Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Sakhalin


Elder Zamora just leaned over and laughed that I put "hola" as my greeting. :) How's the Bush family?! It was great to talk to all of you and I was really glad that Grandma Gee got to be there with you all while we talked. I'm glad Matt liked his shopka and I'm super glad it fit. :) These last few days haven't really been all that exciting. I’ve had a cold the last few days, and I've actually been kind of doing a roller coaster with my health. Hopefully, it will stay on track for an upward path from now on. Last night, I decided, "you know what? I'm sick of feeling sick. I'm just not gonna be sick anymore." And I ate some chocolate and felt better. :)

Well, I'm not really sure what I should tell you all since I just talked with you a couple days ago... umm.... I got several letters from Fallon this last week! I was super happy to hear from her!!! And I got a letter from Brother Christensen (Thank you!) and from Zach Haile! I was super surprised to hear from him! Zach, if you read this on the blog, thank you so much for your letter. I hope all is well with you! :)

Here's a wrap up for this past week for the blog's sake... I fell twice this last week on the ice. Nice job Elder Bush. After falling twice in one day, I decided it would be a very wise idea to wear my yak tracks (things you can wear on your shoes for traction). Elder Naumov kept teasing me that I had fallen three times thus far this winter and he hadn't. Guess what?... the score is now tied. Not that I'm happy or anything, but I think he had it coming. It started snowing a ton the day before Christmas Eve. So now it looks like Sakhalin should look in the winter. On Christmas Eve, we (the elders here on Sakhalin) got together at the South area's apartment and had dinner together which consisted of sandwiches and juice, and watched Joy to the World, the only Christmas DVD we had. :) Then we went caroling to several members in the branch. They all loved it! And it was lots of fun to share with them the spirit of Christmas through music! I love that no matter where you go in the world, the hymn book pretty much stays the same. Those hymns bring such comfort and peace. One woman in the branch takes care of her elderly father and when we stopped by to sing, she invited us into his room so we could sing to him as well. As we sang, I could see how the music touched him and afterward, it was super sweet to receive his heartfelt gratitude as well as from Sister Love (that's what her name translates to).

Christmas day was exciting because I got to talk with all of you!!!! :) Then we went out and visited several members to deliver a short Christmas message. Sister Love asked us for a blessing because she had fallen and hit her head and was feeling awful afterward. As I acted as voice for the blessing, I spoke very simple words. There wasn't anything grand or unusual about it. Afterward, she felt fine, and at the Branch Christmas activity, she commented that she felt wonderful and was super grateful for the blessing. I know the Priesthood is the power of God to act in His name here on the earth. I haven't always treated that responsibility and authority with the right dignity and respect. But as I've served, I've seen the power of the priesthood manifest in very tangible means. This weekend has actually been filled with three blessings and it has been a miraculous experience to take part in that.

At the branch Christmas party, I felt surrounded by love. It was there that I felt the Spirit very strongly witness to me that Jesus is the Christ and that the love all the members of the church showed to one another was a manifestation of the love of Christ. I got a little present of candy and socks from the Relief Society president. Man, was I super grateful for that simple act of kindness! It blew me away. Afterward, we went out to visit a single mom (the woman I told you about that served a mission in Yekaterinburg with Justin Ebanks) and while waiting in the stairwell as she get her sick kids in bed, I looked outside a window there and thought I'd take a picture of the outside because it looked kind of cool at night. While I was taking a couple pictures, a police man that lives above her stopped us and asked why we were so quietly waiting in the stairwell. We explained who we were and why we were there and then he asked for our documents one at a time. He didn't seem to trust us until Irina opened the door and told him we were coming to see her. He apologized after that. So that's my first run in with the police. Probably won't be the last. It just reminded me though how I need to always be ready to give the information they require so as not to cause any problems. We've heard repeated over and over again, we have nothing to hide. The church has nothing to hide. We as missionaries are not up to no good. We just have to help them understand that and not do anything that looks suspicious even though it may seem harmless to us.

Well, that's probably about it. I'll try to send some pictures that I've taken since we talked on the phone. :) I love you all so much and I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful Happy New Years!!! :)

May Heavenly Father bless each of you in this New Year!

Elder Bush

Some additional notes from our Christmas phone call:

Sarah asked how much snow he had gotten and he said that it had snowed for the last two days and they had about two feet of snow.  He said that he has only been really cold on one day a couple of weeks ago.  He was walking to church and his face started to really hurt.  Other than that, his coat and shopka (hat) have kept him warm.

