Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Russia=cold, crazy, and far.

Hi Family!

Today, Monday, is Pday - my first in the field. And I don't know where to start beyond that. So much has happened! First of all, I'm in Russia.. in case you didn't know : ) After I talked to Mom in Denver, we had a 10 hour flight to Frankfurt, which you know. I had been planning on sleeping the whole flight because it was a red-eye, but I was assigned a seat between two elders, so we talked for like 6 hours straight haha. The flight was packed, so I probably couldn't had slept even if I wanted to. NOTHING romantic Mom so don't get any ideas : ) All of my elders from the MTC are long gone (super sad) so it was nice to spend time getting to know some of the elders I will be serving with here in Ekat. Plus, we all had a lot of thoughts and concerns running through our minds, so it was good to talk about things. Anyways, so I tried to sleep in the airport during our 11 hour layover in Frankfurt, but that wasn't too successful if you can imagine. For our flight into Russia, we were all really excited to be with Russian people on the flight and try and speak with them. However, I ended up sitting all by myself in my row, so I slept all but maybe five minutes of the flight (it was about 5 hours). The whole travel to Russia was weird and I for the first time really felt the responsibility to be a representative of Jesus Christ. I was sad I didn't get to sit by a Russian and talk, but I'm learning to be patient...

So, we land in Russia and go through all the tight security, and for some reason, the Customs people starting pointing and yelling at me in Russia. All I understood was "Come" "Look" and "Do you have English books?" I figured they were wanting to look at all of my books in my bags so I opened up my bag and let them search it. Of all like 14 of us missionaries, of course I was the one to be stopped. Anyways, the AP's showed up at this point and talked to them in Russia. Turns out the security guy was curious about all these American missionaries and wanted to know more. So the AP's got a refferal out of him haha. Glad I could facilitate that I guess. Anyways, that is how the mission president frst saw me. The AP's seem really really awesome, and I was so glad to see them at the time. I also met my Mission Pres at the airport. President Alcott seems like a really good guy, both he and his wife. He is very focused on the mission being obedient, and I can tell that that is his "thing." He calls our mission a White Handbook mission and although he is nice, he is not real warm fuzzy, lovey dovey. He is task-oriented and not a big motivator. That's good though. I like that. I can see how our mission would need that kind of leadership. There is a lot of work to do here.

We drive into Ekat next and it honsetly reminded me of Juarez, yikes! It is definitely a couple of steps up from that, but with all the snow, the city looked really dirty and people drive really crazy like in Juarez. All of us were just in a daze looking at all the Russian sigs, etc. I wouldn't have any idea of how to get around this place if I didn't have my trainer or someone with me. Anyways, I'm giving too much detail... SO, the mission home is REALLY nice. You wouldn't tell from the outside, but you walk in and I felt like I was in America again. That is where the pictures were taken of us. It's two floors and really nicely kept. We had an hour to ourselves, to shower or sleep, and then the AP's were making us a Russian breakfast. I was surprised they actually let us rest a lot the first day. I've heard horror stories about people not being allowed to sleep, and since our mission pres seemed strict, I was slightly surprised but really grateful. I slept before breakfast and for maybe three hours that afternoon, and then they let us go to bed at 8:30 that night instead of 10:30. I woke up feeling rested the next day. We did training and orientation those first two days. It was SO nice because all of the trainers were there with us, so we got to ease into getting to know each other a little bit. We stayed at the mission home til 3 the next afternoon and then I was sent to: Chelyabinsk! My first area. My companion is Sister Zaxarova. She is native Russian and really sweet, but very Russian at the same time : )

I've been in "Chili" (that's what they call it) for a little over three days now, and to be honest, I've had a little hard of a time adjusting to everything. I'm trying really hard to be strong, but everything is so foreign to me. On that note, my companion is an obedient missionary, for the most part, but she only has three transfers left in her mission and seems a little less focused on doing the work. That is really hard for me. I still feel like I haven't done any missionary work yet since I have been in Russia. When I got here, I wanted to talk to EVERYONE. To say hi, give a pass along card, or something, but my companion doen't like contacting or tracting. She feels like it is ineffective. In fact, we don't have any new investigators to teach right now, and that doesn't seem to bother her too much. She is really good with the members. They love her. She likes focusing on less-actives, and getting them to come to Church, so most of the appointments she makes are with people alrady in the Gospel. I have gone to two of those appointments. Basically, we go hang out for a while and share a little message. At least that is what I think, it's all in Russian so I don't get most of it. I don't feel like we bring the Spirit a whole lot or anything, but maybe I'm just oblivious. She tells me to be patient, becasue I have only been here three days and we need time to buy my things, have Pday, and go to Church on Sunday, etc. But, I hope I don't have to wait to long to feel like a missionary. I actually decided within myself that if she isn't going to talk to people, I will. That is hard, cuz I don't know how to converse with anyone, but this morning I gave someone my first pass-along card. (I'm going to send this much of my letter now in case I lose any info. The computers are unreliable. I'll send the second half right now.)

