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Monday, January 25, 2010

Me ready for action. (not his hat but a girl in his branch - made of Artic Fox)

A giant ice sculpture of a whale. See the smile?

And 2 of the coolest little girls ever! Masha is 9 and Lena is 10. They performed for us at family home evening last week. They're great

Choose Life

So this is a crazy time, just out of control. Of course I enjoy it and I always love what I do, but when Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said "we wrestle..against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" he meant it. As of right now, Yulia isn't going to be baptized...not yet at least. It has been so tough to watch the temptations of the adversary ware her down. I still very firmly believe that she will be a great, active member of the Church...just not this week I guess. It's a really complicated situation, even more so because she knows that she received an answer to her prayers, just this weekend, while asking the Lord if it was His will for her to be baptized and if this was His true church. She knows it is, but because of some of the things a few members of the Church said in a Sunday school lesson she's doubting again whether she is ready for that kind of covenant. It really reminds me that when we have even a little chink in our spiritual armor, that the adversary will find a way to get in and make us struggle. Of course he wants to keep us from the happiness we have the potential to have, of course he wants to keep us from doing the small things like praying and studying the scriptures each and every day; but we have to let him. We're the ones who choose liberty and eternal life, or death and damnation. Choose life.

That said, I am learning so much from the people of Russia. I have a greater understanding of them and their circumstances each day, and each day my love for them grows. Of course the language is difficult, but people are SO understanding about that. When I tell people that I only really began studying the Russian language just over 3 months ago they are always very impressed. I just wish I could help them realize in whom they should be impressed. It's definitely not me. If we only realized the miracles that happened right in front of us each day there is no way we could deny the truth of this work, or the reality of the Restoration. But all too often "in seeing we see not, and in hearing we hear not." After many of His parables the Savior exhorted "those with ears to hear let them hear!" We have been given the ears, both physically and spiritually, which we need in order to hear the truths all around us. Life is filled with parables. You have eyes to see, just look!

I'm so grateful for the miracles that I see each day. For the miracles of understanding just a little bit more of the conversations around me each day, for members of the Church who give so much to build the Kingdom. This week we helped a young man named Arcaadi start filling out his Mission Papers. He is such a great example to me. And Alexei, who was baptized about a month ago with his girlfriend Ksusha, is thinking really seriously about a mission too. He showed up to church in a suit this week (which doesn't sound like much in the States, but here that is a really big deal) and he has a Preach My Gospel that he's been studying. He's only been a Member for a month and he got the Aaronic Priesthood last week! His faith and desire to serve are so incredible. I really look up to him.

The work here really is great, there is absolutely nothing I'd rather be doing right now, and nowhere on Earth I'd rather be. I am so blessed that the Lord has given me this opportunity and that He takes care of me from day to day.

I love you and pray for your success. Wherever you are in the world, from Blackfoot to Washington DC, to China, my prayers are with you. Thanks for the examples that you are to me and thank you for your prayers and support.

May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you,

Старешина Файф (or sometimes Elder 5)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The best time to serve the Lord in now!!!

Work is great here in Vladivostok. This week it really has started to hit me how complex and difficult the work is in an area where the Church is so young. Even Branch Presidents are just "toddlers in the Gospel." It is becoming more and more appearant to me why I was given the opportunities to lead change in Cedar Badge, SSE, and different groups with the OA and in High school. It's because there is no real vision here yet. The members of the Church need to catch the real vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and see how much we really can accomplish to build the Kingdom of God on the Earth.
To me it feels like I have shot back in time to the Kirtland era of the Church. There are so many struggles that we are facing here that are almost identical to those the Church faced in those days. But I think that I came to the area at exactly the perfect time. The Church here is ready to establish its roots and reach its potential. I will be more than surprised if the number of members attending Church regularly doesn't double in the time that I'll spend in the Far East. I really couldn't imagine a better time to be here doing the Lord's work. There's a lot of work to be done, but the Lord is preparing a lot of people to accept and build the Church here.
I'll share a few experiences from this week. I'll start with last night (Sunday night).
After Church yesterday Yulia, our investigator who is scheduled to be baptized this Saturday (we had to move it back because we just haven't been able to meet with her enough to prepare her for baptism and both my companion and I refuse to baptize someone who isn't ready) well Yulia pulled us aside and said that she needed to talk to us. When we sat down we prayed together and then she started to talk about all of her big concerns right now. I'm pretty sure she found some anti-mormon literature on the internet, and I think she's been getting some pressure from friends of other religions too.

