Monday, December 30, 2013

With New Year!

So I bought a Christmas tree this week. It's about three feet tall and is practically straight out of Charlie Brown. It happened like this: we'd had a kinda hard day and were walking to our last lesson of the day. I got off the bus and there was this guy selling Christmas trees on the street. Naturally, I inquired. He said one of the small ones was normally 40 грн but I could have it for 15. That's less than 2 dollars, so of course I said yes and bought it on the spot. I then carried it to our lesson, on the bus home, and into our apartment. Maybe it was a little impulsive and stupid, maybe it makes no sense to buy a Christmas tree after we'd celebrated Christmas, maybe we have nothing to decorate it with, but I love the stupid thing.

In other news, it was so warm this week! It was 8 degrees C, so like 45 F! I don't even feel like I'm living in Ukraine. And I kinda love it. I know that snow will inevitably come, but for now I'm enjoying my global warming December. 

We played "would you rather?" for a family home evening with some of our members this week and it was the funniest thing you've ever seen. At first they didn't like it (Ukrainians are kinda terrible at thinking creatively), but the more we did it the more they got into it. By the end, they were so into it and thought it was the best game ever invented and were so bummed when we ran out of questions. It made my day. Also, our favorite baby has learned here first word - amen. (Except, it's Russian, so it's ah-mean). We had a lesson with her parents this week and she walked around saying it over and over and over. Cutest thing ever.

Ummm that's about it. It was kinda a weird week because like nothing happened. We skyped home and Christmas was awesome. Everyone we tried to meet with was like "after the new year." We ate at McDonalds on Christmas because it was American. My nails are purple not red right now. It's New Years tomorrow and we're not allowed to go outside after 8, because Ukrainians use it as an excuse to literally drink as much as they possibly can (which is a lot, if you're Ukrainian). But I'm actually super excited for the new year, because 2014 will be "that entire year of my life I spent on my mission." I just like that it works so I cleanly have an entire year. Anyway, Happy New Year (Or With New Year if we want to be Russian).

All the love,
Hannah

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Came Anyway

Merry Christmas everyone!
 
There's quite a bit of pressure about being a missionary writing home on Christmas. It's like you're supposed to have some profound insight into "the true meaning of Christmas." I've thought hard and I really don't have that, so instead of writing a Christmas sermon, I'll just tell you about what my Christmas season has been like.
 
As we know from last week's (slightly whiny) email, Ukraine doesn't do Christmas like the States. By which I mean, they don't really do Christmas. Consequently, it's been a rather interesting December. Without the usual external forces pointing towards Christmas, it was more-or-less up to me to make Christmas happen for myself. I was somewhat uncomfortable to realize that, unless I did something, December could come and go without Christmas coming. As it turns out, in and of itself, December doesn't bring a focus on giving, on being kind, on doing service or on Christ any more than any other month does.
 
But, of course, I craved Christmas. I've never even been one to celebrate Christmas especially emphatically, but I suppose I never realized what a nice little place it has in my heart. I missed nativity sets in homes and creches in yards. I missed Christmas songs -  I found myself walking down the street singing songs I learned for Waterford Lower School Christmas concerts (I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In, anyone?). I missed reading Christmas story books like Auntie Claus and The Grinch and all those lovely Christmas books that always teach the same message "it's better to give than to receive." I missed the slightly tacky news stories about Christmas miracles and displays of kindness around the world. I missed being in church meetings where everything said relates back to Christmas. I missed Christmas lights.
 
So I set about making sure Christmas would come. As it turns out, that's no small task, because it means cultivating that Christmas spirit (which I always thought was a cliche phrase, but now I realize is a real thing) internally and individually. It all started with Handel's Messiah, which is on my absurdly-random-assortment-of-music missionary iPod. I don't know if Christmas's can have themes, but if mine does it'd be the words from Handel's Messiah (and Isaiah), "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." This Christmas, those are the words that I haven't been able to get rid of and that have invited in my Christmas spirit. The language is so specific and beautiful; it reminds me to be grateful that the Christmas story, and all of Christ's life, was done "unto us." It sounds like a cliche, but as I thought about that, I didn't crave Christmas anymore. Lights and songs and storybooks don't quite matter so much because "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
 
And that is what my Christmas has been about; gratitude for the miracle of Christ. I believe and am grateful to believe that the child was born and the son was given unto us. That means everything to me. I'm grateful that his atonement and gospel and church "work" in my life - make me better, happier, more at peace, more nearer to the person I want to be. I'm grateful for the example he set and that I can strive daily to become more like him. And I am deeply grateful that I have the opportunity to be a missionary, to tell people what I believe, to invite them to find out, too. Being able to share the love and goodness I find through faith in Christ is the greatest privilege and the best part of my Christmas.
 
So yes, Christmas came anyway. And I intend to keep it here a good while yet.
 
All the love,
Hannah

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Snowflake Fell

So I woke up Tuesday morning and decided I hated my hair. It just sort
of hit me that I really didn't like it. The upper layer was way too
short and everything was dry and I just hated it as much as anything.
So I spent the whole day telling Sister Clark that next PDay I was
decidedly getting a haircut. I wasn't sure where, because my trust of
Ukrainian hair cutters wasn't high (have we talked about how the Woman
Mullet is a popular style here?), and I wasn't sure when because Pday
time is always short, but it was going to happen. Finally, at the end
of the day Sister Clark was like, "Do you just want me to cut it?" and
because I didn't know who else would and I didn't know when else I
could, I was like "Yeah! Let's do it! Now!." Sister Clark had never
cut any one's hair before, but we kinda just went for it in the living
room. It was only slightly terrifying. Anyway, now my hair's 3.5
inches shorter and more-or-less even (Okay, so the left side is
actually decidedly longer than the right side, but we're working on
fixing it sometime soon, we've just been too lazy so far). It's an
adventure. But actually, Sister Clark did a great job. It's a good
thing I like her because transfers were this week and we found out
we'll be together 2 more months (until Mid-February!).

In other news, it started snowing Tuesday and hasn't really stopped
since. I mean, it's stopped at times and hasn't snowed really hard,
but it's pretty much consistently snowing whenever we go outside. It's
cold and lovely. I bought 2 new huge-and-super-warm sweaters and I'm
kinda liking this Ukrainian winter thing. One oh-so-Ukrainian thing is
that they don't shovel or salt sidewalks here. So it's kinda like
living on an ice rink! I asked Marina how people don't fall all the
time and she was just like, "Oh, they do. Especially babushkas and
kids." I haven't fallen yet, but I'm sure it's in the works. Am I
considering buying myself a pair of ice skates? It's possible. Merry
Christmas to myself.

Since there's now snow, we had a snowball fight! Guess who started it?
Our 23-year-old branch president. We (4 missionaries, 3 members, and
him) were standing at the bus stop the other night and he just picked
up snow and started himself a snowball fight. It was so funny. It
ended with him tacking the RS president and one of the elders in the
snow. Where else in the world does that get to happen?

I taught another lesson with a kitten on my lap! I didn't try to, but
this time it came up and curled up on my lap during the lesson and I
couldn't kick it off, now could I? Apparently I have become an
individual obsessed with baby animals.

In other news, we're teaching a 79-year old woman. She can't really
remember what we teach her or our names and can't see to read much
anything and is afraid to go in the snow and come to church, but she's
completely darling. It's so fun to teach her because she just loves
having people in her house. The first time we met with her she
started crying and talking about how no one calls and no one visits
and she's just all alone. So now we call her every day and visit her a
few times a week and just try to help her feel like someone in the
world cares about her. It's nice to be able to do that for someone.
Everyone go call your grandma!

Anyway, I feel like I haven't had anything good to say for weeks.
Maybe the longer it's been since I've been in school (much less simply
read a book) the dumber I get. But in the most simple way, I love it
here.

All the love,
Hannah

Monday, December 2, 2013

It got cold this week

Hello,

Well, this was a funny week. There were lots of outliers. For instance, I taught an entire lesson with a kitten on my lap. (She'd curled up and fallen asleep when we were talking and I couldn't just kick her off). Said kitten, for unknown reasons, had no tail. I also had my first moment of intense trunkyness/homesickness - we walked in a library and it smelled exactly like the library at Swat and I just about died because all of a sudden I was like "all I want to do is read a few books and write a paper in McCabe." We also did interviews with our mission president this week. Except he called to say he was coming up from Kyiv after we were already on a bus to a village 2 hours away where we were going to do service and hence wearing sweatshirts and jeans. So we did our interviews the second we got back from the village, wearing sweatshirts and jeans. President said they were his first interviews in 2.5 years with missionaries in such apparel. It also got cold this week. It hovered around 0 and -1 degree Celsius. Which is cold. My body was like "'it's cold and I don't like it! I give up!" and immediately succumbed to sickness. So I was kinda a baby about that, but I'm doing better now!

We, us and the elders, had ourselves a little Ukrainian Thanksgiving this week and it was sort of awesome. The elders bought a 4 lb turkey breast and prepared it all fancy with spices and stuff and we cooked it. They also made mashed potatoes and corn, both of which were super American and awesome. We tried to make stuffing, but they don't have chicken broth in this country and the stuff we ended up making was like 90% salt and unbearable to eat. We also made "cranberries." As in, we bought an ambiguous red berry at the store and followed the cranberry recipe with that. Whatever it was, it was awesome. And we bought rolls at the store, because Ukrainian bread is the best. Plus the elders made "root beer"! They put imported-from-America root beer concentrate in mineral water and it was only sort of disgusting. This country needs dry ice. We had super-Ukrainian kontiks for dessert, which are this cookie/chocolate thing that you soak in milk and it's awesome and every missionary here loves it. So that was our great Ukrainian Thanksgiving experiment.

