Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another crazy week

This week has been a crazy one. I wonder how many times I've said that in writing to you all at home. I'm almost certain I always seem to write something like, "Hey there Fam! This week sure has been a crazy one!..." :)

To start off, Dad, I wish you a belated happy birthday! :) Hope it was a great one. :) Congrats Trev to pulling off the talk by preparing the morning of! I've actually ended up doing that a couple times on my mission thus far. For whatever reason, the fact that I have a talk just isn't at the forefront of my mind until Sunday morning. Or, my week has just been too busy studying for the work we're doing that I don't have time to put all my thoughts together before Sunday. About my companion... His name is Elder Miller and he's from Meridian, Idaho. (I think) Basically, Boise. He went to a small university in Oregon and participated in their track program I think. Haha I'm doing a lot of thinking. Pretty much, I know he used to do a lot of running before his mission. We actually went running last week one morning and proved to myself that I'm completely out of shape and worthless when it comes to running. He is the only son out of 5 kids. Although I guess that's not true because his family adopted 4 little boys from Guatemala. They sure do have a sweet family picture! Elder Miller reminds me a lot of Elder Graham. He has a similar demeanor and seems to carry himself just as Elder Graham does. He's kind of quiet but when he says something, it's always worth hearing. It should be a great couple transfers with him. By the way, I don't know if I mentioned this but President told us the plan is that the 6 of us that were sent out here from Vlad will most likely stay out here for 4 transfers (6 months) and that come August, once our mission gets 10 new missionaries, we'll each be training out here in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude. So, I kind of already know my plans for the next 6 months. Kind of cool to have some perspective of what your future holds verses having no idea what may happen in 6 weeks time.

So far, we've seen a few sets of tourists here in Irkutsk, last week from Germany that I already told you about, and yesterday from England. Most tourists are here to see Lake Baikal which hopefully, if things work out, I'll get a chance to maybe see it while I'm here in Irkutsk. We'll see.

The only thing I'm truly sick of here is the pornography that seems to be everywhere in advertisements. I absolutely hate it. And it seems that it's popping up more and more in places where it wasn't before. As President Hinckley said, it is filth. Other than that, I'm loving Irkutsk. It's always a challenge changing areas and trying to find your way around but thankfully, for whatever reason, the Lord has blessed me with a decent sense of direction, at least while I've been on my mission and we haven't really gotten lost yet. We'll see how well this sense of direction holds up this coming week.

We're teaching a young kid named Artyom right now. He's really a nice kid that seems to sincerely be seeking truth and wants to know more about the church and the Book of Mormon. We've had a couple good lessons which have helped me see just how much the Lord has blessed me in being able to teach and yet have also helped me realize that I have so much to improve on.

I know this work is true. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's church here on the earth. It is true. It was restored and I know that there is so much we can gain from applying the teachings of the restored gospel in our daily lives. Notice the phrase daily? We often say it but do we mean it? Do we understand what daily truly means? Life is all about a daily progression of becoming more and more like the Savior and our Heavenly Father. Some days are better than others. Some days we seem to do a lot worse than we had intended. But, it's all about eternal progression and improvement. It goes without saying that progression and improvement are very hard. But it's worth it. This change has opened my eyes again to just how weak and incapable I truly am by myself. Never rely on yourself. It only gets you nowhere. As has been quoted over and over again, kneel and pray as though everything depends on God and then get up and do as if everything depends on you.

I love each of you so much. :) I thank you from the bottom of my shoes which are actually holding up quite well. I love Ecco's. Take it easy and enjoy being blessed children of Heavenly Father! Pass on a big hello to Fallon and the Frapps! :) Love you all!

Elder Bush

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Большая новость (Big News)

Hello from Siberia!!

