Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teach a man to fish

Hey there!  I am good and happy and healthy. My week was pretty good, less chaotic than last week for sure. This week the Assistants came into town and we had a split with them. I got the chance to work with Elder Mateer. He is from Britain and he is pretty cool. We also had a good Zone Conference with all the missionaries meeting here from Irkutsk, Angarsk and Ulan-Ude.  Zone conference was super good. President Perkinson has such a strong testimony and it really helps us remember why we are here and what goals we have.

Our meeting was in Irkutsk at the church building here. And yes I have been eating vegetables - I can't eat only chocolate bars, as much as I wish I could. Ha ha.

I am not too surprised that it looks like snow is coming. It is cold here. J  I remember in Nakhodka, I got there the first week of October and we didn't have snow yet and I am hoping that it waits that long here, too.  As soon as the snow starts, it won’t go away until May. It is a real problem in my opinion. In Nakhodka they had poor street work. The snow piled up and only late into winter did they start cleaning the roads and sidewalks. Hopefully it will be a bit different here in Irkutsk.

When I was a Zone leader I think we had 8 missionaries in our zone. But at the Zone Conference there were 21 people. Haha I am glad that we are getting more people here working.

Of course I am happy that we have more missionaries working here but I had a worry this past week. I realized that the branches are dependent on us and it is not good at all. We need to help the branches but more than just help them by setting up chairs and stuff, we need to help them stand on their own two feet. I think that is the key to giving them real help. It brings me back to the old Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

Right now we are just giving the Irkutsk branch fishes, but we need to buy them a really pretty fishing pole and give it to them. That will be better in the long run. This week one of our church leaders asked if we could get some bread and bring it to the church for sacrament. We said of course we could help but that it would be better for him to give the responsibility to a member instead of missionaries. His reply hit me like a ton of bricks. He replied "The members already are coming to church. You expect them to buy bread too? That is just too much".  After picking my jaw off the floor we went and got some bread. I was a bit upset that one of our church leaders had this kind of attitude about church attendance and I really shouldn't have let it bug me.  I realized that he was doing what he thought was the norm. Normally at churches here people just come and take the sacrament and go home and that is that. Our LDS church is different. We expect a lot from our members and I can't get upset at our members here if we haven't taught them this principle yet. I thought also about the talk by Elder Uchtdorf from a few conferences ago. It is titled "Come, join with us". Give it a quick read if you haven't already. 

Thanks for the advice on setting goals, I will try and incorporate that into our upcoming district meetings and work. We worked on that a little bit this past week, which goals we have and what we each need to do in order to make these goals work out.  It was good but I think we get quickly discouraged when no matter how much we try to help the members, they leave church 2 minutes after taking the sacrament. That happened this week. We blessed and passed the sacrament and before the first talk was over there were about 5 people who had already left. After the first talk some lady got a call on her phone, she answered it without getting out of her seat and she wasn't speaking quietly. She then said "No I am not busy" and stood up and squeezed out of the row and walked into the hall to finish her conversation the whole time just chatting on the phone. Just before that a member was making big hand gestures waving at someone across the room and doing the super loud "Whisper" thing trying to get this persons attention. She was whispering but in reality it was louder than if she would’ve just spoken normally. She wanted that person to turn the AC off. The person turned off the AC and a few minutes later this lady stood up and changed seats anyways. I don't know it bugged me a little bit. After church we were trying to have a missionary meeting and in the hallway there were kids running around slamming into walls and screaming and it was bugging me too because the parents were doing nothing about it.

