Tuesday, December 29, 2015

time is an illusion and so are pants

Large shout-out to the assistants who booked for us a very nice train on Christmas day. Like, really nice. They (the train people) fed us, they provided toothpaste and slippers and boot polish and chocolate and tea we can't drink and various other things. Also we spent basically all of two days on trains, and a day in Toliatti for Christmas conference, so we haven't been doing all that much work around here, and I don't entirely feel like I'm doing that much. But we soldier on.

There's some investigator/part-member-family/less-active people that we've been trying to get to church (and for the last two cycles too) but they always bail at the last minute, so we finally just showed up at their house Sunday morning and knocked on all the windows and told them to get dressed and get in the taxi. They did. Also thanks to the taxi driver for helping us break in to their gated yard. Maybe it was a little extreme, but it worked. 

Christmas conference was awesome and I would like it known that Sister Schwab is the best and that I ate far more food than was actually comfortable once it was inside me.

Our branch decided to have yet another Christmas activity, but fortunately we didn't have to dress up. It was basically like the other one but with fewer children and more recited Christmas rhymes, (probably) famous poems, and parables (all things I don't understand because they use big words and artistically move around the word order). So it was pretty Russian.

The elders have an investigator who isn't really making any progress but who likes talking to missionaries and especially likes my companion. So he has decided to become our investigator. And he's been pretty successful at it so far. You wouldn't think he'd be able to crash our lessons, but he has. I'm not really sure what to do about that.

And finally, it would not be a letter from Sister Nielsen if I didn't talk about the weather, so it has been warm and slushy, which is gross. One day we were out in the rain for two hours and the rain managed to soak my winter coat, all the way through in parts. I thought it was going to freeze solid when we went outside again that night, but it hovered around freezing so I just walked around trying to keep my proselyting material dry and looking like I'd fallen into a river. I'm hoping it gets cold again.

I've been thinking of grace a lot lately because I'll admit, I always kind of thought of it as this bonus extra part of the gospel that you can study if you feel fancy or inadequate. But I've realized that it's the power by which all of the gospel is actually possible. It's the power by which Christ did everything he did. It's not an extra part that you can find out about if you graduate from the essentials. 

So I'm trying to thank God more often for the things that I think of as mine and forget aren't really mine, but are from God. You can never be too grateful. 

You are all excellent! I love you!
Sister Nielsen

Note: This photo is from Rosa Skyping home on Christmas Day

Sunday, December 20, 2015

working the snow-walking muscles

The greatest miracle of this week is that conference editions of the Liahona finally made it out to this lonely place on the earth's wide harvest fields. It's wonderful. I was looking forward to that more than Christmas, so I guess now it's back to normal life for this sister.

As for what I did this week, I got a little sick, so I was imprisoned indoors for a little bit, and then other than that ran around from place to place trying to talk to people and coaxing people to come to church. The usual.

Oh, and there was a New Years childrens' play activity thing that we got mixed up in (because the missionaries are a significant portion of the active members here), and it was a little bit of a nightmare. But it turned out good and a lot of people came. Also I'd like to share with you all that in Russia it is not the grinch that steals Christmas (uh, New Years), but rather Baba Yaga. I thought that was hilarious. She's the fabled old lady that lives in a house on chicken feet and eats children.

Baba Yaga was played by our awesome recent convert/ college student / language extraordinaire Uliyana. She is really cool, and helps us out a lot for how busy she is. This is her: "Hey, Uliyana, what's your favorite word in English?" "(thoughtful pause)...twelve!"

I have discovered that I actually hate hats so I've taken to wrapping huge scarves around my face and head. I've arrived. I'm Russian now. Sorry.

Looks like this letter is a short one. Christmas! I hope it's awesome. I love you all and pray for you!

If I ever take pictures I'll let you know.

Sister Rosa only-a-week-behind-in-her-journal Nielsen

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It hasn't started to feel much like Christmas

(Mostly because in my head I think it's still October or something)

Orenburg is different from Kazan in a number of ways. First, it's a lot smaller. It's spread out a bit, but there are fewer people, and a lot more of them have cars. A lot more people live in separated houses with tall fences than in apartment buildings, at least in the sisters' area. And people don't walk outside very much. Unsurprisingly, it's also cold, and almost always windy. As for similarities, it's pretty clean and nice. Hi, I'm Sister Nielsen, and I get sent to all the nicest/richest cities in the mission.

This all makes it interesting to try to do missionary work (specifically finding, which is basically the only thing we're doing right now). It's hard to talk to people if there straight-up aren't people to talk to. The deeper we walk into center (half of it is in our area) the more people there are, but there're also government buildings, schools, and churches every two feet, so we don't do much proselyting. I haven't really scoped out the bus-contacting situation because my companion is unused to taking buses so we don't really have anywhere to go on a bus and I also got sick so talking in general has been pretty hard for a couple days. 

Most of the ways I learned how to do missionary work in Kazan aren't really applicable here. Don't worry, I'll find the best way to take care of this city eventually. But I'm open to suggestions if you have any. 

The branch here seems sweet, but also tiny. 

So weird to send my trainer home. Since that happened I've felt kind of like I'm on splits. I keep thinking I'm about to go back and tell her about someone we met or run something by her to see if it's an approved, productive behavior. My current companion also just was separated from her trainer, and I think we both feel like we've been wandering a bit since then. We were trained quite a bit differently, so it's been good for us to try to learn how to work together. I also totally failed at having a picture of the two of us so I'm sorry. You can all imagine her. She's pretty! I'll send a picture of the view out our window.