She told us that she didn't understand why she needed to be baptized again, since she has already been baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church. It took a long time to discuss all of her concerns and the doubts that she's been having. It was incredibly obvious that Satan has turned up the heat on her in the last several days. Before now every time we taught her a principle she accepted it and found answers through prayer that we teach truth. She was just a completely different person yesterday. It's incredible to me how real the power of the adversary is. We always need to be very aware of how much he doesn't want this work to go forth and how hard he works to prevent it. Everything is better now though, and she still is planning on being baptized on Saturday. She even called me last night to apologize. She is such an incredible investigator and will be a powerful member of the Church.

Well after our discussion with her my companion went with Elder Jones to meet a potential investigator at a cafe that he works at or something like that. They were afraid that it might be a sketchy place so Elder Busico wanted to go to just to keep things under control. So Elder Kesele and I were together for the night and to make a long story short I didn't have a key to my apartment (why would I need one? I'm always with my companion and he has keys right?) So we ended up working on the streets for about 3 hours last night. We walked a couple miles, I taught atleast 6 lessons, got 2 phone numbers and gave away close to 20 English Club invitations. I probably would have done more but I ran out. It was a little tough for us because Elder Kesele is still really struggling with the language, and I'm just the new kid in town. People are really nice to me though and help me communicate. I love Russians! It was a really good time, but it was pretty cold and I was morally opposed to going into a store to warm up because it was Sunday and we have to avoid the appearance of evil. Eventually I gave in and we warmed up in a market for 5 minutes before we went back out to work. I just love my work!

We had a lesson with Sergei this week. He is so great! I felt really bad when I visited him though because we were running really late after our previous lesson and his wife had worked hard to make us dinner. When she brought it out my heart just broke. It was caviar. That is more than not allowed for us. We can't eat anything with fish at all. I felt so bad. That stuff is SO expensive. The other stuff they gave me was interesting. I'm really not sure what it is but it was kind of warm...and it had both cabbage and pineapple...that's about all I know. It was interesting, but cool.
Sergei has been everywhere. We looked at his picture album. He showed us when was in negotiations with Korea, Japan, China, and the US for various things during his career in the international department for the Russia Far East. So cool! He and his wife are going to make great members of the Church one day. While we were talking his wife got really teary eyed and they told us that a year ago from that very night her mother had died. It was a touching moment, and a really great opportunity to teach the Plan of Salvation, which helps us to know that families can be together forever. It was an incredibly spiritual moment. There's no way that it was a coincidence that we were with them on that night. The Lord is always making straight my paths as is promised in Proverbs 3.

Thank you all so much for your love, support, and prayers. I am always grateful for the strength that I receive, always more than I could ever have on my own. The Lord really is attentive of His missionaries.

It really blows my mind that I've already been in the country a month, but at the same time it's weird to me that I've only been here a month. This has got to be the most incredible part of my life that I've ever had. If there is anyone who reads this who is making a decision to serve a mission or not, whether you would serve as an Elder, Sister, or Senior Couple, I can just make the process easier for you. Yes. Serve. There's no way I can put into words the joy that you will feel and the blessings that the Lord will give you, and the way that your testimony will grow and develop, even in just a short month in a foreign place. Go, serve, build the Kingdom.

I love you all, I pray that you'll be successful in your righteous endeavors too. Thanks again for your prayers and your support. Just keep living in a way that will allow you to receive the blessings the Lord is waiting to give you.

Elder Sam Fife
If I were to make a list of favorite things...or things that I just absolutely love...these things would be on it.

Sliding on ice, seeing families with kids, just smiling and pretending I know what people are saying around me, grape flavored tea, Babushka (grandma-ladies), knowing lots of people with the same name (there are only like 50 names that people really use in Russian), being cool just because you're American, public transportation that only costs 35 cents, the tapestries and tile on the walls of my apartment, english club, the Subway that just opened in the same building as Church, children (there are only 2 kids in our Branch right now...Masha (9) and Lena (10), Uzbekinstanes (they're always SO nice, being Elder 5 (every time I say my name is Fife people hold up 5 fingers and say "Pyat?" or "Five?" Every time! I love it), hearing from great people back home, people who know the Bible well enough to quote even one verse to me..even if it's just to tell me we disagree, Indian food (like from Bombay), people who help me speak better Russian, reading the perfect scripture in the morning for a lesson that afternoon without planning it that way, exploring areas that I haven't been in before, renoks (bargaining markets), Ice sculptures, the several hundred thousand dollar Christmas Tree that was on the square...until the wind blew it over and destroyed it (I'm pretty sure it made national news), Russian's accents when they try to speak English, talking to children on the phone and not understanding because they are just yelling into the phone in Russian, chocolate made here in Vlad (its SO good!!)...

I'll continue the list sometime, but that will do it for now I guess.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prepared by the Lord's hand

This week I kind of wanted to write a little bit about how I've noticed that the Lord has been preparing me my entire life to serve here, in Russia. I've made some really fun discoveries.

