Monday, June 28, 2010

Zone Conference and Reunion with Elder Zamora

Hello everyone!

This last week was zone conference on Thursday. I was so excited to see Elder Zamora! It was so great to reunite after a transfer to talk about some of our crazy funny experiences and to see our improvement in the language. It'll be even more fun when we head off to Korea in a few weeks. Zone conference was a great learning opportunity for me. I realized there's so much I need to repent of and change and improve on so that I can serve as the Lord wants me to serve. Elder Pavlov, one of the Elders in Usserisk who's actually serving as the branch president right now, shared a funny story at the end of Zone conference. He said, "There were a bunch of turkeys that decided to meet together and started that meeting with a prayer. Then during that meeting they learned how to fly. At the end of it, they closed with a prayer and walked home. Elders and Sisters, don't be like turkeys." How true. When we learn such great things, especially those things the spirit teaches us, why wouldn't we want to incorporate them into our lives? Why do things the old way if you know the new way is better.

Before I forget, I got a haircut again like I said. Probably the worst one I've gotten by an American in my life. ;) Elder Waltman really tried though. In the end, I just had to use the clippers and even it all out. It's super short, in my opinion, too short, but President Pratt wasn't mad at me and what are you going to do? It's already cut. It'll grow. I'll send you a picture. I've gotten lots of compliments. Ha-ha!

There appear to be a large number of trees here that make cotton. (I don't know if that's understandable) but the last few days, there has been this cotton stuff all over the ground and floating through the air. Weird. Also, Russian concrete is horrible. I think they put too much water in it. Random I know but I've noticed how things here just seem to be falling apart, even when they're not that old. Staircases turn into crumbled concrete slides, which makes it very hard to climb a big hill to get up to some apartment building to try to see someone.

Yesterday, we met with Baba Galya and it was so cool to see how much my Russian has improved. I could actually carry on a conversation with her and laugh and have a good lesson and everything. The Lord is doing such amazing things through me. She was being really funny yesterday. I just love her so much. I'm realizing more and more how important love is in this work. If I didn't love my Savior, if I didn't realize that these Russian people are my brothers and sisters and have a love for them to share this message with them, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't spend all this time struggling to understand people and talking to random Russian strangers if I didn't have love for what I'm doing. I just pray that love will increase every day.

Matthew asked about the transportation. We use our feet and the bus. That's usually what we use. If I ever go to Khabarvsk, I'll either use the train or take a flight. And obviously Shakhalin requires a flight to get there. Everything else is buses or taxis.

Elder Bush

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Week of Exchanges

I finally have figured out how the mail works. All mail, whether it's a package, a letter, or through the pouch, all ends up at the mission office, no matter where in the mission I'm serving. While I'm here in Vlad, I get mail more often because we're at the church throughout the week and Elder Waltman can pick it up. When I serve in other parts of the mission, my mail still goes to Vlad and the assistants will bring it to me when they come to visit at some point throughout the transfer. So that's how it works. Unfortunately, no mail ever goes straight to our apartments but oh well.

So, first of all, I know that the Lord does prepare people for the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Last night, we went out contacting and it seemed, as it almost always seems, that no one wants to talk to us. Well, some people were nice to us but most not interested. Anyway, we spoke with one lady walking her dog and she said to us не надо (basically meaning, I don't need your message). So we continued down the street, talking to people as they walked past. I stopped this one lady walking next to us and she started to tell me she's met with us before, so I asked how she liked us. She said she did but didn’t say it very sincerely, and I could tell she just wanted to go. Anyway, while that was happening, I noticed this man walking near us, and he started talking to Elder Waltman, asking him questions. After I finished talking with her, I came to find out that this guy had asked the lady with the dog what we were doing and she told him we were talking about crazy spirits or something like that. Haha! He didn't believe her and wanted to ask us for himself. He ended up telling us that he's been searching for the word of God because he knows he needs it in his life but he hasn't really known were to find it. He's been trying to quit smoking and drinking but hasn't been successful but really wants to. So we told him about the Book of Mormon and the power that book has to change our lives because it, along with the Bible, is the word of God. When we asked when we could meet, he told us his only free time besides after work is on Sunday because the Lord said you need to rest on Sunday. Elder Waltman and I were blown away that he already felt so strongly about the Sabbath day and that it's a day to rest. The whole experience showed me that the Lord puts people in our path, sometimes even people that come find us and it really strengthened my faith and testimony that this is the Lord's work, not the work of 19 year olds.

