Monday, August 24, 2015

New Companion

I am glad that you liked my letter last week.  It is always a good feeling looking back and seeing that I succeeded in writing a good letter.  :)  The party was a blast and we met a bunch of cool people. Yeah, the apartment situation is pretty good! We finally got everyone moved in and settled this past week and now we can focus on preaching the Gospel. By the way, I am now the District Leader instead of Zone Leader. My new companion Elder Protopopov is Zone Leader by himself.
This is where the party was last week.  Also, it is the soccer field where the Russian Olympic team practiced.
I honestly am not worried about what you put out on the blog. I write my letters so that they don’t break any of the rules. We only have a couple rules about using names and last names of people. We shouldn't say "Oh yeah we had a great lesson with Alexander Pushkin this week" because that is pretty specific, but it is fine to say "We had a lesson with Alexander" because Russians use the same 10 names on pretty much all of their kids. Sergei, Vladimir, Alexander, Konstantine, Peter, Paul -  all the stereotypical Russian names you can think of, those are the ones they use. I am not sure why, but if the Russian Government found out that I was teaching a man named Sasha then they would have no clue because there are 5 million Sasha’s in Russia. I am not worried at all about the letters I write home being too much information. Post away!
I think it is kind of funny that you never heard from the Brinton’s but with the Perkinson’s you have had good communication….you even breakfast together before they left!

Great view of Irkutsk. It's huge.
I was in the MTC with Sister Oler but never talked to her. She was 6 weeks younger than us so we didn't see each other often. We met in Angarsk 4 months ago or so... I don’t remember exactly.
It is the end of summer in a week from now. The leaves already starting to fall from the trees and the mornings are getting kinda nippy - but the days are still hot.  It sounds like everyone is just getting back into the swing of things back at home. Going to school, and all that fun stuff.   I did get that picture of Elder Brown with his sister. That’s so sweet!  I miss him even though it has only been 3 days or so.

This week was a good week although a bit hectic. We had to help the other elders move apartments. When President Brinton was here, he made the decision to move some apartments closer to center and closer to the church. This was a mission wide decision. Now that President Perkinson is here, he made the decision that we should all live in different areas of the city to be able to find new people everywhere. I can't say which is better or worse I just think it is interesting how differently they think and work.
Transfers were good this past week! We are on the second week of the transfer and just barely got started doing missionary work. We were on weird split kinda thing from Monday (When Elder Sitton and Brown flew out to Vlad) until Thursday (when the new missionaries flew in). We were working in Irkutsk and Angarsk and had to balance all the weekly activities between us and the sisters who were doing the same thing.

After all the missionaries got here, we took them to our house and had 8 missionaries sleeping there. Way too many – ha ha.  We didn't have enough beds, a ton of them were on the ground. Me and my companion woke up at 5 am to take two of the missionaries to the airport because they had a flight at 6 am. We took them to the airport and sent them off with tickets in hand and hoped for the best. Then as soon as we got home we got a call from President Perkinson saying that the 2 missionaries missed their flight and that we had to get back to the airport to pick them up. When we got to the airport we realized that they didn't miss their flight, the flight was just delayed. The missionaries were struggling to communicate because the people at the airport don’t speak English and the new missionaries just barely left the MTC.  They had no clue what was going on. We got there and tried to figure out what was going on but nobody knew why the plane didn't take off, or when it would finally get off the ground or what we were supposed to do. We were told to simply wait and they would tell us later. The flight got pushed back to 8 am.  Then to 12 pm. We were a bit upset when the airport folks told us that they lost the missionaries luggage. How could that be? They never left the ground. We had to go talk to a couple important people in offices up on the 3rd or 4th floors of the airport and they helped us out. Then they told us to come back at 2 pm because the flight wasn't leaving any time soon and they would have more information at that time. So we left and got some lunch and came back at 2:00 pm. Still nobody knew what was going on. We finally heard an announcement at 2:30 that the flight would leave at 5:30 so we waited until then and tried sending the missionaries through a second time. We finally got them through and could only hope for the best. We really wanted to  go through security with them to help them find their gate but it wasn't allowed so we could only pray.  A few hours later we got a call from the Elders in Ulan Ude that the greenies arrived safe and sound. Phew!  Only 12 hours at the airport and we got the job done. Haha.  That was my first day together with my new companion, Elder Protopopov.  Awesome.
The next day we helped the other Elders move apartments and that was fun but not as big of an ordeal. Everything was pretty straightforward just a bit warm weather.  All was good :)

