Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas in Siberia

Hey there! I am glad that I got to talk to you all.  That was great. I honestly didn't even realize that we Skyped for so long! It was just good to talk to all of you I lost track of the time. The other elders took about 45 minutes to an hour. Yeah, I was a bit tired during Elder Tracy's Skype time. I was the first to go and he was the last - haha. It was good to have everyone there again and to be able to see you all.  I hope the Woods family is okay. How is Susie? I didn't have a chance to talk with her a lot.
Fabulous Lamanite Headbands
It was weird waking up on Christmas morning in the middle of Siberia with some guy I’ve only known for a few months. :)  We didn't have a Christmas tree, we only had the stocking you sent me, and our Christmas dinner consisted of eating subway with the other elders at the church and having a ping-pong tournament. Oh and by the way, I won the tournament :) Not too sure how, but I have gotten almost good at ping pong! I will send you a video some time.
Snow on my frozen eyelashes
Yeah about the eating thing, we haven't been eating too well. We made a plan at the beginning of the month that if we ate simple meals at home then we could go out to eat a bunch. Well our plan worked except it wasn't as nice as we thought it would be. We made the decision already that eating at home is more important than eating out - so don't worry, our diets will be improving. 
I miss you all this holiday season but it is reassuring to know that in three days it will be 2016 and that is the year I will get to see you all for real :) It is weird to think that the Gardner Clan keeps growing and I will get to meet all these new little baby people soon. That’s cool :)
We have been doing lots of service projects here in Irkutsk and I love serving people. It is such a nice feeling every time you help someone who can't help you back. I hope you too will all find a way to serve someone this holiday season. Even though Christmas already passed we still are in the Christmas spirit and we will be able to serve just for Christmas's sake.
Yes I did receive the Vladivostok T-shirt! That is so cool. Where did you get it? And the music on the card was very cool! Thanks for that :) I love it a lot.
I love you all so much! Please stay warm in the fierce Arizona winter J

Elder Gardner 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas!

This week was good:) I am glad that we are Skyping this week! It seems like just yesterday we were Skyping and now we get to do it again:) I am going to have to get a haircut though because I am getting very fluffy-headed.

It has been a long time since I have taken a photo with a cat. I think that one makes up for the lost time though.

I am glad that I get to serve here because I am learning so many things. Elder Tracy told me that he never really cooked anything at home and he didn't really know how to cook some things because his Mom always made things for them. That’s great,  but I am glad that you gave us the chance to learn and work it out because it’s really a good skill to have. 
Baking our own bread for the Sacrament

I can't wait to open the packages on Christmas morning. I might open them up Christmas eve night because Christmas morning we will be running over to the Church to get set up for Skyping:)  Sister Tracy sent Elder Tracy some home-made jerky, some penuche, and some muffin mix, and some candy. The jerky got a tiny bit moldy but he cut the moldy parts off with some scissors and ate the rest. That was the only thing that went bad:) 

This year we don't really have a mission baptism goal. Last year we made a goal of baptizing 100 people and we got it on the last day. We don't have a set goal that the entire mission is pushing towards. We have personal goals and each person is pushing towards their own goals. Its very different.

President Perkinson has also changed some of the ways we define lessons and other things. In the past we have defined a lesson as having a prayer at the beginning, then talking about a gospel principle, then having an invitation to act, and at the end there is a second prayer. That’s a very basic way to define it. President Perkinson made another category that is called "Ammon" and that is:  any time you have a good conversation with someone and you have a chance to testify of the Restoration and of Jesus Christ and you invite them to act. It makes it 100 times easier to talk to people on the street because now we don't feel that pressure that we should pray with people on the street, which is a little weird, and we can just focus on testifying and inviting people to act on what we share with them. It makes us a lot more willing and energetic about what we are doing because we can get these little wins each day and we don't have to feel horrible about the fact that we didn't pray with a guy who really didn't want to pray. But we did tell him what we believe and invited him to learn more. In the past if we didn't pray with them 2 times then all of our conversation was for nothing. It didn't count as anything. Even if you got a prayer at the beginning of the conversation, normally the person would feel weird and walk away before you could say a 2nd prayer and then you got no lesson out of it. I really like this new small win system. It helps me stay motivated. 

My high for the week is probably that we have been having lots of lessons with Less-active members who are really great people. Hopefully we can now turn this friendship into them wanting to return to church. My low is probably that we haven't been having lots of lessons with new investigators. Getting people to come to the second lessons is very hard. Oh and another thing about less active members. We visited an old lady this week and she said that her daughter moved to America and hasn't called since last Christmas. We are trying to find the daughter this week through the internet.  We called the number she has in the U.S.A. and got an answering machine.   I then told them something along the lines of "Hi there, my name is Ryan Gardner and I am a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am here in Irkutsk Russia right now visiting your mother and she was a bit worried that she hasn't heard from you in a long time. We hope to hear from you soon" haha it felt so odd speaking in English to Americans even though they didn't answer. I hope I didn't sound too awkward on the answering machine. This lady really is feeling lonely this Christmas season and a call from her daughter would make everything so much lighter:)