He told us that Sakhalin has the strongest members in the mission.  The branch has about 50-60 members who attend church on a regular basis.  When we asked about when his next zone conference would be, he told us that they used to have zone conferences every six weeks, but they now have them every two transfers, which is every 12 weeks.  The last one was in Khabarovsk, so the upcoming one will be in Sakhalin.

He sounded happy and said that he had been blessed to not be too homesick during the holidays.  He was looking forward to the branch Christmas party that was going to be on Christmas night.  He loved hearing from his brothers and sisters and having Trevor make us all laugh.  The thing that he has missed the most about home is sitting around the dinner table or in the living room, talking and laughing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Birthday Week and Christmas Wishes

It sounds like all is well back home! I'm glad that you all have had such a great time with Grandma and Grandpa Bush and Uncle Derek! Please pass on my love to them! :) I'm also glad you all were able to see Fallon! And that Jessica sang so beautifully! I'm sure it is wonderful to be home together with family. :) Honestly, I miss that. But you don't always get to have Christmas in Russia, right? ;)

This last week was just another wonderful week to add to all my wonderful weeks on a mission. I just happen to no longer be a teenager now. Strange. It was a week filled with exchanges (switching companions because my companion is the district leader and is supposed to work with each member of our district) and lots of good ole missionary work. I got to serve with Elder Zamora!!!! Which was such an awesome day!!! I have really come to admire and love him, and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to serve with him in the MTC. I didn't appreciate it then nearly as much as I do now. We support each other so much because we're both at the same stage in the mission and understand the struggles that each of us are facing. I don't know what it was, but while I was serving with Elder Zamora, we both got super excited and tried talking to everyone on the streets. We were both filled with that desire that the sons of Mosiah had and that Alma had as they performed their missionary labors. We desired to share our message with every soul because it changes lives. Not just in a colloquial (Trev, I hope I used that word correctly... maybe vituperative would have been better. ;) ) "Hey our message changes lives" sort of way. No, the gospel of Jesus Christ can and will change your life if you truly apply His teachings and follow His commandments. Elder Zamora and I taught a man name Roman who has good desires and intent but rarely fulfills his promises. He smells horrible and looks just about the same as he smells. First of all, I was astonished, as we both taught, at the difference between our ability from when we started at the MTC and where we're at now. It's huge. Astronomical. And it's all because of the Lord's help and the desire we have to do His work. Secondly, after I finished praying at the end of the lesson, I looked up into his eyes and I saw past all the dirt and grime and smell and all that was less than ideal about his appearance. I saw in his eyes that he is a child of Heavenly Father. That he may have his struggles and it may be a long road as we help him come closer to Christ. But he needs this message. All of us do. The spirit hit me so strongly. And during the lesson, I was surprised at how boldly I could express my thoughts and feelings. Those who truly know me know that it's hard for me to sometimes speak my mind or be bold with others. Yet, I found myself teaching boldly along with Elder Zamora. It was unreal.

A day later, after my exchange with Elder Gmeiner, we came back to the north apartment and there, Elder Naumov surprised me with cake and Elder Zamora surprised me by fixing my iPod! (One day it just stopped working but magically, Elder Zamora brought it back to life) I had my eyes closed as I came into the apartment (upon their request) and all of a sudden, I heard the melodious voice of Josh Groban and saw cake before me. :) It was super nice of them. Then, that evening at the church, Igor and Paulina and the South Elders surprised me with a little party and gifts and it was super awesome of all of them! I was so grateful. :)

As we near the Christmas season, I want everyone at home to know how much I love you all. A mission has been the greatest experience of my life in several aspects. It has been super rewarding. And it has been super challenging. Challenging doesn't even really quite describe it. Dad, you know what I mean. I want each of you to know that I'm deeply grateful for your support. As a mom or dad, as a brother or sister, as a grandma or grandpa, as an uncle or aunt or cousin or friend, I want each of you to know you have played a vital role in shaping who I am and providing me support that has certainly helped. I've also come to learn in the recent months that there is support that is unrivaled by that which we can find here on earth. That is the support from a Father in Heaven and from our dear brother, even Christ the Lord Jesus. As a baby born in Bethlehem, he came into the world to fulfill the most sacred of all callings and missions. He came into the world as the Christ. He is our Savior and Redeemer. I hope this coming week, I can focus even more on His birth, His life, His mission, and His triumph over spiritual and physical death. He has carried me and lifted me through my times of despair and I trust He will continue to support me through my greater trials in the future.

