Monday, June 24, 2013

The President Visits, Busy Schedule, Bus Fun!

First off: happy anniversary to you and dad this week!!! Let me guess, you won't be together, just like good old times when you were at girls camp every year haha.

Well, it's only been 5 days and yet I still have so much to say!
I figured I'd give you a run down of what a typical day is like for us. We get up at 6:30 hurry and get dressed and we're out the door by 7 for morning contacting. This means no time to do hair which is perfectly fine by mean but it also means to time for breakfast which is kinda rough but I'm over it. We contact for an hour and a half and then at 8:30 we exercise, and at 9 we actually get ready for the day and eat breakfast. At 10:00 we start personal study, 11 is companion study and 12 is language study. Then we have lunch at 1:00 and we usually eat lunch as fast as possible so we can have a quick nap before we start the rest of our day. After lunch if we don't have a lesson we usually try to stop by a less active's house or hunt down former investigators or have a member lesson. We actually spend a lot of time on the phone just trying to find lessons. Everyone right now is "super busy but would love to meet with us in a few weeks...." so that's fun. The members are actually pretty good at meeting with us, they love to have Family Night and we do it any night of the week, whenever they have time. We usually just get to know each other, share our family pictures, have a spiritual thought, sometimes play a game if there are kids and then we leave, we never want to take too much of their time. And as you know from Barbara, if you don't get out quick you could literally be there forever haha. Anyways, we usually have dinner at 5, and then go back out for a lesson at night. We come home at 9, plan, write in our journals and go to bed. I wonder with the announcement about missionaries using technology more if we're going to keep doing morning contacting or if we'll do morning blogging or something instead. that would be amazing! i feel like i'm already a 'blog missionary' haha.

So Wednesday we went to a town called Krasnadon and went through a museum dedicated to a group of teenagers called the "Youth Guard." These were 14-21 year olds who got together and secretly worked against the German invaders. One thing they did was blow up a building that had a lot of documents, i don't really understand what they were but basically they freed all of their friends and family who were in prison. Another thing they did was put up red flags of rebellion and attached bombs to them so if the Germans tried to take them down they'd be blown up! Basically these kids were awesome but like most of Ukranian history, it has a super depressing ending. They got caught eventually, most of them were tortured and they were killed in a few different ways, but 71 of them were thrown down an old mine shaft and killed. So yeah, it was a really depressing story, but the people of Krasnadon love these 'young heroes' as they call them and they know all their names and still remember them so I guess that's good. Anyways, lest you think my russian skills are amazing and I caught all that, our tour guide of the museum spoke English! That was on my list of miracles for the week.
Thursday we had a member lesson with Lubov (that means love) this awesome babushka. Every week after sacrament meeting is over she jumps up and gives out cards to anyone who had a birthday or big even that week. But she doesn't just give it to them, she makes them come up in front of everyone and reads the entire card aloud for everyone to hear. I don't think this is a Ukrainian tradition, but i could be wrong. Anyways, lubov is the only ukranian i have met who speaks slowly. She is great! If she says words that I know I can actually recognize them so that's awesome! She also loves to talk so for our lesson all we did was read one scripture and then she literally talked for an hour straight. We told her we had to go and she insisted that we come back again so that we can talk some more! Haha we love her. She's one of the few members who actually has been in the church for a few years.

We had a second lesson with Gulia this week, who is the Muslim girl I told you about. Yes, we're allowed to teach Muslims, but it's hard because we have to start way simple. We had a whole lesson about Jesus Christ and it went okay, but she wanted to do it in English so she didnt' really understand a lot of what we're saying. Luckily we had a member Alina on the lesson with us, she's this super awesome 18 year old girl who just joined the church in March. She loves to come on lessons and do missionary work with us! Anyways, Alina speaks awesome english too so she translated for us. We watched Finding Faith in Christ and challenged her to read Alma 7 and pray about it. We'll see if her dad lets us come back now, I think he just thought we were here to give her English practice and be friends with her.
At church yesterday we had a miracle...3 investigators showed up! We've never had more than one before. So Nadia, the girl whose sister was bapitzed but she hasn't been yet, she came but she comes every week so that wasn't a surprise. But Ira, whose husband is the in the branch presidency came with their one year old daughter. We haven't been able to meet with them yet ("super busy") but they seemed to love primary so hopefully they're more open to the church now. And then a random babushka named Galina came who has been to church a couple times and likes church but has no interest in meeting with that's weird but we'll take it! We were asked to help in the primary for the second hour because they had way more kids than usually (a whopping 4) and it was so much fun!! i love primary because i can actually understand what's going on as opposed to sunday school! the kids had fun trying to say my name and bogdan, the grandson of the members we met with last week, he put on my shoes and started walking around and everyone, even the leaders, thought it was so funny! oh a fun fact about the church here, members love to hear new missionaries try to speak english so in sunday school and relief society whenever they need someone to read or pray they ALWAYS call on me. also they love to correct people when reading, literally whenever someone says a word wrong every single person in the class says it correctly really loudly. haha so my reading is improving dramatically, but it's pretty embarrassing. also the church members go by their first names which is extremely confusing because there's like 5 russian guy names and 5 russian girl names so there's  a million brother dmitri's and a million sister natasha's haha. also we're supposed to sit with the members, so you dont' sit wtih your companion in any of the meetings which makes things interesting when you don't understand anybody. it's all good though, everyone is super patient with me and uses really small words haha.

