Monday, August 1, 2016

The Last Letter


Today we are in Artyom, we flew in last night and there was no internet. All the internet cafes were closed and we couldn't write home yet but the internet is now working!
 
I love you! I am safe and sound
 
Can't wait to see you soon:)

Elder Gardner

Monday, July 25, 2016

The best two years


It’s good to hear from you!
It is hard for me to even imagine waking up and not being a volunteer anymore... It is difficult to think that there will be a day when I will wake up and not be in Russia anymore. I will miss this place dearly. I am excited to see you all! I am also very excited to eat some Mexican food :) haha but don't worry I am more glad to see you all than to eat Mexican food.

I think it would be fun to have some people meet me at the airport when I get home :) However, I personally don't feel like I am that big of a deal - I can't see why someone would want to do that unless they were my family - but they are free to come of course if they would like!

Megan sent me an email saying I have about 9 days left now. Pretty crazy. I am happy to be on a mission but I know I will also be happy to be off my mission. It's hard to say exactly what I am feeling because I have such mixed feelings. I am so jealous of the Elders and Sisters that get to serve here longer. The Russian people are so great and I wish I could still be a part of this wonderful experience. But at the same time I will be glad to get back home and to start working and putting some hours in of my own. For the past 2 years I have spent my days serving others.  I am looking forward to going to school and starting the next phase of my life. I am glad that we are still so close nowadays thanks to the internet. It is so great! But any time you want to go to Russia and would like a tour guide just call me up because I would love to go back.
I am glad that Ethan is enjoying his service. There aren't really any words to describe the experience, but there are a lot of clich├ęs that could work. "The Best 2 years" is one of them.

I don't expect any baptisms this last week. We don't have anyone that is ready. There are a few but they still require more lessons to be taught and they haven't been showing up to church or activities recently. I am sad because of it, but I don't worry. I know that they know what they need to do and I believe that they will do what they know is right.
Our week was a good week. We did some yard work at the church, we did some yard work for a member, we spent some time with people who came into the church. We had some good time to study and we visited an old lady, a less-active member. She was very happy to see us and we were happy to see her. We just talked about her life and what's going on and I think she really enjoyed it. At least I am hoping she did! Haha

I wish I could say what the future of Russia is going to be but I don't know. I don't really worry about the work anyways. I can only see good things coming from it though. In the past there has been this feeling of "Us" and "Them" Them being the members and Us being the volunteers. Now we are moving towards more of a "we" atmosphere and that requires us to work together. I am proud of the church members here and I proud to know them. I heard that a similar situation was in Belarus a number of years ago. So if you can find out how Belarus dealt with their situation then I would assume that we are going to act similarly.

Can't wait to see you!
You’re the best

Elder Gardner

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We are volunteers serving the great people of Russia

Hey there

Everything is going pretty good. We are working hard, trying to make friends and keep moving forward. I am learning things every day. All of the things I am learning are all tied back to a central theme of .... I know so very little. Some elders that I have met think I speak good Russian but I never stop finding new words that I don't know the meaning to. I find new views of the world each day and new ways of looking at the gospel. I learned this week of a new Russian dish that is very Russian but I hadn't heard of it before. I don't think there is enough time in a lifetime to learn enough important stuff.

Thank you for the advice about how to deal with people, it definitely is a slow process. Learning to be a better leader.

There have been a few new changes to the way we work now. We as volunteers will be working closely with the Russian members of our church. We will be supporting them in their efforts although we will not be acting as missionaries. We aren't missionaries. We are young volunteers here to support and love the culture and country and government and people who live here. We aren't missionaries:)

We are volunteers and will be doing free service projects for anyone who would like help. Anyone who wants help can talk with us and we would be more than happy to help them clean their yards or anything like that. We will keep the church building open more than in the past and it will be a place for our church members to come and spend time when they need. It will be open to the public if the public would like to come look around. We won't be going door to door but we are glad to talk with everyone. We will be supporting members as they share the Gospel with people who would like to know more. We will visit members and make sure everything is going fine in their lives. We will be taking a more active part in cultural activities and other things to get to know the Russian people better. I don't know exactly what I am allowed to say or not say yet. But be sure to help us out and call us Volunteers. We are volunteers. President sent an email to everyone he could and it is very important that we do what he says. The law is so far not conpletely clear and we all have lots of questions about what we can and cannot do so we are extra cautious for the next few weeks. Please help us as much as you can:) We are trying our hardest to follow the laws and avoid problems with the Government. We will need the help of all the parents at home to do it.

