Thursday, July 28, 2016

eat your way out

Hey, it's me again.

unsurprisingly, life isn't normal yet. We're still not entirely clear on what we're supposed to be doing. The stuff that we did that was probably the most productive was the stuff that would have been the most unproductive a few weeks ago. For example:

Hanging out with inactive youth! ( side note in Russia we use the word "youth" to refer to basically any unmarried person under 30. Also sometimes married people under 30) Just ask up permission to go to the mall food court, spend your dinner hour there, bro out, teach them about snapchat, ask them about their first missionaries (...have them snapchat their first missionaries), and then leave. It works quite well.

Hanging out with active youth! We've been doing a lot of "studying at the church", which is basically now our backup plan for everything, and until things really get rolling we're going to be doing it some more. Saturday night we're at the church, which is not where we want to be. We call Diana, the only active young woman in our ward. I think she mostly felt sorry for us because we were stuck at the branch building all day and the elders were driving us up the wall, but she'd gotten off work early so she came over and instead of a low-key hangout we actually ended up having quite a spiritual young women's activity (young woman's?), for all the late notice.
Nice thing about having one young woman? Only one schedule to coordinate. Also she's really cool.

We've been visiting members a bit more, as much as we can get them to meet, anyway. We were actually kind of waiting on a meeting with the bishop, so that we could actually be organized instead of just going rogue, but he's actually the hardest to meet with (no surprise there, he is the bishop) so we haven't done that yet.

Members feeding missionaries has been pretty discouraged here, for pretty understandable reasons. But they love to do it, so people actually feed us a lot, when they can. At least, they feed sisters. No one really tries to feed elders too often. Is that a universal thing for volunteers? Anyway it's kind of a problem because sometimes you can't get out until you have eaten all of the food that they have previously designated for missionary consumption. Back in the day we weren't supposed to visit members very much and you weren't supposed to be there very long so you could be like "youknowthisisgreatbutactuallywehavetogofindnewinvestigators" and make a break for it. But now we have no where else to go. We know it. They know it. They're like "you haven't eaten all of your dry cottage cheese stuff. If I go stick more honey on it, will you eat it all?" yes. Yes we will

No where else to go except the church, which is typically full of elder and it's driving me crazy. But yeah. Short week. That's about it.

I've been seizing the opportunity for extra studies, though, and it's been fantastic. Read the Book of Mormon, friends!

Pictures: food and surprise rain and members forcing us to take their coats because who knows what will happen if summer rain falls on your head?

Love you!!!!!

Sister Nielsen

A letter from the President of the Samara, Russia LDS Volunteers

Dear Parents/Family-

As you know, laws signed by President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, July 7, include a section of regulations and restrictions affecting our customary proselyting efforts in Russia. The new law goes into effect beginning July 20, 2016.

In correspondence, including any of your postings on social media, we kindly ask that you refer to you son or daughter serving in the RSM as a “volunteer” in keeping with the spirit of the new law. We also request that your communications refrain from any negative commentary about the Russian government. Beginning on Tuesday, July 20, the manner in which our young volunteers in Samara perform service will change fundamentally. Instead of proselyting, they will now engage in activities aimed at developing the Church and supporting Church members. They will all serve in Church callings and will build closer bonds with members than in the past. For our part, we will need to strive together to ensure that their service is productive and spiritually fulfilling.

We feel nothing but joy and peace in this effort. We are confident that the Lord will continue to pour forth his blessings on his Saints and upon the Church in Russia. We will see miracles take place and the hand of the Lord made manifest in prospering His Church in this beautiful land. “Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail” (D&C 6:34.)

President and Sister Ottesen


July 20th
Today is wednesday. It's official.

It's been a pretty intense week. Let's see if I can put any of my feelings into words.

We got some crazy call-downs this week. Do you all know what a call-down is? Is that something that exists outside of missions? I'm sure it is. Basically, instead of calling all 28 or so companionships to tell them stuff, our president tells the assistants, who tell the zone leaders, who call the district leaders in their zone, who call the people in their district. That way everyone only has 1-3 phone calls to make. 

