Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27, 2011

So. More communication miracles. Russians, especially members who know how missionaries can struggle with the language, very often tell me that I speak Russian well for only being here a month. What is great about this is that Russians are very blunt and honest. They say exactly what they mean, and they don't say things unless they mean it. So. That's nice. I even tried to give a lady an invite to English Club on the metro the other day, and even though she said no, at least she understood what I was saying. 

Borsh is so good. Just saying. And it seems like spring has finally come. After freezing in the wind while playing frisbee last week, ever since then it's been really warm. No more jackets, except maybe at night, but even then not really. It's been so beautiful, and everything is so much greener than it was last week.

So Happy Easter! It was pretty great. Here on Easter, everyone says "Christ has risen" and then whoever you said it to responds "He is truly risen." Except it sounds a lot cooler in Russian. After church I went and got my jacket and found a little cake and 3 eggs that people had put in my pockets. All day Saturday, we saw hundreds of people lined up outside every Orthodox church we saw (and there are a lot), waiting to get in for the all-night mass they have for Easter. After Church, our district went over to the Craythorns (they're the senior couple in our branch) for Easter lunch. So it was geat. 

Other cool Russia experiences. We took a taxi to get to a place we'd never been before the other day. We were dropping off a Book of Mormon to an internet contact. She wasn't there and the man who answered the door tried to tell us there was no way she had ordered our book, but we left it anyway. We were kind of like, "Yeah sure. We just happened to have your address and her full name...yeah..." But we also left a prig with our taxi driver. And also with the lady we bought potatoes from, who seemed really interested but works all day, every day at her little produce stand. Saturday we cleaned up the church yard with some members after winter. And one of our common activities is prigging. A prig is a flyer/invitation, it's short for the Russian word for invitation. We stand at metro stations and prig for English Club. Or we'll just go contacting along the street and give people prigs to English Club or Church. It's basically the Russian equivalent of tracting, since it's tough to do that with the apartment buildings here, except you know who you're going to be talking to before they open the door because you see them there before you talk to them. 

That's about it. I've been here pretty much a month now. That's really crazy to believe. I'm glad Nicole's wedding was great. I can't wait to hear about it. 

Sister Rachel

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011

Another Week...

Hi.  So, nothing has happened with the man on the metro. But we did have an investigator come to church! She's slightly crazy, and has had numerous baptismal dates in the past but lives with her boyfriend, so it's never actually happened. But she came to church, which is a big deal for her, especially since she didn't fall asleep. We also have a new investigator. Natasha was a referral to us from some sisters in the Moscow West mission, who somehow had her referred to them from someone else. She investigated a few other churches before but they didn't feel right, but she said she felt really comfortable with us. She's going through a very difficult time right now and doesn't have a lot of faith that a good marriage and family are possible. But it was amazing when we talked to her about the Book of Mormon. She understood immediately and was very excited, and even asked us why everyone doesn't know about this book that's like the Bible and testifies of Christ! This was just a few days ago, so we haven't met with her again, but we will soon. I'm very excited to see how it goes.

This week I met Ludmilla and Nikolai, a couple who've been members for 18 years. They are truly amazing. We had dinner at their house, and it was nice to be in an apartment that felt like a real home where the Spirit was. They asked me questions slowly, that I was able to answer (!!!!) and then when we gave the spiritual thought, I maybe spoke the best Russian I ever have. It was truly a miracle.

One of my favorite parts of the week is when I get to spend time with other missionaries. I know that is not why I'm here, but I learn a lot from them, and we laugh and it gives me hope that one day I'll know what's going on and I'll be able to speak Russian and the like. Plus, it strengthens the work and us. For example, each week the 3 (of 4) companionships in our district who are training right now get together to practice role playing and do our comp study together, since the comp study regimen for in-field training is pretty intense but super awesome. It's a lot of fun, helps a lot, etc. Same with district meetings. And today for P-Day we're going to a park to have a birthday party for 2 Elders. So jeans today! Whoo! Also, when we wait at the Central Building for appointments and the like it is awesome to study and talk with the other missionaries, or to commiserate about appointments that have fallen through. I have been so surprised at the stupid excuses people give to cancel or not come to church. My favorite one so far: "It's too cold outside." Wow. I wonder what they'll say in winter. Because it's actually warming up quite a bit. It should be pretty warm by the weekend. This past week has reminded me a lot of Idaho. Windy, bipolar. You get the deal.