So, you're probably all wondering why I didn't write home on Monday and let you know where I am after transfers and what's new and why the heck I just said "hello from Siberia". Well... I'll start off by saying that it has definitely been the most interesting transfer so far of my mission. A week ago from Tuesday, I got up super early and along with Elder Waltman, Elder Phillips, and Elder Steed flew to Vlad in order to find out where I was going and with whom I would be serving. It was a fun adventure getting to Vlad. (Amongst all the hustle and bustle, I lost my black rabbit shopka. I know. I was not too happy. It got left in the trunk of a taxi in Khabarovsk. Oh well, it was getting a little beat up and maybe it'll keep someone else's head warm next winter. No need in complaining.) So, the six elders that didn't know transfers yet gathered in the conference room on the fourth floor at the church building and we met with President and Sister Pratt. They then announced to us where we would be going and that we would be flying out the next day. I am now serving in a city called Irkutsk which is west of Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world. It is about a 4 1/2-5 hour flight from Vlad which is comparable to the distance I guess between Orlando and Salt Lake. Crazy huh?!? The city of Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude are two cities that are part of the Novosibirsk mission and which will become a part of the Vladivostok mission July 1 officially. But in order to make this transition smoother, they sent us a transfer sooner. So presently, I'm serving in the Novosibirsk mission and yet I am under President Pratt's leadership still. It's really really interesting. So, now I can say that I have served in Siberia. Irkutsk is a beautiful city, comparable to the size of Vlad in terms of population and yet the city isn't quite set up the same as Vlad. It's also about twice as old as Vlad so there are tons of beautiful old Russian buildings scattered throughout the city. It's certainly a different city to that of all the cities I have previously served in, and yet I'm definitely still in Russia.

I don't even know what else I should share with you all because I have tons of thoughts and I can't seem to gather them all together. I will say that the branch here is awesome! Right now, Elder Stewart and Elder Zamora are serving in Irkutsk along with me and Elder Miller (my comp). There are two Elders from Novo (Novosibirsk) which are the zone leaders here (the Novo mission is set up currently how our mission used to be set up with zone leaders in each city instead of having each city be a district with zone leaders over several districts/cities.) Their names are Elders Smith and Bircher and they're both super awesome! They went on their visa trip to Finland this past week so we were here in Irkutsk to fend for ourselves but it hasn't been hard getting around and the members have been helpful.

President Lawrence of the area presidency came this past weekend along with President Pratt and President Trejo (Novo) to announce the change. It was approved by the First Presidency about 6 months ago and mostly, as far as I understand, they're doing it to lessen the distance that the Novo missionaries and especially the mission president have to travel between cities. The Novo mission only does transfers by train since planes in Siberia that fly between Siberian cities are mostly little prop planes and it's too hard to fit everything you would need in luggage on those. It's already a 10 hour train ride between Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude and so if you're going from Ulan-Ude to Omsk, the farthest city to the west in the Novo Mission, you're on the train for 3 days. Basically, we had a special fireside on Saturday evening where Pres. Lawrence announced everything and then they all left that night on the train to Ulan-Ude to announce it there on Sunday. Both cities have strong branches (Ulan-Ude had 90+ people in attendance on Sunday and they will soon have their own building once it's finished; we had 50+ in attendance here). It's still been hard to talk to people as it always is and of course people don't all want to hear about our message, but contacting is a lot easier here in Irkutsk because the people seem to simply be more open. It's been a lot of fun this past week just getting immersed in the work, meeting new people, and just having fun!

I'm sure you all will probably have questions about things here, if there are any differences I've noticed or exciting things that have happened. So if you do have questions, I'll be sure to answer. :) It was interesting since we (the Vlad missionaries) weren't allowed to say anything about the change before Saturday evening and so it made it difficult when people would ask where we came from or where we had served. We told them Vlad and some thought we were joking. Others were just confused. But now, everything makes sense and all is well. :)

Sunday, all the new missionaries spoke in church and I spoke about prayer. I shared some remarks from Elder Bednar that I absolutely love. It went well and I really loved hearing from my fellow missionaries. As I listened to Elder Zamora, I realized again just how much the Lord has shaped us into instruments for his work. He spoke with power, guided by the spirit. We all sang a musical number and pretty much, all went well.

