Monday, May 31, 2010

One month in Russia

Well, what's new in Vlad? Still no hot water. Elder Waltman and I have given up on boiling water each morning cause it takes forever and I just don't want to anymore. But man oh man are those showers insane. Elder Hall (one of the assistants) said on Sakhalin, he measured the water temp there and it was 45 degrees when he was there. He said ours wasn't quite that cold but it was certainly getting there. Baba Galya said yesterday when we visited with her that the hot water should be turned back on sometime this week hopefully.

Work here has been rough. I've really been trying this last week to open my mouth more and speak with everyone on the streets or buses. It's so hard. It's difficult to quiet the thought in the back of my mind that keeps telling me, "Elder Bush, you won't understand what they're saying. You hardly ever do." Which isn't always true. Sometimes, I understand a lot or I at least get the main idea. Other times (usually when someone is talking to just me instead of me and Elder Waltman) I understand zero. I talked with Sister Kovalevskya yesterday (one of the sister missionaries in Vlad. It was her last Sunday because she goes home on Saturday). Because she realized I had been here a month now, she asked me how Russia is after a month. I told her I love it here but sometimes I feel alone. She asked if it was because of Russian and I told her yes. She was super encouraging. Right after I said my earlier response to her, I realized, "Elder Bush, why the heck do you feel alone? You don't have to if you turn to the Lord a little more often." It's so tough though, I must be honest. Especially in Sunday School of all places. Everyone is talking so darn fast and asking a bazillion questions and reading ridiculously fast and then assigning people to read sections and talk about it. So yesterday, I read the wrong section which took forever and I got some of it so I figured I could add a little something when my group's turn came. Turns out I read the wrong section. Elder Waltman said, you had the Elder-Bush-I-Have-No-Idea-What-to-Do-or-Say look on your face. All too true. There are thankfully some people in the Branch that are super nice and realize how hard it is for me and are really kind about it. Sometimes, others are not which makes it a little discouraging. Anyway, I realized that I haven't been praying nearly enough or turning to the Lord often enough when things get really hard. I should have a prayer in my heart always. Guess I need to work on that. :)

About what Sister Metro said... It's all too true. It can be really hard (and by really hard, I mean really really really hard) to go out and contact people for hours when so many people just don't smile back when you give a simple hello and smile, or they ignore you completely and keep walking, or they give you the craziest responses when we ask "How are you?" I actually love it (although of course I would love it more if they would talk with us more) when people are at least friendly and decline us respectfully. But anyways, I had a really neat experience yesterday that strengthened my testimony. We were out contacting and we ran into a man named Alexander. As we shared with him about the Book of Mormon, he tried to convince us that we're wrong because at the end of Revelation in chapter 22, John says we cannot add or take away anything from this book (meaning the book of Revelation, but the man tried to convince us that meant the Bible). I had wanted to study that same thing that very morning so I had. I looked around and found the scripture in Deuteronomy 4:2 which says pretty much the same thing as in Revelation. Anyhow, I couldn't say much since I just didn't have the words to convey an answer, but Elder Waltman could because we had talked about it in Companionship study. I knew afterward as we walked away, that the spirit had led me to study that so we could help try to answer his concern and even though he didn't believe us or was not really interested in what we had to say, it was still a spiritual experience for me that strengthened my testimony that this is the Lord's work, not the work of nineteen year old boys.

Our zone and the assistants went out to lunch on the reenok last P day (Preparation day) to a Chinese place (it was delicious!). There was this Chinese/Russian calendar on the wall that was from some Christian church from Moscow. It caught all of our eyes because it had a painting of Christ in the top left corner that was painted by Simon Dewey. We all realized it had probably just been ripped off the internet. Painting of Christ by Mormon on Moscow church calendar. Too funny. :) Then the next day we went to this restaurant in center called Bombay 1. It was pretty good too. A little expensive. The curry was way delicious though! Reminded me of India.

Oh I don't think I have mentioned this yet but here in Vlad, they drink Aloe Vera. It's just like the stuff you put on for sunburns, just a little more watery. Weird! I don't care much for it cause it's weird drinking clumps of Aloe but it's pretty big here. Oh and there's this yogurt here called "Miracle" that has a picture of three peoples' faces and one day as several of us were eating lunch at the church, someone mentioned, "Wow! Elder Bush! I didn't know you were modeling for yogurt companies before your mission?!" Turns out, one of the faces kinda looks like me. Haha! I'm out of time now but I took a picture and I'll try to send it to you next week.

