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Monday, February 22, 2010

You can see Miracles

No, I didn't feel the earthquake. I didn't even hear about it actually until I checked my email today and Mom asked me how it was. I hope that someone was worried about me though...that would have been cool.

So I just have a few stories to tell about how we can see the Lord's miracles, even in our day, if we just let Him show us. We'll see how many of them I have time to write.

Yesterday we went to visit a new investigator who we found in the "Area Book" (all the teaching records of missionary work that has ever happened in the parts of the city that I work in). This guy is a sailor and hasn't met with missionaries since he went on a voyage 3 years ago. We finally got to his apartment building, which was about as far out of town as it gets on a road called Snegovaya (sneg means snow...) which was very fitting because it was snowing, and the wind was really strong. He's so far out of the city that there is a forest next to his building and the closest store is in an old Soviet bomb shelter. Well we got to his building and I couldn't find my planner where I had written down which apartment number he lived in, I looked everywhere but I just didn't have it. We tried calling his number because it was still in the call history in my cell phone, but I got the busy signal every time I called. (They don't have answering machines in Russia...not even on cell phones) We stood out in the cold and the wind trying to call his phone over and over for a half hour and decided to leave, but I felt like I should try it just one more time. So of course, the last chance that I was going to give him, Anatolii answered the phone and invited us up to his apartment on the 6th floor of his building.

When we got there we met him and his friend. He told us that she had agreed to listen to us too. I love it when that happens. But I was really disappointed. She was very against us and even kind of rude. She sat down next to me on the couch and said "OK, let's hear your propaganda. I'll listen to your propaganda." She was really sarcastic as we began to talk about what we do as missionaries and how important faith and prayer are. She doesn't have any real religious background whatsoever, but her son has met with Jehovah's Witnesses from time to time, I'm pretty sure she thought we were them. Lots of people do.

Over the course of the lesson Elder Hall showed his pictures from home and she was excited to see his family and he also had a picture of the Temple in Provo, she was interested in that too. Pictures are so great! They help people realize that we actually are people and not weird priest/monks who live to preach our entire lives. (Everyone who can should help me out by sending me pictures of cool things we did before my mission so that I can put it in the book that I will carry around and show everyone I could be in "The Book" if you just mail me some pictures...)

We taught her about Joseph Smith's first vision, when he saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We shared with her why we don't smoke or drink alcohol, coffee, or tea. (She offered all of those things to us when we first got there...including vodka) We read with her from the Bible and from the Book of Mormon, and tried to help her see how much the scriptures can help us in our lives.

This guy loves to listen to "the Open Forum" a talk show from America about the Bible. He put one on to show us, and the man was talking about life after death, and about how only the "just" the "believers" would resurrect. I remember making the comment that the man who was talking had studied the Bible his entire life, but still didn't get it, he doesn't understand the simple doctrines that we can learn clearly through the Restored Gospel. They asked me what we think happens to the spirit after death and the only thing I could say was "Read Alma 40, it's written clearly there. And if you want to know more, read 41 and 42 as well, then let's talk about it."
At the conclusion of the lesson the once hostile girl asked for a Book of Mormon and promised to read without us even asking her. She wants to meet with us and learn more. The Lord blesses us even in the most unlikely of situations. He touched the heart of His daughter and helped her to be prepared to receive His messengers.

There are so many more stories I could tell from this week. About finding 9 more people who are interested in meeting with us in 2 days, about a finding an inactive member who we didn't know existed wearing slippers in a snow storm...the list goes on, but I hope that we always will remember that the Lord loves us and will bless us, even when we don't think it's likely.
With love,
Elder Fife