Firsts this week:
-I had my first fall on the ice! A rite of passage. It happened last night while looking for signs of life (uh, I mean contacting). It was a pretty solid fall, I'd give it an eight out of ten.
-I took my first train ride in Russia, and we got in here Thursday around lunch time. Apparently it was a pretty nice train, but I was mostly asleep, and I don't have anything to compare it with. We never took trains to Kazan, but we do to here and it's about an 8-hour ride.
-I took a greenie out contacting in Samara! I still don't know who ended up being her trainer, but I was handed her and three hours to get from the mission office to the sisters' apartment there. So we walked around until some old ladies yelled at us (while calling us terms of endearment. And/or accusations of being from a cult. It's hard to tell and context doesn't clue you in, but I know we got both) for being in such a dangerous part of the city after dark so we hopped on a bus and got back. She did great! And I got us back alive. 

We watched the first presidency Christmas Devotional yesterday at church and I really liked it (at least the parts I understood). I love the scriptures we have about the Savior's birth. I want to study them a little more intently at this time of year, and I highly recommend that you do that as well!

I love you all! Have a fabulous week. Don't freeze. 

Your very own perpetually month-behind-in-her-journal 
Sister Nielsen

Monday, December 7, 2015

dances with golden retrievers

So I'm going to Orenburg, which I know basically nothing about except that it's off to the east and people keep telling me it's one of the coldest cities in the mission. Excellent. I'll be with Sister Palmer. I don't know her super well, but I probably should since we overlapped for a couple weeks in the MTC. I'm not actually sure when I'm supposed to go there, but my companion has to renew her visa, so I'm going to be here in Samara tomorrow, and maybe the day after.

I'm so sad to have left Kazan! It didn't help that yesterday was Sister Wilson's last Sunday in Russia. There were a lot of tears, and then a lot of sprinting to bring our stuff to the bus station. A member told me, "at least you'll always remember Kazan as the place where you mastered Russian". Oh, if only. I do love Kazan, I have at least as much patriotism to there as anywhere else I've ever lived. I'll be back! Sister Thomas is staying in Kazan, so I don't have to worry about it, though.

Yeah, so strange statistics: Right now in our mission there are 20 sisters (or at least there will be as soon as the old ones fly out and the new ones fly in tomorrow) and only 5 of them have been in Russia longer than 6 months.

When it's someone's last week in a mission you have to go see everyone you've ever met in that area, because they all want to say goodbye. It's not really what the missionaries feel like doing, but it keeps you busy (It's also a great way to reconnect with investigators who've dropped off the face of the earth).

We visited members Maksim and Malika who live "out of town" (whatever that means) in a little house they've built. Actually we asked and they said it was some 37 km from our church building. Their house looks like America. Super strange. They fed us way too much food and their huge dog was really happy to see us.

Aleksei (remember him?) told my fortune according to "science" and my date of birth. I have a whole scroll of paper about it. It seems the moon has been slowing me down for the last year and a half, but in the beginning of March it's going to flip and I'll start to draw power from it. Also, the ideal time for me to get married is fall 2017. Any takers?

On Wednesday we spent four hours in the police station. That was fun. They insisted on separating our companionship (we tried to tell them...) and a little while later the man in a suit that everyone was referring to as their boss stuck his head into the room Sister Wilson and I were in and said "hey, check out the book that Thomas girl gave me!" Expect the unexpected. I also learned some slang and was subjected to questions like "In America do you really all wear your shoes in the house?" Aren't detectives supposed to know this stuff? "What about on your bed? Do you wear shoes in bed?"

Well, if it seems like this letter is frantic and all over the place, so are we. Sister Wilson is peacing out and I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I can't consult her at a given moment for help. For the past week Sister Thomas and I have been chucking last-minute mission- and russian- questions and scribbling down her answers. Missions are actually really short and they come to an end. I'm still behind in my journal. But really all I want is to remember what I think and feel about things and ask everyone around me how they think. I ask so many people what faith means to them, for example, and it's super interesting. We offer people repentance, and that's pretty neat.

Have a great week! I love you all!

Sister Nielsen

Monday, November 30, 2015

glad tidings

It's dark outside by 4, and it starts getting dark at 3. That's not actually interesting, but before I came here I wanted to know that, so I thought I'd share. We're not that far north, we're  just really far east in our time zone.

On the same day as our exhausting Thanksgiving activity there was a baptism! There's a (huge!) family in this branch who had two kids who were being baptized, and since Sasha is 9, we got to be involved. They're pretty sweet kids. Teaching them was super fun. There should be a picture of us with most of their family.

Our Thanksgiving activity went pretty great, probably because we ran all around everywhere trying to put things together. I guess it's nice that people can rely on us.

Between that and splits at the beginning of the week, time flew again. I'm not sure what else to share.

A goofy member told us a story this week. It sounded a little familiar to me, or at least I somehow guessed the word for goat right, because I've definitely never learned that. It was a good enough story that we had him tell us again. I'll try to retell it:
A woman went to her priest to ask how to improve her life. She had too many children, too little money, and a very small, cramped, old, messy house. The priest heard her out, and then told her to buy a nanny goat. Willing to try anything, she bought a goat and headed home. Within a month she was back at her priest's. 
"If anything, this goat has made my life worse," she said. "It's an absolute nightmare. It's everywhere, in all the laundry, eating everything, teasing the children, children tease the goat, there are droppings everywhere..."
"Sell the goat," the priest responded.
So she did. And her life got way better!
Even though it only went back to the way it was.