The paint is almost out of my skirt, although the color kind of is coming out too. At least it's not bright blue might actually be wearable, but I'm going to keep trying.

I think that's about it. Not much has happened this week. Just being a missionary. It's great. I didn't take a lot of pictures this week, but I will send them when I take some more. Okay.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011

It's a Beautiful Day in Our Neighborhood!

SO. I am sure you are wondering why this email is coming a day late. Well, MyLDS mail wasn't working yesterday...I think only 5ish people in the entire mission got to email, so we all get to email today. Which is inconvenient because today just happens to be one of the busiest days we have, but oh well. 

I think it's funny that you mentioned the weather in Idaho, because the weather here is one of the first things I wanted to mention! It is really similiar weather-wise to ID in a lot of ways. It is not quite as up and down. But the first week I was here it was rather warm and sunny, for the most part. This past week I think it has at least sprinkled every day. It has been very wet. One day it was slushing from the sky. Most the snow is gone though and when it snows again it doesn't stick around very long. I can't wait for things to start to get green, as well as for maybe a few days where I don't have to shine my shoes 5 times a day. It's been really wet and cold, but our landlord told us that after this week it will hopefully start to warm up again. Time-wise the days go by pretty slowly, but the weeks are fast. I feel like I've been in Russia for months, but at the same time I can't believe I've been here for two weeks. And yes, you're always tired. Today I'm especially tired because I got only 2 hours of good sleep last night because I wasnt' feeling too well and couldn't sleep, but don't worry--today I'm fine, just really exhausted.

Dad is in the Stake YM Presidency? Wow. That'll be fun. He'll like that. And I'm glad Elizabeth enjoyed prom. Of course spring soccer is cold. That is funny Leah wouldn't put her sweater on at first. I was just telling an Elder in my district about how funny she is today. And I know exactly what you mean about Hannah's voice and smile. And on Sunday I was thinking about how it was Becca's birthday! So Happy Birthday Becca! And I remember having finals on Saturday. It's lame. But oh well. I can't believe it's time for finals already. I feel so separate from anything over there. Sometimes I'll try to think about what everyone back home is doing. Like right now it's 1 a.m. there and everyone's probably sleeping, except BYU students madly studying in the library. Haha. It's just weird, because I've been awake for over 5 hours.

Anyway. I LOVED conference. I swear it gets better and better every year. Conference here is really interesting. We stuff all the American missionaries (plus a few other English-speakers) in the top room of the Central Building and watch the broadcast. Although there were a few times the broadcast didn't work so we watched it off the internet. But same thing, right? It's just awesome to be watching it with a bunch of missionaries in a church building in Russia and to be hearing the same messages that you had already heard. Um. My favorites were Elders Cook Oaks, Uchtdorf, Johnson, Bednar, Scott, Christofferson and Holland. And President Monson. I had so many questions and prayers answered through Conference. It was so great.

Okay. So address. Make sure this part gets posted on my blog, so that people can send me things if they want, although for letters, really DearElder will be so much easier and cheaper and reliable. The letters need to be folded in thirds and taped with one piece of tape at the top if you want to send them through the pouch mail system in SLC. Or you can send me letters and packages to:

Sister Rachel Ashby
Glavpochtamt a/ya 257

Yeah, kind of looks kind of backwards, but that's how Russia is. Oooo if you're putting a package together, you should send some mapeline so that I can make some syrup and chocolate chips. And some facewash and moisturizer, because I'm almost out. I don't know if Helen is back from her trip yet, but she'll know what exactly I need from what I got last time. Also, I know I have a ton of clothes already, but I seem to go through them so fast...cute cardigans and knit shirts are easiest. And maybe if you wanted to throw in another knit dress or something, that would be great. Lots of fun colors. I don't know. I feel needy and like I already have plenty of clothes, but at the same time...yes. Oh! And good nylons/tights. They're really expensive here, and mine are starting to wear out. It make take me a while to get, but hopefully I'll get it. We usually get mail on Tuesday, but this week it's tomorrow due to a visa trip of the Office Elders. Hopefully I've got some letters, since I've been here a while now!

