Monday, October 29, 2012

Walking in a winter wonderland

Life is funny. As you may have guessed from the title it snowed this week on Friday... and until this afternoon it did not stop. It was funny because I remembered my last interview with President, after we cleared up that I had one more transfer left, he said, "Well, maybe you'll get to see some snow before you go home." I responded, "I hope not. I really don't want to buy another pair of boots." Well, Heavenly Father has a sense of humor because we are probably the first city to have snow in our mission. But all is well. I'm enjoying the snow, especially because I know I won't have to deal with it for the next 5 months. Even some of the members were surprised that it snowed so early. They said it had been a while since they had seen it snow this much in October. 

Anyways! This week was a good one. We did a lot of service and went around to different English groups in Yaroslavl. Also we went up on Wednesday to Rybinsk, a city about 2 hours from Yaroslavl. A pair of elders in our district live and work up there. It is a new area and was only opened about a month and a half ago. A few great members live there. Well, we went up, spent two hours contacting, and then had our district meeting. I was really excited to go contacting. Lately we have not been putting in as many contacting hours as we should so I was so excited. It was pretty chilly but despite complaints of how cold it was we pressed on and we talked to a few people and hopefully we have some more potential for the elders. Overall it was a really great trip and I came away very happy.

ON Friday we had our branch Halloween party! At first we were all a little worried because for the first 45 minutes only people from English Club, the missionaries, and the members who planned the party was there. But slowly other members trickled in and then our two families came. It was a success! And it was hilarious to see Russians doing the limbo. Some people could go really low. We were put in charge of all the games and thankfully they all enjoyed them. We played limbo, musical chairs, had a three-legged race, and had to find a candy in a whipped cream pie. I participated in the pie eating contest. I had my face painted as a lion which got ruined but I think they enjoyed seeing a sister willing to bury her face in a whipped cream pie. Overall it was great and so many people came.

There were some great experiences this week. There is a member who got upset at the sisters a while back. We have been trying to fix that and just be nice to her. I called her earlier this week and asked if we could come over. She refused us and told us that she was busy all week. It would be easy to say, "Well, at least we tried!" It was her birthday this week and although she had given us the cold shoulder we decided to do something nice for her. We dropped by on her birthday and gave her a card, chocolate, and a purple flower. She didn't expect it and I think she was happy. Yesterday at church she said hello to us and gave me a hug and she initiated it. 

We also tried to find Larisa. I have only met with her once and then she disappeared. Her work went out of business and she has not answered our calls. It has been very sad but we saw a lot of miracles in trying to find her. We didn't have her address and we prayed that we would find some way to find her. We talked to a former sister and she gave us a lead on where we might find her address. Well we found it! Sadly, when we dropped by no one was home and the person who answered couldn't give us any information. Although we still have not found her, it did not diminish the fact that it was a miracle that we even found her address. The Lord helped us to be after to do all we could to help her.

I have definitely seen so many miracles and answers to my prayers. Yesterday was a great example. I fasted for help in finding new investigators because that is really what we need (it's what all missionaries need). Yesterday in district meeting the training was about finding new investigators. It was not anything new but it reminded me of what I needed to be doing. I remembered so many instances where I talked to someone and it was a great experience. Also, I have received so much knowledge as I have read the scriptures.One thing I have learned to appreciate, or rather a trait I want to emulate is the phrase "easy to be entreated". So often in life things don't happen how you want them to be or how you planned. But what is our attitude when we are faced with a difficult or expected situation. Do I complain or do I press forward with a smile. Do I have to be forced to do what I know needs to be done?These are a lot of questions I have been asking myself as I think about this phrase. Easy to be entreated is really honestly being able to say, " not my will but thy will be done".

This week we have a zone conference in Moscow and I will have my last interview with President before the final exit interview. I'll include the details about those last few days when I find them out. I am continuing to work hard and trying to do my best. I love you all and pray for you. Please continue to pray for the Russian people. 

