Monday, July 30, 2012

News from Ryazan

Well, this week was a good week and we put in a lot of contacting time. Of course through contacting you get the best stories and there were definitely some moments that Sister Hawkins and I have laughed about since. 

Last Monday we went with the elders to go see the Kremlin which what the photos I sent are from. We also went exploring in the woods by the Kremlin which was a lot of fun. Ryazan does have some other interesting sights that we are planning to see sometime soon. There is a museum and a square named for Pavlov, who was influential in the Behaviorist branch of psychology. Also, a famous Russian poet was born in Ryazan so there is a museum for him as well. Next week I'll get back to you on what is his name.

On Tuesday and Fridays we have our English club. So typically on those days we go out with the elders to contact and invite people to English club. We recently discovered something that has led to us receiving more telephone numbers: clipboards! For some reason having a clipboard makes us look more professional and more people give us our numbers. I'll admit that Tuesday was one of those days where everybody turned me down. It felt like every person that I tried to talk to would pull the "I'm in a hurry" "I don't need it, girl" or the simple ignore and keep walking. But! There was one success for which I am so thankful. One lady I talked to seemed very interested and then she went into the mall nearby the fountain square where we were contacting. After she was done in the mall she came up to me again and asked about some of the details. Well, that night she came to English club! I was ecstatic and she had a great time. She couldn't believe that it was free and we were not charging anything. That is typical, though, that most people don't believe us when we say English club is free. I also get asked a lot about that and I also get asked how long you can come before we start charging. All in all it was a very good day.

On Wednesday we had a meeting with a girl from English club. She is actually baptist and has great faith in Jesus Christ. She told us her conversion story to the Baptist Church. We tried to talk to her about the Book of Mormon but in the end she would not take one. But we will continue to be friends with her. It was hard because she was talking about her church and the great bond of friendship and unity, something that we are trying to foster more in our branch. 

We also met with Olga our investigator with a baptismal date. She is warming up to us more. At first, she was a lot more reserved but she is opening us to more. Her date is the 11th of August and so far she is doing well. She is progressing. Our biggest problem with her is a common problem here: prayer. It seems like all of our lessons this week were centered on prayer and the importance of praying for confirmation. A lot of people just don't understand the need to prayer or to pray if they already know sometime is true. It has been a little frustrating at times because I want these people to know that wonderful blessings that come from prayer. I ave learned so much and developed such a relationship with my Heavenly Father that I treasure. I know that so many of our problems that we face can be resolved through prayer and scripture study. 

We did get a new investigator. On Wednesday we went contacting with Book of Mormon. I met a lady named Oksana and talked to her for a long time. It was interesting because when I asked her if she would like a Book of Mormon she replied that she already had a Book of Mormon and she had read it. She agreed to meet and then went off from about something that I did not completely understand. Yesterday we met with her and it was an interesting meeting. She does have a lot of interesting beliefs but as I listened I did find a lot of truth. She has a lot of interesting ideas about the world but she is willing to meet again and she was interested as we talked about the Restoration. We did not finish the lesson but we talked about prayer and she was interested in the way that we prayed. She agreed to try praying and reading the Book of Mormon. We will see where this will go. I have faith that if she will read the scriptures and pray that she will find answers.

Okay! Now a thought from my personal study. I finished Joshua in the Bible and moving on to Judges. This morning I read in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26. I really love this chapter because I feel that I learn a lot about Jesus Christ and His character. I especially love verse 24: "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation." I know that this verse is true and the Lord does all things for our benefit. There have been many hard times but I know that they have helped me and been for my benefit. Also, I have gained a strong testimony of the commandments and that they are instructions to a happy life from a loving Heavenly Father. I know that God loves us and wants to help us. I know that He wants to communicate with Him and we can through prayer. Prayer truly is a precious gift and I know that I can always turn to my Heavenly Father.

Well, I need to get heading off. The elders are here and waiting for the computers to write home. I love you all! Until next week!