Christmas tree in our branch building
This year we are probably going to have a big district dinner. Our zone isn't doing anything for Christmas; it is too far spread out. Ulan-Ude is 8 hours away on train and Angarsk is an hour by bus.   I don't think they would have time to come out just for a dinner with us. It’s really a shame but we will be okay:) 

About the AP thing, yeah we don't have APs anymore. I am not sure whether or not it will be permanent. President says that the culture in our mission is too much focused on climbing the ladder and getting a higher position and he wants to squash that thought. We are all equal and shouldn't get promoted or demoted because there really isn't such thing as promotions or demotions. I think it will be a permanent thing but I know President Perkinson has some ideas that differ from other past Presidents and other leaders. They might make him keep the position of AP because it is such a basic unit of the missionary chain of command, but they might let him make a bunch of big changes. We will see!

The missionaries that I serve with are really all good missionaries. I haven't seen or heard anything that makes me worry. We don't have any who willingly break the rules or have no desire to work hard. Each missionary understands the task at hand and although we all struggle with setbacks and things that slow us down I am confident that each missionary keeps pressing forward. It seems as if they all came pre-programmed with good work ethic and lots of love in their hearts.  

I love you so much and I can't wait to see you all so soon! 

Elder Gardner

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tasty Lessons

Hey there! I am glad you liked the squatting. J  I have been practicing a lot. There is a lot of graffiti in our photos because we search it out. There is a guy named "Moral" at least that’s what he goes by. He does these cool graffiti things all across Russia. I have seen these Moral pictures in Angarsk and Irkutsk and I heard he even has some in a couple other countries. People don't erase the his graffiti because it really is like art, but there is plenty of other dumb graffiti that is everywhere too. It’s really not that noticeable unless you are searching it out. We are trying to find all the Morals but there are a ton.

I have been staying very warm lately, it has been so warm outside!  It reached negative 5 and I started burning up. The weather isn't such a bad thing. There is ever a plentiful supply of snowballs to be thrown:)  I can't complain.

Oh yeah also my zipper has been giving me some trouble on my big fluffy jacket so I might try to get that replaced. If the zipper replacement doesn't work, then I might end up getting a new jacket but for now we are going to try to fix the zipper:) I will keep you updated on that.
By the way when I was in Vlad I got the package you sent me and a small one from Amazon. I had Elder Tracy look into the package and he told me everything was wrapped so I opened up the box and took out the stocking and hung it up:) Our house is super festive!

My high was our lesson last night with one of the young families in our ward. They are great and they seem to like us. haha   We made corn bread for them and they made pie for us.  It was a very tasty lesson.
My low was probably going contacting all week. That was all we did really. Not a whole lot of progress though. There aren't a ton of people on the streets and they normally don't even stop to see what we need when we say hello. That’s okay though they think we are weird and I can't really get upset. I would do the same thing if I grew up in this Russian culture.

We broke our old phone somehow and lost our contacts, now we are contacting a lot to find new people to meet with while our phone is getting fixed. Hopefully we can get those contacts back.
The Star Wars movie is coming out this week on the 17th in Russia:) Not everyone is as stoked as America seems to be but that’s okay. 

We have learned a few Russian Songs but definitely not enough. We got some Russian EFY music on some CDs and have been listening to that recently :) It’s actually pretty good! I understand it all and Elder Tracy is learning a lot of fun words from listening. He is really smart and catches on quick. 
I hope you’re all safe and happy and healthy and I don't want you worrying about me, I am pretty much already Russian. The cold never bothered me anyway. People say I look Russian and I think the transformation is close to complete. I am almost a real Siberian :)

Love you all

Stay Frosty

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Winter Fun

This week was way crazy but nevertheless a good week. We flew out last Sunday at midnight, landed in Vlad at 9:30, got to our Hostel around 1:00, relaxed for an hour or so and then went to try to find a place to email. We didn't find anything except for the Sony store. Sent an email then we went to Burger King for dinner and after that we ran over to the church to have a meeting with President Perkinson. We talked about respecting the Sister Missionaries. It’s not that we are doing a bad  job at it, we are simply not doing a great job. And the sisters deserve to be treated greatly so we need to do better. There is a difference between being ready to help the sisters with something they need, and asking each day "Hey what do you need? How can we help you?". They should feel like we are caring for them instead of them feeling like we are just here to help when they ask for it. Nobody likes to ask for help but if help is offered then it is a lot easier to accept it. 


The next day we had a meeting with President Klebingat. He is such a stud. (Hmm... Is that okay to say about a General Authority?)   But anyway, he is so dedicated to the Gospel and he has a very deep and practical understanding of the teachings of Christ. It is a great example to me that if you’re going to be a religious person it doesn't mean that you are going to be a weirdo and only talk about God all the time. He is a very successful individual and that is a sign of the fact that he puts God as priority number one. Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will fall into place.