It hit me that this branch is still relatively new and I need to be more tolerant when they make mistakes because they don't understand yet. I am sure that is how Jesus felt sometimes when teaching his Apostles. They didn't understand everything completely but getting upset doesn't help. It only helps if we show them a good example and teach them correct principles so that they can learn to work independent of missionary help. I hope you have a good week and thanks for showing me the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" all those years ago :)

Yesterday we had a great day, we met with one of our members whom we haven't seen in a long time. He is studying to become a doctor, and he is already getting his hands in there practicing a little bit. He is 20 and he is pretty cool.  We also went to visit a member who hasn't been coming to church for a few years. We invited him to come to our Open House day at church on Wednesday and he invited us in. Turns out he is a way cool guy! His name is B  and he was one of the original members here in Irkutsk when the church first opened up here over 10 years ago. He has a sweet mustache too haha  You can't see his lips when he speaks, his mustache just dances when he speaks haha.  He said probably 15 times during our meeting "My American Friend" in English - he is a pretty cool guy :)

I am a fearless world traveler! I have found myself able to sleep about anywhere. I have slept on trains, on planes, on busses and I even fell asleep on a lesson or two back in Nakhodka when I didn't understand what was going on and the member just wanted to talk and talk and talk. I can sleep sitting up, or laying down, or with a book in my hands, or even without anyone noticing J  Haha I haven't had any sleep problems and I am very thankful for that. Then again, sometimes I fall asleep when all I want to do is stay awake. I don't really have any control over that and I wish I did.  

Anyways, I am glad to hear that all is well at home! Keep up the good work and remember...Be a missionary always and when necessary use words.

I love you

Elder Gardner


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lot's of Travel

This week was a great week.  I was busy 24/7. Unfortunately, we didn't have a ton of time to meet with our church members and serve them but we worked in different cities and that was really fun!  

Last Monday night I left for the airport and the other elders took me there. I went through security and after that I was on my own for 6 hours or so.  It was weird being by myself.  It has been a long time since that has happened.  J   I could just walk on over to the vending machine at the airport and I didn't have to ask anyone to watch me or come with me. I felt like I didn't know what to do.  I could walk wherever I wanted. Nobody cared. I could go to the bathroom and take as long as I wanted because I didn't have anyone waiting for me. Ha ha.  Super strange. 

Anyways, I flew to Khabarovsk and met the missionaries and from there flew to Vlad. I worked in Artyom for a few hours and get yelled at a couple times and then went on out to Korea :)  Artyom is a small city and there are a ton of Jehovah Witnesses. People think that we are "J-Dubs" and get upset - but that’s okay we met a couple really nice people too. Upon arriving in Korea we booked it on over to the temple and made it in time to go shopping at the distribution center. I bought a pocket size set of scriptures for myself and some tie tacks for members in Irkutsk.  Then we had a chance to go do some work in the temple and it was super cool.  My first time in almost a year! I miss the temple, it is such a peaceful place to be. After that we got some Micky-D's and went to bed. We didn't know it but there was a guy in the temple who is Russian and he was staying at the temple for a whole month before going back to Khabarovsk. He knew a few of the Elders who were with us and it was a cool little reunion for them.  

On the trip back from Korea to Irkutsk I stopped in Khabarovsk again and spent a day there working. We met a wonderful lady on the bus from the airport to their apartment and we got to talk with her about her baby. It was the cutest baby I have seen in a long time.  She loved talking and laughing haha. Anyways I finally got back to Irkutsk on Thursday at midnight.  On Friday during the day we worked. Then Friday night we went to the train station and hopped on a train headed to Ulan-Ude. We got there 8 hours later at 7 am and spent the day there working with the Elders. Super fun.  I had a chance to meet one of their investigators who LOVES American Football. He had a Giants jersey, hat, and a real helmet too. We played some catch and he seems like a super cool guy. We always seem to find the coolest people in Ulan-Ude. Anyways, we took a train back late on Saturday night and got to Irkutsk at 7 AM Sunday morning. We went home, showered, studied and then went to church to have a ward council meeting. This week was definitely not a boring week.  J

I had a wonderful opportunity to Skype with President Perkinson last week.  We also had on the line a member of the mission presidency who is Russian.  We talked about how to help one of the members in a different city with his debt problems and I could just tell that President Perkinson was in the zone. Financing and business issues are his bread and butter. It was cool to see him think it all through in his head and it was great how we all counseled together to come to a conclusion that was right for the situation. We as missionaries were there to translate for the 2 of them. It was a bit challenging but fun. How do you say "Captial Expenditure" in Russian? haha 

On a lighter note, I finally got a package sent off to you! I have been trying to do it for a while now and finally did it.  J   I wish I could pat myself on the back for being timely and quick... but I originally planned to send that package 2 months ago. haha.  

