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.

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