We have a really cool investigator right now that just seemed to find us all of a sudden through a member in Vlad actually. I'll let you know how that all unfolds this upcoming week.

Well, I'm sorry this email is probably a little crazy and maybe doesn't flow or make any sense at all but I will certainly write more next week and hopefully include some cool interesting details. By the way, this morning it snowed here. Welcome to Siberia! It had been pretty warm until yesterday and it all of a sudden cooled down a lot.

Oh and p-day in the Novo mission is on Wednesday, so I'll be writing home on Wednesdays for a little while, until things change officially and go back to how they were.

I love you all and I want you to know I know that this is the Lord's work. I'm safe and in His hands.

Thanks for the emails this past week! LOVE YOU!

Elder Bush

P.S. We met 3 Germans yesterday on the street. It was way cool! Unfortunately, Russian has completely occupied the foreign language part of my brain and so I couldn't remember anything in German to save my life. Except for Guten tag! which I said as they walked away from us. We helped them find a supermarket since they wanted to buy food before they got back on the Trans Siberian railroad. They had come to visit Lake Baikal. When I first said hello and invited them to English club in Russian, they all looked at me and made gestures that they didn't speak Russian. One, named Laura, asked in English 'English?' since she heard the word английский (English) probably. Anyways, I started speaking English and asked if they spoke English. Another named Robin said that he spoke English, German, and Italian and I was blown away since I hadn't yet figured out they were from Germany. I thought, “Wow! This guy is a genius!” I love meeting new people.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No letter this week

Sometimes there is a problem at the place where he uses the internet, and he is not able to send an email.  The missionaries are only able to write on their Preparation Day, so we'll have to wait until next week to hear from him.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Phone Call

Missionaries get to talk to their families on the telephone twice a year, on Mother’s Day and Christmas, so we had the great joy of talking to Spencer on Sunday night. He asked us to be prepared with questions, so here are some of our questions and his answers:

Q: Grandpa Bush asked: How do the Koreans treat you compared with the Russians?

A: Russians in general are curious and suspicious. Because of their past history, they are a little closed. They are curious to know who you are and what you are doing in Russia. They judge Americans by what they see in the movies, and they think that Americans are all rich and can’t figure out why any Americans would want to come to Russia. They are always looking at us. It takes some adjustment to get used to being stared at. The members are different because they love the missionaries. The more they get to know you, the more they open up.

Koreans are so hospitable. They are very nice and very helpful. If they notice that you’re lost, they want to help you. On our last visit, the Koreans were very concerned about the radiation from Japan and kept telling us that we needed to have an umbrella, so the radiation in the rain wouldn’t get on us. Brother Southerland, a man in the US military stationed there, told us that we didn’t need to worry about it. One time when we were out in the rain, a Korean woman held her umbrella over Sister Brigham to protect her.

Sometimes the first impression of Russians is that they aren’t kind and helpful, but then you find out that they are. For example, I was riding the bus last week and I had my backpack and another bag. It was crowded, and I was trying to keep my bags out of the way. I accidently bumped a woman, and she pushed my arm away. I was thinking to myself that she was a little rude and abrupt. When some seats became available, we sat down next to each other, and I was really trying to keep my bags out of her way. When she saw my struggles, she said, “Just put your bags on my lap.” I had thought that she was rude, but she turned out to be very kind.

Q: What is your favorite food in Russia?

A: I love borscht. It’s just good soup and really filling. I don’t get to eat a lot of Russian food because I usually cook for myself, but one of the members often makes meat pies, which are good. I also like plov, which is a rice dish. My least favorite was blini (like a crape or pancake) with cottage cheese inside. I don’t like cottage cheese, and I did not enjoy the taste of it. I wanted a drink of water to get the taste out of my mouth.