We talked about that at Church this week too, and its pretty cool how it works. I honestly couldn't explain to you how, but I see it in our church members everywhere we go. The ones who come to church only on Sundays and don't really make any big strides or don't really try to do the Lord's will first, those are the ones who are less happy and feel like the church isn't really working for them. They can't see why they even come each week and it feels like the church is just another burden placed on them. Whereas on the other hand there are plenty of people who put the church and service to others and God as their top priority and they are happy, they find enough time to complete everything they needed and they are the strong members that everyone loves. 


Hmm.. Do I have any fun stories from our adventures? Well Vladivostok is very hilly. It is pretty bad, and I realized how out of shape I was because I was struggling,  pulling my suitcase all around through the snow and up and down hills. As we were searching for the Hostel, we walked up and down this one area of town like 10 times. We knew we were close because we were on the right street and people said it was near but we couldn't find it. It was pretty exhausting, but that’s not a very fun story haha:p As we were leaving the hostel to go back home after the trip, we had to walk up a super steep hill with all our suitcases and backpacks. It wasn't the worst thing the first day in Vlad because there was just snow packed down all over the roads and it was relatively grippy. Nobody fell the first day. The whole day before we left though, it rained and then we slept the night and when we woke up it was snowing. It was super icy and slippery on this hill and it took Elder Van Quill and me probably 10 minutes or so to figure out how to get to the top. We were going slow trying to not start slipping because once you start slipping on ice it’s really hard to stop and regain your footing. Pulling a suitcase up a hill didn't help either haha  We both climbed about 10 feet up this big hill and then slipped and slid back down to the bottom.  It was pretty comical to watch but also frustrating. Elders Tracy and Williams were at the top of the hill just watching us the whole time. They found a dry patch off to the side and didn't bother to tell us about it. We eventually found it and made it up the hill but boy was it a struggle. 

Russians, not the very sophisticated ones but the average Russians, are good at squatting. They don’t like to sit on the ground because the ground is dirty, and if you sit on a cold seat then you will become infertile. I don't know the science behind it but most Russians believe it. So I have been practicing my squats. The key is to get super low so you don't have to work very hard to hold the squat, and you don't want your legs to be super wide like a sumo wrestler stance (like in the 3rd picture where I am squatting in front of a big nesting doll, that is bad form). Sumo wrestler stance is easy, but the Russian way is hard to do. Your feet should be straight forward and no wider than shoulder width apart. Then you squat and your rear-end should touch your ankles and your knees are right up near your chest and it should hurt the fronts of your shins because you have to use that muscle to keep yourself from falling backwards haha. It's easy if you're skinny and kinda lanky. There is a member here who is 6' 6" but he’s skinny and he can squat lower than I can haha its crazy to watch:)
Squatting on Lenin St.

I hope you have a good week this week and don't freeze too bad in Arizona;) I will be sure to stay warm. I love you 


Elder Gardner


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving - don't eat Indians

Hey there! Sorry I didn't email yesterday, we flew all night from Irkutsk to Vlad and got in at 9:30 in the morning. We had to go find our hostel where we are staying and we didn't know where any Internet cafes where located so we couldn't write home. We found a cafe today but the power went out at that location so we had to go explore Vlad some more to find another one.  Since I have never serve in Vladi I didn’t know where anything was.  We couldn't find one but we did find a Sony store.  We are there right now and I am on a Xperia c4 dual. There's a free advertisement for Sony.  You're welcome Sony J  

Anyways we had a good week.  The Thanksgiving party was good and we had like 30 people show up. The branch really took control of the party and made it great. It was our job to give a quick background about the holiday of Thanksgiving and it turned out pretty good except for at the end I tried to share a fun fact. The fact that I wanted to share was that each year 90% of Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving... Well let's just say the word for turkey and the word for Indian are really similar. Haha I didn't even realize that I screwed up until I was stopped and corrected by Elder Tracy J

The weather us cold but here in Vlad it's super duper warm :) -10 ish. I go to Korea this week after our conference and I won't get back to Irkutsk until next Sunday.

I am getting a glare from the worker here in the Sony store so I will try to find a different computer later today and write a bit more but I love you all and hope you're staying warm.  PS. I love that Russian soda though. We drink it a bunch in the summer and it is basically weak weak alcohol. It's a barley drink and I could drink it all day :) anyways I love you lots! 

 Elder Gardner

Monday, November 23, 2015

Patriarch Visit

Hey there! This week was a good week.  We are getting quite a chill nowadays. Not too long ago it was bearable weather but now it is just downright freezing :)  I wish I was joking about it but it literally doesn't get into the positive temperatures anymore. Negative negative negative. The weather is killer, but I wouldn't have it any other way! Gotta experience the Siberian winter at least once in your life.  

I am going to be getting some mittens today, maybe some camel socks too.  I heard those are warm. The other day we went around contacting for an hour and a half and it was very cold. I was wearing a pair of leggings, compression shorts, 2 pairs of fluffy socks, boots with special insulating insoles, a beanie, and an extra long sleeve shirt. And of course a big fluffy jacket too with a hood :) I was warm except for my face and hands. If you keep your hands in your pockets then they are warm, but if you need to pull your hand out for any reason then it gets frozen pretty quick. Haha  I had to make a couple phone calls and it was freezingggg! Gloves are a must have... well I did have some but I sold them to another elder who wanted some. He didn't have any :)  Besides mittens are better than gloves anyways.   I can’t wait to get some.