My companion is good!  Super fun.  He speaks Russian and English and is done with his mission in 2 more transfers so I might be with him till the end. I am super excited to learn a lot from him. He doesn't have a crazy different palette than us. He likes tacos and burritos and chicken and veggies and fruits. It’s all pretty much the same. We haven't prepared anything crazy or out of the ordinary yet but of course it’s only the 2nd week:)  He has had tacos before and he says he loves them. Good!
About your seminar on Goals, I know there is a ton of stuff written about it in Preach My Gospel. Maybe that could be of use.  I think the most important part of goals is the evaluation and responsibility associated with them. I have set some goals for myself but sometimes I forget completely about them and it was completely pointless to even make the goals. We should check up on ourselves frequently to make sure we are on track and if needed we should change our actions.  With President Brinton as President of the mission, we had goals and he promised if we had 100% obedience then we would achieve those goals. For the most part it worked but we also felt a bit confined in our area of work. There were some rules made that weren't really understandable. For instance we weren't allowed to go to Game Night and spend time with the members. Most of the time, game night wouldn't be very good if people knew that the missionaries weren't going to be there. We thought it would be better to attend, but that was just our thoughts. Nevertheless, we still followed the rules. Now President Perkinson is saying that we should be finding new ways to contact people. We should be using all parts of our mind to be coming up with new ways to meet people and share the gospel. Game nights are a good thing and we should be forming those good relationships with everyone. It is pretty different and both these ways seem to get the job done. So there are different ways to achieve goals. I wouldn't say that there is one sure fire solution to get the job done and we should be keeping all of our channels open in order to reach our goals.

Here is a quote from one of the weekly letters of President Perkinson:
"The Lord is Hastening His Work. Far East Russia needs a Temple. Will we as a mission keep pace with the Lord’s Hastening? Or, will we insist on doing things the way they have always been done, or the ways we are accustomed to or comfortable with? Will we each learn, repent, change and teach more effectively the Lord’s way? Or, will we be so entangled in traditions and patterns of the past that we will be unable to keep up with the pace of the Lord’s Hastening?"

I really like that and I think it is important to be adaptable and flexible and not get stuck in a rut. The only thing constant in this world is change and we should be right there with it not getting stuck in the past.
I hope you all have a good week and remember that no matter how crazy your week gets, no matter how sad you may feel, no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, there is someone who knows how you feel. Jesus Christ knows that you exist and he loves you. I promise that you can find peace and joy in reading about and studying the life of our Savior.

I love you a lot and miss you too!

Elder Gardner

Monday, August 17, 2015

Big transfers

I am always glad when I make enough time to write a big letter to you all. That makes me happy. Normally I am rushed and don’t have enough time to do everything I want, but a big letter makes me happy.  I am getting better about writing more quality things in my emails I think.

I wish I could tell you a lot about the people whom we teach but we don’t teach a whole lot of people haha. We have few members here but we meet with them often and some investigators who don’t really care about the lesson but we keep going :) There are some people who live here and they are satisfied with their surroundings. They don’t want to improve their life and they are happy being in the dark (metaphorically of course). The first half of my mission I was super set on trying to change them to believe in God. But that isn't my job. My job is to search out the elect children of God who hear the message of the Restoration and act on it because it is familiar to them. Because it is what they learned in the pre-earth life and they loved it then. It is our job not to convince the Atheists or false believers to come unto Christ. We can't do that. We don't speak Russian well enough. We don't have enough tact and eloquence to convince them to change their lives. Even if we could do that, we wouldn't be able to give them a testimony deep down about the truthfulness of the Gospel. Only the Holy Ghost can do that. We are here to proclaim the truth to all who will listen and help those who truly have broken hearts and contrite spirits. We are to go about doing good, being faithful, lifting up the hands which hang down, and strengthening the feeble knees. (D&C 81)

This transfer big things are happening! We are buying a new apartment in a different part of Irkutsk for Elder Gray and his new greenie. We found an apartment just a few days ago for them. It is a one room apartment but the guy did a remodel on it and it looks great. It is big and they are renting it out for 20,000 rubles (about $300) a month. Most apartments come with everything furnished and ready to move in. But 20,000 rubles, that is a decent price. We have another apartment where I am going to live and it costs 27,000 ($414)  a month. It is a 3 room and it’s really nice. The other one is smaller and about 20 minutes away from us in a different part of town. 
Apartment Hunting
I am getting a new companion. I will be in the same spot serving with Elder Protopopov (Протопопов). (All the O's in his name sound like "Oh" except the last one. That one sounds like an "Uh".)  He is Russian, from Moscow and he goes home in 2 transfers. Turns out when the Irkutsk Branch President served his mission in Moscow, he knew Elder Protopopov. Pretty cool!  Expect big improvements in my Russian language skills coming soon.   He could be staying with me till the end of his mission! Cool. Elder Sitton (Our 3rd in the companionship) is going home in 2 days. Back to Arkansas.
We travel a lot.
Chess seems to be a kind of big thing here. Lots of members play and they aren't too bad. I need to get better though.