Q: Trevor told Spencer that he is envious of him being able to read classic Russian literature in its native language. (Trevor is reading Crime and Punishment by choice, which I know sounds strange, but he’s planning to major in English and loves literature.) He asked if Russians actually read the Russian classics such as Crime and Punishment and War and Peace.

A: Most Russians read those books in school. They are proud of their heritage, and from what I understand, they are well learned in their literature and their history.

Q: Is writing in Russian weird?

A: Not at all. I absolutely love it. I love working at my handwriting. Many foreigners have difficulty reading Russian cursive, but I think it’s beautiful. (When Spencer sends letters home, his writing is so perfect that it looks like it was done on a computer.)

Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve seen in Russia?

A: The concert with the Russian folk musicians was really cool. When I first got to Khabarovsk, there were some really neat ice sculptures. They were starting to melt, but they were still really neat. Khabarovsk is a beautiful city, the cleanest I’ve seen in Russia. There are a lot of beautiful monuments that I haven’t yet gotten to see. One is the Eternal Flame monument. It has the names of the people from the Far East, who died during World War II. It makes you realize how much the Russian people suffered during and after the war. It’s been difficult to do much site seeing here because Khab is a long city, and it takes a lot of time to travel to different places. We just don’t have enough time on P-day.

By the way, President Pratt called this week to tell us that Elder Steed and I are both being transferred next week. We don’t know yet where we’ll be or with whom. We’ll go to Vlad next week and find out there. I’ll be sad to leave Khabarovsk.

Q: Has the time flown by?

A: Don’t even talk about that! I can’t believe how fast time is going. When Mom wrote last week about coordinating our Mother’s Day call, I was thinking that it can’t possibly be Mother’s Day already. I just talked to you on Christmas.

Q: What is your favorite thing to say in Russian?

A: Russian is a very rich language. In many cases, there is a word that can describe something that would take several words in English. There are also words that mean very specific things. I love to preach the gospel, and I especially love to talk about blessings. People don’t like to hear about general blessings, such as, “If you keep the commandments, you will be blessed.” They want specifics. Sometimes specific blessings are in the scriptures, but the Spirit can also help us to identify and promise specific blessings.

Q: What do you like to do on P-days (Preparation Days)?

A: It’s great when we can do a little site-seeing, but as I said before, it’s been difficult to do in Khab. I like to email family and write letters, and it’s really great when I can get a nap.

Q: What is the best method for proclaiming the message?

A: It’s definitely better to have the members refer their friends. Then the investigators have a friend at church, someone to answer their questions, someone to support them. This way is always more successful. It’s possible for someone we contact on the street to be baptized, but it’s harder for them and for us. Talking to random people on the street is hard. I’ve learned that you have to have a good attitude and be positive and happy. You can’t take it personally when someone doesn’t want to listen to your message. You just try to share some happiness with them.

Q: Which city is doing the most teaching?

A: The missionaries in Sakhalin probably do the most teaching. The members there are very involved. The sister missionaries also seem to do the most teaching. I’m not sure if it’s because they are women or because most of them are native speakers. Obviously, the Russians are better able to converse and teach other Russians. The goal in the mission is to teach 10 lessons a week. That has been difficult to do in Khab. For instance, we had a great week last week, but we only taught 5 lessons. Two of those were with an investigator with a member of the Church present, one was with a man we met on the street, and the other two were institute classes, which we can count because there are less active members who attend.

Last week was the best week in Khab, not that we had a lot of success, but we got to teach two investigators and we worked really hard. The man who we met on the street was very nice, and we had a good lesson with him. We also got to teach an investigator who we haven’t been able to meet with for awhile. Her father is against her meeting with us. The assistants to the President were visiting, so we had exchanges with them. We contacted a lot of people and it felt good to just work hard. We’re here to declare a voice of warning and can’t get discouraged when people don’t want to listen.