Anyway, I feel like that's all I have to say. More adventures to come, I'm sure.

All the love,
Hannah

Monday, November 18, 2013

Marina the Mini

Privet,

So this week we had a girl from our branch, Marina, with us Monday - Saturday. It was awesome. Marina is probably my favorite Ukranian. I mean, if I had to pick one and stuff. She's incredible. It was a great experience to work with her and learn from her and teach her a little bit about life as a missionary.

One of the things about Marina being Ukranian is that she only speaks Russian (well, she speaks Ukranian too, but that doesn't help me much, now does it?) So this week, it was Russian all day every day. When the alarm went off at 6:15, I got to roll out of bed and speak Russian to Marina. It was so hard. Every night Sister Clark and I were just slaughtered we were so exhaused. It takes a lot of energy to speak entierly in a foreign language all day. But, it was also incredibly rewarding. I realized how much I am able to do in Russian. Marina and I have a real relationship. Like I will definitely stay in touch with her. And it's entierly in Russian. The fact that I have a sincere, Russian-only friendship is amazing to me. WE HAD GIRL TALK IN RUSSIAN. One night we stayed up until 11:30, talking about the likelihood of she and our branch president getting married after her real mission (papers go in today!). It was so much fun, but Sister Clark and I were both like "wow, it's amazing that we did real girl talk that late in Russian."

The first night, it 10:25, so we were like "c'mon Marina, time for bed" and she was like "wait, what about dinner?" Because she had been living in the real world, and wasn't used to early dinner, early bed, etc. So we fed her a bit and stuff. But really the whole week, she really was not a fan of our American/corrupted Ukranian food. It was kinda adorable, but also a little bit sad because I think she was hungry the whole time she was with us. One night we made tacos, and they were awesome, but she was like "wait these are way too spicy." There was literally nothing spicy on them, just taco seasoning. It was adorable because Ukranians just hate all things with spice. They like sour/vinegar. Someone needs to bring sriracha to Ukraine.

One thing I love about Marina is that she takes charge. She pretty much runs our branch. Like her gender is the only reason she isn't the branch president. She does more work than the branch presidency councelor + the elders quorum president + the RS president. This girl is a fireball. And she totally came into our companionship and pulled her own weight. She made all the phone calls! And planned our way out to a little village to visit a less active member with a new baby (sidenote: the baby was darling and I loved it)! And did the dishes! She was the foce of positivity and energy and goodness in our companioship this week. We were sort of on a post baptism "so what do we do now?" streak. Like ther really wasn't anything planned, no one to meet with, etc. Not because we're lazy, but because we can't proselyte and there just aren't a lot of folks in our lives right now. That combined with the fact that we were sort of exhaused from speaking so much Russian/not getting enough sleep meant that Sister Clark and I were a teensy bit grumpy all week. But Marina was always like "no, lots happened today! I learned a lot today!" Not in an annoying way, but in a sincere way. I actually don't know if we'd have made it though this week without her.

So Marina talked in church yesterday about her mini mission and it was so sweet to hear how much she learned. She said that Sunday morning (first morning back), she woke up on her own to do studies, but then got her week-old-convert father to do them with her. Isn't that touching? I love being a missionary because I get to be part of things like that. Having Marina around, made me realize how much I've become a missionary. I know, duh, right? But it really did stand out. The things that were new to her, that she learned the most from were things like studies and prayers and missionary life things that have become so commonplace to me. It was actually really neat to be like "oh my goodness, I'm a missionary!"

Anyway, hope things are good in those States across the ocean. Isn't it Thanksgiving or something soon? Eat something spicy for me!

All the love,
Hannah

PS.
Attatched is our district picture taken from our next-door-neighbor apartments. Gotta love it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Our drinking water is not the color it is supposed to be.

Hello there,

Well, we changed our water filter this week. All missionary apartments have filters for drinking water because water in this country is somewhat less than safe. Our filter came out brown/black. Usually they come out slightly tan. Ours was the worst that every missionary we showed has ever seen. But it's cool, Chernobyl is proably far enough away that it's not radioactive things in our drinking water.

Speaking of water, our investegator Жанна got baptized on Saturday. To be completely honest, I was somewhat reluctant to put that in an email. I really don't like the missionary emails that are like "Woooo someone got baptized and now I'm an awesome missionary!" I don't know, it just makes me feel a little bit like a 17th century missionary to Native Americans. Missions are so much more than the quantity of folks that get baptized.

But Жанна did get baptized and it was awesome because of how much she's changed. She comes from literally the most dysfunctional family I've encountered - she grew up in an orphanage because her father was in prision for killing her mother and her brother was in prison for killing her grandmother. When we first started teaching Жанна, she seemed totally disinterested - didn't talk to us much, didn't look at us when we talked, etc. In another area, we probably would have dropped her. But because she was our only investegator, we kept working with her. As we did that, she started to changed. As the gospel really came into her life, Жанна just got happier and more animate. She smiles now, talks to us, calls us like 6 times a day (that's actually sort of annoying, but it helps her so we do it anyway) and always wants us to sit by her at church. I felt like we were watching light come into a life that had been pretty sad and dark. To me, that's what makes this baptism a success. I came on a mission to share something that's changed my little heart with others. I got to do that wih Жанна  and I'm very grateful for that opportunity.

So I spent most of my week doing lessons with Жанна and helping her getting ready for baptism. A few other things happened. We spent lots of time with our investegator, Masha, too. She studies English at the university, is reading Maugham right now, and told me yesterday that she's read Romeo and Juliet in English, so she's a boss and I absolutely adore her. She's my favorite to meet with. I'm probably not supposed to have favorites, but oh well. Sister Clark and I had a splurge meal the other day and got pizza! We also made 4 loaves of banana bread for various folks. It was awesome and such. I don't know, this is sort of a short email. It's been a good week. I'm so grateful to be here, among these people, with my companion. People say "missions are hard" all the time. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, maybe I'm naive, but mine's not. It's challenging every day, but it feels so much more like a privilege than a burden. I end every day feeling grateful. 

All the love,
Hannah

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Halloween Comes to Житомир (it would have been easier in America)

Why Hello English-speaking World,

First of all, you have perhaps noticed that I am writing this email a day later than usual. I spent all of yesterday in Kyiv doing registration so I can live here legally and what not. By the time that ended, I had 2 hours left of P-day time, which we choose to spend playing in Kyiv. So we're catching up today. But playing in Kyiv was awesome! We ate lunch/dinner (ambigious meal time, not 2 meals) at McDonalds (I felt super American and touristy eating at McDonalds, speaking English and being in Center Kyiv). We also visited Maidan square nand the Lavra, both of which were beautiful. I was kinda like "Oh! Look! I'm back in Europe again!" At the Lavra we went down into the Catacombs and walked by candle light among Orthodox saint corpses in glass boxes. So that was completely fascinating. Someone should google information about the Lavra and tell me what the heck it actually is/why there are catacombs/what they're for. 

When we were here, it was a good little week here in Житомир. I heard it snowed in Utah, and it's yet to snow here, so I'm considering that a major win. Daylight savings time happened last Sunday (fun fact: because Ukraine is sometimes a joke/ghetto, every year they vote to decide if daylight savings will happen), which meant that we got a whole extra hour of sleep (!!!). It also means that the sun starts setting at like 4 and it's pitch dark by 5 PM, but whatevs. It's only mildly depressing. I think I'd like to reitierate that we don't have snow. 

At church on Sunday, the person saying the opening prayer said, "we're thankful to have a temple in Ukraine" and it melted my heart just a teeny bit. I don't think I've ever heard a prayer in Utah (or Pennsylvania, for that matter), that said, "we're thankful to have a temple in our country/state/zipcode." But Ukranians are just darling like that. In other news of darling Ukranians, we started our "English Practice" this week (it's illegal to call it a class). When people were introducing themselves, I made them say their favorite English words. The list included: destination, present, nature, cat, monkey, and umbrella. Language is so cool. My favorite word in Russian right now is "вот" which literally means behold, but people use it colloquially and I love that. I always feel super magnificent saying вот in daily conversations.

So I'm going to spend the rest of my email talking about what happens when Halloween comes to Ukraine, because it pretty much consumed my weekend. Should I ever write an essay about this, it will probably be titled "It Would Have Been Easier in America":

I'm sure you all had a great October 31, seeing Trick-or-Treaters, handing out fun-sized candy, going to parties, etc. Guess what I did with my first Halloween abroad? I spent it at a tombstone factory. I kid you not. We spent the day with one of our members, Katya (she's married to Andrei, from the Book of Revelation talk). We got up early and took a bus way out to the middle of nowhere. She picked us up "in town" in one of those old Soviet cars that have frames the thickness of quarters, but somehow haven't gotten in an accident and crumpled like paper yet. We then drove down a dirt road for 30 minutes to her literally-middle-of-nowhere house. Her house doesn't have gas, so it's heated by fire/smoke/if I'm being honest I don't really understand the whole thing I just know there's a large fire-oven thing in the middle of the living room. Anyway, the area was completely gorgeous. We were just in the Ukranian countryside, and I absolutely loved it.

After feeding us and such, Katya took us to the tombstone factory. We saw how they cut the stones, shine them, and move them with machinery. She showed us where Andrei shapes them into crosses and other fun Ukranian tombstone shapes. She showed us what she does, too. She carves the names and dates and any illustrations onto them. But, because this is Ukraine, the illustration is usually a non-smiling portrait of the deceased individual. It's terribly tacky, but also wonderfully Slavic. I just love that the picture these families choose to have on their progenetors' tombstones are grumpy  faces. We will always remember her frown.