Letter to Megan:

The thought of coming home is bitter sweet. I love the Russian people too much and it is going to be hard to leave. I am going to miss them a lot, and I am sure that I will cry. I am very blessed to be able to finish my mission on Sakhalin where the members are absolutely fantastic.  

Yeah, I can't even wrap my mind around the fact that soon I will have a phone all to myself... It’s a weird thought.  J

I hope you've learned the words to I am a Child of God in Russian! We can sing that in your ward when I get back. The week was a good one. The island is still cold all the time. We are wearing suit coats all day every day because it never gets above 75 degrees. The rule is that when the temperature is above 80 or so you can go without jackets but we just keep them on always. It never gets hot. It should get hot in August or later. There isn't anything similar to surf shacks and beach bums here haha. I don't know if I have even seen one person who could qualify as a beach bum. There aren't board walks or surfers. Nobody surfs as far as I can tell. I haven't heard that word at all here. There is a thing similar to island time... everyone is always late haha. We are even late sometimes because we will be waiting for a bus to take us across town, but it's not really the same as island time. It feels like real Russia, not like a fun island party place:) Maybe we need to introduce that mindset into Sakhalin! That would be cool

I love you all!

Love,

Elder Gardner

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Russian laws are a changin...


Hey there,
You’re probably on the road right now. Maybe you’ve already made it to Cali. Tell Kreston hi for me! And if his team wins then I will buy him a big glass of that Russian soda! I am so jealous that you are having such great adventures in California. It seems like you are really enjoying having us gone. It's probably a lot easier to travel now that you only have one kid to haul around with you. Pretty soon it will be just you and Mom and you can have some really crazy adventures.
Zone Conference


Happy Ryan

Teaching the zone at Ryan's last zone conference
 
The new Russia law is pretty hot news here as well. We haven't received any big reports from Moscow yet. Moscow is the center of the Church in Russia so that's where we get all our important updates from. So at first we thought that the law would ban all religious activities outside the church building. We now know that it only says we can't preach to people of different faiths outside the church building. So that's nice. That still means we can visit members in their homes and have family home evenings. We however won't be able to find in the conventional way. We can still live here as foreigners (they aren't kicking us out), we can still go to church, our members can still do all of their church responsibilities such as home-teaching and so forth. I really am not worried about this law and in a way I am happy that this is happening. When we have gone out on the streets to talk with people about the Church, or when we have gone tracting, I have felt like it isn't the most effective way to work. I feel like it is a bit awkward and not exactly how the Russian people respond best. They aren't super open to chatting with complete strangers on the streets. That's understandable. I would feel weird if two foreigners in white shirts and ties tried talking to me about God haha.

Powerful
 

I am sure there is a better way to work, and I think this law is helping us to expand our horizons. I feel a bit as if we are stuck in old habits and bad routines of street contacting 24/7. It is a lot more effective getting to know the people and then easing the conversation towards the Gospel. There is a saying that is very applicable. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." That is a great truth and I think we will be moving towards that style of work soon. Maybe we will play basketball with guys on the street and from there build up a relationship before inviting them to Church to know more. Or maybe we will do something completely different to meet people before inviting them to learn more at the church. I have no idea what the plan of attack will be, but I have full trust and confidence in our leaders. I am very sad actually that I don't get to be a part of this phase of the work. I wish I could stay.

The members were worrying quite a bit that this would be the end of the church in Russia and that the end of the world was soon too. Haha I think they overreacted a little bit. They were worried that they would pull all volunteers out of Russia and then the church would fall apart. Now that they understand the law better they are starting to be more optimistic. They are still worried about the state of the country and they are worried about the other parts of the law more than the volunteer work. That is the feeling I was getting. They are worried about the data privacy that they are losing and they are also worried about the inability to share the gospel. They won't be allowed to even mention in passing to other people that they are part of a church. That will be against the law now. I am saddened but I know that the Russian soul is unconquerable and our members are very resilient if they choose to be so.
My companion is good! We are eating a lot of veggies and its super great.  We didn't do anything special for the 4th of July. The Jones family invited us over for some food but we decided to wait and have an extra special dinner on the 24th in honor of Pioneer Day. The American families here are so great! They really help us to feel at home even though some of us are about 6000 miles from home.