Sister Daniel

Monday, July 23, 2012

So to the question of whether or not Sister Hawkins will kill me... I don't know. Typically I would say yes but with the new mission and the mass exodus of sister missionaries everything is up in the air a bit more. In the next two transfers at least 7 or 8 sisters are going home. We'll at least be together for 2 transfers and then we'll see what the Lord decides to do with me. We could stay for a third transfer, I could move, she could move. I could go crazy trying to figure out all the possibilities so I've decided not to think about it and just sing "Que Sera". Sister Hawkins is from Laguna Niguel and an anthropology major at BYU. 

Wednesday night was great. We met with one of our investigators, Alexander Thompson. He is an old man who is Russian but has Scottish ancestry (hence, the last name Thompson). He likes to practice his English but he is reading the Book of Mormon. He has some interesting ideas but if he will humble himself and pray I believe he will find a lot of his answers. He has lots of questions but he tends to believe all sorts of sources but the trick is getting him to believe in God and to believe that he can receive his own answers from God. 

After our lesson with Alexander we went and read the Book of Mormon with a member of our ward. She is great and comes to church but is struggling with her testimony and confided that the missionaries are the main reason she comes. But I love her so much and she is a great help at English club in the beginning group. In our beginning group we typically have Galina and our muslim friend from Uzbekistan, Sasha. (Little side note on Russian nicknames: Sasha is the nickname for Alexander and Alexandra.) 

That night we had a dinner with Sasha and his father. Sasha is awesome and comes to all of our activities. The elders first met his father on the street when they were contacting for English club. Sasha's father told them that his son had always wanted to know English and he was so excited to introduce his son to the American missionaries. Since then Sasha comes to English club and all our sport activities. At our last sports night he invited all the missionaries over so that he could make us plov. Well, this dinner became a reality and on Wednesday the elders, the Ottley's, Galina, and us went over and were fed delicious plov, a traditional Uzbekistan dish. It was delicious and Sasha and his father are perhaps my favorite people. Before we ate Sasha's dad said a few words and talked about how we are an answer to his prayers because he had been praying for a way for his son to learn English and then he met the elders.

This week was a busy week, including a trip up to Moscow for zone conference. Did I say that Moscow is only 1 1/2 from Ryazan? Well, it is actually a 3 hour bus trip. So to get to our zone conference on Thursday our bus left Ryazan' at 4:30 am. Thursday was a long day. We slept on the bus of course but sleeping on a bus is not the best substitute for sleeping on a bed. We had our conference from 9 until 2:30. Our new senior couple had a meeting that night with all the senior couples and they had asked us to help them get back. By the time we got to the bus station it was about 8 but unfortunately the next bus that had free seats left at 10:30pm. So we did not return home until 1:30am. 

When I served in Moscow I did not give a lot of talks during sacrament meeting, especially when I served in the Sokolniki ward. Most of the time I was asked to bear my testimony rather than give a full talk since they had enough people to give talks. Here in Ryazan' I have a feeling that I will be talking a lot more. Sister Hawkins and I gave talks yesterday. I talked about charity and Sister Hawkins talked about love, topics we had chosen because we feel that was something the branch needs to hear and apply more often. I have come to the point in Russian when I can express myself and understand most of what people say to me, especially in church settings. My Russian is not perfect and I still have a lot to learn but I got a lot of compliments on my Russian. What that means is that I get asked to do a lot by members because they understand me. It was a funny transition for me. In other wards we would take turns reading in class and the members would skip over the missionaries to native speakers. Yesterday during Sunday School I was asked to read quite a few scriptures and to give the closing prayer. Another thing about our branch is that church is only 2 hours because there are not enough people to be in all the calling, or there are lots of people who need callings before we can have church for the full 3 hour block.

The branch is a good branch with lots of potential. There is certainly a lot of work here to do. One testimony I have gained on my mission is that the organization of the church is inspired. Callings, home and visiting teaching are programs designed to help members. Our biggest goal this transfer to help members in these areas so that no one gets lost and everyone receives love and nourishment. Of course there are those loud voices that try to be heard and think their way is the only way and the fun Russian quirks that at times, frustrates you. But there is a lot of potential and it is helping those leaders who are trying to listen to the Holy Ghost and help them succeed. 

