Sunday, January 31, 2016

Skakalka acquired

It was 99 rubles. Embarrassingly, it made my calves sore for days. Made it hilarious to knock in apartment buildings with no lifts. For my companion, anyway. Also our neighbors don't seem to mind us jumping rope so that's cool. 

It's amazing how fast a week can go when you don't spend two days on trains! What are some things that happened this week...

A random woman invited us in off the street! That doesn't happen to us every day. She was a little unusual, but hey, I'll take it. She recited a lot of poems by a lot of people, but especially by Maksim Gorky. We talked so long outside that I started to get cold (which means Sister Palmer is freezing), so she finally invited us in for tea ("well, you see, we don't drink green or black tea. Only herbal..." "I have herbs". Oh how I love Russians and the herbs that they gather from the forest), a performance of some Russian folk songs, and a theological discussion. We're definitely going back.

Some nights that happens and some nights you plan to stop by someone's house and find yourself in a dark sketchy industrial area complete with barbed wire and an abandoned school, so you can't do anything except go back to the bus stop and wait thirty minutes for the next bus while ignoring the drunk men roaming free around the bus stop.

Speaking of drunk men, we're not supposed to talk to them, but if they open the door when we're knocking we kind of find ourselves stuck in a conversation for at least a little bit. One tried to persuade me that the Bible has no epistle of John and that the bruises on his chest were from an accident involving a dragon (I didn't catch all the details). 

Boy is it weird it's already February. We've been roped into a branch play production featuring Sherlock Holmes. I'm playing "light love". I think our district leader is being forced to wear a skirt. It should be pretty great. I'll send more info when I get it.

There's definitely more but that's all I got. Your heavenly parents love you! pray and love people. 

Sister Nielsen

Sunday, January 24, 2016

punching penguins

All these train rides really interfere with the work. They sent us back here on a train car that wasn't first-class (I have no idea what class it was. But it wasn't classy) and we had to try really hard not to feel betrayed. So that all took about half the week. If anyone is wondering how the Kazakhstan trip went, it was really boring and nothing eventful happened. Apparently on one of the visa trips last cycle they took a van full of missionaries into the nondescript building on the Russian side of the border and interviewed them all individually but I think they've figured out what we're doing. I looked at a lot of missionaries' family photos. There's a few new stamps in my passport.

We've been looking for jump ropes so we can better work out in the winter, and we've discovered that it's a super good approach to contacting. Especially since despite some zealous babushki's best efforts, we are still jump-rope-less. I don't think anyone expects the two heavily-accented and lost-looking girls to stop them and ask where to find that, of all things. And then they've stopped and are talking to us and we share the gospel, naturally. The word for jump rope is skakalka. It's super fun to say. I have to grin every time I imagine the reverse, two Russian girls walking up to me on the street like "excuse me please is it possible that you could hint to me where one might buy a skipping rope?" I would probably also call my friends to see if they knew or drag the girls into stores to no avail.

Made borscht and my hands still smell like it. Help. Have some pictures. There's me and sister Palmer eating some super good shaurma, we are definitely going back to that place. People this week keep asking us if she is a gypsy. Um. Actually the first time was when we were at a part-member family's teaching their son and they were like "yeah so our dad/husband (who we never meet with because reasons) says that he thinks sister Palmer looks like a gypsy with murderous eyes" uh. pause while I translate. ummm "no, no, it's a compliment, mostly? are you sure you understood? a gypsy with murderous eyes" "so you're saying... a gypsy with eyes that could kill someone" "yes, that". Anyway, at least no one else said anything about murderous when they told her. 

Other things people have been telling me in the past week: so one thing I ask fairly often of strangers I'm having conversations with is if they've heard of Mormons, because in areas I've been typically people have heard of them and we can be like "we'll, you're talking to some, let's tell you something you didn't know". Well, people keep telling me that "we have mormons in Orenburg. They all live about 100 km outside the city in that direction and they don't smoke or drink alcohol. they're like this mobster gang or something. also something something polygamy maybe something russian words". But I have determined that they do seem to drink tea and coffee and I'm pretty sure I would know if there were more than one tiny group of Mormons in this oblast. Someone with google go find stuff out for me. I hear they live in Софиевка or Шалицкий Район or something. Also, seeking advice: should I keep asking that question? I'm not sure if I should bother reclaiming the name "mormon" or if I should just ask people if they've heard of the real name of our church. Just the problem is no one has heard of the real name of our church. Unless they're Mormon. Or some adventists and Jehovah's witnesses have too. 

