Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26, 2012

What a tough but miraculous week it has been. This past week has been maybe one of the hardest of my entire mission to date. But we are hanging in there and the Lord has truly blessed us with so many tender mercies, big and small.

So yeah, a tough week. And the weather hasn't helped AT ALL. Last week I talked about how it looks like spring is really coming. Well...yeah. Spring is coming. But spring in Russia means WINTER in the rest of the world. It hasn't been super cold actually. Just like -5 to 5 C. has snowed so much this week. Icky. Everything is all wet and snowy and windy and gross. Especially on the days where most of what we have to do is contacting. I swear, it's a curse. On P-Day and the days where we have solid meetings that won't fig us, it's sunny, but the next day when we have planned contacting and meetings that might fall through...snow. Always. And I'm just sick of this weather. I don't mind cold, sunny days. But wet snow when it's been white and gray and brown for 5 months...nope. I'm ready for spring. Irony: "spring" in Russia starts on March 1, but based off of last year, we probably won't get spring until the middle or end of April. So...I am having a hard time believing that it's sunny and 75 in Twin, but I'm glad that at least one of our unpredictable weather places is being shined on. Russians base a lot of things like mood and health off the weather, even when it's completely unreasonable, but I am starting to do the same, because often this week when it's been bad weather I have not had any desire to go outside and contact and really to do anything at all.

So, some day this week, when the weather was horrible and both me and Sister Thrall had no mood and didn't want to spend another day outside trying to contact the people who are smart and not outside, we started Project: Area Book. It started out just as a realization that it had been a while since we had updated the area book, so we should probably get on that. I hate it when the area book isn't kept up to date and there are all these people that it's written, "Everything was great! They want to get baptized!" And no info about them and nothing about why they weren't baptized and stopped being taught after that supposedly-great lesson. So we got all caught up and then wanted to spend the day just calling people from the Area Book. Which made me think about the phone and how I don't know who a lot of the people in the phone are. And those can be super awkward phone calls. So, we started this huge project trying to synch all the people in our area book with the phone, and vice-versa and find out who everyone is. We made a phone guide, so that after we leave, people will be able to know who is all in the phone and who all from the phone is in the area book and who all is just a contact, etc. It turned into this huge project, especially since a lot of people here have the same 5 names. We are just about to start making all the REALLY awkward phone calls to call all the people that we have absolutely no idea about, and then we'll move on to people in the Area book, and I'm really hoping that we'll be able to get at least a few meetings out of it. And if not, at least our Area book and phone will be in a lot better shape for the next missionaries who come to this area.

But we've also seen a lot of miracles happen this week. I met a lady on the bus, who just leaned over to me and said, "Krasavitza," which means like...beautiful girl. I said thank you and offered her a prig, and she said that she already had one, and that I had even probably given it to her a few weeks ago! So that was cool. There's a statistic that the average person runs into the missionaries like 9 times before they agree to meet with them, so I'm hoping this was like number 8 or something. :) It's really funny, Yulia (the 16-year-old we've been working with since before I got here) acts really crazy sometimes (she has a bit of a mental problem, nothing serious serious, but it makes her strange and awkward sometimes) and she was telling me that I don't know what it's like when people just stare at you. I just laughed. Yeah, I do. I am definitely American, and I walk around wearing a skirt and a nametag all day, every day. People stare. Haha. :)