Russia=cold, crazy, and foreign; Part II

My companion has a skin problem, so she has to go to a tanning bed once a week to treat it I guess? Anyways, I determined beforehand that I WILL talk and give something to the people at the tanning salon, whoever they may be. So I did! I tried to speak in Russian, but it didn't really work, so I just handed the lady thecard and said this is for you, and then I left becasue my comp was looking at me weird. Anyways, I've realized that I just have to do things for myself sometimes and take charge. I will probably learn al ot of that on my mission. That is really hard for me to do, but I think that is what I meant to learn from all of this. She is my trainer though, so I feel like I'm tip-toeing around doing anything that would make her feel bad. She is promising me though that we will get busy with appoiontments and we will work hard together, so I'm just praying that will be the case. I really do like her, and I am optimistic this will all work out. Maybe I just need to be patient like she says another day.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can give you some idea of what life is like here. We ride busses everywhere. We rode a bus from Ekat to Chili, and it was interesting. The driver wouldn't let us on for some reason, and so my comp had to argue with him to let us on. I wanted to laugh but she says smiling doesn't help anything here. Nobody smiles at eachother on the streets or says hi. That also makes it difficul to to contact. On the ride from Ekat to Chili, we stopped at a little rest station and I got out to go to the bathroom with my comp. This was when reality hit. Up until this time, I had been mostly in the mission home and speaking english, etc. Anyways, the bathroom was like a little wooden barn that was falling apart. There was no difference for men and women. There was no lighting, but a little old lady, or babooshka, was keeping a fire in a whole in the side of the wall going. When I saw this my stomach just left me cus it smelled really bad too. Anyways, I go into the "stall" and there is nothing but a whole in the ground, abucket of water and a trash can. Yes, it was a "bucket-o-geeds" as Kimball and Mees like to call it. I laughed to myself and realized that joke wasn't so funny anymore when that is all you have to use. So, I figured out how to flush with the bucket and all was well. Haha. Good thing little things like that don't bother me too too much, though it will take some time getting used to it. I am told my apratment is nice, and I suppose it is. It's not too bad, but really, I've only just realized how plush my life was in the U.S. Everything is very basic. I live in one of those apartments or "Dom's". Josh can explain more about those. Pretty much everyone here lives in the same house/apartment. There are alot of these apratment buildings about ten stories high. They seem really small to me, especially when I visit the members and realize their whole family of maybe three kids and two parents live in these two bedroom apartments. Kind of sad, but to them it is normal. Be grateful! That's all I have to say haha : )

Anyways, I hope I don't sound like I'm whining or complaining or anything. Maybe I shouldn't be so honest. But really,I was expecting it to be this foreign and hard. I like that quote by Holland, Mom, and in fact he said that same thing when he came to talk to us at the MTC. The Savior sacrificed his life, his entire life, so all people have the opportunity to be resurrected and redeemed through the Atonement. His job was not easy. I know that finding people to teach in Russia will not be easy either becasue "salvation is not a cheap expereince." It just isn't. But would we want it to be? I know I appreciate everything a lot more now that I'm starting to recognize how blessed I really am. Being a missionary is hard, but that's ok. I know it will be rewarding down the road when I can get to know the people a little better. One of the sisters said when we were at the Mission home, that she wouldn't be on a mission if she was doing all of this for herself. It's too hard that nobody in their right mind would ever do it for just themselves. I'm glad she said that becasue it is the same with me too.