Alright that's pretty much it events wise, but here's some random thoughts as always:

-This week as we were sitting in some random person's house I remembered that Barbara always had crazy amounts of weird rugs all mismatched and layered over one another...that is how every house is here! The longer I am here the more I realize that she's not crazy at all. Or everyone here is equally as crazy as she is. I'm not sure which.
-there's 75 missionaries in our mission, i found a list and counted. 21 sisters and 56 elders.
-for district meeting we always have a 'bonding activity' at the end and this week we played telephone pictionary and naturally i turned everything into harry potter. it was great.
-Something frustrating we are finding out is that for a while all of the 'bum' missionaries were sent to lugansk so the members here don't really trust us. Well that's not true, they love us, but they're worried because they know we'll all eventually leave and then what if they get lazy missionaries again? Lance told us that he's heard from multiple people "we're just waiting for good missionaries to come here to send our family and friends to." well....we're here! send them! this is why we're trying so hard to get to know the members and serve them.
-Oh on Thursday the president of Ukraine came to lugansk! we didn't see him or anything but everyone was freaking out haha.we saw big trucks spraying water down the streets and were like what the heck?? then we realized they were cleaning the streets for the president. everyone was outside cleaning up their gardens and stuff and the church got a note saying they had to clean the building so it looked good when he came!
-every friday when we come home after English Conversation we see a group of old grandpas playing dominoes around a picnic table and a little ways down the babushkas are sitting around a table just chatting. you and dad should probably retire here.
-at english this week we were talking about our reactions when we opened our mission calls. and elder withers said that the only reason he knew where ukraine was was because he played Risk. So then all of the Ukrainians wanted to know what risk was and for some reason (who knows why) lance had a risk board with him so he pulled it out. and the map is totally simplified and wrong just to make the game easier, but ukraine is huge on the map and no one could understand why. anyways this old guy, the one who randomly comes to youth night now just to play ping pong, he turns to me and quietly says, "maybe it is from the cold war times, i think it is propaganda" hahahaha it was awesome. i was just like uh huh maybe.
-if you are like me, you probably questioned the casting choice of Viktor Krum in the 4th harry potter movie. well let me tell you, they weren't going for attractiveness, they were going for accuracy. i see guys who look exactly like viktor krum all the time!! you know the scene where he's walking around outside exercising even though it's freezing and then he just jumps into the lake? 100% accurate. also people here are obsessed will pull ups. there's pull up bars everywhere and people who are walking to work or something will just stop, do 25 pull ups and keep walking like nbd. it's so awesome.
-when we came home from our lesson with Gulia the elders were sitting outside our door with an oven and iron for us! it was like christmas morning! we talked about how we didn't have either of those in district meeting, and they decided to buy themselves an oven and just picked one up for us too haha. it's not like a huge full blown oven, but it's bigger than a toaster oven. i don't know what they're called, it's a little bigger than our microwave and is going to come in handy when we go visit members now we can bring them treats! also we can make ourselves treats too. (as a totally unrelated note...if i were to hypothetically want to make brown sugar muffins but brown sugar does not exist in ukraine what would you suggest?)
-okay so i thought i was all cool having 2 cousins who speak russian, well get this. sister erekson's older sister went to Russia (ben's mission) and is marrying an elder who was in her mission. her younger brother and sister are both in the mtc right now learning russian (same district!) her brother is going to the baltics and her sister is going to samara (i think that's spencer's mission). isn' that insane?? 5 russian speakers in one family! but apparently when one family members gets called russian speaking the probablilty of siblings going russian speaking goes way watch out sarah!
-if anyone is looking for a quick weight loss solution, move to ukraine. all of my skirts are falling off of me so that makes for a fun experience.
-we are in the height of cherry season here in ukraine so every time we see a member they give us a huge plastic grocery bag full of cherries. i'm learning to love them.
-last night we made chicken fried rice and it tasted like home. i miss your cooking every day. are you sure you can't just move to lugansk and live in our apartment and cook for us? i'd pay you in hugs. 
-oh something from our mission conference i forgot to write about, President Suarez said that smiling at everyone you see is not an american culture thing, it is not a canadian culture thing, it is not a ukrainian culture thing, it is a gospel culture thing. so just do it.
-here's a funny thing about public transportation. sometimes you get on a bus and there's an open seat and you know that Heaven has smiled upon you. sometimes, you are not so blessed. So there's a nice bar for you to hang on to with your dear life so that you don't die. Well here's the thing, small people can not always reach these life saving bars. Let's just say that I provide a lot of entertainment for the dear people of Lugansk. If i don't get a seat on a bus i literally just fly around the bus the entire time. It would be sad if it wasn't so dang funny. People say it's hard to make ukranians laugh, but they are not me.
-the graffiti here is the funniest thing. it is a total joke. now there actually is some real graffiti done by actual artists, but the vast majority of it is either declarations of love in russian or random words and or letters in english that make no sense. There's one we see on the way to church that says "effect butterfly" and one we saw morning contacting that i really wanted a picture of but we're not supposed to take pictures during contacting, it said "i <3 batman" hahaha.
I'd like to institude a new tradition called T-shirt of the week. Much like the graffiti here, the t-shirts with english on them make little to no sense. Usually they are not even sentences, just random english words that i guess are supposed to look cool. There are also random american celebrities on shirts. In the past week I've seen two sparkly tank tops with hillary duff's face on them, an old lady wearing a hannah montana shirt (with a nice skirt and fancy shoes, i think that's actually what she wore to work) and shirt with House's face on it (you know from the tv show) and on the back it said in all caps YOU ALL IDIOTS! hahaha but the winner this week was a young guy had a shirt that said "Chicago Town Style" with a picture of wrigley field on it. So each week i'll tell you about my favorite shirt I have seen. I have a feeling it will be hard to narrow it down to just one but I'll do my best.
This week in personal study I've been reading about Ammon and Aaron. Ammon had crazy success with King Lamoni, while his brothers were thrown into prison. I love the verse that says  "and as it had happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more stifffnecked peopl." (alma 20:30). Now I don't want to say that the people of ukraine are stiffnecked, but it's not exactly south america. Aaron didn't give up though, and eventually found success (alma 21:16-17) I'm grateful to be here in Ukraine where the work isn't easy, but is absolutely worth it. I think about growin pains, and how when i was little i was excited to get growing pains because even though it hurt, it mean i was going to be taller in the morning. anytime we go through something tough over here i get a little bit excited because i know i will be better because of it. i want you to know that i am happy and i love it here!!!
p.s. your hot fudge recipe calls for canned milk, but the only milk we get here is in bags. would that work? thanks for sending the package!!! i can't wait to get it! have so much fun on your trip i can't wait to hear all about it! send me tons of pictures!!!! if you send them from your phone they're usually sideways but it's okay i can turn my head. be safe and have fun! i miss you!
With Sister E. on p-day (Elders and friend photobomb)