Sister Daniel

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ups and downs

When I look back on this week I definitely see plenty of ups and downs. Yaroslavl has a lot of potential and especially since this is my last transfer I am trying to do the best I can and use my time effectively. I got a blessing from the elders this week and afterwards I felt very empowered. I received some counsel and in accordance with the President's advice to start laying up in store for the winter months I have been setting some goals. Right now all of our investigators are either not progressing or dropping us. I feel that these are the moments where the Lord is testing us to see how we will use our time and what our focus will be. I'll admit that this week our focus was not in the right place but I repented and decided what I was going to do to change things. Also the Lord is giving us plenty of time to improve. This week looks like we might have quite a bit of contacting. Contacting is still a challenge and hard for me but I am excited to have the opportunity to do something hard for me.  I'm excited because I think there are so many blessing awaiting us this week.

In happier news I am glad to report that I did get to go to Ryazan for Angela's baptism. It was great and I was so happy to see her. Despite a few rough spots (the sauna's pool being cold and a lot deeper than anyone could guess) she was baptized and she looked great! I was glad that President allowed me to travel down to be there. It was a good trip, if not a long one. We travelled all day Friday and most of Saturday. We got on a 4 hour train to Moscow at 7am and then we had a 4 hour bus ride from Moscow to Ryazan. We got to Ryazan half way through English club. Some of the people there were happy to see me and it was great to see that I was missed and that the sisters there are doing well.

We did have a miracle coming back from the baptism. We had to leave pretty quickly afterwards to get back to Moscow in order to catch our train back to Yaroslavl. Our train was scheduled to leave at 8:20pm. We could not afford to miss it. We got a bus leaving from Ryazan at 3:15, however the bus was late and we left 30 minutes late. Thankfully, for most of the bus ride we avoided traffic... until 6:30 when we were only 6 kilometers from the metro. There was construction and it took us 1 hour to go 4 kilometers. My companion got motion sickness and got sick several times, especially with the stop-and-go traffic. When we first hit traffic I prayed and asked the Lord's help to help us get to the train station on time. I really did not want to miss our train. Rather than feel despair as we still sat in traffic I kept looking at the minutes ticking by and thinking, "Yes, we can still make it." We arrived at 7:35 in Moscow and booked it to the train station across Moscow. And when I say booked it, I mean we ran to the metro, ran through the metro, ran to the train, and we made it! And with 5 minutes to spare. It was most definitely a miracle.

Yesterday was an interesting day. The elders have a 7th Day Adventist contact who invited them to a meeting. The elders invited us to come along with them because the man had described it in such a way that it would be beneficial to come. Well, none of us expected what happened. The meeting we were invited to turned out to be the celebration of 21 years of their church in Russia. It was also more than just a meeting, it was a Christian rock concert. If nothing else it made us what to work harder not because we felt competitive but because we saw all the people, all the young children, and all the families. We were respectful and did not proselyte, of course, but it made us want to help our branch grow and made us want to find more families. And overall we met some really nice people who love Christ and had some great gospel discussions. 

Overall I am doing great. I'm trying to keep working hard. I set some challenging goals and already I am seeing some blessings. This week I started a conversation with a girl on the bus, something that has always been hard for me. Another example: I am trying to be "on call" at all times and whenever we walk places I am trying to make the most of our time. This morning as we walked I passed out English Club fliers. As I did so to my surprise I heard English! I stared at the two girls walking by us on the crosswalk. Once we crossed I asked them, "Where are you from?" They were from England and glad to meet other foreigners living in Yaroslavl. 

The Lord is in the details of our lives. Thank you for all of your emails and letters. This week I received a dearelder from Sister Rasmussen :). Thank you for all of your advice and your prayers. If nothing else the mission has allowed me to meet the most wonderful people and help me appreciate the wonderful people, family and friends, that I have. I am excited for the next life and to think that we all get to be together forever, not worrying about distances or time zones. What a glorious day that will be! I am reminded of one of my favorite scriptures from the Bible, Romans 8:16-18:

 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Remember that. We need to endure so that we can be glorified together and all that we go through now is not worthy to be compared with the wonderful blessing that we will receive. Have a great week! Hope the baby comes this week!
Sister Daniel

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time is flying by

It is hard to believe how fast time is flying by. It feels like just yesterday I was writing to you. One quote that I have learned to love and noticed the truth of is a quote by General Eisenhower: "In preparing for battle I have learned that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." I'm not sure if I quoted it word for word but that is the gist of it. One thing I have learned is that planning is very important and I am fine with changing plans but having a week without goals and plans I am not as effective. 