We haven't gone to the circus yet unfortunately, and our rescue diver didn't come to English Practice yet but it’s only been one week. There is plenty of time for him to come.

My haircut was given to me by Elder Sitton. He cuts his own hair and offered to give me one too haha. It turned out good! And it was free :) 
This week was a good week. We had a big birthday party for the 2nd Counselor of the Mission Presidency birthday.  He turned 50 and apparently he is a big soccer player here in Irkutsk. He invited a ton of people to this party and there were little activities for the kids to do and a scrimmage soccer game going on in the background and it was a great chance for us to get acquainted with people whom we recently didn't know. There should be a video coming out soon. People took a ton of pictures and videos and it will be great to watch. Oh yeah we also had a few assignments to help prepare for the party. One of the assignments was to fill up a couple water balloons for the big water fight he had at the end of the party. When I say "a couple" I mean somewhere in the ballpark of 400 water balloons ha ha. The Russian water balloons were really like regular balloons though ha ha. They were super thick rubber and got super big but they didn't pop easily. We threw one up in the air in our apartment and it didn't pop when it hit the ground. I got hit a couple times during the water fight and it was just painful hahaha the balloon didn't pop and I just got hit by a big heavy balloon.
Branch 'assignment' - balloon prep

One of our investigators is almost homeless. His name is "S" and he had to move out of his house because drunk people who live on his floor always bug him. He hasn't been able to move into his new apartment because he hasn't gotten paid yet, because his boss is greedy and won’t pay.  There is a lot of dog eat dog mentality here. People not being true to their word. His boss said he would pay him 2 weeks ago and he keeps pushing back the date farther and farther, therefore our investigator has been living on the street for the past few weeks. We met with him the other day and as we are walking around he mentions that his birthday was that day! We bought him some bread, and a razor and gave him some of our left over lunch :) He is a great guy. I can't even imagine what he must be going through. He really wants to get baptized and always asks when he can get baptized.

It was great hearing about this year's high adventure.  It is weird to think that there are still young men’s activities even though I am not there. I just kind of assumed everyone came because of me and that they would end now that I am gone. :) ha ha Just kidding! I am glad they didn't have any bad/scary stories this year. Please send my love to all the ward especially to the Greenawalts. I haven't heard from them in a while but I hope they're doing good.

Our former investigator (now new member) “R” got the Aaronic Priesthood yesterday at church and it was super cool. Elder Sitton got the chance to give it to him before he went home. I also gave a talk yesterday about the Word of Wisdom. It is more than a list of things to do and to not do. There are a ton of talks written about it and the more I study about it, the more I understand how all-encompassing it is. It is a topic we could talk about for hours and not hit all the points! I urge you to study it.
I hope you all have a good week and learn a lot in your personal study of the Bible and Book of Mormon! There is always something new to learn. I promise.

I love you all and miss you dearly!

Elder Gardner

Monday, August 10, 2015

Summer in Russia

Hey there! Everything is pretty good in the Motherland:) Sounds like you all had a great week:) I am jealous that you got to see the family again for Ashley’s homecoming.   Before you know it, we are going to be gathering together for my homecoming talk! 

Some cool statue thing haha I don't know what it is, or what it's for... just a big egg on the ground

We have been baking all week but this morning we got rained on and it was quite a relief! We had a baptism this past week. His name is R______. He is a really great guy and although I didn't really teach him much it was still good to see him get baptized. I don't know... I don’t really count them as MY baptisms. I didn't do anything, I wasn't the reason they got baptized. They got baptized because they love the Lord and because they want to follow him. R_______ was the 2nd person who got baptized, that I helped teach. The first was M_______, but he basically baptized himself. We just helped him stay focused and on track and he was prepared to do what the Lord expected of him. That was kind of the same way with R_______. He accepted everything that the other elders have been teaching him for the past few months. I just jumped in the past 2 weeks or so and he was already prepared in my opinion. It is cool to see how the Lord works to prepare people to accept the message of his church. 

