Monday, May 21, 2012

Week of Culture

This past week was a little bit interesting because of all the fun things we did. This past week we had our culture night and so we went and saw Swan Lake at the Kremlin. Also, last Friday was free museum day in Moscow, so we took part of our Preparation Day to see some museums with a member of our ward (which is why my email is later today because we had a meeting earlier in the day). As a companionship we are also making goals to see more cultural things on our Preparation Day so last Monday we went to a big park with all sorts of statues.

We met with Yelena again this week. We are trying to move from helping her with English into an investigator. She has a lot of potential and right now she likes us and trusts us. (She even wanted us to babysit her daughter while she and her husband went out. Unfortunately, that is forbidden). Sadly, she did not come to the ward open house. We can't meet with people just to give them English lessons so we explained that to her (we told her that we use our 1 hour of service to help her since she can't come to English club) and explained that we wanted to teach her. Her comment was interesting. She is reading the Book of Mormon and does not see a reason to meet with us at the moment because she will find all she wants to know about us from the Book of Mormon. Thankfully, my companion was quicker than I and asked then if the next time we came if we can talk about the Book of Mormon. She agreed and hopefully that will provide the gateway to helping her feel the Spirit.

On Saturday our ward held an Open House. I'll admit it turned out pretty well. For a while all of the missionaries were worried. Five minutes before it was about to start there was only the missionaries, one member, and one inactive. But thankfully people trickled in and more showed up. For those that came they had a good time. Sadly, not as many members came as we hoped but that shows that we need to work more with the members and get them excited about missionary work. Zhun Zhun almost came! Due to work she couldn't come and arrived just as the Open House ended. But we sat down and talked to her and although we have not meet in a while or read the Book of Mormon she knows that she needs to read and she wants to read. And if not for work she would have come to the 10am church. 

Saturday night we went to Vika. For the past few weeks we has not been answering our calls. We were worried and managed to drop by. Russian apartments can be hard to get into if the person you call doesn't answer the apartment phone. The apartments remind me a lot of France. You have to ring the phone and then the person you call has to let you in. Vika didn't answer but we knew she was home because her car was there. Thankfully, a lady exited the building and held the door open for us to enter (sometimes people forcibly close the door if the person you call doesn't let you in). We went up to Vika's door and knocked 3 times. No one answered but we heard loud music inside. Finally we knocked a 4th time and Vika's daughter happened to be walking to the bathroom at that moment and heard the knock. We got inside and thankfully everything was all right with Vika and I am glad that we stopped by to show her that we are not going to allow ourselves to lose contact with her.

Sunday was a good day. I'll admit that I have been praying a lot for the members in our ward and trying to talk to someone new each week. I've also tried to get to greet the less actives that come or sit by them during church. It was also a good Sunday because one member just returned from her mission and it was her first Sunday back. She served in the Washington DC South mission and it was great to talk to her. I love return missionaries because they are so willing to help on lessons and you don't feel like you are contacting members for meetings. 

I am going to try to be more optimistic. Lately I feel like my optimism meter has been low. I wouldn't say that I am pesimisstic. I don't immediately think the worst of everything but sometimes I want to get discouraged at how things are moving or going. I suppose it's a little self-centered to say that the work in our area is moving slow but sometimes it is easy to feel that your weaknesses are holding the area back from truly progressing. Some days I just want to beat myself up for how bad I still am at contacting or how it has not gotten easier or feeling that the ward  And, to be fair, I was warned in a blessing that there would be times when I would feel weak and it would be to the glory of God. Thank goodness I read about Moses and Enoch this morning, both of whom felt very inadequant to their calling but they still managed to accomplish great things. The quote I have written on my planner comes from Teaching of President George Albert Smith: "If you have something that the Lord asks or expects you to do and you don't know just how to proceed, do your best. Move in the direction that you ought to go; trust the Lord, give him a chance, and he will never fail you." Although I am still weak and full of weaknesses I am still trying to move forward and not let the hard things stop me from trying. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

t was great to talk to you all yesterday. I am always so surprised by normal the call is when I do call. That's always a great feeling. I love you all and it was great to hear about your lives and talk to you. I'm sad Justin couldn't talk long but it was great to be able to see him nonetheless =) 

While last week was hot the past few days have been cold. I'm not complaining about the cold and I am perfectly happy to be wearing a jacket. 

I would not say that this was a slower week but it was a different week. We ended up with 2 meetings this week but with quite a few last minute cancellations and one of Russia's biggest holidays we did not do too badly. We even gave out a few Books of Mormon.