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pancakes and Keyholes

You know how sometimes you feel like there's almost too many holidays? You just get done with Thanksgiving and its already time to set up for Christmas...then New Years...Groundhog's day, Valentine's Day, it never stops. Well that is absolutely nothing compared to the holidays here. Americans aren't coming anywhere close to the holiday potential. Yesterday was 3 pretty big holidays. Yep, 3 on one day. First is Chinese New Year which nobody really celebrates but the Chinese people in town, but I hear they give killer deals in the market, so I'm going to go check that out later on. Next was Valentine's Day which is pretty much the same as in the States. People show up with little cards and random gifts, most of which have hearts on them, no big difference. But then, there's Maslanitsa. I think it's one of my new favorite holidays. People have tried to explain the point of it to me three or four times now, but I still don't get it. But who says you need to understand a holiday to celebrate it? Maslanitsa is a very easy holiday to celebrate. You eat pancakes for an entire week. Yep, a pancake holiday. It's the only week that you can buy them in grocery stores, but for the last week they have been everywhere! I found out about it at English Club. We were talking about how many things were happening on the 14th of February, and they told me about this week-long pancake feast. I was so excited, the other missionaries tried to calm me down but it just didn't work. An entire week dedicated to pancakes? I think it's brilliant. The next big holiday is on the 23rd of February. It's Military Day or something. Basically you give presents to anyone who is or ever was in the military (which is everyone because it's required here.) So in effect, all men get presents and flowers. There's a seperate Man's Day, but I'm not sure when it is...aren't holidays great?

That's one of the things that I really have come to love about English Club. You learn a lot of great things about Russia and the people who live here. You also learn which topics aren't very fun to talk about. I learned that lesson this week. I thought it would be a lot of fun to talk about Super Heroes at English Club. Bad idea. I asked the question about "what superpower would you want if you could have any one?" and I guess Russians are just less vain than me. When I wanted to be bulletproof they asked why and then told me that their super powers would be things like Love, helping people...stuff like that. I tried to salvage my topic by asking who everyone's favorite superheroes are. When the first three answers were Putin, my parents, and Jesus I realized that Superman just isn't as big here. In was a very boring English Club, and everyone knew it...lesson learned, talk about literature or something like that.
Another lesson that I learned this week came from tracting. I absolutely love tracting, mainly because it is always really awkward and is accompanied with great stories. Saturday night Elder Hall and I went tracting but the apartment building was set up differently than anything that either of us had ever seen before. On each floor there were two steel doors, with a hallway behind them and five of six apartments in each hall. All of the doorbells were outside the big steel door, which was locked and bolted to keep people out. So we'd ring the doorbell and wait for someone to poke their head out the door and yell "who's there?" down the long hallway of apartments. You might ask how I knew they poked their heads out when there was a steel door between me and them...that's what makes this story exciting. Keyholes. You can see through them sometimes, it was great. On one of the floors the keyhole didn't go all the way though though, so I had to find a hole in one of the doorbells to peak through to see how people reacted to our visit. We had a little success, but it really was just one of those things you had to experience. Good times with tracting.
There was a baptism this week. An 18 year old girl named Katya came to the Church through her friend who was baptised right after I came to Russia. That is great member missionary work! Katya is incredible. She set such a great example as a golden investigator. She decided that she wanted to read the Book of Mormon before she was baptized, so she did, in a week! She read it cover-to-cover in a week! In that same week she quit smoking. She had smoked since she was nine years old, but when she learned the Word of Wisdom she knew she needed to stop. She had 2 cigarrettes during that week, both early in the week, and has been off them ever since. I'm really grateful to Katya for her example and hard work to recieve the blessings of the Gospel. Wouldn't it be great if we were all that diligent and motivated
Last night I met with a new Member, I had to help another set of missionaries so that they could have the lesson with her. Since she isn't in my area and I don't really know her I really didn't say much of anything on the lesson. At one point though, Elder Jones was talking about a talk Elder Bednar gave and I said something like "oh I think he gave that two or three years ago" and this member was just astounded. "You understand Russian?" she said. It was really funny to me. I had understood the entire conversation perfectly. Not every word of course, but I knew exactly what had taken place. There isn't really a point to that story, but it was a funny experience I guess.

