Monday, March 28, 2011

Wonderful to be a servant of the Lord

My dear family,

You may be far away, but I feel your support all the way over here. It's not hard to feel because we share a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mom and Dad, your letters each week have a profound impact on me, so I thank you for everything. To Grandma and Grandpa Bush, I thank you for your love and support. I know I'm often in your thoughts and I hope you know you're often in mine. You're wonderful grandparents and I'll be very excited when we can be reunited after my mission. And to grandpa, I wish a very, very happy belated birthday! I hope it was a good one Gramps! :) To Grandma and Grandpa Gee (yes grandpa Gee, I know you can still hear me) I love you both. Grandma, I'm super happy to hear your surgery went well and I pray all is well with you. I'm so grateful to get your letters and to know you support me and send me your love always. Gramps, I often shake my leg to you just to say a quick "hi" up there. ;) I'm so grateful for family. To everyone, regardless of if your name is on this page, I'm thinking of all your names right now and of each of you individually. You all mean a lot to me. Thanks for all the times we've shared and for your support while I'm temporarily away.

I want you all to know that I feel extremely weak. Not physically. (Although my physical shape has seen its better days... Trev could probably take me in a wrestling match right now. I'd be willing to bet a Heath Bar blast at Brusters on that.) I feel weak as Elder Spencer Bush. I can't do so much. But, when I rely on the Lord, when my prayers become that much more heartfelt and sincere, when I turn to my Father and apply the atonement of Christ to overcome my weakness and inabilities, I see the difference. Khabarovsk has been hard for me. Change is never easy. I have felt very inadequate here and it has left me feeling a rollercoaster of emotions. I'm reminded though of the beginning of my mission where I felt similar yet different feelings. I felt inadequate but I felt in a very real sense lost. I've seen how the Lord has shaped me and molded me and helped me overcome obstacles in the past year. I still have so many rough edges. And I need the Lord's divine help to smooth them out and to refine my discipline, my character, and my countenance. I've learned this past transfer that it's more important to see your inabilities while focusing on your strengths. Never forget of the strengths the Lord has blessed you with and avoid at all costs looking down upon yourself because of your mistakes or imperfections. Realize that we all have them and that if we take them to the Lord, he will build us up into more than we can ever imagine on our own. Like I've said before, His atonement is very real and very applicable. We simply must learn how to turn to him and do that throughout the rest of our mortal probation.

Contacting, like I may have already mentioned, has been harder for me this past transfer. But I’ve just got to do it! How else can I declare the gospel if I don't open my mouth and share the message with everyone?! Please pray for me that I can overcome this, so I will talk with everyone placed in my path. Why would the Lord place the elect in your path if you're only going to talk to some people and not with everyone you possibly could?

Institute was good this past week. I'm in awe of you, Mom. You are such a great teacher. Thank you for your letter and your comments from your talk. I don't know how you do it. It's always so hard to teach some of what is found in Doctrine and Covenants because there is so much! And to try to cram several days worth of classes into 1 night is always fun. But my companion and I are having fun with it and it's been really rewarding to review a lot of what's in the latter end of D&C. Especially the stuff pertaining to the celestial kingdom and temples.

Friday, President Pratt, Sister Pratt, and the assistants arrived on the train to do a training here in Khabarovsk for future potential trainers. The MTC has come out with new material regarding training to help the trainer and trainee better understand how to successfully go through the training process. President ended up inviting everyone in the end because it is all valuable information for all of the elders in the mission. We're right now just over 30 missionaries. This summer, we'll be losing over 10 of those and only gaining 4. Among that 4 is Kyle Collingsworth (BYU basketball player). So our mission will be shrinking a little in numbers. It's also really weird to be entering into the older group of missionaries. Crazy to think I’ll hit my year mark in country this next transfer. It’s flying by far too fast. Basically, the training was phenomenal and I learned so much from President Pratt and everyone that participated, the Spirit being the greatest participant. His influence in the room was almost palpable. I could never deny what I felt in those short hours. I never can deny the testimony of the Spirit. That's why I can't wait for conference! If all works out, it should be a week after all of you. Cross our fingers we get the disks from Moscow in time! After the training, we had to run to meet a member, Sister Galina to go with her to visit one of her students who has health difficulties and can't leave his home really. His name is Stepan and he is such an awesome kid! He’s studying English and so we talked with him in English. (Btw, Khabarovsk was the first city a few transfers ago to start up English club again. We learned this last week that we'll be starting it up again mission wide, Sakhalin included, but we'll do things a little differently. We won't just have a spiritual thought at the end but we'll teach lessons afterward to help others know more about what we believe in. That way, those who are interested will be able to learn more about who we are.) It was an awesome half hour or so of service. We really made him excited about studying English again because he was having struggles wondering why he even studies it if he'll always be homebound. He had a very special spirit about him.