Well, I love you all so much and you're all in my prayers. Thank you so so so much for your prayers and support. Enjoy your day off today! Eat a lot of delicious American food!

Love, Elder Bush

P.s. Dad, I got your letter last Tuesday so it probably arrived on Monday which, if the dates are correct, got here pretty fast since it said it was received on May 16 and I got it on the 25th.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The most wonderful week thus far

Thank you to everyone for your love and prayers and support. After a long day, it's nice to remember all those happy, smiling, loving people I have back home. I haven't received any mail yet, but Elder Waltman got some mail this last week! A giant package from the infamous Aunt Judy! She sends him all the American desires, (Haha) like American cereal and candy! Snickers and Cocoa Puffs and Froot Loops! Breakfast the last few days has been Americanly delicious! Or as the snickers bar said inside it: substancialicious. Haha!

This last week has been a wonderful one, mostly because of a man that was baptized on Friday. His name is Leonid, and he is paralyzed from the neck down but does have a teensy weensy bit of motion in his arms, enough to barely scratch his nose. From what I know, he was a sailor and one day, a wave came up and threw him onto the deck on his neck. It rendered him paralyzed. We (Elder Waltman, and I, Elder Fife, and Elder Papok) all went to his apartment, dressed him in his baptismal clothes, got him into a taxi, and to the church and then home again both on Friday and Sunday. Friday's baptism was so wonderful. The Spirit there was unreal. I, along with Elder Cranny, (our zone leader who is finishing after this transfer and heading back to Moscow where his Father is the mission president) picked him up and passed him off to Elder Papok and Waltman who baptized him. I felt the spirit so strongly as Elder Papok spoke the words of the ordinance. Once Leonid was passed off to me outside the font, we laid him on a table with sheets on it and I asked him how he felt. With a sincere smile, he said, "Wonderful." It sounds even better in Russian. At the beginning of the experience, I thought to myself, this is so much work to get this one man to the church and back to be baptized and then again on Sunday to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. But afterward, I realized it was so worth it because the worth of every soul is great in the eyes of God. He was so nice and loved my family pictures and pictures of lacrosse. He thought it was super interesting because he had never seen such a sport. Most people here are fascinated by it. I'm so glad I brought those pictures. Anyway, Leonid is such a humble and loving man, and I will never forget the experience of meeting him and helping him. I wrote in my journal that it will be such a sweet experience to meet him again after this life after the resurrection when all things shall be restored and to hug him and walk and talk together.

Regarding the language, I'm definitely learning patience. I'm beginning to feel a little better about not understanding people. First, because I don't feel so lost when I don't understand people now. It's just part of the experience and I know someday, I will understand them. Second, I'm understanding a little more every day so that certainly helps. At first, I felt very overwhelmed and that I needed to learn as many words as possible so I could start to understand people more. But Elder Waltman shared an awesome scripture with me from Jacob 5:48, “And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?” He likened it to our knowledge. I took from it that I can't let my branches overcome the strength of my roots. I can't let myself get so absorbed in learning all these random words I hear when I don't have the roots or purpose to use them at first. So I'm simplifying and focusing on what I know I'll use or hear most often and branching out from there. It seems to be helping a lot.

The cockroach problem doesn't seem to be getting any better, but oh well. And having no hot water really stinks, but oh well. I just get up at 6 and start boiling water then. It seems to be doing the trick. I love you all so much! Keep working hard and relying on the Lord. Trust me, relying on Him is worth it.

Elder Bush

P.S. Elder Waltman got a haircut last week. It took foreverrrrrr! Like over an hour! I could have done just as good a job in about five minutes with just clippers! I can't wait to get mine cut.

Monday, May 17, 2010

No hot water? - Must be summer

Russian is getting... well it's not really getting any better or worse, although yesterday was an exceptionally hard day for me. I've been really struggling because it's so hard to understand people. I want to so badly. It just means I need to work harder and rely on the Lord more, because only through Him can I even begin to accomplish my goals. Anyway, I don't want to sound like a downer, but yesterday was really tough for me. I feel as though so many people expect me to speak better and understand them when I just simply can't understand half or more of the words coming out of people's mouths. I finally had to remind myself, "Elder Bush, you've been learning Russian for about 3 months. So don't worry. If they had only been learning English for 3 months, it would be difficult for them to understand you too." I guess that made me feel a little better. Anyway, Russian is hard. Period. It's hard not to get discouraged by it. But I know I can't let it get me down. So keep praying for me, specifically that I can work harder and that the Lord will bless me as I work to understand what people are saying and that I can know what is best for me to study to accomplish that. Thanks a ton.