We also set goals for this transfers for which I am excited. It will require lots of hard work and diligent effort. But now is the time to thrust in our sickle and reap with our might. There is be opposition and we have planned for that. At our last zone conference President Sorenson talked about sacrifice and talked about all that we sacrificed to come here and things that we have to sacrifice everyday. Our pioneers sacrificed lives, family, and wealth. Nowadays we are asked to offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit and I have learned through this sacrifice we are giving ourselves to the Lord. The Lord blesses us with so much and all that He requires is our obedience which requires us to trust Him.

I love you all. Thank you for all your prayers. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Area!

Well, I am now in my new city Ryazan' and I got here OK and have not gotten too lost. It definitely is a change. It is also interesting because at our mission conference the week before a few questions were raised about logistics and I hadn't realized how different things were between the Moscow and Moscow West missions. It will also be interesting to see how those who served under President Woolley will respond under President Sorenson because the two have completely different ways of handling missionary work. Not to say that one way is better than the other but they are different. However, I have seen how some people cling to the old ways and refuse to accept a different way of working. So like I said, it will be interesting to observe how missionaries will respond to the change. 

The Lord has shown me a lot of miracles lately. Through everything I have tried not to become too stressed or worry too much and instead move forward trusting that everything would turn out all right. For example on Thursday we had transfer meeting where I met my new companion. Originally I thought the two of us would be moving our bags alone and that we would have to find the bus and somehow figure out how to get to our city. So I packed smart. All my souvenirs and things I wanted to talk home but I wouldn't need for the next few months I put in a suitcase and asked President Sorenson to store in his garage. Then I stripped myself down to the bare essentials which left me with one suitcase, a backpack, my messenger bag, and my scriptures. I was pretty proud of myself, considering I can be quite the pack rat.

Thankfully, when we arrived at transfer meeting the office elders told me that the Assistants would be helping us get to the bus. Phew. It was also great to be with the Assistants because even when we were moving bags on the metro they were working hard to talk to the people next to them. It was good to watch them and to be reminded how easy it is to talk to the people around you. They helped us buy our tickets and show us what we needed to do to get to our city. Then the elders in our city met us at the bus station and helped us get home. The bus ride was a little over 3 hours so Sister Hawkins had plenty of time to get to know each other and I was able to get in a little bit of study.

Another miracle involved losing my camera. Don't have a heart attack, dad! I have it safely in my possession now. At transfer meeting I was taking photos with a few people then I got to talking to a few members. Then the Assistants told us that they were ready to go. I was ready to go and I had been so caught up in talking with people that I forgot my camera was in the other room. It was only as I was unpacking that I realized I had not brought my camera. I offered a few heartfelt prayers that night and the next morning I called a few people in Moscow to ask them to be on the lookout for it. Well, thankfully someone found it and I believe gave it to President who gave it to our new senior couple. They brought my camera up with them. To me that was a huge miracle and I have since offered many prayers of thanks.

So... I wrote a longer email but then the internet froze up before I had the chance to save the email. So this is a little later and a little shorter. I wanted to include a quick spiritual thought. I love Moroni 8: 26 which says that the love of God endureth by diligence unto prayer. So many blessing come through prayer and it is easy to do. However, it is one of the easier things to overlook. But I can testify that prayer is so important and crucial in building our relationship with our Heavenly Father. I love my Heavenly Father and I know that He listens to me and our relationship has grown stronger because I have given Him more of my time and worked to include Him more in my life.

I love you all!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hit the Road Jack

I'm glad you all enjoyed the pictures. I thought you would enjoy the picture of the accordion. I imagine Sarah perhaps rolled her eyes :) To answer your questions I am still in Sokolniki until Thursday. Thursday, well, no exactly knows what is happening or how I get to my new area with both mine and Sister Hawkin's suitcases. In your prayers please pray for President. He has a lot more on his shoulders and trying to learn and coordinate a bigger mission, double in size. I'll still get the package. 