Anyway. On to my week. Finally. Sorry. Um. Yes. 

I'm teaching Sister X some songs on the piano from some sheet music she has. She doesn't read music so it's me playing and she copying and memorizing. It's lots of fun and makes me feel better about my limited Russian abilities. I keep having to remind her not to get frustrated because I've been playing piano for 13 years. 

Some people we've taught this past week: Sabina, who usually the Elders teach but we got to this week. She's ready to be baptized, but her parents won't let her be. Her family's Muslim, but her Dad was actually secretly baptized years ago and she's the only one who knows. We taught Olya another follow-up lesson. She teaches us half the time. We have lots of fun together. We taught her Saturday after conference, and then we were super hungry, so we went and ate at the cafe (food court) in the mall that's right by the central building. We were getting lots of weird looks because we were speaking half in English and half in Russian and at one point Olya shouted "I LOVE AMERICANS!" This was after I remembered the meaning of a Russian word. Haha. She's so great. And then there was the Man on the Metro. We didn't actually teach him, but we were on the metro and this man was just staring at our tags. I really wanted to talk to him--he looked like he had had a really rough life and he was just staring for like 5 minutes, but the metro was loud and C. X was almost asleep on my shoulder and he was far away and problem number 1: I don't really speak Russian. Yeah. Um. Yeah. So I was frustrated but then he asked if we had anything to give him. And C. X woke up and we had a prig (invitation, shortened) to church and a Joseph Smith pamphlet. He read them the entire rest of the metro ride. We had to get off to go to an appointment, but we talked to him right before we left, and neither of us have been able to stop thinking about him. 

In Rachel-Speaking-Russian news...I'm so sick of not understanding anything and not being able to say anything in response when I do understand. Whenever people speak Russian to me, I can't process anything. I don't even know what to say in English, let alone how to say that unknown thing in Russian. It's frustrating. But a lady did ask me the time on the metro the other day. And we have a Russian Smack-down whenever the natives are in their English club. C. Carlson and Bullough and I sutdy Russian, and Sister Jones (who goes home in a month and speaks like perfect Russian) helps us out. We'll get it eventually. I just want it to come sooner than it will. But conference was great and reminded me that this struggle is good for me and I just need to be patient. Oh, and after our Russian Smack-down this week we had an awesome birthday party for Ct. Nickolaichev. He is awesome, although yesterday he hurt his ankle falling down some stairs. 

Um. I think I've mentioned that Russians love photos. And so many people get really excited when they see how big my family is. It's great. 

For P-day yesterday we went over to Ct. Nickolaichev and White's apartment with a ton of other missionaries and ate food and played Mafia and some other games. It was a ton of fun. P-Days are great because you get to nap and hang out with other missionaires and then go to English club. I didn't get any letters written though. Oops. Sorry folks. I'm having fun preaching the gospel in Russia. 

I think that's about it! It seems so much more condensed when I try to email. But oh well. I love you all! 

P.S. The skirt that got paint on it is my green one. Attached are some pics. Me pointing to my and Matt's missions at the MTC map. Me and Paul at the MTC map. Red Square. The park by our house. Me and C. X. and something else that I can't remember.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011

Hello in English!

