Monday, August 27, 2012

Photos included

So where to start with this week! It turned out to be a good week! We even got our first member present lessons since we have come to Ryazan! We also have a member referral that turned into an investigator! There are still plenty of hard times but I am trying my best to stay happy and optimistic and focused. Thankfully the focus part is not too hard because I just like to pretend that I am always going to be here in Russia so I don't have to think about decisions to be made after the mission. But I did set new goals to help me focus even more.

We met with Alexander and it was perhaps our best lesson with him yet. He asked us about the Holy Ghost and the lesson was great. Alexander has a habit of processing information and when we explain something he will always respond with, "Let me see if I understand you correctly..." and then typically what he says is something crazy and makes no sense. But during this lesson he actually understood! And he was not as argumentative. A great moment came at the end when he asked why we thought the Book of Mormon is so great and why we thought it could answer all of his questions. I beared my testimony and I was determined not to let him interrupt my testimony and I felt the Spirit strongly. I know he felt something because his response was, "No objections." Alexander has also starting giving us nicknames. Appartently Sister Hawkins is destined to either be a movie star or go into politics because her nickname is "Hollywood" or "Ms. Vice President." Alexander calls me "Doctor Freud" because he always thinks I am psychoanalyzing him. 

English club on Friday was hilarious. We are trying to grow our English club but sometimes it is really nice when there are less people so that we can talk more and get less stressed out making sure everyone has a good experience. There were only two people: Sasha (our Muslim Uzbeck friend) and a new lady Ira. We decided to talk about holidays and traditions. We talked about both American and Russian, Christian and Muslim holidays. We all learned a lot. The funniest part came when we talked about Christmas. We said the word and then Sasha looked at it and then said, "Last Christmas I gave you my heart." Sister Hawkins and I about died from laughter. He didn't know what Christmas was before we told him but he knew the words to the Wham song. It got better when as we were walking home Sasha walked with us and told us about music that he liked. He said that he liked a few American bands and asked if we knew them. He told us his favorite band, "Beck-" and we thought he was talking about the band Beck but then he continued, "-street Boys." And then he proceeded to play his favorite song, "Show me the meaning of being lonely." Like Sarah mentioned in an email last year, the 90s are still alive in Russia.

As I mentioned earlier we have a new investigator. I am really excited to work with her. Her name is Angela and she is the girlfriend of a member in the ward. She lives in a very small town outside of Ryazan and miraculously we managed to find her apartment. The town is so small that there are no real street names. The buildings only have numbers. I say that we miraculously found Angela's apartment because it was only with Heavenly Father's help that timing all worked out and their were people to help us. In Angela's town there is really no cell phone reception so although we had her number we could not get in touch with her. We got to the bus stop early but to go outside of Ryazan we had to find another small bus stop. I didn't know what her town was called and Angela didn't know her bus number. All that we knew was that a bus was heading out to her at 11:30. We wandered around and tried asking people where this small bus stop was located. Not a lot of people knew but finally a lady told us where it was. The time was about 11:28. We ran to the bus stop and made it onto the bus. As soon as we got in the doors closed behind us and we were off. Except we had no idea where to get off and we could not get a hold of Angela still. The plan was once we got on the bus we needed to call Angela so she knew we were coming and then she would meet us at the bus stop. Well, without getting in touch with her we rode the bus to the last stop and hoped that building 18 was the right building 18 in the right town. Well, miraculously it was her town and her building! Success! 

We had a good meeting with her. We talked about the Book of Mormon and she is excited to read it. She already reads the Bible and has her favorite scriptures written down and close by. Angela is an orphan and she told us about her story. Although she does have an aunt and uncle she grew up in an orphanage and moved out when she was 17. She believed in God but then she had a hard time and was angry at Him. Eventually, she realized that God existed and she was the one being rebellious and worked to change her life. She has come to church twice and loves it and she was the one who brought up baptism. We helped her prepare some lunch as we were talked to told us that she likes coffee. "But," she said, "After I am baptized I know I can't drink it anymore." Now that we know how to go to her we will go out there every week and meet with her. 

It really was a good week. We got to meet with some less actives member and are working to know the active members better. Every week we have a dinner at the Ottley's (our senior couple) with someone from the ward and it has been a great opportunity to know members outside of the church building. The weather has also been turning colder. Tuesday is particular was very cold and the wind made it even worse. I joked with a few Russians about where the summer went and they responded, "The summer is now over." It has definitely been chillier but Tuesday was the worst. We went contacting and occasionally we had to run to the nearby mall and have a warm up break. Also this week we got a new water filter! The water is Russia is not very good and every apartment should have a water filter. We did have one but it didn't work so for the last 7 weeks we had to buy filtered water from the store and carry jugs home every week. Well, our wonderful elders brought us a new system this week and we got it all set up last night. As Sister Hawkins said this morning, "We are queens. We have a water filter, a mircowave, a new pan, and an electric tea pot. What next? A waterbed?" 

