Monday, July 25, 2011

A Wonderful Baptism

Howdy folks,

So, the news report for this week is that it has been raining quite often here in Irkutsk and always seems to catch us when we don't have rain coats or our umbrellas. But, you just have to laugh and love it and not worry about getting soaked. I guess of all the grandest things I have to report, it's that Baikal was pretty grand. You could just barely see the outline of a few mountains off in the distance which mark the other shore of the lake but they were really hard to see and sometimes I thought to myself that my mind was making it up. In case you’re curious to look on a map, we went from Irkutsk to a small town called Listvyanka in a little minibus. The ride to get there and back was quite an adventure. The roads is windy and hilly and the drivers are not afraid to go zooming there and back. We first stopped at this small museum on the way that has old homes and stuff like the indians and pilgrims we have back home, and it was kind neat to see the unique things they thought up or how they built things. Yet, in essence, it's the same as what people in ancient times did everywhere else. You could do a tug-a-war there if you wanted and so we gathered together a group and went at it. The first time, Elder Zamora, Katya (a girl from English club who is super nice and has started meeting with the missionaries), and I won hands down against Elders Smith, Miller, and someone else. But the next time, we ate it. More specifically, I ate it because my feet didn't stay put and I fell flat on my face. Needless to say, it hurt a little. But I didn't cry. ;) Thankfully. We got to feed a camel down by the river Angara that feeds into Baikal (I still have no idea why there was a camel there). And we skipped lots of rocks. All the Russians who were with us probably thought, “Man these missionaries are just a bunch of silly American boys, that all they do is skip rocks when they're near water.” But honestly, it was pretty fun and there wasn't a whole lot else for us to do besides sit there and look at water. There was one 'site' at the mouth of the Angara where there's this rock in the middle of the river, the beginning of Baikal, that is always visible, even when the river rises or freezes over. There's a legend that goes along with the rock and I'll be sure to tell it to you all once I'm home. There were lots of souvenirs there of course but I didn't get anything since most everything there is possible to buy in Irkutsk and it's a lot more expensive there near Baikal. I'll be sure to send you all some pictures, hopefully in the coming weeks. The computer that I'm at doesn't have a USB input, so I'll have to send them later.

The other most exciting part of our week was Saturday and yesterday. A young man and woman who have been best friends since 1st grade and come to English club were baptized! It was such an awesome baptism. I really can say I have come to love the both of them so much. They're the kind of people that you just love to be around. They're always positive and happy and cheerful and just plain fantastic! Elders Stewart and Zamora taught them and baptized them and it was a very spiritually uplifting and bright moment in my mission. It's been a very rewarding experience to see Yana (the girl) and Kolya (the guy) slowly change and come closer to Christ through the whole experience. I was never in on a lesson, and I didn't have a lot of interaction with them in the teaching process, but I always saw them in English club since they're in the group that I'm in, and I saw them at church and it was so neat to see the gradual changes they made and to see the joy they were gaining. When Kolya was baptized and came up out of the water, he was so excited and shook his hands in the air. He did about the same thing after his confirmation. It's so awesome to see someone so excited about the gospel! They both bore their testimonies as well after the baptismal service and it was very powerful to hear of how they came to the decision to be baptized. Awwww it was a great day!!!

That night at sports night was interesting since some guy drove by the field we were playing at and kicked his girlfriend out of the car, slammed the car door on her (really on her) and drove away. We ran over to see if we could help and besides that, didn't do much but it made for an interesting sports night. It's kind of sad that in the world we live in, stuff like that happens. Thankfully, nothing worse took place.

As far as the rest of the week goes, well, it was a good one. Talked to a lot of people. Especially on Wednesday since everything we had set up fell through. We met an awesome grandpa named Nikolai and we had a great conversation. I hope to meet him again someday. After talking with him, I felt so much love for the man. I think that's my favorite part of serving a mission is the love you develop for the people. Sometimes it’s hard, but when you love the people, your service changes and how you look at the people completely transforms. You come closer to understanding how Heavenly Father looks upon each of us as His children and how much Christ loves each of us.