So there you have it! Probably the only thought about gratitude that anyone's shared with you in a long time. You're welcome. Sister Thomas loves goats.

I can't believe my trainer is going home next week! So very strange. It also for sure means the end of this glorious trio life. I'm not ready. There should be a selfie attached to immortalize it. I don't know if it's any good, I didn't really check. Sorry.

Speaking of which, our P-day might get moved around because we're escorting Sister Wilson down to Samara. So don't worry if I don't write when you expect.

Have a fabulous week. Have so good a week you don't even realize a week has passed. I love you all!

Sister Nielsen

Monday, November 23, 2015

What's stopping you?

It's warm outside today. That's something to be grateful for. It snowed a lot, so the ice is melting off the sidewalks today, and we're not wearing our big coats. One problem I've run into while it's snowing is that you put up your hood and suddenly you can't hear much and you have no peripheral vision. Are my companions walking next to me? Probably. Sometimes you gotta walk by faith and not by sight. 

We went to zone training in Toliatti and it was excellent. I also managed, while there, to set fire to some cup noodles. That's not super significant, but I want it recorded for posterity. There it is.

How do we measure time anyway? In days? In words learned? Miles traveled? Traveling makes everything go so much faster. But I also had the longest van ride of my life on Thursday, just because it wasn't exactly comfortable. Sometimes weeks fly because you have so many meetings and appointments, and sometimes weeks fly because everything fell through and you spent hours on hours talking to people outside.

I have a goal to be better at sharing scriptures with people on the street. It's weird that I forget to do that. I also probably need to work on having charity, too. After telling us to re-evaluate our lives a woman straight-up told me I had bad Russian. "I know, I'm from America. And what languages do you know?" Well, she only knew one, and there was definitely something better I could have said to make a nice impression. Cut the sass, sister nielsen.

When there's snow on the sidewalk people here pull or push their kids in sled-stroller things. It's ingenious and adorable. We have an investigator's two-year-old daughter who calls us her aunts and always wants to play when we're at their apartment for lessons. It's hard to focus when your heart is busy melting.

Last week I bought a new journal. Here's hoping that's motivation enough to catch up.

Tonight the sisters from Penza are coming here for splits, and get this: They're coming here on a plane. Yeah. I know. That also means this week is going to go super fast, and before we know it we'll be on a bus back down to Samara again to pack off Sister Wilson to America...

But we don't talk about that. Being on a mission is the best ever.

Look for the divine in every-day things. For her birthday we taught a girl in the branch how to kontik, it's the thing where you sip hot chocolate through a chocolate cookie. "That is DIVINE", she tells us. And it is. It really is so delicious. Also God's hand really is everywhere. Keep an eye out.

If you're reading this, you're cool and I love you. Have a great week!
Sister Nielsen

Monday, November 16, 2015

chocolate is a good treatment to improve your mood

Or so we we are told when one of our investigators hands us chocolate.

Hi! I finally succeeded in taking and attaching photos, so I should probably talk about them too. Assuming these pictures send and are what I think they are. Good luck.

We went to Toliatti, as promised! We also go there again tomorrow, which is a bit excessive, but we're supposed to. I'll probably take some sleeping pills for the bus. No shame.​ But we did splits with the sisters and it was rad. It snowed pretty much the whole time, and we got lost an embarrassing amount. It took us three bus rides to get home one morning because we kept passing our stop (the windows were foggy, okay). That should be a picture of me and sister Thomas by a sign (pay no mind to the pub behind us) that we found between meeting a nice woman who gave us the wrong directions to the bus station and actually finding the bus station. So splits was nice, and effectively used up half our week.

One of my accomplishments of the week was eating meat jello! It's called holodets or something that I cannot spell in any language. You all should know that it is neither as bad as some Americans led me to believe nor as good as some Russians tried to convince me it is. I ate one of my companion's portions so I will have very strong bones, apparently. I took a picture! That's all pretty Russian food, so maybe it's interesting. I hope so.

That last picture is where it gets interesting. I'll try to explain. Remember Aleksei, our physicist historian friend? He wrote that out for us. I'll try to translate it, but I don't think it would make sense even in English. We show up at his apartment the other night for a lesson, and he tells us he wants to show us something interesting he discovered. All right. Here's how it went:
"I was looking you guys up on the internet and I found something really interesting..."
"You were telling me about this Joseph Smith guy, and I found on the internet that he predicted the Second Coming would be in 1891"
(we spend about 10 minutes trying to explain that we believe that no one knows when the Second Coming will be except for God, although I'm assuming what he read had something to do with D+C 130, and he scrolls all over wikipedia looking for where he found it)
"So yeah, I thought it was really cool that he predicted it would be in 1891, because that's when I predicted it would be too."

So basically what's on the sheet of paper is 1. when the early Roman Catholic church though the Second Coming would be, 2. the fall of the Roman Empire, 3. The fall of queens authority in Great Britain (I don't know history... the revolution thing that involved Oliver Cromwell or something). 4. Some mostly meaningless math, and- the years 1891 (not the second coming), 1917 (revolutions in Russia), and 1929 (the beginning of the great depression).
Or something. This man uses a lot of words that aren't in my dictionary. He also predicts the outcome of elections, here and in America.

So I don't know what the Roman empire or Britain or the great depression have to do with anything, but I do know that it's a miracle I understood anything on that lesson. We had a pretty smooth transition into faith, somehow. At the end of the lesson he offered to write me out a whole scroll of paper with his signature method of predicting which days will be my up days and down days throughout my life based on only my birthday. I'm actually pretty excited, although I have no faith that it will be accurate at all. ("wait, how long will that take you?" "an hour, maybe two" what.)