To get home from Katya's, we had to catch a ride with her boss back to "in town," because Katya has no car and it's too middle-of-nowhere for buses to come. So he drove us in, but then no one was really sure when/if the bus we needed was acomin'. So he drove us to another stop, but then when he was driving past and saw no one there, he kept driving. Eventually, we were like "so where are you taking us?" and he was like "oh I decided just to drive you to Житомир." And we were like "you're amazing and so Ukranian." 

So that was Halloween Thursday. Friday, Sister Clark and I were in charge of getting pumpkins at the ринок for our branch party of Saturday. A ринок is sort of like an outdoor market thing, I'm not sure how to explain it. Google it, if you will. Anyway, we needed 10 pumpkins for the party. In America, you could go buy them at the store. Here, you have to wander around the ринок until you find someone who is selling one. Then you tell them you need 10. They look at you like you're crazy. When you promise to pay, they agree to bring 10 pumpkins the next day. So Friday, we went to pick up the fruits of the elders' labors, because the elders were in Kyiv for a music festival. We got there and they weren't like totally 100% pumpkins, but they were close enough. So we paid the lady for 7 25-30 lbs pumpkins. I hope you know where this is going. In America, you put the pumpkins in your grocery cart, wheel it to the car, drive it home, and then unload them in your garage. Here, it's different. I had been smart enough to at least bring my big duffel bag/backpack. So I had 3 in there plus one in my arms for approximately 125 lbs of pumpkin I had to carry back. Sister Clark had 3, but she had to carry them all in her arms. Long story short, the usual 10 minute walk to the apartment took 40, and we couldn't move the next day. 

Saturday night was the party! We started with carving pumpkins. The pumpkins had rotted in a few places since we picked them up, so they smelled kinda funky, but once we got going no one seemed to mind. No one there had ever done this before and it was so funny to watch them figure it out. It was completely adorable. They couldn't quite figure out how to carve but then once they started they completely adored it. The funniest part was that people would cut out a piece, and then eat it. Marina, one of our super darling members who's turning in her mission papers any day now, and I carved one together. We sort of made a cat. Hopefully my camera will work and there will be pictures. After that we did toilet paper mummy contests, which was sort of the highlight. The kids and the adults completely adored it. But at the end, when there were giant piles of papers on the ground we super felt like wasteful Americans. In Ukraine, people just don't waste 10 pumpkins and 10 rolls of toilet paper. We finished with, of course, trick or treat. We did it in different classrooms in the church, but it was so funny, because the kids totally got it and acted just like American kids. They'd knock on the door and when you answered yell, "конфеты!" because "trick or treat" was pretty hard. At the end, each kid had a fairly large supply of candy, and we were good with that, but the adults were all sort of horrified. We'd kinda forgotten that it's only in America that kids get a 6 month supply of candy on Halloween. The Ukranians couldn't figure out why on earth we'd given out that much candy, but I stand by it.

So yes, that was my week. It was sort of crazy and wonderful and Ukranian. Sorry I just wrote a novel instead of an email. I figure you'll forgive me. 

All the love,
Hannah

Monday, October 28, 2013

Babushka Boots

Hello Everyone,

Let us start with the funny story of the week. In our branch presidency is Brat Andrei (brat means brother, but it's not brat like English it has an ah vowel). I could best describe Brat Andrei as Hagrid's Ukranian doppleganger. He has crazy, shoulder length dark hair, a giant beard, and is like 6'3''. He makes tomb stones for a living. But he's also one of the nicest guys in the branch and is such a boss. We love Brat Andrei. Anyway, last Sunday he spoke in church and was given the topic of revelation. But rather than delivering the nice thoughts on personal revelation that you'd find in a Utah sacrament meeting, he interpreted that as direction to discuss the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which as we all know, is impossible to understand. So basically it was, obviously, the best sacrament meeting talk ever. Now our memebers are all trying to read the Book of Revelations, bless their little Ukranian hearts.

So I'm pretty sure that in general, Ukraine was the best place in the world to be a missionary this week. There have been so many kindnesses shown to us. Every day I am amazed by the kindness I experience. It's not a bumpersticker kindness done because kindness as an idea is important (if that makes sense) or what have you. People are kind because that's just who they are. They don't even think about it, because it's just who they are. There's this awesome Vonnegut quote from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater that I think of all the time here (heads up, there are some naughty words in it): "Hello babies, welcome to earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. There's only one rule I know of, babies: god dammit, you've got to be kind." I think that is actually the Ukranian mentality. You've just got to be kind. This week, especially, I had a few experiences that highlighted that:

We made brownies to take to the babushka who lives next door to us. We introduced ourselves and gave her brownies and talked for just a minute because she had a friend over. And we didn't think much more about it, until the next night, when there was a knock at the door about 10 minutes after we got home. We opened it and there was Baba Vanda. She had our plate, which she was "returning" but had filled with Ukranian crepe/pancake things as well as another plate filled with this apple strudel-y thing she'd made with her friend. We were literally giddy because it was so cute of her to make it. Today we're buying flowers and returning her plate.

Another little story of kindness comes from Cvetlana. She's a member with a daughter our age who's not a member but who we're teaching. After our lesson this week, I worked with her daughter on English homework (She's an English major, too!) while Cec. Clark worked with Cveta on her talk for Sunday. In the course of it all, one of them borrowed a pen from us. We left without remembering to get it, but when Cveta discovered that, she was ran after us for 10 minutes, in her slippers, to get it to us. She finally caught up to us outsider our apartment and gave us the pen. She wasn't even concerened that it had been a pain for her to run after us because she wanted to make sure we hadn't been inconvienienced by the loss of a pen. 

Our last amazing person of the week is Baba Anna. (Sidenote: You put Baba in front of the name of babushka and that's just what they're called). Baba Anna's a member, but she lives like 2 hours away from Zhytomyr in the celo, so we don't get to visit her very often, but this week we did. We got there and she had this enormous meal prepared: borscht (my first in Ukraine) and gretchka (which is buckwheat and actually is awesome) and she'd bought a whole chicken because the missionaries were coming. So that was amazing. After that we went outside to do some service stacking firewood. As we were walking I told Cec. Clark how much I loved Baba Anna's boots - they were these fur-lined super Ukranian work boots. Baba Anna heard and then proceeded to try to give me the shoes off her feet. This is a babushka who doesn't have money to get to church every week, but she was trying to give me her boots. She immediately took them off, showed me how she had other pairs, how nice these ones would look if they were shined, and kept trying to hand them to me. Eventually I convinced her to keep them, but I was simply amazed that she would have given me her shoes without a second thought.

I could write more about the kindnesses I've enountered in this place, but I feel like these 3 little stories are sufficent. Every day, I get to spend time with people who really do fundamentally live by the principle "you've got to be kind." And I am perpetually amazed by them. Sometimes, I feel like a terrible person in comparison. At least once a day I find myself thinking, "Hannah, you've got to be better," because I would never have been as generous or chartible or kind as people are to me every day. I am so grateful I have the opportunity to live here and work with the people here. They teach me so much. I hope that when I grow up, I can be a little more Ukranian.

All the love,

Hannah

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hitchhiking and Chicken Liver

Our theme this week was "Hannah continues on in her adaptation to life in Ukraine."

Have we talked about the Ukranian language? Because there's this thing here where people speak Ukranian. And when I say people, I mean that 3 of the 5 people we are teaching right now only speak Ukranian. They understand Russian/us most of the time, but it is so hard to understand them! Like Cec. Clark has a hard time, and she's been out 6 months/ is really good at Russian. So that's a thing. We also do church in Ukranian. We use the Ukranian hymn books, which is fine, because "Come Thou Fount" is inexplicably in there, so I'm a pretty happy camper. But yeah, there's a lot of Ukranian in my life, right now. 

Sometimes, life in Ukraine gets a little bit sketchy. For example, I was fed chicken liver this week. Now I realize that as someone who is not serving in South America, I really have no right to make any comments on the meat I am fed. But as a former vegetarian of 2 years, I feel fine saying that that was a struggle. I may or may not have made the elders eat it when the members weren't looking. But I'm not owning up to anything. (Sidenote: one my favorite things about the Romans is that they believed the liver was the center of emotions, like how we say the heart is. Isn't that sort of wierd and awesome?). 

Another sketchy thing was that we sort of hitchhiked this week. Us, the elders, and the branch president went to this little село about 90 minutes outside of the city to visit a less-active with Parkinsons. We had a nice little visit, did some service, and then went to catch our 2:15 bus back. But the bus didn't come. And didn't come. Finally we asked someone and it turned out that for whatever reason the bus wasn't coming until 4:30 that day. But we needed to get back sooner because the branch was watching conference (in Ukranian, of course) and the branch president had the DVD! So we hitchhiked. As in stood on a curb and tried to pay someone to take us back. Apparently that's a thing people do here. Anyway, we waited for about an hour before Sister Clark and I got a ride (we got to take the first car to stop because the driver seemed nice enough, and they didn't want to leave us stranded in the село). And the driver was super nice, didn't murder us, and didn't even make us pay when we got back to the city! So that was my fun adventure of the week hitchhiking. I'm pretty sure it was safe because the branch president was there and in charge of it.

In related sketchy news, remember the sketchy hospital lab I talked about in my first email? Two of the people we're teaching work there but live in селоs, so we taught 3 lessons this week in the hospital lab. As in, we were sitting in a room with viles and petrie dishes filled with gelatin-ized (not a word) blood and urine while teaching about the Restoration. It's sort of hilarious and I'm like 90% sure it's safe enough that I won't contract some terrible disease. 

