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!!