Merry Christmas Everyone! It was sooo good to talk to you on Sunday. Really weird, but awesome. This week has been exhausting. These past 2 weeks have maybe been the craziest, busiest, most stressful, but maybe best weeks on my mission yet. But things are going so well. Being a missionary at Christmas is so crazy, but wonderful.
This week we were in Moscow on Wednesday and Saturday, first for a PMG training and on Saturday for a mission Christmas party. It was great to have all the missionaries together on Saturday. The Neunschwanders, a senior couple in our mission who served as our mission president when President Sorenson was home sick (they also know the Nielsons and he was really influential in the early church in Russia because he used to be mission President in Austria), are going to be leaving us next month. They're getting "transferred" to Turkey and helping to open up missionary work there. Awesome. I love hearing about missionary work all over the world. The Christmas party was also just fun to be with everyone. Each district did a skit, and there were some great ones. But my district--our Elders had to leave for ZGrad early, so they weren't there. When it was our district's turn for a skit, just us sisters obviously didn't have anything. So I recruited C. Mordwinow and we did our "Preach My Gospel musical" for everyone. AKA 2 songs that we rewrote the words to when we were companions. It was pretty fun. We also got to watch the newer Christmas Carol that came out just like a year or two ago. It was pretty good, but it felt really weird to watch a movie. After the Christmas party was when it started to feel like Christmas. Our mission is really just the best in the world, and it was so great just to be with everyone as one big family and eat good food and remember the real reason we're here and that we celebrate Christmas--our Savior.
The baptism on Friday was pretty good. I feel bad saying that it was only pretty good, since it was a baptism of two people I love, but I wasn't feeling super great and was really stressed out, due to not getting a lot of sleep the past few weeks. But it was wonderful. Of course, like most baptisms here, things never go quite the way you want them to, but that's expected. My favorite part was actually after the baptism, during the ward Christmas Party. It was just so great to look at Sveta--she just looked so different, so much younger and lighter (both in like a spiritual weight and brightness). It is amazing how much the Gospel affects the way people physically look. There is such a light in people that you don't really notice unless you watch the change happen in them or (I guess) you haven't really seen it before. Even better was Sunday. Of course, she and Denis received the Holy Ghost, and Denis even became a deacon! And last night we had a lesson with Sveta and it was sooooo good. She had had a great experience with the Holy Ghost and making an important decision that day, and she asked us for help understanding it. It is such a privilege to see this change and this process in her; maybe Sister Martyanova was more influential in teaching her, but I still have gotten to see these great changes in her life, and especially to hear her talking about them and see her living her life in a new way and seeing the blessings and feeling the Holy Ghost and learning how to recognize and work with him...it is sooooo awesome. I think it's interesting how the Spirit works with different people. Sveta only had a few really spiritual experiences before she received the gift of the Holy Ghost--she's just a logical person and so the Lord worked through her more through her brain and now she's learning more and more about how to put it through her heart too. It was also way funny--she said that she hadn't understood anything she had read in the BoM for like the past 20 pages. I asked where she was, and just started laughing: she's in the Isaiah chapters. I told her to just keep reading and that soon everything will be understandable again, and that the more she reads the scriptures and learns about the gospel, the more sense Isaiah will make. :)
Other people we're working with: Halida, who is super sweet and came to the baptism on Friday (but not to church yesterday). She has some problems with her documents that she is hoping to get figured out so that she can find a job, and she has a young son, but she is really interested in the gospel and has a lot of faith in God and that He is helping her. A couple less-active families in our ward, who are starting to become more active. It is great to see people coming back to church. We also had I think 4 different families invite us over (not for a specific time, but just to drop by whenever) in the past few days. I love our members and I love being there to support them and build them up and feel their strength and their love. It really is key to have the trust and strength of the ward behind you in missionary work, especially here. One of my favorite parts of yesterday was getting to spend a long time talking with Maria, a babushka in our ward--her daughter and her grandson are members and she always points them out to you and says, "That's my daughter. That's my grandson." She has the cutest smile and gives wonderful hugs and has a cute raspy voice. She is adorable, kind of like a little kid, but a grandma. I love her so much, and just getting to spend a few minutes talking to her yesterday was so great. We also had probably about 100 people at church yesterday, and we'll have another baptism on the 7th (I think, it's one of the Elders' investigators). This makes at least one convert baptism a month since October, and we'll also have another little girl baptized sometime in January. Things here up in ZGrad are just exploding and it is so wonderful.
But really, this Christmas didn't really seem like Christmas while it was happening, but looking back it was PERFECT. It was so great to go to church and be surrounded by people I love. It was sooooo great to see Sveta and Denis baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. We sang Christmas Carols before church out on the bus stop with a few members. It snowed lightly almost all day. On Saturday, I heard that Hawaiian Christmas song that Dad always sings in the mall here in Z. I saw a real Christmas tree on the metro, and saw fireworks from our apartment window. I listened to Christmas music, and got to talk to the family, and got to spend pretty much all day with our district. The Gronnings stayed up here for a Christmas dinner (it was kind of ghetto, and on blue plastic plates, but super good), and we had a small gift exchange, and then our lesson with Sveta. I don't know. It was just so simple and great, and so wonderful to be able to serve others as a missionary. It was just wonderful. I am kind of super sad that this is the only Christmas I'll get to spend as a missionary and here in Russia.
Yep. That's about it! My companion is soooo great. My district and area are super great. I love being a missionary. I love my Savior.