Anyways, for matters of business:
Mail is exactly as you described it Mom. You can send pouch, not pouch, or packages, but either way it will take a while to get to me. You can still DearElder, but I won't get those as well until someone from the Office comes out to my area. The best bet is email. I know I can receive emails weekly for sure. Someone from my area will probably be in the office again in six weeks for transfers, Dec. 16 to be exact (I think). So, if you do send something via post, I will get it then. What else... Oh, I should probably mention that I am doing ok. I broke down a little yesterday at Church becasue I didn't understand anyone and felt useless, but a little crying is good for me : ) It will only make me grow. Thanks for all of your emails and letters of support. It's good to know that I have two parents and four brothers that have gone through this too. I miss my MTC comps, and I tried to send this letter to them too, I hope they got it (HI!!). I see light at the end of the tunnel and I know that everything will work out. Really, I know that! No worries! Oh yeah, you asked how the Russian was. Well, I don't understand much at all, but everyone says that is normal. I am studying it like crazy though because I really want to understand it as quickly as possible. Patience is the key word right now.
Love you all so much. I'll probably look at this email in a week and will have forgotten how crazy everything seemed to me right now. Things are already getting better. The Church is true. I am in the Lords hands. And I feel your prayers of strength every day. If you have any advice on how to deal with my trainer, like how to encourage her to contact, etc. let me know. I've been praying for helkp and really do feel like I have been given guidance from the Lord already. Love you Love you Love you. Say hi to everyone for me! And, tell them I am doing well. I can't wait to read your emails next week : )


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Super Excited Birdie!

Hello Family!

This is my last letter I'll be sending you from the MTC! Actually, I might find time next Tues. morning to write, just before I head out. I leave Tues. (10th) morning at 10 AM. We fly out of SLC at 1;30 ish and arrive in Denver at about 3. We fly out of Denver at 5:30 and fly all night to Frankfurt, Germany (woohoo!). We have a lay-over there ALL DAY and don't fly out that night until 11 PM. I wish we could leave the airport to do some sight-seeing, but that's not allowed. But I've never been to Europe before, so that's cool... I guess I'll be there/Asia for the next 15 months though haha... Anyways, we fly straight to Yekat from Frankfurt, and arrive at Yekat at 6:55 AM. Haha, just in time to start a full day of work! Actually, from what I've heard, most of the time you get on a train/bus for about another 8 hours or so if you're in a different area than Yekat. So, that's two red eye flights if you were wondering and two, maybe three full days of travel. I'm super super super excited though to get this thing started. I'd say FINALLY but time really has gone fast, so I don't feel like I've been waiting forever here at the MTC.

I'm going to need to withdraw more cash from my account. Is that ok Dad? I don't even know how much $ I have, if anything. For every pound you have over 105, it's 15 dollars including your carry-ons. The international flights are really picky about weight and bags sizes so I'm doing my best to not have ANY excess weight charges, but everyone is telling us to plan for the worst. Almost every missionary we've talked to said they had to pay some sort of ridiculous fine. I hope I can get my violin through too... From what I've heard, I can call you guys on the phone from the airport. So, I think I'll make a quick call from the Denver airport, so probably around 4 PM on Tues if that's ok. I won't have a lot of time, but maybe just a quick hello. Should I call mom's phone? Let me know. Oh, and if I have things I don't finding room for in my bags, I'll leave them here at the MTC and Meesa can come pick them up after I leave. You're allowed to do that if I just leave them her phone number. It's 635-6727 right? If that's ok. It won't be much and I figured she can take it home at Thanksgiving. Let me know. I don't know my address yet in the field, so I'll let you know when I get there. I'm not sure we have the Pouch service there either : (

Anyways, enough business. I needed to get all of those things off my chest before I could write anything else though.Sounds like the funeral was really touching. I thought of their family alot all week. They are just so loved. Really, the news about Aunt Cathy really motivated me to share the Gospel with other people. It's real, ya know? We really will live together forever and we can know that through Jesus Christ. So sad not everyone knows that. It made everything I teach a little more personal, and it made me thankful for everything a little more. Dad, wow you're in the St. Pres.! Super cool. I know everyone back home really looks up to you and Mom in Las Cruces, thanks for all you do. I'm so sad you're not my Bishop anymore though... I know the Singles Ward is REALLY going to miss you.

I feel super ready to go! We had a really good Fast and Testimony mtg on sunfay with our Branch, and it's so coll to be a missionary. Haha I know I sound really dorky, but it's true. Such an amazing opportunity. Don't worry about me, Russia ain't no big deal! Haha... gott run. Will try and write some hand-written letters today still. Love you all tons and enjoy the Holiday season for me while I'm gone! All the kids look super cute in their halloween costumes!