Strange artwork in our apartment - my hair is growing!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Babushka Takes Over Youth Night; Three Hour Bus Ride to Conference

June 19, 2013

Ahh okay this was a crazy week!! So starting on last monday night we had a lesson with a girl named Vika who has been coming to Youth Night and English Conversation group. We taught her the Restoration in English because she because she asked us to, but next time we're definitely teaching her in Russian so that she can understand more. She is very interested in religion but doesn't believe that one church can contain all truth. It was very humbling for me to realize that I am so blessed to know that our church does contain all truth. There is so much peace in knowing that. We testified to her and asked her to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it, but she says she will only read if she feels like she needs to otherwise it won't be sincere. So we'll see.

Tuesday we had a lesson with Olya and Nadia, who are two sisters that have been meeting with the missionaries for a long time. Olya was recently baptized and is the older sister, but Nadia has not been baptized yet. We taught about faith and how believing is enough. We read from Elder Holland's conference talk and Ether 12:6. We challeneged them to read Ether 12 together this week and then teach us about faith next time we meet. Hopefully Nadia will realize that her faith is enough. After our lesson we had Youth Night and a random old babushka came named sister Zoya. No one knows why she showed up, but she seemed to be under the impression that she was in charge, it was the funniest thing. She would boss us around and say, okay now we're gonna play this game. Okay now let's do this. She taught us some Ukrainian folk dances which was so fun. She tried to get us to dance with the elders and we had to explain to her that that's not allowed and she was very disappointed in us haha.

Our district had a goal to memorize D&C 4 (in russian) by our district meeting last week, let me tell you that was rough stuff, but I did it!!! I put the words to hymns (it was a medley) and just sang it over and over and over in my head until i got it. I actually couldn't sleep at night because it just kept going through my head but I did it! We were supposed to recite it at our mission conference on sunday but we never did and i was so bummed! oh well, i'm just glad that i did it.

Saturday we were making plans and we called a contact that the elders had passed to us and asked when we could come over, they said right now so we were like okay!! The only problem was we had never been to this part of town and we forgot our map so that was interesting. After wandering around for about an hour we finally found it which was definitely a miracle! We taught Gulia and Kam, a sister and brother who are both young adults. They are very devout Muslims and are mostly interesting in learning English, but we explained that we can only come back to visit them if we talk about the Gospel and they said okay so we'll go see them again this week. The brother said he would come to English Group on Friday but Gulia is handicapped so she can't come very easily. Saturday night we went over and had dessert with Oleg a recent convert and his non-member wife Tanya. The elders were having a lesson with Oleg and she heard their prayers and really liked them so she invited them to come back with the sisters for dessert! Never underestimate the power of a good prayer! The elders made peanut butter and chocolate ice cream which was delicious!!! Oleg and Tanya didn't love it because i guess only americans like to put stuft in their ice cream, but they asked us to bring an american dessert so we did. Anyways, we just shared our family pictures and they showed us their wedding video, (they got married in April) which was so funny because our elders were in it! They were just lurking like weirdos in the background and it was the funniest thing. They didn't go to the actual ceremony (that's not allowed) but they were outside for pictures haha it was so great. We shared a spiritual thought about prayer and Tanya really seemed to like it so we're going to try and meet with her soon.

So sunday morning we had a district conference with all the church members in the Donetsk district and then that afternoon we had mission conference. Our branch rented a bus and drove the 3 hours to Donetsk together. I counted and there were 26 people on the bus, 6 of whom were missionaries.....we definitely have some work to do in Lugansk! At the conference there were 450 members there....that's barely more than Liberty ward! Sometimes I forget how young and small the church here is. But the members are so solid. Seriously they are amazing. We think it's hard to grow up in the church in Chicago...wrong! Anyways, we had Elder Suarez from the Presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy and Elder Bennet (who i'm pretty sure was Spencer's mission president). Here are some highlights of what I learned in the mission conference:

