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.