Speaking of Yulia! She's our main miracle this week. So we have been working with her for a LONG time. Sometimes it seems like she is progressing, other times we just continue to meet with her because she really, really needs love and help straightening out her life, and she won't get that at home, and really, it's not like we're super super busy with meetings with progressing investigators. Well, she's been doing really well lately. C. X2 and I helped her to stop smoking. She says she's completely stopped, and while I'm not sure I believe her (Yulia lies often), she hasn't smelled like tabacco. So she's at least gotten a lot a lot a lot better. And then like 2 weeks ago right after transfers we had a lesson with her about church, and why we go to church. She often comes, but I didn't know if she understood WHY. But the lesson went super well, and she said that she feels like Holy Ghost at church and that the sacrament is her favorite part! She didn't know why though, so we decided to do our next lesson on Jesus and the Atonement and the Sacrament and why she feels so good during the sacrament. I wasn't really thinking anything about asking her to be baptized at all when we planned. This isn't a good thing, but I had just kind of got it in my head after all these months, especially sicne Yulia was SO crazy when I first got here, that Yulia would never progress that far. But we were talking about the sacrament, and the spirit was super strong, and suddenly I just kind of realized where this lesson was going to go and I just casually mentioned baptism in passing, without even realizing it, because it's the sacrament, you talk about baptism. Then Yulia starts asking tons of questions about baptism. When you can get baptized, when we were baptized, why was Ksusha baptized when she was 18 and not 8, what happens when you're baptized. So we talked about that and then asked her if she wanted to get baptized. She said yes, and we set a date with her for the end of May. She still has a long way that she needs to go, but it was such a big miracle. I saw it coming the moment we started the lesson, but I am still kind of in shock whenever I think about it. Other cool little things about this story: after that lesson on church with her, I was talking with Elder Ayers, our district leader. This is his 6th transfer up here, so he knows Yulia, and we've been together for 5 now, and he thought it was so great how she reacted to our lesson and said, "Wow, she's going to get baptized!" When I said that I hope so, but I didn't think it would be for a while, he said, "No, it'll be sooner rather later." And then when we were setting goals for this week, I really wanted to put one baptismal date, even though we had no one progressing. I thought maybe someone we just met on the street in the next few days who started meeting with us or something. BUt nope. Yulia. :) I am so proud of the progress she has gradually made and I really hope that everything with her works out over the next 2 months to help her get ready.

Other little miracles. I love reactivating people. I think last week I talked about the family who is fairly newly reactivated and the grandson just got the priesthood. Maybe not. Anyway, they are so great, and it's awesome to think that (even though I didn't really do anything, and it was the members) this family wasn't active when I got here and now they come every week and are so great and that Nikita who was kicking and screaming and wouldn't listen at all when we first started going over when his mom and grandma starting coming back now has the priesthood and passed the sacrament for the first time on Sunday and goes to seminary. We visited them this week and there was just such a sweet spirit there. And we went to visit this woman who is one of my favorite people here--two little boys and a non-member husband and she is just wonderful. We usually drop by once a week, especially since she has some friends she is trying to get ready to met with us, as well as trying to soften her husband (his parents are both long-time members too). And this week, when we stopped by randomly, she had a friend over. And her friend listened to the spiritual thought, participated and was super interested, especially when Anzhela started telling stories about miralces she's seen in family history work. It was so great. When her friend left, Anzhela just started dancing around her house. She had been praying for a way to start talking to that friend about the gospel, and then we showed up. :) And I guess her friend wasn't planning on coming over either and just called last minute. :) So that was another cool little miracle.

We have a new senior couple here; they seem pretty great, but I haven't been able to really meet them and talk to them yet. Ksusha got her patriarchal blessing. I realized that I only need to meet 3 more of the 12 tribes. This lady who comes to church for the sacrament but who is really kind of anti meeting with us actually stayed for all 3 hours of church yesterday and Sveta taught the Sunday School lesson and just kept telling her that she needs to meet with us and talk to me. :) Things are just going super super well here, despite rough days. The Lord is truly blessing us.

Love you all,
Sister Ashby

P.S. We don't get conference until the 14th and 15th, so...just keep that in mind. I'll probably find out about temples before that though, so...whatever.
P.P.S. I got my "dead letter" this week. That basically means that they're starting to work on my flight plans. So 10-11ish of August. Yep. Uzhac.
Px3.S. Tysha is pregnant?! AHHH! Weird but happy. And no one tells me anything. i didn't even know Lorinda was pregnant.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 19, 2012

This week has been interesting. I don't know exactly what is different, but I have felt like a missionary this week. Not like I had felt not like a missionary, but I think I had just gotten complacent with a lot of little things and with the start of a new transfer and having a new companion, I've tightened up on them, and then after the slow missionary work 2 weeks ago, just having a few good days in our area was super nice.