So I'll share a cool experience with you all... Last Sunday, Cectra Tolmachova wasn't feeling well and asked us to give her a blessing. Elder Popok asked me to join in the blessing. Elder Popok gave the blessing and spoke in Russian since he's a native. I felt the spirit so strongly as he spoke even though I could hardly understand all of what he said. It was a tender mercy, an experience that strengthened my faith in the Lord and His priesthood. I know He loves all of us.

I realized a few days ago that I probably made Russia sound pretty bleak in my last email. What with all the people yelling and "hating us". I shouldn't say they hate us but they don't all appreciate our presence in their country. I guess I was just a little shocked by all the people that yelled at me that week. This week wasn't quite so full of yelling. I actually met several really nice people, and even though they weren't interested in our message, they wished us well and were very respectful. I don't know if I mentioned these people but we met this couple that lives in our area. They seemed a little crazy, and I don't know how truly interested they are in our message since the wife seemed and smelled pretty drunk when we talked with her. But they were so nice and invited us in. The husband loved us because we're American and he loved to say whatever English he knows, that and he had been to America when he was a sailor. While Elder Waltman was trying to teach, he brought out his picture and started speaking a hundred miles an hour to me. He didn't really have much of a sense of personal space and was right next to my face. Despite it being an awkward visit, I felt this love for them and I hope they'll meet with us again so we can share more with them. He shook my hand probably 10 times and kissed me on the cheek as we left. First Russian-man kiss. "Awkward."

Well, Russian milk is starting to taste a little better. Guess that means I'm getting used to Russia. Also, I almost forgot to tell you that the silly Russians turned off the hot water this morning. Now begins the usual cold shower weeks of early summer that I had heard about from other missionaries. Hopefully it'll only be a few weeks. We boiled water but that didn't really help. It turned into just a lukewarm bath. Gotta love missions. Haha! Thank you so much for your prayers, your support, and your love. Serving a mission is so hard. But I know it will be so worth it. I love each of you so much. And I pray for you all every night. Keep praying for me. I sure could use it. :)

Love, Elder Spencer Bush

Monday, May 10, 2010

I just smile and say hello

My dear family!

It was so great to talk to you all earlier today! I really enjoyed hearing your voices and your laughs. :) I miss that probably the most, just sitting around the table or in the living room laughing at something funny we said. After we finished talking, Elder Waltman and I went to the other missionaries’ old apartment to get some stuff, and it turned out there was a lot there we needed to get, so we made several trips from the fourth floor of one building, down the street, and then to the fourth floor of our building. Not fun. We still have a washer to move. Just goes to show that moving is not fun no matter where in the world you are. So then, we went to do a little grocery shopping and this is probably going to sound kind of stupid but the carts in Russia are so cool! The back wheels turn just like the front ones! So it's super easy to push the cart. You can even push it sideways. Makes it really easy when you want to get out of someone's way. Just push the cart to the side! Haha, just an interesting thing I noticed. Oh and another thing, I don't think there exists anywhere in Russia a set of stairs with even spacing between each step. They're all different so it's tricky when you're climbing up and down them. You really have to watch where you're going.

After grocery shopping, on our way back, some guy came out of a store and started yelling at us, telling us how great the store was and asking us why we didn't go there (I think). And then he continued yelling at us, calling us brothers and saying something about Jesus Christ. I didn't really understand him. He kept circling around us as we were walking down the street. I thought he was either crazy or drunk or both. I couldn't really tell. But afterward, Elder Waltman just started laughing. Russians are definitely a different people. But they're still people. They're still my brothers and sisters. They still have the same Heavenly Father. Some of them may yell at us and think we're crazy for being here in Russia because they already have their church and they don't need stupid Americans here. But they're still my brothers and sisters and I want them to have the joy I have. So I'm here to stay.

One day when we were in the center of the city, we were street contacting and I stopped this guy, said hello and asked how he was doing. He took off his sunglasses, looked at my nametag, started yelling at me and made a motion like he was gonna break my nametag. Clearly didn't like me very much. Another guy stopped us and commenced to yell at us because we were an evil church and we should leave. In broken English he said, Go HOME!! Go back to Salt Lake City Utah! Two other guys stopped us that day and just wanted to argue with us or make fun of our Russian or whatever. I feel bad that I can't really understand all of what they're saying so I don't know what I should even say. So it usually turns to Elder Waltman to do all the talking, especially when we're being yelled at. Hopefully, I'll start understanding more and more so I can help. Anyway, despite all that, despite people not liking us, I love being here. It's so hard talking to random people, especially when I don't understand their responses. But I know what I know and what I feel to be true, and it is so important. So their responses don't affect me. It doesn't change anything. They're just not interested, so I move on. I'm trying to be as happy as I can be here because pretty much no one smiles here. So I smile to everyone and say hello all the time. No one smiles back. Occasionally, they say hi in return. And oddly enough, I love it here. I love being so happy all the time and standing out like an American in a crowd of Russians. It's not easy. But it makes the day so much better when I'm cheerful and don't let people get me down.