This week we had President and Sister Perkinson in town with the Patriarch, Elder Neuenschwander. We love the Perkinsons. They are just very open and loving and funny in general. The members cannot get enough of them. 

Turns out that Elder Neuenschwander lives in Utah but just flies to Russia to give Patriarchal blessings every few months. He left this morning to go back to America. He is exhausted.  I mentioned to him that my Grandpa is a patriarch too in the valley and he served in Finland a few years ago.  It turns out that Elder Neuenschwander served in Finland, too! He is 77 or 78 years old and said he knew an Elder Woods back in the day but doesn't remember anything specific.  That’s pretty great!  When the Perkinson’s flew they brought mail and I got a letter from Grandma and Grandpa Woods. In the letter it mentioned how Grandpa Woods served for 2 1/2 years and didn't go to the MTC because there was none at that time. That was exactly what Elder Neuenschwander talked to us about when we met with him this week. It was kind of like deja-vu to hear it twice only days apart! 

We deep-cleaned the branch before the blessings and had to clean it every night too because the snow from peoples boots tracks mud in and everything gets dirty. It is nearly impossible to keep things clean here. I think it was well worth it though... everything turned out great. What else... This week I ended up playing piano for the whole church meeting. We were missing Elder Perry, who plays really great, but he is on a Visa trip. The Branch President got sick and his wife didn't come, and I don't think there are any other members who play the piano other than President Soolemanovs wife.  So I played for the meetings.  I also got to play a surprise musical number with Sister Soolemanova.  Please give a big thanks to all my piano teachers I have had. Even though I wasn't very into it back then, it really is a blessing to be able to play right now. I would encourage everyone to learn at least 3 hymns. Opening hymn, sacrament hymn, and closing hymn. It really is a great thing to know!
Playing Ping Pong during our dinner hour. Elder Tracy is pretty good, we have intense matches sometimes

This week we found out transfers too and Elder Gray is the only one from Irkutsk leaving. He is going to Khabarovsk where he will be helping the branch. They are opening up a new area there and Elder Gray is training a new missionary. Basically he is getting "white-washed". The branch is pretty small there too so Elder Gray will be doing lots of work :) He will do great. Elder Gray is a really great missionary.  The rest of us will still be the same.  Elder Burningham will be coming in to replace Elder Gray.  I am still zone leader and that’s about it.  Not too many changes.

There is still some drama in the ward. President Perkinson gave us a lesson when he was here about respect and how to avoid arguments.  The President taught that if there is an argument, we should be smart enough to say "Alright honey, you’re right I am sorry". It doesn't matter who is really right or wrong. That isn't important. It is important to avoid the arguments because they don't lead to anything useful. We thought that it was a fabulous lesson - something the branch could really use. Then last night we went to visit a member at their house and the husband said something and the wife said the opposite. Turned out that the wife was right and the husband was wrong. Elder Tracy jokingly said "Hey this is like what President taught us today!" The husband then said "No she is still wrong and needs to apologize to me".  It is quite frustrating... But we are focusing on the member’s strengths and trying to compliment them when they do good. I will let you know what the results are in a few weeks :)

I totally forgot that this week is Thanksgiving! We are getting a party together for this weekend for the branch. Some members want to play some turkey ball but there’s nowhere to play it :( We will have to come up with something.  I am not sure what Russian dish you should make for Thanksgiving.  Sour cabbage soup is big, borsch too, maybe bread and butter and caviar, or holodiets. I can’t think of much more... They don't have a giant variety here :) 

I love you all! I hope you are all doing honest self evaluations often to find out what you each need to do better. I know that I often do it and I am a bit disappointed each time to see how much farther I still have to go. Clarity is power, so we can't expect to progress if we aren't being honest with ourselves on what we can and should do better :) See you in 5 weeks or so on Skype!
Stay Frosty.

Elder Gardner



Monday, November 16, 2015

Negative 33 degrees!

Hey there! The temperature is dropping faster than the voice of a schoolboy going through puberty. It was negative 33 degrees Celsius yesterday before church! We did the math and it was somewhere around negative 27 Fahrenheit if I remember correctly. You walk outside and you can feel your nose hairs and stuff freezing... weird... I haven't ever experienced that before. We had an alright day at church. Lots of drama and people who don't respect others.  But the good news is we are having an increase of church attendance and that makes me really happy!

This week is the week that the Patriarch flies in. He is flying in from Moscow because that's where he lives. I think he is of German nationality though but I am not sure. The Perkinson’s and the Patriarch have been touring the mission giving blessings for the past few weeks. They started in the East and are working their way towards Irkutsk. They are currently in Ulan-Ude and this upcoming week is our lucky week! Lots of preparation to do in order to get ready for them. Lots of cleaning, organizing people and giving out assignments. A side note, our home teaching numbers are down. Not many members are doing home teaching in general. Next year they are implementing a new program. Anyone who wants to do home teaching will put their names on a list and those who don't sign up don’t have to do it. I am not sure that I would do it this way, but we will see what comes of it J 

Elder Tracy is teaching me to juggle
This week we will find out what is happening with transfers. We don't know yet. We did the math with how many Elders are coming in and how many will finish training and how many will need to go where. It will be a tight fit. I am not too sure how the President plans on splitting everything up. It will be super interesting. He told Elder Gray that after Elder Gray finds out the transfers he probably won't be very happy and President will probably have to take Elder Gray to Subway to cheer him up. Ha Ha  I wonder what it means! 

