Thursday, July 28, 2016

eat your way out

Hey, it's me again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you!!!!!

Sister Nielsen

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

Dear Parents/Family-

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

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

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

President and Sister Ottesen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Also send me fun object lessons. PLEASE!

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

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

Have an excellent week! Love you!
Sister Nielsen

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


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

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Things actually happened in the last seven days. Weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you! Praying for you!
Sister Nielsen

Thursday, July 7, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

go around the long way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 20, 2016


This is probably going to be boring, just warning you now. There's not a ton happening around here. 

Speaking of boring, I'm reading the Old Testament. I'm in Numbers right now and it's thrilling. Trust me. On the plus side, I understand the law of Moses a LOT better now, which has made my reading of the Book of Mormon more clear.

We had zone conference this week and it was great but also the last time that I'll see President and Sister Schwab for...a while. Sad. But it's the circle of mission life. It goes on. 

Okay, I heard the coolest conversion story. Larisa is less-active, partly for health reasons and partly because she got offended, but we're dealing with that. I first met her at an activity a month and a half ago and we geeked out over chemistry together. But how she came in contact with the church: in 1975 her husband, a soldier/aerospace engineer, was working on this project that caused them to move to a different city, and there were actually some Americans there for a short amount of time who had been brought out to work on a joint project. Because of circumstances at the time, the Americans didn't talk to anyone other than their coworkers, and they were kept in a restricted area that no one was supposed to go in. But when you're like Larisa, a young mother and your young son loves to run around outside, you kind of go where you want and no one stops you. One day her son is exploring and runs up to show Larisa something he found- it's a cigarette pack. Larisa opens it up and inside there are tiny sheets of paper with writing on it, beautiful handwritten Russian cursive. She starts to read it to her son. It's a story. A story about a boy named Joseph Smith, his family, what he read and felt and saw and prayed. And it's a story about the contents of a book, the history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent, about Nephites and Lamanites and Jaredites, their wars and eventual destruction. To Larisa this was surprising. She's extremely well-educated. She excelled in school, and remembered history, but all she had been taught was that Columbus came to America, and the Americas opened, and he called the people who had been living there Indians.
Larisa is a natural storyteller. You can tell just by the way she addresses you, by the look in her eyes when you ask her to tell you something. She told this story to coworkers, friends, family, over the course of 35 years before she found the church and was baptized. In 1988 she had a meeting with some Americans for work, and her coworkers were like "Hey Larisa! These are Americans, why don't you tell them your story about American history and see if they know it or if they'll laugh at you too" She did, and later one of the American women approached her and told her that the story was actually the history of a church about which she didn't know very much, except all the members of this church live in state Utah.
But anyway not too long ago she heard from her neighbor that that one church she'd known about forever is in Saratov, so she tracked down the address and showed up one sunday and told the elders there everything that she knew about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and they were kind of shocked and she accepted baptism a short time later.

Okay sorry that was long but it kind of blew my mind and I thought I'd share it.

But yeah, life is good, ice cream is delicious, weather is hot, accent is terrible. The gospel is awesome and we spend a lot of time trying to tell people about it, but we mostly just end up reminding them that they have somewhere they urgently need to be. But at least we're encouraging people to live more productive lives :)

I love you, be good!
Sister Nielsen

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

that's it

What did we even do this week? We tracted a lot. It got us pretty tired by the end, so we decided to take an evening off last night (jokes. It was a holiday and we were ordered inside to keep us away from highly-political drunks) and read our newly acquired conference liahonas. It was pleasant. 

I made pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies to buy peoples' affection and it really works well. Canned pumpkin and chocolate chips still haven't hit russia yet, so such cookies are really a commodity. 

Wow. I have nothing to talk about. I'll talk about how cool sister Hines is. Did you know she once killed a wild boar with a knife? That came up in passing last zone training and now the entire mission knows. She's also a firefighter and she worked on an ambulance. She's a really good cook. Is your companion that cool?

Yeah so like I said we finally got our conference liahonas in english and I've been thoroughly enjoying it, especially the emphasis on service in the ones I've read through so far. I really like the thought expressed in... one of them... sorry this is unspecific I don't have it on me right now about how we shouldn't delay to go to the rescue. We shouldn't waste time counseling together trying to determine the best, least inconvenient approach. If you see a need, just go out there and meet it. I've been pondering a lot lately motives for helping people, and I think the greatest motive is just wanting other people to be happy. In the long run, of course, real happiness. Like President Eyring affirms in his talk from the general women's session, not every person that you try to serve will be thrilled that you're there. That's okay. We don't force anyone. We just offer to do things that will make them happy.

