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
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,


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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,


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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Week 2: "Not So Bad, Could Be Worse"

Hello All,

So everyone that emails me or writes me letters starts with "How's the Russian?" and I think I'm going to address that first, with a quote from a hymn no less. You know the hymn "Come come ye saints," with the chorus at the end "all is well, all is well." Well, when that hymn was initially translated into Russian during the Soviet era (not sure why they were translating hymns in the Soviet era since there was definitely no religion or Mormons in Russian then, but anyway) that chorus was translated "not so bad, could be worse." Which is wonderful because it's so very Russian. And that's how my Russian is right now; not so bad, could be worse. It is still incredibly hard. We started learning cases this week, which means nothing to you if you've never learned Russian. Basically cases are the way that nouns and adjectives changed based on how they're used. So if the same noun is written differently as the subject, direct object, indirect object of a sentence or if it follows a preposition or if it falls into one of the other ten billion rules. So anyway, that's hard. But I'm doing okay. I'm amazed how much I'm able to learn and I'm being pretty patient with myself. I had a lesson yesterday that was amazing for me. We were teaching that God loves us, and trying to help our "investigator" feel that. I swear it was a gift of tongues lesson for me. Normally in Russian I have to reach for words, but yesterday, they were just coming to me. It was amazing. Another cool thing that happened yesterday was the Richard G Scott (Quorum of 12 apostles) came and spoke at our devotional. Not once but TWICE he invoked his apostolic blessing specifically on us missionaries learning languages that we would be able to learn them. I felt kinda bad for the missionaries speaking English who didn't get that blessing, but for all of us other missionaries it was pretty incredible to have such a blessing pronounced upon us. It was something to put in the storage to rely on during those days when Russian cases seem impossible.

Also, I went through a petite existential crisis this week.

I have found in my life a reoccurring problem which I have named "the fallacy of the wanderer." (I know, it's kinda pretentious, but it fits, I promise, just keep reading). The fallacy of the wanderer is the idea that once my situation changes - once I go to Vienna or college or on my mission, once I get a job or quit my job or find a new extracurricular, once I have more friends or a new boyfriend or whatever - things will be different and I will be better. This has happened at every major changing point in my life and of course, it happened when I got to the MTC. 

The funny thing about the fallacy of the wanderer is that it's true - for a very short period of time. And after a day or a week or maybe even ten days, the newness wears off and I'm still the same old me with the same old bad habits and weak spots and flaws. Which is always a little disappointing. This past week was that crisis for me. For the first little bit of my stay in the MTC, I was exactly what I thought a missionary should be, in the most conservative and superficial meaning of the word. I was all "I'm a missionary now, so I don't struggle with any of the things I used to struggle with" (including "what is feminism anyway? It doesn't bother me at all that there's some decidedly sexist practices in the way missions are organized"). Which was short lived because after a little while I started feeling this underlying discomfort. And I didn't identify or deal with it until one night when I had a really good journal session and realized that what was going on was that I wasn't being me, which was very hard. That then led to me feeling like "well, how can I be Hannah and be a missionary? I'm irreverent and not conservative enough and I don't care about the detailed implications for the rules. Missionaries are all those things I'm not. All my bad habits and week spots and flaws are going to get in the way."

So I sought answers about who I was going to become. (I know I probably should have thought this through before I left, but I didn't, so whatever). Anyway, as I as searching for who I wanted to become I wrote and read and made all kinds of goals. I thought I'd kinda figured some of it out. But that "figured it out" was followed by probably my worst day in the MTC. (I know it's only been 14 days, but it feels like forever). Anyway, that night I was struck by the thought that I hadn't asked the Lord what He wanted me to be. But it wasn't a thought, maybe more of a feeling. Or a heart prayer. A prayer that I didn't vocalize or even put into words in my head but that was strongly felt. Immediately, I knew I needed to go to my Patriarchal Blessing. My PB is long and fairly open ended and beautiful - I really love it and am grateful for it and have faith in it. As I read it, I realized that it is a map of who my Heavenly Father would have me be. So I read it again, but this time I made a list of 25 questions for me to ponder and pray about, whose answers I hope will turn into applications of the blessing which will, in turn, help me to be the person and the missionary the Lord intended me to me. (That was definitely not a grammatically correct sentence #EnglishMajor). It's amazing to me how good I feel about this approach. In the MTC, I'm constantly flooded with ideas and council on who I should become and do and it's so overwhelming. But with this I feel peace. I feel pretty strongly that this was a little piece of revelation given to me in answer to my prayers. 

