Monday, June 25, 2012

I love to eat figs.

I don't remember if I ever told you but as American missionaries we have adapted a lot of Russian words into our everyday English conversation, as I'm sure every mission does. We ask if something is "Mozhna" meaning "Is it allowed?". Another term we use a lot is the term "fig" meaning someone stood you up. It is very common usage in our every day vocabulary. For example when I call the elders at night to let them know we are home and we ask them about the day they or I will reply, "Well, today we had a day of all figs." That means that every lesson we had planned was cancelled or the person just never showed up. I explain this so you will know what I mean I say that it was a week of figs. 

Sadly, none of our investigators could meet with us. Either their phones were off, they were busy with exams, or they had to go on trips and leave town. 

Although our stats were incredibly low we kept in good spirits and kept working hard. I have been praying for help with contacting and optimism and I certainly had plenty of time to practice. On Tuesday we put in a good 4 hours of contacting in parks and on Saturday we contacted for 3 and 1/2 hours straight. I am learning more and more as I contact. More and more I realize how much more I need to prepare to contact. This week in my study I have been studying teaching skills and really trying to be a persuasive speaker. A few times this week I had people asking me about the Book of Mormon. I explained it but I tried to put myself in their shoes  and realized that I wouldn't want to take a Book of Mormon either! So this week I have been writing up short summaries about the Book of Mormon and working on giving a good explaination combined with my testimony and a promise. 

Tuesday we had a very interesting experience. We were contacting in the park at night and Sister Gish and I were trying different approaches. We decided to ask a man and his wife if he thought Russians believed their families could be together forever. We asked them and somehow we got into a conversation with the couple. The couple was Muslim but very nice. What I learned is how to contact. Although we set out to contact him he ended up contacting me! He started to testify about God and how we are all equal. Before I knew it he had given me the commitment to pray about which faith is true. At the end I gave him our number and an invitation to church. He promised to call me to follow up and see if I prayed! After we left I laughed at the irony and the role reversal but what surprised me the most was how it all flowed so naturally. He was a professional and as soon as I got home I wrote down all that I learned from him.

Thursday was a good day. We had a zone service project that lasted most of the day. We went out to a dacha, a Russian summer house, and did some gardening. Some were moving logs, some were moving a 300 pound tree trunk, and others were running away from all of the spiders. I shoveled dirt for about 2 and a half hours straight.It was a warm day and I have some lovely pink arms to show for all the work. The next day my back was sore but I have come to love physical labor and service projects. The yard looked a lot different by the time we left.

Friday was another day of contacting. We went with a few other missionaries to a metro stop that borders two wards and sang hymns for 3 and a half hours. By the time we left we gave out all of the contacting supplies we gave. My arms turned from a nice pink to a lovely red shade. Again I learned a lot of areas where improvement is needed but we had a good time and a few good experiences. Towards the end of our singing a man passed by us and whipped out his video camera and started recording us. When we finished the song he told us in broken Russian, "I know you! I'm from Vietnam!" He pointed to our tags and then hummed a church hymn before running off. What made me so happy was to see how happy he was. We don't know how much contact he has had with the Church but he had enough to recognize us and be happy. That was perhaps the highlight of all our singing.

Despite the obvious indicators of a good week it was a good week. I feel that Sister Gish and I got to know each other better. I had received a lot of answers to my prayers and the Lord continued to show forth tender mercies. It turned out to be a very different week than we expected but it was good. Although there were plenty of setbacks I still tried to move forward optimistically. Although none of our investigators could meet we did get a few phone numbers and I felt happier. It would have been easy to get discouraged but we moved forward and kept smiling. We had a great opportunity to help a member going through a hard time. In other fascinating news and miracles I got an accordion for free. 

Well, that was about it for a the week. I am excited to see what this week has in store for us. It has a lot of potential and I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for us. Thank you for all your prayers!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Red letter week.