As I wrote last week I am continuing to learn my role here in Yaroslavl. Yes, death transfers are a challenge at times especially when you know how much time you have left in an area. First now the question is "Can I get done all that I need to in 5 weeks?" There is a lot of work ahead of us. It is also hard fighting the urge just to do a lot of things by myself, thinking, "It will be faster if I do it". Sometimes it would be easy to do things that I know how to do but more importantly I have learned that I need to teach my companion. The way I got good at a lot of different skills is because I worked hard and did it enough. Sometimes it requires a lot of patience. It has been interesting to evaluate our missionary work here and here and think that there is something that we need to be doing more and then I think, "That's why I am here." 

It was a good week including finishing General Conference, learning more about investigators, doing lots of service, and our elders had a baptism on Saturday. 

I'll start with the investigators. This week we met with Caroline and Larisa. Caroline is from Africa and is studying medicine here in Russia. On Monday no one besides her showed up to Family Home Evening so we decided to watch some of Conference with her. She loved it and found it very inspiring. Afterwards we meant to have a small lesson which turned into a longer lesson as she told us of some of her questions. At first we fell into the trap of simply trying to answer her questions. But as we tried to answer the question another question would come up. As we talked I was reminded of the quote in Preach My Gospel where eventually every man is backed up to the wall of faith and a lot of concerns come down to the simple question, "Was Joseph Smith really a prophet?" which is answered by another question, "Is the Book of Mormon true?" The more we talked the more I realized that that was what was wrong with all we were doing. It has been interesting to see that the gift of discernment is real. I have been feeling lately like I will sit in lessons and the thought will come to me of what is wrong or what is missing.

we also met with Larisa, a nice lady. She had a baptismal date but got sick right before the baptism and became scared. She works in a flower shop and we helped her a little before we started our lesson. She is really nice to us. We learned a lot about her that my companion, Sister O'Neal did not know. With her it all comes back to faith and trusting in the Lord. Right now she has a lot of trials and the solution is simple but challenging: do what the Lord asks and trust that He will fulfill his promises. One scripture that I shared with her is 3 Nephi 13:31-33. For the past 3 transfers I have found myself sharing this scripture in almost every lesson because I have applied it and it is true. Whenever I have put the Lord first everything else has fallen into place.

We met with quite a few members this week, which has been really nice. The members that I have met I have loved. We have some great youth who take a lot of responsibilities upon themselves. They are great and I admire them so much. I have especially come to love the church youth here in Russia because I see how they are the future and I want to do everything I can to help them.

Of course the one thing we need more than anything is new investigators. If you could, please remember us and the Russians in your prayers. Pray for us to find those who have been prepared. It is so easy to get distracted but we are trying to stay focused. 

In other random news it has been pretty cold this week, certainly colder than Ryazan. As we walked to the baptism a thermometer read 3 degrees celsius. I read it might snow this week here. The Volga river cuts through Yaroslavl and there have been a few mornings where it has been very foggy. There has also been a fair share of rain. I'm just hoping the snow can hold off for a few weeks. But Yaroslavl typically gets snow earlier than other cities so I assume I will see some snow fall before I go.

This next week will be a good and exciting week I think. One of my investigators from Ryazan, Angela, is getting baptized this weekend! I am so happy for her and from what I hear she can't wait. We made some good plans and are working to execute them and not become distracted from our purpose here. Thank you for all of your support and all of your prayers. My prayers are with you. 

Love, Sister Daniel

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hello from Yaroslavl

Sorry that the email did not go through. The computer told me that it did. Lately the system seems to be having some problems, especially when I want to send pictures. Speaking on the 18th would be great. I don't know how early I need to make an appointment but would you set a dentist appointment for maybe the Saturday I get back? Or sometime in the relative future. Also I received two of the three packages! Before my mission I told BYU that I would be back in January but I still need to make a trip there sometime and talk to advisors about major and whatnot. But as you said, we will have plenty of time to discuss these things. But a dentist and/or doctor checkup (or a massage =) would be great).