Elder Tracy is doing great though. He is catching on really quick. He is making lots of phone calls and teaching big parts of lessons. He is killing it. I remember I didn't call people for the first few months of my mission and Elder Tracy is already an active participant in the whole process of Missionary work. He is such a stud.

There is a mission conference on the 1st of December. Then I will be going to renew my Visa the same week!

I haven't seen any fast food restaurants here in Irkutsk (except Subway and Papa Johns).  No drive through anything. I saw one drive-through burger place in Nakhodka but I never saw anybody drive through.  J   There are a ton of small stores each run by local families. They are like the size of Circle K. There is bottled water here but not many people buy it. They are tap water fans  :) It is definitely a simpler lifestyle here.

I know that most die-hard... classic... traditional ... (I am not sure which word to use) Russians think that they are better than Americans because everything in America is synthetic and not natural. Everything in Siberia is natural and pure :) They are big advocates of doing everything naturally and with their own hands. Not a bad principle to live by.

Actual Reindeer!
We are making some homemade pirozhkis in the coming days. We need a good bread recipe. Do you have one you can send me? You just make regular mashed potatoes. Then take some dough and wrap the taters in dough and boil them in 2 inches or so of oil for 5 minutes or until golden brown, then flip and boil the other side. Pretty simple, but pretty tasty : ) 

We talked to a member about it and they said you can put anything in them - any food, potatoes, fish, veggies, hamburger meat etc. And she said regular bread would work, but you should add some extra butter to the recipe. It is hard to recommend any substitutes because here in Russia they don't have pre-made dough or refrigerated rolls widely available.

72 hour kit
This week I have been thinking a lot about the 13th Article of Faith. ...If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. I was thinking about how we need to be open and willing to accept the good we see all around us. We sometimes have these preconceived notions and ideas that really aren't that important in the big scheme of things. We should be more worried about finding truth and light than being worried defending our personal opinions. I watched that movie "Meet the Mormons" this past week for the first time. I thought it was so great that we have church members in all parts of the world. They all bring some different attribute that will be of benefit to us and we need to be humble enough to accept it instead of rejecting it because it doesn't fit into our idea of what truth should look like.   

Stay Frosty,

Elder Gardner

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Chill is in the Air

It is weird to think that it is already November.  Time is flying. We are working on setting up a Thanksgiving party here in Irkutsk. Hopefully we can get some tasty food and some member help and this will be a great learning opportunity for the branch. I am glad you liked the pictures from last week. I have not been doing too great about sending pictures on a regular basis. I will try to be better! 

Do you remember the picture of the "No Pooping" sign that I sent last week. That is actually a real problem... Just this morning, about 20 minutes ago on the walk over to this internet cafe, we saw a man on the side of the road with his pants around his ankles... squatting haha. I am not sure if you want to put this up on the blog but I thought it was pretty funny :)

I think the Hare Krishna guy is way nice, they always are. The only problem is when they believe everyone is correct - but everyone has conflicting doctrine. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. He enlightened us on a lot of interesting things about their beliefs that I didn't know before. I see a lot of good ideas in what they believe and I really think that their faith makes people better than if they had no belief at all in God.

The Youth Genealogy thing looked super successful. Where was it held? I don't recognize the place. Maybe it is Dad's office? I have no clue:) I have been trying to learn more about Family History work and I would like to help some of our members learn how to do it. The only problem is that I don't really know how to do it myself. I know how to search through your existing family tree to find people who are ready for baptism, but I am not too sure what to do when you don't have a tree. One of our members is retired and we tried to set up an account for him. We went through the steps to create an account and we typed in all the information about his grandparents that he remembers. Now we have a family tree that is 2 or 3 generations big and we don't know what to do from here. I assume we now have to start calling different cities and emailing churches where the relatives were born or where they grew up asking for the records to be sent to us... right? I am not too sure, but as I have been reading through some older Liahonas (from the early 2000's) there are lots of cool stories about family history work. Maybe you can shed some light on the subject?
This week we had a good week. We visited a few different members. The member that sent you the picture of me in a scout uniform gave me a little lapel pin that has the Scout logo and motto on it:) Всегда Готов (Vsegda Gotov) "Always Ready". He also gave me an old Soviet Union pocket watch. I held it up and asked him how much it cost. He said "Oh it doesn't run, you can just take it". I didn't ask any questions haha I just took it:) After replacing the battery, everything works great and it is a pretty cool piece of history. 

