Monday, December 29, 2014

The Best Christmas Ever

I hope everyone else had a wonderful Christmas. I know I certainly did. This was definitely one of the best weeks of my mission.

It started on Christmas Eve day when I found myself on an exchange in Kyiv. I'd pulled a few strings and gotten permission to go back to my old area instead of just being in the area where we were supposed to be on the exchange. As I was sitting on the bus riding into Troyeshina (the area of Kyiv where I lived), I was just thrilled. The area itself is remarkably ugly - old concrete apartment buildings one after another - yet to me it's one of my favorite places in the world. It's holy to me. 

First stop was the ever fabulous IRA. My how I love her. It was so fun to see her and just spend an hour talking with her. She gave me super awesome wool socks her mother-in-law had made. Next stop was Eva (remember her, my little 9 year old?). I didn't tell her I was coming, so she opened the door with a smile on her face, had this fabulous moment of recognition, gave me a HUGE hug, and burst into tears. I don't know if I've ever felt more loved. Once she composed herself, I told her "Eva, we have an hour, what do you want to do?" "Sit and hug each other." That's my girl. And then I got to see Angela, who is just as completely darling as ever. Basically, it was a perfect day seeing all my recent converts in Kyiv. They're all just thriving and I am so proud of them.

So then Christmas day we come back to Chernigov for our DOUBLE CHRISTMAS BAPTISM, which clearly made this the best Christmas ever. Seriously, it was just an incredible day. Both of them are such miracles. Katya is 22, and has just blossomed with the gospel in her life. Seriously, when I first met her she never smiled or laughed or almost even talked. Now she's just an incredibly darling young lady. Tanya is older, has sat in prison, and is definitely rougher around the edges. When I first met her, she just wanted to argue all the time. And now she's simply thrilled to be the newest member of the church. I repeat: best Christmas ever.

Friday I got to skype home! The entire family is currently gathered at Hawaii, so I got to say hi to every single member of my family. How cool is that? It was funny though, because I hung up and felt not a single tinge of regret from being here instead of there. Missions are like 12,000 times better than trips to Hawaii. (Don't think that's going to keep me from going to HI as soon as possible after taking this nametag off (are RMs allowed to swim?)).

Saturday, we had another surprise trip to Kyiv. WHAT. Two trips to Kyiv in one week. I wish you could appreciate how much things like this don't just happen. I am SO blessed. Our official reason for being there was a Stake music night at which a missionary choir sang. But it was just a perfect night. I saw almost ALL my lovelies from my Kyiv ward. I honestly felt like it was just a gathering of all my favorite people. I am so fortunate to have made so many incredible friends on my mission and to have had the chance to see them.

So that was the best week of my life. I feel like I failed kinda miserably at describing how much joy I felt this week. It was simply incredible.

Since it was Christmas this week, I spent quite a bit of time in the New Testament. I thought a lot about the Savior's invitation, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." We call Him Savior because He saved us from death and sin. But we also call Him Savior because He, in His mercy and grace, delivers us from trials and bondage and burden. As I thought about this scripture, I remembered what Judy always says of the time after the accident (paraphrasing, of course) "it was the worst of times, because the pain was so great, but it was the best of times, because of the intensity and strength of the Spirit that attended all of us. The veil has never been so thin nor heaven so close." I guess that's what grace is. It makes the worst of times somehow also the best of times. The Savior never promised to remove or even change our burdens, but He promised to lighten them. That's what a Savior does. It is such a privilege to be a missionary and watch that process work in people's lives. I love Him and am so grateful to be one of His missionaries for a little while longer.

All the love,

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

The time I have to email today is very, very small. It's a hectic week, but it is going to be incredible. So, for now, enjoy the district Christmas card I made so we could give it out to our members (evidence #319 that my mission has made me way too domestic). And have a wonderful Christmas everyone. I love you all!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The best week

GUYS. It was such a week. I don't even know where to start.

Saturday Ludmila got baptized! She's almost 70, and is one spunky babushka. She's just a riot. She was so happy to finally get baptized. When she came into the room after getting redressed, she was like "I just want to thank you all so much for coming to my birthday. This isn't my second birthday, I was born today. I'm so happy to be baptized and to be one of you and I will do all I can do be good and be an active church member." It was adorable. Rock on babuska Ludmila.

I went to my very first Ukrainian wedding this week. Our MCL got married. It was pretty awesome they invited us, although it was kinda anti-climactic. The literally just signed a document. Still, though, ligit.

