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,