Saturday, we had a sweet fireside about the Book of Mormon put on by President and Sister Pratt. Interestingly enough, I learned about President Pratt's actual relation to Parley P. Pratt. Turns out Parley is President Pratt's great great grandfather. Crazy right?

Well, we'll see what the future holds for transfers this next week. I figure I'll be staying here in Khabarovsk. We'll see. I love this city.

I love you all. Stay safe and enjoy your next week back in school. Learning is worth it. And you've all only got 1 more quarter! WOO!

Elder Bush

Monday, March 21, 2011

Service Project at the Zoo

Mom and Dad, you got to hear Elder Bednar speak!?! That's so cool!!! Thanks for the email, Mom! I'm glad you and Dad have had such an awesome experience. I loved some of Elder Bednar's answers that you shared.

So, Mom, to answer your question, yes, Elder Zamora did get transferred. He's in Usserisk again, the place of his birth (his first area). He's doing great there, and I sure miss him. He actually called me the other day about something, and it was great to get to talk to him for a little bit. The past week was a fun one. (It's so great doing missionary work when you have a great attitude.)

Well, to start off, it's been great having a senior couple here in Khabarovsk. They're such awesome missionaries! They certainly bring a special spirit with them. It's been a little hard for them adjusting to Russia, especially to Khabarovsk, but they're starting to settle in nicely. This past week, teaching institute was fun as always. I think I mentioned this last week but teaching institute can sure be difficult because there's so much awesome stuff that it's hard to decide what you want to focus on. I just love the Doctrine and Covenants. There's so much there!!!

Probably the most interesting event of this past week was doing service at the Zoo! There's a sister here in Khabarovsk who works at a zoo about and hour or so out of town, and we did service there. Our service included breaking up ice and packed snow and clearing off part of a pathway. As a bonus to doing service, we got to see all of the animals for free and she told us all about them. It was super cool! I got tons of great pictures that I'll try to send soon. The service was great because we all felt Russian. And by feeling Russian, I mean that we got to use Russian tools, so we felt as though we had been assimilated officially into the culture. You'll see in the pictures what I mean. Hopefully, I can send them soon. People that came to the Zoo while we were serving asked a lot of questions about why there was a group of Americans doing service for the Zoo. They were all really surprised that a group of Americans would come all the way to Russia to do service.

Saturday was Elder Waltman's birthday, and I got to spend time with him because I was on an exchange with him! It was so cool to serve with him again even if it was only for one day. We really have come to be such great friends. I love discussing things with him, especially about our studies. We got to teach a few lessons with members and the senior couple Friday evening and then had branch business during the afternoon of Saturday. We had a little party that one of the members, Sister Galina put together. She's great!

Last night, we had the awesome opportunity to give a blessing to a man in the branch and to see the power of the priesthood in action. I know the priesthood is the power of God. It is His power given to us to act in His name and to work miracles if it be His will. I feel greatly humbled to hold that priesthood. I know it is a huge responsibility, and I must do everything in my power to remain worthy of that power. Afterward, we headed out looking for a less active member who lives really far away. Basically, after consulting the map several times and crossing several train tracks and walking a long, long way, we found it! Unfortunately, he wasn't home but we left a message with his Dad, who was really nice, and hopefully, we'll make contact soon.

The work here in Khabarovsk has been really slow. Lately, contacting has been tough. People don't like talking to us it seems. They tend to just keep walking. We did something called an "area Blitz!" this past week where all the elders gather together and focus their contacting efforts in one area of the city for a specific period of time. It yielded very little results, but I know that if we have faith, we will find those who are ready to hear our message. All of our investigators have mysteriously stopped answering their phones, so we're back to square one for now. But, I know there will be great things in the future here in Khabarovsk. I just have to give the Lord my all, and I know I can be an instrument in His hands to further His work. Yesterday, we had a great lesson in Sunday School about the Savior and the Bread of Life. I know the bread he offers us is far more important than any other we could possibly find in this life.

I love you all so much! I'm always deeply grateful for your support and your prayers. This next week should be another fun one! President Pratt is coming at the week's end so it will be great to see him and learn from him. I pray that the Lord will continue to mold me into the Elder and son that He desires I become.