Hi Mom and Family!
Sorry that I haven't emailed before now. Traveling last week ate our P-Day up, so I didn't get to email, and P-Day here isn't until Wednesday, so...yes. But now I am emailing you! Wow. There has been so much that has been going on.
Just to let everyone know, the time change is 10 hours, I think. So right now for me it is about 10 to 6 in the evening. We will usually be emailing earlier in the day, but today all our time was eaten up with a nap and going shopping to get some things and yes. I am not sure how long mail takes to get here, but I do get mail every Tuesday. Well, not yesterday because no one has sent me anything yet, and I'm not sure when exactly a DearElder or letters you send me will get here (or how long it will take for a letter to get from here to there) but I do get mail access every Tuesday. It is such a blessing that our mission is so small, area-wise at least. Almost all the missionaries gather at the Central Building, which is where we pick up mail and such. It's just south of Red Square, and so it's about a 20 minute metro ride from almost anyone who's serving in the main city, and members from all over, most youth, hang out there all the time too.
We've taught a few lessons, mostly to inactive members. Right now we are working on trying to strengthen the branches here in preparation for a stake and eventually a temple here in Moscow. We also have a goal of an average of one baptism per companionship per transfer. So we're busy at work, although it feels a lot less busy than I thought it would, especially compared to the MTC. Food-wise, I've had Blini (which are basically like crepes, just a bit thicker and they eat everything on them) and Borsch and some other things. I haven't been cold. It snowed our first day here, but since then it's really been quite warm. I had to buy a lighter jacket, because my peacoat was too warm, but it's not quite warm enough to just be outside all day in a cardigan or church jacket yet. Luckily I found a cute one really cheap. Since it is warming up, all the snow is almost gone, although there's still quite a bit. A few days ago the entire city was just one big puddle. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother cleaning off my shoes when they will just get all dirty in 5 seconds when I step outside!

No, I can't understand a single thing. Okay, that's a lie. I understand more and more every day. And when people are talking slowly especially. The frustrating thing is that I can usually understand the general gist of conversations but nothing specific enough to contribute. Plus, I have also learned that I can't really speak Russian either. I can be a missionary, and I can kind of speak Russian, but in the past week when I've tried to do btoh at the same time, I have forgotten how to do both! Luckily, everyone's told me that this is all normal and that they also spent their first transfer just sitting around in lessons feeling useless, and that eventually it comes. Right now is an interesting time in the mission because there's a huge turnover rate. Remember a few years ago when they stopped sending missionaries to Russia? Well, the group of missionaries (referred to as the "first rescue") who was sent out right when they started sending them out again is going home now. Which is why there were 7 of us who came this transfer, and there are another 5 coming next, and similarly for a few months. So in just a while I will be one of the older missionaries, at least sister-wise. It will be interesting.
My companion is awesome! She is native, from St. Petersburg. Her name is Sister Khmelinina (hereafter referred to as C. X. C for Cectpa and X for Khmelinina, because that's the first letter of her name in Russian). She is super fun and cute and laughing and a great missionary who truly cares about the people here. I'll be with her for 2 transfers (part of the new in-field training thing), and then she goes home. I love her a lot, and her English is very good, which is a blessing, since my Russian is so horrible right now.
It's still really weird that I'm in Russia. It kind of feels like a normal city, except everyone speaks Russian and everyone looks Russian. I've only seen 4 black people in the entire week I've been here, and they've all been today or yesterday. One of them actually came up to us as we were walking to a member's apartment and asked us where our church was because he wanted to come. So that was cool. :) But it's just crazy. I'm in Russia! And it's normal. But really cool. I love it here. It's a city, which is something new for me, because it's not just like London where I was visiting. I'm actually living here. It's really dirty and trashy in a lot of places, but really beautiful in others. Everywhere looks the same though, haha.
My favorite part of Moscow is actually probably the metro. Underground is the most beautiful part of the city, besides maybe Red Square. The metro really reminds me of Hogwarts. It's like the tube, except each station is marble and beautiful and elaborate and pretty.

I actually haven't gotten to watch conference; we'll watch it this weekend, when they have a Russian translation here for our members. All the American missionaries will watch it together. I'm super excited! That's really surprising about the temple in Meridian, but very klassna. I am very excited for the day there's a temple here in Russia. It's coming sooner than you would think. I knew before coming here that there was lots of talk about a stake, but I have been surprised about a temple. It will still be a while, but still. I am hoping that we also get to watch the MTC documentary, because I want to look for the people I know in it. Oo-rah!