Our lessons were good this week, although they could have been better. It turns out we didn't teach the lesson about the Apostasy and Restoration well enough. We mentioned to one of our investigators that in the temples you can do baptism for the dead and she said "Oh that's so wonderful. But I don't need that. All the members of my family already got baptized so we are all set". Aww man, she was doing so well and accepting everything we taught. We thought she was understanding everything... I guess not :( She still loves meeting with us though so we have time to better explain the doctrines to her.
Overall it was a good week and I am glad that we have the chance to serve here in this wonderful country. I love Russia and the culture and the people. I hope you don't worry too much about me. All is well!

Thanks for the support each week! I love you
Elder Gardner

Happy 4th of July

Hey there! It's nice to hear from you. This week was a good week! We were in Vladivostok until Friday evening. Then we had a sports night and Saturday was full of planning and helping the Hare Krishna people cook food for homeless people .  We also got to clean the church and we had a lesson with our investigator. It was a busy day and it was really great. I love the Hare Krishna people. They are so nice and friendly and they are really anxious to share what they know with others. I think that is a good trait they have that we could do better about sometimes.

Everyone is talking about that new legislation that they want to pass, and some people are really REALLY worried about it. I see it as an obstacle, yes. But at the same time we need to remember where we are. Yes, we are in Russia but where else are we? We are on earth. We are children of an all-wise and all-loving heavenly parent who is in charge here. Putin is the president of this wonderful country but there is someone who is greater than all presidents combined. That is our Heavenly Father and God. He is more kind and loving and merciful to his saints than we can even imagine. I think that those who get very upset and worried when things seem to be going wrong lack faith. That is something the Hare Krishna people have demonstrated to me, they have a rock solid belief that everything that happens is for a reason. I like that about them. When we know that our Heavenly Father is in charge of this whole earth thing and when we truly deep down know that he won't let anything happen that isn't for our good, then we won't feel so scared when listening to the news.   I don't want to understate the problem in front of us but I know that there is an answer out there and it is just up to us to work our tails off and go find the answer.

This week was a great week.  We had Zone Conference in Vladivostok and I got the opportunity to lead a discussion about the Russian Language. We are learning some fun phrases and trying to sound more like actual people when we teach and speak to people. There are some here who study the Russian language just by studying the Scriptures and the Hymns. That's good and all but if that's all you study then that is how you will speak. You will sound like a weird Shakespearian guy.  Ha ha  We need to inject some real human-ness into our work and it will all go a lot better.
Our Sunday meetings were really inspirational. I have been thinking about using more parables in teaching because that seems to really help people understand what you are teaching. Jesus did it, and we should do it too. Lots of the testimonies that were born during Testimony meeting were stories and examples from our members’ lives and the connections they made to the gospel just from living an average life. I really enjoyed it.

I wish I had more to say, but any attempt I have made to put my thoughts and feelings into words has just not done it justice. I love you a lot and I know that this Church is really all that it claims to be. I am so grateful to be a part of it :)
Love Elder Gardner

Monday, June 27, 2016

Last Transfer


This week we had a lot of planned activities but they didn't all work out as planned. People cancelled lessons but we were very blessed that they called and let us know ahead of time so we didn't have to sit around and wait for them to show up. We went tracting a lot and got yelled at quite a bit. It was one of the times here when we got yelled at the most. It seemed like people were just snapping left and right haha! We would knock on a door and they would open it, see us, and slam it without saying a word before we could even say hello. That happened quite a few times. Or we would knock, they would open it and would start immediately yelling at us telling us that we are goats and that we need to leave or else they would beat us up hahaha these sweet old grandmothers just have the most bright, colorful, overwhelming, bipolar, crazy tempers. I use all those words to describe their tempers because I can't think of a single word to say what I want to convey. I find it a bit comical in a sense because these people have never seen us before, they don't know why we knocked on their door they just immediately go crazy:) It is quite amusing. Not that I am trying to disrespect them, we of course leave when they make us. We don't try to antagonize them and get their blood pressure higher than it already is. I just find it interesting that it happened so much this week, it’s hard not to find it funny IMHO. 
 

