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:
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!
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.