Have a great week,
Elder Fife

Monday, February 8, 2010


This week was just filled with "new" things. It's cool that new things happen every-day, but this was more of a time when I got new things. New shopka (super warm, and stylin'...and of course it matches very well with my coat [yeah, people comment on that all the time] I'm very proud of myself.), some cool new topachki (yeah, they're monsters and I'm planning to give them names at some point. I just have to find out at english club what legendary monsters Russia has, because I've never heard of any). We also have a new zone leader; he's my companion. With that came a cell phone. I honestly really don't like having a cell phone again. It means that people can get a hold of me whenever they want, or I have to feel bad for ignoring phone calls (but not that bad). The other part of that package of newness was a new companion. Elder Busico was transferred away from me to Khabarofsk. It's really cold there so I'm not to upset that I stayed in Vlad. But I just switched trainers with Elder Thellman, so my new companion came from the cold to be with me. I think he got a pretty good deal.

My new companion is Elder Hall. He's from this little town in Idaho called Blackfoot. Funny huh? I'm 5000 miles away from home and I end up serving with someone who lives 5 minutes away. He's a great missionary and I'm really excited to serve with him. It is going to be a great new transfer.

One thing that I learned in the scriptures this week was just how much people can change and how much good each of us can do, no matter where we've come from or what we've done in the past. The Lord has given each of us an endless potential for good. When Alma and Amulek started their mission they ended up having a big public lesson with a guy named Zeezrom. (The Russian chapter heading translates to say that "Amulek embarrasses Zeezrom. I love how the chapter headings translate. "White Lamanites" is one of my favorite sentences in a chapter heading so far.) Well we see how Zeezrom realizes the bad that he was doing and changes, then the people try to stone him and kick him out of town. The part of the story that I hadn't really noticed before, is that in Alma (31 probably) when they go on their mission to reclaim the Zoramites, Zeezrom is one of the people that Alma takes with him! He wasn't like the other anti-Christ who was trampled and killed, he actually had the opportunity of serving a mission, a really successful one too! The Lord's given each of us the opportunity to repent and start doing good. You don't need to have a great conversion experience like Alma the younger or Paul the Apostle. The Lord has work prepared for you to do now! So hurry up, repent, and do it!

The Lord really blesses us in so many ways. I have a totally new group of missionaries serving in Vlad with me now and each of them are just incredible and inspire and uplift me in so many ways. It's such a great opportunity to get acquainted with so many great people here in the Far East. I'm so blessed to be here!

Keep praying. Do it every day. Morning and night. Read the scriptures. They're little things, but they will change your life too; just like they've changed mine.

May the Lord bless each of you,
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The other day we were on a minibus going to Boliyeva. There was crazy traffic and then the bus got stuck. It was crazy! In the end Elder Busico and I ended up having to get out and push the bus up the hill out of the ice. My leg got covered in mud! It was really great, but I have never been so embarrassed about being dirty before ever. We visited our Branch President after that and he was really understanding...but my pants still won't come clean. Good times!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Someone's in the Kitchen

Life is great here in Cooking School. Someone once referred to his mission like that and I always thought it was good stuff, now I know what he means. It's just a shame that you all have to wait 2 more years before you can try my borsch! Or my Yablika Pirog (Apple pie). We made it for the bi-branch Missionary Night activity and it was a huge hit. It went so fast that I didn't even get to try it...I hear that's a good sign. A lady named Elaina taught us how to make them and it was a way good time, super tasty. So yep, cooking school is great here in the Far East. I also got to through a piece of cake in my companion's face during Missionary night...if I had any conflicts with him...they're resolved now. It was an "object lesson." Good times for sure!

There are some fun things with the Russian language I wanted to write a little bit about this week. First is one of my new favorite words: "Сам." Its said like "Sam" Which is my name. That is why I love it. I don't tell people my first name while I'm here in least they don't think I do. But really I talk like Nephi a lot "I, Sam..." The reason nobody has caught me yet is that сам means "myself" (or himself) and it doesn't change the meaning of what I say at all when I use it that way. So all the time on the bus I tell people that "I, Sam, am an American" But they just hear "I'm an American." Fun trick huh? I'm a big fan of it. There are lots of really fun things with the Russian language, but that one makes me feel cool or unique at least, so I use it a lot. Haha. Yep, I'm still a nerd.

