Monday, November 24, 2014

Teen girl squad.

At English class, I made everyone read poems, because I wanted a real English class. Let me tell you, there are few things funnier than "Double double toil and trouble" or "O Captain, my Captain" read in a thick Ukrainian/Russian accent. Gotta love it.

Since our branch is small and not always super functional, the missionaries end up cleaning the church most Saturday nights. This week, the "teen girl squad" from English helped us clean. It's just a group of like seven 14-year-old girls that aren't members but come to English and like being around us. It was awesome that they helped because it got the job done quick. Way to go teen girl squad!

Remember babushka Ludmila who was supposed to get baptized Saturday? Well, she got sick (I think maybe bronchitis? Medical terms are kinda hard in Russian) and ended up in the hospital, and obviously didn't get baptized, but wants to once she's better. She got sick because she takes care of her 104-year old mother and spent too much time in the cold washing clothes by hand or something like that. Anyway, it's kinda awesome that her mother is that old, because it means she lived through both world wars and the entire soviet regime. She's pretty tough.

It's come to my attention that I write a LOT about babushkas. I hope you all know that I do in fact do other things with my mission. It's just that they have the best stories to tell. Probably because they're all slightly nuts. Sister McInnes and I were talking this week about how when the day of reckoning comes for our mission there are going to be a lot of babushkas there saying either "I know I was nuts but why weren't you nicer to me?" or "thanks for being so kind even though I was nuts." We're obviously hoping for the latter.

Last night we went over to the branch president's house, like we do pretty much every Sunday night. As we walked in his wife, the RS president, yelled "who wants to come help me with some messy work?" We come into the kitchen to find her gutting 4 very large and not entierly dead fish. And it was awesome, because there are really few things tougher in the world than a Ukrainian woman. Once she finished gutting the fish (it wasn't for us) we made tacos, but not too spicy, because as a general rule, Ukrainians hate spicy food. It's adorable.

Oh, Friday I was on an exchange with the one and only Sister Farnsworth. She's going home Wednesday, served like 10.5 months here, and baptized like half the ward, so she came up for the baptism (before it was cancelled) and to say goodbye to everyone. It was way cool to get to be her escort on all the visits and just see how big an impact she's made here. I think sometimes as missionaries (and as people in general, perhaps) we can't see quite how big an impact we're having, but it's real. And it is the greatest.

All the love,

Judy emailed me today that my homecoming has officially been scheduled for February 22, so see you all then I guess? I think I'm going to throw up.

Monday, November 17, 2014

4AM campfires, Celo-hoping, and other adventures

Well, since we last spoke:

We woke up at 3:30 this morning to meet the elders at 4. We went hiking through the woods to a place overlooking a reservoir and made a campfire and ate breakfast. It was awesome. Probably the best part was taking a nap in front of the campfire. Here's a picture of all of us when we headed home around 7:30. By then the sun had come up. As you can see, it was a little bit of a chilly morning.

Have we talked about the hymn books? My entire mission I've sung in Ukrainian. Except here they sometimes sing in Russian. And I HATE it. Seriously, Ukrainian is so much better for singing. Yesterday, I finally got the Ukrainian hymn books out and we sang in Ukrainian and that was fabulous. What would I do without this little country of mine?

We went to Kyiv this past week for interviews with President. It was great. I love President.

We had another Zhytomyr throw-back because we went celo-hopping this week! We have two awesome members who live in a little city about 2 hours away called Nizhyn. They've been sick for a while and haven't made it to church, so we went to visit them. It was so fun to meet them and we had a great visit. They told us about how they found the church:

They met because they were both Jehovah's Witnesses. But JWs believe only a certain number of people can go to heaven, and one of them was told they'd make it, but the other was told she wouldn't. So they didn't like that and left. For 10+ years they studied the Bible together. One of them worked for Utah-based company, Agel. In one of her business packages, she found a Book of Mormon in Russian. She snagged it, they studied together, and now they're awesome members. How's that for a conversion story?

Getting back from Nizhyn was an adventure. The train was way too late, so we tried to take a bus back. But then we missed one bus, the next one was cancelled, and we spend 2.5 hours waiting at the bus station. Definitely felt like Zhytomyr. Sometimes, things in Ukraine aren't so organized. But it was fine. I had time so I called most of my favorite people in Ukraine. I talked to my cute RS president from Kyiv and she was like "I was just in the temple and put your name in there and I came out and saw that you'd called!" So that was way sweet. It's lovely to be supported.

The bus ride back home was through the Ukrainian countryside and it was consequently just lovely. Lots of little houses, babuskas carrying heavy loads along the side of the roads, horse-drawn carts, many cows, and lots and lots of fields. They were all harvested and had giant piles of grain in the middle. I felt like I was back in time a century. It was nice.

Yesterday at church, this little girl who's become my good friend came in all upset. I was like "Erika, what's wrong?" She looked at me and immediately burst into tears and gave me a hug as she said, "my parrot flew away." I love being a missionary because you get to be the one to comfort little girls whose parrots take off.

