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Monday, May 31, 2010

Babushka Jamboree

My title is misleading, we didn't find any kind of jamboree of grandmothers...although that would be really cool.  I did, however, beat the babushkii who live in the same stairwell as me.  They like to sit outside of the door that goes to our building, to get some fresh air, talk to each other, and watch the kids playing in our playground, so every time that I come home there are anywhere from two to five babushkii sitting in their little rocking chairs next to the door, all bundled up like it's December.  When we first moved into this new apartment I would say hi to these old ladies when we would walk past them to go home, and they were just rude to me.  Here are a few examples of our conversations: "How are you doing?" "Horrible. Go home and rest." or "You aren't cold sitting out here?" "I'm freezing...look at how bundled up I am."  Now if there is one thing that I can do in this world, it's win over the heart of an old lady.  I think it's a gift of mine.  I just have a lot of love for those who are elderly and they can't resist it, as hard as they might try. 
I'm not totally sure what it is that I did or said, but now our gray-haired, shawl-wearing neighbors are a little different when I come home at night.  "Where have you been? It's been two days since we've seen you."  "I guess we came home a little bit late." "Good, we were worried."  Or even "Elder Fife (remembering my name is no small feat) this is my granddaughter Paulina, she is learning English in school, could you let her practice a little? ...Paulina, ask him his old he try asking him in English, ha ha."  Or probably my favorite. "You left without suit jackets the other day...I told you that you'd freeze.  Did you freeze?"  "Yeah...yeah we froze.  Fine, you were right.  We'll listen to you next time."  Babushkii are some of my favorites.  They wear dresses down to their ankles and shawls on their heads so that nothing is visible except their face...or they dye their hair pink or red or purple and show it off.  Good times.
In English club this week I had just finished committing my group to live by the scout slogan.  (Yes, I can picture each of you laughing at me a little bit even as I write this...but they all think that I'm really cool so it doesn't matter.)  Well after talking about scouts a little bit one girl, who always comes and has become a good friend of mine, Alina, asked "Elder Fife, have you ever been to a Jamboree?" After answering that "Of course" I had it kind of hit me...a Russian girl just used the word Jamboree...correctly...  Most Americans don't even really know what those are, and they see Boy Scouts all over the place.  How on Earth does Alina from Vladivostok have that word in her vocabulary?  And why does she understand what it means?  Well it turns out that there are a couple scouts in Russia, and my friend Alina is one of them.  She even went to the World Jamboree in England three years ago, something that I didn't pull off because I was at a conference in Indiana.  It's a small world after all, isn't it?  She was one of only 18 people to represent Russia at the World Jamboree...and of course she happens to sit in my group of English Club in Vladivostok.  I guess that I will always just find ways to pull off being a very connected person.  Thanks BSA! (Of course I told her that she has to find some cool Russian patches or something for me...just in case anyone had any question about that.)
Other news in our Mission is something that makes me really excited, and impressed with our Mission President.  Last week he informed us that he was completely rearranging the leadership structure of our mission, to be more aligned with the organization of the Priesthood and with what most other missions in the world look like.  To you this might sound like a no-brainer, but to me it was mind boggling.  Our Mission has never tried to hold the structure of other Missions in the Church simply because of our incredibly small number of missionaries.  We have about 30, when a usual mission sits usually between 120 and 170.  President Pratt's courage in following the feelings that he has been having, which come to him through the Holy Ghost, and take the risks of pairing more of our more experienced missionaries together in order to provide leadership and example is really incredible.  I think that it is going to make worlds of difference in our mission and the vision that he has is really just neat.  Maybe someone will think this is cool too...I did a bad job of explaining what is really going on, but I am really excited about it.  This is a great time to be in the place that I'm at. 
Sorry that my letter this week wasn't really serious or inspiring.  I guess I need to fit some of my fun moments in every now and again though, right?  I guess it just goes to show that even though I'm a missionary and busy myself with missionary things...there's still a little bit of good ole' Sam Fife in there somewhere.
Have a great week,
Elder Sam Fife