The main highlights of this week were Mission Tour with President Schweitzer, our Europe East Area President, and my visa trip! Wednesday was just a great day. First, I have to just say that I have the ABSOLUTE BEST mission president EVER. President and Sister Sorenson are just the best. And not to brag or anything, but I have had 2 General Authorities tell me that. :) Conference was just great, as usual. Really, conferences are one of my favorite parts of the entire mission. There is just always such a great Spirit there, and love. I also had the great opportunity to have an interview with Pres. Schweitzer. Pres. Sorenson came up to me and my companion after conference and said that they were doing interviews and there were two last spots open--did we want them? It was such a wonderful experience. Our church leaders are such great people. Conference was also great because we got TRIPLE COMBINATIONS IN RUSSIAN! THE NEW TRANSLATION! I was so excited. It is so great. It has all these great resources in the back that they didn't have in Russian before, and the new translation is just sooooo much clearer and better. It is just such a beautiful book. I love the scriptures so much, and it is such a blessing that we have them. It's just the cheap bound ones, but if you're looking for a good birthday present for me for when I get home, a nice leather-bound one would be nice. :) It was also a great day because I got to see some people that I love a lot, but hadn't seen in a long time. Like Olya. She got baptized right before I came to Russia and I taught her all the new member lessons and she is one of my best friends here in Russia, but I hadn't seen her since the beginning of my time in ZGrad. And I also got to see some of my favorite sisters from Kahovski! My birth ward provided lunch for us and so I got to see some of those wonderful, wonderful sisters for the first time in 6 months. They are so wonderful, and said that if I ever had the opportunity to come back to Kahovski, I am always welcome. :) The members here truly are great. 

Thursday was a special day with my visa trip. It started out exciting, because we woke up at 5:15 to the Elders calling saying that they were almost to our apartment to take us to the airport. I can't even describe how funny it was. I don't think I have ever laughed that hard or been that awake that early ever. But when we got to Kiev, it was great. We had the wonderful opportunity to go to the temple. I just started crying for joy when I saw it. The first time in 6 months. I know that it's really not all that long, especially considering that so many missionaries don't get to go their entire mission and some people only get to go a few times in their lives, but...the world just wears on you, and missionary work just wears on you, and I just really really wanted to go to the temple. We were able to do initiatories, all in Russian. It is so awesome to be able to understand. And then we had the great blessing of spending 30 minutes in the Celestial Room, just me and my MTC sisters. The time went by way too fast, but I am so grateful that I at least got that little amount of time. I love the Kiev temple, and the temple workers there. And I just love the temple in general. I'm glad there's our temple in Twin so that I can go as soon as possible when I get home.

Other than that, it's the same old, same old. Contacting has kind of slowed down a bit. It was easier with C. X2, her being native Russian and just having this instinctive love for contacting and all. The other day we contacted all morning and didn't give out anything at all. We didn't really get rejected super hard, we just got a lot of nos. And yesterday when we were contacting after church, we didn't have a lot of people want to talk to us or take anything, but we did have a few cool experiences. First, I saw this man with a dog and two little girls. I started talking to them about the BoM, thinking they were a family or something. The guy wasn't interested and just kept walking. But the little girls asked me more. I was kind of nervous that the guy was their dad and would get mad at me for talking to them after he said no, because they were probably about 9-10. But the one was like, "Is it really free?" And the other one asked what it was about. I said something like, "It's about Jesus Christ and how we can make good choices in life and our families can be together forever, even after death." And this girl says, "That's way cool, I need to tell my dad about it." I asked if that guy was her dad and she said "No, my dad's at home." In the next few seconds, I found out that she also studies English in school and her dad knows English too, so I gave her a pass-along card about the BoM and invited her to English Club. I wanted to do more, but her friend was calling her and she wanted to leave, but as she ran off, she said that she would talk to her dad about it. Even if nothing happens, it was a cool experience for me. Just a few minutes later, Sister Thrall offered a BoM to this babushka and we ended up teaching her the first lesson there in the park. I don't think she was super duper interested, because I kept trying to offer to meet again and get her phone number, but I think she will remember us and read the BoM. It's way cool--the other day Sister Thrall prayed that those we talk to will remember our nametags. Way cool. Everyone I see everyday notices my nametag, and it is so important that they look at it and remember it.

In other news, we had a record number of people in sacrament meeting yesterday-111. It's warmed up a lot here. The sidewalks seem a lot bigger, the snowbanks seem a lot smaller, and there is even grass and pavement in places that I haven't seen it in months. It is crazy how fast it is all melting. Before I know it, it will be warm and green again. Sister Thrall is great and we are starting to find our flow and how we work together. I love studying with her, and for some reason it's actually easy to wake up in the morning with her. That is a miracle that I am very grateful for. 