Elder Bush

Monday, March 14, 2011

Safe and Sound

Howdy everyone!

First of all, I'll let you all know that I'm safe. We were under a tsunami warning but really, that applied more to Sakhalin and Vlad. And from all I know, everyone is safe there too. Thankfully, the missionaries that were lost in Japan have been found, and I'm so grateful that the Lord looks over his children.

These weeks just keep flying by! Thanks as always for the updates. So, this past week, we had the honor of celebrating Elder Steed's birthday at the North Elder's apartment. They made us white chili and cake batter ice cream. Before that, we got our haircuts, which is always a fun experience. I still haven't really gotten that great at telling the people what I want. Thankfully, it turned out alright but you always feel like you're gambling a little. Then again, how hard is it to say, I want my hair shorter. I guess getting haircuts for girls is a little harder so I shouldn't be complaining. Anyhow, so this past week was also March 8 which is a big holiday in Russia. Women's Day! So, we did a cultural activity that day with the some of the sisters in our branch. Sister Galina and Marina took us to this really cool museum here in Khabarovsk that is all about the history of the Khabarovsk region as well as the Soviet Union and WWII. Unfortunately, in order to take pictures in the museum, you had to pay a fee so what we ended up doing is Elder Phillips who has the best camera out of us all paid and we'll get all the pictures from him. I think he took 300+ pictures. It was so cool! It was really neat to get to learn some interesting things from Sister Galina too. There was an exhibit that showed the native people of the Khabarovsk region and Sister Galya kept saying they're pretty much the same as the Native Americans, which was so true. The woman who was explaining everything was talking super fast, but amazingly, I understood a lot. That's a blessing from the Lord for sure. I've really contemplated on that and I know that serving with native companions has made a huge difference in my Russian.

The work here is going slowly. There's a lot of potential but things have kind of died these last few weeks, which means we've got to push forward with our finding efforts. Street contacting is a tough thing. So is tracting. But honestly, if you just do it, if you start opening up your mouth and talking to people, it becomes a lot easier. It actually can be a lot of fun and you get a lot of funny stories. Tracting is hard for me because it's hard to sometimes get into stairwells to knock on doors. You just sit outside and call people on their domaphones. But like contacting, it can also be fun when you have the right attitude. Attitude is the key. If you look at 4 hours of street contacting as "Oh no, we have four hours that we have to be on the streets talking to people..." then it's going to be just that, four longggg hours of being on the streets just talking to people. But if you look at it as, "We're going to find somebody that is interested in the Gospel. We're going to change someone's life with this wonderful message of Christ. And we're going to make some great friends along the way." Then it takes a tedious activity and turns it into an enjoyable one. It becomes fun and you become energized with the spirit of the work.

So, we taught institute on Wednesday night and it was awesome! It is super hard to pick something to focus on when you only have and hour to an hour and a half and you have a week’s worth of material you could cover. Elder Steed was a little worried about the language and handling the teaching situation but he did an awesome job! I just marveled at his ability to teach and his use of the words he knew. He didn't speak perfectly but the Spirit conveyed more than the words he used. A brother came in and joined us and said he would only stay for five minutes. But he ended up staying to the end because of the Spirit he felt. He told us he felt an awesome spirit when he first walked in and felt he should stay. It was a sweet testimony to me that the Lord answers prayers because we had prayed fervently that the Lord would bless us with the Spirit to guide the lesson and to actually do the teaching.

This last week, I made борщ (borscht) and enchiladas! All by myself! Well, with some assistance from Elder Steed. But they turned out alright! I've really come to enjoy cooking. It's kind of exciting actually. :)

We had a senior couple join us this past week up here in Khabarovsk. They seem like they'll be an awesome asset to the branch here. They're from Arizona. They're still in the fish out of water stage but they'll settle in nicely I'm sure.

I love you all so much and I'm deeply grateful for all that you do for me. Your prayers are very appreciated. I pray for you all often.

Elder Bush

Monday, March 7, 2011

Мир тесен! (Small World!)

Well, the world is a pretty small place! The longer I serve a mission, the more we as missionaries make connections to people we knew back home (especially since half the missionaries here are from Idaho). That's crazy that Elder Patton (a missionary serving in Florida) and I were in the same BYU ward! He definitely looks familiar! Please, pass on to him a huge hello and I hope he and his companion are having an awesome time there in Florida! The world is such a tight place.

Matt, you need to be more careful with knives. ;) Now you've had as many stitches as me! (NOTE: Spencer's brother, Matt, got a pocket knife for his birthday and ended up getting four stitches in his thumb the same day.)