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lots to talk about

The highest point of the week was Leonid's baptism and confirmation. He's our investigator who is paralyzed and bedridden. It was a great challenge to get him to the Church and to immerse him in water, but everything worked out in the end. Never had I envisioned my service as a missionary as dressing or carrying an investigator to a baptism, having him passed from one pair of missionaries to another to sit on the bottom of a baptismal font, and then be laid down in order to be immersed, but that's how it went. One of the most interesting parts was changing him from his wet baptismal clothes into a white shirt and slacks while he laid on a mattress, on top of a table, in the baptismal room. We had to be fast because everyone who attended the baptism was singing hymns while they waited to finish the service. It was a great adventure, and as difficult, awkward, or strange it might have been at times, it was worth every second of it for the opportunity to see such a great man smile, and know that he has made very important covenants with the Lord.
On Saturday we had a big Branch picnic in this wooded area by the ocean in the place in our area named "quiet." We had a really good time and there were a lot of people who came and enjoyed. I had a great chance to show off some Frisbee skills that I picked up in all of our free time at Cedar Badge over the years, but just like those times each summer at Treasure Mountain or Island Park I seemed to be always running through the bushes for Frisbees that were just out of reach. After I came back from one of those experiences at one time everyone started saying "Elder Fife, what happened?" I was really confused until I saw that my shorts were stained with blood from a little cut in my knee. Of course everyone panicked and did all kinds of first aid...but the cut was really small and has already healed up. It was just a funny experience, so I guess I thought I'd share it.
I also realized a regret from my childhood at the picnic. When I was a kid I stopped playing AYSO soccer before most of the other kids. As a result I have become very dysfunctional at kicking soccer balls well. That still hasn't set in though, I guess. When I see a ball coming in my direction, I have to kick it, and I envision it going right where I want it to and looking good too. This was not the case when I kicked a ball and it went the wrong way...bouncing over a cliff and 300 feet down into the ocean. After 3 failed rescue attempts by the young men and I owe Evgenni a soccer bad. I don't know if everyone knows that it was me that did goal it to keep it on the Down Low for a long as possible.
I think that life is, sometimes is like a free Saturday, a really sunny one. There are so many things that you could do, and there's no way you can do it all. Some people have long lists of To Do's, even honey-do's, but others end up at a picnic by the sea. We can spent our free Saturday anyway we like, but those who relax or spend their time playing in the sun, get to live with the sunburn afterwards. You wouldn't naturally associate Russia with sunburns...but I am now a witness. We all looked like tomatoes.

I've always had a little bit of a problem with controlling my temper, and I've worked for a long time to be able to stay calm, but I only made it through the first 5 months in Russia before I kind of lost it. It wasn't really horrible I guess...but I kind of threw a few guys out of the Church on Tuesday. They were book salesmen. They had children's books, atlases, even Shakespeare (in English even). When Christ cleansed the temple in Jerusalem He taught that the Lord's house is not a house of trade, to me that includes selling children's books. When the salesmen came to me in the Mission Office where I was working on something with Elder Bush I explained to them that our church isn't a place to buy and sell, and that they would need to leave and work somewhere else. After apologizing they left the office and I went back to work. But, to my surprise few minutes later they poked their heads through the office door again, this time with an Atlas, all written in Russian (not even really helpful to me). Again I explained to them that it is against our rules to sell in our office and in the halls of our worship place, and told them they'd have to leave. Again they apologized and left, but they were still in the hall a few minutes later trying to sell to my zone leader some other fun little books of theirs. After his instruction they also didn't leave, that's when I lost my patience a little bit. I interrupted their sales speech to a sister who was in the Church and told them they would really have to leave, (the translation of what I said sounds funny in English but it literally means "straightly, right now!" When they said "hold on" and kept going my patience got even I then saw them to the door and made sure it locked behind them. Later when I saw them on the other floor of our church trying to sell to those who had come for English Club, it was really lucky that Elder Hall had gotten to them first.
I learned a valuable lesson in communication that day. Sometimes you have to speak very clearly, in words and tone, in order to get your message across.

The work is great. I am enjoying myself all the time and I feel the strength of prayers offered in my behalf. I want to thank all of those who keep me in their thoughts and prayers. The Lord is pouring out his blessings on His servants in Vladivostok.
Have a great week, and wish my Mom a happy birthday, to me it was yesterday, but in the States it's still her birthday. Love you Mom!

With Love,
Elder Fife

Monday, May 10, 2010

Just a Short Message

Once upon a time there was a mother who's son went to see to become a sailor. It was the only dream and desire of his life, he had grown up at home with his single mother who wished he would stay. His career did not last long as he was lost at sea, never to return. After years of mourning and grief the mother decided to do her best to erase the memory and pain, so she began to take down all the things from the walls of her home that reminded her of her lost son. As she began to look at her walls she realized what she had done wrong. On each wall were pictures of the sea, of distant places, and of ships. She then understood from whence her son's dreams of the sea began.