Honestly, it was a red letter week. I don't know if I mentioned last week but this past weekend was the Moscow, Russia Stake's first Stake Conference. (Random note: I recently heard that India received its first stake!) Because the stake is so new we had a few special guests that come to our stake conference. One of them was Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We were privledged to hear from him on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday was a momentous day. At the end of June when the Moscow West Mission President returns home the Moscow West and Moscow missions will combine to create a new Russia Moscow mission. This week we had a meeting with both missions. I know when I talked to the family on Mother's Day I mentioned that Bishop Stevenson (the Presiding Bishop of the church) would be coming. Well, he came along with a few others. In attendance was the Europe East Area Presidency and their wives (Elders/Presidents Schwitzer, Lawrence, and Bennet), Bishop Stevenson and his wife, Elder Rasband of the President of the Seventy with his wife, and Elder Christoffersson with his wife. We got to hear from all of them and shake all of their hands after the meeting. We received great instruction. One of the best parts, for me at least, was at the end of Elder Christoffersen's talk. He looked out at all of us and said, "I perceive that some of you, if not most of you, are wondering if the Lord is happy with your service." I'll admit that that had been on my mind. Well, to be truthful that has been on my mind since the first day of my mission. I have a strong desire to serve my Lord and my Heavenly Father and I want to be able to say that I gave my all. But lately I had been wondering or feeling that sometimes I hold back a small part or worry that I am not fully consecrated. It was very reassuring to hear that concern addressed and to feel that it was directed at me. He asked us to pray and told us that we would receive an answer. He said that we would find that our offering is accepted of the Lord. 

Things have been going well with our investigator, Anya. She is a member's daughter (to long time readers she is the daughter of Vika). She is trying to quit smoking and asked for a blessing. My companion asked if we could teach her and she agreed. This week we had her read the Plan of Salvation pamphlet. When we met with her on Friday we asked her what she thought. Her first words were, "I read it and I think I am going to the last kingdom." We then went on and explained the different kingdoms. She stopped us at one point to ask what was the difference between the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms but she felt after reading that the second kingdom didn't seem too bad. We started to explain that only in the Celestial Kingdom there would be progression. She interrupted us, "Nope. That's it. I need to progress so I have to the Celestial Kingdom." She still has a ways to go but she is progressing and now she knows where she is going and has something that she is aiming for.

I'll admit that this week I have seen a lot of tender mercies. On Monday we had a little extra time so we went contacting around a metro near our apartment. We passed out two Book of Mormons. On Tuesday we had a good meeting with a member and travelling back I started to daydream on the metro. About to daydream I had the thought, "You can daydream when you get home. Make the most of the time you have." So to fill my mind with something else I whipped out my notebook where I write down sentences or beginning to phrases that I can say when I contact. A lady was sitting next to me and I asked her for help because I had written a word and I wanted to hear how a native said it. The lady helped me and then read the full sentence and asked why I was here. That day in district meeting we had talked about the Plan of Salvation. I explained who I was, why I was here, and bore testimony of the Plan of Salvation. She actually asked me for my number and when I asked she gave me hers. I have called her but as of yet we have not been able to meet due to her work schedule. 

Then on Wednesday we had a small English club at our Senior Couple's apartment. At first I did not think any of the people I had contacted would come. But Lydia came! She is one of my favorite English clubbers. She is going to her summer house for the summer. To my surprise she came, despite the pounding rain. She realized that I would probably be gone before the summer and wanted to see me before I left. I was so happy and I was able to get a photo with her. 

I could continue with lots more tender mercies. But I want to include a few insights from stake conference and an insight from the Book of Mormon. Right now I am in Numbers in the Bible. One thing I have gained from reading the Bible is a testimony of the Sabbath Day. The Lord mentions several times how important this day is to Him. I have started to count how often the Lord talks about the Sabbath Day. This week I studied 2 Nephi 2 from the Book of Mormon. Although two weeks again I finish my second complete reading of the Book of Mormon on my mission. I have made a goal to continue to read it every day and before beginning at the beginning of the Book of Mormon I have been looking up questions of the soul. In Preach My Gospel (a handbook for missionary service) there is an entire chapter dedicated to the Book of Mormon and a section about which questions the Book of Mormon answers. I have been reading those chapters and finding answers to strengthen my own testimony and to show how the chapter or verses answer that specific question. This week I have been studying "Why does God allow evil and suffering?" One chapter that answers this question is 2 Nephi 2. I have found lots of answers and have gained a testimony of the reality of opposition and the power of our agency. I have been working hard to get over my shyness as I have mentioned the past few weeks. I have learned that whenever you set a goal there will be opposition. Satan is real and he is an enemy to the plan of God and the happiness of man. But the most important thing we can do, and need to do, is to put our trust in God. If we fully trust Him and have faith than we will have a foundation that cannot fail us. Of course, Satan will try to attack that foundation and take that away because it is the one thing we need more desperately than anything else. And that foundation comes in large part by reading the scriptures and especially the Book of Mormon.

