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