Another day we visited the member who we were helping do Family History Work and he saw the scout pin that I had gotten. He said "Hold on, I want to give you something" he then went into another room, and when he came back he had in his hands 2 lapel pins and 2 fresh onions. He grew the onions himself and he was very proud:) He is one of my favorite members. 

On another day we went to visit our investigator and helped him work on a project for his work. We are going to sing for his video he is making and this video is to help kids believe in God. Its like the D.A.R.E. Program back at school. Don't do drugs, don't drink alcohol, believe in God, all good things. He is on his 3rd or 4th video and they are really popular. 

They have these water pumps scattered all around the city. They are free pumps for people to wheel big jugs and fill them up and take them home to their houses. Some houses don't have running water which is why they are so common. 
On Friday we helped a lady shovel snow and bring some firewood into her house and then she fed us some pirozhki. Bread with mashed potatoes on the inside. She then gave us her recipe and we talked about food, and Russia, and how everyone loves Putin. She is a die-hard Putin fan and I can see why.
Making tacos....yum
This week was pretty good:) We are all trying to figure out what the transfers will be because we have lots of new missionaries flying in and not a whole lot of open spots. Most missionaries are already training someone right now, so it will be very interesting to see how everything works out:) 

This week I realized something important. Gratitude is very important. The 29th verse of Doctrine and Covenants section 59 has been stuck in my head for a while:

 21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

Thinking about this verse in a very real sense makes it very apparent that gratitude is one of the things I need to work on most of all. We should confess his hand in ALL things. I love the quote by President McKay:

"Let us realize that: the privilege to work is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, the love of work is success!" Even when we work with our own hands it is thanks to God and isn't anything that we did on our own without his help. 

Love you all,
Elder Gardner


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We Testified

A little snow
Hey there! I had to eat my words this morning when we woke up and there was no snow on the ground. I could have sworn last week when it snowed that the snow would last until May... it already melted ha ha. It has been surprisingly warm and I am grateful. :) We didn't do anything for Halloween and that was a bit sad but we are going to be putting together Thanksgiving parties and Christmas events so hopefully this holiday season will be filled with the spirit of giving… and lots and lots of cookies :)  On Halloween we just contacted and walked around.  I didn't even see anybody dressed up! Weird. So I remember last year we did Daylight Savings time in Nakhodka. This year we didn't do it though. I don't know what the proper procedure is. Maybe we just screwed up last year haha.

I think its so crazy that Tyler is home so quick! I am going to be home soon you know. I took a look at my little calendar that I have and I totally forgot to cross off any of the days of October as they happened. I just looked down and boom! October was gone. Now it is November. Soon it will be December and then it is Skype time. January is the start of 2016 and it feels like I just started 2015! That will be my 6 month mark. It is weird to be with Elder Tracy because I feel like there’s so much that I still don't know, and there’s so much to do here that it is a bit overwhelming.  I love it! Never a boring day!
Ha Ha.  You can't make this stuff up.
I had a small experience with being prepared this week. We had set up a lesson with some guy who was kinda crazy but pretty nice too. The first time we met with him he wanted to talk about weed and all these super abstract things. Elder Protopopov and I did the best we could fielding his random and elaborate questions and then we did what we did best. We TESTIFIED. It was great with Elder Protopopov because we both understood what was going on and we both were prepared. We knew where we wanted to lead the discussion and didn't get sidetracked by silly hypothetical questions. It was a great lesson. We set up another lesson and this time it was going to be with Elder Tracy. I warned him about how he was kinda weird and the guy said that he was bringing his girlfriend to our meeting. She was... hmmm.. how do I say this tactfully...? She is a perfect match for him;) haha They are like PB and J. Anyways, we prepared and wrote down our "plan of attack" on our whiteboard and studied the Word of Wisdom in depth, and prepared some examples from our personal lives and even looked up facts about Buddhists and what they believe. We also found statistics about the Church's Humanitarian efforts. By the way, if you haven't taken a look at what the Church does in its worldwide humanitarian efforts I would highly reccomend that you go look:)

Anyways, we prepared for this lesson extensively and they never even showed up! We were a little disappointed but that’s okay because the next day a different Hare Krishna guy walked in and he had some strong Buddhist beliefs. We were able to relate to him and talk and he became a new investigator. Yeah! - Isaiah 55:8-9 Be prepared and the Lord will guide you to those who are ready.
Thank you for the package! I am excited to get that! We will all be going to Vlad in December for a big conference, hopefully I can pick it up then.
Russian Wheelchair Ramp....good luck, you will need it.
The Picnic was good and I am also glad that Elder Lukenga liked me well enough. He is such a fun guy! Do you know what he is up to nowadays?