1. Talk to Everyone

As missionaries it's really important for us to talk to everyone. They all need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it's my job to give them that opportunity. Every situation is an awkward one. A lot of times I'll say hi to someone and their response will be "I don't know you." But I learned years ago how important it is to talk to everyone. That's a lesson I learned while selling candybars to go to the National Boy Scout Jamboree. I learned that I had to talk to everyone and at least give them the opportunity to tell me "no" because a lot of times it was the person who I didn't think would be receptive that would buy the very most. Lesson learned.

2. Ice
In 5th grade the cool thing to do at recess in the winter was to slide on the ice. We'd find a good patch of ice and just smooth it out by sliding on it over and over. There would often be more than 30 of us lined up on the playground to slide on this sweet 10-foot long patch of smoothed ice. Now I slide down hills that are ice as far as you can go in either direction. Everyone slides here! Today I saw a man who was probably in his 50's who just took a slide on the ice while walking down the street. A few weeks ago we were helping an older lady get to the bus stop with a big bag that she really couldn't have carried very well on her own, and she started to slip on the ice....but she just slid it out. It was probably 10 feet, down a heels. I was very impressed. It's a good thing I learned that skill while I was young.

This is also a place for sweet hats! Definitely mastered that while I was younger too. Thank you Cedar Badge!

3. Crazy things in Public
Two years ago this week I took a job as Uncle Sam dancing on the street for a tax filing company in Rexburg. I got comfortable doing things on the streets that without fail seemed strange to everyone who saw me. Eventually dancing led to roller skates and a pogo-stick. I'm still proud of those things. Now I'm doing something on the streets that seems almost even more odd to the people around me. Telling people that there is a God, that He loves them, and that I can help them learn to follow Him. I'm glad I learned that lesson in stars and stripes.

4. Just smiling
I guess I smile more than the average Russian. This week I walked past a man and just said "good day" (I know that sounds really silly in english but people actually say it here) and his only reply was "I'm not a smiling person" as he walked off. I learned at Cedar Badge and Get Connected that nothing is more important than just smiling.
"Be optimistic,
Don't be a grumpy.
When the road gets bumpy,
Just smile, smile smile, be happy!" Thanks Kersie..Sister Babb

People always notice a smile, and eventually it will wear them down and open doors for you. I'm glad that I learned to always smile.

5. Grattitude
I love to have the Lord close to me all the time to help me through the challenges I face. I remember when I worked with Student Spirit Events at BYU-I how Friday afternoon was always "Grattitude Prayer." That's a tradition that I still keep. Every Friday night I try to just thank the Lord for all the things for which I am grateful. It is always the most rewarding thing. I was teaching a lesson this week to Yulia (I probably spell her name different every time in english..oh well) who is preparing for baptism, and our lesson was on the 10 Commandments. As we taught the 10th commandment "Thou shalt not covet" I thought about how when we focus on the things the Lord has given us, and not the things that we don't have, we find more joy and are better able to live the teachings of Christ. We won't covet or be jealous, because we realize that the Lord has given us everything that we really need.

I'm really glad to have been given so many opportunities to have been prepared for the work which I am now doing. I know that the Lord is always mindful of who we are, and who we will be, and that He guides us from one place to another; knowing the end from the beginning. It's like the hymn "Lead Kindly Light" probably my favorite. I don't need the Lord to show me the distance scene, one step's enough for me.

Я очень люблю кажды из вас! Спосиба за ваши молитвы. (I proably spelled that wrong.)
-Старешина Файф

I met a man at a bus stop this week named Sergei. He's retired and is really cool. He speaks amazing english and travels the world. This summer he is going to Holland.

I only met him on Saturday so we haven't had a chance to have lessons with him yet, but he seems to me to be so prepared to receive the Gospel. He used to work in Vladivostok City Hall as some kind of director in the International Department and did all of the receiving of Church Humanitarian Aid for this area of the world. To me that is a great sign of how well he has been prepared by the Lord to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Isn't it cool that I just happened to run into him at a bus stop that we hadn't planned to be at? It kind of just happened. At the same time as I was talking to him, my companion met a 19 year-old guy named Alexei. We are supposed to have a meeting with him today, he is really cool. When we met him he was smoking and had a half drunken bottle of beer sitting next to him...but we'll take care of that soon enough.

Miracles are happening here. It is so incredible to be a part of it. Prayers are answered as the Lord leads us to His elect and gathers Israel by His hand.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Here are a few pictures that I had meant to send from the MTC. My district at the Temple, my Branch while I was the younger group of missionaries in the MTC, and all the bottles we collected. Haha.

The coat and hat that I was wearing when we first got into Vlad were ones that the Assistants to the President brought with them from the office for me. I didn't have them in Korea...only in Vlad. But it was cool.

Who says the holidays are over?