Sometimes, life isn't sketchy, it's just super Ukranian. Like when we were in the село this week and saw like 6 horse-drawn carts. Or, because it's apple season, the way that every time we visit anyone they give us a giant bag for of mostly rotten apples that they just picked up off the ground from under their apple tree (we usually leave them in ambiguous places throughout town where people pick them up). Or there's the giant statue of Lenin in the middle of town. That makes me smile every time. Speaking of Lenin and failed governments, does the US still exist? Because the last thing I heard was that we were supposed to go bankrupt on the 17th. Where's that whole thing at?

Also super Ukranian is the fact that no one here can sing. It's adorable how completely terrible our hymns are every Sunday. It is actually possible that every Ukranian is tone deaf. I think it's because in the US 1) people grow up singing these hymns 2) the hymns haven't been translated so they flow better and 3) we have some element of music in all K-12 education, so people learn the basics. Anyway, the missionaries did a musical number last week and it was a total hit. When I get back, we can talk about how funny it is that I sang in sacrament meeting because I'm a fairly thoroughly terrible singer. But we even got applause from the members (in the middle of sacrament meeting), so that was encouraging (sort of). 

Anyway, life's an adventure right now and I'm loving it. The members are so kind and loving, we're teaching some awesome women, I love my companion, I have hope that someday I'll learn Russian, and things are good. This week, someone posed the question "how are you different since coming on your mission?" I've only been gone 3 months and I'm not sure I have a good answer or that I'm really all that different. I think I have more peace in myself; I'm settling into myself. I'm not all that I want to be yet, not by a long shot, but I'm plugging away and I might get there eventually. 

Until then, all the love,

Hannah

Monday, October 14, 2013

Elevator Rides and Fall Leaves

Hello There,

So my spellcheck on this computer is in Russian. Which means that we're going to find out just how terrible I spell in this email. Please forgive me. And don't tell Swarthmore. I really do still plan on majoring in English, but without spellcheck I might seem illiterate. (Ironically, I'm not even sure how to spell illiterate.)

The most momentous event of the week was my first ride in an elevator. (Okay, technically it was my second because my first one was the way up). Anyway, we were at a member's house with the elders and it was a little late so we hurried out and got in the elevator. It went down for about half a second then there was a very loud noise, a jolt, a moment when we all thought we were going to fall 9 stories to our deaths, and the elevator was broken. (See photo). We spent a good half hour in there while the members tried to get someone to fix it. There was lots of yelling in Russian and a few moments when we were worried the "fix it" guy was going to cut the wrong cord. But eventually they pried the doors open and we climbed out. Like literally climbed out, because the elevator was still half-way descended. Luckily we were in jeans not skirts, since we were there doing something that required pants.

Fall here is just gorgous. Since we're outside of Kyiv, there are huge trees all around in every color of yellow and orange and red. We spent Saturday doing service at a member's "dacha" (basically like a small cabin outside of town that everyone here has) and it was incredible. Afterwards we walked along the river with her and it was some of the most amazing autumn I've ever seen. If I had the space, I'd attatch tons of photos of it, but the one here will have to suffice.

This week I also had my first experience of the "Ukranian direction phenomenon." What is that, you ask? When you ask a Ukranian for directions, they'll more than likely go way out of their way to walk you wherever it is you need to go. I'd been told about it, but this week I was kinda shocked when we asked someone for directions and it actually happened. At first I was super suspicious that she was actually just going to walk us to the hospital. But she did. And then I felt really guilty for coming from a culture when I'm suspicious of too much kindness. Ukranians are awesome.

In other news, Russian is really hard and I'm sort of over not being able to communicate with anyone. But I'm learning! Sigh. My mini-goal of the week is to not say um when I speak Russian (it would be nice to be able to do that in English, but I've only ever met one person who could). Right now, when I teach there are long moments of "ummmmm" while I conjugate and decline words in my head. But one member told me that totally doesn't make sense in Russian, which itself makes since because they don't really have that sound in their language, so anyway I'm working on that. Basically I'm working on everything in Russian right now. Sigh.

The good news is that the work is working. Things for us to do (good, worthwhile things) are continually coming up just when we get to the point of "wellllll, what now?" I love working here, on my unconventional "secret mission" (as President calls it). This week totally flew by! I feel like I was emailing yesterday.

WHICH REMINDS ME. I am putting out a plea for baked goods recipies. We end up baking a fair amount to take to members (since that's mostly what we do) and our single cookie recipe is getting old. So pretty pretty please everyone who reads this send me some recipies. Preferably simple ones (we have no Kitchen-aids in Ukraine) but really anything. Thank you already times a thousand.

On a different note, we had zone conference this week and it included a really good discussion of repentance, but the thing that's really been on my mind all week is a Hugh Nibley quote that someone brought up: the only 2 things worth being good at in this life are repenting and forgiving. I love it because really, they both, at least in part, come down to believing in the goodness of the human heart. Both of them come down to believing that we fundamentally want to be good and in believing it's possible to become better. Isn't that lovely?

Thanks everyone for emails and letters. I'm sorry that every email I send out is a paragraph long and ends with "I'm sorry but I'm out of email time." I really am thoroughly terrible at budgeting it out. Eventually I'll get it down. In the mean time, I really do appreciate hearing from you and love you.

All the love,
Hannah

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sister I Drink Takes Ukraine

Hello world,

So remember how it was funny that my name tag reads "Sister I Drink"? My like first 4 hours in the country I had multiple people (includine my mission president's native-speaker wife) look at it funny and suggest changing it. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to, because it would likely involve creating a more-or-less entierly new last name. We'll see what I decide to do. But for now, this is Sister I Drink reporting from Ukraine.

So my last few days at the MTC were awesome. The best part was that we spent pretty much all day Saturday at the conference center since we were the MTC choir for the RS broadcast. We had a cool little mini-devotional with the General RS presidency, had mountains of blush put on our faces by the MTC RS presidency (there was blush on my forehead! My forehead!) and got to be in the same room as Elder Holland for a little while, which was second-best to him coming to the MTC. The coolest part was that after the meeting, the entire RS general presidency stood and gave every choir member hugs. That kinda blew me away. It's arguably their biggest day of the year, but they wanted to make sure the choir felt loved, too. How cool.

Early Tuesday morning (as in 3:15) we got up and got on a bus and a train and a few planes on our way to Ukraine. The travel was good. My absurdly enormous bag only cost an extra $100, which was good because I was worried it was going to cost closer to $500. Judy sent me a burner cell so I got to call my parents and talk to the family for a little while in the airport, then break the phone in half and throw it in two different trash cans before leaving the country. It was pretty ligit. The flights were good - I had aisle seats on every flight! (We didn't get to pick our seats, so that was actually amazing). And I'm here!

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we did training with President and Sister Klebingat. It was super intense, but really good. I'm excited to be in their mission. Arguably the hardest part was the jet lag. My body was like "Hannah, why on earth are you up at this hour?" and I was like "I don't know but we've got to stay awake because President's talking about the House of Israel." There is no cushioning of jet-lagged missionaries. You power through it. (Which is actually way better, because if there were cushioning, jet lag would probably go on for months.)

So I'm out in the field! It's a funny story, actually. I'm serving this transfer in Zhytomyr (I think that's how it's spelled in English). It's a nice little city about 150 KM west of Kyiv with this big, beautiful Orthodox church in the middle. Anyway, interesting thing about this area is that it's non-proselyting. A little while ago, they kicked out all the churches except the Orthodox one, so we can be here and can work with the branch, but we aren't allowed to wear tags or go contacting or do regular missionary stuff. It'll definitely be an interesting transfer. Sister Clark is my trainer. She's from Virginia and has red hair and is a sociology major at BYU. She's been here 4.5 months, and she's super awesome. I'm very pleased I get to work with her and excited to become BFFLS in the next 6 weeks. Also, we have such a nice apartment. It's seriously amazing. Way nicer than my dorm at college, so that's a definite perk. 

But our branch is awesome! We're the first sisters here in 5 years and they're so excited to have us. There are like 30ish people who come every Sunday. I was really worried about being in a brach (I'm from Utah after all), but it turned out that it was awesome. The members are all pretty new in the church - baptized in the past 18 months or so - but they love each other so much. It's a little family. Basically, it's the liberal arts college version of a ward and I love that. Yesterday was fast Sunday (general conference hasn't been translated to Russian yet), so naturally the new sisters were invited to speak. I spit out some little testimony (not right, but understandable I think) and sat down. After sacrament meeting I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was one of the members, Natasha, giving me a hug. It was so sweet because it felt just like home. Like I've had people in my home ward do that to me after I talk. It was one of those moments of "oh good, the church still works in Ukraine. I know where I am."

The other awesome thing was that since it was fast Sunday and there were the new sisters we had a feast after church. All the sisters gathered in the kitchen and put together this awesome dinner. We were in there preparing away, but it was so typical Mormon RS gathering, I couldn't help smiling. Granted, we weren't making funeral potatoes, but the principle stands. I felt like I knew where I was. And the dinner was awesome. Seriously so good. Afterwards, the branch president (who is amazing: 23, RM, has 7 other callings in the stake, doesn't even live in our area but takes the bus 2 hours every Sunday to come be our branch president) had us introduce ourselves. They wanted to know how long our families had been in the church and they were so excited to hear that many of my anscestors were pioneers. When you're not in Utah, that's exciting. 