So yeah. Some of the call-downs were normal. "p-day will be on wednesday". No surprise there. But it's kind of a weird thing to get a call from A DL Peterson where you hear "you are no longer a m*jhfdkjjfkd*y. got it? Delete the word "m*jgfdfghkl*y" from your vocabulary. you might as well send your name tag home."
It's just slightly...uncomfortable.

But actually, we're not m$&^%$^%ies. We are now volunteers. We don't have any m!@#$%^&*y duties. Please refer to me as a volunteer. Thank you.

Another call-down: "DESTROY all of your Word of Wisdom, Tithing, and Chastity pamphlets. They are ILLEGAL." Alrighty

That's the thing about call-downs. Things can sometimes get a little distorted. Like, we weren't sure if we were actually supposed to "destroy" those pamphlets, or if we could just get rid of them normally. But, you know, gotta play it safe. 

Not only do call-downs get distorted, but sometimes people make up their own. The sisters in center got a call from their district leader during dinner about a week ago, back when there was still a lot of uncertainty and almost no one knew what was going on. "sisters, I'm sorry I don't know very much. They said they'd keep us posted as more of this unfolds, but all we know is, pack your bags" (The sisters, understandably, flipped out)

But anyway, things have been a little high-stress around here. My new companion sister Bierman was supposed to arrive at like 1:30wednesday morning. Someone had the bright idea of letting two sisters travel to Saratov without a phone, and the results were pretty disastrous. Let's just say that they got home way later than they were supposed to, and that the zone leaders literally ran the streets of Saratov for over an hour screaming their names. I was sleeping calmly and peacefully in my own bed while it was all going down. The poor sisters in center have to deal with everything. They call said zone leaders at 2 in the morning like "what do we do? the sisters still aren't here!" " might as well hit the streets yourself"

And that's why we had 6 "volunteers" and some luggage roaming the streets at 3 am.

Yet another call-down: "please write down ALL important phone numbers and keep them with your passport"

And we had to laugh a bit because that wouldn't even have helped, but whatever.

So we got our companions in safely, but we still had 10.5 million questions about everything. Fortunately, we got to be on MLC, which stands for Voluntary Leadership Council, and hear a lot of the stuff as it unfolded. We'll have a question-and-answer conference tomorrow.

So yeah, you're probably wondering what volunteers do, and I'm not really sure either, but it's not proselyting.

It felt like the world was ending. Or my mission, at least. Today is p-day, but I don't even know what we're going to do tomorrow. We can't plan. Help.

I've spent almost a year out here. Contacting. Not necessarily all the time, but it's just the way I was raised. It's 7 in the morning! What are you doing at home?! Go contacting! You've been at this activity too long! Go contacting! This lesson cannot go over 45 minutes! Go contacting! 
There will be no more of that.

It's hard to even accept that it's real. I'm half expecting to wake up tomorrow with a text that says "that was all a joke to make you work harder. Go contacting".

It does feel like a joke. Everything that was ever encouraged here (finding, teaching, baptizing) is now out the window. We don't participate in any of that. And everything that was ever discouraged (community service, hanging out with members, cultural events, sports night, chilling doing nothing in the church building) is now encouraged. It is actually exactly everything we used to joke about doing but never actually did.

Oh yeah did I mention that culture night is now можно?


I was actually pretty down about stuff for most of the week, to be honest. I kind of felt like I'd been cheated of 5 months.

But I'm sure it will pick up. We're basically here to support the wards, hold callings, run activities, all that stuff. I think Sunday is when I really started to come to terms with it all. Saratov has a stake. It's not the first place I would have thought that needs support, but there some problems here. It was when the sisters in the primary and in the young women heard thatt we were getting callings and started arguing about who would get us, and I realized that it was actually pretty needed. The wards and branches need a lot of help.

Basically everything is different and weird and less hard and more hard all at the same time.

I suspect it's going to be really humbling. We're going to have to be 300% better at Russian, 20 times more social, millions better prepared and good at planning.

So if you made it to the end of this ridiculously long email, (sorry by the way) I need stuff!

I need any and all ideas for fun and inexpensive ward activities. please. send them. Even if you think it's stupid. If you have it I want it. Even send expensive ones, maybe I can Russian it up a little. 

