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 year...cool 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.