Speaking of Korea though, I hadn't thought about it but you are right! I am really accustomed to the Korean airport, I know all the landmarks that you see when looking out the window of the bus and all the bus stops on the way to the temple:) It seems like second nature - weird. I have not seen the northern lights yet, although I haven't been looking for them. Maybe I will keep my eyes out. We might not be north enough since we are pretty close to Mongolia.

There is no news about our investigators here in Irkutsk but hopefully next week I will have something to say :)

Oh yeah by the way, President Perkinson is flying out this Saturday for a Zone Conference. We will have a leadership meeting that starts at 9 am and then after that the regular meeting starts and we won’t end until 5 pm. I like the way he runs his meetings because he centers them on the principle of a "Council". Everyone adds what they think is important and it is a lot more interesting than having someone stand up and talk to us for 8 hours.

I have been a little bit sick for the past few days. I have a slight cough but I am eating lots of hot soup (I.E. Ramen) and drinks with Vitamins (Nesquick chocolate milk) so I should be healthy really soon. I hope you all have a wonderful week and stay happy, safe and healthy :)

I love you a lot and I am thankful for your great example to me!

Elder Gardner

Monday, September 7, 2015

Russian Life

Hey there:) We had a good week this week! Full of rain, and cold nights and jackets.  I have told a couple people about the microbursts that we get in Ahwatukee, and they don't seem to understand. It is pretty crazy and for us desert folk that we don't know how to deal with all the water, haha.  We have been getting lots of rain though, recently, and it is really nice. I think Summer is all gone and it will only get cold from here on out.

Oh, side note, Russian streets don't drain the water super well and I see people get splashed all the time from cars driving through puddles at high speeds. You might think that it is funny, I did at one point too until I became the victim and now I just feel bad whenever I see people get soaked. Another thing, I don’t think I have ever seen more amateur drivers drifting around corners in the rain in busy traffic in suped-up Toyota Corollas with self-welded on spoilers than here in Irkutsk. It’s fun to watch:)

Elder Protopopov in our crazy fog!
We had a good English practice where we had people split into teams and write down good conversation questions. We didn't explain the rules well enough because when we told everyone to put down the pens and share what they came up with we got weird questions. 

"Why don't you eat banana pills?" 
"How long would it take to walk to the moon?" 
"What's up doc?" 
They wrote down silly things like that. 

The rest of our week was alright. We finally found a new investigator that agreed to meet with us. His name is Maxim. He is a former Military pilot and submarine operator and now he is working for American Airlines. He seems like a way cool guy, the only problem is he doesn't come across as a super cool guy. He has ripped clothing and ugly fingernails and greasy hair. I mean I can't judge. He might have had serious trouble and that’s why he looks the way he does:) We are still meeting with him and we hope to be able to help him find a real desire to follow Christ. 

We are trying to come up with different ways to find people to talk to. Normally we come up to some random person on the street and we say "Hello we are missionaries and want to talk about God" Haha it doesn't work out too well. We started doing a survey and it helps us stop people easier. It is less intimidating when we say "Hi, we want to ask your opinion about a few things". We are trying to think of more ways though. If you think of any fun or creative ways to talk to people please send them our way. 

This week we also had a movie night. We started this tradition but it is going downhill pretty quickly. The first time we had this, about 30 people came and it was a big success. The second time about 15 people came and this last time there was 8. Maybe we will have to give the movie night a break for a while. It is such a shame that there are very few Church movies translated into Russian. We really want to see Meet the Mormons because we heard it was good, but that won't be in Russian for a long time. 