My companion's birthday is today! I love when my companion has a birthday because we get to have yummy food and cake, and I don't feel bad for eating junk food. ;) Today, the plan is to head up the North Elders’ apartment and have a birthday lunch with them since they were the "fathers" of Elder Steed. (They were his trainers the first three months of his mission) So that should be fun. Hopefully, we get everything done that we need to. The birthday while on a mission is a lot different than back home. A lot different. But I hope we make it an awesome day for Elder Steed! (By the way, his first name is Joshua... Joshua Steed.:)

So, lately, I've been struggling a little bit. My mission seems to be going far too fast and there's not enough time to do or learn or master all the things I want to. The longer I serve, the more I realize I have so far to go in order to reach my potential. Lately, the work has been slow and a little discouraging, and I've just personally been struggling with it all. I don't really know how to express this all in words. It's simply just a feeling that things aren't quite right, and somehow I need to change and get my head fully submersed in the work. It's as though I get discouraged and my head pops up out of the water because I just can't seem to find what we're looking for under the water. What I really need to do is strap on the oxygen tank and stay down there searching. Search until we find. One thing I've pondered on is how the Lord phrases things by the means of extremes. He doesn't just ask us to put in a good effort or try hard to do His work. He asks us to give Him everything. Give all your heart, might, mind and strength to Him and to His work. Lately, for whatever reason, probably because of discouragement, that has been very, very hard for me. Now I'm not talking about the fact that I'm breaking rules and completely slacking off, but I feel I can give more and stretch myself so that I can find that joy in the work I'm doing as well as peace of conscious knowing that I've done everything I could have. If I'm making any sense at all...

Anyways, I'm working hard to stay positive and give it my all. Your prayers are very much appreciated. :) This past week has been a good one. We met with several less active members and I've loved feeling of their spirits. The Russian people are deep down a very loving people. One of our members gave Elder Steed his tie because Elder Steed complimented him on it. One thing you'll learn is that you don't compliment Russians about their possessions if you don't want to end up taking it home. (Ok that's not always true but very often, it is the case.) They're a very giving people. Yesterday was fast a testimony meeting and I love bearing my testimony of Christ. He is everything to us. Which, by the way, I received the discs of Grandpa's funeral! Thank you so much, Mom, for sending those to me. I'm not sure how you all recorded it but I am extremely grateful I got to hear the services. You could say it dug up some tender feelings, but it also rekindled that spirit of the Plan of Salvation and knowing I will see him again. Honestly, it was kind of weird to hear familiar voices but it was a great motivation for the day. It reminded me once again of the importance of the message we carry. Despite the fact that so many people reject us or turn us away or tell us to go home, I know that the knowledge we share is what everyone needs to hear. It is more important than anything else in this world. And it will bring more joy and comfort and guidance and just plain happiness than any other source. Hearing all the talks and prayers reminded me that I need to talk to everyone despite all the rejections I'm tired of getting. It reminded me that being positive, keeping an optimistic spirit about you is so important and in fact, invites the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you and comfort you when you need it. As I've been studying some of the missionaries of the Book of Mormon, I've seen how even great missionaries, far greater than I, were met with even greater challenges, disappointments, and struggles. They also worked mighty miracles despite their difficulties. I took great courage and comfort in the words of the scriptures and the words of my family to know that all I'm doing is worth something, even when I don't seem to see much of any result. I may have gotten a little tired from pushing that rock but I haven't finished the task the Lord has sent me to do so I shall push on.

I also got a package of cookies and candy from Grandma Gee! It took forever to get here but I got it! For some strange reason, it took 3 months to get here and went through Germany but oh well, the cookies were delicious and I got the chance to do a comparison between Russian Snickers and American. I think American won despite the fact that the Russian one was gooier and seemed fresher. That was probably on account of the 3 month delay. So, thank you Grandma! :) I LOVE YOU!

Tomorrow is a holiday here in Russia. It's women's day! Or something like that. So, we're going to have a culture activity and we're planning on going to a museum with some of the members from the branch. Apparently, it's a really cool museum so we'll see. If I haven't already mentioned, I love the members in this branch. I love all the members here in the Far East. They truly are pioneers. Modern pioneers.

Well, I'm not really sure what else to tell you all. I know lately, I haven't told you all us much about the culture or the country or interesting things that I see. I'll try to do better. :) I love you all a ton and I'm super grateful to have all of your support.

Tell everyone back home that I say hello and I wish everyone well.

Elder Bush