Also, I realized that the Lord called me. He didn't call superficial missionary Hannah. He called me. And He did not call me to fail. 

Another thing that is amazing was a small moment I had during my hard day this week. The fours sisters in our room were all getting ready for the day, blow drying hair and using flat irons and putting on makeup. (Sidenote, we've blown the circuit almost every day because we keep forgetting we can't use 3 hairdryers at once). As we were all doing that one of them started softly singing a hymn. And then we all started singing. We spent probably 10 minutes hopping from hymn to hymn, getting ready for the day and never addressing what was happening. It was lovely. I had a moment when I realized "even though this is really hard I am genuinely grateful I am here. There's nowhere else I'd rather be." эио чуда

Another really lovely experience I had this week was that I had a blessing from the elders in my district. It was on my "holy crap I'm having an existential crisis" day, and I felt really strongly that I needed to ask them for a blessing. So I did. None of them had ever given a blessing before, and it was pretty special. They all formed the circle and the elder who gave the blessing did beautifully. He talked about all the things I needed to hear. Actually, that has been a reoccurring thing for me this week. It seems like in every prayer that is said, at least one thing that is exactly what I need or want or have been praying to hear is said. It amazes me every time. 

Elder Scott talked yesterday about how when the quorum of the 12 and the first presidency meet in the temple every week, they always pray for the missionaries. It has stuck me how many prayers are being said for me and the missionaries. It's unfathomable to me. There's so much power in that many people putting their faith out there for us. So thank you for you prayers. And thank you for the letters and Dear Elders and emails and packages. It means a lot to me. I'm so grateful to have so much support so I can be out here doing this thing I love so much.

