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