I'll also tell you the story of the accordion. Really, it is not an amazing story but to me it was a testimony that God loves me, knows me better than anyone else, and that everything is possible through Him. Nothing is beyond His power. Two weeks ago we had a week with no meetings. To be honest it reminded me of when I first arrived in Russia and Sister Bullough and I struggled to find people and to meet with members. So when the situation came again I tried to handle it without frustration. Well, one night I called the elders. A few weeks earlier during lunch at district meeting a few elders and I talked about accordion and how much we loved them. Our district leader was on a split so he was out in an outer city. He and his companion were at the train station and saw a market. Both of them bought accordions for about $100. Over the phone I was asking them all the details. Then as Sister Gish and I were saying nightly prayers Elder Knight called back. "Sister Daniel, you have an accordion." Shortly after they bought their accordion a lady came up to them and told them that she had an accordion that no one is using. She felt bad that they paid for an accordion when she had one at home collecting dust. Well, the elders got her number and she gave them the accordion. Viola! I was smiling the rest of the week and all day when the elders gave me the accordion. 

Well, it was a really good week! It was our last full week in the area so Sister Gish and I had a lot to do to prepare the area and the apartment. We met with most of our investigators and informed them that we would be leaving and preparing them for the new sisters. 

On Tuesday we had a meeting with the new Russia Moscow Mission. It was a great meeting and I received some ansers to my prayers. One speaker said something that pierced my heart. He was from the mission presidency and talked about his own mission. He begged us to stay outside the apartment as much as possible. He said that missionaries are at their best when they are among the people that they serve. This hit me not because I always stay inside but because it is so easy to waste time and linger in the apartment, especially around dinner time. It helped to refocus me and to set goals. I am glad that I am going to be training and I wouldn't mind training the rest of my mission because I feel the importance of setting a good standard for future missionaries and setting the bar high. 

We met with Zhun Zhun this week. It was a good lesson and the Lord has been giving me a lot of blessing. We started by telling her that we were leaving. She was not happy but what she said has stayed in my heart. "Sister, you changed my life." I know that it wasn't me but the Lord and I was sure to point that out to her. She changed as I helped her do the things that would strengthen her relationship with her Savior and Father, such as praying and reading the Book of Mormon. The Lord had allowed her to be an instrument to help her and that truly is a sweet feeling. One thing I have learned on my mission is that my mission is really only the beginning of my missionary service and connection with the people I meet here. 

The lesson was good. We talked about being cleansed from sin and how she can be cleaned. We chose this lesson because a few times during pervious lessons she talked about feeling and being dirty. We also talked with her about the blessing that come from baptism and what baptism could mean for her. A lot of misisonaries have taught her and she knows that she want her to be baptized and join the church. But I asked her if she knew why she needed to be baptized and the blessings. She didn't know so we explained. She asked us to give her time. We asked her why. She said that she wants to get married (she has a boyfriend and have talked about marriage with him) and she wants to join the church with him. His heart has softened a lot and she talks to him about the church and now he tells her to go to church. 

We didn't have a baptism this week. Last week we gave Anya a baptismal date for August. 

Yesterday was a miracle to me. It was my last Sunday at church so I bore my final testimony. But to me the miracle was all the people who thanked me for my service. After Relief Society a few sisters came up to me and thanked me and gave me hugs. It warmed my heart and I felt like my service did touch members and I did feel appreciated. I did serve in Sokolniki for nine months, half of my mission. It was my refiners fire. I had some of my highest highs and my lowest lows. Of course the most important person to please is my Heavenly Father but I wanted the members to be please with my service. The sincere appreciation I felt warmed my heat and when I reflect on my last Sunday my eyes still get a little teary. After church I was all smiles and gratitude.

This week I have just gained a stronger testimony of prayer. We have had a lessons during the week and the key to their concerns is prayer. Or rather prayer would solve their concerns. We met with one lady who is a member but has lots of other beliefs that she gets from random books. She believes the Book of Mormon is true but does not believe in the Plan of Salvation. (Sidenote: Russians are really good at opening the scriptures to a random page, reading the first verse they see, and finding answers). She kept telling us her beliefs that the church doesn't share. We asked her to read the Book of Mormon, all the way through, and to pray about the Plan of Salvation. We testified that if she prayed God would tell her.