Okay love you have the best week talk to you later
sister nielsen

One of our favorite members found a tarantula outside and adopted it. His name is George. If you (like sister Hines, who's first response was "sister Markelova, I used to think you were a good mother!") don't love spiders, be careful.
Mostly I don't pay attention to graffiti but sometimes it really makes me laugh. It says "society without woman". There's nothing back there, just a slab of cement covered in broken bottles and cigarette butts.
Sometimes your bodies grow weak and you have to take a bench break

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nilsey strikes back!

What a week.

The most obvious theme this week was men hitting on us, which I wish they would NOT do, but hey. There are going to be trials and we just have to be patient. I read 2 Corinthians 6 this week and it was good.

But anyway, to explain the Nilsey thing, about a month ago we ran into this extremely persistent guy who didn't catch my name exactly right, and after two days of ignoring his calls and texts I finally got a text along the lines of "you know what, Nilsey? I am a paramedic-fireman and if you don't want to go on a date with me, I'm going to delete your number!"
Go for it. Just. Go ahead. Please.

Anyway, now whenever someone flirts with us, or if I do something rebellious (e.g. cross the street not in the crosswalk) or accidentally say something flirtatious, Sister Hines has taken it upon herself to call me Nilsey. Which is fine, I guess. They weren't flirting with me, they were flirting with Nilsey.

So this week was just unusually full of touchy men on the bus who can't take a hint (turns out "don't touch me" is a hint, and not an order) and people wanting to meet one on one and talk, but not about religion.
In other words, Sister Hines got to call me Nilsey a lot, and I tried not to voice all my frustration.

So anyway after all that, yesterday afternoon there we are, talking to a young woman at a bus stop, when I hear "Nilsey!" and someone grabs my arm. Oh, great. It's that one. The original. He found me. And almost dragged me in to go pray at a Russian Orthodox temple, but I got away, and I'm pretty sure he actually did delete our number.

Anyway, moving on. Knocking story: We walk up to an apartment building and start ringing at the buzzer thing for someone to let us in, and this pure white probably stray cat with one eye blue and one green walks up to us and starts issuing strangled, stifled, creepy meows. It kind of looks diseased, and it cranes its head up to meet our eyes and swivels it around unnaturally. Sister Hines loves animals (almost as much as she loves meat) and decides to name the thing Hybrid. Sure. Someone opens the door for us and we climb up to the top floor to start knocking on doors, and Hybrid follows us. No one answers the first two doors so we turn to the third, and Hybrid is right there between us and the door. I start to nudge him (her?) away with my foot because I don't want people to think Mormon missionaries are weird girls that knock on your door and let loud diseased animals into your apartment, but Sister Hines is concerned about hurting Hybrid, so she stops me and rings the doorbell. A very tired-looking young mother answers the door and the second it's open wide enough, Hybrid gets in the door. All I can say is "uh, that's not our cat". The two-year-old immediately picks up the cat, sister Hines says something about church, the mom looks at the kid and back at us and swings the door shut, and I manage to say "sorry about the cat".
Actually it sounded like they kept the cat in there about 10 minutes before kicking it back out into the stairwell. So now even more people think we're weird, but I hope we brought them joy and not fleas.

Yesterday we had an excellent almost impromptu stake conference with President Hollstrum of the seventy, and it was pretty awesome, actually. It was spiritually enlightening, but also some stuff got said that needed to be and gave me all the warm fuzzies as a missionary. To paraphrase, "If you all want a temple in Russia so badly, then step up your part reaching out to inactives and finding new investigators. Sometimes it seems like the missionaries are the only ones doing it" I think the members should react pretty well, though. We all need periodic reminders.

Okay that's it. Love you! Have a great week!
Sister Nielsen


Hit a milestone

One of my favorite pastimes is watching the volga while I eat. If I had a better camera and a better view I'd put together a photobook about volga moods.

tan looks like dirt, but it's not

I'm the only one in the house that eats cake, sister hines decided to go paleo. 

