Monday, August 1, 2016

The Last Letter

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

Elder Gardner

Monday, July 25, 2016

The best two years

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elder Gardner

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We are volunteers serving the great people of Russia

Hey there

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

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

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

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

Letter to Megan:

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

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

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

I love you all!


Elder Gardner

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Russian laws are a changin...

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

Happy Ryan

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


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

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

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

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

Happy 4th of July

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Last Transfer

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Elder Gardner 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Happy Fathers Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Elder Gardner

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

2 years just isn't enough time!

Your favorite son is doing well! Our week was a good week. I appreciate the music you sent.  As soon as I plugged it in I started scrolling through because I was CERTAIN that there was going to be something unusual on it. It didn't take me long to find a certain song about puppies! Hahah It was a great surprise, I think Elder Turner was a little bit weirded out when I started singing along. He had never heard that song before!   Cameron included a Dr. Demento song that she knew Ryan would like.  And about the card, (We sent an "infinity" card that plays music for hours and hours and drives you crazy) I never actually pressed it! I saw it and thought... that's a weird thing to say. That's not a normal card. Not really a catchy phrase either haha. I then read what you all wrote down and remembered something about the infinity cards hahaha. I still haven't pressed the button! Its just sitting on my desk waiting to be pressed:) Sorry for ruining it, haha, I might press it and hide it somewhere right as I am leaving Sakhalin as a surprise for the other elders haha:p 

When we  went on our hike, we tucked our pants into our socks because of ticks. They were supposed to be a big hazard but we didn't have a single one climb up on us. We tucked our pants into our socks and put lavender oil on our shoes to keep them away. It seemed to work pretty well:) 

This week we didn't have too many lessons with investigators. They were all busy and not answering their phones. We had a few though and they were very nice. We met with a member named Sister Tatiana and she is a wonderful lady. She has had some rough patches in life and has stuck strong to the gospel. She shared stories about her wayward son and how she has felt the comfort that comes from living the Gospel. There are some really great members here. I want to be more like them, like Elder Ringwood talked about those who are truly good and without guile. That was a great talk that I read this week by the way.
It is important that we remember our end goal. It isn't fame or fortune or being the best Mom in the PTA or having the nicest house or anything like that. Those are all things that we can strive toward, and some of them are very worthy things that we should work dilligently to accomplish. But they aren't the end goal. I know that for myself I sometimes get caught up in the little things that aren't as important in the grand scheme of things. Our personal conversion is very important and not so much how converted our friends think we are. I like what Elder Ringwood said "Today there are some who would have us believe our search for relevance can be satisfied only by obtaining position and power. Yet, thankfully, there are many who are uninfluenced by this perspective. They find relevance in seeking to be truly good and without guile. I have found them in all walks of life and in many faith traditions. And I find them in large numbers among the truly converted followers of Christ."

I didn't get to meet with Nikolai this week but Elder Turner did, we had a split. I was with Elder Vincent and it was great. He is a great guy:) Very focused and very hardworking.
I can't believe Calvin is already home in 2 days. He was in the MTC with me! That means I am home soon! Haha time is just flying so quickly. I wish I could slow it down and stay longer. 2 years just isn't enough time. 

Thank you for your prayers! They help a lot. I love you

Elder Gardner

Monday, June 6, 2016

Turning 20!!

Thank you for the Birthday wishes everyone! I had a great birthday this week!

I was on a split with Elder Nielson, who is from Vegas. We went to a service project early in the morning to help the Hare Krishna people make soup. We cleaned carrots and potatoes and then had to go. There were a lot of carrots and taters... They make a lot of soup and help a lot of people.  I really love the Hare Krishna people.
That is so crazy that Jared and Blake are going to the same place! My homecoming talk will be right around the time of their farewell talks, haha that's great.
You asked about rent.  Our rent in Sakhalin is much more than it should be. It is 40 k. In my previous area it was 27 k. It's a 3 room apartment which is more than enough for 2 guys and it is more than I would say is average. You could find a cheaper one easily but I am not sure why we haven't done that haha. It is such a hassle though to find an apartment though so we are staying here for now. 

