(Hello in the casual sense)
Greetings Family from Chelyabinsk, Russia! It's December already; I can't believe it. Time really has flown here. I feel like I have been here forever in some ways because my world has changed so much, but in another way I can't believe all those changes have happened in only a four week time span, crazy! I know I wrote last week and said that it honestly hasn't felt that cold yet, but I've been eating those words all week. Saturday and Sunday were when it definitely was cold. I had been feeling all week like it was just a little chillier than usual, then Saturday, it started snowing pretty good, and then the wind started blowing, and by the end of the day, I thought to myself, "This is more like it." Sunday was another extension of that, and I think it has consistently been around -7 or -11 since Saturday. Today (Monday), I finally learned my lesson, and put on those REI winter thermals we bought online (Mom), and it's amazing! I really don't feel cold on my body, just on the portion of my face that is exposed. It's definitely a new experience walking so bundled-up, but not bad. It's still not "cold" here yet, but I think I can handle another 10 or 15 degrees and still feel warm. In a wierd way, I kind of like the extremity of it all. I mean, if you're gonna come on a mission, you might as well freeze a little and have the real deal, right?
Saturday was a really cool night (literally and figuratively : ] ). Francisca emailed me last week and talked to me about how she wished someone would have visited her Dad when he was less-active, but no one ever came. Maybe if someone had, she said, things might have worked out differently for her family. Thanks so much for that story Francisca! It really helped put my mind and heart where it needed to be. Anyways, my companion and I went through our Area Book with this in mind and found two-less actives that agreed to meet with us. So, Saturday night we went and met with both of them. The first is a girl about 26 who has a baby, no husband. Her grandma was an member, and she and her two brothers were baptized, but none of them really ever went to Church. She remembers nothing about the Gospel, just the hymns that we used to sing. So, next time we visit, I'm going to bring my violin and play some hymns for her. We taught her the Plan of Salvation too, and it was like teaching a new investigator. She had no recollection of any of it. Her baby got fussy, and so we said we'd finish the lesson next time we came, but she insisted we finished everything because it was really interesting to her. We're meeting with her on Wed. We also met with a Babooshka who admitted she'd stopped coming to Church becasue of work on Sundays, but she wants to start coming again. She came this Sunday! We're meeting with her again this week too.
It is really cool to feel like you're doing the Lord's work. Like, if He were here, He would be doing the same sort of things. I've been trying to keep this in mind because, sometimes it feels like the work I'm doing is so small and simple compared to what I thought I would be doing as a missionary. But really, the Lord cares for every person, every lost sheep. So, I should care too. There is no visit too menial, and no act of kindness too small if it helps someone out. It's all about love. I don't feel like I really have caught the whole Spirit of this thing as much as I eventually want to, but for some reason, being in the cold and walking a long time in the snow made me feel better. Like, at least I was showing how much I care by sacrificing my warmth to go visit someone. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else... But it makes sense to me! I'm really trying to get in the spirit of it all, and what a better time than Christmas!
In Russia, people don't celebrate Christmas until January 7th. So, December 25th here isn't really a big deal to anyone except the members in the Branches here celebrate it a little. The big holiday here is New Year and New Years Eve. It's basically their Christmas because Jan. 7th isn't that big of a deal either. Anywyas, Dad (and Tasha), the whole of Russia celebrates the end of your Birthday! Haha... : ) Our Mission President said we're not allowed to be outside AT ALL on New Years becasue it's dangerous with all the drinking and partying. Last year they were shut in for three days. I'm not sure what the plan is for us this year. Anyways, I will be calling home on December 25th! I don't know what the family's schedule is, or who is going to Las Cruces for Christmas, but when would be a good time to call? Let me know next week (Mon), and then I can try and confirm it with you when I email, so it won't be like last time when I called from the airport : ) I'm 12 hours ahead here, and I'm not sure when I'll be free, but give me some times that would best work for the fam, and I'll see when I'll be available. We actually have our first transfer the week of Christmas, so I don't know where I'll be. If I stay in Chelyabinsk, then I'll be at the Mission home for Christmas, and if I don't stay in Chelyabinsk, then I'll be somewhere else obviously. So, either way I won't be in Chelyabinsk for Christmas.