All the love,

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Week 1: Mormon Nuns

Hello All!
It's your favorite Sister Pugh here! (Just kidding, please still call me Hannah, I'm having a hard time with losing my name). So first, quote of the week comes from one of our "investegators" a group of us taught on day 2 - "You guys are like Mormon nuns, right? You give your life to Jesus then you take it back." Yep, that's us.
I love being a missionary. SO MUCH. I'm so attatched to my name tag. I don't even know where to start. Let's start with Russian, да?
RUSSIAN IS SO HARD. Seriously after like 24 hours it was very clear to me that I was not going to be able to learn Russian on my own. Which freaked me out quite a bit. But was also good in that it immediately made me rely on Heavenly Father. My prayers have like quadrupled in length and depth since getting to the MTC. At my farewell someone said to me, "I think you're learning Russian so you'll have to rely on the Lord." And I was like "yeah.... whatever. I can learn Russian." False. I cannot learn Russian on my own. But even though it's only been six days, I've learned so much about relying on the Lord. It's amazing to me how much I've been able to learn with His help. I can teach a (very simple) lesson and say (very simple) prayers and bear a (very simple) testimony. Although when I was first learning to say "I know" to bear my testimony, I confused it with "I don't know" so I ended up bearing the testimony that "I don't know the Book of Mormon is true. I don't know God loves me. I don't know that Jesus is my Savior." But at least it was only to my companion, not in the lesson, eh? My favorite sentence that I know is "наш дети бога" and my favorite word is "искупление" which means Atonement, and has the prettiest sounds of any word I've learned. Anyway, our district figured out that we've got somewhere betwen 300-400 hours to learn Russian before we go to the Ukraine, so just wait and see all the Russian I know! Our teacher says she thinks it's possible to become fluent in 9 weeks, but I'm still skeptical. Speaking of our teacher, she's wonderful. She got back from the Kiev mission 7 months ago, so she knows all about the mission and our mission president.Any questions that we have she's so good to answer. It's been really helpful and reassuring for me to have all my random questions answered. She's very bright and a good teacher and I adore her.
On the topic of teaching, we've already taught 3 lessons! Our "investigator" (actually an MTC Russian teacher) is named Edik (Russian Erik). Even though we don't actually speak Russian and say things like "God desire you repentence and baptism. God forgiveness sins." the spirit has been really strong in our lessons. In our first lesson we challenged him to read the introduction to the Book of Mormon, and he was like "Sure, but I don't have one." At which point we realized we'd also forgoten to bring one. So we ran upstairs and got one. Oops. Anyway, I'm growing to LOVE teaching. I often wish I could speak English and just be teaching all the time, but I know I need to learn Russian. It'll be okay.
I think the MTC is preparing us for the Russian/Ukrainian climate because it is FREEZING everywhere. I'm wearing my thin little down coat in the classroom and my cardigans every day. I was worried about being too hot in the MTC because I don't have many summer clothes, but it is not a problem!
So... people! First, can I tell you about my little чудо when I got dropped off? We pulled up to the curb and there was Sydney Horne as one of the escort missionaries for new missionaries! I've been friends with Sydney since 2nd grade, and it was so much easier to say goodbye to my family and walk into the MTC with someone who's always been part of my life. She got me all set up and I didn't see her for the rest of the time she was in the MTC (she left for Japan 2 days ago). It was a major miracle for me that I got to see her that one time when it was so important. Anyway, my companion, Sister Gomm, is darling. She's so smart. Actually, all the Russian missionaries are so smart. I haven't met a dumb Russian missionary yet. But my companion's wonderful. We get along really well, because we're both kinda low key and just want to learn. She's going to be a wonderful missionary and I'm so glad I get to be with her for 8 weeks. One thing I love about her is how obedient she is. I really want to be an obedient missionary, but it's not really part of my nature/attitude. When I hear a rule I sort of  instantly feel "well, I don't really have to follow that." But Sister Gomm is so obedient it really helps me to remember that perfect obedience brings blessings. I need a companion like her as I get used to being a missionary.
(I do have some conflicting feelings about obedience. I feel like "be perfectly obedient" is something they taught in Nazi Germany. Obviously it's different, but I'm still somewhat uncomfortable with all the emphasis on the value of obedience. I haven't yet figured out the relationship between obedience and agency. People say "you use your agency to be obedient," but that's not totally cutting it for me. I'm going to study that this week.)
We have two other sisters living in our room, Sister Kirkby and Sister Frandson, and they're also awesome. They're going to Russia but the four of us have such a good time together. They're a great little family for me. My district is me and my companion plus 5 other elders. We're all going to Kiev, which doesn't happen very often in districts, but is realy neat. The elders are really good and I've had a lot of fun learning with them. But my very favorite thing is the sisters on my hall. We get together every night for чудо, where everyone says their miracle of the day. Then one of the sisters gives some sort of spiritual though. Probably the best ideas and advice I've gotten during my short MTC time has been during those small get togethers. I feel very blessed to get to be part of such a loving and spiritual group of sisters.
Personal study time is also great. I've been doing a combination of PMG, Book of Mormon, journal writing and talking to God. Having that time to work on my own testimony has been beautiful. It's funny, I didn't have a real "reason" for coming on a mission; I had an intense confirmation that it was right, but I didn't know "why". A quote this week helped me to realize why I came. "If the only person you convert on your mission is yourself, you did a pretty darn good job." I think I'm here to convert myself. Truly convert. Personal study time is a big part of that, and having that time has already been a blessing in my life.
Anyway, email time is running out. Expect letters in the mail! (I get 60 minutes on pday for email, but no limits for how long I can write letter, except that I can only write on Pday). Thanks for all the letters and Dear Elders! I get to read mail every night and it's so nice to hear from you all.
All the love,
PS. Sorry I can't spell. It's always been true, but now there's no spellcheck and it's even more clear.

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