-Sister Campero told us about a Bolivian tradition that if certain birds land on your roof in the morning it means you will have the best day. She told us that every morning we should listen for those birds and every day will be our best day. I wrote down "every day will be the best day because every day I will give my best."
-Sister Bennett challenged us to think of how we can be uncommon missionaries. What is unique about me that can make me stand out as a missionary? The church members here won't trust any ordinary missionary with their family members and friends.
-Elder Bennett read to us Jeremiah 16: 14-16 which is so cool because it is literally about us. If you look at a map, Donetsk is pretty much straight North of Jerusalem. There's a lot of talk about the House of Israel here because there are literally all of the lost 10 tribes here. Sister Erekson was in a meeting in Harkov where they named each of the tribes and asked people to stand up when their tribe was called. LIterally every tribe was in that meeting that day. That is incredible!
-Sister Suarez quoted Dallin H. Oaks who said, "If you want to know the Lord, serve Him. If you want to know the Lord better, serve Him better." She told a story about her 9 year old daughter when she found out about her Dad's calling to the 70, she said "does this mean I have to be nice all the time?" haha Yes. We as missionaries (and members of the church) have to be nice and grateful to be here all the time. Even when it's hard.
-Elder Suarez told us over and over again DON'T FEAR. We should not be afraid of persecution, of what the world thinks of us, we should not fear to open our mouths and we should not fear to plan well. He told us that when we signed a letter to the first presidency to accept our mission calls we were making a covenant. And this was simply a reaffirmation of the promise we made before this life. He said that when we complain, we are breaking that covenant. That is some pretty strong stuff! I had already made a goal to never complain on my mission but I think it's more than just not saying negative things. It is not thinking negatively either. He talked about the leaders of the church here and how they need our help. He especially asked us to never criticize the church leaders here. I don't think he meant to rhyme, but he said this and I loved it. He said, "Do not criticize, do not compare. It's not worth it, it's not fair."

On Monday we got majorly lost twice, but Sister Erekson told me that's just what happens when you have two people brand new to an area. The fact that we eventually got to both of our lessons is definitely a miracle. We first went to Lena who the elders passed to us. She is a super bright lady who has been trying to learn about religion her whole life but has never really found what she is looking for. We taught her the plan of salvation (when I say we I mean mostly sister erekson but i smiled and nodded) and she really seemed to like it, but she kept asking us why God allows bad things to happen. We tried to explain that this life is a test, and we don't really always know, but that throught the Atonement everything will be made right eventually. Yesterday in my personal study I found a scripture that I wish I had known then, it's D&C 58:2-4. Anyways, she really wants to meet with us again, so we can talk about it more. After Lena, we had family night with a family in the ward, the Koshelev's. It took us forever to find their apartment but when we did it was really good. We had a lesson on scripture study and how it can bless our families. The family is an older couple and their 6 year old grandson was there which was a lot of fun. He, the little kid, told us a story of how they couldn't find their cell phone so he decided to say a prayer and found it. I didn't understand what he was saying, but sister Erekson told me later and I thought that was so special. I realized that he's one of the first people in Ukraine to be raised in the church. His dad is a branch president in another branch right now. They are one of the few super solid complete member families that we have. The church here is mostly young women and old babushkas, there's not a lot of strong priesthood holders, and very few complete member families. That is what we are trying to focus on is families right now.

Last night we had youth night again and this time a random old man came! He actually isn't that random, he came to english conversation on friday and we told him about it because he loves ping pong! It's actually a pretty big deal here I guess. Anyways he came and played the whole time and was apparently swearing a lot but i had no idea haha. The rest of us played Uno and Skip-Bo and I loved it of course!

Now today we finally have p-day!! We're taking a bus to a town about an hour away and a church member is going to take us on a tour and we're going to a WWII museum! It should be awesome!

Other random facts/obersvations/whatever:

-I have decided that Ukraine is District 12. Like seriously watch the hunger games again, and the beginning where they show District 12, that's where I live. Sister Erekson is a super talented archer so I think she might be Katniss. I dont' know who that makes me though.
-I had a dream that Adam and Stevie had a baby and for my whole mission I thought it was a boy and then I came home and it was a girl and things were real awkward.
-I saw the greatest babushka ever the other day. She had on slippers and really baggy clothes and a total gangster know the kind with the flat brim? It was so awesome. She was exercising at the same elementary school where we go to exercise (sister erekson runs around the track and i stretch) anyways, she would walk back and forth about as far as it would take me to walk in 30 seconds, but it took her like a solid five minutes. Each time she got to the end should would pull out a stopwatch, look at it, and turn around and do it again. She's my hero.
-you know how we went to work on that dacha last week? well apparently that wasn't even Lance's dacha, it was his friends i have no idea why but i guess she liked our berry picking skills and now she wants to meet with us and talk about the scriptures so you never know when your service will impact someone!
-observation about ukraine: clothing is entirely optional, and so is deodorant so that makes for a fun combo.
-this week I heard that russian is the second hardest language in the world after Finnish. Now this info came from elders so you might want to do some fact checking on that one, but what the heck?. The only thing that got me through the MTC was at least it's not Chinese, but now that's not even true!?!? Wow.
-I got yelled at on a bus the other day because when I get on I always  make sure to shut the door really tight because you don't want to have to do the awkward, it didn't close all the way try again thing, so I slammed it and the bus driver flipped out and yelled at me. I obviously didn't catch a single word that he said, but i could sense the disappointment from his face and tone.
-one of the ways that I can tell I have been so blessed on my mission is that I am just so happy and not stressed. Realistically I should be so exhausted and stressed out all the time but I'm just so happy i love it!
-I got mail yesterday which is the greatest! I got missionary updates sent from you and Sister Eyre and I got a really nice card from Grandma and Grandpa, thank you!!! Also i forgot to thank Aunt Ali and Aunt Cindy for super nice packages in the MTC! THANK YOU!!!!!

