WOW! This past week has been awesome!!! Mostly because President Pratt and his wife and the assistants were here this past week along with the elders from Irkutsk. I love seeing Elder Zamora! He is honestly one of my best friends.
First of all, after I wrote home last week, we hopped on a bus and drove for about 45 minutes to an hour to get to the biggest datsan here in Ulan-Ude. A datsan is a Buddhist temple and at this particular one, they sell a lot of things there in the area from Mongolia! It was cool to see all the stuff they had. Elder Steed and Elder Bean bought some really sweet slippers made from camel fur! Yeah, I tried them on. They're the most comfortable things ever! We took a ton of pictures and it was really neat to see more of the culture here that is quite unique to Ulan-Ude since many of the population are Buddhist.
I had the privilege to be on an exchange with Elder Steed and man do I love serving with him! He is such a great Elder and friend. Like I've said before, I always love serving with him. This past week, as we were praying before our daily planning session at the end of the day, I listened to him and realized just how much he has grown in the last 4 transfers since we served together. Those days in Khabarovsk really shaped us and he has become an awesome trainer here in Ulan-Ude.
On Thursday, we had the awesome privilege to have zone conference at the new building! It was very exciting! I was asked to translate for the native Russian elders who are serving in Irkutsk which was a really neat experience. It was pretty hard at times, especially when we watched some small film clips for the training we received. But I had a really neat experience in listening to the Spirit's promptings. Some people may have heard of the gifts of the Spirit and that some of them include the gift of tongues and of the interpretation of tongues. If there's one thing my mission has taught me (which it has taught me far more than one thing) it's that the gift of tongues is real. Think about it, no amount of studying or really good language skills should really allow a person to be able to communicate as fluently as missionaries can in a matter of two years. After studying German for 3 years and comparing my experiences, I can testify that the Lord has blessed and helped me immensely! As I translated for the elders, I felt the words come easily to me. It wasn't difficult or at least as difficult as I thought it would be because the Lord's hand was in it. He helped me so much and it was really a neat experience to feel the Spirit guiding my thoughts and helping me recall the words I have learned previously but may not have used. That all being said, I also ended up with a huge long list of words I don't know yet and that is by far the greatest way to find out what you need to learn. Just try speaking or translating in different circumstances or settings and you'll always find you don't know something. There's so much I don't know!
Saturday, we did service at the branch to prepare for the first meetings that would be held the following day. It turned out to be a cold day and the first real snow of the year fell. But shortly thereafter, the sun broke through the clouds and melted all that had fallen. It's definitely getting colder and I have a feeling winter here in Ulan-Ude must be awful! Anyways, yesterday's meetings were wonderful in our new building! It's such a beautiful building and one of the coolest things was that 100 people were there at sacrament meeting!!! 100! That hasn't happened here in a long time! Never since I've been here. The most I had seen was high 70s maybe 80. It was great to see many new faces and many less actives return. I hope they stay! Because the blessings of the Lord we enjoy as we keep our covenants are astronomically awesome!
Basically, I'm doing really really well. I told President Pratt in my interview that I've never been doing better. That's mostly because I love my companion so much. He really has been such an awesome companion and example for me. He's pushed me and supported me in my weaknesses and it's been so awesome to learn from him each and every day! I love Ulan-Ude. We'll see what transfers bring in about a week.
I love you all and I'm super grateful to have you all as part of my family! Please, tell Sean congrats for me! (All my cousins are going to get married before I get home!) And tell all the extended family I say hi! And I love them!
p.s. Sorry I forgot my camera cord again. Have no fear! Pictures shall be on the way ASAP!
p.s.s. OH! And, since my huge suitcase died and now I'm left with a medium one and two that are basically carry ons, I had an idea. If you all or anyone really really wants to send me a package at any point between now and when I go home, the only thing I would ask for is for vacuum space saver bags because that would be awesome! Just an idea. If it doesn't work out, no big deal. Thanks!