I got my birthday package this week and I opened it before my birthday! Oops:) Thank you so much for all the things you got me! I really enjoyed the snacks and cake and BYU socks. They match my suit so I have been wearing them with my blue suit. I only have 1 suit, I had a black one and the brown one from Elder Kluff but I didn't have enough room in my suitcase to bring those to Sakhalin and they were falling apart anyways, so I have just one suit here. I might get another right before I come home. I will also be getting shoes in the near future. But that is just a side note:) 

I feel like I have been getting a bit weak, I need to step up my morning workouts. Today we went hiking on a mountain and it was fun! I will send pictures later if I have a moment. 

The school schedule that you sent me is a good one! I have no idea what a lot of credits look like, I just know that the things on there all look super interesting! Except for the English 101 class haha. But I will probably need it, my English isn't as good as I would like it to be. What would be a low amount of credits? What would be a completely filled to the brim schedule? How many credits? I don't know exactly how this whole thing works. Each class is on a different day, probably a few times each week for each class but I don't know much after that... Could you explain to me? It seems like that isn't too much but I don't have a reference point so I couldn't say for sure.  Thank you for all the help getting this college thing up and going. I love you.
We taught our investigator Nikolai this week and before the lesson he was talking about how he gave up drinking alcohol and how great he feels because of it and he made a comment that now he could give the money he would have spent on alcohol to the church. A few minutes later we started our lesson about tithing and he said "Hey! This is what I am talking about! This is great!" He said that he just needs to give up smoking and all will be well. He is such a great guy. He has a genuine desire to change and become a better person. He is making all the changes in his life because he understands what God wants and he is willing to do it. It is so refreshing to see that in him and I am grateful for the opportunity to be teaching him. 

Remember Isaiah 57:21. That is something that nobody can take away from you if you are striving to become more and more like your savior every day. I promise you that peace comes to the righteous and it is one of the greatest gifts that we can get from our Heavenly Father.

Elder Gardner

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sunday in Sakhalin


This week on the island was a good one. We taught a lot of lessons and our investigators are progressing well. We had a few lessons planned with investigators and new members and they invited their friends to the lessons. We made some new friends this week and I am grateful for the chance that we have to teach people about the happy message of the gospel. I am so grateful now and I didn't realize how blessed I was earlier in my life that our family is so strong and together. It is something that not every person has in their life and I am so grateful that I have it. Thank you, Dad, for being a good father. Good fathers seem to be few and far between. 

That is so great that there are lots of changes happening in the lives of our loved ones. Change is definitely not always easy but its what we need I think. I can't imagine staying at the same point I am at right now and being happy with that. I hope I never stop changing, learning and growing. 

This Sunday we had a special Sunday. During sacrament meeting we had 2 people get up and speak to us about self-reliance and then our 2nd and 3rd hours of church were focused on starting the church's Self-Reliance program in the Sakhalin branch. It was fun learning about that kind of stuff. It seems like really useful knowledge and something that I will need in the very very near future:p 

I was sitting next to some Americans who live in the branch and translating for them. They work for Exxon. So their living situation is pretty sweet. The company Exxon pays for their living arrangments and electricity and basically everything they need to live except for food and clothing. The company really takes care of their Americans who work for them here in Russia. So they have a really really great thing going for them. These Americans don't really need to learn about Self-reliance, they already are rolling in the dough so we just chatted the whole time. We talked about jobs and life and what they do for a living and what I think I might want to do for a living. One man said the starting salary for someone coming into Exxon would be around 100k. I don't know if that's exactly right because that seems very high... but he would know better than I would!
I mentioned that I liked pottery but wasn't sure how to make a living and support a family off of pottery. They told me that I had a few options. I could get REALLY good at pottery and become the best at that in order to support my family. Or I could get another job that I maybe didn't like as much as pottery and use that to support my family, and do pottery on the side as a hobby. Or I could become a teacher and do that until I could figure out how to make a pottery business lucrative. Or I could keep my options open and try lots and lots of things my first years of college and see what else tickles my fancy as much as pottery. He said maybe I just like working with my hands and would be interested as well in welding or some other activity similar to pottery. I think I still want to keep my options open of course. I am a fan of lots of different things in life, I don't think I have found my niche yet. I think it will come though in college. 