If you didn't get anything I tried to explain for the last three paragraphs, don't worry. I
didn't either. 

Anyway, things are going well, trio life is as great as ever, and I'm pretty sure I want to stay in Kazan for a long time. There's still so much of our area I've barely been in, and I'm only just starting to find out who all the people on the branch list are (other than those who come to church). Kazan is great.

I've dumped pretty much all the thoughts in my head into this email. What else: Captain Moroni is hilarious and a role model for sass, but that's not new., Write down your personal revelation, and also I'm really out of shape.
Seriously. I did like ten squats and now I can't walk up stairs.

I love you all! You are awesome. Have the best week!
Sister Nielsen

Monday, November 9, 2015

We ate at least eight bags of muesli this week

This has probably been the busiest week I've spent in Russia. That's a good thing, but we're just not too used to it. This area is doing well! It's sweet.

Cool stuff is going on all over the mission actually. Next week Saratov is getting a stake! It'll be the third stake in Russia, and I'm pretty stoked. Although I've never been to Saratov. It's down south and I've been (as you know) up in Kazan since I got here. But Sister Wilson served down there for about a year. I think she wanted to somehow go down and be there when they organized it, but it's about a day and a half's journey for a nephite, so no.

There's been actual snowfall, with snow staying on the ground. Sometimes when I talk to people they ask me if I've ever seen snow before. What, does Russia have a monopoly on snow? Although I've discovered that the easiest way to be funny in Russian is to pretend to be baby about the cold. So I milk it. I make jokes about not living through the winter or living in a freezer, and people think I'm funny. Have you ever seen snow before? Yeah, in movies. Hahahaha. I crack myself up. It's not very freezing yet, happily.

There were a couple of holidays this week, which meant we had double encounters with drunk men. Good stuff. Did I mention Sister Wilson carries mace? That stuff comes in handy. Now, the mission's official policy on drunk people is "run", but sometimes they walk into the branch building when you're there with a missionary-aged recent convert right before English club and start yelling you in a mixture of Russian and German, so you don't get around to running. And then the elders turn up and he decides to fight them, so you just spray 'em in the face. The man, not the elders. I need to get me some kind of spray or something, probably. That was the second and much more dramatic of the encounters, the first one just followed us around outside until a random bystander pepper-sprayed him. Thank you Russia for solidifying my resolve to not drink alcohol.

A random former investigator we called agreed to meet with us, and she has the best English of any Russian I've ever met. I don't know why that's noteworthy enough to make it in here, but I was pretty impressed. She's studying to be an interpreter, that's why. She says things like "it's no biggie". She wasn't super interested in what we had to say at first, but miracle lesson and I guess we'll see now? I also found in her a fellow Fall Out Boy fan. Fate. What's the most useful thing I did before my mission that prepared me for what lay ahead? Listen to fall out boy. (That is a joke, a JOKE, read your scriptures, kids)

But yeah, this week was good. We ran around a lot and taught a lot of lessons. Okay, maybe not a lot by some standards, but our area is the north half of the city and it takes us ages to get everywhere on the bus. It's so cool to me how the stuff we teach, the stuff missionaries teach, we teach to everyone. We teach the same five lessons to everyone. We teach it to kids, we teach it to old historian-physicists. We can teach it with fun object lessons and candy bribes, or we can pick apart every detail to highlight the logic of it. And it seriously does apply to everyone. Every person. It blows my mind just a little. Sometimes it's fun opening people up and figuring out which thing they need. Every person. Even the people who are happy in their life or aren't interested in anything, if you really talk to them, needs something we teach. It's amazing.

Remember to check back for next week's episode: Toliatti Again. Will the MTC-reunion atmosphere kill our productivity?! Will we beat our cereal record?! Will Sister Wilson ever get trunky?! Don't miss it!!

Okay that's all. I love you all! Have a wonderful week. Do things you haven't done before! Don't get in situations where anyone has to be maced! 

Sister Nielsen

Monday, November 2, 2015

strength in numbers

Good news, guys- I've finally mastered the art of small talk! Well, maybe "master" is too generous a word, but I've come a loooong way. I'm satisfied with my progress. So the event of events this week is that I had a visa trip. This meant we spent all Tuesday on a bus to Samara, allWednesday doing the fly-to-Latvia-fly-back thing, and then we had to come back to Kazan. So probably not our most productive week. 

I got to practice all the conversation-having on planes. On one flight I was sitting next to this cool Latvian businessman who lost attention any time I brought up the gospel. In order to not feel like I'd given up on him I had to keep talking the entire flight, which means now I know a lot about the Latvian economy. It's mostly boring but apparently there are a lot of beavers in Latvia, and they shipped some of  them down to the Netherlands because in the Netherlands they don't have enough and need them for some reason. He told me exactly why, but I forgot. Anyway, that conversation was in English, which is almost worse, because then I can't use a language barrier as my excuse for being awkward. Another plane conversation was in English, but that woman was actually Russian. She wanted to practice English with me and I also couldn't talk about the gospel with her because she would just ask me an unrelated question ("what sports do you play?") whenever the me-being-a-missionary thing came up. It was actually pretty funny.

Actually the funnest way to start conversations I got from Sister Wilson- you write a verb in your planner and then ask people on the bus what it means. They can get pretty into it. I had two women trying to explain the word "to limit" to me the other night.

So yeah. Conversations are exhausting and layovers are exhausting. My next visa trip will probably be a bus to Kazakhstan, which should be a lot more quick and painless, so that's something to look forward to. I wish I could say that everyone survived this trip, but we had to leave two elders in the airport in Moscow because one of them lost his document that proved that he came into the country legally. But the rest of the van-full of us made it back whole, so that's good.