This is at Rio Grande... its kind of a Native American restaurant too pretty cool:)
I will be headed off to Korea this week and it will eat up most of my week. I will leave tonight at midnight. I am flying out by myself and will meet missionaries in Habarovsk after my 6 hour flight. Wish me luck! Hopefully I don't go to too many clubs while I am without my companion. Just kidding! I think it is cool that they trust us to fly alone. It wouldn't help if Elder Protopopov flew with me because that would just be another plane ticket to buy. President Perkinson is trying to cut down on expenses and make this mission very "efficient" (that is the word he used) He said this mission is the largest mission based on land size and is a mission that has probably the greatest capacity to be inefficient (I hope this is all making sense). It would be easy to spend lots of money flying here and there and that was what our mission was in the past. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that, but we could do better. He is focusing on "Streamlining" (another word he has been saying a lot recently) our mission and expenses. You can definitely tell that he is a businessman just from his vocabulary. Anyways, that is why I haven't been flying so much:)

I get back to Irkutsk on Friday early morning. I will work here for a day and then we are headed off to Ulan-Ude Saturday morning to do splits with the missionaries over there. I won’t have any time here in Irkutsk, but that’s okay! The work continues everywhere, not just in Irkutsk. 

One of the members posted two videos of the soccer game we played a couple of weeks ago.  Check out my skills. :)  (I am the one in the white shorts.) 

If anyone who reads this blog understands Russian, then check out this cool website that one of our members maintains. It is the website for his soccer team that he created, Baikal +.  They are pretty cool! If you don't understand Russian then I would recommend going to Google Translate and typing in the URL. It will translate the whole website for you. Either Google Translate or maybe you could just look at the pictures and not read anything... like I did with most of my school text books:) The website is 

Anyways, I’m glad you tried making that Hare Krishna cake.  It looks super tasty!  It looks perfect. I normally slather the top with jam so it isn't so plain. The options are really endless. 

Our trip to the Russian Orthodox Temple was really cool:) There are a ton of temples here in Irkutsk. Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, 7th day Adventists, Evangelists, Jewish Synagogues, Muslim Mosques are all found scattered across the center part of the city. Now all we need is a Mormon Temple:) There are really pretty paintings on the roof and walls of the Russian Orthodox temples and a cool little store inside. You can buy some candles and put them out in remembrance of loved ones or deceased people. You can buy a cross to wear around your neck, or maybe some icons that most everyone has in their house. The icons are to help people remember God and their faith. They have nice old ladies that work there too:) It's really a cool place. They also had a giant wall with an altar set up and a big gold and colorful painting on the wall. This is where the priest stands I think. I didn't take any pictures because I didn't want to be disrespectful and I don’t really know the rules there but Google Search it and I am sure you can find something.

Anyways, I am glad to be here in Russia. The people are great, the food is tasty and the Gospel is true even in Irkutsk.

I hope you have a wonderful week and stay happy and healthy:)

Elder Gardner

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Russian Food

This week was a good week! We have been getting lots of rain and it is a nice break from the heat. Pretty soon the winter will start, it is already fall technically. There are lots of workers out on the streets who sweep the streets cleaning off the dead leaves and the city looks really nice. They have a good city cleanup program going on here. I was thinking about Dr. Trent the other day, I would love to chat with him and find out what his mission was like because it sounds like they were really different. I am 100 percent honest that I like being here. Russian people are really great if you get to know them. The culture is super cool and their lives are full of hard work, patriotism and dedication to family. We can definitely as a society learn a lot from the Russian culture and way of life. 
I am glad to hear that you have such good things going on in your life! It seems like time is simply flying by and I just can't grab on to slow it down no matter how badly I want to. 

Quick side note, you might notice I took a big amount of money out of my account, that was because the Ruble was up at 70 rubles in a dollar. Elder Protopopov and I found out that 70 rubles to a dollar is the highest it has been at for a long time so I decided to pull money out in an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity. You don't have to worry, I didn't break anything and had to pay for it. I just wanted to take advantage of a good opportunity. :) 

Today we are going to go to a Russian Orthodox Temple and I think it will be a really good opportunity. The more I learn about the church and its influence here in Russia, the more I am glad that it exists. Some Mormons might say, "It isn't the true church of God, we would be better off without it" But I am convinced more and more that all churches are a force for good in the world. Maybe they dont have all the truth revealed to them that would help them bring people closer to christ, but they definitely teach people that Jesus is their Savior and Redeemer. I think we all need a bit more love towards one another.