Thank you for your letters Mom and Dad. I know the Lord will continue to bless the both of you. I'm glad to hear things are going well with work, Dad! I continue to pray for you. Hope everyone else is well and enjoying the summer Florida sun!

Love you all!
Elder Bush

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An adventure on Lake Baikal

My dearest of dear families,

I love you all if you didn't already know that. You're all so great. First off, I'm writing a little earlier than usual because the missionaries here in Irkutsk have decided to go to Lake Baikal today. That should be quite an exciting adventure. I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures. :)

I do have one question for you all. What souvenirs do you want? I already have some ideas but if there's something in particular that someone wants, you have to let me know because I can't read minds, especially from so far away. Here are some options... Matryoshki dolls (the wooden nesting dolls that come apart and there's like a bagillion of them all of a sudden), gzhel (looks a lot like the plates or pots or china stuff that you can get in Holland- white and blue with sweet designs. I haven't seen a lot of it here but I know of a good place in Vlad so if someone wants that, let me know; it could be in the shape of anything: salt and paper shakers, little people, animals, plates, cups, bowls, Russian temples, etc.), or charite (a purple rock that you can only find in Baikal. I bought one of these along with Elder Zamora and Sister Brigham to give as a gift to Brother Southerland in Korea and it was in the shape of a bear. It was really cool! The one we got was about $30 and it was a decent size. Although you can get some that are bigger for a lot more. Or you can get jewelry with this purple rock in it or have it in the shape of something else.) Those are the things I can quickly think of off the top of my head. If you don't tell me, then I'll be making decisions by myself. But I just don't want to make a bad decision and buy something for someone that they don't really want because I don't have tons of time to think about souvenirs and I don't want to spend tons of money. If you find anything else on the internet that you learn is from Russia and you want something like it, send me a picture and I'll keep my eyes open. Sorry this paragraph is taking so much of my letter. I just want to get thinking about this sooner than later since I have 2 visa trips left and I'd rather be able to send things home that way than be taking stuff home in my suitcases.

Well, this past week has been, well, good as usual. We have an awesome progressing investigator who has introduced her sister to the gospel and she is interested as well. They both came to church yesterday and loved it. It's really great to see people that find joy in the gospel. Hopefully we can help them continue to uncover more of that joy. It's also great to see not just one person but two that are family find it together because they immediately have support in the gospel.

We have talked to so many people this past week! And I know we can talk to so many more. I really have loved getting the opportunity to meet so many neat people on the streets. I also got the chance this last week to be on a lesson with an Armenian man that wants to be baptized. He is so incredibly nice! He also taught us the Armenian alphabet. It is insane! We did a painting activity on the street near the river Angara and it was pretty hot! But, it was fun and slightly successful. People are always attracted to us when they see a bunch of people in white shirts and ties painting on the back of wallpaper and they have funny accents. Oh, about accents, it's crazy here because some people immediately know we're Americans. Others say we speak great. And one lady a few weeks ago didn't believe we were Americans. She thought we were lying. And when we started speaking English, she said we had poor English accents and that we weren't really from America.

Well, I'm about out of time. Love you all!!

Elder Bush

Monday, July 11, 2011

I rode on the Trans-Siberian Railroad - How cool is that?

Oh my dearest family,

It is so wonderful to be able to be able to sit in a little internet cafe and write to you each week. I stop and think about that every once in a while. It really is such a great blessing. Otherwise, you wouldn't hear from me for a while. Oh the blessings we have that are sometimes in disguise or simply hard to recognize because we take them for granted.