Oh, so we're in a trio! Me and still Sister Wilson and now Sister Thomas! But I told you all that. So far it's been fantastic. It's made it way easier to talk to strangers, for some reason. Also, every activity we do is 150% more fun. Both of my companions have decided to go off sweets (and there are some other restricted substances but I forget) for the month of November. I've resisted, because I don't like to be controlled. Or because I like sweets. Anyway, it looks like I'll be reaping the rewards of being the only companion that can eat the food people give us.

Last night we went knocking and ran into the most interesting man. We talked to him for long enough in his door way and he ended up inviting us in (and we could go in, because we're in a trio). His apartment was full of maps and charts and scrolls and it took me a second but then I realized that all of it was chemistry and physics and history and philosophy. There was a table in his living room covered in papers that I couldn't read. It all kind of reminded me of Indiana Jones' dad's study. If I remember it properly. Anyway, we taught the Restoration to a mad scientist named Aleksei and he was pretty receptive and invited us back. I think he liked us because I told him I studied chemistry for two years at university. So that was really cool and also how I found out that I can understand people when they talk in Russian about the big bang and gravity. There was also a lot we didn't understand (something that happened in the seventies that involved a word I definitely don't know), but he was pretty patient with us. I'm guessing he's probably used to Russian-speakers not understanding him. But I have a feeling that our discussion would have been fascinating to me in English. He gave us copies of a book he wrote. I can't read it, for a couple of reasons, but I'm sure it's great.

That's definitely not everything, but I don't want to bore you. I hope you had an excellent Halloween and I love you all! My general advice for you all this week is to realize or rerealize that every person you ever meet is unique and super awesome. It can make you tired, but it's awesome to get to know them, because you can always find out what you need to say to help them. Have a great week.

Sister Nielsen 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Three times three

I've gotten to the point that when random people ask me how long I've been here, I say three months. It's all rounding, of course, but it's weird. Three isn't that many, and it also is. I'm staying here for a third transfer cycle. So is my companion. So, what changed, you ask? You guessed it, we're serving in a trio. Sister Thomas (she was with me in the mtc so there are pictures of her somewhere that I've sent) is coming up here! We're not together yet, first we have to take a bus down to Samara and Sister Thomas and I have to take a plane out of here and back in to renew our visas, and then we have to come back up here, so that will take the majority of this week.

So we haven't seen her yet and I have no idea how she feels about it- it's probably weird coming into a companionship that's already been together three months. Really weird. Well, I can't say that Sister Wilson and I know how to teach with a ton of unity anyway, so we'll all have something to work on.

The trio should only be for this transfer, as Sister Wilson goes home in December. Super weird. 

Hi people that wished me happy birthday! I'm going to try to get back to you, but I'm short on time. So, I love you all! Sister Wilson tried to use the "Sunday is Sister Nielsen's birthday" line to get our investigators in church, but it didn't work too well. Russians, from what I have seen, take birthdays at least twice as seriously as Americans do. For example, we have an eternal investigator named Lilia who we haven't been meeting with lately because she usually doesn't keep commitments, including the commitment of showing up to meetings we set up. Anyway, Lilia has the strange habit of showing up to church for about 15 minutes of gospel doctrine and then leaving again. I glimpsed her through a doorway and we went chasing after her to try to talk to her. Well, apparently the knowledge that it was my birthday wasn't enough to persuade her to stay, but it did persuade her to go and buy me a cake (it seems our lessons about the sabbath aren't sticking).
Anyway, people here are really awesome and kind, and I'm really grateful to them.

So yeah, I became older, but only by the same amount that I become older by every week.

But it's the same old same old here, trying to make activities start on time and not run two hours late, and trying to remind people that we're missionaries and not just two (soon to be three) blonde American girls who'll hang out with them.

On an extremely related note, this week I found myself in an art gallery with a less-active (there was a string quartet and it was sweet. But not where I wanted to be) and a overly long walk of the city with this cool young couple who're mostly interested in English. Sorry, friends.

As much as I wish I could actually speak Russian, I'm really glad I am American, because otherwise I'm pretty sure no one would ever talk to me. Not being Russian gives you something to talk about for long enough to talk about the gospel before they lose attention. I have concluded that I have too boring a personality to ever be able to do missionary work in America. All the respect to missionaries who serve in their home country.

I love you all and you are cool! We've been doing a paper airplane object lesson for the Plan of Salvation a lot lately. I like the Plan of Salvation and also partly I just like paper airplanes. Remember that following God's plan is the best way to live our lives. Have a great week!

Sister Nielsen

Monday, October 19, 2015

I finally got to watch The Testaments

Actually only about half. Some of the exciting side effects of having a companion whose leg is falling off.

That's an exaggeration, of course. Don't worry about Sister Wilson's leg. Too much. We didn't stay in all that much either, which is good, because we were barely in our area this week. We had a conference in Samara, which is 8-9 hours and a time zone away from us. We spent pretty much all of Wednesday and all of Friday traveling. 

How was that? Well, I'm more than a week behind in my journal still, so apparently not super productive bus rides. I also had some delightfully authentic Russian outhouse experiences. Literal holes in the ground! Sometimes if they're luxurious they have doors, but don't expect the doors to close.

Our conference was great, though. We heard from a member of our area presidency and from a counselor in the general young women's presidency. We talked a lot about faith, which I'm pretty sure we could talk about in every meeting and not run out of things to talk about. 