So yeah, just keeping on keeping on. The Church is True!
Sister Ashby

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12, 2012

There is not much to say this week. I honestly feel like I haven't done any missionary work. Not exactly my fault, but still frustrating.

Last Monday, President called to say that we need to be in Podolsk (as far away from Zelenograd as you can get in our current mission) the next day. The branch there was having an open house on Tuesday for Dignitaries/Government Leaders/etc. and they wanted us to come and do our puppet show on health that we have up here, as a way to show how we can serve in the community and stuff. So, we went down to Podolsk on Tuesday. 2 hours there, 2 hours back, plus taking time to eat, and do the puppet show and everything else, it was a whole day thing. Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of people there either. :( But it was a really fun day with the district, and you do what President asks, and if people had come, it would have been really important.

That night on the way home, we saw some of the craziest stuff that I have ever seen in Moscow. A huge fight broke out on the metro car we were about to hop on. We ran into Ksusha in the middle of Moscow. We saw a man laying on the ground covered in blood (the most blood I've ever seen in my life) and surrounded by people. It was pretty crazy.

So Tuesday we were in Podolsk, and Thursday we were in Moscow for transfers. That was also crazy. The office arranged for us to have a car to head down, since we had one whole companionship of Elders leaving and then C. X2, and then the other companionship of Elders would just head down a little later, because they needed to be there for a leadership meeting after transfer meeting. But there was a mix-up, and instead of sending us up the big luggage van, we got a little tiny car. There was barely enough room for everyone's luggage. Plus, the driver was late, so by the time we figured out everything and got all the luggage packed into the car, transfer meeting was starting in 30 minutes. And there was room for 1 person in the car. Obviously that doesn't work, so we hopped onto the train. Luckily, there was one about 3 minutes after we got to the station, or else we would have been like 2 hours late to transfer meeting instead of just 1. We called President, explained the situation, and, eventually, got to transfer meeting. When we finally got there, I got my new comp, Sister Thrall! She is a sweetheart! She is about 2-3 months older than me, and 2 transfers younger than me on the mission. So we've both been here for a while and are so excited to just work. We don't have to worry super a lot about the language, or about how to do work, and we can just go for it. Plus she is just so sweet and just a good example of everything. I'm really excited to be able to serve with her. It's kind of weird to be speaking English in the apartment again, but it is also a nice change to be serving with an American.

Then on Friday we went down to Podolsk AGAIN for the public part of their open house. That was just a long day--once again an all day thing. When we got home, I was just beat. And the next morning I woke up not feeling too great. I had a super killer headache, no energy, etc. At our last meeting as we were going, the mom gave me a hug and said that she thought that I had a fever. So...yeah. I was sick Saturday and yesterday. But we were still able to at least have a few meetings and do some work. I wasn't going to let just a little headache keep me from doing the little bit of work that I could do in my area this week.

So yeah. That's it. No other news. Things are good. I'm feeling better now, thank goodness. I am so excited for the goals that Sister Thrall and I have set for this transfer. I hope that we are going to see some miracles.

Love you all,
Sister Ashby

Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5, 2012

So I don't have a lot to say this week. The biggest news is that we found out about transfers. And...I'm staying in ZGrad! We're pulling a number 5 here! My daughter is done being trained though and is leaving the nest. She'll be going down to Podolsk to be with Sister Martyanova (ALL of my companions have served together. This is not a joke.)  That was such a surprise. When President showed up randomly to English Club to do interviews, my heart stopped. I realized that I really didn't want to leave ZGrad and I was 90% sure that I was going. But the past few transfers I've learned that with President and the Lord, you need to expect the unexpected. We'll see what happens. I feel like there's something special I need to do, someone special I need to find, this next transfer, because it doesn't really make sense to keep me here otherwise. I'll be serving with Sister Thrall, who came just a few transfers after me. I'm excited, because I don't know her very well, she's super cute, and since she's been here for a while, I hope that we can just hit the ground running--I'm pretty sure that we both at least have a pretty good handle on Russian and how we like to do missionary work, so I'm really excited. It will be super weird to be living with an American, though. I haven't lived with an American for 6 months! 