There was a shoe repair kiosk on the side of the road. 500 rubles for new bottoms:) (About $8)

I was happy to get the package this week:) President and Sister Perkinson came on out and are going to be here for a few days. They brought the package! Thank you so much for the Hawaiian tie and stuff:) There is a sister who is serving in Irkutsk with us right now who's name is Sister Stevenson. She is Polynesian and it is cool talking about Hawaii and stuff with her. I told her I got some Chocolate Macadamia nuts and a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a luggage tag and she was able to understand haha, I also said Talofa to her and she laughed. The next step is to convince her to teach all the missionaries how to do the Haka. I am praying that my next companion likes tacos because I now have 2 cans of El Pato and Elder Gray doesn't like tacos! It is really a shame.

We found a Mexican restaurant here! The workers don't speak Spanish though, haha but we taught them a few good phrases. Gracias mi amigo. Bienvenidos. Como estas? Me llamo... The workers there think we are a bit odd haha but that's okay:)

Sometimes I write letters to Michael, but most of the time I don't have enough time. He sent me a copy of his weekly letter last week and it was cool to read. Each mission has it's own problems and each missionary has a special set of skills to help where he is serving. It is great to see:) 

These past few weeks we have been searching for apartments and we are looking all around Irkutsk for one. We are trying to find one that is far from the other one. In case you don’t know, Irkutsk is GIANT. We hopped on a bus the other day and started going out to a member who was sick in the hospital. We drove about an hour and a half when we got a call from him saying he was at the church. Haha he got out of the hospital and didn't tell us. We still were in the middle of big city area and hadn't reached the hospital yet. Irkutsk is big. We headed on back to the church to find out he got bored and went home haha oh well:) that was the main part of our afternoon spent on a bus one day this week! 

Irkutsk is a big city but not a big branch. Well, it is bigger than some areas but we have been struggling for some reason! In the past we had around 80 people at church but nowadays there are only 40 or so coming. We are trying to help and keep in contact with as many people as we can but hopefully we can bring more in soon. 

We have around 10 lessons or so every week, 2 or 3 lessons have a member who helps us teach and 1 or 2 new investigators every week. That would be a good week for us:) A high week would be 15 lessons, 4 or 5 in the presence of a church member and 3 or 4 new investigators. For now we don't have anyone too close to baptism but we are working hard trying to find with faith:)

We have been playing chess at nights recently and one of our members is really good. Gotta beat him!

As we were looking for apartments the other day we were walking around when a man passed us. He was walking the same way as us and just passed us when he said "Hey guys" in English and his shirt had a diver down flag on the back. I asked if he was a diver and told him I was too! He didn't seem to believe me, so I asked what kind of diving he does. I asked if he does "Tri-mix" diving or if he ever does wreck diving.  After that he seemed to believe me and he told me that he was a rescue diver! Pretty crazy:) He was born in Irkutsk, studied in Puerto Rico for a few years and dives everywhere. Pretty cool guy, we invited him to our English Practice and he said he would come! 

We are still struggling a bit to find lots of people to teach. We baptized R_______ and now we need to find an apartment before the school year starts. Wish us luck! We have a full plate.
We met some more circus people this week. They are all from Kenya and their names are Fred, Sarah, Omar, and Marcel. They look like regular people, nice and happy and healthy and not smelly:) haha Marcel has dread locks and he normally keeps them up in a pony tail on top of his head. Sarah is really pretty and she's a dancer. Fred is super muscular, so is Marcel but Fred has super short hair. Omar is kinda chunky but they are all acrobats in the circus:) Hopefully we will have a chance to go see the circus! I want to go:)

I hope you have a good week, and I hope you remember that no matter what happens in life it is for the best. My friend sent me something the other day that I enjoyed, I will attach it. 

Ya know how sometimes you are just walking along and then you see something and all of a sudden you just have all of these thoughts come into your head of ideas how it relates to the gospel and stuff? I had one of those when we saw a mosaic that is like thousands of years old. I started thinking about how our lives can, in a way, represent a huge mosaic. My first thought was that when you look at a mosaic closely, all you can see is a few tiny stones that just don't make much sense. Sometimes we look at our current situation like this and are confused, when really we just need to take a step back and see how those few rocks are an important part of a much bigger picture that is beautiful. It's like keeping an eternal perspective. Secondly, I thought of how unique the beauty of a mosaic is. They really are sooooo beautiful, but it's not the beauty that you find in a perfect painting or an epic photograph. Mosaics aren't beautiful because they don't have any flaws. In fact, you can see how it really is just made up of a ton of tiny seemingly insignificant pieces. Some rocks are cut jaggedly, the outlines aren't smooth, but all together it becomes impressive. I guess one of the most beautiful things about it is simply that someone was so willing and able to put so much time and effort into making it. 