That's the view out our window of the outline of the orthodox temple we live by through the fog. Lately outside has been all snowbanks with a thin layer of ice over everything (I fell more on saturday that I had the rest of the year combined, until then). Sister Palmer and I love punching ice-covered snow. It's really satisfying the way it crunches in. Especially when absolutely everything goes wrong. 

Other things that happened: watched the worldwide missionary broadcast and also the patriarch who came to Samara wanted to talk to all the missionaries here over skype (so basically we were confined to the branch building all of friday) and it was all really good. He has pretty dang good Russian. It's tough when such things get you all fired up with missionary zeal and then you're inside for a few more hours.

Got a handful of in/less-actives to church yesterday :) worth the tears they make me cry in the lessons with them (although I probably deserved to cry in that lesson with Olga, because she kinda cried in the lesson before that. Sorry. I wasn't even throwing down on her specifically that time). I'm pretty sure we won't have time to track down half of the inactives by the time this program ends, but we'll try.

Working on memorizing the full names of all the people who come to church. Working on praying for charity. Wishing there was more time in the day to do more tracting. I didn't think I'd ever say that. We need to knock more doors. I love you all. Missionary work is the bomb. Does anyone say things are the bomb anymore or is that just me? Wait, now I'm having second thoughts about sending that word in an email. That isn't a threat. ah, forget it. love you. bye.

Sister Nielsen

Sunday, January 17, 2016

hi all

you might notice it's not monday. That's because we got our transfer calls... and both sister Palmer and I are staying here this cycle, but I need to make a quick trip to Kazakhstan to get a new visa, so we will spend p-day on a train. I can't complain, because I still get to write home, and train days are by far the most restful. I will see Orenburg turn into spring! Also rumor has it that this cycle is 7 weeks, but no authority figures have confirmed that, so we'll see.

We tracted until our legs were sore, that's a good feeling. Also the snow makes your legs sore a lot faster.

I broke ANOTHER watch. I don't know what I did. It just stopped. I tried to give up on watches, but a few weeks ago I got sick of always checking the phone or craning my neck to look at other peoples' watches, so I bought one. And it is dead. My curse has now claimed its sixth victim. Oh well, it was only 250 rubles. 

Two first-class train rides (if they buy regular ones they have to buy two tickets for each of us so they don't accidentally stick two sisters in with two random stranger men in a compartment and we have such rules. It seems recently first-class tickets have been less than double the price of regular) and splits and zone conference. That was this week.

I've been completely caught up in my journal for a while. I think I forget things as soon as I write them down in my journal. So: funny things happened, and poignant missionary experiences happened, and it's been great.

This is what it is like getting dressed for contacting in the morning: you put on your leggings and then your tights and then your other tights and then your socks and your document pouch and then you put on your shirt and then your other shirt. Then for good measure you add a dress (doesn't really matter which one, because no one will see it) and a sweater and your first scarf. Then you put on your coat and your other scarf. Hide your unbrushed hair under a hat, socks under your boots. Oh yeah, mittens. I remember sister Wilson (Hi sister Wilson! I still think of you as "Sister Wilson") wondering aloud if we were still going to contact before breakfast in the winter, and in fact we do. Can't wake up properly without it.

It's a good thing I'm not moving anywhere because there's no way I'd fit all the winter clothes I've accumulated back in my suitcases.

I don't think I've ever before my mission felt such a thirst as I do now for spiritual knowledge. That's the great thing about train rides, you can curl up with your quad for hours. To briefly quote pmg, the scripture show us what we need to do and become. It's pretty cool. Read them.

Okay love you all have great weeks!
Sister Nielsen

train mirror selfie featuring sock and my sleeping companion (under the sheets)

Monday, January 11, 2016

(no subject)


Various people called and texted to let us know about the wind warning of really fast winds on saturday night and to tell us not to go out (well, they told us 20-25 m/s and we were like "huh?", but quick sums on the planner), so we were like "hah" and went out. And it was fine. And windy. But really fine. Nothing stops us. Try harder next time. Okay actually it does kind of impede missionary work, but we try not to let it.

I don't know if I mentioned to everyone that our mission is doing a pilot program thingy to teach inactives all the missionary lessons? So we have three new key indicators now. It is generally pretty good because it means we (theoretically) have more meetings to keep us out of the cold (unless all your plans fall through, as they tend to do. It's the missionary life). On Thursday the time-date-temperature sign outside the train station read -28. I don't if I can describe how it feels but mostly it makes you feel like crying. But that does mean when the temperature gets back up to -5 you start to feel hot and the cold feels good. Hang on, I can't remember how I started talking about this.