Saratov foothills when we knocked this rich apartment building. future temple site? it's through a window so sorry about the quality

Monday, May 30, 2016

fresh cats

Hi! Still alive. Things actually happened this week, so it went a lot slower than previous weeks.
On Monday and Tuesday but mostly Tuesday the sisters from the other side of Saratov came to our area and we did what we always do, knock and contact. It would have been nice to have some lessons set up, but no one in this area ever wants to meet with us... but it was tons of fun anyway.  Enjoy a picture of Sister Miller and me after we hiked to the top of a hill to knock some doors. We're bad at taking pictures. The view was much better than my camera gives it credit for. Can you see the Volga back there? The only person who opened their door up there was this baptist woman that I talked with for about 45 minutes at a bus stop about a month ago. It was kind of a surprise to see her come up to the gate.
Sister Hines had to go renew her visa, and there wasn't enough room on the trip going from Saratov, so they sent her and another sister on a train to Samara, a bus to Kazakhstan, and back again (be glad I didn't have to do that, or I'd probably complaining about the wasted time right now). So I spent two and a half days in the center of Saratov with Sister Grishina, and life was a little crazy for a bit. In their area they've actually convinced people to meet with them (well, basically, that area has been open a lot longer) and they are so busy! It was kind of a shock. Like, on Friday we had four lessons AND helped move all the stuff into the new senior couple's apartment. I haven't been that busy since... Kazan, probably.
Hey, did I ever tell about the time we were moving apartments in Orenburg and we were on the tenth floor and the elevator broke? Because it happened again on friday. We ran up and down the stairs a lot.
Good stuff is happening here. The elder's investigator (I think I mentioned him? the one that the members did such a good job friendshipping that I was shocked about when I first got here?) was baptized on Saturday. We didn't actually make it out (the building with a baptismal font is forever away and we didn't have any investigators that could come with us), but we heard it was good, and we went knocking that night and found a pretty solid new investigator. Who we're also going to have to pass off to the elders (not bitter at all. why does this keep happening), but due to transfers they're barely going to be in the area this week so for now he's all ours hahahaha. Maybe the elders can start returning the favor?
Oh yeah, transfers are happening, but sister Hines and I are staying here in zav. We're pretty happy about that.
Please appreciate this ad for fresh cats right outside our friendly neighborhood Makdak. I don't know what it means, but this week was surprisingly full of kittens, so it feels significant somehow.
On rereading what I've written so far I'm picking up a slight note of craziness. Everything is actually fine and I am doing great. My hand and foot tans are getting legendary. I love you all!
This should probably be more spiritual, but honestly what makes me feel the most like a missionary is that I sweat a lot. It's hot here.
All right, that's it. Have a great week!

Monday, May 23, 2016


This was one of the fastest weeks of my life, and the only picture I took is of a fence so we'd be sure to find the house of someone we knocked into when we went back. Sorry I'm so boring. Also sorry that there weren't street names there. 

We had a real storm here on thursday with great thunderings and lightnings, which doesn't happen much. We got drenched even with our umbrellas and all. Everyone was unusually nice to us that night, which I'm chalking up to all the mean people being scared inside by the rain.

I was trying to tell someone what my blood type is but it turns out that here they don't have letter groups. Just 1, 2, 3, and 4. Does someone want to tell me what those correspond to? Just for curiosity's sake. 

Russian superstition of the week: if you sit at the corner of a table, you will never get married.
Actually, for all I know that's an American superstition too, and I just never paid attention to it. Side note, people here don't think opening an umbrella indoors is unlucky, which is surprising. I thought they'd be all over that stuff. 

Also a super nice old lady invited us in when we knocked on her door, and I don't know how much she understood of what we taught her, but it's worthy of mention because her apartment was FILLED with cats. I couldn't even count how many there were because they kept going in and out, but the kittens were all sleeping in a heap and there were at least 6. And probably at least 15 more adults. Allergies, man.

We had an excellent zone training this week, the first one where I haven't had to travel for an entire day to get to it. Which is super convenient. I'm a fan. President Schwab is nearing the end of his mission. It's kind of strange and sad to think about, so it's not really real yet. Except when you realize you just had your last interview with him. Whoa.

We cornered our ward mission leader into meeting with us, during which meeting we bonded over a mutual hatred of p-chem, but I'm still not sure what's going to get the punk to church. Oh well. Friendship with missionaries never hurt anyone. Probably.