okay that's all i've got for you this week! You are the greatest, I love you and miss you!!!!

p.s. I am starting a list of scriptures that apply to me right now. So far I have Genesis 21:6, 1 Tim 4:12, Alma 37:6-7, 2 Cor 12:10, 1 Cor 16:13, John 15, Alma 31: 34-35, D&C 121: 7-8, D&C 58:2-4, 1 Cor 1:26-27, Jer 16: 14-16, 2 Chron 15:7, D&C 39: 13, D&C 33: 8, 2 Tim 1:7, 1 John 4:18, D&C 50: 40-46, D&C 128:22.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Blini, Chalk Art, MTC advice

-The weather here is actually really nice. I'd say it's pretty much just like Libertyville. It's humid enough so that I can actually breathe and my skin doesn't dry out but it's not so humid that you go outside and are instantly wet like cincinnatti. It hasn't rained once yet but there have been a few scary looking clouds and we even saw lightning once. I'm hoping for a huge summer storm sometime soon. I'd guess it's usually in the 70's each day, i just wear a short sleeved shirt and it works all day. It doesn't get that cold at night.

-The food here is....well let's just say that the candy is awesome. We have a bowl of candy that we make sure is stocked at all times on our kitchen table. The one food I love is blini which is basically russian crepes and we usually put nutella and raspberry jam in them but last night for dinner we did chicken and mashed potatoes and cheese which was really good too. There's a lot of fresh fruit that's delicious too.

-Oh when I told you that I get $12 a month that was wrong, it's $12 a week so we're rolling in the money over here haha

-We have a new investigator Anusha who is awesome. She's a young girl living here from India going to medical school (that's really common here, there's also a lot of students from Africa). She is Christian which is pretty rare in India and she has studied with the Jehovah's Witnesses for awhile (I didn't know that they were here but apparently that's a big thing in ukraine. a lot of people see us on the streets and think we're Jehovah's Witnesses). She is also the sweetest person ever. She always asks us how we're doing and if she can help us in any way! We're supposed to say that to her! She is a media referral which never happens, that means she went to and entered her contact info. the elders didn't have her phone number but happened to run into her on the street twice and got her info and then handed her off to us! we had a first lesson with her in the park and it went really well. (she speaks english so i can actually testify that it went well because i knew what was going on) the only problem is we didn't have an english book of mormon! we told her how to read the book of mormon online and promised to get her an actually copy sometime that week. a few days later we ran into her on the street and we still didn't have an english book of mormon but i was holding a Liahona that i had picked up from the church for myself. i felt impressed to give it to her so I did and explained that it had talks in it from our church leaders (it was the conference edition). she seemed pretty interested so hopefully she read it. then the next day we ran into her again (she is the girl who is always in the right place) and we had the english book of mormon with us finally! we gave it to her and she was so excited! we are meeting with her again this week so i'll let you know how that goes!

-There's an insane amount of dogs here. The dogs that are pets are usually cute and friendly but the wild dogs are crazy and kinda scary. they congregate in the parks and just hang out it's super weird.

-The singing in church here is so funny. It's a complete joke. I swear 90% of ukraine, or at least lugansk is tonedeaf. It's so entertaining to listen to. Also a lot of people here have bad eyesight so I swear the old ladies just make up their own words. Again, just imagine a branch full of Barbara's haha

-The kids here are so adorable because their parents dress them so fashionably! It's so funny. We saw this little kid, probably 3 years old, in a park with these rock star sunglasses, a purple paisley button up shirt, fancy jeans and socks and sandals (the cool european kind, not the awkward american old person kind) anyways he was just riding around on his tricycle looking so fly it was awesome.

-oh tell ben that i met the southams, they're a senior couple who served in novasabiersk when he was there. also i met sister arimaki who is one of liz's best friends! so the bevans just know everyone here haha

-on tuesdays we have youth night where basically anyone in the branch who wants to can come to the church and play games and eat a treat and have a spiritual thought. we played phase 10, your favorite! they love american games there! they really love uno too. it's crazy because almost everyone here speaks english so they want to practice their english with me, but i'm like no i need to practice my russian more! trust me!

-we were going through a bunch of former investigator sheets and we found two crazy ones. one lady was progressing really well and really interested but then she went to church and had no desire to talk to the missionaries anymore. months later they found out that the lady thought there were drugs in the sacrament! what?! haha and another record says in big letters on the bottom, This lady is in prison and probably killed not contact. hahahahaha oh ukraine. i love you.

-our mission president has decided that we should do more cultural activities, so next week we're having Pday on wednesday because we're taking an hour bus ride into another town where there's a big WWII museum and a lady from our branch is going to show us around the town and take us to the museum. the area isn't open to proselyting yet so we can't wear our nametags or anything. i'm so excited! usually missionaries only get to go to like 1 or 2 cultural things in their mission and they can't go until they're about to go home! now with the new rule i get to go right away! so next week you won't get an email from me until wednesday.

-oh we have a very sweet crazy old man who waters our sidewalk for us outside our apartment. he literally just sprinkles the sidewalk every morning. it's so weird. we should probably talk to him sometime but seriously the only people we talk to are crazy old guys every day. they usually stop us and ask us why we're here. one of the challenges i didn't forsee about missionary work is figuring out if people want to talk to us because they're interested in the church or in cute young american girls. it's awkward.