Well basically, this week has certainly been an adventure. I'll try to write more in my little journal as I'm out during the day so I'll have even better things to tell you next week. I love you all so much and I pray for you all the time. Thank you so so so much for your prayers. Mom, happy mother’s day again. You are the best mom I could ever ask for. I love you so much! Tell the grandmas happy mother’s day for me as well, and Mrs. Frappier too. Let everyone know I'm doing well and while the culture shock has been kind of hard this last week, I'm starting to settle in a little more here. I LOVE YOU ALL!!!

Elder Bush

Mother's Day Phone Call

Missionaries get to call home twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas. Following are some random thoughts from Spencer’s phone call on Sunday:

The airport in Russia was interesting. After landing, they exited the plane down some stairs to the runway. They were crammed into a bus that drove them about 200 feet to a small building, which was the airport. He said that it would have been faster to just walk. As they went through customs, no one smiled, and they all looked very Russian, for lack of a better word.

When he went to church for the first time, all of the members were excited to meet the new missionaries. He admires them because they are trying so hard to live the gospel. A choir sang on Sunday, and although they weren’t very good technically, he felt the spirit very strongly as they sang. Like so often happens with us, we offer the best we have, which may not be that great, and the Lord can make it into something wonderful.
They visited the babushka again on Sunday, and since it was Victory Day, the Russian celebration of their winning World War II, (He was told it would be useless to argue that point.) her family was there and they offered them food. They were very full as they had already eaten, but ate anyway. They fed them Plov, which is a rice dish with vegetables, such as carrots or onions, and meat. He has a hard time understanding her because she is older and slurs her words a little, but she is very kind and thankful for their visits. When they leave, she says, “Bye, Bye” in English, which he thinks is very cute.

He had a wonderful weekend. They had a City Conference that sounded similar to our Stake Conference. Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, second counselor in the Europe East area presidency, was a visiting member of the Quorum of the Seventy. (He gave the talk about Mary in Martha in our most recent General Conference.) He met with the missionaries on Friday, with the Priesthood and adult members on Saturday, and with all of the members on Sunday. Two of the missionaries from another city, stayed with them in their apartment. It was a wonderful conference and very uplifting for him. He especially liked that he could understand what was being said, since Elder Schwitzer spoke in English. One of the Russian missionaries translated his talk for the Russian members, and Spencer could understand what he was saying in Russian because he had already heard the English version, and knew what he was trying to say. He taught the members the importance of teaching our children and recommended three places to do it: On the refrigerator door, at the dinner table, and on the walls of our homes.

When asked about the food there, he said that milk tastes very different. It’s not as sweet or something. He had a difficult time describing it. He said that he doesn’t enjoy drinking it, so it’s only good for baking or putting on cereal. The ice cream is also different, but still good. Although he didn’t elaborate on it, he said that Russian juice is really good. He loves it.

Matt wanted to know if it was cold there, and he said that it’s not too cold now, except when it rained the other day. It’s also windy, which can make it feel cold. The buses are hot, so you kind of go from one to the other. Riding the buses is pretty wild. They weave in and out of traffic, and it can be a little scary. He also said that the elevators are really small. They only fit about two people at a time.
They have an English Club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They aren’t allowed to teach English, but they can have an organized club where Russians can come and practice speaking English. People will sometimes come up to them on the street and say “Hello, how are you doing?” in English. The missionaries will ask if they speak English, and they often answer that they only speak a little bit, so they invite them to the English Club. He said that it is mostly the young people who come. Spencer enjoys it because he can understand what is being said. He said that the Russians often have difficulty pronouncing their American names, but have no problem with his. They all know Pres. Bush. The Mission President considered changing the name on his badge (maybe using his first name instead) because he was concerned about it being a political distraction. So far, when people ask if he is related to Pres. Bush, he just tells them that he’s not and that he doesn’t know him, and then moves on to something else.
One last funny story. The other day his companion flushed the toilet and water started squirting out of the back of the toilet. They called the landlord, and he brought a “plumber” to the apartment to fix the leak. When they got back, the plumber had encased the pipe with concrete (see picture). That’s one way to fix it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Holy cow! I'm in Russia!