Anyway, that's about it for the week. We're still in search of real investigators, it's been going okay. Missionary work continues to be awesome. Life's good. I love you! Do good and smile at people and wish them happiness and health and tell them that their families are beautiful.

Sister Nielsen

Monday, May 16, 2016

deer in headlights

We have a home! And a kitchen! It is wonderful. The elders helped us move in and had some bitter things to say about how nice our apartment is, heh. This has meant a return to working out, and we're supposed to get our beds delivered today, so life is normal. Actually those beds are supposed to be delivered real soon. Gotta go.

Speaking of having to go, I don't know why people think it's so entertaining to teach us slang (using it is not smiled upon, and now I just want to) but I learned a few ways of saying "let's go" or "let's get out of here" including one that translates literally as "let's slap fins". I love Russian but sometimes it makes no sense.

We've been contacting a lot. A lot a lot. But it's good, I just don't know why no one wants to meet with us. We can't even seem to meet with our ward mission leader (whoa. we have one of those).

Yeah, I'm going through my planner and nothing else really happened. But it was a really quick week. I love it. I love the work. I love it when people on the street are like "you're telling me you came to Saratov from America so you could give me this book so that I could pray about it and decide for myself if it's true" (I don't know why that's so hard for people to grasp). I love it!

Pictures: view of volga and unfinished building project (they ran out of money) from our new apartment
from right by our new place, the monument to the women's military regiment that defended the skies over Saratov during WWII

Okay, time to roll out, we gotta hit the road. We're going to blow this popsicle stand. We need to peace out. Make like a library and book it.

Love you! Have the best week!
Sister Nielsen

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

sales tax

Hey, what's up?

Strolling down the street the other day and Sister Hines reminds me that in America there's sales tax. Well, most places in America. I can't believe I forgot about that! Here if your chocolate bar costs 64 rubles and 80 kopeeks, at the register it's 64 rubles and 80 kopeeks. Ah, the simplicity of Russia. What other vaguely unpleasant American things did I forget about?

We're still in a hotel. It's fine. Sometimes I wonder what the workers here think of us, though. I'll send a picture of the view of the volga through the window. I kind of wish it didn't face east so I 
wake up at 5:45 every morning, but we're working on getting out.

Today's victory day, that's a pretty big holiday here. There was a multi-ward activity for it on Saturday, it was two and a half hours of people singing songs. And a few poems. Mostly songs. Also apparently there was pie at the end, but Sister Hines and I bailed long before that. But yeah. I like Russia on holidays. People do weird things. Just now we were on the bus and a couple of teenage boys jumped on- one started holding out his hat and offering to sell cigarettes and candy, and the other one had a guitar and started singing a song about how we should all be friends. Everyone responded by getting off on the next stop. It was a little awkward when it was just them and us on the bus, but we only had one more stop left anyway.

It's a good life here. Contacting a lot. Happy Mother's day!

Sister Nielsen

Monday, May 2, 2016

tan or dirt?

Hey so weird things this week, we moved out of our apartment and into a hotel. Basically there's a new rule or something that makes it really hard for apartment owners to rent to foreigners, and our landlady couldn't get us registered, and we haven't found an apartment yet. At least, not one that can rent to us. So now we're actually not in our area, we're in the neighboring elder's area, except they had the same problem and last week and they just got moved to different cities. So I guess it's our area now? We'll call it oktyzavodskiy.

But if we, and by we I mean the stake president and his wife, can't find an apartment soon we may also get transferred to another city. Who knows. 

What I can say about the hotel room is that it's really convenient for sight and sound, but kind of inconvenient in that we currently have half the contents of a rather large sisters' apartment in it. Also we can now neither cook nor work out very well. We've been making up for it by running home at night.

Yesterday was a double holiday, easter happened to fall on may first. which is either may day or labor day. I heard four variations of the name? I think it depends on if you count old russian holidays or new russian holidays. Or you can just call it a triple holiday and get three times as drunk.

Had normal chuch and I finally met a lot of the members, promptly forgot a lot of their names, fortunately they're patient. I'd heard great things about members in Saratov and I wanted to say that they are all true things. They are SO COOL. Also we had someone in church for their first time and all we had to do was wave over president Markelov and say "hey this is Dmitriy, it's his first time here" and then we just sat back and watched as the members sprang into action, played with the kids, talked about whatever it is non-missionaries have in common with each other. I don't even know what we need missionaries for anymore, with members like that. Okay, joke. But I've never seen anything like it in Russia. I thought I might cry.