All of this reminded me of the scripture found in Matthew 5:48 "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." I'm sure you know this, and I think it says it in the footnotes, but the word "perfect" in this verse doesn't mean "without flaw". It really means "complete" or "whole". I think at the end of the day, our lives are the kind of perfect that a mosaic is. It's not flawless, but it's complete. It's full of obvious mistakes, but they all come together to make something whole. I just know that as we keep trying and working that whatever setbacks we may have, the Lord is going to make them into something beautiful if we will come to Him and receive His Atonement.

I love you all!  I am thankful for the support and love!  The Church is true, the Book is blue and Moroni is always on the ball.  :)

Elder Gardner

Everyone knows of the leaning tower of Piza but this is the leaning house of Irkutsk.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Good Week

Hey there. I am doing good! We had a good week this week. We started a new plan of attack here in Irkutsk. Lately we have been having less people come to church each week than normal. So, we made a ton of different lists. Lists of the birthdays of people. Other lists of anniversaries and some of when our members got baptized. We are trying to remember the important things in these people’s lives and become their friends. Normally they meet us and we serve for a few months and then we move to a different city. The members aren't usually super close to the missionaries but I have seen how much it can help people stay strong when difficulties come. I would want the missionaries in my home ward to be close to and take an interest in my family if they had any problems. The same I should do for all these people. 

It has been raining quite a bit this week. That has been a good thing though because it helped us meet with one of our members. He doesn't come to church or meet with us ever. Do you know why? He is sun-tanning. We asked him why he tans a lot and he said it is because it heals him. We asked him what kind of sickness he has and he won’t tell us, he just says the sun is his medicine and he needs it. He doesn't work ever, he doesn't do anything.... literally... ever. Every single time I call him and ask what he did during the day he says "I went tanning". I ask what else and he doesn't know what to reply. Why would I do anything other than tan?? Russians have interesting habits and thoughts haha it is fun to watch, but sometimes annoying. 

I am glad to hear that school is starting again! School is probably even better than summer :) Oh quick question I have been thinking for a while, but can't remember exactly. Where did Lane serve? Moscow? I vaguely remember that but I am not sure if it is correct. What does he do for work nowadays? 

Everyone here in Irkutsk is nice. We haven't had any crazy drunk people or mean people from what I can remember. The Circus is in town and we made lots of black friends. haha it has been a long time since I have seen a black person. We met a few people, they are all from Kenya. Fred, Sarah, and Omar. We always wave at another guy but he never told us his name. The circus is in town for a few months and hopefully we can go see it :) 

I love Elder Brown, he is probably one of my favorite companions I have had. Even back when he was serving in Vlad a few months ago and I was just passing through for my Korea trip, we clicked right away and were awesome friends. He is having a hard time on the mission right now just because of some drama in Angarsk. I shouldn't talk about it, but it is silly and he is dealing with it really well. He is going back to Pima in 2 weeks! Oh another fun fact I found out, Sister Perkinson is from Morenci if I remember correctly. She knows about Casa and EAC. Pretty cool! 

I unfortunately haven't gotten the package yet. I haven't been to Vlad in a month and a half:) I got Grandpa Woods' email but I am afraid I won’t have enough time to reply :( We were talking about an article in the Liahona magazine this week at church. It talks about the benefits of waking up early and I was reminded of you and how you woke us up early all the time! In the moment, I wasn't too thrilled but I am thankful for it now. Thank you for your great example! 

Thank you for the inspirational quotes and things each week! Those are very cool I love reading them. 

We had a good week full of visits to old lady babushkee and crazy members of the church. They are very nice but they have a certain way they want things to be done and if we don’t listen to them then they start yelling haha. We were helping a lady clean her house and I was mopping the floor. She started correcting me and what she was saying just didn't make any sense whatsoever. I kinda just kept going and she started to shout haha luckily someone else there understood and said it simpler so that I could understand. It was a close call! I am glad to serve nevertheless. 

I love you all and hope you have a good week:) 

Elder Gardner