So people love to give compliments. Yesterday in Sunday School this older sister was talking and she started talking about missionaries, she was just praising us for like 5 minutes. The investigator I was sitting by even shook my hand in the middle of it. I was pretty embarrassed, it was just uncomfortable I guess. I really don't like being complimented very much. I think the main reason for that is that I know that its not me who deserves any praise at all; it's the Lord. But there were a few times this week when I received a compliment that really touched me, because they were очень (really/very) heartfelt. A member who has helped us on many lessons told me about how when new missionaries talk a lot of the time natives are forced to think about how they're saying things. They focus on the words and the grammar. But when I was teaching something that I really felt prompted to teach in a lesson the day before he said that he completely just focused on the message. That's what I want! Nothing that comes out of my mouth is really very important, its the Spirit and the message that matter. I am really glad that people are able to hear my message, and not just my words. Definitely work to be done, but that was really great to hear from him. I guess I can receive a compliment every now and again.

There's another thing that I am becoming increasingly thankful for, its been on my mind all week. The words to a song written by one of my dearest friends and personal heroes (a living legend I'd say he's a living legend) keep coming to mind. "It's a Scout's duty to be trustworthy, Run the 12 boys, run the 12..." When so many people are looking for principles to live by, and aren't sure where to turn, I am really blessed to know that I can make most any decision by simply considering the points of the Scout Law that I've recited countless times over the last decade. Of course I've translated it into Russian and am memorizing it. I'm excited for the day when I can say "Here are 12 great things that I came up with to help guide our lives..." "You like the I came up with" part? Me too. Another thanks to scouting's impact on my life. I think I should write a book about it someday.

You know those stories missionaries tell about the Spirit just leading them to people who they were undoubtedly supposed to meet with that day? Here's a new one. My first tracting experience.

Last night all of our appointments fell through. After church we went home and had some dinner but really weren't sure where to contact. It was dark and cold so the streets didn't sound too appealing, so we decided to go tract a dome or two where a man we met a few weeks ago said he lived. Probably no more than 150 steps from my front door we went the wrong way and weren't sure exactly how to get to the place we had planned to go, but we found a dome and decided to try it. Now apartment buildings in Russia are set up differently than in the United States. Each staircase has its own door with an electronic lock (someone has to let you into the building to get in without a key) and on each landing there is 3 or 4 doors to apartments. It's really pretty cool how its set up.

So we walked past the first staircase door that was open because there were a few ladies smoking in the entry way and there was someone at the next door anyway, so it was opened, but then all three of us (our zone leader was on an exchange with us) turned and felt like we were supposed to go to the first staircase instead. We went to the top floor (always start at the top so that when someone is rude you don't have to walk past their apartment and risk seeing them again on the way back down...that's just how we do it I guess). On the top floor we had no success, nobody would even answer the door, and when they heard who we were they would usually close their second heavy metal door too to make sure they couldn't hear us anymore. (All apartment doors in Russia are made of steel...and there's always 2...just in case.) On the next level we were having similar luck, but then we knocked on a door with a bunch of music coming from the apartment. At first the man inside didn't hear us, but he turned off his music and let us in!

When he opened the door there was a 55 year old man who looked a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger (still in great shape) and wearing a Park City Utah shirt. Park City?! Go figure! As he saw us he said "ohh Mormons, come in." That wasn't the "Mormons? Get out!" that I'm used to, so I was very confused. As we go into his sitting room he pulls out a his Bible...his Book of Mormon...and Doctrine and Covenants! Then he showed us his baptismal certificate! Turns out he came in contact with the Church in the US in 93 and joined in 2002. He hasn't been to church since 2003 but told us that he was reading in the Book of Mormon just Friday night. He gave us his number and says we can meet sometime this week. I was in utter shock the entire time.

Now his story is far from over, but I know, without a doubt in my mind, that the Lord lead us to one of His lost sheep last night. Miracles happen, of that I can testify.

Well I hope that everything is well at home. I'm excited to hear whether the groundhog sees his shadow this year to find out whether or not we get more Winter. I'm not really sure how the Groundhog's Day rules apply when you're on the other side of the globe...but I'm going to just assume that it's binding on the weather here too. Thanks for the love and for the support. I'm so blessed to have the family and dear friends that I do.
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