Another thing about the conference was that it involved two zones, so I was reunited with almost all of the missionaries I was with in the MTC (except one. poor sister Graham). It was super interesting because I kind of expected some of them to have changed, but everyone is exactly the same. Except they're in Russia. I guess I probably haven't changed in the last two months either. For example, here's a sample conversation with one of the elders (who won't be specified):
me: "How's your Russian?"
Elder __:"Better than yours!"
Ahh, classic. That's probably funnier to me than it is to any of you, but I hope you appreciate it anyway.
Don't worry, I dealt him a reasonable portion of sass later.

Also I don't know who's idea it was to house ten sisters in one apartment while we were down there, but it wasn't that brilliant.

I managed to break another watch moving around mattresses in said apartment. That brings my total number of wristwatch casualties to three. Actually, this one is still at least functioning sort of, but due to the smashed face and the tendency to randomly stop and start again, I've decided to retire it.

There were real live Americans in church yesterday! That weren't missionaries, I mean. A lawyer from Salt Lake City is a guest lecturer at one of the universities here, and he and his wife showed up! They were so American. It was weird. They absolutely loved our branch despite not understanding anything.

We actually do have a pretty sweet branch up here. If I'm out of here next week (One of us is almost definitely, so we'll see who it is on saturday) I'm sure going to miss it. 

Last night we started talking to a random woman who spontaneously invited us over to her house to have tea with her daughters. That's pretty unusual for here. She wanted us to share a spiritual thought (good, because we were going to anyway). We had a sweet chat about God and his plan for us. He really does have a plan for us. He knows what we're going to do and who we're going to run into. Think about God's plan more often and think about how you can rely on Him more. Because it's entirely worth it.

I love you all and hope your personal study of the scriptures is going well. Also I hope your lives are going well, but if your scripture study isn't you should take this as your cue to re-evaluate it. Have a great week!

Sister Nielsen

Monday, October 12, 2015

first snow

and second, and third, and...

We skipped dinner one day to go buy me some boots, and I'm pretty glad we did, because it's been snowing a couple times every day since thursday and I still have both my feet! Ah, Russia.

I think I'm a little late to the General Conference party, but we watched it yesterday and Saturday and it was great, of course. I'm still feeling a little overloaded about it even, as in I don't know what about it I wanna tell all you cool kids. I enjoyed Claudio Costa's talk and I want to get better at studying and telling the stories of Jesus! For some reason the children's song "tell me the stories of Jesus" had been stuck in my head all before that, and after "I'm trying to be like Jesus" was all in my head, and the sentiments in those songs are definitely related. Time to start holding out for next month's Liahona. About half of what I wanted to do while listening was to instead read the talks with a pen in my hand. Soon. 

Our cool Toliatti sisters came up for splits this week. We can consume an impressive amount of milk when we get together. And other things, but milk is the most remarkable. I love them! And working with them is interesting and informative. This week pretty much nobody wanted to or was able to meet with us this week, but we met lots of cool people outside! And a lot of boys that want to hang out with us and don't understand what we're doing here. Okay. I evidently need to learn more slang because I only have a general idea of what they're saying to me. Cool.

A senior couple and their daughter and our mission president's daughter, who just finished her own mission in Romania, showed up in Kazanon friday and we had a sweet activity in which I thoroughly embarrassed myself trying to eat a donut off a string (I thought I left that behind in america...) and found myself teaching a lesson in English while almost everyone else there played uno... You do unexpected things here. Also peer pressure is strange.

You probably don't get told enough how cool you are! Each of you is awesome. Keep putting your one foot in front of your other foot. You can do it!

A secret that I'm letting you in on is that maybe I'd write more but right now I'm just really hungry and want to eat this orange.

That's about it. Here's a selfie that probably has snow in it, but I don't remember. I love you!
Sister Nielsen

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I'm pretty sure this week was only three days long (Note: this is from 9/28)

We spent two nights in Toliatti again for zone training and I discovered that I'm surprisingly fairly capable of making small talk with strangers. I just don't know how to make it actually entertaining or missionary-related. I also feel pretty resentful towards buses right now, which is unfortunate given that we're going down to Samara at least twice within the next four weeks.

Part of it is that I don't enjoy riding on buses for hours on end and part of it is that down in Toliatti I had the most crowded bus ride of my entire life. Actually it wasn't a bus, it was one of those things that's a sketchy white van with about 15 seats and about 40 people inside, and the driver talks on his phone and drives a bit aggressively. Fun stuff. 

Zone training was good, though! We talked a lot about prayer, and I'm still trying to figure out to apply things I learned without spending 30 minutes for every prayer I pray. I need to work on that. I mean, I don't mind praying all day, but sometimes there's other stuff to do.

All the Jehovah's Witnesses are really nice, but we've discovered that if you accept invitations to their house you stay there three times as long as you planned. I didn't understand all that much but I did eat some delicious cake. 

I enjoy that the language barrier allows me to ignore awkward moments. We have had some truly dreadful ones, but I can get away with pretending not to notice. Much of that is because I have no idea why or to what degree something is uncomfortable, so I just blunder on blindly. 

I ate at McDonald's. And it wasn't that good. The inside of the restaurant looked pretty classy, though.

Oh, and I finally got to hold hands with my district leader :) (I'm joking, don't worry. I mean, I did, but it's because hand-holding while praying in circles is pretty common here)

I've been thinking about how it's good to believe in myself but not good to rely on myself. I need to rely on God a lot more than I do. That's one awesome thing we get to do through prayer, is take all the things we don't actually have the power do to on our own and just hand them over. It's a relief. 