Yeah Elder Barr seems like a really cool guy. He was in a few Mormon videos on and is in a band. They opened up for groups like Imagine Dragons and others. Pretty cool! Turns out they travel around and play music everywhere :) He’s a real life rock and roll star.
We were stuck in the airport with Elder Barr and also Elder Berrios. Elder Berrios is from Pima I think. Either Pima or Safford. I talked to him a little bit but we couldn't find any connections between who we know. Maybe if you talked to his parents you could find something else out. That Gila Valley part of Arizona seems so small that we are bound to know at least one of the same people. :)  
That’s pretty cool that we are getting hits on the Blog from people in the states and also in the Mother Land:) Pretty soon I will be on the Larry King show and I will be baptizing Putin as well haha. 

No, I haven’ been “Rhino’d.”  Most of the time when people find out that I am American they either frown or get interested and ask how I am liking it here.  Most aren't hostile. I haven't been the victim of violence, just insults.  When I tell someone I am from America most of the time they say something along these lines "oh you’re American? That’s interesting, you’re pretty gutsy to be here. Did you know that we are enemies?" People think that we are enemies but they don’t really treat us like enemies - most of the time.  I think the Russian people don’t like Americans just because that is what they have been taught. They are taught by their parents and the media and all through their life that we are enemies but I don’t think they actually believe it. I have noticed even when Elder Protopopov speaks to people, they are rude and mean to him.  It has helped me understand that there are people in the world who are upset and it doesn't matter who you are, they will still say mean things. Don’t get offended, just let the person go on their way and maybe at a later time you can talk to them. 

We have been switching up the food lately. Elder Brown taught me how to make some tasty white sauce before he went home. I have been making chicken alfredo :) Another favorite, which I didn't expect, is now Grilled Chicken on veggies. Just cut up your chicken into little cubes, season it with salt, pepper, and taco seasoning. Then cut up Veggies like cucumber and tomato and maybe some frozen veggies and put them in a bowl. Top it with your chicken:) I was hesitant to try it at first but before I knew what was going on Elder Protopopov made me a plate so I kind of had to try it.  It was better than I expected so I am happy.  I also learned from the Hare Krishna people how to make some good cake!  Super easy recipe: 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of Манная Крупа (I googled it because I dont know how to say it in English. Wikipedia calls it Semolina. I think you maybe use it to make Cream of Wheat), 1 cup of milk or Kefir. 1/2 cup of vegetable oil,  1-2 cups of flour. You just mix it all up and you want the end product to be thick like brownie batter but not thick enough to pick up with your hands like bread dough. That’s the recipe they gave me but I always add vanilla and cinnamon and baking soda so that it rises and is a good tasty cake. I also add fruit into it, just cut em up and throw em in. Maybe even top the cake when it is done with some jam so it doesn't dry out too quick:) It is pretty tasty! Give it a shot!
At the stores you can buy bread rolls stuffed with either chicken and cheese, or mashed potatoes, or ham and cheese, or cabbage and mushrooms. Those are pretty Russian dished. Or maybe a Russian kind of fried rice called "Plov" although I know it isn't Russian. It is from a different country but I can't remember right now. Super good! We eat well enough here :) You just have to be smart enough to figure it out. In the beginning of my mission it was boring but now it’s getting better!

We haven't had hamburgers yet... that is something we need to try!

I really enjoy serving with Elder Protopopov. He is a great missionary and a great help to the work. I am glad to be his companion. People say I look kind of Russian so I am working on that right now. I just need to lose a little bit of weight and do my hair differently and get a better accent then I am good to go :)

I hope you have a good food filled week! I got really hungry typing about all the food I have been eating haha. I love you and miss you a lot :) I hope we are always trying to strengthen our own testimonies because that is the key to spiritual survival.

I love you and hope you have a good week! 

Elder Gardner