I love you all so much. Don't ever forget that. It's been raining a lot here in Irkutsk lately, which hasn't been oodles of fun, mostly because it becomes an adventure to walk on the streets. And people aren't super inclined or excited to stop in the rain and talk to you. But, it has been a lot cooler which has been splendid, especially in the middle of the summer. I'm doing really well and I'm super excited to be here in Irkutsk. As time goes on, I have begun to recognize that I have the opportunity to learn something new each week. Trouble with all of us is that we never seem to really truly learn that thing and apply it completely because we always end up learning it again some point later down the road. This last week has been a week of strengthening my desire and faith in the work of the Lord. I'm sorry this paragraph is probably a little disjointed and all over the place. Great example of my mind and how hard it is for me to focus on one thing at a time.

Anyways, this past week, we made a trip Wednesday night from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude and arrived there by train early in the morning. That was such a sweet adventure!!!! It was really exciting getting to ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad even if it was only for one night. Our train left around 10 and we got into Ulan-Ude at about 6:30. We went to the elders' apartments and got cleaned up and ready for Zone conference and had a fantastic zone conference. It has been a unique experience uniting the Vlad mission along with these two cities of the former Novosibirsk mission. I'm glad I've had the chance thus far to serve here at this unique time. I know the Lord is the author of this work. He makes everything possible and guides His servants to fulfill His will.

First off, I was a little bummed about the trip because I didn't have any room on my camera for pictures (don't worry, I bought a USB and just transferred some pictures today so now I have room). I was able to snag a couple and I'll try to send you some soon. I realize I haven't graced you all with pictures in quite a long time. I will say that this last week, I was fortunate enough to see the biggest statue of Lenin's head probably on the face of the planet. I'll be sure to show you soon. Ulan-Ude is a really different city. It still feels like Russia but there are a lot of Beriatan people that live there (from what I understand, that is a tribe of people that look kind of like Mongolians and they have lived in Ulan-Ude from something like 350 years.) Basically, they look either Asian or like Navajo Indians and that makes up (at least it seemed to me) a lot of the population of Ulan-Ude. It also seemed to be a very peaceful city. We did get the chance after zone conference to go visit a Buddhist temple and I got some pictures there. Apparently, that is another thing that the missionaries aren't usually accustomed to is talking with so many people who are Buddhist.

The second thing that frustrated me was our train trip back to Irkutsk. On the way to Ulan-Ude, Elder Miller and I were in our cabin with the assistants which is always fun because well let's face it, the assistants to the President are just great elders and are some of my greatest friends. :) On the way there, I didn't hardly sleep at all because it was at first hot in the cabin so we opened the window but with the window open, it was ten times louder and I woke up probably every 30 minutes when another train would go rumbling past us. Other than that, it was fine. On the way to Irkutsk however, Elder Miller and I were supposed to be in our own cabin by I guess when they bought our tickets, they didn't buy the entire cabin. So, a woman ended up in our cabin along with another man. Not desirable at all. We were going to take turns sleeping in the other elders' cabin or just stay up the night in the hallway but President Pratt in the end told us we could get some sleep since she was an older woman and there hopefully wouldn't be any kind of problem. It was just frustrating though because I hate when we’re put in an awkward position, especially at 12 at night and you're dying to go to sleep and you want to keep all the mission rules. But, we all learned from the experience and now know what we should do in the future. The other elders also ran into a problem because their tickets were bought with the wrong passport (the one they don't presently have and is being processed for a new visa) so their passport numbers didn't match. Amazingly enough, they held up the train for them and were allowed on. You can't seem to serve here and not meet a little craziness every week.

Well, my times almost up. We had a baptism this past weekend here in Irkutsk and it was super. I'll tell you more about it next week. Love you all so much!!

Elder Bush

Monday, July 4, 2011

The best week yet in Irkutsk

I shall begin my weekly travelogue by mentioning that this week has been a fantastic one. I mean can you really have an awful week on the mission? It's been wonderful for many reasons and I shall now attempt to convey to you all the reasons why...