Holy cow! I'm in Russia! I can't believe it! So as far as my first impressions of Vlad... Wow! It's so different. I feel quite like a fish out of water. My companion, Elder Waltman, is from Idaho and has been out about a year. I'm going to be staying in Vlad for my first area. The city feels huge, and there are so many people! It's definitely a big, dirty city and Russian people don't care to talk to missionaries just like American people don’t, so that's not really any different.

Let me back up just a little... So at the airport in Seoul, we ran into the McGills (the couple from the mission office whose blog I was able to read before I came on the mission) and it was extremely comforting to see them. We landed in Vlad, went through customs and then met President Pratt, his wife, and the assistants. They were all so nice and welcoming. Once the taxis finally got there, we loaded up and drove about 45 min into Vlad. The taxi I rode in was an old Mitsubishi van, really dirty and beat up, but it had a pretty nice sound system in it. The first bit of music I heard in Russia was ABBA. I don't know the title of the song but it's the one that talks about money. Haha! It's definitely really different here in Russia. Driving was interesting, extremely crazy. Amazingly, wrecks don't happen all the time. It reminded me a bit of India. So we dropped our baggage off at the church building and got a night's worth of stuff to take back to the mission home/apartment. And wow! The president's apartment is so nice! I was really surprised. We had 'tacos' for dinner and brownies with Russian ice cream for dessert. Yum! Then we each found out where we were assigned and then were allowed to go to bed whenever we wanted and could sleep in in the morning. That was by far the best night's sleep I have had in 3 months. The next morning, we each had interviews with the Mission President and then went to church. The members are so nice and loving, and I enjoyed it even though I hardly understood anything. I bore my testimony in Sacrament meeting which was super simple, but I tried just speaking from my heart. My Russian is so pathetic. I feel extremely overwhelmed. It's a feeling I haven't ever experienced before. Everything is so foreign and so different and I can't understand hardly anything anyone is saying. But I know prayer is real because I feel peace when I turn to the Lord.

Yesterday after church, we went to an appointment with an old babushka (her name is baba Gali). She's a member of the church but can't come because I think she's near 90. She can hardly move around, see, or hear. We blessed the sacrament for her, and I shared my favorite scripture to help strengthen her. She was so tremendously loving and nice and understanding that my Russian is so bad. She corrected me when I prayed. Haha! It was really sweet of her since I said something wrong. So that went well and then after, we had borscht for dinner (**borscht is DELICIOUS!) I absolutely loved it! I had it for lunch today as well. And then after dinner, we went out contacting and tracting. And like I said, Russians don't like missionaries just as much as Americans don’t. We knocked on lots of doors and I think only one opened. The apartments are unreal here! Before I forget to tell you, my apartment is infested with cockroaches. Yep, cockroaches. Thankfully, I don't mind all that much. Hopefully, we can get rid of them soon or we may be getting a new apartment since we just got this one and we may be able to leave it. Anyway, so the apartments are so bare and dirty and run down and nothing like what is in America. Well I'm sure there are many places in America with similar situations but honestly, it is so starkly different. The city has its own beauty though. The buses are exciting. In Vlad, you get on and then pay 11 rubles as you get off. Doesn't matter how far you ride. It just costs 11 rubles when you get off.

Talking to people is hard. It's not even so much my fear of saying things wrong that affects me. It's mostly my lack of vocabulary and my fear of not understanding a single word. But I'm working to overcome my fears and lack of ability to speak, so I certainly appreciate your prayers. I need them. I'm sure I'll be working on overcoming my fears for a long, long while. Thank you so much for your support.

Старейшина Буш

** says, "Russian Borscht is a rich beet and vegetable soup that is served hot, at lunchtime."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Arrived Safely

Dear Brother and Sister Bush,

Elder Bush arrived safely in the Russia Vladivostok Mission on 1 May 2010. He was tired after a long journey, but happy to be in the Russian Far East.

We love the Russian people and the opportunity we have to share with them the blessings of the Restored Gospel. We are so happy to have Elder Bush join us in this work. The work is difficult here, and the conditions sometimes arduous, but we will look after him. We encourage you to correspond weekly with him. Your messages should be uplifting and encouraging. Please do not burden him with concerns that will weigh heavy on his heart or detract from his work.

Our mission is to help your son magnify his calling and to keep him safe to the best of our ability. Thank you for entrusting us with his care and keeping.

A photograph taken soon after your son’s arrival is attached.  Have a great day.

President and Sister Pratt
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Russia Vladivostok Mission