I love you all. Have wonderful weeks! Watch General Conference! Take more photos and be better caught-up in your journal than your one and only,

Sister Nielsen

Monday, October 5, 2015

A david archuleta christmas

We should probably start mixing up our music choices, but I'm not even tired of it yet. It's getting cold here. You'd think that Russians would be used to cold, but actually as soon as it's a little crisp outside they bundle up in layers and layers and get after me if I forget tights. I love this fall weather so much! The wind and the dead-leaf smell and freezing hands and ears. Actually that sounds pretty unappealing, but I enjoy it. And coming inside and drinking hot chocolate is a straight-up miracle. Actually I've been burning my tongue a lot this week on hot beverages. Be careful, friends!

One of our investigators, Zulya, was baptized this week! I don't know if I've ever mentioned her by name, but we've been teaching her for about a month and a half, and she has a young daughter who is disastrously energetic and reminds me of my nieces so much. I'm happy and excited for her! 

Otherwise this week wasn't terribly eventful, probably because almost every plan we had (fortunately not including the baptism) fell through. Also people like to make vague plans and then never answer the phone, and I can't even be too mad because I was the worst at answering the phone before I came here. So I'm getting what's coming to me. In a heightened attempt to look older than twelve I acquired some lipstick, which goes against my every flute-player instinct. I'm also pretty sure it doesn't actually make me look older. Oh well. Language problems, we were talking to an old lady and she was dressed pretty fancy. So I tell her "You're a very stylish woman". "Really?" she asks, "why do you say that?" Well, turns out I forgot to pronounce a letter and told her she was a very powerful woman. Rookie mistake. That woman also gave us an Ikea magazine, and now I have my heart set on going to Ikea one of these p-days. Oh and there was one night we were running all around looking for an address and we met a random cool woman who happened to live in the same apartment building we were looking for, so she led us there. And popped into a store on the way and bought us kitkats. I'm convinced that 1) people here are some of the nicest people and 2) kitkats here are about thirty thousand times better than in America. They are so delicious. 

Last Monday we went and walked around the Kremlin with some cool members. There was a lot more picture-taking than I was mentally prepared for. We've been to the Kremlin before, but this time we went and looked around in the mosque in the middle, which you can do for free! You just have to cover your head if you're a woman, of course. But apparently even in there photographs were totally permitted. It was such a beautiful, peaceful building that I felt kind of weird taking pictures inside, but I eventually abandoned my conscience because of peer pressure. Dreadful.

I tried some pretty dang tasty street food called shaurma, hang on while I try to get that from my companion. Ah, beautiful, enjoy that picture. Yes, that is the ikea magazine. No, we didn't read it, we just looked at the pictures.

I'm sure General Conference was great and I'm going to encourage you all to watch it if you haven't yet. Then I'm going to try to take my own advice before next week.

I love you all! Remember that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly Father knowing, and you're way more valuable than many sparrows. I also want to challenge you all do do things more deliberately this week. Think about why you're doing the things you're doing and focus on the purpose instead of just going through the motions. Because I know I'm trying to work on that too, and it'll make things better, I promise!

Sister Nielsen

Monday, September 21, 2015

I am becoming a weather expert

Ah, the unforeseen benefits of trying to talk to everyone. They call the period of warm weather in early fall бабы лето, or something that sounds vaguely like that- "women's summer", it means. Because back in the day the women would work all summer harvesting potatoes or whatever, and once fall started and their work was done, the weather would turn warm again for a week or two and the women would have their summer. 

It's super weird how all our plans fall through all the time but we still do tons.

This week was normal, no lasting health issues for anyone at all. 

Have I talked about Sveta? Actually, seeing how weird her name looks in English is telling me I definitely haven't. Sveta's cool. About a month ago, we were getting ready for splits, and we like to actually have appointments and things then. So I was flipping through our area book with the phone and decided to call this girl off a former investigator sheet. I did, and I had absolutely no clue what she's saying to me. This is why I hate phone calls, because understanding is about ten times worse. But instead of her getting frustrated and hanging up (reason №2 I don't like phone calls), I hear "It's okay, you can speak English". What? We set up a meeting, which was good, and she's been coming to church since then. She speaks English frighteningly well and has pretty much achieved older-sister status in my head. Also she has a new car, which I have ridden in and it is sweet. We haven't met a ton, though, because she's been way busy with her job, and because in the past she'd made it pretty clear that she didn't want to talk about our church.  But last week at church she said we should call her and meet this week, so on Saturday we met and went for a walk around the Kremlin, which somehow led to her telling us about how she's been seeing God's hand in her life since she started coming to church, and she finally feels like now is when she should be baptized. What? So that's cool, and we did absolutely nothing to make that happen. It's funny how that is. We're a little useless, but we're here, and we try to pop into peoples' lives at the appropriate times for us to help them out.

I went knocking for my first time! I thought it was going to be absolutely terrifying, but it was actually about the same as talking to people outside. 

It's also funny when it takes you way longer than you planned to go find the possible address of someone you're tracking down, because things keep coming up to prevent you from going straight there. And then you finally get there and the person you're looking for isn't there but shows up a minute or so later. It's like "oh, that's why this had to take so long".

This one woman we're teaching always has two kids in tow- her toddler and a disabled girl she looks after. It's super distracting for her on lessons, and it's hard for us to do our job, too. So for one lesson this week I was entrusted with distracting them. This is 380% harder because I'm not allowed to hold children. It might have made more sense to have the member who was at the lesson distract them, but she's starting her mission papers this week and is therefore really more interested in teaching. Well, I know, and many of you know how, disastrously bad I am at dealing with children. By some miracle though I managed to make those kids my minions. Still a mystery to me. I have no idea how the lesson went, though.