-one of our favorite things to do it go 'chalking' which is when we go to a park and draw on the sidewalk with chalk. sister erekson is an incredible artist so she draws these awesome pictures of jesus and i usually just write next to it haha. next time i'm going to bring my hymnbook so i can sing while she draws because i feel dumb just sitting  there. i'll try to attach a picture if i can.

-the friendship tan is back in action, i know you were wondering about that. (Explanation from Katie's mom: years ago on a vacation, Katie was wearing a friendship bracelet, and ended up with quite a white line, which she called a "friendship tan." These days it is usually from a hair tie, but she still calls it a friendship tan. It's kind of her personal indication of the status of her suntan - something very important to Katie. If the friendship tan is back, it means she's getting plenty of outdoor time. I'm pretty sure her tan is from the neck up, elbows and knees down.)

-happy late birthday to heidi!!!! you're 21 now that means you're an offical grown up! i hope you had an awesome day!

-on saturday we went to go work on lance's dacha (it's supposedly a summer home but basically just a shack with a garden, pretty much everyone has them here. there's out in the middle of nowhere and people usually go live there for a few weeks in the summer). sister erekson and i picked berries while the elders did all the hard work of weeding and planting it was awesome.

-on sunday the camperos came to our branch and they are the sweetest. sister campero sat by me in sunday school and relief society which was awesome because neither one of us had any idea what was going on! she speaks a little bit of english and even less russian. at one point she leans over to me and says "too much reading, this is boring! they need to talk more" hahaha i couldn't agree more! here in sunday school and relief society they literally read the manual. i dont know what to do about that. anyways, in relief society we were so confused ( i literally could not tell you what the topic was) we just showed each other family picture the whole time! haha it was great. we were sitting in the way back so at least we weren't distracting anyone else.

okay i came up with some advice for missionaries in the MTC:
-if you are learning russian: memorize the case chart! you don't know what that means yet, but as soon as you do just start learning it. even when it doesn't make sense, just do it! decided now to be a missionary who speaks with good grammar. buy a katzner dictionary!
-laugh every day. preferrably multiple times a day.
-play sand volleyball during sport. it's the best.
-the greatest secret of the cafeteria: get a wrap with just chicken and cheese take it over to the microwave and make yourself a dang quesadilla.
-go to choir. just do it. even if you don't sing, can't sing, whatever  just go.
-don't bring hangers, there's tons in the free corners. ask someone where the free corners are on your first day and check them every monday and tuesday. you'll find tons of hidden treasures
-if you have time, study your language a little bit before you come. if nothing else it will make you feel a little bit better about yourself for the first day or two.
-if you can, learn words to hymns before you come. i would get hymns stuck in my head all the time but only knew the first verses so i'd get sick of those real fast.
-actually SYL. it's hard and annoying but just do it.
-ask your teacher for interviews. they basically just say nice things to you and you can vent to them if you need to. also a great opportunity for a good cry if you need one.
-study outside when you can! it's the greatest.
-play a game in the bathroom where you walk through humming come thou fount and see how many people you can get to join in. extra points of you get someone to harmonize
-make up songs during service. preferrably change the words to hymns and make them about cleaning
-love your district they are your new best friends and family
-bring a mini PMG it's so useful for bringing to church and stuff when you don't want to carry the big one
-eat at the magical food carts outside! they are all you can eat!
-do language study with your companion. it's way easier to learn with someone.
-make goals early on of what you want to accomplish before you go. your teachers won't make goals for you. decide a few scriptures to memorize, have a set number of words to learn a day. 
-make your personal study meaningful. if you don't know how, ask your teacher. 
-use TALL time effectively!! ask your teacher to show you how to use tall. i learned stuff about tall in my last week that i could have been using all along!
-last but not silly, be yourself!

i love you all and miss you! please eat a cheeseburger for me! also popcorn and go see a stinkin movie!

p.s.  i forgot to tell you something pretty cool. in my interview with brother okoren before I left he told me to make sure I was enjoying all the 'light' at the mtc because on my mission i might get sent to areas where the only source of light is the missionaries. he said the if he were my mission president he'd send me to those areas. i think lugansk might have been what he was talking about. the work is moving pretty slowly here but we're definitely doing all we can to help it along! he also said that i am a natural born leader and i can have just as much of an impact on other missionaries as i can on investigators. basically he told me that i should set the tone for our pressure! i'm trying to figure out how i can be a good example as a greenie, but it's hard because i feel like i don't know anything yet! okay that's all i've got for you this week! love you and miss you!!!

Breakfast of Champions

Sister Erekson's beautiful chalk art

Berry Picking and Eating

Cool Statue

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Made It!