Tuesday was an interesting day. Because Sister Gish was in the pilot program from the MTC to see if they should shorten the MTC stay time, a man from the MTC has been going and visiting all the missionaries that were in the test group. So on Tuesday this man, Brother Packer, came to visit us and observed us. He watched us as we did companion and language study together and then interviewed us separately. He gave us quite a few compliments and said that I was doing a good job trying to help Sister Gish use the materials we were given in the MTC. Sometimes I wonder about how well I am helping so hearing an affirmation of my work was encouraging.

Training has been interesting and as with everything in life it requires patience. Sister Gish is great although she was different from what I expected. Every missionary is so different and I suppose that when I first found out I was training in my mind I was expecting someone who was exactly like me when I came to Russia. Her strengths are different from mine which is a good thing and it has been fun to see how certain members or the ward need her strengths and abilities. The hardest part is all the Russian but we are working on that and trying to explain and practice. I have taught Russian to most of my companions and helped them improve their grammar. I wonder if this is the Lord's way of giving me experience because He wants me to a be teacher or if He is showing me what it would be like if I became a teacher. Either way the Lord has given me constant reminders that many of the gifts He gives us are for the purpose of blessing His children.

On Saturday we did have a good meeting with Yelena. We met with Yelena about two weeks ago and I have kept in contact with her on the phone and would call her every few days (aren't you all so proud of you?). On Saturday she invited us over and although we did not get into a Gospel discussion we talked with her a lot and took the time to get to know her and see what is important to her. At the end I did find a way to testify about the gospel. We      talked about missionary work and I mentioned that we pay to come on missions. She looked at us, a little like we were crazy, and asked, "za chem? (Why?)". Simply and wholeheartedly I replied that the gospel so important to me that I want to help others to know what I know. She still looked at us like I was crazy but I hope that by knowing what we sacrifice to do will impact her. We set up a meeting with her for Tuesday and I am excited to see what will happen. 

Sunday (yesterday) was a good day at church. I have been trying really hard to speak to more people in the ward and improve the member-missionary relationship. I have noticed that some people have warmed up to me more which is very encouraging. I am now to the point where I recognize most of the members who typically come so I always do a quick scan to check for any newcomers. Yesterday there was a baby blessing and the family, the father is actually the second counsellor in the stake bishopic, brought some family members who were not members. During Relief Society I went and sat by the member's mother. I just chatted with her and then the mother went to talk to someone. While the mother was away I asked the member about her mother. I was surprised by how much the member told me about her mother and at one point as the member was talking about her mom she started to get teary-eyed. Watching this member almost cry as she talked about her mother's spiritual state impressed upon my soul. I saw how much members want their family to be happy and enjoy the happiness that they have. Then I felt like the member helped create opportunities to help me. At the end of church the member turned to me and said, "We will be leaving in 10 minutes. Ask her if she will meet with you." Then after I talked to the non-member mother, the member came up to ask me how it went. It was a small experience but for that last hour of church I truly felt like I was united with this member to help her mother.

I'll admit that the past few weeks I found myself in a funk of sorts. I know I am not a bad missionary by any means. I try my hardest to be obedient every day. But lately I have been questioning and reflecting on the past few months and evaluating if I have been using my time in the best way and choosing a better part. Sometimes I worry that I am more like Martha than Mary. But I am trying my best and trying to improve areas that I know I can do better. I am not perfect but I am working on my weaknesses. Most importantly I am so grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to know that repentance is possible. Every day I am so thankful to my Heavenly Father for sending me His son. Without Him I would not have hope. Thanks to Jesus Christ I always have someone to turn to for comfort. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and my Redeemer. I know He lives and continues to help me everyday.

Monday, May 7, 2012

How I love the restoration!

This week was an interesting week that strengthened my testimony of the Restoration. I am so thankful for the knowledge of the Restoration and to know who God is and that He loves us just as much as people in former ages. This week we met with some people who are not ready to accept the Restoration which caused me to reflect on how thankful I am for modern prophets and for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I don't think I ever told you about Asmeret. Asmeret is our new investigator from Africa (English speaking this time). She came to an English club in another part of Moscow and was invited to General Conference. She came to all of General Conference on Sunday when we watched it and enjoyed it. I talked to her during the conference and set up a meeting for later that week. She has been an interesting person to teach, partly because she is Pentecostal. Our first meeting we went very simple and talked about the Book of Mormon. We read the introduction with her. Although she had some issues with the Book of Mormon she said she would pray and read it. 