Funny story - When I was on exchanges with Elder Williams, he wanted to take me to a pizza restaurant. The name loosely translates to “Senor Tomato”. When the hostess greeted us and realized that we were Americans, she had a look of panic on her face. She looked as though she was trying to remember every work of English that she knew and finally stammered, “Do you speak English?” We answered her in Russian that we spoke English and Russian too. The look of relief that came over her was priceless. I wish I could have captured it on film.

Conclusion by Mom - Spencer and his companion sang “Happy Birthday” to Jessica in Russian. Elder Steed has a beautiful voice. We enjoyed some good laughter and jokes as a family that I would try to relate but they probably wouldn’t be as funny in the retelling. It’s the favorite part of being able to talk on the phone. We concluded the call by singing together and Spencer offered our family prayer in Russian. We couldn’t understand the words, but felt the spirit, and each of the children could recognize their names as he prayed for each member of the family. It was a very tender moment. He sounded happy and loves the work he is doing and the missionaries he is serving with. He loves the Russian people and their language. It’s always a good sign when a missionary isn’t anxious to come home. It’s a wonderful example of “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Email from Elder Bush:

Dear Fam,

I think my favorite part of hearing from you all was getting to laugh again with you all. I miss that the most. I probably will never miss anything more than just sitting around the table or in the family room and laughing with one another. Family is really what it's all about.

About this past week, I really didn't get to tell you all quite how I felt but honestly, this past week was one of the best on my mission, and certainly the best in Khabarovsk. It was just super exciting to actually get to meet with some awesome people and share this message that I love. I also talked with a lot of interesting people on the street, some who were interested and seeking truth in this world in which we live and others that weren't interested at all. One in particular was a little drunk and seemed as though he owned the neighborhood. Elder Steed, Elder Kildew and I spoke with him for a little while until we could tell it was going nowhere and we were certain he was drunk. He used a lot of colorful words. I've unfortunately been on my mission long enough now that I knew all of them and I'm surprised that they actually have that sort of not so pleasant feel to them. I politely asked him to speak without all the language, and I think he was surprised that I actually understood him. He told us about a lot of things that he has done in this life that I'm certain Heavenly Father is saddened by, and I don't know if there's a lot that we as the missionaries could have or can do for him, but I pray he changes his actions and desires and begins to live a life more in harmony with Father's will.

About transfers, we talked with some of the missionaries after I talked with you all on the phone and they had found out a lot through one another. Basically, they know where more of the missionaries are going except for me, Elder Zamora, Elder Steed, Elder Philips, Elder Stewart, and Elder Miller. It will be interesting for sure. Hopefully, we find out tomorrow. I'll let you know all the craziness come next p-day. :)

Well, we moved out of our apartment this afternoon. Our landlord was super nice and took us with all of our stuff to the center elders' apartment. He really is a nice landlord. He has a really sweet old Russian car that he drove us in. Some may see it and think it's on old piece of garbage, but I love it and would love to drive one back home.

It's tough to leave Khabarovsk because I've really come to love the members and this beautiful city, but it will be a good transfer. And maybe, someday, I'll return.

I love my mission. It's hard. But I love it so much. I love each and every one of you so so so much. I am eternally grateful for your love and support from far away. Your prayers are always appreciated. You are such a wonderful family. I know I may not have expressed that all that well today over the phone, but I really am super grateful to have such an awesome, supportive, strong, united, loving family. :) Don't any of you every forget that.

Take it easy and good luck with all you will meet this upcoming week!


Elder Bush

P.S. This week will probably be a hard one because I'll have to say goodbye finally to my papa (trainer). Elder Waltman goes home this week! Crazy to think that a year ago we were serving and walking the streets of Vlad together. It'll be hard to say goodbye because we've become such good friends. It has been such a great privilege to serve with and near him in different cities. I love my mission. Don't ever forget the friendships you make. They can be worth more than gold or riches.

Monday, May 2, 2011

May Day?