Also send me fun object lessons. PLEASE!

Okay I know that this should be more spiritual and stuff but I'm exhausted from the last week and the thoughts are spinning around in my head and I need to wrap this up. 

Know that I'm feeling hopeful and positive about it all. It's going to be fun. Weird, but fun. Here's a smiley face to prove that everything is wonderful :)

Have an excellent week! Love you!
Sister Nielsen

p.s. It's still cool to call me "sister". I'm kind of stoked to start every single phone conversation with "здравствуйте это сестры волонтеры как вы поживаете?"


July 17th
it's sunday and they told us to send you a quick email because we won't have p-day tomorrow, we're doing it on wednesday. just so you don't panic and think we're dead or all got sent out of the country. pass it on. I'll fill you in some more on wednesday, but for now all I have to say is please do not refer to me as a "m*ghdksedk*y" in any online correspondence with me or anyone. use the word "volunteer"
okay talk to you later

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Things actually happened in the last seven days. Weird.

Tuesday our new mission president made it down to Saratov, so we had zone conference. The Ottesens are REALLY cool. They're pretty funny. Fun fact, before they started dating president Ottesen (or whatever they called him back then) sent weird things to Sister Ottesen in the mail to get her attention. Like wooden boards and coconuts. 

Thursday we/a van of missionaries drove down to the border so we could re-enter on our new visas. My last few times have been pretty uneventful. I've only ever done it from Samara, so I have to say that  saratovskaya oblast is beautiful. Spacious skies and amber waves of grain. The roads are awful, but we had air conditioning and all was well. But the border people got all weirded out by the whole Americans-have-two-passports thing, so we had to stay there about five hours longer than we planned while we all got interviewed. Zone leaders told us to bring nothing but our passports and water so that it didn't take forever for them to search the van, so we were pretty bored. But hey, our leaders have asked us to fast for the leadership of this country...

Anyway, Roman, our legendary mission driver, leans back and is like "hey guys, just so you know, the worse you know russian the less time this will take. If you catch my drift"
So I was getting ready to answer their questions in horribly-accented scriptural russian, but it turns out I'm terrible at acting. But my interview was still pretty short probably because I'm a girl who's never served in the army.

I don't know what Russian border control is expecting to hear when they interview seven Mormon missionaries, but after they wrote down my name and address it was like:
"what is the purpose of your visit?"
"to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ"
"what do you do here?"
"I preach the gospel of Jesus Christ"
"got it. But, what do you DO?"
"talk to people and tell them about the gospel of Jesus Christ"
"who do you talk to?"
"...anyone who will listen?"

Maybe I should have turned it into a better teaching situation, but I'm not sure how. Maybe next time I'll ask for a referral while they finger-print me and take mug shots?

Friday we got some bad news and had to have rainy ice cream dinner. See attached photo. I feel like most of you that have the internet probably know that a law was signed in Russia this week that might change our work a little bit. It's probably not a super big deal, but we only have nine days left to proselyte in the normal way so you can bet we're going HARD. (p-day activity? contacting!)

We have a cool new investigator! Except she can't read Russian. We read to her. Maybe we can teach her how to read? Also we got a referral, this girl works with a member and she asked him if she could meet with us! We're stoked. 

So Sister Hines is getting transferred to Samara, sad. For me. She's probably not, she's going to the only city in the mission that has a crossfit gym... It's a good thing sister Markelova gave her a haircut this week. 

Sister Bierman is coming here, p.s. parents that's the sister that you were asking about a while back when she came into the mission because she has family in cache valley or something? Actually I think she is also from cache valley... I can't keep track of these things

um yeah to explain the photo someone on the bus gave me flowers (#dachaseason) and I decided to take a senior portrait. Maybe I'll have a flower shop one day. I'll call it "розы от розы"

Love you! Praying for you!
Sister Nielsen

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Happy fourth!  Yesterday at church a few people asked us what we were planning for the holiday. We're going to run around outside waving American flags! Really?!! No. But we're going to have steak and watermelon. Oh yeah.

