm faith that God is guiding them.

On the train ride back I noticed a woman sitting on the same bench reading a book. We were talking to the Storms but I noticed that the format of the book looked like the Russian Bible. Each page had two columns and I noticed some parts were marked. I couldn't read the front of the book but I decided to try giving her a Book of Mormon anyways. As we got off I gave her the Book of Mormon and found out that she was reading the Bible. She accepted the book and I had just enough time to testify before we left. All in all it was a good day.

Phew. That is not even all that happened but that is all that I have time for. The weather has been crazy. This past week it was sunny, then it snowed, then it was sunny, then it snowed, and then it rained. Right now it is raining. It is warming up and soon it will be time to pull out the fall coat. 

Yikes! Three minutes left! Time flies by so fast. Hard to believe that yesterday was Easter and soon it will be spring and then summer. I love you all and I say it every week but I mean it: I appreciate and treasure every prayer on my behalf.

Love, Sister Daniel

Monday, April 2, 2012

Here, there, and everywhere

I can't wait to see General Conference. Unfortunately, here we will not get to watch it until the 14 and 15th of April. Typically, we get to watch conference a week after it is broadcast in America but next week is Easter so we have to wait two weeks. 

Well, I am still in Perovo. It has been interesting trying to balance two areas. And of course dynamics of threesomes are always interesting to deal with and balancing everyone's personalities. But so far it has been a lot of fun. It has been fun to see some members in the Perovo branch and help out there. It has also been fun to have two districts and the chance to interact with different missionaries and see how others work. 

I'll admit that my greatest blessing has been the chance to serve with Sister Horspool. She is a great missionary and takes her calling as a training sister seriously. Her example has helped to motivate me because I see her on trains always trying to contact someone, which in turn makes me want to do it and reminds me that it is not as hard as we make it seem in our minds. 

I am still continuing to use my French. This past week before English club we had another lesson in French with the elders. It was incredible. And thankfully, this time I was not the only French speaker. One of the Elder's investigators knows both French and English so he helped translate for the elders. Serge is incredible and is almost done reading Gospel Principles (after a week) and was testifying to us about the gospel. We taught the Plan of Salvation and after we finished one of the investigators asked the question, "What about my mom and my other family members? I want to be together for them but they did not have the chance to be baptized." We were all surprised by the question. We answered their question and talked a little about family history and temple work and all the investigators were excited. That night the investigators set two baptismal dates.

On Thursday we were in my area and it was good. We met with Izolda, an inactive old lady who lives in one of the outer cities. Originally we had planned to reteach all the lessons to her but she brought up her concerns about tithing again. She has had concerns for the past three months and no matter how much we try to explain she will not accept what we say. At one point I asked her if she had prayed to find an answer. She admitted that she hadn't and said she wanted her answer through the Liahona because any answer she received from pray would not be real and factual. It was draining and frustrating but I discovered a lot about her and her beliefs. It was sad to realize that she did not understand her relationship to God or revelation. It appears that the only source she trusts is the Liahonas. I don't know if this is common problem in other areas of the world but I have found that, especially, less actives members love the Liahonas but won't read their scriptures.

But on the other hand we had a great meeting with Anna, who was in Germany in the last week. She came back and and had done some serious reflecting over the past week. While in Germany she met with her friend who was the first member of the church to really befriend her. Her friend talked with her about baptism and asked her a few of the baptism questions. One of the questions is whether she believed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ's church restored on the earth. At the time she said she could not so she went home and prayed and reflected. In our meeting she said she had received an answer and knew that the church was true. On that note we began our lesson on the Word of Wisdom. She had studied the booklet and really liked it. As always I felt like she was teaching me more than I was teaching her. We talked about tea and the different knids that we can drink. She mentioned that after she studied the Word of Wisdom she discovered that there is a wide variety of herbal teas she did not know existed. "That's how it always is," she said. "At first when you are told you can't have something you are so focused on what you can't have. But when you look you find that there are lots of options that you can have." There was one interesting moment during the lesson. At the beginning I noticed that she said an odd comment. She mentioned that the word of wisdom was her struggle right now. But as we talked I couldn't see where she was struggling. I asked her and she ended up sharing what it was that has been holding her back from baptism. She is ready and wants to be baptized and I have been struggling to figure out what has been holding her back. Well, she shared it with us and she is working hard and taking big steps so that soon she will be ready. It was a great meeting and as always we were amazed by her and her knowledge. She also came to church with her daughter and they stayed for all three hours. 

Sunday I went on a split with a member so that I could be in the Sokolniki Ward for Sunday. I know what one of my weaknesses is asking members to come to lessons. I was determined to do better. You'll be happy to know that I asked four people to come to our lessons this week. Unfortunately, none of them could come but I feel glad to know that I did try my best to ask members. 

After church we met with Zhun Zhun. She is continuing to pray but is not reading from the Book of Mormon. However, she agreed to let me call her at nights and agreed to read with me over the phone. I tried asking her about baptism but she said that she was not ready. But she said that she was happy and told me that last year she told the sisters that she was happy because she had money. "This year I have no money but I am happy." I am going to do my best to try to help her as best I can. I really do love her and I feel that she is special. She did thank us for calling her and not forgetting about her.

I'll admit that those are the highlights of my week. I also gave out a Book of Mormon in French on the street this week. We also gave out one in Moldovian. Of course I never have enough time to share all of my insights from the Book of Mormon. But I will tell you that I have almost finished the Book of Mormon again. Some of the favorite moments are the insights that I gain as I read the scriptures. My testimony of the Savior begins to grow and my desire to be exactly obedient also increases. I am so thankful for the scriptures that we have and especially for a living prophet and apostles. I know that God loves us just as much as His children in the Bible. He wants to talk to us and we can talk to Him through prayer. He is not hidden in the heavens and continues to speak and give us guidance. 

I love you all and may that God will answer your prayers.
-Sister Daniel