Another hello from Khabarovsk! Thanks Mom and Dad for your letters and updates on the family and the rest of the world. Because it's a holiday in Russia today (May Day I think it's called; not really sure what we're celebrating) it was a little tricky to find an internet place, but thankfully, we did. It took a little bit of a bus ride, but isn't it awesome that I can be on the other side of the globe and write to you and you have my words in light speed? A ginormous blessing I consider it. (A perfect example of me wanting to use Russian sentence structuring) I must add, that was one thing, of many, that is part of the Russian language that I never thought I would understand. I still don't necessarily use it 100% correctly but there are some things in Russian that only come through time and living here. I thank the Lord each day for how richly he has blessed me with this language. When President Pratt (my Stake President back home) set me apart, I had tons of emotions running through my head and honestly, I don't remember all the blessings that he pronounced upon me, but I do remember him blessing me that if I would be faithful and obedient, the Lord would bless me to master this language. I certainly am not there yet, but I can see how much the Lord has blessed me to be well on the way to having a good grip on this language.

About my companion, they just don't come much better than him. If I could meet his parents, and I sure plan on doing that someday if I ever make it up to Idaho, I would thank them for raising such an awesome son who has become a wonderful missionary. His Russian has improved a lot these last two transfers. It's been hard because I haven't really known how to best help him improve. I learn differently than he does and there are some things that he struggles with that I'm not really sure how to help him overcome. But I pray for him daily and do all I can to help him and it really has helped to strengthen our relationship. We work really well together and it has been a great experience working with him, learning so much from him, and realizing all the things I can do to improve as a senior companion.

Oddly enough, I think brothers are somehow connected because I was showing the same symptoms this past week as Trev (a little fever, chills, really really achy, sore throat, cough, and runny nose). Wednesday was my first sick day on the mission. Thankfully, I only had to rest for part of the day so we could teach institute in the evening and got back to work the next day. That was actually a little rough on my body, but I hate taking it easy, especially when very little is happening in our area. We did a lot of contacting this past week and saw a little success. We'll see if we can't reap a little fruit from this area and find those who know not God who are interested and willing to come closer to Christ.

It's been getting a little warmer here lately, which is weird because I've been so used to it being cold/cool and needing a coat on. Soon, we'll be back to hitting the streets in white shirts. I'm going to try really hard to come up with some good things to share with you all during our phone call in a week. Think of Questions!!! I'd love to answer questions. I'll also think of some funny things to share and maybe even some funny sounding Russian words.

To end, I'll share an interesting experience I had yesterday. A member asked us to give her a blessing and I acted as voice. It is an awe inspiring and a bit intimidating experience to pronounce blessings from our Heavenly Father upon his children. Since she's in my area and I know a lot about her and her present situation, I knew she has been searching for some answers to big questions for a long part of her life. I don't know the questions or the answers, but I knew she has been searching and was probably fasting receive such answers. As we laid our hands upon her head, I felt strong promptings to say some specific things, not in answer to her questions but on the contrary, that she must wait a little longer. I shared other things with her throughout the blessing as they came to the forefront of my mind, and I've never felt so many strong impressions before when giving a blessing. As the blessing of comfort came to a close, she was in tears and I could tell she was a little disappointed that she was told she must wait a little longer for answers to her questions. I spent much of sacrament meeting pouring through my mind and heart, at first questioning myself, "Was what I said inspired of the Lord? Was it what I was supposed to say?" I felt confirmation that it was, but it was hard for me because I've really come to love this particular Sister, this stalwart saint here in Khabarovsk, and it was hard to see her upset deep down. Yet, as we spoke afterward, we both were able to rejoice together in the things we do know and that we know the Lord will answer our needs in His due time. The Priesthood is a powerful tool. Use it worthily. It can do miracles.

I love you all and look very much forward to hearing from you all!! :) May Heavenly Father watch and look over you this next week! Good luck with everything!

Elder Bush