So, I feel like I haven't asked any questions about the fam in a while, sorry! I feel like my I've had so much I wanted to say in my last couple of emails. Anyways, Dad! You're not Bishop anymore. I know you will be so missed. Is that weird getting adjusted? Who is the new Bishopric? That's sad news about Victoria, maybe someone could get me her email? You bought a 4 wheeler! Haha I'm kind of surprised, but not really : ) Way to be Mom! Does this one work and everything? Haha... Katie, Mom told me the story about the "poopie" morning you had with the kids. Oh so sorry! Haha. Thanks to all my sister-in-laws and Cami for being such great examples of Motherhood. Really, I can't thank you enough, and I wait to join you! : ) How is Dallas? Does it get cold there in the Winter? How is Doctor Joe? Cassi and Kelly, you guys when do you move exactly? Do you think Greycoat will be able to handle the trip? Haha I miss the coat! Miss you guys too, and thanks for doing the blog again : ) Chris and Francisca, the cupcakes look adorable! And you bought a new car, how fun! I can't believe you have three kids! I always seem to forget haha. I love your emails Francisca and am so glad you can relate to my experiences : ) Josh and Melissa, it looks like Troy is a very big baby! Those pictures of him after surgery were so cute, I hope he wasn't in too much pain. He's a Hakes/Kohler though, so he can handle it. Say hi to Hailey and Harmon for me! Cami and Marcus, I hear you got lots of snow! I can just picture the boys going crazy in it... Haha probably too crazy, right Cami? : ) I also hear Cora is the cutest, fattest listtle girl. Why are all Hakes girls fat babies? Take care of yourselves in Cbad : ) Kimball, I'll think about the Russian girl prospect for you haha... Not a bad idea really if they spoke English. Minor problem. Really though, I always keep you mind! Thanks for your email this week, I really want to start finding by the Spirit and "interwining" it like you mentioned. I can't really right now, as much as I try, my companion just really doesn't believe in finding/tracting at all, but I needed to hear your stories to keep the faith alive. Hang in there, you're the best and you'll get the best : ) Oh, boys! I can't believe you might be in Builder Magazine -- even around 150! Ahh so sweet! Good old HB! How is the business doing these days? Did you make the Obama deadline end of November? I actually thought about that deadline becauae when it turned to December, I thought there was something important/stressful happening, and then I remembered... Haha look what you did to me? Loved every minute of it. Mees, good luck with all of your concerts I hear your having at the Y. Hang in there! I'm sure Finals are really tough, but soon it'll be over, and you can look back and see all that you accomplished. And you'll be home for Christmas! I bet you're excited. And I'm sure the Bear is excited too... Bear, you're almost done with Hagrid, right? Sounds like you're semester has been extreme, so I expect to get an email back with all of your ventings... nothing spared! I'd love to hear about it. My hinks need to eat lots of cinnamon rolls for me! Thank you. Mom, I can just picture you putting the Christmas tree up and making the house look AMAZING as usual. Please hang up that ugly little Drummer boy that you hate, but I love. It's my favorite. You're the best, really. I never know what else to say. Simply the best. Dad too. Love you all tons!
Sounds like everyone is doing well. Enjoy the LC snow! And I hope you enjoy the Chritsmas season, and survive the finals/etc. until you can enjoy your Christmas break! I'll talk to you next week and keep you in my prayers.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
How is everyone! I feel like I just talked to you, maybe because I kind of just did on Thursday. Either way, I am glad I get to talk to you so soon again! I've only had three working days since my last letter, so there's not as much to say I guess.
The highlight of my week though has been my first Zone Conference, which happened on Saturday. So good! It was so nice to see the Mission President and his wife again, along with our AP's who are both really nice. I really like my President. He's very strict, but at the same time he can tell good jokes and has a lot of insights from the scriptures. His wife is really sweet too. Anyways, they taught us about the importance of the BoM in teaching people the Gospel. They reiterated the point that either the BoM is true and the whole Church is true, or it is false and our Church has no foundation. The people we teach need to realize that because a lot of them really love the BoM, but have a hard time expecting Joseph Smith is a prophet. That doesn't make sense to me, becasue we wouldn't have the BoM without Joseph Smith, but anyways, that's why we need to remind them that the validity of our entire message hinges upon the BoM -- the keystone as you know. I really am grateful for the BoM, and have been able to read through a lot of it since I've been on my mission. To me, it is so obviously true. It answers every question of the soul: where am I going, what is the purpose of life, where did I come from. Every one we teach loves it too, but I think that if they acknowledge it is the word of God, then they feel obligated to change, and join the Church. Everyone is afraid of change, me included, because it is usually hard. However, I know that the changes the Gospel requires us to make really benefit you in the long run, even eternally. Just looking at the joy the Gospel has brought my family, and families here in Russia, makes that so apparent to me. If only everyone would accept the Goespel, then the world would be a happier place. I guess I am saying all of this becasue we taught a lady with two kids here and gave her a baptizmal date for January 23 (me second one, kind of exciting!). She has a list of concerns though still, that we need to work with her on. She is reluctant to change, like no coffee/tea, law of chastity, etc. But, my companion told her that when you meet God, do you want him to say "you were so close, but tea and coffee kept you from eternal glory." I thought that was really bold, but my comp is usually really bold when she teaches. I LIKE that a lot! I want to be like that in a loving way : ) Anyways, I guess that what got me thinking about change. I know the Gospel requires it of people, but like Joseph Smith said, "no Church that doesn't require the sacrifice of all things will never provide faith sufficient enough to ensure salvation..." or something like that. So, we should be grateful for our little sacrifices! Me inlcuded! I'm starting to have a better attitude about my sacrifices here in Russia, and I know that in time whey will seem very little in comparison to all the blessings.