So the holiday season is all kinds of backwards here; but I think I'm a fan. Their version of Santa Claus is Grandfather Frost. He dresses the same, but he's skinny and not jolly. I wouldn't say he's a grumpy old man...just not jolly like Santa is. But Grandpa Frost comes on New Years instead of Christmas. Really everything happens on New Years instead of Christmas. It was such a crazy night. I'll probably attach a picture or two that I took from the roof of our apartment building at about 12:30 that night. It was intense. Fireworks were going off in every direction, and because we were on the roof of a 9 story building they were really in every direction...including down. It was way epic, but my pictures were lame, oh well.

The thing I love the most about how they do all the gift giving and everything for New Years is that it frees up Christmas to simply focus on the Savior. The downside of that is that nobody really celebrates Christmas, because nobody here really realizes how important the birth of the Lord is, but it's neat for me. People also give you little New Years...wishes...I guess. Really if someone likes you as you talk to them anytime close to the New Year they'll wish you happiness, health, for all your dreams to come true, and lots of pretty girls...stuff like that...for the new year. It's really kind of funny because they just go off about all these things they hope you get this tradition.

So for Russian Christmas we'll probably just work like normal, kind of like we did on American Christmas. I think that night we'll probably go to the big temple the Orthodox Church has right in the middle of the City and see what cool things are going on there. I don't really know what they do, but it should be an experience. I just love the holiday season. I think I say "happy holidays" to about 80% of the people that I see now...just because I can. Love it.

I want to wish the best of luck and great experiences this week to those doing Get Connected at BYU-I. Get Connected is the new student orientation program at BYU-I and it really is one of the coolest things ever. Ryan Bruce, Jessica Swain, and Ryan Jeppesen, you're going to be so great. I'm so excited for the experiences you'll have this week. I want to hear all about it!

Also good luck and a safe trip to Abby, who is moving to China this week to teach english. You're going to be so great! We'll even be in the same time zone. How cool is that? I'm really excited for you too. Yeah, you're going to change lives. It's so cool.

We've really been having a difficult time lately finding a lot of new people to teach. I think a lot of the reason is that it's been extra cold lately, and everyone got really drunk on New Years. Things should be getting better in that regard soon. Ulia is really doing great though. She is scheduled to be baptized next weekend and really is getting a strong testimony of the Church and the Book of Mormon. She is so cool! I love watching her progress and her mind open as she learns the eternal truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her life is changing so much already. I don't even know how she can smile that much, it's really incredible.

This week I went to visit our Branch President one night. I want to talk about him just a little bit, because he is such a great example to me. President Marat (I think that's his first name but I really never know with people, because the only time I've heard last names used is with missionaries, but Branch Presidents do sometimes too so I really don't know...its cool), but he's the only member in his family. His wife is really cool, and he has an 8 year old daughter, but neither of them go to church. When I went to visit them the other day I also got aquainted with their pet bird...when it pooped on my shoulder. Haha. But they just opened their home to us and it was really a great time to get to know their family. I want so bad to help President Marat's family come into the Church so that their family can be blessed and also so that he can get more support in his calling as Branch President. He has so much responsibility, and to do that without your family supporting you just blows my mind. Especially since there are practically no priesthood holders in the Branch, there are just SO many inactive members. There were only 17 people at church this Sunday, (not counting missionaries) and I think only 4 of them were priesthood holders. We have a lot of work to do, but it's such a great place to be.

Thank you all for the prayers that you offer for me. I really feel so much strength and support from the Lord and I know that a lot of it comes from the prayers offered in my behalf. I love how we can support people, even on the other side of the world, in such a real way.

If I were to offer one word of advice to anyone, based on what I've now seen as a representative of the Lord, Jesus Christ, I would say read the scriptures every day. That is the stark difference between progressing investigators and past investigators, between active and inactive members of the Church. When we read the scriptures we allow the Spirit to draw closer to us and teach us what we should do and who we should be. We'll be less easily offended. There are a lot of inactive members here in Russia because the culture has created a paradox for itself. It's really kind of sad to see. Russians are extremely blunt. If you speak bad Russian that is exactly what they're going to say. There's no sugar-coating or beating around the bush for them. The paradox though, is that they are very easily offended. You have to be really careful about what you say because you'll offend someone and then you'll have problems and they'll probably avoid you and avoid the Church too, even though they have a testimony. Elder Bednar gave a great talk on that in General Conference a few years ago. I'll have to find a good way to help everyone learn that for themselves. That'll be cool.

I hope everyone's new year is off to a great start and that you're taking on great new challenges to help you grow and become more like the Savior this year. Elder Holland has a great message on that in the Liahona this month, it's really sweet. Keep working, and keep the people of Russia in your prayers. I'm here with the Lost Tribes of Israel and its time they're gathered. Help me with your prayers.

Elder Fife