In other news I was told today by a Russian Orthodox priest that I would make a good Russian Orthodox woman. But time is short and that will be a story for next week!

Monday, June 11, 2012

What to do when you have two LDS missionaries and a Russian Orthodox priest on the same metro?

This past week has been a different week. In part because I was sick the entire week. Last Sunday after church I had a sore throat that continued for a day or two and then I was hit with a cold on Wednesday and Thursday. I am now starting to feel a lot better.

Last Monday was pretty fun. We rented bikes with the district and went bike riding in Sokolniki Park. It's a huge park with some nice manicured lawns and then forest areas to explore. Well, we took our bikes and went riding around. At one point we rode around some of the forest area and there were some hills that the elders had fun riding up and down. I tried going up one hill but did not go fast enough and I fell backwards. The best was later I went on a hill that was not too big but I managed to fall off. I was fine and nothing hurt. But the next day I had bruises all over my legs. I showed Sister Gish and her response was, "It looks like someone beat you with a stick!" I had 5 bruises on my knee alone. It was a lot of fun despite the embarassing falls and the mosquitos. 

Tuesday we went contacting with the district. Two elders sang with us sisters while two elders passed out invitations to church and talked to people. The two elders who were passing out invitations had completely opposite experiences. Aftterwards I talked to Elder Knight who mentioned that he was repeatedly told to return to America. One older lady even spit at him. Two Russian Orthodox men tried to contact him but could not agree on their doctrine. Meanwhile, the other elder did not have a lot of success but he talked to some people who thanked us for the music or talked about how nice we were. There is such a wide variety of people that you met everyday and it was such an interesting polar opposite experience for these two elders.

Amidst all the groggy sickness we did manage to have some good meetings. On Wednesday we met with Zhun Zhun. Zhun Zhun told us that she is starting to really believe that the Book of Mormon is true. Last week when we met we shared some scriptures that we liked. When we met this week she asked if we could share scriptures from the Book of Mormon. We told her we would but we asked her question first. We asked her what she thought about Jesus Christ. Months ago we ask her this question but her response now was completely different. She talked about how much He loved her and how she feels His love. She has grown a lot since we first starting meeting with her and she likes to meet with us. She has come a long ways but still has some ways to go but if she keeps progressing like she is I know that her life will only change for the better.

But our meeting with Zhun Zhun was not the best part. We got her to come to church! She didn't manage to come to our ward on time but she came a little later and thankfully another ward began their sacrament meeting so I went on a split with a member so Zhun Zhun could go to Sacrament Meeting. I was so happy because we have been trying so hard to get her to come and when I called her Sunday morning she told me that she couldn't because she had gone to bed at 5am (for her work she has to talk to people in China). I was disappointed at first but then I called her back and asked if she could come for one hour. She said she couldn't but then she said she would come at 2pm rather than noon and she came despite the huge downpour of rain.

I am still with Sister Gish. Trainers now train new missionaries for two transfers so right now we are in the second half of her training. So far she is doing great. She is bright and happy all the time and bolder than I am. Russian is still hard so we are working hard together to help her learn and set up a pattern of learning that will continue throughout her mission. 

Lately I have been doing a spiritual check up on myself. With the new mission at the end of this month I have been spending time to evaluate myself and where I want to be by the end of my mission. I have also been cracking down and tightening any bolts that have gotten a little loose since the beginning of the mission. Doing this has helped me appreciate all the time and preparation the Lord took to prepare me. I have also been so grateful to all of my church leaders and friends who provided me with great advice. As I look back on the start of my mission the Lord really had prepared me. 

Of course I continue to learn and am not perfect. Lately I have been getting a little frustrated by the weaknesses, particularly my shyness. Some days are easier than others but sometimes it is frustrating to see that I have been out over a year and still struggle with talking with everyone. Ugh. But it has been teaching me a lot about humility and how to work on achieving this goal and overcoming this weakness. Particularly since we have a goal to find new investigators and I feel like that is an area I have to improve in. Overcoming weaknesses and fears is not easy but I know it is possible with the Lord's help. 