Spring came.Not literally, but it was super warm this weekend and most of the snow is melted. I'm choosing to assume this means winter is over. Here is a picture of me and a snowman from earlier this week, when it was still winter. One of the fun parts of living next to a school is that the kids build snowmen sometimes. I am impressed. ​

Oh. WE SAW PRESIDENT KLEBINGAT THIS WEEK. He came on official area presidency business, sort of. The seventy who was supposed to come couldn't last minute, so back he came (which is kinda a miracle since he was told he wouldn't get to come back for at least 2 years). It was so good to see him. He gave us all hugs and took pictures and called us "my сёстрыs". I think he might have been even more excited than we were. He definitely made us all feel very loved. He quoted his own conference talk when he spoke, obviously. And he ended his talk like this: эта церкрвь истинна и I want my dear missionaries to know that I love you во имя Иисуса Христа аминь. So here is a picture of me and both my mission presidents in Kyiv.

While at that conference, I got to see tons of my favorite people from my Kyiv ward, which was also such a huge miracle. I love them because I feel like we're genuine friends. Sometimes, it's hard to be yourself as a missionary, but all my friendships in that ward are so real. I just love them so much!

On war front news, we did in fact lose power every day this week for a few hours each day. It's fine though. We just have lessons with people by candlelight. It's kinda nice, really. There's something just simple and quiet about it. I like it. Though there may have been a few moments when I've missed our good old Cummins generator.  Here is a picture I took of my dear companion studying by candlelight.

One really funny incident that happened due to electricity shortages was last Monday. We went ice skating Monday evening with some youth and investigators and the elders. It was the most Ukrainian ice rink of my life. They build walls around a basketball court, covered it with water, and let it freeze. We rented skates in the school next door. Except it was on the third floor. Which meant you had to go down 3 flights of stairs in your ice skates to get to the rink and then get back up to get your shoes back. OK. There was no Zamboni, but they had a couple of kids pushing snow shovels across the ice, so that kinda was something. Anyway, it was all great and such, until ALL THE LIGHTS WENT OUT like 10 minutes after we started skating. So it was pretty much completely dark, but all and all very fun. No one was injured, which was good.

Speaking of injuries, I almost got hit by a car yesterday. We had a green crosswalk, and I was running for a bus, because we really needed this bus in order to get home on time. Some car comes hurtling down the road through a red light and totally would have smashed me had the elders not been there to yell at me to stop. It seems to hold true that I am the most likely person I know to be hit by a car. I think I picked up that trait in Vienna 5 years ago, and haven't seemed to outgrow it. So there's that.

We had lunch on Wednesday at an Italian place that let's you get half-priced pasta if you draw a moustache on your face. Obviously worth it. First time I've had salmon in over a year.

We went to the National Ukrainian Choir concert this week with our branch. It was so good and so Ukrainian. Did anyone know that "carol of the bells" is actually a traditional Ukrainian folk song? Now you do! They sang that song among others. There was a guy playing on a bandura, which is a 68 string guitar, and it was so cool. Very talented. They all wore Ukrainian clothes and it was just the most Ukrainian evening of my life. I loved it. Search "Український національний хор" on youtube and enjoy a little piece of my life.

I spoke in church again yesterday. We walked in and were told "well, no one prepared their talk today, so missionaries are up." So with all of 7 minutes to prepare, I pulled off a pretty good talk just sharing what I'd learned during personal study that morning. It was really neat to see I could do that, since I definitely would not have been able to do that 6 months ago. But that's just how missions are. You get to grow and change and so many amazing things come out of it.

​All the love,

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winter is enchanting

It is just the most lovely winter wonderland here in Chernigov. There's a river near/in the town which causes lots of fog at night. Which means that every morning all the trees all over the city are covered in the most beautiful frost. It's unreal how lovely this city is. Maybe winter isn't so bad after all.

In news on the war front... the country is trying to save energy this winter, since there just isn't enough to go around due to the oil situation with Russia. Thankfully, hot water has not been cut off! But, electricity has. They've been doing a two hours on, two hours off thing this week for half the city, and then the other half goes without electricity this week, and so on. Luckily, we had electricity this past week, but probably we'll be going without the upcoming one. Good thing I have a headlamp! Haha we'll survive just fine, but it's always sad to call up a babushka "how are you?" "It's dark!"