So the funny thing was that I heard the announcement about the mission age change live. So just think! I heard it exactly when you did! We were at the senior couple's apartment and got permission to watch it live with a recent convert and an investigator who did not end up coming. Actually it haven't been playing and the others were in the hallway so I was setting up the computer so I was the only one who heard it at first and no one initially believed me when I suddenly screamed it. I am reallly excited and I know for the international members this will be great and they might not have to sacrifice so much schooling. Also I think we will see a lot more sisters on missions. Remember my mini missionary? I immediately thought of her because she always said she didn't want to wait 2 more years to serve a mission. Well, here is her chance.

Since you didn't get my email last week you might be surprised to find out that I am in a different city, Yaroslavl. Surprise! Everyone was pretty surprised to find out that I was being transfered for my last transfer but after a few days here I can understand a little more why I am here. It has been fun to see how the Lord is using me and to see that the Lord wants me to share my experiences and to help others. Even to the end the Lord is putting me to work and giving me an interesting challenge.

Last week was a little crazy. We met with lots of people in Ryazan and had quite a few miracles. We met with Nina, who is so busy that we did not meet a lot with her when I was in Ryazan. But she was so sweet and brought little cakes and her brother, who is a member, came and he stayed for the lesson. We focused on the Book of Mormon, because although we cannot meet with her often we felt that if she will read the scriptures everyday she would be ready for baptism. She could progress without us. At the end of our lesson she said she would read everyday! There was no "I'll try" response and she agreed to let us call her every few days to check to see if she has been reading. I was so happy.

Then we met with Angela and had a great lesson about tithing. It was a bittersweet since I was leaving and Sister Hawkins and I first starting teaching her. But we had a good time and we talked about her baptism and she says she is ready and said she would be baptized in 2 weeks! I got a little teary eyed and was so happy for her. Although she has a lot of trials I know that the Gospel will bless her immensely and provide comfort during those dark times.

On Thursday we got to Moscow just fine and I met up with my new companion Sister O'Neal. She is from Payson, Utah and just finished her training. She came out the same time as Sister Hawkins. It is a weird dynamic since she will for sure stay in the area so I see my role as preparing her more fully. Our goals are to help her with Russian and help her become comfortable talking on the phone. She understands Russian fine but is struggling more with speaking or rather it is more confidence. I am actually very excited to be here and although I will not be here long I know that good things are going to happen.

We did see a lot of miracles getting to Yaroslavl. Sister O'Neal had her visa trip on Friday so we spent Thursday and mot of Friday in Moscow. It was a tender mercy because I was able to spend more time with Sister Horspool and Sister Workman, two of my favorite sisters, who went home on Friday. Did I ever mention that my big suitcase broke? Or rather the elders who helped me move to Ryazan broke two of the wheels. Well, my suitcase survived the trip to Yaroslavl thanks to President Makarov, the branch president from my very first area. As we headed to the train station we saw us and helped us. He bought us a cart that all the Russian babushki carry all their bags (we call them "bab carts") so we would roll my bag. Then he took us all the way to train station and helped us when we missed our train.

It has been very interesting to look at myself lately. As of late I have been taking time to think about the ways that I have grown. I have realized how many wonderful blessing the Lord has given me. I have seen traits in myself that I never realized were strengths. I remember at the very beginning of my mission I prayed a lot for a soft heart and for the gift of obedience. Only recently have I noticed that the Lord heard that prayer. Or course He answered my prayer in terms of mission standards and missionary rules because I have seen how inspiried they are rather than seeing them as restrictive. But more importantly the Lord has asked me to do a lot of things and whereas previously I might have gripped or complained I noticed a peace and a desire to do what He has asked. 

I have reflected on this attitude change as I have read 1 & 2 Nephi and noticed the difference between Nephi and Laman. We often forget that Laman and Lemeul did go. They followed their father, even through they weren't happy about it. They had to convinced and had to be calmed of their murmurings. They were exhorted and pleaded with and eventually they went. It wasn't like they were forced to come. Nephi told they they could go back but would face the same fate as those in Jersalem. They made it to the promised land but look at the long term effects. The difference between Nephi and his brothers comes down to faith and attitiude. Nephi had the faith to trust the Lord and as a result he made good things happen in his life. His example of a humble and submissive attitude is one I have been striving to cultivate. It isn't easy and it is hard for the pride but I can see the long term effects and I want to able to say to my Heavenly Father, "not my will, but thy will be done."