I mentioned that I liked robotics and programming too, that I thought that was a cool area. I also told them how I was on the underwater robotics team in highschool and we did pretty good. He then started telling me about these underwater robots that they use on oil rigs 5,000 feet deep in the ocean. Now THAT sounds cool! Haha he also said that the robotics field is in need. They have such a long ways to go in that field and there is a lot to be discovered, but there just isn't a whole lot of interest in that field or there aren't enough people to work in that field so he recommended that I keep that as an option. I think that would be very cool. I could move back to Sakhalin at age 25 with my wife and be making big money and working on robots 5,000 feet deep. That isn't the worst idea I have ever heard. Of course there are a lot of dominoes that would have to fall into place to make it happen but I could see that being a real possibility. I don't know... I feel like I need to dream bigger though... That plan I laid out is just too simple, too easy. I can do better, but I don't know what I would do yet. 

Anyways, my high was probably getting to talk with the American guys about work and life. One of them told me that he really really wanted to be a doctor and that's what he tried to become, but it didn't work out. And he is now working for Exxon and wouldn't go back and change it if he had the choice. It's interesting seeing how their lives worked out, what dreams they had and how it all unfolded to get them to where they are today. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? My low was probably that we didn't get to go tracting as much as I would have liked to but that's not the biggest deal. We still found 2 new investigators.  

I haven't eaten anything super interesting recently but we are planning on having some dog... Wish us luck! 
I hope you have a great week and don't forget to learn something new:)

Elder Gardner

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sakhalin is Great

Hey there.  I am really enjoying Sakhalin! It is a great place, there weather is good and there are great members of the church. I am so glad to be here. The Branch President here reminds me of our Branch President in Irkutsk.  He is a really good guy!
I am not jealous of Cameron at all - I don't want to do summer school. It will be good though. I think back about the opportunities I had to study harder or do more things and I regret not doing more. I was kind of lazy and I wish I would have used my time more effectively.

That is great to hear about Austin and Mikal. Those pictures were very cute.
I believe that President and Sister Perkinson are coming to Sakhalin in a few weeks so I will hopefully get the package soon.

I like the topic of service and the program called "Justserve" that sounds pretty great. I had no idea that that it existed. I think there are some really great blessings hidden in service. I really hope we can all serve more each and every day. No matter if we are taking big or small steps, we need to be taking steps in the right direction every day :)
This week was a good week. We had a few lessons with our investigators and they are really great. One investigator named Elena is progressing really well. She asked us a bunch of questions about what rules we have at our church and what you need to do as a member. It hit me this week that she sees our church just as we see other churches. Let’s say that we see a protestant church or a catholic mass. We probably think... Hmm that's interesting I haven't seen that before. A thought I have had before at a protestant church "Oh that's interesting that everyone is standing up and speaking in tongues praying". But for those people, that is their form of worship. That is what they have grown up in, that is probably the only way they know to connect with God. Same thing with our church. When new people come to our church they probably think, why is everyone being so quiet? Why isn't anyone walking around the stage and speaking in a loud, powerful voice preaching to us? Why are they letting 13 year olds hand out the sacrament? Where are the guitars and drums? Where are the statues and crosses? It’s fun to notice the differences and try to see our church through other people’s eyes. Try it some time.

We also met with a few other people this week and they are all doing fine, nothing big is happening in their lives though. Some are trying to avoid the temptation to drink coffee, some are trying to figure out what they believe in. Some are battling to overcome their lack of faith and some are really doing great and they are feeling the happiness that comes from living the Gospel.
The Branch here has about 50 people coming every week which is one of the biggest branches in our mission. It is great to see how strong these members are and how dedicated they are to doing what is right. The members here so far seem to like me. I am replacing a Russian Elder that served here and I think they miss him. That's okay, I am feeling loved and and already having lots of opportunities to serve them.

