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

Monday, April 4, 2016

just preaching the gospel

Okay first off I need anyone who can pray to pray for our investigator Zina. If everything goes as planned she should be baptized this next Sunday morning, right before we watch conference :)

Have I talked about Zina? I'm not sure, but she's awesome. Sister Palmer and I ran into her about a month ago while she was out taking her baby grandson for a walk, we gave her a Book of Mormon and she showed up for church a few days later! And the week after that, and after that... She is actually from a village five hours from Orenburg where ordinarily the church might not have reached anytime in her lifetime. It might be hard, but the church has ways of helping people who live far away from any established branch, and she's going to be such a blessing to the people out there. She has family here and occasionally comes out to visit. Anyway, she's really spiritual and understands the gospel. She just gets it. 

Sisters from Samara came on splits and we ran around the city. It was awesome. I have missed other Sister Thomas (the one that used to be my companion) so much! I was hoping to restore some fire into my contacting on buses with her, because she's amazing at it, but it didn't work. Here's why: We sit down on the bus. I start talking to the person next to me. She starts talking to the person next to her. Within 20 seconds the person next to me is listening to her. Then the entire bus is listening to her, with varying degrees of involvement or pretending-not-to-be-listening-but-clearly-listening-ness. All I can really do is occasionally look at the person next to me and say "what she's saying is true" and they look at me like "oh you're here too". I took four buses with her and that happened on three of them. All the stuff about declaring the gospel with the sound of a trump? That's Sister Thomas.

I think when we're on splits God knows how on fire we are, because we rarely get home on time. This week I set a new record (for myself) of getting home late: 10:40. wow. At the stop where we were waiting there were three of the buses we needed, but one wasn't running, one was broken, and the other one was helping the broken one. I have been super tired, so I've decided that's never happening again.

Did unplanned yard-work for a less-active and it was awesome. Went inside and sang "I have work enough to do". Definitely have never sung that one in Russian before. She loved it.

Had Zina and another investigator at Institute of religion this week, and not only did it go 45 minutes over, but it turned out to be an in-depth discussion of D&C 76, kingdoms of glory and other deep-doctriney stuff. Zina wasn't too fazed but our other one seemed a little overwhelmed. Another situation where I can only hope to control the laughter. And correct any opinion-doctrine/speculation that's being thrown around.

Happy day of fools, we/a member tried to convince our elders that we were in the hospital, but of course it didn't work. 

I think we've been to all the sketchiest parts of our area this week and I have taken exactly zero pictures this week. There goes that goal.

Fun fact: Sister Thomas (my current companion) has read the Swallows and Amazons books too.

This week is going to be a little bit hectic. Pray for us. Watch General Conference and tell me if it's good (okay, I know it's good). I'll comment on it next week, if we survive. 

I love you all! Be good, study your scriptures. Keep up the good work.

Sister Nielsen