I lost more friends this week. One of my skirts got a fairly large hole in it and that totaled it. And then my FAVORITE boots died. The boots that I brought on my mission and have worn pretty much every day since then. That are so darn comfortable and walkable. That I already got the zipper replaced on once. This week, the zipper like tore off, and I'm pretty sure it's not fixable. So that was a great loss. They broke in the middle of the day, so I walked down the street with rubber bands on my boot keeping it together and ran into the first thrift store I found and got a replacement pair of boots for $4. As if anything could replace those boots.

I also got a hole in my winter coat (it really wasn't a good week for my clothing). We were at a members house and she was like "oh, I'll fix that right up for you." So we drank tea and talked while she sewed it up for me. And I was very grateful for that. Sometimes, the things that mean the most to me are the quiet kind things people do for me. The small moments of "here, let me take care of you" are the best.

We had a cowboy party this week, and it renewed my resolve to be a cowboy if nothing else in my life works out. I also wrote a poem this week for the first time on my mission. It felt good to write again. Whenever I tell people I wrote poems before my mission, they're like "do you write poems in Russian?" And the answer to that is no, because while I have basic communication skills down in Russian, I definitely don't have command of the texture of the language, which is what makes poems fun to write. Maybe someday.

We had a real life pioneer adventure on Saturday (not really). We got up at 3am to get to the bus stop by 4 so that we could go to the temple! IT WAS SO COLD. Seriously, an unholy temperature. The bus was also very, very cold. It did not know my feet could be so frozen. So being tired and cold in order to get to the temple made me feel like a pioneer.

We went to the temple with the branch and it was SUCH a wonderful day. President let us go because we had a couple less-actives and recent converts that came with us. So we did mostly baptisms all day. You know how they have a little spiritual thought before the baptismal session starts? The temple matron asked me to translate for her, so that was pretty neat. And then we were in the temple until like 4:30. It was just a wonderful day. I love the Kyiv temple.

Anyway, in the evening we went with those who could only do baptisms to center Kyiv, because the rest were staying for a 5:00 session. We walked around center Kyiv in the winter and it was just beautiful. Snow and cold and old buildings. I loved it. I love where I'm at. Christmas season is the best.

All the love,

Monday, December 1, 2014

All my friends have died

I have vague memories of my great grandma (Judy's mom) complaining in her old age that all her friends had died and there was no one to talk to or play bridge with any more. I never appreciated how sad that must feel until last Wednesday when the remainder of my mission friends died (went home). We had Thanksgiving mission conference the next day and it was like the saddest thing. All my friends had died. I miss them. The conference was good though. The senior couples went above and beyond putting together a real American Thanksgiving for everyone, and that was awesome. Some of them even used their precious American ingredients, which we were all very grateful for. Brown sugar becomes a very dear commodity when you live in Ukraine.

On the way back from conference, I sat by a babushka on the bus. We got to talking, and she told me about how she's already been traveling 12 hours from Western Ukraine, returning home after burying her 31-year-old son. She talked and cried and it was so sad. I love being a missionary, because you get to talk to strangers about real life.

We did family history like crazy this week, because we have lots of recent converts who've never done it before. It's pretty neat and daunting to start a family tree from scratch. I showed them my family tree and they couldn't believe it. One line we traced back to King Arthur and Uther Pendragon, so that was cool. Haha I'm so lucky that all my relatives did my family history work for me.

Yesterday, the branch president showed me his photo album from his years in the Soviet army. It was epic. I also spoke in church yesterday. It was less epic. I kinda just wrote up a few points and a few scriptures and hoped it'd be fine. It turned out pretty well, so that was lovely, because I was pretty nervous. I still get nervous sometimes and my Russian is not so pretty then. Or ever, really. Russian is probably not my strong suit as a missionary.

Oh, and the first snow fell this week! It's definitely getting colder, but don't worry, my bed is right next to the heater so I snuggle up warm at night. The snow really is lovely. I love walking down the street at night when it's dark and the snow is quietly falling. It's just so peaceful.

Since it's December today, I'd say the Christmas season is officially kicked off! Something fun we did this week was buy tea for some recent converts/less actives who struggle to read the scriptures regularly. Everyone here drinks tea in the morning, we we wrote a different Book of Mormon scripture that talked about Christ on each tea bag and gave them out yesterday. 25 tea bags and 25 days until Christmas makes for a nice way to start every day in December. Sometimes, I can be creative.

All the love,