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:)