So I love our little branch. Most of our work this transfer is going to be spending time and developing relationships with members and I'm so excited to be able to do that. We taught two lessons already (we're allowed to teach, but only if someone specifically asks to be taught) and teaching is the best. Even though my Russian is barely understandable, I love being able to communicate even a little bit. On Saturday, we visited a member at her work, which happened to be a hospital. Can I just say that I hope I never have to be in a Ukranian hospital? Mission goal number one: stay absurdly healthy. She works in the "lab" and I'm pretty sure I had nicer stuff at Waterford. She was showing us all these petrie dishes of congealed blood growing various infections - I definitely heard the words salmonella and dysintery at one point. It was super intersting, but also kinda super terrifying. 

Anyway, it's been a good, busy, crazy couple of days. I'm so happy to be here though. Yesteday was October 6, which (I'm pretty sure) was the day a year ago when the age change was announced for missionaries. It is amazing to me that one year later, I'm here. On a mission. With a tag (in my bag, since I can't wear it). Hebrews 10:31 has been on my mind a lot this week; it says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." In my mind, that means that sometimes it's scary to act in faith. That moment before I know it's going to work out when I have to just do it with faith it will be alright is sometimes the scariest part of the journey. I think deciding to go on a mission was much scarier and possibly even more difficult than actually doing it. But every day I am very grateful I did. I still have moments of "woah, I hope I'm going to be able to do this," but as I look at the past year of my life, and what has happened when I've "falled into the hands of the living God," I have faith that it will be okay. I'm so excited about the next year and a half and all the experiences it's going to bring. 

All the love, 
Hannah

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Week 8: MTC Wrap-Up

Hello world,

So I'd like to start this email with a few matters of business and announcements:
-I leave THIS TUESDAY OCTOBER 1 for Kiev! Not that I'm absurdly excited or anything. That means that this is my last email in the MTC, and that you won't hear for me from the next 12 days, until my 1st Monday P-day in the field. (Sorry Judy!)
-My last day to receive letters/dear elders/packages at the MTC is Sept. 29, so everything has to come by then! Dear elder still works in the field, but not very well. So it's better to use mail or the church's pouch mail or email (Judy can give you all this information if you so desire it.)
-Everyone log onto LDS.org on Saturday night at 6:00 to watch the Relief Society General Broadcast. Specifically, the choir in the RSGB. There may be a certain Cectpa you know wearing jewel-toned blouse and a Russian name tag in the choir. You know. 

Alright, that's all the business I have (I think). Since it's my last MTC email, I think I'm going to do something a little bit different today. I hope that's okay with everyone. Instead of telling you what happened this week, I'm going to write about what I've learned during my time here. If I've already written about these things, forgive me, I kinda just decided to do this. There really aren't the beautiful or profound or earth-shattering things that I read or heard spoken. These are the things - the thoughts and beliefs and knowledges - that have sunk into a little MTC-shaped space in my heart. I hope this doesn't get to preachy. But in no particular order, here we go:

1. His hand is in my life.
For years, I have been known to say, "I don't know why, but the universe just favors me." Throughout my life, inexplicably and consistently, things have worked out for me. Whether it is the most wonderful people who have walked into my life, or good things (that I clearly didn't deserve) happening to me, or success coming or problems fixing themselves for me, things just work out for me. I realize how abstract that sounds, but even during the times of intense doubt in my life, I have had faith that the universe would be kind to me. 
Well, as my faith has grown, I have come to see this a little differently. Now, it's not so much that "the universe favors me" as that "my Heavenly Father loves me and has a hand in my life." An enormous hand, whose trace I can clearly see as I look at my life. The universe doesn't just favor me; my God loves me. I know I can rely on that love. 
This has completely changed my relationship to prayer. When I ask for something, or tell him I need something, or say I need help, I know it will come if it is in any way, even a petty way, the right thing for me. It's not that I think I can demand a laundry list of blessings and get them. It's that I have complete faith in His involvement in my life. I cannot look at my life without seeing His presence blessing me at every turn and I cannot offer a prayer without knowing that His answer will be the one that blesses me the most. I feel like I cannot even slightly adequately express how intensely I know He will take care of me. I rely on that belief as much as I rely on anything as a missionary.

2. Love is more important than lipstick.
There isn't necessarily a good way for me to tell this story, so I'll just tell it how it is.
My first Sunday (as every sisters' first Sunday), I went to New Sisters' Orientation, in which they discuss the dress and grooming standards for sister missionaries. The woman who let this meeting is a "higher up" at the MTC. And the meeting was pretty superficial (because dress and grooming standards usually are), but it got the job done. The most notable part of this meeting was the 2 or 3 minutes spend emphasizing the importance of lipstick because it helps people focus on your smile so you look more inviting so they're more likely to talk to you. It was sort of weird, but mostly just funny emphasis on the old-school value of lipstick.
So I didn't really think much about the lipstick until several weeks later when I found my companion and I having dinner in the cafeteria with this woman and her husband. And it was one of the most uncomfortable dinners I had at the MTC. This woman was so cold and so formal. It literally felt like I was letting her down - like she thought I was a failure as a missionary - because my details - lipstick and posture and formal, dignified language - weren't up to her standards. My companion asked her, "so what's your favorite part of serving at the MTC?" This woman responded "Oh, the missionaries." But it sounded so flat and heartless and empty I wanted to ask, "you sure?"
So I thought a lot about this woman. And I know that I've painted her in a very bad light and that's really not fair of me because I don't know her really at all. But, based on those 2 short interactions I had with her, she taught me something important: love is more important than lipstick. We frequently say that the most important thing a missionary can do is love, but this woman taught me more. She taught me that without love, all that other missionary stuff - lipstick and language study and obedience and wearing the tag - is completely useless. Being a representative of Jesus Christ is first and foremost about loving. Jesus was about love. So while all of that other stuff matters, it doesn't compare. No one care about how nice you look or about how on time you are if you don't love them. But if you do love them, it makes all the difference. As Elder Holland said, "If you can love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow." So on those days when I get bogged down in the details or the language or anything else, I take a moment and remind myself: love will always be more important than lipstick."

3. I have a voice.
This is something that I've been told a couple times in my life, usually by writing teachers, And I know this doesn't really seem like something I needed to learn - we all know I'm obnoxiously outspoken already - but it turns out it actually was. What I've learned is that having a voice is not about being different. I used to feel like having a voice meant being outspokenly different - not agreeing with certain things in the church, being a crazy-what-have-you liberal, going to a fancy liberal arts college and studying  completely useless, highly interesting things. And all those things still matter to me and are still part of who I am. But they neither comprise my identity nor characterize my voice. Having a voice is about integrity, certainly - being true to who you are and what you think - and it's about being willing to share that, but at it's core, having a voice is about knowing how and when to use your voice. Because a voice that isn't heard isn't a voice. I've learned that I have a voice, not just because I have thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc and not just because I'm overly-willing to share them, but because I'm learning how to speak so my words will be heard. 

4. Turning out is the answer.
Elder Bednar has written and said a lot about the Character of Christ and how that character is manifest by Christ's consistently turning outward in love and compassion and service when an ordinary person would turn inward in selfishness and suffering. Which is lovely and profound and maybe difficult to really apply to myself. But here's what I've learned: turning out is not just good because it's good; it's good because it makes me happy. My hardest days at the MTC were the ones I spent thinking and writing and focusing on myself. It was when I got over myself and out of the way that life got brighter. I don't think this is a missionary or a Mormon truth, I think it's just true. Turning out is always the answer. It seems to me that the purpose of life, on the most basic level, is to have joy and to learn how to love. I think these things are inextricably linked. As I love, I have more joy, and as I'm more joyful I love more freely. It's a glorious cycle. Sometimes, I get selfish and interrupt it (and let's be honest, by sometimes I mean at least daily), but I really have come to believe that turning out is always the answer.

5. Sometimes, love is streamers, plastic sunglasses, and cardboard American flags.
Until this Sunday, Elder O'Brien from my district (who you'll remember from the JS story episode), had never had a birthday party or gotten a birthday present. He grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive family in Serbia, and they didn't do birthdays. So when our district found out his BD was during our MTC stay, we started saying "Elder O'Brien, we're going to have such a HUGE party." And he was always like "no don't... I don't want anything. Don't." Up until his birthday, he continued to insist that, but we decided to plan something anyway. Now, something you need to know is that Elder O'Brien inexplicably loves America more than any human I have ever met. I literally do not have the words to express to you how much he loves the country. I could write an email full of Elder O'Brien and America stories, but I have other things to say. So anyway, Judy was kind enough to send me a box full of the most American stuff she could find at Zurchers. And on Sunday, while the elders were at priesthood, Sister Gomm and I decked out the room in American swag. It literally looked like Uncle Sam threw up in there. WE even had "America the Beautiful" playing on repeat from LDS.org. And, or course, we had gifts of plastic USA sunglasses wrapped in streamers, sitting on his desk.
He walked into the room after priesthood and his eyes got wide and he said, "Woaaaaah, it's all USA in here, woahhhhhh." And he opened his presents and put on the sunglasses and seemed happy enough. We had to run to our Sister Training Leader Meetings, but we left feeling like "well, that was good thing to do for him. I'm glad we did that little thing. I think it made for a good birthday." And neither Sister Gomm not I thought much about it as we went about the rest of the day. But about 6 hours later when we walked into the classroom, things were different. Elder O'Brien was there and even though I'd seen him every day for 8 weeks, I think that was the happiest I've ever seen him. He said, "Sisters,  I love you. If I could give you a hug, I would. You are the greatest missionaries in the world." Later, his companion told us that Elder O'Brien had been going up to every person he saw saying, "It's my birthday today and the sisters threw me a party."
The thing that was miraculous about this experience to me was that Elder O'Brien felt our life. For weeks we have been trying to help him know that we, as his district, love him. But he has a really hard time accepting love and always responded with, "No, I am stupid." But because we put ups some petty little streamers and plastic sunglasses and cardboard American flags, he knew he was loved. That's a miracle. 
If there's been one "theme" of my MTC stay, I think it would be love. I have studied and pondered and wrote and prayed about love every day that I have been here. I have understood and felt my Heavenly Father's love more powerfully than ever before. I have started to understand how and why we are commanded to love one another. (Emphasis on started). And I've found out some beautiful and profound and intricate things about love. But this might have taught me more about love than anything else. Because what this taught me is that love isn't about me. Love is about the other person. It's about meeting their needs and touching their hearts and losing track of myself in the process. Sometimes, that comes down to things as simple as streamers and plastic sunglasses and cardboard American flags.