This brief story was shared with us by Elder Schwitzer of the 1st Quorum of the 70, a leading body of our Church. He came to do a tour of our mission this week and addressed us many times. He is a member of the Europe East Area Presidency which leads the work of the Church in the nations of eastern Europe. His point was this. Teaching happens in the home, much more than we even realize. He taught members here that there are three great places to teach in the home. Here they are.

1. The refrigerator door. (Your husbands and teenage sons will see the things you put there several times each day)
2. The dinner table. (When you make great food it automatically gives you a half hour of great teaching time together) President Schwitzer mentioned that this is the reason Sister Beck from the Relief Society General Presidency wants women in the Church to improve their cooking skills.
3. The walls of your home. As we walk past pictures, sayings, photographs, or awards in our homes each day we subliminally add those things to our lives. They often turn into our hobbies, goals, and priorities. They create an atmosphere and a standard of acceptance.

President Schwitzer told a story from his own life, when his dad was a bishop and he was still in his teens. His dad received a large poster with a student kneeling in prayer in front of a desk filled with text books with the inscription "Add prayer." He said that it effected his life and changed who he is. Be mindful of the decorations in your homes. There's the word of wisdom from Elder Fife for the week.

I also remember seeing great things written on the walls of the homes of those I home taught as a youth. I committed to memory the sayings from the Smith's home. "Two who walk as one in love, with God to lead the way, find life becomes more precious, each and every day." We remember the examples we're given. A special thanks to the Smiths. I send them my love.

This week was a great holiday in Russia. They celebrated the end of World War 2. For the celebration a United States Navy ship came to join. It's been really fun having Americans around, and being able to help them with my ability to speak and understand a little bit of Russian. It's a good time and the work is moving forward.

I don't have much time left to write today, so that simple message will have to do. I hope you have a great week and that the Lord's Spirit may be with you.

With love,
Elder Fife

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Well this week in the Churkin area of Vladivostok was spring cleaning. We decided to do it a little different this year. Because our apartment has housed missionaries for somewhere between 6 and 10 years there has been quite a bit of clutter that has found a way to gather in a certain closet. It is really amazing the kinds of things that has ended up there. Old neckties, coats, sweat pants, an army helmet, and even a washing machine! Well it's all gone now. Actually, we're gone too. The apartment is getting old and has so many problems that we were finally able to convince President that it's time for a change. So Thursday morning during language study we got a phone call from the Assistants to the President saying "we found you a new place, you'll be signing documents today, we'll be at your apartment in ten minutes to pick you up." 36 hours later we had completely moved to our new apartment and were mostly settled in. It's crazy how fast things happen sometimes. Our landlord didn't understand what we meant when we said we were leaving, until we had already cleaned the apartment bare. Now we have a great place where we have warm water and I don't even sleep on the ground. You learn to appreciate the little things. Also, it's right next to a favorie cafe of mine, where a good member of the Church works...she likes to give us extra food...perks are good too.

We got the biggest new group of missionaries to our mission in years this week. Four Elders and two Russian Sisters flew in Saturday and are so filled with energy they make me feel like a slacker. Today Elder Zamora is with us, before he takes a bus to Ussirisk tomorrow. We were walking today and I had a conversation with a guy, but it didn't go anywhere and I didn't really give him anything or invite him to church. I was looking for an ATM and kind of let the frustration of not having one within a kilometer of our apartment get to me a little bit I guess. Afterwards this great new Elder said something that really hit me. First he asked "Why didn't you give him any information about the Church to take with him?" and then said this "If I could speak as well as you can, I would teach everyone we see." It was in that moment that I realized that, without noticing it, I have gotten past the "new missionary" stage, and that almost a third of the mission already is younger in the mission than I am. I think with time we grow a little lax in the things that we do, day to day actions become commonplace and routine. I am really grateful for the wake up call that I got from a missionary who has been in the country for only two days. I'm glad that the Lord finds all those around me to work through. I think I'll find it in me to give even a little bit more to the work now. It's good to get a reminder every now and again about just how important this work is. It's important both the the Lord and to those who's lives are blessed by being introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and learning how it will help them to live happier, more consistant lives.

I hope that you each have a good week, and don't forget to prepare a little somethin'-somethin' for your mom's this week. Make it nice, because Mom's deserve it.

With Love,
Elder Fife