What else? We found 3 different apartments where the people invited us to come back and share our message with them. We visited 2 of the 3 yesterday and they were either too busy or not home. We will be stopping by again in the upcoming weeks. Good times!

 
We got haircuts this week and one of the members cut our hair. She is a wonderful lady, she didn't even make us pay.   I got sunburned a few weeks ago. It was the first time that has happened in 2 years. It was on my neck and arms after we went on a hike:p

 
That is about it! The best part of our week was getting to play soccer with our members. I got really lucky and scored 3 goals! Wow, haha I surprise even myself sometimes. The low of my week was probably not getting to meet with Nikolai. He had to cancel the lesson because he was helping his friend with something. That's a good reason for cancelling, I am glad he didn't say "I am just too tired to meet" That would be a less good reason to cancel our meeting.

 

It sounds like you are all doing well.  I also am not doing too bad right now but I feel sad when I realize that in about 30 days I won't be here anymore and it will all be a memory. Not my life anymore but a memory of what my life was for 2 years. The members here are so great I feel like I haven't done enough to help them and I really want to continue any way I can to help them when I get home. 
 

Don't worry, I plan to keep going strong to the end. That is one of my biggest goals, I do not want to give up early. Thank you for the support. I love you a lot!

 


I am staying with Elder Turner for my last transfer and Elder Nielson is leaving for Ussurisk. Now it will be Elder Turner and me along with Elder Vincent and Elder King. Good guys. 

 

That is very sad to hear about Uncle Kent passing away. That reminds me, though, of the talk from General Conference by Michael T. Ringwood Truly Good and Without Guile. That is the kind of person I hope to become. I am sure that Uncle Kent was one of those. 
 

 I completely forgot that Shark Week was a thing! Oh man, I am pretty jealous of you all. We will have to have a Sharknado marathon when I get back.

 
It's cool that you get to go see Kreston play ball in CA.  Give him a big Privet from me and a big FIG also :) I am sure he would be very happy. 

Anyways, I hope you have a great week this week and remember who you are and act accordingly.

 

Elder Gardner 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Happy Fathers Day


Hi there! Sorry I am emailing late, we were late today with what we’ve been doing.
I am a little upset that I missed my candy bar at church! I might just have to go buy one for myself from the store. Here in Russia we don't have father’s day, they have other holidays though celebrating their men.

It’s great to hear from you always. Thanks for being so diligent about writing me! 
I am so glad that I am here instead of there in your heat! Here we have been having rains and cool temps all week:)

That's so great that Grandma got to go out to NYC and party a little bit! She’s so cool:)
I am glad to hear that Calvin made it home safe and sound too. We will be hanging out in no time. What is his new email address? I would like to still chat with him, but I don't think he will be using his LDS email here shortly.

Our week was good. We had a lot of lessons with members and investigators and we tried hard to make all of our lessons interesting and fun. We talked about war and testimonies with a 13 year old member. We read Alma 49 and compared the wall to a testimony. We had lessons with a couple of our investigators and they are all doing so great. They are all very interested in our church and love it and want to be a part of it. They just need to make sure they can really say that they know like we do that it is true before they get baptized.
I have been thinking about how lucky I am recently. It was a quote from someone I don't recall who. "Don't judge people because you would likely act the same way if you were in their shoes". Why was I not born in Russia to parents who didn't really want me? Why wasn't I born into poverty or anything else like that? Why is my life so greatly blessed? What did I do differently to deserve it? I couldn't tell you, I have been thinking about it a lot and am not sure why I am so lucky.

The island is nice, we had some Korean food this week! We had some interesting soup at the restaurant... Man's best friend... I guess the Koreans didn't get the memo that you’re not supposed to eat your friends :p  It was odd, kinda chewy meat, the fat was very soft and sweet and is supposed to be very healthy for you. Russians use it all the time apparently! I had no idea! The smell was not the best either but Koreans love it. I also had some Bi Bam Bop! It is just fun to say haha its rice with a hardboiled egg and veggies and it was pretty good:)
Korean Stew
There is a lot of Japanese stuff here, I really like the culture.

I don't have a whole lot of time to write though! I love you a lot and Happy Fathers Day.  Thank you for who you are. I love you!
I love you all :)

 Elder Gardner