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