Sister Daniel

Monday, October 1, 2012

Preparing for the last move

If you haven't guessed from the title of the email I am moving to a new city this week for my very last transfer. The calls for transfers came this week and I am moving to Yaroslavl. I hear it is one of the prettiest cities in the mission. It is also the farthest city north in our mission and is typically is one of the first cities to get snow in our mission. I am pretty excited. It will be a little strange going into a city and knowing for sure when I am leaving. I just hope that although my time there will be short I can do lots of work and build a good relationship with the branch members. 

This week was a crazy week. Despite the wheelchair project, dinner with an investigator, being stuck in a small town outside of Ryazan with limited transport, translating for the branch and a trip to the woods to see a member, we did pretty well. We did a lot of traveling but our lessons went really well and we saw a lot of miracles. 

Thursday was a funny day. On Thursdays we go out to see Angela who is doing very well. She didn't feel good Sunday so she didn't come to church the week before. From Sunday to Wednesday we played a game of phone tag. But since we always go out to her on that day we went out to her. While we were standing on the bus the thought came into my mind: "What if Angela isn't home? What will we do?" As we walked to her apartment I shared my thought with Sister Hawkins and as we talked she told me that she had wondered the same thing. We got to the door of her apartment and no one was home. Whoops. We called her only to find out that she was actually in Ryazan! Thankfully, Sister Hawkins and I did not get frustrated. Instead we just laughed and tried to decide what to do for the next 2 hours as we waited for the next bus. We walked around, did our weekly planning, and talked to a few old ladies waiting for the same bus. 

For the past 3 months a member in our branch has been inviting us to come to her dacha. Either we were too busy or the weather did not cooperate with our plans. Well, the stars aligned and we went out to her. To get to her place is an adventure. She lives in a small village (meaning maybe 10-20 dachas) in the middle of the forest. We meet her at the bus stop and then we walked through the forest for 30 minutes to get to her home. She took us on a tour of the forest, fried us some zucchini from her garden, and then we had a lesson with her. Although the forest was a lot of fun the lesson was even better. The last time we met with her (about a month ago) we challenged her to read the Book of Mormon. She was skeptical because she had read it before but felt more of an affinity to the Doctrine and Covenants. (I don't know if this is a Russian thing but I have met a lot of people who love D&C but don't like the Book of Mormon). To prepare ourselves I made a chart for her to keep track of the chapters to help her. We arrived and she told us that she has been reading everyday for at least an hour! We were shocked and so happy. She has a lot of doubts but she is doing the rights things. She is reading the scriptures daily and praying. She has also been coming to church more and as she has she has seen some miracles. We left very happy.

Church yesterday was the highlight of the week. We had 27 people at sacrament meeting! Since it was my last Sunday I bore my testimony. As I stood up there and talked it was great to look out and see all of my favorite people at church. A few people who don't often come came. I'm glad I only bore my testimony and didn't give a talk because I said I would probably have cried my way through it. Church was great because I could really see the difference from when I first came and now. There are still a lot of things to fix but the branch is more united and starting to catch a vision of the future. I am excited for all that Sister Hawkins and her companion will see. Ryazan has a bright new future before it. We have been stressing to focus on the future, learn from the past but leave it behind, and adopting a "we can" attitude.

I have learned a lot from Ryazan and I will be grateful for my 3 months here. It hasn't been easy and I have had to work a lot and go outside of my comfort zone a lot more than I previously did. Every time I put myself out there and go outside of my comfort zone I have seen amazing blessings. More than that I have seen that miracles happen everyday. Often they are small to our understanding but that does not diminish the fact that it was a miracle. I am glad that I know our Heavenly Father lives and He sent His son, Jesus Christ to show us the way. I am thankful everyday that they see our potential and strengthen our weaknesses. Although I am weak and imperfect They can still use me to bring about their work here in Russia.

Until next week from Yaroslavl!
Sister Daniel