I love the family tons! Sorry if you get sick of hearing that! Sounds like Thanksgiving was a lot of fun and I wish I could have played football with you. And eaten the pumpkin pie... Oh well! That will still be there in 15 months. And, I can't believe New Moon already came out. Is that bad I still care? I'm trying to leave the world behind me, but news like that always peaks my interest haha. Also want to give a shout out to all my lovely friends who have written me recently or have even cared to check the blog. I'm always so touched when someone says they checked the blog, I'm like you really do care about me! Haha.
To answer some of Mom's questions:
I have my first Visa trip to FINLAND the beginning of Feb. If all goes as planned we'll be able to do a Temple Session in Helsinki before we head back. We'll only be in Finland 7 hours, so it will be a very quick, tight trip. What else... If I stay in Chelyabinsk this next transfer, then I get to have Christmas in the mission home which would be cool. I can't remember any of your other questions Mom, sorry! I'll finish answering them next time.
Love you all again! I miss all the grandkids! And the brothers! And the sisters! And the parents! And the friends! Thanks Cody Sowards, Megan and Michael, and Bro. Connell for writing me. I really appreciated it : )
The Church is true!
Week 2 has come and gone! Well, it has been a week and a half since my last letter. They let us have Thursday, today, as Pday to celebrate Thanksgiving (Dien Blagodavenya). So much has happened! I'll do my best to try and update you in the short time I have. I received about 25 letters from the family. You have NO idea how that helps me. Thanks so much for your support, advice, and familiar expereinces it sounds like you've all hear (mission or not). I love you so much! That's probably my biggest problem out here, is that I love my family and home too much : ( Promise me you'll remember in 15 months! (Today is my three month mark.)
Ok, so the work here, first and foremost. Our goal as a mission right now is to have 20 lessons a week, which is a decent stretch for most companionships. Most of these meetings are with less-actives. We have two area books in our apartment, both FULL if not overflowing with less-active families. It seems so sad to me that the CHurch has only been here about 15 years, and so many have already chosen to become inactive. The lifestyle here for the Russian people makes it hard to keep the Gospel. The culture is much like America's: I hear a lot of the same songs on the bus (marshootkye), and the same billboards with models, etc. The culture seems more wordly to me though. A LOT of people are drunk, which hasn't been a problem or anything, but it's hard to keep males active in the Church because drinking is just what men do in Russia. So, most of out visits are with girls, young, single girls. I feel for them becasue many of them want families, etc., but there are no LDS guys to date. I've had one appointment with a guy, the rest with girls. I am really strengthened though by the kindness and the faith of the active members here. You can tell they really love the Gospel, there's no half-way. The people here ALL live in Dom's. And yes Josh, they are EXACTLY as you described them. The whole city is full of these 10 story apartment buildings that all look the same. I think there might be one neighborhood with actual houses, but I haven't really seen it yet. The apartments inside aren't actually that bad. The are very small, and you can tell they are very old (early Soviet days), but the people REALLY take care of their small space. It impresses me. They decorate with a lot of rugs, like floor rugs. All over the walls, on beds, etc. I'll have to show you a picture. Also, even though I'm sure they don't have a lot of food to share, they ALWAYS offer us Chai Tea (the herbal tea) and some sort of food. Their kindness really inspires me and makes it easier to serve them. Funny/creepy story, my companion and I got in an elevator in one of the Dom's to visit an old Babooshka who is less-active. When we got in the elevator (lift), there was a nice, fresh pile of human poop in the corner. It was also smeared all over one of the walls. Yep. That's all I can say. We ended up taking the lift though anyways with our noses plugged, becasue her apartment was on the 8 or 9 floor. The orange analogy is so true. The people seem really hard on the outside, like on the streets, but when they let you into their houses, they are extremely sweet. They always hug you really tight, and even kiss you sometimes. They are really nice to me even though I have no idea what they are saying 80 percent of the time.