We were at a babuska's house this week (obviously). She was inactive for a long, long time, but recently came back and is really passionate about the gospel right now. We were talking about the church and the whole point of the deal and she said something I just love. She said, "I love God and I love Jesus and I want to be just a little bit more like them. At least just a little bit." Isn't that a lovely and concise summery of conversion?

All the love,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fever Medicine and Cat Food

This is going to have to be a quick one... so many letters and so little time.

First of all, I found out this week that a billion in English is not the same thing as a billion in Russian. In English, a billion is a thousand million. In Russian, it's a million million. So that's confusing. And possibly worse than the metric system, because that I've gotten used to. Actually, not sure I know how to tell the weather in farenheit anymore. Speaking of weather, it's been way warm here and that is fabulous. It got up to like 15 degrees yesterday.

We went to a restaurant this week that I'm pretty sure is straight out of America. It was so classy and I felt like I was a trio. We got steak and that was the first steak I've eaten in over a year and it was incredible. Plus, it was only like 7 dollars! One good thing about the war is crazy inflation that makes everything cheap. When I got here it was 8grn per dollar and now it's like 13 or something. Anyway, that was fun.

Remember our babushka who wouldn't stop drinking coffee? She stopped drinking coffee! One of the best members in this branch, Mama Gorbach, came on a lesson with her and bore testimony/threw down a little bit on here. Yesterday we saw here and she was like "I haven't even wanted to drink coffee since I talked to her. It's like she has an extra sense or something!" So that was awesome and she's excited to be baptized on the 22nd.

Another Mama Gorbach story. Last night we were at her house but I got sick (as happens). She gave me a big hug and was like "now do you feel better?" I was like "a little" and then she gave me another enormous hug and was like "how about now?" And I love her for that.

Tuesday night, one of our members called and asked if we could bring her fever medicine and cat food, because she was sick and her cat starving. I love being a missionary because it means I get those calls. Getting to help people with the little things is the best.

All the love,

Monday, November 3, 2014


Maybe you noticed that it was Halloween this week. We certainly did here in Chernigov and celebrated by having ourselves a big Halloween Party! At first all the babushkas in the branch were way offended because "Halloween is a dark holiday of devil worship and it has no place in our church," but we explained a little bit more about our plans and they accepted it. I'm pretty sure that during the Soviet times part of Anti-American propaganda was our devil-worshipping on Halloween, but I haven't actually had that confirmed. Anyway, the party was awesome because we had over 40 people show up, the majority of which weren't members! We played all kind of fun games: pumpkin painting (because not really an incredible idea to give tons of knives out), bobbing for apples, stick pull, eating the donut on the string, and the one where you put M&Ms in a pie tin, fill the tin with whipped cream and find the M&Ms without the use of hands. Also I made like 60 pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and that was obviously a hit. In short, it was a great party, and not just because all the missionaries dressed up like super heroes (I was Thor).

Remember my wedding ring prank? I got pranked back. They called me on Tuesday and were like "when do you leave?" "February" "So you'll come to our wedding in December?" Then I freaked out for about 15 seconds until I was like "No! You're joking. Not even funny." And then we had a good laugh.

I got an awesome package from Judy this week with The Best Two Years soundtrack (I'm so lucky to be in a mission where "any spiritually uplifting music" is kosher). Is it weird that that is my favorite CD in the world right now? I think that's when you know you've been on a mission for a long time. I literally had the sentence come out of my mouth this week "I don't care so much about hearing the new Coldplay CD because this one is probably better."

I learned this week why Ukraine isn't quite as pretty and doesn't have the old historical centers of Western Europe. The answer is two-fold. First, Hitler, Stalin, and WWII. Second, because of the abundances of forests here, they built most of their buildings out of wood for centuries. Hence, they didn't last.

Anyway, I'm really happy here in Chernigov, because the people are wonderful. We met with the cutest recent convert this week, and talked about what she's been reading in the Book of Mormon. I got to show her how to use footnotes and the guide to the scriptures (It's in the back of the Russian BoM and is kinda like Bible Dictionary + Topical Guide). She was so excited about it and it was adorable. We also had a lesson with a babushka investigator yesterday. She said she wants to get baptized by the end of this month, and she knows she had to give up coffee until them to get baptized, but she can't make any promises after baptism. So we're working on that haha. She's a good one.

Definitely the highlight of the week was that we went to Kyiv for conference and I got to have lunch with Ira! I miss her a lot and it was awesome to see her. And then we had mission conference with Tad R. Callister. That was incredibly cool. I was way excited because his book, The Infinite Atonement is one of the best things I read before my mission. My favorite thing that he said was "what good is the gospel of Jesus Christ if it doesn't bring us joy?" Lovely. I feel like something I've definitely seen on my mission is that you can tell how deeply someone is converted by how much joy they find in the gospel - it's true for investigators, members, and even missionaries. Anyway, we got home from Kyiv about 12:30AM (with permission from President, obviously) so that was an adventure. Turns out that at that hour on Halloween night, the only people on the street are not sober and the only cars are taxis driving them home. But what else is new. I love Ukraine.

All the love,