Okay, other than that and moving I think it was an ordinary week. Our appointments fell through and some people wanted Books of Mormon. And some people didn't. But that's okay and we're happy because it feels rewarding. 

I will become frustrated if I don't eat soon, so I'm going to sign off now I guess. Find someone you don't know in a place you frequently are and get to know them, okay? 

Have a wonderful week (hopefully not as terrifyingly short as this one).
I love you!
Sister Nielsen

Monday, April 25, 2016

planned and unplanned

Saratov is great! People here are really nice. Which is not what people have told me about people in Saratov, but that just goes to show you shouldn't pay too much attention to rumors. Our area is pretty small compared to other ones I've been in, but there are also actually people in it, which is not what I've been used to for a couple cycles, so there's that. We've met some really cool people out on the street in the past few days.

Don't worry, I still love Oburg, especially the members. 

So on Tuesday Sister Thomas and I went to Samara, switched companions, and both of us got on trains and headed back, we got on a train to Saratov (with eight missionaries and a ton of luggage, it was kind of crazy, and we definitely drew attention to ourselves) and got back in the middle of the night and argued with a taxi driver to the point where he only ripped us off a little bit.

The sisters' apartment here is crazy nice and huge, although we might be moving. We're not sure. Sister Hines is in-shape as I was told, every morning she assigns me half of the workout she's doing, and I usually crumple in a heap on the floor partway through. It's good. Also, she's picking up the language really fast and has no fear whatsoever, so it kind of doesn't feel like she's a trainee. If anything it feels the other way around, because she's a few years older than me and a really good cook, so I don't do much. Except the texting in Russian and sometimes the talking and translating. But yeah, with that, and nice people (the actual presence of people on the street...what?), contacting has been really good. 

Stake conference was yesterday! I still have a hard time processing the idea of a stake here. It was the first stake conference they've had. I've never seen so many Russian saints in one place! It didn't really do much for me meeting the members in our ward, but we'll worry about that later. It was a really good conference, our stake leaders talked a lot about studying our scriptures and being bound together in love and unity. Many parables were told. I was struck by something that someone (uhhh) said at the conference, that a good measure of our self-progression is the relationships we build with people. Think about it. Jesus was really good at building relationships with people, and he hung out with sinners but he lifted them instead of letting them influence him. Also, think about how that ties into charity. One of the greatest and most appealing things about the gospel is that when we live by it it strengthens our families and other relationships.
I think especially I noticed it because on my mission I have changed my personality quite a bit. Or I guess not my personality as much as the way my personality is manifest. As in, I'm less quiet and closed-off. A lot of it is an act, because often on the inside I want to be quiet, but it's definitely helped in the building-relationships department. Obviously I'm not perfect, and I manage to be impressively awkward a lot, but that's just a risk that comes with missionary life.

Love you! Have a great week!
Sister Nielsen

Pictures: Both of my former companion Sister Thomases, if anyone ever got confused.
I was enjoying too much my delicious grilled pita thing filled with sketchy meat off a spit and totally stepped right in a mud puddle on the way to write home. Go me. This is after I wiped a lot of the mud off.
and the only picture containing me and sister Hines, which I did just take two minutes ago. Sorry if it's upside down. I was not born to take selfies.

Monday, April 18, 2016

nothing much

That's what's up

Unsurprisingly, I'm getting transferred down to Saratov this cycle. We'll leave tomorrow.

When I left Kazan it was on a Sunday, so the members didn't have time to protest much, but tonight I might offend some people if I don't finagle meeting. It'll be good though.

I know practically nothing about Saratov or how it is set up- Saratov zone is kind of like a whole different mission from Samara and Toliatti. There's a stake! I'm still not sure if my area is a branch or a ward, but I'll be serving in Zavodskoi, if that means anything to anyone. All I got out of it is that there's probably a lot of factories there. My companion, Sister Hines, is the only sister in the mission that I don't know, although I hear she's a cross-fit trainer, so that should be awesome (help! my mission's trying to make me healthy).

Anyway, this week.