So this week we met some really interesting people while we were out contacting. It's super funny, because we actually didn't go contacting as much as we usually do this week. But especially on Wednesday there were just a lot of crazy people out on the streets.

  • Super Russian Orthodox woman. (It's weird to say Russian Orthodox, because here we just say Pravoslavnie...I also hate transliterating. You all should just learn the Cyrilic alphabet...) She would not listen to anything we had to say, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not just end the conversation. She told us that there was nothing in the Bible about a prophet Joseph Smith, but she was also admanant that you HAVE to pray to icons and the Saints and things...doesn't it say something in the Bible about NOT doing that? haha. Sometimes people are just super funny. She tried to tell us that she has been in her Church for 20 years, and when we've done the same then we'll understand. Well, I've been in my church for 22 years. :p haha, I just don't understand their logic sometimes.
  • A woman we met who was super cool. We talked to her in front of a member's apartment building for about 30 minutes. She didn't want to take a BoM at first, but she really believed in God but wasn't any religion and had some really interesting ideas. It was a great conversation because we listened to what she thought and believed and then we answered with what we believe and she actually listened. She took a BoM in the end and even though she didn't give us her contact (I HATE when that happens), she was really nice to talk to. She also thought some crazy stuff. She started talking about something about manna and how this guy figured out what it was through science or something...I don't know? That was the one part of the conversation that I kind of got lost in. But she also asked us why Jesus was so important, which was a great opportunity to bear testimony of the Atonement, because she believed that he was a real person, but maybe not that He was all that everyone says. The best part of our conversation though was when she told us that she has wanted her whole life to be able to say about anything that she knows it like we could say with the Gospel. :)
  • 21st Century Woman. At first she seemed really interested in our free book, until she found out that it was about God. She asked us how we weren't embarrassed, because we live in the 21st Century, not the Stone Age, and how in the world can we believe in God. She laughed at us, tried to convince us that God isn't real. She also told me that I wasn't happy. I really wanted to say, "I can promise you that I'm happier than you are." But apparently that wasn't the right thing to say because I started to say it and I was surprised when the end of the sentence was not "I'm happier than you are." I don't even know what I said. She just made me so sad, but we've had some good laughs about her since then. It just makes me really mad when people try to tell me what I do and do not know and feel. You don't know. Tell me what you do and don't know and feel. And then can tell you what it's like on my end. 
  • 5 minutes later, I had another moment where God stopped my tongue. We started talking to 2 women. One of them was super anti-Mormon. The other one actually was really interested, but when she asked about the BoM, her friend just started going off and saying the our book was from the devil and that nothing good came out of it. C. X2 asked her how she knows, if she'd read it, etc. And this lady was like, "No. I don't need to read it. I know it's from the devil." And if I hadn't been wearing a nametag as a representative of Jesus Christ with a nametag on, I would have said, "YOU'RE from the devil, hindering your friend's and your own salvation." But don't worry. I didn't say that.
  • Same day, just a few minutes later again. This lady told us that our book was free because Satan pays for it. See, in Russian, free is bez-platnie, which means without-pay. Well, bec means devil. It's actually kind of a clever play on words, but it would be a lot funnier in different circumstances. 
  • The next day we talked with a super nice Russian Orthodox lady. Even when people don't accept our message, it just makes me soooo happy when we can have a nice conversation with people and they listen and we listen and we can leave with good feelings and love for each other. It is really amazing--there's no inbetween. Either people say, "You know, I have my own faith, but good luck and I love and respect you. You're good girls" or they really just SLAM on you. But anyway. As we were talking to this super-priatno (pleasant, but that just sounds weird...) woman, this girl comes RUNNING up to us. We had talked to her and her mom about 3 minutes before, before we crossed the street to talk to this lady on our way to the bus stop. We asked them for directions to the bus stop, and then offered them a BoM, which they declined. But as we were talking to this other woman, the daughter comes up, out of breath, basically grabs the BoM out of our hands, asks if it's still free and if she can have it, and runs off. So yeah. That interesting/cool experience.
Yeah. Nothing really big this week, besides transfer news. Still no new investigators. Still nothing super eventful. But still love being a missionary!

Love you all,
Sister Rachel Ashby