I got some new boots, they ended up not being the ones that I planned on getting. These are leather and they are pretty warm. Hopefully they will treat me well this winter.  I am excited to experience REAL cold. Last year wasn't too bad without boots. I wasn't complaining. This year I think the winter will be easy. I am getting more adjusted to it, Elder Tracy has told me a couple times that he was cold when I thought the weather was fine. I guess I am becoming cold blooded. 
We don't have anyone who is close to baptism. We have 3 investigators. One is a Hare Krishna guy. The other is an English Professor. The third one is a film maker who has been investigating for 14 years. They are all nice but not quite ready to be baptized. The Hare Krishna guy believes in anything and everything. He believes in Muhammad and Jesus and Krishna and all the Indian goddesses and avatars and even though they are preach a different Gospel, they are all correct in his mind. I am still working on that one. That is a big problem here where people believe that every road leads to Heaven. It is very difficult to help people understand that there is only one truth and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  To clarify about the baptism last week it wasn't MY baptism or OUR baptism. It was the sisters baptism - but we all helped :) I am glad to hear though that Zade and Josh and the others are doing good things :) Michael sent me a letter last week I will forward it to you. I email him every other week maybe .Maybe once every 3 weeks.

I think my new ponderize scripture is going to be 2 Nephi 2:13
How do you like my snazzy Russian Boy Scout Uniform.  Sweet.  :)
I don't have a whole lot of time to keep writing but I hope you all have a wonderful week and remember to stay happy when things get rough. Remember that your smile in hard times will be very wonderful for others to see. Others will thank you for your joy and light and you will help them through their trials! Don't be selfish and don't keep your smile to yourself.  Share it.

I love you, thanks for your support and letters! I read this talk this morning. Hope you like it:)





Monday, October 26, 2015

Baptism and Picnic

Our week was good. We are still struggling to find some investigators. That seems to be the common theme for my mission :)  Nevertheless, we had some pretty good things happen. Good youth night on Monday, great English Practice on Tuesday, a Baptism on Wednesday, a day with 3 lessons on Thursday and a full day of meetings and fun on Friday. Saturday was our picnic with the branch and Sunday was a good spiritual day. Monday, we had a fun youth night and had a ton of members and investigators come and it was a great way to help our soon to be baptized investigator meet more members. She is from Mongolia and doesn't speak a ton of Russian but you don't have to speak Russian to play "Ninja" or "Signs" (The games we played at youth night). One of our members from China actually thinks that she is kinda cute and since they both speak English and a bit of Russian and Chinese, they get along pretty well.  It is interesting watching them talk in a few different languages and make the conversation work :) It’s cool.

Tuesday was a good day and English practice went well. We had a whopping 17 people at practice! That is pretty great considering there are some cities in our mission that have 1 or no people showing up weekly. We are blessed in that respect. 

Wednesday was the baptism of the sister missionaries Mongolian investigator. She doesn't speak English or Russian very well - and the sisters don't speak Mongolian very well (i.e. not at all), so they asked a less active Mongolian member to help translate. Since I am the ZL I got the honor of doing the baptismal interview and it all went really well. A member from the Angarsk branch baptized her. He is 19 and planning on going on a mission soon so it was a great experience!

Thursday we had lots of lessons which made it a good day. Friday was the memorable one though. One of our most fun members bugged us a bit. He came and sat in on our lesson that we were having. We were talking about a talk from the April 2000 General Conference and it was going really well.   Anyways the other guy came in and started making trouble. He was trying to be funny but ended up saying some mean things and totally taking away from the spirit. He is a good guy but we had to rebuke him. Just kidding :)  But I got a bit serious on the lesson and I might have made him upset.   I just realize that I can't please everyone all the time, and I can't let him go on with an incorrect understanding. He is still a good guy and we love him, but I have to show more love now than before so he doesn't count us as his enemies.

Branch Picnic
I am actually wearing my big fluffy black leather coat today and I am nice and toasty :)  We got snow again yesterday and now we will not see the sidewalk again until May or June next year haha. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Another picture from the picnic
I don't have boots yet but today we are going with Elder Tracy to get some boots. Well... he is getting boots. I am buying some boots from another Elder here. Elder Perry bought some boots but he doesn't like them because he thinks they are too awkward looking. He isn't a fan. I think they look fine and they are SUPER warm, so I am buying them off him. Now all he has to do is buy some boots and then he will give me those. I still have a coat and scarf and long-johns so once I get some gloves I will be good to go!

Elder Gray got back safe and sound and we went to pick him up from the airport late that night. We ended up getting home at 1 am :)  Logistics here are just TOO MUCH FUN. 

I hope you have a good week and you look at your ponderize scripture a lot :)

I love you!