Train to Samara, thought we were going to spend our whole time contacting, but not quite. We got to Bezi and the sisters had a lesson set up for us! With Regina, a super cool girl Sister Graham and I met on splits a month ago. She's looking for truth and extremely skeptical, but squishy on the inside and I love her. She reminds me a lot of myself. Like, Russian variant of Sister Nielsen. It was kind of a weird lesson (the branch building guard came and yelled at us and our investigator shot right back ("this is a church! Have some respect!" you tell 'em)) But she gave herself her own commitment, which was cool because we didn't have time to do it.

And zone conference, always great. Talked about all the missionary things and had root beer (??!) floats. Visa trip was pretty good too, the ones I've been on have been rife with gossip and this one was 300% better in that regard. Also our bus waited in line forever on the other side of the border, so we tried some food from the sketchiest shack, and none of us got sick.

So of course we were in our area for two and a half days this week. The weather switched from winter to summer real fast. Can't complain.

Study the scriptures and love whatever you're doing. It'll make it better.

Please enjoy the most notable picture of me from this week, featuring "sushi-rito", yes, a sushi burrito (three flavor options: fajitas, chicken barbeque, and curry). That's what happens when you don't have time to go home for dinner. (do they have those in america? I was going to say I hope not, but honestly it wasn't bad)

Also bonus bridge to Asia because I forgot to send pictures of the p-day when we went to the walking bridge over the Ural river (I still don't buy that Europe and Asia are different continents, but whatever).

I love you! make good choices!
Sister Nielsen

Monday, April 11, 2016

we're happy

Hey, thanks to you all for praying for Zina, everything worked out and she was able to be baptized.

and it was consequently a crazy week, how many days did we manage to get all our studies in? one? maybe two?

The baptism was great, and I also managed to pour boiling water all over my hand and the relief society room about three minutes before the service started. One of my more legendary moments.

Conference was also great, we managed to watch all but one of the sessions in English, so that was really good. I especially liked the women's session, with its emphasis on service. Something that touches me pretty often here is just how in-need so many people are. Example: Zina was telling me about how her daughter-in-law lent their kind tadjik neighbors a dish, and then they needed it again, so Zina went over and knocked and asked for it back. Their neighbors returned it with some grapes and an apple, which she took back home. Ramil and Zakir, who are about 8 and 11, got SO EXCITED to see the fruit, and they carefully divided it in fifths so that everyone had an equal part. 
Our fabulous members have also recognized the need and are always sending Zina home with various leftovers or cookies or food.
Basically, I've understood that I can't understand, I really can't- how many needs there are in the world, I can't even understand how much need one family can have. The worth of a ruble to so many of the people around me versus the worth of a ruble to me.
Serve people. Do what you can. Help your neighbor. Recognize those needs, physical, emotional, otherwise.

Speaking of service, we wore pants to do service for a less-active that did us a huge favor the other week. It was really strange. We looked so ordinary.

I really don't know what we did to deserve such a busy, happy, miraculous week. But I guess we don't ever really deserve anything. Grace.

We even acquired Dima's plov! One of the biggest miracles, actually. 21-year-old body-builder Dima has been slowly coming back to church since I've been here, and everyone was telling us he made great plov (which is this uzbekski rice and meat dish). We've been trying to plot ways to get the plov, but it's hard, because sisters can't just invite themselves over to a household of two men that live right next to the elders. We just can't. So we dropped hints about it all cycle and got him to bring some to an activity this week. 

On a more serious note, we got him to give a talk at Zina's baptism and he did a really good job, bore a short testimony. It's neat to see peoples' spiritual progress. And he played chubby bunny at the aforementioned activity (it was a late april fool's activity, they told us to bring jokes) and I'm pretty sure neither him nor Ulijana nor Vanya the elder's investigator want marshmallows ever again ("you did that on purpose so there would be more plov for you!" maybe)

and also for one of the sessions watching conference in English we had two members and two investigators (aka anyone in the building under the age of 35) in with us, I'm pretty sure it was just fear of missing out on an imagined party, because no one really got anything out of it, except maybe Ulijana who was diligently writing down words like "tribulation" and "prompting" in a little notebook.

The gospel is true! mission is the best. Go share things, service, build your trust in God. Worth it. I promise. I love you. Have a great week!
Sister Nielsen

Sister Thomas, Zina, and Zakir in the back
I made the mistake of handing Vanya my camera at the baptism and most of the pictures have other peoples' cameras in them. whoops
trying to watch conference in English, there's another elder back there somewhere