Oh and before I forget, this transfer, I'm doing the 5000 push up challenge. 5000 pushups in 6 weeks. That turns out to be ~140 a day, which isn't too much, but it hurts the journal writing time. Haha! When we told Baba Galya about it, she was blown away. We told her she should join us and start doing it, and she said, “Ok! I'll start right now and by tomorrow I'll have died.” Love бабушкы. :)

This week has sure been a crazy one with pretty much all of the Vlad district gone to Korea at one point or another throughout the week. Starting Tuesday night, I was with one of the assistants, Elder Наумов. He taught me something valuable in a different way than I've heard it before. On Wednesday, when we were contacting, he turned to me and said, “Elder Bush, if the Savior's second coming was tomorrow, what would you be doing right now?” I stopped, thought, and told him, “I would be talking with every single person I saw, and I'd be telling them about our Savior.” He said, “Exactly! You'd be talking with everyone! So, now go talk to those people over there.” And I did. It really hit me how I need to talk to everyone. That's why I'm here. And to Bro. Savage and Bro.Boyer, I want you to know how thankful I am for all you taught me and I'm striving to work as hard as you did here in Vlad. Bro. Beck, I'm also very grateful for your example and all you taught me. So, then the rest of Wednesday and Thursday got a little crazy. I ended up on another exchange with Elder Fife out in Churkin for the next 24ish hours and then we split back again Thursday afternoon. I got to teach Leonid on Thursday with Elder Fife (he's the paralyzed man) and it was great to see him again. I love seeing the change that has taken place in his life. It's so cool and so real. Then on Friday, I was sort of turned into an assistant, or more like an assistant to the assistants. We went to our apartment in 2nd River and de-cockroached it with Sister Pratt and Sister McGill. I don't know if it really worked, but I haven't seen many since, so maybe our work helped. Then we went to get a bunch of packages from the post office (a huge chore the assistants have to do) and helped Sister Pratt and Sister McGill with an errand. We went back to the office to do office work and make programs for the baptism that was on Saturday. Then back to second river to meet up with Elder Waltman and Elder Jones and Hatch and Daimaru coming from the airport. It was crazy, but it was fun, and I learned a lot and had a great time serving with Elder Наумов.

Last thing... I translated for Elder McGill yesterday in Priesthood and it was really hard! But it was a lot easier than it could have been since Elders Huffman and Kezelle were teaching and thus, most of what I was translating was from the Elders and not native Russians. It really hit me yesterday how much of a miracle it is that I can understand what I can and how the Lord is working through me. I love this work.

Elder Bush

p.s. If anyone has any questions, shoot them my way. It's easier to know what to tell you about if I know there's something you want to know about. (You can write to me or send questions to my parents.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thank you

Thank you to all those that are thinking about me, praying for me, and supporting me. I really appreciate it. :) I hope whatever I may write home is exciting/interesting/and strengthens your faith in Jesus Christ.

Six Weeks in Vlad

Well, after 1 transfer (six weeks) in Vlad, I'm still alive! I am so humbled and grateful for the prayers and support and for my family who fasted for me because I know the Lord is helping me. Obviously, I still don't understand everything and sometimes it's hard to catch all of what people are saying, but I'm getting better at it, and I now understand a lot more of what's being said at church. The hardest part about that is when we read from the gospel principles manual, I can't read very fast or understand much because there are so many ginormous words. But the last couple Sundays, I've been able to contribute to the lesson and I know the Lord has helped me do that.

So, first off, there have been some changes in the mission. Up until this last transfer, we had no districts in our mission, just five zones (Vladivostok, Usserisk, Nakhodka, Sakhalin, and Khabarovsk) with a zone leader in each that reported to the assistants here in Vlad. President Pratt felt impressed to change our structure so it will be how the Brethren have asked all missions to be and to relieve the load on the zone leaders. So now there two zones (north: Khabarovsk and Sakhalin; south: Usserisk, Vlad, and Nakhodka) and in each of those cities, there's a district with a district leader. Elder Waltman is now the district leader. (By the way, he is such a great companion. I love working with him.) So I'll be staying in Vlad this next transfer and then we'll see where I go after that. I have loved being in Vlad because I'm around the assistants and the President a lot more often than if I were in any of the other cities. I’m also with the McGills, a senior couple who serve in the mission office. They are hilarious and so funny to talk with!

This next week, Elder Waltman and most of our district head to Korea to renew their visas, so I'll be with one of the assistants since his companion will be in Korea as well. It will be interesting because it sounds as though we'll be doing assistant things in the morning and then working in my area in the evening. I'll let you know how this all goes.

Anyway, I was definitely right about the 150 year anniversary of Vlad and how they're sprucing up the city. They're redoing a lot of the road (which is a huge blessing) and planting a bazillion flowers! And there's more sweet art they're doing on the walls around the city! I'll try to get some pictures at some point, maybe when I'm on the bus. By the way, right now the weather in Vlad is weird. Some days it's smoking hot and other days it's windy and cold.

So I thought I'd share some of my feelings about the missionary work here... I'd always heard that serving in Russia is hard. "Oh your mission is going to be really hard." etc. etc. I'm starting to realize why. In no way am I saying that my mission is the hardest mission in the world and that everyone else serving missions should be thankful because serving a mission period, no matter where in the world you are, is a super big challenge. Russia is just different. And I know I needed to be here to be humbled. It has humbled me so much. The language, the work each day, it has sent me to my knees and caused me to pray throughout the whole day. Sometimes it's hard to keep your spirits up. When we're contacting, we talk to people for hours and person after person just ignore us. That amazes me the most. The hardest part is trying to keep faith that there are people the Lord is preparing to receive our message. Contacting for hours sometimes causes my faith to dim, not dim in the fact that I feel any less that the message we have to share is true and important, but more my faith that anyone in this city will want to talk to us. I don't know if that makes sense but I'm working on it and doing my best to stay positive and strengthen my faith in the work.