Life is going pretty good. Every day there is so sort of new struggle, whether it is a struggle with the language, contacting, finding new people, or with the branch. But life overall is good and one thing I have learned about myself is that I can't not do anything. Even when it appears tempting to stop trying I learn that there is something a little bit more that I can do. In addition I know that I can always be happy no matter what is going on around me.

Enjoy the pictures! They are from last Preparation Day when we went out to Konstantinovo where Sergei Yesyenin was born (a famous Russian poet). It was so beautiful and no wonder he wrote poetry. The last photo is from today. We had to buy tickets for our bus to Moscow today (the office elders messed up and my visa trip is tomorrow so we have to go out tonight). We walked back from the Bus Station and that was a come stretch of the road. It was slightly terrifying but we survived

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oh the fun of technology

This will be an interesting email as I am typing from an iPad which belongs to out senior couple. I'm not sure how long this will be as it is very interesting to write on. Today we are taking a trip and going to see a city outside of Ryazan and so we are getting our emailing done.

In response to our email regarding my package don't worry about sending a lot of stuff. Remember when I get home I will have almost no clothes so the stuff that you mentioned is enough. I am good on dress socks and a pair of black tights and beige tights should suffice. I believe the size I need is either a small or a medium. I'm not sure because since the start of my mission I have lost weight and I don't remember the American dimensions. But thank you for all that you are doing and for all of your kindness. I'm sure my companions will gladly appreciate it.

Well this week was a good week. We saw a lot of miracles and found out more about our investigators who disappeared. I know numbers aren't everything but I am proud to report that this was our best week number wise. We found out what happened to our investigators Olga and Alexander! While contacting on Tuesday I was standing on Victory Sqaure when Olga and her husband walk up to me. She explained that they had been on vacation and just recently returned. My suspicions were correct, Russians have a tendancy during the summer to disappear and cause us to freak out because they don't tell us these things. However, this week she has still not been answering her phone but at least we have a better idea what happened to her.

Then on Saturday we ran into Alexander. That story is a miracle and just a lot of little things added up for us to meet him. Friday night we tried calling everyone we knew to get a lesson. None of our investigators, contacts, or less active members could meet or they did not pick up the phone. Then we tried to figure out a good activity as we contacted and decided to drop by our relief society president's home and give her something she had asked for earlier in the week. Before we could leave we had to drop something off at the branch building and then we had two options of bus stops. I randomly chose one and as we got there Alexander was standing there. Sadly, he had not been vacation and when we approached him he had the guiltiest look on his face and we knew he was avoiding us. We had been calling for the past few weeks and we had been pretty worried. It was a little heart breaking to hear him say that he had seen us around town a few times but had hid. But we did have a meeting with him yesterday afternoon and we are trying so hard to convince him to pray. He asks many of the questions of the soul but when we try to help him find the answers he won't accept it because the answer is so simple: pray and read the Book of Mormon. He wants worldly and scientific knowledge. Sometimes I want to tear my hair out but we were very bold with him and told him that he needed to pray before we meet again. We told him that he can find his answers but he needs to do his part and that it all depends on him. 

This week we also had our culture night. Because of the summer time and the fact that we are not in Moscow most of the theaters were closed in Ryazan. So we were creative and went to a monastery outside of Ryazan and walked around the small town. It was a fun trip and mostly we walked around and talked. Because time is a little shorter today I will not be able to send photos but I will next week.

The best part of the week is that this week we might have a new investigator! A member, Vitali, has started bringing his younger girlfriend to church. This was the second time she has come to church and she liked it. We got her number this week and she said that she would like to meet. Actually when I was on the phone with her last night she mentioned that she wants to come to church every week and be baptized. Sister Hawkins and I love her so much and so we are both excited to start meeting with her. 

In other happier news the weather is starting to get cooler and already I am pulling out my sweaters. It has also been raining a lot more. Summer was good but I am excited for Fall because more people will return. We also have some exciting work ahead. There is a slight mystery in our branch concerning members that are not on the ward list. Yesterday while looking through former investigators I found a few sheets of paper from 2004. Sisters had written done who they met with, including less actives. A few names I did not recognize and as I looked at the ward list I saw that they were not there! Thankfully there was a number and address so we are going to see if we can find more information about them. Working with the branch and helping them is coming slowly but it is coming.