Cool experience. We taught a young lady named Kshoosha. They call her the "eternal investigator." She has investigated the Church since 1999 and seems a part of the Ward, but has never even accepted a Baptismal date. My companion has been here three months and has worked really hard to get her to commit to baptism, but it hasn't happened. So, we met with her Tues. and had a really spiritual meeting with her. Her issue is family, much like Victoria. My companion told her we wouldn't leave unless we had a date. So, we got a date! I don't feel like I did very much to help that along, just smiled a lot. But, it really is amazing how even though I don't know what is being taught, when I do speak, my companion says it always relate to what she was saying, and I feel like I can bring the Spirit with my simple testimony. Not much, but I feel ok with myself if I can do that much for now.
Another cool story. That same day, Tues (we had seven appointments which is really good they say) our last appointment was with a lady who had been inactive for two years, and had had nothing to do with the Church at all during that time. Anyways, we found her one night when, we didn't have an appointment and my comp wanted to go home at like 7. I know we're supposed to work until 9. So, I suggested maybe we tract or something. She said no, I'm tired. She said we could make calls from the Area Book though. I agreed and felt that was a good compromise. So, we get back home and, she puts her pj's on and says she doesn't want to make calls. So, that leaves me alone, trying to call thses people in Russian. I was determined though to work the full time, so she laid on the couch laughing at me as I struggled to speak to these people in Russia. She eventually flet bad for me though, and came over to call too. I was so happy. I was praying a lot at this time for the Lord to bless me for trying to work hard and be obedient. Then, lo and behold! The first pesron she calls is this lady, who said she wasn't doing well. She said that the last time she wasn't doing well, the missionaries called her then too. She said she didn't want us to come, but she'd let us come by becasue there had to be some meaning to the coincidence. So, when we went by, she was very hurt emotionally. She said she didn't believe in anything anymore, and when we asked her to get her scriptures, she said she had thrown them all away. She cried a lot though when we started talking about the Gospel, she even had to get up to leave the room a couple of times to get a tissue. Anyways, by the time we left, she was smiling, and we have another appointment with her this Friday. Amazing! That day Tues. was so cool. I like the feeling of being able to help people, even though I'm not really doing all that much but smiling.
So, as for some of your questions. Yes, it's cold here, but really, I don't ever feel cold. I feel hot as much as I feel cold. The heaters in the hbuildings are really good, and if I leave my winter gear on inside for like 5 minutes, I start to sweat. Plus, I bought winter boots (black leather like most people wear here), and a winter coat (I took a picture I'll send you sometime soon). So, when I'm outside I feel warm. The sad part though is that people here don't consider it winter yet haha. I hear it doesn't get "cold" until Jan or Feb. So, this weathr to them is pretty nice, even though it looks like winter to me haha. It'll be good though. I have some more layers I'll be able to add for when this happens. Oh, fyi, the people here get so decked-out. ALL of the girls were high stilleto boots for everyday wear. Yes, I covet them : ) Looking good is really important to the people even thought they don't have money. They buy flashy things and wear them over and over. The food is good. Very natural, like bread, cheese, meats (like sausages...), and fruit. Juice here is amazing becasue it is actual fruit juice. They use a lot of rich foods here though, becasue they don't eat a lot in quantity, but it really sticks to you. Like mayonnaise, sour cream, butter, etc. That scares me! But at least it tastes good and I make a lot of my own food most of the time. So, I haven't had problems with that yet.
I'm doing good! Better than last week. The full adjustment is going to take some full time. Like someone said in their letter, I keep comparing them to America and pointing out flaws. I'm trying hard to accept the differences and learn to love this new culture too. I know I will. I already have started too, but I know it'll take time. My companion is really good. She works hard. However, she has her moments, like that one night when she just gives out. We still haven't gone contacting, but I try to do little things on the bus or something as best I can. I feel love for her though. She does a lot for me that I couldn't do for myself - like talk, know the bus routes, know the people, how to use roubles, etc. I am grateful for that. I am looking forward to the day when I won't feel mute and a little helpless : ) I can relate to everyone's experiences they've shared with me. That helps so much.
The Gospel is true. It touches lives, and blesses families. Even families in Russia. I love you all and hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving Day! Think of me when you're eating Pumpkin Pie. LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU!
Business: Mom do you have a recipe for Gingerbread houses? The frosting and actual cookie. A family in our ward here wants to make them. I just thought I'd ask. Also, I got your Dear Elder (Cassi's too) last week. It was so nice! I guess if you wanted to write those every now and then, they print them off in the office when people go into Yekat (a couple of times every six weeks). So, if you'd like. Also, I got your letter you must have sent me my first week or two at the MTC with letters from Grandma and Grandmpa, the Church News article about the family with 7 missionraies, and your little not saying I had received money. Anyways, I don't know why I didn't get it at the MTC, but here in Russia, but it was a nice surprise : ) Was that money supposed to be with my letter? Cus it wasn't there. Just wanting to make sure no one snatched it up.