6. I turn to prayer.
If love was the biggest "theme" of my MTC experience, then prayer was my most meaningful growth-space. At a certain point, fairly early on, I realized I didn't have the relationship with my HF that I wanted and needed as a missionary. So I set about changing it. At first, that meant getting out of the Mormon Prayer vernacular and into "okay Heavenly Father, here's where I'm at." And that was good but wasn't enough. So I set studied some talks and wrote some journal entries and made some goals. I started praying aloud every night and morning. I started pondering what I needed to say when I showed and brushed my teeth. I started leaving myself 10 minutes so I wouldn't rush. And I started carrying a notebook to write down what I needed to pray about - both to keep my prayers deliberate/sincere and so that I would know what things I was look for answers to. In essence, I was trying to change my prayers from things I sent off into the universe to a daily communion and conversation with my Heavenly Father. And here's the miracle: my prayer have forever changed, and I am as well.
I have become someone who turns to prayer. When I'm happy or sad or anxious or excited or frustrated or worn our or proud of myself or grateful or whatever, I now turn to prayer. When Elder Scott came, he said, "how we face challenges and solve problems is critically important to our Heavenly Father." Let me just say that I have found that to be true. I have seen that truth in my life. It amazes me and nearly breaks my heart I find it so miraculous. Prayer is one of the most awe-inspiring gifts I have ever received. It has already changed my mission.

Alright, that's not all I've learned but it's all I have time for. Wish me luck as I'm off and away next Tuesday!

All the love,
Hannah



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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Week 7: Double Rainbow Monday

Hello World,

So I don't know about the rest of Utah/the country, but it's been a crazy weather week here in P-town. (Since I don't go to BYU, these 9 weeks are the only time of my life that I'll get to call Provo P-town and I'm taking advantage of it). We've had rain and hail and blazing heat, pretty much all in the same day. It's mostly impossible to get dressed for the appropriate weather. But, on Monday morning, we had not one but two full rainbows - those ones like out of a picture book where it's a perfect half circle and it's just gorgeous. So that was my miracle of the week. (Not really my only one, but maybe my favorite.)

Anyway, life as a Russian sister in branch 110 has been fun this week. My neighbor sent me a party in a box on Tuesday (Thanks Katy!!) and I had a leftover luau box from Judy, so on Saturday night, Sister Gomm and I had a sisters party in our apartment, since we're sister training leaders and what not. It was one of the few nights that we had 16 sisters in our branch (since we got 4 on Wednesday but 4 left on Sunday) and it was seriously so fun. Everyone was wearing mustaches and leis and eating their weight in dark chocolate (again, thanks Katy!), and it was the best 20-minute party I've ever been to. I think we all needed a little bit of a break from MTC study/serious time. Plus, sisters are awesome. There's a real sense of comradarie among the Russian sisters and it was nice to be able to cultivate that a little bit more among the sisters we're in charge of. 

In other fun sister life, this week our shower drain got clogged with hair. With 4 sisters all using the shower, it was bound to happen sometime. We reported it to maintenance, but when nothing happened after a day, Sister Gomm was like "I need to shower, dangit!" So she bought a hanger, and went to work. I tried to help, but I couldn't even figure out how to get the drain open. (As we'll all recall, I'm kinda high maintenance and prissy). So, pretty much all by herself, Sister Gomm got the drain opened and fished an enormous amount of hair out of the drain. It was fairly disgusting. But the fact that my companion did it instead of me was also a miracle! Seriously, my companion is the best and I love her so much.

Speaking of my companion, on Saturday, she did a "Plan, Study, Teach" cycle with our teacher, which meant she planned, studied for, and taught a lesson with our teacher as her companion. So for 3 hours, it was me and the elders and our other (male) teacher. I've been assured that it wasn't against the rules for that to happen, since the teachers authorized it and what not, but it was SO WEIRD. It's funny how quickly one gets used to ultra-conservative missionary life. The combination of not having a companion by my side and being the only female in the room made me so incredibly uncomfortable. When we went to lunch I was like, "Sister Gomm, don't you ever leave me again." 

In other missionary-life-makes-everything-weird news, the producer of 17 Miracles came and spoke to us for Sunday devotional. He showed us a like 12-minute clip of his new movie. In it was a kissing scene. In normal life, it would not have been a big deal. But because this is the MTC, literally everyone freaked out. It was so funny. I would have paid about a thousand dollars to have been in the main campus gym where the actual devotional was (instead of West Campus where it was broadcast) to see the MTC president's face when that happened. I can only imagine the face palm that must have occurred. 

I learned that my last name sounds and will be spelled the same way as the first-person conjugation for the verb to drink. As in, the Russian translation of the sentence "I drink" sounds like "Ya Pugh." So my name tag will pretty much say "Sister I drink," because you don't always need pronouns in Russian. Anyway, hopefully people don't think I come from a long line of Russian alcoholics. Whatevs.

Also, like most other languages, Russian nouns have gender - masculine, feminine, and neuter. But this week, one of the newer missionaries called them neutered nouns. I didn't quite have it in me to correct him.

Yesterday, in devotional, the speaker said something interesting. He talked about Nephi's words "As the Lord liveth and as I live..." and he said that that's a famous Bedouin phrase used to convey commitment and covenanting. Does anyone know if that's true? Is it really a commonly used Bedouin phrase? And if so, which Bedouins? Someone out there has to know, right?

Anyway, I leave in THIRTEEN DAYS. Which, on one hand, seems like it's never going to come. But I also am getting super anxious about it. Not traveling or living in another country or trying to speak Russian all the time, but starting over again. In the past year, I've already packed all my bags, said goodbye to everyone I know and love, and set off to do something I'd never done before at a place where I didn't know anyone twice - when I went to college and when I entered the MTC. And both times, it was good and I grew a lot, but it was really hard too. And now I'm doing it again, and it sort of terrifies me. I feel like I've finally gotten in the rhythm and flow of the MTC and now I have to start over again. It's not that I can't do it - I know I can - it's just that my heart is like "Hannah, not again! Too much!" And I'm like "I know heart, but it'll be okay (I think)." Starting over is hard.

Sunday night, I watched a video of a talk that Elder Holland gave at the MTC a few years ago. We all know that I love Elder Holland an enormous amount, but here's a new favorite quote from him: "Don't try to dazzle with how brilliant you are. Dazzle with how brilliant the gospel is." It really is brilliant. I'm learning that more and more every day. I am so grateful I decided to go on a mission. Sometimes it's hard and sometimes it's not, but every single day I know that this is where I'm supposed to be. Every day, I am dazzled with this gospel in my heart and in my mind, and that is one of the best things about being a missionary. What an opportunity this is.

All the love,
Hannah




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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Week 6: Hanging Out with the Higher-Ups

Hello World,

So, as you can tell from the subject, Sister Gomm and I had a somewhat interesting week. (Sorry my email subjects are always lame/abstract/out of the blue, I'm really bad at titles and even worse at email subjects. Anyway). We ended up spending time with lots of the higher-ups at the MTC, which really doesn't happen very often. The way the MTC is organized, there's an MTC president, who's like the mission president, but he also has 2 counselors, because one person couldn't run the whole MTC since there are literally thousands of missionaries here. And then the MTC is divided in half into 2 districts, which function like Stakes. And then there are branches/zones within those districts (ours in a Russian zone with like 40 missionaries.) SO, now you understand that. On Wednesday, one of the MTC presidency counselors and his wife ate dinner in the West Campus cafeteria, and happened to sit with us. On Sunday, one of the district presidents had dinner in the West Campus cafeteria and again, happened to sit with us. And last night, Sister Gomm and I were late walking back from main campus to west campus after the devotional, and as we were leaving the lobby, the MTC President's wife walked out with us and offered us a ride back to West Campus so we wouldn't walk back alone in the dark. So, if you tally that up, it means that out of the 5 couples that run the MTC (MTC President, 2 counselors, and 2 district presidents), we hung out with 3 of them this past week. Which is actually really remarkable. It's just cool because in a place as big as the MTC, few missionaries who don't have problems meet the higher-ups, since the higher-ups are busy running things.  But somehow we did this week. They were all wonderful people, and it was neat to see how much they really love missionaries. 

I don't think I explained that very well, but it was a cool week, okay?

In other news, Sister Gomm and I were called as the new Sister Training Leaders for our Zone. Sister Training Leader is sort of like Zone leader, but you're in charge of the sisters, not the elders. It changes every 3 weeks, so that's our calling until we go to Ukraine. It's pretty cool and stuff. Actually, it's just fun because basically what we get to do is hang out with the sisters and make sure they're doing alright and share spiritual thoughts every night. And we're getting new missionaries today! Some of them are going to Kiev, which is pretty neat. So we get to take them around tonight and help them get settled in and work through the "deer in the headlights" period of time that is the first few days at the MTC. It'll be fun. We all know I love being in charge of things, but it's even better when the thing I'm in charge of is loving people. Like it's just wonderful when MY JOB is to make sure sisters feel loved. 