I had a funny language blunder this last week... I went to ask someone if they spoke English because I wanted to invite them to English club. I accidently asked, "Do you speak Russian?" The man of course said "Da (yes)". And since I had thought I'd asked him about English, I felt surprised because people rarely ever say yes when you ask them if they speak English. They just say "I’m really bad" or "only a little," or yesterday, some guy said "sometimes." Anyway, so I then asked in English really slowly, "what is your name?" He was super confused and said "I speak Russian not English." Elder Waltman tried not to laugh and Elder Papok who was with us started busting out laughing after I told him what I had said. Gotta love the language blunders. :)

Love you all,
Elder Bush

Monday, June 7, 2010

Two Greenies (new missionaries) on Exchanges

HOT WATER'S BACK!!!! I didn't realize how much I missed hot showers until Wednesday morning. Warm water is a beautiful thing. I woke up on Tuesday with about 20 bug bites on my arm. I didn't know cockroaches bit... ;) I don't know what bit me, probably just a lonely mosquito. Thankfully, they don't itch much anymore.

So this week, I thought I'd give you a little info in the way of my experiences and then some things I just thought I'd share about Russia. First, I went on splits with Elder Stewart (from my BYU dorm) twice this last week. Once in his area (Nayboota) and once in my area (2nd River). Wow was that interesting. It was such a trial of faith. At least for me because here you have two Elders, one that's been out for almost two transfers (transfers happen about every six weeks), the other only about one, and we are left to ourselves. I've never prayed so much in one day. The miracle is, the Lord answered my prayers, but then he always answers our prayers. He helped me so much. We contacted for several hours in the morning in Nayboota and not much came of it, but I opened my mouth and the words were there. It was AMAZING! In no way am I fluent in Russian, and I hardly understood anything. I'm sure I butchered the grammar. But the Lord helped bring the words to my mind and I was able to do His work. That's a miracle in and of itself. Understanding Russian for some reason is so darn hard for me. Even when people are using words I know, it's really hard. But I can see the improvement the Lord is helping me make and the whole day was such an amazing experience for me. I also have never prayed so much thanking the Lord for His help. Gratitude is invaluable. I can picture Heavenly Father smiling when we tell Him thank you. :) The first lesson we taught that day, that was rough. I tried to let Elder Stewart take the lead as senior companion, but it was just hard. The second lesson was great because we were more prepared to teach, and it was still hard with the language, but through the Spirit, we overcame that barrier and made great strides with a man that hasn't always been as receptive to the missionaries. Anyway, this week was a great learning experience.

So here's some cool side note stuff... Went out to lunch again on the reenok, and I got a haircut. It was terrible. But it's alright. Can't be too picky when it comes to 100 ruble Russian haircuts. (Hopefully I can send you a picture from Elder Waltman's camera.) I realized the other day that every bus in Vlad has these fabric curtain things above all the windows all around the bus. They try to make the buses look fancier but they're honestly just trashy city buses. On some buses, it seems that the driver has gone to great lengths to make his bus fancy. There's fabric everywhere, fancy tassels hanging from everywhere. I love it.

About what we usually eat... Cereal is ok here. I mean cereal is cereal. That's the usual breakfast. Occasionally we have pancakes, German pancakes, eggs, or bleenies, which are basically just crepes but the Russians changed the name. That makes it Russian, not French. For lunch, we often make pasta, or pelmeni, which are like ravioli but with different stuff inside, such as meat or potatoes. We also make booterbrotee (not sure of spelling), which is kind of like a sandwich but only half a sandwich with melted cheese and meat and you eat it with a fork. That's always delicious.

Baba Galya is my favorite babooshka! We meet with her every Sunday and Wednesday and I always love visiting her. There's a drink here called Milkis (I'm not 100% sure what's in it but it's a soda with (I think) milk in it). It's way good. I've also noticed there's some sweet graffiti here in Vlad. Some guys were doing some on a wall the last couple days of sunflowers. They looked amazing! I think they’re doing that because it's Vlad's 150th anniversary this summer ( I think). Last thing, I played basketball on Saturday and I actually did really well! I was making everything! (This doesn't happen ever.) So we always play with this kid named Anton. He's super nice and loves to play with us. He's actually a lot better than most Russians. Most are horrible, like worse than me, which is saying something. Anyway, we were talking and he told me how weird it was when he came to America and all these men smiled at him since men here don't smile at one another. He told me that if you smile at someone else, it means you know them. I thought that was really interesting. Anton also told me it was weird when he first saw missionaries on the street and they smiled at him because he hadn't yet been to America. It's interesting to see the cultural differences.

Well that's about all. Thank you so much for each of your prayers and your thoughts and your love. Missions are hard. But they're so worth it. I know the Lord is my Savior and Redeemer. I'm becoming closer to Him each day because I know this is His work. He wants me here in Vladivostok and I cannot deny the truth of the message I have to share. I love you all so much!! Til next week. :)

Elder Bush