Another bit of news is that next week don't be concerned if I don't write next Monday. Next Preparation Day I have my visa trip to Riga and with flights and travelling back and forth between Moscow I don't know when I will be writing. But be sure that I will write next week, I just won't know when. 

Well, I love you and sadly I need to get going. Thank you for all of your prayers. I need them. As I wrote to a friend last week I am determined to endure to end and keep working to the very end. It won't be easy and there are plenty of hurdles ahead but the Lord is going to test me on that resolve and I am working harder than before. I know that this is the Lord's work and I am so grateful for the chance to participate and show my faith everyday.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Consider how great things the Lord has done for you

This past week put a few things in perspective. My trainer, Sister Bullough, went home. With her went Sister Thrall, my MTC companion, and Sister Pollishuk, a native sister that was in the MTC with me. It was weird to think that most of the people I have been serving with are going home. In two weeks I have my last visa trip and I will be the only sister traveling with 15 elders. Perhaps the mission office already contacted you but President Sorenson called this week to tell me that Church HQ approved my flight home on November 16. It also motivated me to set more concrete goals and not let anything get in the way.

This week was a better week. Although last week was hard and perhaps Sister Hawkins and I felt a little tense because of it we kept going. The nice thing about when everything starts to go downhill is that you have a lot of time to reflect and come up with new plans. Rather than bemoan it is better to think of it as a new start. We have made a lot of progress in our goals. I have now almost called all of the former investigators in our area book. Most of our investigators have disappeared on us or do progress but have a track record of figs. So we are trying our best to use all of our time wisely and find new investigators. We looked in the area book for investigators with addresses and then set off yesterday to try to track them down. Along the way we contacted. Yesterday was pretty successful! Although the only contact we received was for English club we talked to more people and we counted that at least 5 people were nice to us and didn't immediately turn us away. We also had more chances to testify as we contacted as well. Although we were a little awkward we did our best to approach every family we saw. We want to find a family and families are the hardest to contact because they are very protective and extra suspicious. But we did our best and we learned.

Wednesday night was a great night, thanks to Sasha. A bibliophile in Ryazan recently passed away and Sasha, our wonderful English clubber, had a connection with his sister. His sister didn't want to deal with the books and asked if he knew anyone that would be interested in books. Sasha took us over to this man's house and we had the opportunity to take whatever we would like. There were lots of fun children's book from the CCCP (USSR) and even a magazine from 1952. Apparently when Sasha went over with the elders first Sasha had a moment of realization. This man's life work was collecting books and while the elders and Sasha looked at the books Sasha said, "This man dedicated his life to collecting books. Now he is dead and his books are here." 

The only investigator we got a hold of to meet this week was Oksana. I met her on the street doing Book of Mormon contacting. She surprised me by saying that she already had a Book of Mormon and had read it. She agreed to meet and we had an interesting first lesson. We gave her some commitments and agreed to meet but then every time we tried to set up a meeting she would not show up. Well, we finally met again this week and she read from the Book of Mormon and prayed! We were so happy and she agreed to reading the Book of Mormon again and praying before she read. She said that she really liked the way that we prayed and liked using her own words. She a lot of interesting ideas but she is willing to learn. we just need to help her remember and show up to our meetings but at least we know she is reading and wants to learn.

Of course this week definitely had some funny moments. Most of them I don't think I can describe what made the moment so funny. For example there is a member of our church that loves to give us nicknames. It was funny yesterday when this member compared me and Sister Hawkins. He said that I looked holy, "like the Virgin Mary" while Sister Hawkins looks like "a Hollywood star". Or when the lesson in Relief Society turned into trying to get one of the single men in our branch married. Or my companion being afraid of cats and nearly dying when, as I was saying a prayer, a cat jumped on my lap. She was glad it happened to me because she said that she might have died of fright.

Spiritual thought: Right now I am in 1 Samuel and reading about the downfall of Saul. What struck me as being so sad what that Saul had so much potential. Although Saul had such great potential his downfall came in not being fully obedient or seeking the Lord. The longer he was king the more he let his bad traits overcome his good traits. He began to think more about himself and forgot who gave him his kingship. I found a lot of application this week when there arose temptations perhaps not to be exactly obedient and think I would make up for it by working extra hard. But I remembered 1 Samuel 15:22 "And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of the rams." I know that although it can be hard at times to be obedient  to the commandments or it is easy to justify our disobedience we can remember that we show our love through obedience. As we are obedient, even during the hard times, even during the times we may question God because of times that are happening in our lives, God will bless us and help us reach our potential. While Saul lets the strain of his duties enhance his negative callings we can take comfort from the example of Samuel who "is a signal example of faith, patience, integrity, and self-sacrifice through a long and trying career (Bible Dictionary)".