Happy New Year! Isn't that crazy? 2009 is already gone. When this year started I never would have guessed where I'd be by the end of it. Life really is great here in Vlad. I am just living the dream I guess. I should have written yesterday, on P-day, but we didn't have any time at all. Things are ALWAYS crazy, but that's just how I live I guess.
Yesterday we played basketball against this team of like 16 year old boys...we lost...in a shoot-out. It was really embarrassing and I think all the missionaries who were there had their pride hurt pretty bad. I had a good time though. They also didn't call any of the times we were fouled...I blame it on the fact that the coach was Russian and we're American. I think this was the first real game of basketball that I've played in since the 5th grade intermurral championships. That was a cool day. Ok I really don't remember it that well, but I made a sweet 3-pointer and that's what really matters, especially in 5th grade. We played the team yesterday though, because their coach (I think she's their coach) is investigating the Church. She's a really neat lady, (even if she doesn't call fouls) and would be such a cool member of the Church. Hopefully things work out for her.
So last week feels like forever ago, because so much has happened. We've had english club twice, another sunday, my companion may have gotten a little frostbite...possibly, two new members were baptized! , and we taught and lost an investigator (she was SO cool! And SO nice, but she just isn't ready to accept the Gospel yet. I'm pretty sure she kept the Book of Mormon we gave her, and she stayed for Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School after she told us that she didn't want to meet anymore, so I think there's still hope. She's going to be in Nakhodka for the next month visiting her parents while school is out for the Holidays...yeah, for a whole month; maybe the Spirit will work on her a little harder during that time.)
Another investigator that we have though, Yulia (Julia..only they don't have J's here) is so great. I think we're going to committ her to baptism tomorrow. She is so ready for it and has so much faith. She was too sick to come to the Christmas party that the Branches in Vlad had on Saturday, but she wasn't about to let that keep her from coming to Church. We've talked about baptism a lot in our lessons and she always seems to be the one bringing it up, she wants to be baptized so bad. I love it.
We did have a baptism this weekend. It was so great. Alexei started investigating the Church a few months ago and then invited his girlfriend Ksyusha to come to the missionary lessons with him. They were both baptized today. It was so incredible. I have never seen so much joy on anyone's face as Ksyusha had when she came out of the water in the baptismal font. It was just incredible, I can't even describe it. Alexsei is way cool too. He has become one of my good member friends since I got here in Russia which feels like a lot more than a week and a half ago. He is going to make a great leader of the Church here in the Far East.
A few hours after the Baptism was the multi-branch Christmas Party It was such a good time. I did some things that I...am not incredibly proud of there though. Mainly I just did a sweet dance to the song that's like "Last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away...." Yeah, it was a good time, but I have a little less self-respect now. Haha. It's a part of building relationships of trust with the members right? They need to know that we're real people, that's what I tell myself at least. There also was a Christmas play which I thought I had a part in for a while, but I lucked out. It was fun, I just didn't really understand what was going on because I couldn't really hear, and it was in Russian. Sometimes I underderstand things a lot more than others, it's funny how that works. I'll just keep praying for the gift of tongues.
Actually, speaking of the gift of tongues, I had the coolest experience the other day! We always seem to talk about the gift of tongues, and I'd say I've experienced it already while I've been here in Russia (I mean I'm speaking it all the time and I haven't even really studied the language for even 3 months yet,) but the miracle that I saw the other day had to do with the gift of the interpretation of tongues, which is such a great gift of the Spirit.
I was in a meeting with Sister Anna Mikhailvna a member of the Church who just needs help and counsel. She is so faithful, but she always worries about her son. He is into all kinds of drugs and doesn't do anything with his life. He's 25 and just lives at home and bums off his family, but I guess its against the law here for his parents to kick him out. I don't really understand it all I guess. But she was telling us about her situation and just pouring her heart out to us begging for help and counsel, and I completely understood everything she was saying. Not the words she was using, I really caught very little of those, but the miracle was that I stopped listening to the words, and I started listening with my heart. The Spirit told me exactly what I needed to say to Sister Anna, and what I needed to ask her to do as well. Through the Lord all things are possible. I don't always understand the Russian language. Most of the time I don't. But when the Lord needs me to understand, there's no doubt in my mind that I will.