We play 4-square during gym every day (the sand volleyball court here is mini and consequently annoying). I haven't played 4-square since I was in Lower School. But MTC 4-square is super awesome. We have gym time with our whole zone, so on any given day at least a district or 2 are doing SYL (where you speak all Russian, no English), so you'll hear people playing 4-square and talking in Russian. I don't think I can explain how funny it is to hear a game of 4-square conducted in Russian, but it's one of the best parts of my day. 

Speaking of Russian, it's going pretty well. This week I hit a funny point where, for the first time since I got to the MTC, learning Russian really dropped on my priority list. It's not that I don't care about learning it, but this week it felt like there were gospel things that I needed to study more. Part of it is that this week it hit me just how little Russian I know and how much I am just going to have to learn in the field. Which doesn't mean I shouldn't try here, it just means that it might not be at the top of my list. If that makes sense. Anyway, grammar is still coming along pretty well. I'm becoming very grateful for all those years I spent in middle school learning grammar and slogging through the grammar book. My Waterford grammar education is paying off! Because of the way Russian cases work, the fact that I can look at a sentence and identify the subject, verb, direct object, indirect object, predicate, etc. makes learning Russian infinitely easier. So hurrrah for middle school grammar!

Also, in Russian, he didn't marry her, he wifed himself on her. #genderroles

We had a really funny lesson with our teacher/investigator this week. Before we taught him, the district had a little "let's attack Hannah because she says the word for "good job" wrong in Russian." It's a word we say about 28 times a day, and apparently I've been saying it wrong for 6 weeks, and apparently everyone had told me that before, but I swear I'd never heard that I say it wrong so I got a teensy bit defensive when that happened, and insisted I'd say it my way. (For the record, I really was wrong, because I was ending the word with a "T" sound instead of a "TZ" sound and in Russian those are 2 different letters.) So we went into the lesson and when our teacher/investigator said he'd done our assignment, I said "good job," but I said it my way not the right way. And he was like "what?" and I repeated it and he was like "what?" and I repeated it and he was like "what?" and Sister Gomm was like "Good job (but she said it the right way), please excuse my companion." And he was like "Ohhhhh, good job (said the right way." And I was like "Oh! It's "good job" (said the right way)? My teacher taught me differently, but he's American, so he must not speak Russian well." Which was funny, because, of course, our "investigator" was our teacher. So we all laughed a little bit about that but then later on in the lesson our teacher decided to make a point back at us. We asked him to read a verse, but we didn't specify out loud, which is a thing he likes us to specify. So he opened his scriptures and read the verse to himself, but then we started laughing and he started laughing and it was such a funny lesson. Basically, none of us stayed in character, but we had a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, we need that. 

Anyway, that's all that happened this week. At a certain point in the MTC, every day is groundhog day and there's not much to report. I guess I'll end with telling you a sweet little story. Our whole district goes to MTC choir, and this week the choir is singing "Joseph Smiths First Prayer." So before we started practicing the song, the choir director wanted to talk with the missionaries - there are about 1000 in choir - about what the song really meant. He asks this HUGE room full of missionaries who will come up and talk about Joseph Smith. For a good minute, no one volunteers, until Elder O'Brien, from our district, does. He's from Serbia (English is his 3rd or 4th language), been a member of the church for about a year, but out of all the missionaries in that room, he was the one who volunteered. Which in and of itself is pretty inspiring. So he goes up, and the choir director asks him some questions, and Elder O'Brien doesn't necessarily know all the answers perfectly - he hasn't heard the Joseph Smith story told and retold since he was little and he can't quote James 1:5 and he doesn't really know about the history of the Great Awakening in upstate NY in that time period. But he does a good job, and they get to the part where Heavenly Father and Christ appear to Joseph Smith and the choir director asks, "So, Elder, what did Joseph Smith say to them?" and Elder O'Brien says, "I don't know, I think he probably just listened to them." And while that is technically incorrect, it was deeply touching to me. It's a simple answer, but isn't it lovely? I love the humility implicit in that. Just listen to them. Don't barrage them with questions or make statements or battle needlessly. Just humbly listen and wait for the miracles that follow. 

All the love,
Hannah



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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Week 5: Time Warp

Hello Everyone,

So, as we can tell from the title, my life in the MTC has officially become a time warp. The schedule is pretty much the same every day weeks 2-8, and I've hit the point where I've lost track of reality. There's nothing to distinguish the days or the weeks from one another. For the first several hours of today, I thought it was Saturday, because P-day feels like Saturday. Turns out it's actually Wednesday. Who would have thought that? Because it's such a time warp, I don't have much to report on Russian. It was a typical week. However, I met some Finnish sisters (as in learning Finnish, not from Finland) and they told me something amazing. There are 16 commonly used cases in Finnish, 26 total. There are 6 cases in Russian and each one of them kicks my butt. So this week I'm grateful to be learning Russian. Like our Pugh family motto says, "it could be worse." I could be learning Finnish. 

Life on West Campus is pretty good. There's a 7'3'' elder walking around and every time I see him I gawk. He used to only be 7', but he had to have back surgery and now he's 7'3''. He's state-side though, so he'll be gone pretty soon. I think I'll miss having someone to gawk at. (Does that make me a terrible person?) Another plus of West Campus is that we got a new teacher. He got back from Mother Russia 3 months ago and is darling. At the end of class every day, we have 10-30 seconds of "smile time," where our whole district just has to smile at one another. It sounds weird, but after an hour or two of Russian grammar, your soul needs smile time to keep from crawling into a deep dark cavern and hiding there until the entire country of Ukraine learns to speak English. I love smile time. But the best thing about West Campus is that Sister Gomm and I have grown way closer. I think it's because the way things are set up we're spending more time together, but maybe it's something else. At any rate, something clicked this week and we went from 2 missionaries assigned to be together to friends who love each other. We're very different in how we see the world on a lot of things, but we love each other and I think we make good companions. It's awesome.

The biggest problem of West Campus is that the cafeteria isn't big enough to handle all the missionaries. They got 200 new missionaries when the Russians moved last week and can't quite handle it. They're coping with it by serving us smaller portions of food and it is not okay, because now we're hungry all the time! It's like fast Sunday every day! But it's kinda made up by the fact that on P-days we can walk down to Jamba Juice! They even give us an enormous discount there. Today we walked down and I was exhausted so I got a double 3G boost (aka their caffeine boost). I haven't had a real dose of caffeine in 5 weeks and I am so wound up! But I'm not tired at all for the first time in a while (like maybe 5 weeks), so it was worth it. 

This week we got to leave campus. Sister Gomm got pink eye on Monday, but the clinic was closed since it was Labor Day so we went to Instacare. It was so funny to get in the van and be like "wait the real world still exists! It kept going without me?" We drove past a group of guys running shirtless and it was so weird! Like it somehow feels like while I'm in the MTC, the rest of the world will dress like pioneers, too. Turns out they don't. Oh vel. Once we got to the doctor's office, the real world assaulted me again!  THE TV HAD NEWS ON IT AND THERE WAS A TIME MAGAZINE SITTING ON THE TABLE. It seriously took an immense amount of self-discipline to study my grammar flash cards instead of tuning into the news. It literally killed me to not watch. If it has been MSNBC instead of "Good Morning America," I don't think I would have made it. But I'm working on obedience. And also, my parents are feeding me news of the real world. Except no one has told me anything about feminism since I entered the MTC. IS FEMINISM STILL ALIVE?! 

Speaking of feminism, the MTC had a little dose of feminism this week. Not real feminism, but MTC feminism. Elder Evans came to speak yesterday (which was funny because he lives in our stake. When he first moved in, Lorin was still Stake President and I'm pretty sure he went to that ward for like 3 months straight because he always had Elder Evans stories at dinner). Anyway, Elder Evans made a point of saying how important sister missionaries are. He made a point of saying that women matter the exact same amount to the Lord as men. And he talked about the importance of Sisters learning to speak up when they're in council meetings. While that isn't something I especially struggle with, it was nice to here the head of the Missionary Department assert the importance of women's voices. 

The other thing that Elder Evans said that I really liked is "How wonderful it is to know that you're exactly where you ought to be and doing exactly what the Lord would have you do." That's something I really felt this week. For whatever reason, Sunday and Monday were really hard days for me. But it was reassuring to know that even though it's hard, I'm doing what's important and what's right for me. You know what I mean? This is one of the rare times of my life that I can have absolute certainty I shouldn't be anywhere else. And as the bumps come, I face them knowing that. I'm learning that I can't try to fix every problem that comes and learn ever lesson immediately. The things that mean the most to me are the things that took time and investment and energy to learn. I rarely learn the important things in a few hours or days or even weeks. Change and growth come slowly over periods of time. It's just the way things work. 

Anyway, that's all I've got for today. I say this every week, but I really am grateful for the support and letters and packages and emails and prayers I get. I'm a lucky missionary to have so much love in my life.

All the love,
Hannah

PS. In 3 weeks and 6 days I'll be on a plane to Ukraine! (Apparently, you have to say Ukraine, because "the Ukraine" is what the Soviet's called it and it implies colonization and Ukranians hate it.)



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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Week 4: "She's an alcoholic!"