Started off the week with splits in solnechney, which is the area waaaay on the other side of the city. It almost feels like a different city. I think solnechney:saratov::stepnoi:orenburg. That might not make sense. Point is, I liked it. Got some serious work done, accompanied sister Palmer (former companion) to the railroad hospital to get her some x-rays, made taxi drivers laugh. We have awesome hard-working sisters here. Also Sister Hines and I totally destroyed them in our tag-team super-kontik race.

Here's what that is. Everyone gets half a cup of milk in a bowl and two cookies. You switch off with your companion to drink all your milk through the cookies. Whichever team finishes all the milk and the cookies first wins. It's more complicated than it sounds.

But yeah, this week was good. Did...stuff, met cool people. Food adventure for the week was snezhok, which is super delicious. A testimonial from Sister Hines: "when you drink that stuff you look like a legit Russian! But just because no one knows that it's just sweet yogurt". It's quite refreshing. I want to try it with raspberries.

I don't talk enough about how cool the Russian saints are, so I'm going to ramble: In our ward there's a woman, Sveta, who was baptized a little over a year ago. Around that time she met (at institute...Mormons) Dima, a long-time member, and they fell in love and got married. They both have 9-year-old daughters, and they have the cutest family. Two months ago they were able to go to the temple to be sealed, and a few weeks ago their third daughter was born. Yesterday they took Sofia to church to be given a name and a blessing. It was awesome. What a wonderful thing for their family! How great for their daughters that they get to grow up in such a home! Addictions and unhappy families are so common here. These girls have something that very few people here do. It made me so happy. Dima recently lost his job- the people he works with knew he was Mormon, and viewed it as unpatriotic or pro-American, so he was fired. It's definitely a difficult time for them. (shout-out to the relief society for being the best) Yesterday Dima got up and bore strong testimony about trials and the atonement. They're so calm through it all. It's because they have a foundation on Christ.
Also super cool thing about Dima, he's the elders' quorum president and since he has a much more flexible schedule now, he's been taking a lot of time out of his job search to go out with the elders and make visits to inactive and sick members. 

Yeah so cool have a great week, great holiday, do good. Love you!
Sister Nielsen

Monday, June 27, 2016

go around the long way

There's not a ton to report. The weeks are flying.

We had the sisters from volzhskiy area here on splits this week and it was great. For reference, volzhskiy is basically the city center, and zavodskoy is anything south or west of that. Our apartments are actually really close together, so we actually kind of had real splits, as in we worked in both our areas. That's pretty unusual here.

It meant I got to work with Sister Hullinger! We came out together and have been on splits a lot, except not since Kazan. We did stuff. Ran around, talked to everyone, exceeded our goals for ice cream consumption (go us!). Living the dream.

We've knocked into a few cool interested people lately, still it's hard to convince them to meet with us. Knocking definitely brings out my most awkward, fidgety side, and sister Hines laughs at me.

Sister Hines laughs at me too much. Why can't I have a companion who takes me seriously? I am a very serious person. She laughs when members try to set me up with other missionaries, she dragged me to the gym to day and laughed at me when I tried to lift something... 

Oh yeah, we finally made it to the gym today. Sister Hines was in her element. I mostly just stood there as she repetitively picked up heavy things. I don't have any pictures, but I do have a picture from when we found a punching bag in the stairwell of a building we were knocking. 

I'm including a picture of my latest food adventure. I'll have you know that that was NOT a milk shake. It was basically bad apple soda.

Um, I bought new shoes? I think I'm reaching new lows in boringness.

I have to hand it to sister Hines, though, because we've been contacting a LOT. I mean, we haven't had a member-present lesson (that didn't fall through) in... a long time. I feel like normally that would start to get me down after this long, but everything's fine. I don't find contacting for the entire day for weeks on end daunting like I would have a few transfer cycles ago. It's good. Everything's good. 

Also for the last week or so people have been weirdly nicer? As a rule, of course, none are interested in the gospel, but at least some of them have been stopping to talk to us. It's probably all the prayer.

Okay I love you. Be good, work hard, don't waste time, do what makes you happy.
Sister Nielsen

my trusty proselyting shoes are dying. these were only like 1,200 #babushkastatus