In another lesson the lady was disgusted by organized religion. She knows religious history very well and has not liked what she has read. She stated that if someone was to ask her to which religion she belonged to she would not choose Christianity or Islam. I told her how I chose my religion and that I know the church is true through prayer. At one point she asked "Did God come and personally tell you." I responded that I did not see God's face but He did come to me through the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, her husband walked in at the moment we got down on our knees to pray with her. I have a firm testimony that God hears and answers our prayers. If we want to know truth, especially eternal truths, Heavenly Father will tell us, if we are humble enough to ask Him. And we can trust His answers. He will not lead us astray or lie and we can trust Him with all our hearts.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Absolutely Crazy

That leads me into the most exciting news of the week (besides setting a baptismal date over the phone last night)! Moscow and Moscow West have now combined to a greater Moscow Russia Mission. Because our mission has now doubled in size and lots of people are due for a transfer President has started to tell us about transfers earlier. On Friday President called Sister Gish and I in for an interview. When I sat down President told me the news, "Well, Sister Daniel we are going to ask you to be a trainer again. And if that isn't a challenge enough we would like you to shot gun the city of Ryazan." For thsoe unfamiliar with missionary termonology to shotgun means that for you and your companion you are both going to a new area together. In our new district only one elder has served in Ryazan. I had a feeling I would be going to former Moscow West territory but when I joked with my district leader a few weeks ago I said I hoped President wouldn't ask me to shotgun AND train at the same time. But I know it was the right decision because I felt peace and fear didn't take over. I just try not to think of all the crazy implications and all the practical details. I am excited and I feel that the Lord keeps wanting to challenge and push me almost to my limits. I'm sure crazy adventures will follow and I really know I have to rely on the Lord. I am going to need a lot of prayers because this will be like when I first came to Russia except this time I know slightly more Russian.

My next question to President was about how I would get to my new area. His response: "Honestly, I don't know. But we will let you know before the day of transfers." My poor new companion. I joked with Sister Gish that my first words would be, "Hi, I'm your trainer. I hope you are brave because I have no idea how we will get to our area or even find our apartment." Ryazan is about 2 1/2 hours southeast of Moscow by train. 

This transfer brings lot of crazy surprises. I figured I would be training some time before I returned home. Next transfer 8 sisters are coming and 4 sisters the following transfer. I know of 3 other sisters that are shotgunning and training at the same time. One will be shotgunning Sokolniki. Next transfer Sister Gish will be going to one of my former companions, Sister Workman. Also President and I talked about my release date and decided on November 15 so I fly home November 16. There is a good chance that Ryazan will be my last area with 3 transfers left. 

That has been some of the most exciting news for the week. We did have more meetings this week compared to last week with members and recent converts. For most of the week we could not get in touch with any of our investigators. So we did lots of contacting and I did something that always terrifies me: calling potential investigators sheets. These are sheets filled with random phone numbers former missionaries have received. Most of the people didn't pick up or were not too interested in meeting with us. But it was a scary thing and the Lord blessed us because we finially got a hold of Zhun Zhun, who had been out of Moscow during the week. 

We were also not able to get ahold of Anya, another investigator. Sister Gish tried calling her all week. Then we showed up to Church on Sunday and there she was! During Sacrament meeting she kept asking us if we had chosen her baptismal date. We told her we would talk after the meeting but then she quickly left. We tried calling her cell but it was off that night. Then I remembered her mother had given us her home number! We called and talked to Anya. In the course of the conversation we gave her a baptismal date which she agreed to. 

In other exciting news I am now in possession of an accordion and surprisingly it fits in my suitcase. All in all it was an exciting week and this week will be a busy week. The next week and a half Sister Gish and I have a lot to do in preparation for both of our departures. 

In terms of study I am now through Numbers in the Bible and almost through 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon. I just want everyone to know how much I love the scriptures. Whenever I get scared thinking about next transfer I read my scriptures and find the comfort I need and remember Nephi's words in 1 Nephi 3:7. It is a strange and good feeling to know and feel that the Lord has prepared me for what is ahead.