Fun thought for the day: We were walking to the metro this morning when I noticed an interesting billboard. Russians call Russian Orthodox churches "xpam (hram)" which translates literally to "temple". The billboard showed a married couple and a Russian Orthodox church. Written was "Road to the temple - road of love." Sure it was an advertisement for the Russian Orthodox church but I thought about how true the statement is. Going to the temple really is the road to love and enhances our love. I am so grateful for the Restored Gospel and the priesthood because I know that my family relationship will endure after this life. By making and keeping covenants I draw closer to my Savior and my Heavenly Father and strengthen my relationships with them. I love the priesthood and I am so glad to have it in my life.

Monday, June 4, 2012

To Riga and Back!

For people in college: Please email me your new addresses! I am sure some of you have moved and others of you are getting married. I do have some letters to send but I have no idea where to send them!

This week turned out to be a good week. We had a total of 4 lessons and we have a new investigator. During weekly planning this week Sister Gish and I discussed what our area needed. I opened up all my planner for the Sokolniki area and did a review of the average of lessons. After discussing we came to the conclusion that we need more lessons and more investigators. So that is our main focus in addition to working with the members.

Tuesday we had district meeting and originally we had plans to go contacting as a district. We were at the doorway to leave when the first counselor called and asked if we could help pack up our branch building. He had been doing all the packing himself so of course we went over to lend a hand. It was sad how different the building was after we took down everything. I didn't realize how much the Church had put into the building! The movers took down the air conditioning units from the ceiling and the stove and sink in the kitchen. 

Some other sad news is that because we no longer have a building we no longer have English club. But thankfully, we talked to President Sorenson and he agreed that we could hold our own English club at the senior couple's apartment because English club is an important time. A few of our regulars had recentlysaid that they could be willing to listen to our message. So this is a critical time for us. 

We met with Izolga this week and there was progress! The last two times we visited her we decided just to read the Book of Mormon with her. We did and she corrected us on our Russian but she has continued to read a little bit every day. OORA! Sister Gish gives her a call at night to check if she read that day and I think that has helped with her accountability.

So on Saturday I went on another visa trip. I swear our visa group gets bigger and bigger with every trip. Everytime we have a visa trip we get informed the night before that 2 more elders were added to our group. So on this last visa trip it was Sister Thrall, 8 elders, and me. This was actually Sister Thrall's last visa trip because she is going home in August. Because of new laws in Ukraine for the time being we fly to Riga. However, we don't have any time to see the city so the most of what we saw was from the airplane window. I was just fine with that. Visa trips are a nice chance to catch up with the missionaries we came in with and discuss how the work is going in different areas but at the same time it is a day out of the work. I took the time to catch up on my Bible reading. I am almost through with Exodus and I have to say, the Lord has a lot of patience because I was getting frustrated just reading about their fickleness.

I know I have been talking about it a lot but I am just happy to see the results of working with the members. I have been making a big effort to talk to more members and I can sense more warmth from the ward. I can't tell you how happy this makes me. This week we have three appointments set with members and some of the YSAs were happy to hear that I am in their ward for another transfer. We have a good group of memebers who have told us they want to help with meetings. We are making a bigger effort in our district to meet with members and teach them about Preach My Gospel and encourage them to study the missionary lessons. 

In other news this week we had attack of the poohk.Poohk is this little white fluff that comes from the trees in Moscow. Honestly, at times it looks a little like snow flakes. Unfortunately it is a pain for those with allergies and gets in your eyes and in your mouth. The past few days it has been a little cold and so I still get to wear my sweaters and my long sleeve shirts. I didn't pull them out a lot in the winter so now I am trying to use them more before it gets too hot.

Like always I feel that on Mondays I have the time to reflect on the past week and see the areas that I can improve. I do see progress but I still see areas to improve and trying to look for ways to improve my time. I've also been thinking a lot about when I will come home and lately I have been thinking about staying until November. After all, I was thinking about it and it is only a three week difference between when I was thinking of going home and my late date. I will continue to pray about this decision but these have been my current thoughts and feelings. I hope by next week I will have a definite answer. Yesterday I finished the Book of Mormon once more and every day when I read I learn something new. I have been finding more answers to prayers and overall, I just feel good when I read. More often than not I learn how I can better serve my Heavenly Father and make Him proud of me. There is still a lot of work to do but I try to take it a step at a time. This week my focus will be on talking to people and using our time more effectively. I'll report on the sucess next week. I'm trying to exercise my faith more when I talk to people and for everyone I've talked to it just comes down to opening my mouth and praying that the Lord will fill it. Here's to a step into the dark!

With love,
Sister Daniel