This past week we met with her a second time. She started the Book of Mormon and said that she did not feel like she should not read it. Although she is only one or two chapter into the Book of Mormon she did read all of the Liahona that she took last week. I have been developing a love-hate relationship with Liahonas in part because they are so great but people miss the point of the messages (ie. read the scriptures) We watched the Joseph Smith Restoration film with her but we is not ready to hear about the Restoration. With her we walk a fine line. The problem is that  she feels that our churches are basically the same although we worship differently, which is why we decided to talk about the Restoration. However, she is just not ready at this point to accept the Restoration. After we watched the film she had a lot of questions about the Book of Mormon. It did require some patience because most of her questions we had gone over the following week when we read the introduction. But we took our time and tried to help her understand the Book of Mormon so she would want to read it more. Because of her questions the lesson went on a lot longer than we planned for but we ended on a good note and with a moment that I am still so thankful for. Towards the end she was asking a lot of questions that I could give her the answer to but she was not ready to accept because I just felt that her questions and concerns she needed to resolve herself through the Book of Mormon. I was trying to think of how to tell her that when at last she asked a question that gave me the chance to express that. She commented again on how she loved the Liahona but she expressed a concern, "I notice that the Book of Mormon is quoted more often than the Bible. Why is that?" I told her, "I can't answer that for you. You will have to read the Book of Mormon and find the answer for youself. I promise you that if you read the Book of Mormon you will find the answer to your question." I wish you all could have been there to feel the peace that entered the room as I said that. The atmosphere changed and her attitude changed. She said she would read. 

Asmeret also came to church this Sunday. She came late during Sacrament but stayed for the rest of church. She really liked Relief Society. Although she is still firm in her beliefs that our churches are the same there is a little bit of softening. 

The other meeting that caused me to think about the Restoration and what it means to me was with Izolda. I have been visiting Izolda (who is inactive) every other week for the past 6 months. I care about her a lot but sometimes it breaks my heart to meet with her because I want her to be happy but she is not willing to keep commitments fully and I know they will bring her happiness. Last time we gave her a reading assignment but she did not do it so we read with her. We tried to talk about the Book of Mormon with her but she is not willing to read on her own. She used a lot of excuses but I noticed I was a little more bold when she gave us her excuses. At one point she was asking a lot of questions that could be answered by the message of the Restoration. As I was testifying of the Restoration and watching her, an interesting thought popped into my mind, "She does not want to accept the Restoration." We had tried talking about the Restoration before and I wondered why but that day I realized it was because she did not want to accept it. It was interesting thought to realize so as we defrosted her freezer I struck up a conversation and asked her a few questions to see what she most desires. At one point I asked, "Izolga don't you want to live with God and have eternal life?" Her response was telling, "Who would I be with?" Her husband died a few years ago and her son does not like the church. Her brother is actually a Russian Orthodox priest. Her response broke my heart because I was so sad for her. Although it was heartbreaking in some ways I am so happy that I learned a lot about Izolda and what her thoughts are. As we talked with the elders we realized that she needs the very basic and to understand her realtionship with God. At least after a year she is finally starting to pray on her own! Progress!

As I look back on this week I am realizing that all the lessons I had were a little draining or just different concerns that I really had to rely on the Lord for help. I can't count the number of times I prayed, "Heavenly Father, I have no idea what to do or how to answer this concern. But you do. Please help me." The help has not always come immediately but it has come. 

Yesterday was a good day at church. I made a real effort to try to speak with more members and to sit with different people. By talking to new people I have learned a lot about her interests and ways I can in the future strike up a conversation. When I left church I was just a lot happier because really I just need to be better at working with members and be more willing to make the awkward first approach. Thankfully, I have been noticing a difference in a few people. 

Winter is finally gone! Well, I suppose it has been gone for a few weeks now. It is starting to get a lot warmer and soon I won't need to wear a sweater. Today we are actually going shopping because my companion was not as fortunate as I and no one told her how hot the summers in Moscow get. The wind is a nice relief though. The wind was our enemy in the winter and now it is what will keep me from wanting to die as it continues to get warmer. And with spring the smell of paint fills the air of Moscow. Every spring all the fences are repainted. It is interesting to see the color schemes. Last year it was green and yellow and this year is appears to be blue and orange. I have no idea who gets to choose what color we paint the fences. Also, our cockroach problem is getting better =)

Love, Sister Daniel