This last week, I've also learned one important principle. The Lord doesn't fix our problems. He expects us to fix them. But he doesn't leave us helpless or stranded. As we pray to Him, we should ask for guidance on how we as His children can understand and fix our problems or overcome our obstacles. While He could just remove the obstacle before us or fix our problems, He doesn't. He is a loving parent. The most perfect of all loving parents. And He will help us as we do all that we can. I don't remember if I wrote this quote last week but I loved what President Uchtdorf said in last conference. (paraphrasing...) We may not be able to understand the deep valleys or trials of the present until we look back upon them from our future mountains of experience.

I love you all so much! I'm overwhelmed with this feeling. :) I hope you all have the most wonderful Christmas! Good luck on exams! And I can't wait to talk with you all! :)

With Christmas love,
Elder Bush

Monday, December 13, 2010

Twas the...week before my birthday

Thank you to everyone that wished me a happy birthday! It will definitely be different celebrating a birthday while serving on a mission.

So this week has been a long one. First, we had the police called on us for tracting in an apartment building around 8ish in the evening. Someone didn't like that, I guess, and called the police. We left the building just as they got there. They didn't even stop us because they were expecting someone who was actually disturbing the peace.

We had Family Home Evening last week with two awesome families! I just love the families here on Sakhalin! The members are amazing! And super generous! They are always feeding us and insisting we keep eating. Usually at FHE, we have little sandwiches or cookies and tea or hot chocolate.

On Tuesday, we went to the hospital with a member to visit a friend who was in pretty bad shape. This hospital looked a little better than the last one I was in. Hopefully, in the future, as this friend gets better, we'll be able to help him get his life on track.

Next, we have an awesome investigator named Anna that we're teaching now! It's been such an experience for me because I'm pretty sure she's the first person I have ever taught from the beginning and have taught so much. She has great desire to know if the Book of Mormon is true. I just hope and pray she receives an answer for herself and comes to know that it's true because the blessings that can follow will be enormous. Now, when I say that, I also have noticed in the lives of others after their baptism that life doesn't immediately get easier. In fact, sometimes, life gets harder. Families disagree and problems arise. Getting baptized doesn't mean that life just becomes perfect and that the Lord blesses you every second of every day in the ways you expect Him to. It means you open the door for opportunities in the future. Namely, living together with your family forever and finding the peace and joy that comes from following the commandments of the Father, from having more scripture and having a living prophet on the earth. There are so many blessings. Sometimes, they're just hard to see.

I met a guy on the bus this last week who suffers from drug addiction. I started to share some of our message with him, and as I learned more about him, I felt inside that this man needed the knowledge that I've been blessed with. I spoke to him, testified to him that I know the gospel of Jesus Christ can help him overcome his addiction and problems, that there's a prophet on the earth today (he really liked that), and he turned to me as he was twitching sitting there next to me and looked in my eyes and told me there was something different about me. He told me there was something sincere about what I was saying and that despite me being so young, he knew I had truth. I still haven't gotten a hold of him, but I sure hope I can and that I can make a difference for him in coming to know who his Savior is and that Christ can help him. As I spoke to him, the words just came. And I didn't feel as though they were anything out of the ordinary. But it touched him enough that he wanted to know more. This work is real and true. If it wasn't, 19 year old boys would have ruined it a long time ago.

This last week, I wore my badger shopka (big furry hat) for the first time! It was so warm and super awesome as it was snowing pretty good this last week. At first, I felt a little funny because she's a little big, but she's a great shopka. I took a picture outside the apartment of a member named Love (translated into English). That night, we trekked out into the north to find a less active member. I was glad I had my shopka. We walked a long ways. In the end we found her home, talked with her twin sister, and honestly, I didn't expect much from it. But the next evening, we were at the church and someone knocked on the door. It turned out to be her! She came and we had a short lesson and encouraged her to come back. And she came to church yesterday! It was such a cool experience to see her come and to see a slight change come over her.

While we were walking up into the north part of our area, I was walking ahead of Elder Naumov along the road and there was a single set of prints in front of me. The thought came to me that Christ is the one that goes before us and prepares the way for His work to move forward. It was as though He had already trekked through the snow to prepare Arina (the less active sister) to meet us and to have a desire to come back to church. I know the Lord goes before us and prepares the way for His work to go forth.