I can't believe |'m really here! It's crazy!! So wednesday afternoon we landed in Donetsk, got through customs with no problems and met the Camperos and the Assistants. The Camperos are literally the sweetest most adorable people on the planet. President Campero's english is okay and Sister Campero hardly speaks any but she is so great. They just kept telling us over and over how we were making history in our mission. Before we arrived there were 11 sisters and now there are 21! So yep if you do the math, every single sister who came before us is training right now. Crazy town. So we went to President's house to have dinner and have interviews with president. It was so nice to be in a real house! Then we all stayed the night in the Assistants' apartment and they stayed at President's house. The next day we had transfer meeting where we all met our trainers and found out our areas. It's so funny, i don't know if this is how they do it everywhere but when they announce the transfers we all stand in a big circle and when your name is announced you run into the circle and hug your companion and everyone claps. It was way funny because they called my name and I ran into the circle and hugged this sister but then they were like, "wait actually it's sister parker not sister shrek" so i hung my head in shame and walked away.Haha it was way funny because everyone thought I actually felt bad but I was just making a joke of it. Anyways, I'm serving with Sister Erekson (yep that's how it's spelled) in Lugansk! Some people claim that we're the first sisters ever to serve in Lugansk, but we've also heard that there were some sisters here about 7 years ago, (but that was from Lance this crazy guy in our branch who just showed up here from america 3 years ago and no one knows why he's here. he's really entertaining but not necessarily the most reliable source on information). Anyways, we're gonna stick with the story that we're the first sister missionaries ever to step foot in lugansk because it's a way cooler story! Making history left and right here people! My trainer is amazing. I'm the fourth sister she's trained so you know she knows what's up She only has 2 transfers left (she actually extended so that she could help train the new sisters, she's gonna miss her older sister's wedding because of me!) but she's determined to finish strong so don't worry, we're working hard. But listen to this scary news: in 6 weeks we're gonna get a brand new companion who sister erekson and i will kind of train together although sister erekson will technically still be training me (the training program is 12 weeks) but then sister erekson goes home and i have to finish training this sister by myself! that means 12 weeks from now i'm supposed to be the one in charge who makes phone calls and navigates the bus system and understands all the crazy old people at church! I can't even do any of those things in english!! I actually don't feel as scared as I know I should be, but everyone I've talked to said that their Russian really started to come once they were senior companion and they had to understand because there was no one there to fall back on. Hopefully that's true for me!
After transfer meeting we went back to President's house and had a sisters conference with all the 21 sisters in our mission. We started off by skyping with the counselor/psychiatrist for all the missionaries in the eastern european area. She pointed out something that I really needed to hear. She told us that most sisters don't follow the commandment "Love thy neighbor as thyself" because we forget about the last part. She said she thinks someone snuck into our house at night and opened our bibles and crossed out the "as" and wrote "instead of." It's true in missionary work that you need to forget yourself and "lose yourself" in the work, but you also can't be an effective missionary if you don't take care of yourself. I really liked that and I'm glad she shared that with us.