The thing that I felt like I needed to ask Sister Anna Mikhailvna to do seemed a little strange to me at first, but I am really excited for it. I am going to start kind of taking piano lessons from her. Haha. Crazy huh? She is so amazing at the piano, but she doesn't read notes. Its all just by sound for her. She actually was admitted into a music school when she was a child but dropped out because they made her spend more time than she wanted reading notes, and she just wanted to play music. Her lifetime dream was to be a musician, and she is so incredible. So yep, I have a Russian piano teacher who went to a prestigious music school in the Far East. That sounds cool, doesn't it?
Yesterday I also went to a Bible store. Who knew they had stores that just sold Bibles? It was cool. The Bible I bought was a little bit more expensive than I would usually think to spend on a Bible (since they're often free in the US) but it fits in my pocket and has a nice zipper cover. I love how much respect the Russian people have for books, especially scriptures. Really they have a lot of respect for things. They other day I went to stand on a chair while setting up for the Christmas Party, and two or three different people stopped me before I could and put paper down on the chair before they would let me put my shoes on it. I've never put paper down to step on a chair before. That was really a neat thing for me. Culture is so cool.
Last week I learned a lot about culture. We visited a member of the Church named Baba Anna. (Baba is short for Babushka which means grandma) Baba Anna fed me some great Russian food, gave me some tea (I now drink tea several times a day and it's so good. I think my favorite so far is Festive Grape. Fruit tea is way cool) As we were sitting there eating Baba asked my companion about my wife. I was really confused, and so was she. I guess wedding rings are worn on the right hand in Russia...no one told me that. So she saw my CTR Ring and was positive that it was a wedding ring because of the finger it was on. Now I wear it on my left hand which is really strange for me, but I'll get used to it sooner or later I guess.
I just absolutely love being a missionary here, missionary work in genral is just so great, and the chance to study the Gospel every day is incredible. When I got here I started reading the Book of Mormon a different way than I've ever read before. Sister Pratt, the mission president's wife, gave me a new Book of Mormon, in english, and told me to mark every time the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned. Have you ever thought about that? The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, testify of Jesus Christ so much. I counted over 680 different referrences to the Savior by the end of 1st Nephi. I think that is incredible, and it helps me to learn a lot of different things I had never realized about the Lord before. Elder Cook of the 12 told President and Sister Pratt that he and Elder Holland had done that while they were missionaries (did you know they were companions?) and it was an incredible experience for them. I love it. Try it sometime, it will change the way you think about both the Book of Mormon, and the Lord of whom it testifies.
Well the New Year is a great time to start new things, to find new motivation and set the mark higher. As we make resolutions and set new goals keep missionary work in mind. Think of whom you can share the joys of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and make efforts to help them to recieve the blessings that we enjoy. You'll see miracles as you do.
So I completely forgot that Christmas was this week too. Haha, who forgets Christmas? We had a great lunch at the McGills (they're secretaries in the mission office.) It was a really good time. Other than lunch we just worked like regular on Christmas Day, but what better thing could we do than teach about Jesus Christ on the day we remember His birth? I absolutely loved it.
There are a few things here though that I guess I'm not quite as keen on...maybe just not used to yet. Like water turning off randomly. The other day we woke up with no cold water. We had tons of hot water...but no cold. That might seem odd to you, but its perfectly normal here I guess. Another day we came home and had no hot water, but it came on sometime the next morning, just before the electricity turned back on. Hot water is pretty important since its how we heat our apartment. The hot water pipes are the only heater that we have, so it was way cold the morning after the hot water turned off, and the electricity being out didn't help much either. I thought it was exciting. Come what may and love it right?
Really I'm just happy to be here. That's what I say when I don't understand or know how to respond to anyone around me at least. Haha, but its true. I am so happy to be here and to be serving the Lord. I have seen so many blessings already and am thrilled to have the opportunity to witness so many more.