1. I got emails from Mom and Dad and Matt and I was super grateful to hear from you all. I really needed to hear your words and I agree with all of what you said, especially the part about not beating myself up (or down). It's just so hard because you feel the Lord expects more from you in the short time that you’re here. I have become an instrument in the Lord's hands to share the restored gospel with His children in Russia and when I fall short and don't do all I know He wishes I would do or I just can't seem to overcome my weakness and do the work better and more effectively, it's hard not to get a little frustrated with oneself. But, I also have seen that it's super important to stop being so critical and let yourself enjoy the work because in reality, that is what the Lord wants. He wants you to take what you're doing seriously and to continuously improve, but he also wants you to have the greatest experience of your life so that you can continue to grow from it for years and years into the future.

2. We have a new investigator! It has been such and exciting experience to teach someone who is interested in knowing more and to feel the Lord helping you do that. As of now, she wants to be baptized although we haven't set a date yet with her. I had forgotten how much I missed teaching and sharing the message I have come to really love until yesterday when we were able to meet with her after church. Listening to the Spirit and teaching in accordance with His guidance is an awesome experience. This may sound a bit funny, but I really enjoy teaching truth. Our message is true. Regardless of what anyone may say against the message of the restored gospel, I know with all my heart that it is true and there is something exciting that you feel when you have the opportunity to teach that truth; to share what you know to be true and what you have seen bless your life so much.

3. I got a massive splinter in my hand doing some service in remodeling an apartment for a friend of a member here, but I overcame my fear of needles and dug/pulled it out. (ok by massive I mean about the same size as the last splinter I got stuck in my hand and that the doctor had to cut open my hand in order to get it out... that statement doesn't sound right and I feel I must change it but I'm afraid if I tried, Russian would interfere and it still wouldn't sound right in English). To clarify, the splinter was a little bigger than a centimeter. I know, I'm a baby.

4. We got to help the zone leaders move apartments this past week. And did it in record time. They lived on the fourth floor which was awful because it required us to run back and forth to bring everything down. But the apartment they moved into is on the first floor which is the BEST.

5. Lastly, I guess I'll share a really cool experience I had that strengthened my faith that it's just better to have faith in the Lord, especially when you're doing His work. So on Tuesday, we set a goal to get two contacts from people on the street. (contacts meaning a phone number or an address so that we can later get in contact with these people who are interested in learning more and meeting with us.) So, we had been out on the streets for a few hours and got to the branch for district meeting, and we hadn't met any success in reaching our goal. We had talked to lots of people but nothing seemed to be working out. After district meeting and some quick planning for English club, we had a little less than 45 minutes before we needed to be back to the branch before English club started and still had this goal of 2 contacts, which at this point seemed to be getting harder and harder to reach with each minute. But, I had faith that the Lord would help us find someone interested in knowing more about our unique message and I knew that if it was His will, we would find that person. After leaving the branch, we started talking to some people. The first guy, not interested. The next woman, almost kinda not really interested. The next man we stopped, interested. :) His name is Igor and he knew some about the church and was very interested in meeting, took a Book of Mormon, and exchanged numbers with us. Later, we made contact with Svetlana at English club, which meant our goal was met. But then, that night, Igor called and we set up a lesson, agreeing to meet the next day. Two minutes later, he texted us with a phone number of his friend who is also interested in talking with us. When you set goals, relying on the Lord, and you do all you can to realize them, the Lord helps you and blesses you to fulfill them. It may not seem like an awesome experience to some and in fact, Igor didn't show up to both the lessons that we set up with him this past week. But, as I experienced all of that, I knew without a doubt that the Lord was guiding us and that we are His hands here in Irkutsk helping to do His work.

I love you all a ton. You're the best family on the face of the planet. On the face of any planet for that matter. I pray for you always and hope all is well. Just have faith. The Lord is in charge.

Love you!!!!
Elder Bush

P.S. Happy 4th of July!!! :)