Elder Gardner

Monday, October 19, 2015

Good week

Our week was good! I was in Vladivostok with my former MTC companion, Elder Hansen. He got moved to a new area in Vlad and is now training too. I am so lucky to not be in their shoes.  Training in a new area doesn't sound like too much fun. Elder Hansen is such a hard worker - it was pretty cool to see him! I was there on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday we met our new companions and we got to go contacting (Elder Tracy and I, along with another greenie Elder Ormsby) for a few hours.  Elder Ormsby is a fun guy, too!  Not a whole lot of people stopped to talk with us but we met a few interesting people and they were nice enough. Some people wanted to argue, as always haha. Elder Tracy made an interesting comment. "People never have time to have a nice talk with us but they will always take time out of their day to try to argue and correct us "misguided boys"  ha ha.   
I like Elder Tracy, he is way fun! He is pretty huge, I am gonna have to do some growing here pretty soon if I want to keep up. Anyway, we have been having fun. He speaks really, really good Russian for the amount of time he has been out. He is pretty humble about it though, and he has a desire to learn a lot and speak well, so I am excited to be with him. He bore his testimony at church and it was nearly flawless grammar. Maybe 2 mistakes in a 7 minute talk. Pretty good :)  Everyone's jaws hit the floor when we were doing role-plays at District Meeting and he was teaching these fake investigators as if he has been out for a few months. Haha, it's fun. Of course he doesn't understand everything, especially when people slur or are drunk. For example:
Some drunk guy started talking to us on the bus last night and asked for a ruble because he didn't have enough bus money. I gave him a ruble and then just started talking to Elder Tracy in English. The drunk guy noticed we were speaking in English and was in shock. I told him we were studying it in school and just practicing (because sometimes Russians aren't too fond of English speaking folk, especially when they are drunk). He asked where we were from and I didn't tell him. He got kinda mad that I wouldn't tell him and I was messing with him telling him that I was Russian, and then I said I was American, and then I said I was lying about it all. He then turned to Elder Tracy and said "What's wrong with you? Why aren't you talking? Cat got your tongue or something?" I said "My friend is deaf, he can't hear what you're saying."  I then turned to Elder Tracy and told him "I just told this guy that you are deaf" and then Elder Tracy started laughing out loud and the drunk guy figured it out that he wasn't actually deaf haha. Oh well! We almost fooled him. The guy was nice enough after that and there wasn't a problem :) 
Our trip back from Vlad to Irkutsk was quite a doozy. The winter season is starting up and all the missionaries made a list of the things they needed from the mission office in Vlad (fluffy winter jackets, boots, Under Armor long-johns, etc.). I brought my big suitcase and the next biggest bag that I own and expected it to be enough. When I got to Vlad and grabbed all the stuff it turned out to be a lot more than I expected. All the clothing fit into my big suitcase which I could check under the plane and it wasn't a problem. 
But the mountain of packages from parents to missionaries was enormous and all I had were a couple of carry-on bags. I am surprised they even let me on the plane with some of the stuff - haha. The security was a drag though. I had all the packages in my carry-ons and some parents sent peanut butter and other liquids which made the security angry/upset. They asked me "what kind of liquid do you have in your bag?" I told them I didn't know. She pointed to my big bag full of clothes and so I opened it to show that there was nothing and then after my suitcase was opened in the middle of the airport she realized that she was looking at the wrong picture and that the liquid was in my other bag, not the big one that I had opened up. I had to close up the big bag and open the small one and open up a couple of packages to show that nothing in there was dangerous haha. One package had bocce balls in it, and when I opened it up to show the security that it wasn't dangerous, I pulled out the bocce balls. I have never played bocce ball before and I had no clue how to explain it to the security so they made me put it in my big check-under-the-plane bag. Basically it was a big fun time and I spent a lot of time talking to airport security. They were nice enough about it though, which made me really happy:) Just doing their job, I understand:) 
I like training! Its pretty good.  This week I will be double-training. Elder Gray is going to Korea and Elder Perry (his companion) is staying with us in our apartment as a threesome. Should be fun! 
This morning we got some snow but it was only for 5 or so minutes. Really quick and then all gone.
Our church members still don't understand the importance of independence here. They rely too heavily on the missionaries and it is hard to beat into their heads the fact that missionaries won't be here forever. We say "The missionaries got pulled out of Ukraine before and if that happened here in Irkutsk, the whole Sunday church meeting would fall apart." They didn't resent that because they know that it is true. We told them 5 minutes before church started that we needed to get the sacrament ready. They said "well you do it." We said  "no, but we will help you. We will match your efforts." They said to forget it and that they would do it on their own. We started 15 minutes late.
Then our Sunday school teacher didn't show up so they told us to teach the lesson. We said "no."  They called on a faithful sister to teach the lesson and she did a FABULOUS job. It was really wonderful, much better than any missionary could have done. Then for 3rd hour they didn't pick a teacher. The 1st counsellor of the quorum asked us to teach because he plainly forgot to assign someone the lesson. We told him "no."  They ended up picking a brother who is a bit shy but he is very nice. He led the lesson and the missionaries all gave input and the members did too and the lesson went well. The leadership here is just very childlike. Childlike in the sense that they don't yet understand the really important things that need to get done. It isn't about the missionaries teaching a Sunday school lesson. We can lead a lesson about eternal families, that isn't a big deal. It isn't about missionaries preparing the Sacrament, we can do that since we have been doing it since we were Deacons. It is about the branch learning to coordinate and communicate and work together to do what needs to get done. I noticed something when I was in Vlad. Lots of people can talk, talking is easy. The real goal, the real challenge for some (if not most people) is the ability to actually communicate.  So I am setting a personal goal to be a more effective communicator. I hope I didn't sound too boring in this letter and I hope somebody can find something of value in what I have written:) haha

I hope you all have a great week and remember what your most important goals are! Are you asking the missionaries to do your Sunday School lessons when you should be doing them yourselves?

Elder Gardner