It's hard to believe that Christmas is in two weeks, because it doesn't feel like Christmas! Despite the Christmas tree up in my apartment (just a little one I bought at the equivalent of the dollar store that's across from our apartment) and the lights and trees up all around Z (which usually doesn't happen. Sister Marty says that Z is one of the first places she's seen decorate for the holidays) and all the signs that say "С Новым Годом" and "С Рождеством Христовым" (Happy New Year and Merry Christmas)...it's just weird. It doesn't feel like Christmas. We even watched the Christmas Devotional translation with Sveta, and it's gotten cold again and dumped snow the other day--it looked/looks sooo beautiful, but it really doesn't feel like Christmas. Just like it's winter, and that there's snow to have snowball fights with while we're walking home or waiting for the bus or something. I'm not sure why, but a lot of the Elders agree with me. It's just kind of weird.
Anyway, this week has been...crazy. I feel like not a lot has happened, but there has been a lot going on mentally and emotionally and spiritually, even if not so much physically.
Sveta is still doing so great. We moved her and her son's baptismal date up a day, to the 23rd, which is actually her son's 12th birthday, so that it wouldn't interfere with the ward and mission Christmas parties that are happening on the 24th. But she is so wonderful. It has been such a priviledge to see the changes she has made in her life over the past few weeks. We went grocery shopping with her the other day, and she kept asking if certain things were "можно" (allowed). She was feeling sick at the beginning of the week, so the Elders gave her a blessing. We've had some great lessons with her, especially our lesson about the temple, and although there have been some not so great lessons, usually when we finish she asks what else there is and asks us why we didn't prepare anything more. Her son Denis wasn't too excited at first, but the past few days I feel like he's been warming up to the idea and not being such a boy Michael's age. haha. They've been praying together and reading the Book of Mormon, and Sveta at least just wants to learn and understand everything. It is amazing. She is such a blessing.
The more I am here, the more I love the people. This Sunday was the primary program, and those kids are adorable. It is so amazing to see families being raised in the church here--it is a such a blessing that I think we take for granted in places where the church is strong. And it is also great to see these kids growing up and knowing that they will be the future leaders of the Church here in Russia. There are also so many great people. One babushka we visit (the one who told me I couldn't get sick from anything but the cold) this week started reading the Book of Mormon and she had at lot of good, sincere questions. She also said to tell our parents that she loves and appreciates us and our help and called us "People of the World," which for her is a people-person, someone who loves and takes care of other people. Another babushka told us that we needed to promise her we would live to be 100 and live happy lives. That spirit that is there when we talk with and serve these sweet people is what being a missionary is all about, it's when I feel most like a missionary.
The last big news about this week is transfers. I mentioned in my earlier email that I had an interview with President. We knew something big was happening, because usually when Z sisters get transfered President just calls and tells them what's happening, since we're like 1-2 hours away. But he came all the way up to Z to meet with Sister Marty and me (and all the companionships of sisters were changed around, except 1). C. Marty is being moved down to Podolsk. They haven't had sisters there in a long long time (it's a really small branch--yes, still a branch and smallest in the stake) and so she is going to shotgun there with Sister Mordwinow. And I will be training! We are getting 3 new Russian sisters, and I get to train one of them. Her name is Sister Habibullina (so I might just call her X2, since X was Hmelinina). President doesn't know how much English she speaks, so that might be an adventure, and I'm really nervous since I'm not anywhere near perfect as a missionary or speaking Russian, but it will all be great. I'm very excited, especially since Z is the place to be right now, and I love it up here. Of course, getting a new companion that you've never even met before is nervewracking (at least when it's just a new companion, you've probably met her before, since I know all the sisters who have served here at the same time as me). I will definitely have to rely on His help a lot more though, because this is such a big responsibility, especially since I also realized that I will be the "oldest" missionary (on the mission) in our district (maybe even literally, I just don't know how old C. Habibullina is). Heavenly Father has blessed me with great companions in my mission, and so I have faith that He will continue to bless me and that things will be fine with C. X2 and training and everything because He knows what's best and what we can and can't do, plus, we're never alone.
Anyway, things here are great. The Church is true!
Sister Rachel Ashby