Sister Wilson's been trying to have me take the lead on lessons, which is kind of necessary. If I don't, I don't have the speed or the Russian ability to actually say anything at all. It doesn't always happen, though, as in the above paragraph. But we try.

Last week we spent the rest of our P-day with Alsu. That's another name that looks weird in English. Alsu is, in fact, the aunt of the Sveta I just talked about. Although Alsu was baptized last summer, we actually met her after we met Sveta because Alsu doesn't show up for church much. She's 70 years old, and a professor of English. She even corrects our pronunciation of English words. It's pretty funny. She's known a lot of missionaries, and she refers to us all by our first names. For example "I took Connor and Matthew out for lunch not long ago" and it takes us a second to realize she's talking about the elders. So to her, I'm Rosa (or Rosichka), and it's really odd to be addressed such. She showed us around a walking street in Kazan that's based on the architecture of St. Petersburg (fake bridges!), and took us into a tiny fake village that's nestled in between buildings in the middle of the city (real bridges). So that's what my picture is.

I love you all! I hope you are having great weeks and eating good food and making cool friends.

Sister Nielsen

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kazan is the sports capital of Russia

The FINA (or something. I think. It was big and official) world cup was here this summer, so a lot of people ask us if we're volunteers with the swimming thing, even though it ended almost a month ago. And the FIFA world cup is going to be here in three years, so this city is nice and it's just getting nicer. And I'm so glad it is, because that means it's the most up-to-date city in our mission. Which means it has the best hospitals in our mission. Yeah that's right, you guessed it, we got to spend a night in the hospital. Also there are T-shirts aplenty here that say "Kazan- sports capital of Russia", so if anyone wants one let me know...

Okay, before anyone panics, I am in perfect health. I should probably take Sister Wilson's mom off my email list for this week. All right, done. I just don't want to scare her any more than she probably already is. A little over a week ago my companion woke up in the middle of the night with pain in her chest. She talked to a doctor over the phone and took the medicine he recommended, and tried to ignore it. But it kept getting worse. So on Tuesday we went to a polyclinic in Kazan center, and it was so nice. And weird. Walking into it felt like walking into America. It turns out doctors aren't super patient for people who don't fluently know their language, and with doctors you run into a lot of unusual vocabulary, so we were there for a whole evening, being passed from office to office, it felt like. I tried not to laugh in a nurse's face when she asked me if I could come help my friend because "she understands badly". I just stared and managed to say "I'm worse". That was funny. We had to come back to the clinic on Friday for Sister Wilson to have a camera shoved down her throat. That was unpleasant enough to watch, I can't imagine how it must have felt. I didn't even get any pictures of it, to her disappointment. After that they sat her down and told her she had two ulcers in her esophagus, and one of them was pretty big and it was bleeding. They told us they'd called an ambulance and we were going to the hospital.

The hospital was interesting. They took Sister Wilson and started poking and prodding her, and I had some conversations with people, including a random lady with terrifyingly perfect English. And then they told Sister Wilson that she had to stay in the hospital at least until Monday. The most awkward part was definitely trying to explain to the doctors that I couldn't just go home, that I had to stay at the hospital too. That made absolutely no sense to them. But we got it worked out and they took us up to the ward. The three people already in there were thrilled to see us. They must have been so bored. They laid Sister Wilson down and stuck an IV in her and I busied myself getting acquainted with the woman on my other side. Lutzia is about 85 and and absolute angel- we have an invitation to come over to her house when she gets out of the hospital. I'm so glad we were in there with her. The ward started to fill up as the day wore on, so there were a couple girls in there with appendicitis, and and a few middle-aged women with other stomach problems. I just sat on my bed (I got a bed!) and read my dictionary like a novel. Because we had no idea we were going to the hospital, we weren't super well-equipped. During visiting hours we got an awesome church member to bring us a few things we needed, toothbrushes, dishes, pajamas, etc. We had about the least restful night you can imagine, there was a lot going on in that ward overnight, and in the morning the American mission doctor who lives in Moscow called and told us to get out of there. The nurses and doctors all thought we were crazy for leaving. Maybe we were. I know Sister Wilson missed it when we left.

I probably haven't talked about food enough this letter- Russian hospital food isn't bad! It probably wouldn't fly in America, but that's just because Americans don't like their oatmeal with salt and butter.

So that was the hospital. Both before we stayed there and after we had some days where we stayed inside a lot more than usual, on the orders of our mission president and doctor. So our kitchen is now pristine (it was actually way good that we had time to clean that, after an unfortunate incident involving beet juice), and our area book is looking great, and I am pretty bored. It's hard to find effective things to do! We made two pans of brownies...

Sister Wilson is definitely on the recovery side of things now, though. Which is so good. I think we'll be pretty busy in the coming weeks too, partly because we postponed a bunch of appointments this week. 

Also the other people in the hospital were SO NICE and it got me thinking. Jesus told us to feed his sheep. And I'm definitely a believer that God puts us in places so that we can meet and help specific people. We're around people to help them and build them up! Take care of people! You can all do that. Okay?

I love you all! You are the coolest! (Sorry I didn't take any pictures this week. But I have a goal to improve!)

Sister Nielsen

PS. also I don't know if I told anyone this anywhere but sister wilson and I are staying together in kazan this cycle. and probably next cycle too! so she'll die here, most likely. it's a good place to die