Anyways, I'm sure the rest of the sisters conference was really good, but I wouldn't know because I missed it. Sister Rohrbaugh's kidney stone started moving and she was in a ton of pain. We went into a bedroom in Presidents house and she laid down on the bed. I held her hand and sang her primary songs as she screamed and rolled around in pain. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. It was so hard for me to see her in so much pain and know that there was nothing I could do about it. She asked me to come up with some reasons as to why this was happening to her right then. It was actually really good for me to think about why God gives us trials. I told her that maybe the Lord wanted her to know how strong she was, and the realize that she can handle a lot more than she ever realized. I said maybe she needs to be able to empathize with people that she will be serving. I reminded her of what Elder Scott promised us when he came to the MTC. He said that we will never be asked to do something we cannot accomplish. At one point it got really bad and she asked why Heavenly Father wasn't there to help her. I promised her that He was there, she just couldn't see Him and she calmed down a lot. I have never felt so humble or helpless in my life. I don't know why Sister Rohrbaugh had to go through that but I know why I did. I realized that the hardest thing for me on my mission will be to see people suffering whom I cannot help. I know that my message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can literally help every person no matter what they're going through, but they have to accept it. I can handle trials and pain because I know where to turn, but it kills me to see other people suffer when they don't know how to find peace. I am grateful to be on a mission so that I can help more people find peace and comfort in this life. Anyways, she got a priesthood blessing and started to do better and eventually president campero called some paramedics who came and took her to a clinic where she got stronger pain medication. The next day she had a scan and they confirmed that there are actually two kidney stones. This was a few days ago so hopefully they are both passed by now and she's doing all better but I haven't heard from her yet. It was kind of a scary welcome to Ukraine but i'm just glad that I was there to help her. It was so hard to say goodbye and not be her companion anymore!
Friday morning we went on a walk around donetsk for about 2 hours and then after breakfast we all separated and went to our different areas. It was hard to say goodbye to all of my MTC buddies! But we have a mission conference in two weeks so we actually get to see each other really soon. Sister Erekson and I had the priviledge of taking a 3 hour bus ride to Lugansk which is the closest area to Russia. Supposedly this means that people have very clean russian here but that's news to me! Someday I'm gonna understand a full sentence here and it will be the greatest day of my life. Anyways, Lugansk is a great city of about 500,000 people (that number is from Lance so once again I can't promise its accuracy) and there a 6 missionaries here. They just changed the rules so elders have assigned areas but sisters are 'roamers' so we can go anywhere within the city. So if the elders ever contact a sister, we get to teach her! Basically my slogan "sisters do what they want' is compeletely accurate. Also we have an hour and a half to email so my emails are gonna be even longer now! You're welcome. Anyways, we took our 3 hour bus ride to lugansk, found a taxi that took us to the church building and walked right into correlation meeting with Lance. We learned a bit about the branch (pretty sure it's the smallest in the mission) and our investigators. As of right now we really only have 2 investigators, Nadia whose older sister was baptized in March, she has been meeting with the missionaries for almost a year and comes to church regularly but just doesn't have any desire to be baptized and Ira whose husband is in the branch presidency. We are really excited to work with them because our mission focus is on families right now and working with part-member and less active families. After correlation meeting the elders walked us to our apartment where our luggage was waiting for us and we had food in the fridge! Our elders are so nice to us. Also we got one of the nicest apartments in the mission! Life lesson: get sent to a hard area of your mission and your mission president will feel bad for you and give you a nice apartment! (i don't know if that's true, i just made it up). Anyways, we actually have air conditioning and we're on the first floor! What more could you want? In the MTC we would joke that the people on the first floor did something great in the pre-mortal existence to earn that room so aparently Sister Erekson did something awesome because I don't think it was me. We also live right next to the post office, a grocery store, and ice cream stand, and this food stand (kinda like crepes where they put different fillings in it) that they only have in lugansk and all the elders who serve here say it's their favorite food in the mission. so we literally have everything we could need! we are so blessed.
Saturday we had district meeting which was really good. We got to know each other and set some good goals for this transfer. Our district is full of hard workers and we all get along really well so that makes a big difference I think. Oh Saturday morning we went contacting for the first time which wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. Sister Erekson made me talk a little bit which was good. We got one solid contact which was way exciting. She's a babushka of course and her name is Natalia. She said that she reads the new testament every day and was thirsting for more and prayed about it, and she thinks we might be the answer to her prayer! (Sister Erekson told me all of this after of course, i don't think i caught a single word) we are meeting with her on wednesday! I'm so excited!
Sunday was super fun. We went to church early to meet everyone in the branch. The elders had told everyone a few weeks ago that they were getting sisters and they were so excited! (which they couldn't say because there's no word for excited in russian...irony). anyways, everyone was so happy to see us and all of the babuski love to hug us. Absolutely no one can say my name but I'm gonna get a Shrek tag as soon as possible. We decided before hand that we were all gonna get up and bear our testimonies so the branch could get know us and our testimonies. I'll tell you what I said in terrible russian "My name is Sister Schrecengost. I'm from Chicago. This is my first Sunday in Ukraine. I don't know a lot of things, but i know this. I know God lives and loves us. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. I know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can return to God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that through this book, we can know Christ better. I know that this church is true, and that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. In the name of Jesus Christ amen." As I sat down all of the babushki whispered "good job" to me and tried to hold my hand. I think they all love me a little bit more because i'm so small and helpless so I guess I can use that to my advantage. Anyways, let's just say that the only words I understood in church were my own. Sunday school was a joke. I literally had no idea what the topic even was, I was just praying no one would call on me to read or answer a question! Relief Society wasn't really any better. It's funny everyone says that missionaries know gospel words and it's converstaional Russian that they struggle with. I'd say it's everything. It's okay though, I know I'll get it eventually. One important principle I learned this week is that God gives us teeth for two reasons. (Side note a MIKA song just came on the radio and i know i shouldn't be excited about that but....) 1. To eat food 2. so that people can understand words you say!!! Old people here either have gold teeth or no teeth so that makes things extra fun.
Today is pday which is great! Except we used our washing machine for the first time and clearly did it wrong because our apartment flooded so that was an adventure! i guess the shrek curse followed me to ukraine! we had to walk around for like an hour to find somewhere to buy a mop but it all worked out and it's all cleaned up now so no big deal. It was funny we had to call the elders and ask them to look up mop in the dictionary so we could ask people where to buy one. it made me realize just how many dang russian words i don't know yet! haha oh well i'm over it. (that's been my motto for the last month or so. when something bad or weird happens i just say "i'm over it.") after emailing we're gonna go play volleyball as a district! the elders have a sand volleyball court right outside their apartment.
random facts/observations about ukraine:
-the stores actually have a lot of american brands of stuff here, like toiletries and even food sometimes but it's so expensive we just stick to the ukrainian stuff
-dad will love this, everyone just carries stuff around in plastic bags. you know how he says when we go on vacation that he's just gonna take a kroger bag with a toothbrush and swim suit? he would totally fit in here.
-the song greensleeves/what child is this is in the russian hymn book and the title directly translated means "what's with the kid?" hahahaha I think that's hilarious
-the vast majority of our branch is old ladies and they are crazy. just imagine a ward full of Barbaras. That is our branch. And they all just talk at each other at the same time. There will be four of them talking at once and none of them are actually listening to each other. It's so great. I'm sure it will be even funnier when I know what they're saying. 
-last time there was a baptism in lugansk they rented out a sauna to do it in because there's no font in our area! hahaha
-90% of members in Ukraine are recent converts. This means that they all appreciate and love the missionaries which is such a blessing. We just hope that they love us enough to give us their families and friends to teach. 
-In russian you talk with your tongue in the back of you mouth not the front, so your tongue never really touches your teeth. I realized that I have been prepared for this by that wheel i had in my mouth in 3rd grade!!! Most missionaries can't keep their tongue back but mine is already trained to do that!
-Ukraine reminds me a tiny bit of wales, just mainly the roads and road signs, but i realize that Wales prepared me so much for my mission. I would be in such bad culture shock right now if I'd never been out of the country before. (also the only sentence i can remember in welsh is "i like coffee" so that's good)
-there's a special needs girl in our branch who has trouble walking so we helped her home from church. we took a 20 minute bus ride and then it was about a 30 minute walk from there. I think the Relief Society president usually takes her home but we'll probably start doing it from now one. We went back and visited her sunday night. We showed her our family pictures and shared our favorite scriptures from the Book of Mormon with her. We commited her to read the Book of Mormon every day this week. We're hoping to build a strong relationship with her so that she will give us some referrals. Also she lives wtih her mom and brother who aren't members so maybe we can teach them someday.
-Riding the bus here is always a fun experience and sometimes you even get to hear some american music. So far I've heard NSYNC and Numa Numa (not really american but made me think of home). I'll have to get a picture sometime, they're crazy.