Hi Everyone,

So first order of business: I have officially moved campuses! Moving was actually really easy and now we live in a super nice apartment. SUPER NICE. So I'm pretty cool with the fact that we've moved. There are some inconveniences, but all and all, it's good. Part of the move is that I have a different address. It is:
Sister Hannah Grace Pugh
OCT01 UKR-KYV
2023 N 900 E Unit 906
Provo, UT 84606

Anyway, let's continue on with the Russian update (because it's always the most exciting.) I can no longer say the word "evangelical" like a real american. In Russian "Evanglia" (but written in Cyrillic) is how you say gospel, so it is obviously a word I use a lot. But it starts with a ye sound, not a eh sound. So I keep reading the word yevangelical in English. If that makes sense. Anyway. We had a super awesome moment in our lesson with our "investigator" this week. We were teaching a lesson about Joseph Smith and all of a sudden our teacher/investigator said something which we were not able to understand in any way. So she started explaining it. Finally, after several minutes, we understood "I cannot live without drinking." So I yell to my companion "Oh! She's an alcoholic!" Not uncommon for Russians, after all, and a fair assumption based on the sentence. Anyway, we continued assuming she was an alcoholic for a good week. Then, when we were leaning how to say need this week, our teacher had explained what actually happened. She was thirsty and said "I need a drink." We didn't understand the word need. So she tried to explain it need by saying sentences like "I cannot live without food. I cannot live without drinking." But we only understood the last one. So she's not an alcoholic! 

I'm really good at Russian.

Actually, I'm really grateful I get to stay here for 9 weeks and learn Russian. Not just because I love Russian (Russian grammar is actually super awesome and I love it a whole lot), but because it's kinda amazing to get to spend all this time figuring out what kind of missionary I get to be. Training time is good. It's a major blessing to have all this time to learn and figure things out before I'm thrown into real life as a missionary. You know?

This week is funny because it's time for school to start. And for the first time in 16 years, I'm not going back. 

So last night we had a devotional at the Marriott center. Elder Andersen of the 12 came and spoke and it was awesome. He talked about love and sacrifice. Basically what he said is that 1) What and who you love is one of the most important decisions you make in this life 2) "We sacrifice for the things we love and we love the things for which we sacrifice." It was a simple and beautiful message. After the devotional, however, it was raining HARD. Like they had us hang out for 10 minutes until the lightening stopped. Anyway, once it did we walked back to west campus (about a 15 minute walk in the rain). It was cold, but was also super fun. It was just one of those things where you had to say "well, this is going to have to be fun otherwise I quit." If that makes sense. At any rate, I'm just grateful for a companion who I can have fun walking back in the rain with. 

Elder Holland still hasn't come to speak yet. I'm waiting for it. IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

Other funny moment of the week involves the protesters at the temple. On Sundays, main MTC campus missionaries walk up to the temple so they aren't stuck inside all day. Evangelical anti-Mormon protesters have figured that out and hang out by the temple on Sunday to preach about our imminent destruction. It's sort of whatever. Freedom of speech is important and I love it and, let's be honest, I love all protesters for utilizing that right and saying what they think. Anyway, the protesters don't bother me that much. But this week, right as we walk by the one guy yells at us "You ladies are in bondage to men!" And it was just like "come on, of all the things to say to me, you picked the ONE THING you might say that I could identify with." It was just funny, because I do have issues with the gender representations in the church. I don't feel like I'm in bondage, but things are complicated for me. Anyway.

As I thought about it, however, I realized that one of the things I love most about this church is that it is a church of questions. Like I can be a missionary and I can identify with the protester. It's okay to be both. There's a line in a song from Book of Mormon the Musical that says "I'm a Mormon, and a Mormon just believes." (Yeah, I did just quote BOM the Musical in my missionary email. They won't send me home for that, right?). Anyway, I used to think that was a Mormon mentality. But it's not. The Mormon church encourages us to ask questions. The premise of the church is that Joseph Smith asked a question. And yes, the issue is more complicated, because sometimes it feels like "it's okay to ask questions" means "it's okay to ask questions as long as you get the right answers," but I don't think that's the real spirit of it either. I think it's okay to ask questions because faith is complex and difficult and a journey and if we don't ask all the questions and find our own answers (whether or not they're the "right" ones) along the way it will never become personal or strong or real. 

That's all I've got for this week. Thanks for the emails and the letters and the packages and the prayers. This week my WHOLE FAMILY emailed me, and that was awesome. I even got a picture of Whimzy. She's still dumb. 

All the love,

Hannah



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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Week 3: Fast But Not Slow

Hello everyone,

So first of all, I  have a big announcement! We're moving to the West MTC campus next week. Consequently, I have to spend most of today packing, so please excuse me if you don't get any letters this week. I have a whole lot of stuff to pack in a not-so-whole-lot of suitcase. (Actually, I brought enormous suitcases, I just brought an even more enormous amount of clothes.)

RUSSIAN  UPDATE. Russian is crazy. We learned this week how to express wanting something. In Russian, instead of saying "God wants us to be happy" you say "God wants so that we were happy." Explain that. You can't. My vocabulary is increasing, but also has some major holes. So I can say fast but not small, big but not small, tomorrow but not yesterday. It's funny how that happens when you learn a language. I'll work on it. I have a really hard time sounding out words. It feels like I'm in Kindergarten again. We read the scriptures aloud every once in a while, and the best thing ever is when I get to read "and it came to pass" because that's one of the only phrases I can read fluidly. We taught our first TRC lesson this week. TRC is where Russian speakers from Provo/Orem area come in and you teach them as themselves, a RM or member or whoever they are. Our first one was with a 16-year old who had been adopted from Ukraine. We seriously could not understand anything he was saying and it was so frustrating and terrifying. Like "crap I've been here 2 weeks and couldn't pick a single word out of that." We came out and our teacher said, "okay sisters, I watched that on the camera, and don't be too frustrated. Every time you had no idea what he was saying, he was speaking UKRANIAN." So there may yet be hope for me as a Russian-speaking missionary. Tonight for TRC we're teaching our mission president's daughter, who just got here to start BYU and is really good friends with our teacher (which is why she's coming) and speaks Russian fluently. So no pressure there. I'll let you know how it goes. 

We left the MTC this week! I needed to go get the PIN on my debit card set up so we took a field trip to Wells Fargo (I know, big adventure). It was SO WEIRD to get in a van and just be driven out of the MTC. It feels equally weird to just walk out the gates to go to the temple on Pday. It's funny because it kind of feels like I'm locked in the MTC. I feel like I can't leave. But I realized that I totally can leave. The gates are never locked. They aren't holding us captive here and forcing mountains of rules on us. (Just realized it sounds like I think I'm in prison. I don't think I'm in prison. I love the MTC.) Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that it was cool to remember that being here and following the rules is a choice every day; they don't force you to obey them, you choose to. #Agency

Some things in my MTC life are getting trashy. For example, my nails. When I entered the MTC my nails were looking beautiful. Until I broke like 3 of them playing volleyball and kick ball during gym time. Now they are abysmally trashy. I think they should have a nail salon here. Another trashy thing is our district's games with combination locks. When you enter the MTC, they give you a combination lock, like you use for lockers. None of us use ours, so there are 7 combination locks floating around our classroom. This turns into a game of locking each other's stuff shut when we're not in the room. It's awesome. Finally, probably the white trashiest thing about my MTC life is my morning tea. I really really love morning tea. But I don't have a Keurig here. So I figured out a makeshift system. I boil the water in the hand steamer I brought for my sweaters. Then I pour it into the glass I borrowed for 9 weeks from the cafeteria. And drink my tea. I don't think I can possibly explain how trashy this looks, but it's the best part of my morning. 

Have I told you guys about our Russian branch's sacrament meeting? IT STARTS AT 7:30 AM. Except we have to be there at 7:00, because it's our branch president's rule. So we sing Russian hymns for 30 minutes. Which is actually all kinds of lovely. Then, for sacrament meeting, we all prepare talks IN RUSSIAN. And the branch president randomly calls on missionaries to give their talks. It's seriously the scariest thing ever. I haven't gotten called on yet, but I'll let you know when it does. The cool thing about it is that I can understand pretty much all of the talks. Not because I understand Russian, but because all the missionaries only know certain phrases in Russian from our books. So I can pick up on them. It makes for somewhat boring sacrament meetings, but it's pretty sweet to understand it.

I worry that the people of Kiev aren't going to know to use my 14 church phrases and will use their own expressions. 

Anyway, this week during personal study I did some studying about grace. As we all know, I love the principle of grace. I study it a lot, but this week I learned something interesting about it. Typically, grace has been explained to me and I have understood it as the thing that makes up what I can't. If Godly perfection is 100% and I can make it to 10% on my own, then grace makes up the other 90%. But my view of grace changed a little bit this week. I think that it is only because of grace that I can have hope of making it to 10%. Without grace, I would be permanently stuck at 0. I wouldn't be able to progress. This is what grace now means to me: I go as far as I can with Christ - be it 1 or 10 or 40 percent - and then, when I can go no more, He will carry me the rest of the way, no matter how far it is. And that grace - taking the journey from 0 to 100% with me - is why grace could not be anything besides love-inspired. 

Anyway, I love being a missionary. (I say that every week, don't I?) I love that I get so much time to be quiet and reverent. I love the high level of introspection, reflection, and changing that comes with being a missionary. I love getting letters. And I love the small miracles that I find sprinkled throughout my life. Here's my small miracle of yesterday: A sister who lives next to me and is headed to the Ukraine any day now (visa delays), came in to talk to us because her whole district was gone and it was pretty lonely in the room. We got talking and ended up having a little liberal Mormon bonding session. It was seriously so relieving to be like "right, I'm not the only one here who thinks x, y, and z." It was incredibly refreshing to just be able to talk unfiltered about what I think and feel. Filtering is hard for me (as we all know). So that was my small miracle of the day.

Anyway, thanks everyone for the letters and dearelders and packages (but not the emails, because my WHOLE FAMILY (all 3 of them) forgot to email me) and prayers. I'm the luckiest.

All the love,

Hannah



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