What else do I need to talk about? I don't have a list of all the cool Russian things I wanted to talk about right now. It's easier if you ask me questions. Um...I'm serving in the Kakhovsky branch, which is in the south side of the city. We ride the metro everywhere, and then walk the rest of the way. I've visited a sick Babooshki in a Russian hospital. I love it when I get to sing in our lessons, because it's something that I feel like I can actually contribute to. The members here are so cool, as are all the missionaries. Really. Everyone is AWESOME. It is great too because I am serving with one of the Elders who was in my MTC district. There are 6 Elders and then the two of us sisters serving in our branch right now.
Um, I will come back and write some more, but first I need to read the announcement email from President Sorenson before I run out of time. Okay.

Okay, sorry I am writing a novel here, but there is just so much to talk about!
Oh, address. I would just DearElder me for now (or email, because I know that I'll get that every week, but DearElders I'm not exactly sure when). Because that is cheaper and more sure. But for packages and stuff eventually, I will get you an address. I have it here, but it's all in cyrilic, so that doesn't help you at all, haha. But I am making a list of things that I want when you eventually decide to pay a lot of money to send a package to Russia. Right now the main thing I can remember is chocolate chips, because they don't have them here and we need ourselves some chocolate chip pachenye.

Oh, side note: how would be a good way to get paint out of a skirt? and also maybe my pea coat? Funny story: a few days ago we were waiting outside a store and I leaned up against the railing, which had unfortunately just been painted bright blue. It's luckily not horribly noticable on my coat, but there's a huge blue spot on my butt on one of my skirts, and I can't figure out how to get it out. Sigh. So any suggestions would be much appreciated. The worst part is that it happened in the morning, so I walked around the 7th largest city in the world looking like an idiot all day. :)
Everyone here is obsessed with looking at pictures. You have to carry your photo album around everywhere beacuse members and investigators always want to see pictures. They paint the curbs and fences green and yellow. Orthodox churches really are everywhere and they are beautiful. When I see them, that is when I feel like I am in Russia. Also, Red Square is gorgeous. Everyone smokes, but that's not just Russia. They have great yogurt. I am not sure what else to say, since I don't have my list. Ah. This is frustrating.
Um. Yeah. One day I will figure out how to send pictures from these internet cafes, but today is not that day.

I guess I will tell you a little bit about some of the people we have visited. Tatiana is one of our babyshki. She wears orange lipstick and is really awesome, even though I have no idea what she said yesterday when we visited her. She worked as like a psychic or something before she joined the church (I'm not really was in Russian with a fast translation from C. X) but then she had a vision saying that all further communication would be through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which she had never heard of. But she tracked down the Church, was baptized and now is a stalwart member who helps us out.
There is Olga/Olke/Olya (they have a ton of different names here, long form, short form, other nicknames...) who was just baptized 2 weeks ago. She is such a sweetheart and speaks very good English, so she'll translate for me sometimes or will just talk to me in English/Russian mix. She is 28 and wants to go on a mission so badly. Right now we are teaching her the follow-up lessons. Marsha and Artyom are also young adults who are very helpful with English.
Moscow is just crazy. I am finally getting a hang of the conversion rate and finally starting to not be so tired all the time from jet lag. I can also stand without holding onto anything in the metro without falling over through all the starts and stops. Today we actually were stuck on the metro for about 5-10 minutes. That was exciting, especially since I had no idea what was going on since I DON'T KNOW HOW TO SPEAK RUSSIAN! haha, that's really the most difficult part, the not understanding or being able to speak. But it'll come.
The missionaries here are all so great. I am sad so many of them are going home so soon. I will talk more about them next week, especially my district and the other sisters. I am really grateful for such a small mission, both area and missionary wise, so that I can get to know everyone so well. It is a requirement to be super cool to get called to Moscow, especially right now. Sorry if you served somewhere else. Sometimes I miss the MTC, but mostly just the people. And the understanding.
Anyway, I've got to go. English club! but I love you!