Oh yeah. The elders' investigator who is crashing our lessons. If you were wondering how he does that, it's because he's friends with a less-active and they are in cahoots. For simplicity's sake we will in future refer to him as Vanya. He is actually extremely normal and nice and knows all our rules, but in his (English) words "I don't want to meet with the elders! I get to hang out with guys all the time. You are girls." So we asked him who he knew who we could teach and he was like "I don't know, maybe my mom?" so we have an appointment with his mom this week. He may have to start meeting with the elders again to help him get over the heartbreak when sister Palmer probably leaves next week.

I keep planning on making apple cookies during meal times but it hasn't worked out. The first time we didn't have quite enough flour, then our butter turned bad... I didn't even know it could do that. I mean, I did, but not that quickly. Today is the day, friends. The long wait will finally be over.

I finally got around to starting Jesus the Christ and I think I might need an English dictionary.

Sister Palmer turned out to have been hiding some classical music cds she inherited from her trainer's trainer, and I'm pretty sure it is definitely a distraction. Also things like me emerging from the shower and being like "THIS IS DVORAK" "uh, yeah?"

I want to invite you to work on your posture this week. I know I need to. I stand up straight but as soon as I get sitting down I just slump over. Probably has something to do with the perpetual inexplicable tiredness associated with missionary work (I get a healthy amount of sleep, I don't know what the deal is). Anyway, I promise that as you try to sit and stand up straight you will feel more confident and feel more energy to do the things you need/want to do. You'll also spare yourself unnecessary back pain.

Also re-read The Priesthood and Personal Prayer from april conference and will probably go re-re-read it again. It's quality. I recommend it.

I love you, you are great, have a great old Russian new year. Be safe and don't think about the fact that it's already January.

Sister Nielsen

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Merry New Year

to me! I bought myself a fur shapka. We all knew it was coming. It is a little ridiculous, but I am after all in Russia. After a healthy dose of buyers remorse (which I knew was coming, I ended up buying it after wandering around the market for waay too much of dinner time and coming back to an acceptable one and asking them to knock it down 500 rubles) I have decided that I like it. And it will keep me warm. I'll send a picture if I figure out how, I'm on an unfamiliar computer today.

New Year is the big holiday here, so we were confined indoors for that night, and now lots of things are fully or partially shut down until next week. So I'm not writing from the usual place. On New Year's eve we only really declined to drink wine (I don't know if that investigator has really understood anything we taught) and did some cooking and cleaning, so- not the usual. I might have danced to an EFY song. That's about as crazy as it gets.

Before we went to bed I idly wondered if we would wake up at midnight. I shouldn't have asked. The city pretty well exploded. It sounded like the loudest bag of popcorn was in the microwave. These people love their fireworks. Also, every dog in Orenburg was barking. This went on for at least 45 minutes. When we hit the streets at 7 am the next morning there was no one to be seen, and still the occasional sound of a firework.

Yesterday we woke up to a foot or so of snow, and in our small sleepy city on the Sunday morning after New Year there's no shoveling, plowing, etc (also almost no buses). We waded and floundered through the snow (piled thigh-high by the wind in places) to church and were very nearly late. Fortunately, so were the few other people who turned up. I'm starting to understand why the inactivity rate in Russia is so high. We lose 'em all in the winter.

I don't know if Orenburg is actually in Siberia, but the winds are referred to as "siberian", and when the wind blows it feels like someone took a metal pan out of the freezer and placed it firmly on your face.

No one wants to meet right around New Year and when it gets cold outside people are pretty reluctant too. "Girls", they say "it is so cold and snowy! You should not go outside! So I'm going to have to cancel our meeting". I've tried explaining that we can either be in a meeting with them, or we can be out on the street, but no one really gets it. So sometimes we just show up to people without warning.

I've been studying about humility a lot. It's easy to forget about if we think we know what we are doing! It's kind of stupid to think we're smarter than God, though. You can't let people walk over you, but it's so important to listen to and seek correction. Like that conference talk...oh I forget who's. But we can let God mold us into much better than we can make ourselves.

Of course, the one week I actually take pictures is when I can't figure out how to upload them. Next time!

I love you all! Stay safe and happy!
Sister Nielsen

(Note: Rosa didn't give a lot of context for the first picture, but she said it's "kiddie champagne and glasses courtesy of their apartment", so I assume it's Sister Palmer on New Year's. And the second is of course her new shapka!