This week has had its challenges, but I'm doing alright. Keep praying, because I need the Lord's help. I'm learning more than I thought I would, about others and about myself.

Thank you all for all your love and support and prayers and just everything! Thank you again to everyone who has wished me a happy birthday! I'm super grateful!!!

Love you all so much!
Elder Bush

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Book of Mormon is True

This last week has been one of the most interesting spiritual experiences of my mission. I've spent so much time on my knees praying to the Lord for help, guidance, strength, and comfort. I realize my challenges are little and not that significant, but the work I'm a part of is the most important thing I could be doing right now, and I need His help so much to accomplish what He would have me do. In particular, I remember one morning this last week where I got ready for the day quickly and had a lot of extra time before studies started. So I knelt down and prayed. In fact, I poured my heart out to the Lord. I had just read my patriarchal blessing prior to that and the blessings that the Lord has promised me sunk deep into my mind and heart. I want so badly to fulfill all the Lord has in store for me and to qualify for the blessings He has promised me because I know in my heart that that is where true and lasting happiness can be found in this life. So amongst all my other worries, concerns, and stresses, I knelt down and poured my heart out to the Lord like I have never done before. And I testify to each of you that the Spirit I felt and the love I felt from the Lord was overwhelming and comforting. I knew in that moment that the Lord was ever so aware of me. He knows the things I'm struggling with. He knows my weaknesses and my inadequacies, and I knew in that moment how much He loves me. I felt such hope, the kind of hope President Uchtdorf talked about a few conferences ago. (By the way, we got General Conference issues of the Liahona! It has been so cool to read the talks from the prophet and apostles and see what I understood in Russian and what details I completely missed. I understood more that I realized as I compare my notes. Yet there are things I didn't even hear that have been exciting to discover.) I knew then that I could overcome all the obstacles before me with His help. I knew I could love my companion and overlook the things he does that have driven me up the wall. While this week hasn't been perfect, I can look back now and see how the Lord helped me and gave me an increase of love.

I also finished the Book of Mormon for the first time while here in Russia this past week. (Not my first time ever, just the first time while on my mission :) ) I decided to follow the prophet Moroni's words that are found in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon and pray to my Eternal Father in Heaven and ask him with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ if the Book of Mormon is true. I know I had done this before and I had already received an answer, but I wanted to put it to the test once more, so I again knelt down to ask. Before I could even begin praying, a warm feeling came over me along with that butterfly feeling you sometimes feel. :) I felt in my heart and thought in my mind, “Elder Bush, you already know the answer I will give you.” I smiled and preceded to express to Heavenly Father my desire to ask once more and to feel a witness of the Book of Mormon, the evidence that Joseph Smith didn't just make it all up or create his own church or new religion but that he in fact was a Prophet of God called to restore the Church of Jesus Christ again onto the earth. That warm assuring feeling increased and filled me with a happiness that only comes from Heavenly Father. I just knew within my heart that that Book is true. The work I'm doing is true. Hard, frustrating, discouraging, and yet rewarding, life changing, true, and worth it. The Book of Mormon is the keystone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without it and continuing revelation, we have nothing. It works hand in hand with the Bible to shed forth light unto all the world that Jesus is the Christ and we all have to come unto Him in order to return to live in the presence of our Father. I love that book with all my heart.

Last night, we had a lesson with an investigator named Анна (Anna) at a member's apartment. The member's name is Ирина Хай (Irina Hi) and she served a mission several years ago in the Russia Екатеринбург Mission (the same mission where Justin Ebanks and Jonathon Tharpe served). Well, I asked her if she knew Justin and she did! She pulled out a picture of him from her collection of mission photos. She served in the same district as he did when he first came to the mission. So, if there's any way to pass on a привет to Justin from Sister Ира Хай, that would be great! Such a small world.

Well, I love you all so much. I'm super grateful for your prayers. They're definitely making a difference and helping me so much. Every day has its challenges, but I've really come to learn that if I want to be the happiest, I just need to share what I know. When I share the message I have, that's when I'm truly the happiest. I forget about myself and the things that trouble me, and I realize how much more important it is to fulfill my calling and bring others unto Christ. It's funny how one could forget that when he's had so many experiences with it. It's just hard to fight the discouragement sometimes. Anyways, enough rambling. I'm super grateful for all of you and I love you all so very much! I hope you all continue to enjoy time together at this special time of year!

Elder Bush