Thank you for the support you give me, and I hope you have a great week :)

Elder Gardner

Monday, May 16, 2016

Transfered to Sakhalin

Hey there,

It was a bit odd to hear you all call me "Ryan" while we were skyping this past weekend! Haha its been quite a while since that's happened.   This last Visa trip was a good one. We got put on a later flight than half the other missionaries. We caught up with them later in the temple. The past few times I have been in the Temple I have grabbed a Bible and started reading. Each time I just randomly opened it up and each time the same page opened up and this same verse stuck out to me, it's in Isaiah chapter 57 verse 21. 
I flew out with the Sakhalin elders and some others. It was a good time getting to see them and spend time together. I got to Sakhalin on Friday night. Now I am on Sakhalin, it’s pretty great that I can be on an island. It isn't warm but it’s also not cold. It’s like a nice autumn day each and every day. I don't know a whole lot about the heritage of Sakhalin yet but hopefully I will learn a lot more. On Saturday early morning we got the chance to go do service with the branch. We went to a riverside, some river bank and cleaned it up. We picked up dead branches and garbage and raked up leaves and it looked really nice after we left. We got to wear helping hands vests and I felt pretty official. J

Another big plus is that our investigator came and helped up clean up. She is so wonderful, she is already fitting in to the branch and becoming a part of it.
I didn't know Austin was getting married. Is he still going to be living in Vegas doing magic? I haven't heard about him for a while. Speaking of the Brian and Jane family, our apartment smells like their house does... haha that's kinda random but I had that thought yesterday. It’s pretty crazy that everyone is growing up so fast! I can't wait to see them all again, I am worried that I won't recognize them all! Do you have a countdown clock going? It feels like the closer I am getting to the end, the faster time is moving and that's kinda scary haha. I don't want to miss these last few months. I have a lot to do and I am staying focused.

Turns out that Elder Hess has a girl that he likes and she is serving in the Tempe Arizona mission, so if you see any pretty sister missionaries in the ward you'll have to ask her if she knows Elder Hess!
This week was a good week and it was a lot of travelling and packing and getting organized. I had to leave a few cat shirts in Artyom sadly, I didn't have enough room in my suitcases. I also left some shorts and Elder Cluff's brown suit that I snagged a month ago. That's okay though, it wasn't the best quality still. It was a bit old.  :)

Elder Turner is a great Elder. He is still learning Russian, but so am I. I really don't think I will be finished studying it, ever... haha I want to keep going with the study of the Russian language when I get back home. It is such a rich language. I hear new words every day and I don't think I will ever get to the point where I will understand everything 100 percent haha. It's so great! That means I can always get better and that is great.

About your dream (Ryan’s dad had a dream that his father told him that Ryan’s mission is much harder than he lets on), that's very interesting. I personally very much believe in dreams and that they can be a way to recieve further light and knowledge that we each need. Grandpa Gardner is a pretty smart guy, in your dreams too he is spot on. I mean... yeah it's hard, but was there anything in life worth getting that didn't require hard work and sacrifice and a little bit of suffering?   Maybe not suffering... that sounds a bit too harsh but I don't know what other word to put in place of it. There is no growth in our comfort zones, and there is no comfort in a growth zone. I struggle but that's really the reason we came to this Earth. It doesn't mention in the scriptures anything about God's weekends or vacations he took. It talks about his work and his effort to help us and his constant care for his children. I am enjoying this whole mission, and I am so grateful every morning to be able to be a part of it.
I love you a lot and am grateful for all you do for me, even when it isn't noticed.


Elder Gardner

Monday, May 2, 2016

Love the Borsch

This week was a good week. We had a big meeting in Artyom on Thursday, it was a big District Meeting with all the cities driving in for it. Nakhodka, Vlad, Ussurisk all came down. This time I didn't have to do anything, I was grateful. We spent a long time before the meeting cleaning the branch. Scrubbing the walls, washing dishes, beating the carpets out. It has been a long time since the branch had a good scrub down. It looked really good though after we were done with it. Our job was to be good hosts, we ordered pizza for dinner after the meeting and had enough juice to drink. Pretty simple:)

Our branch was great this week we had 15 people show up and after 2nd hour we had a big dinner all together. We had rolls and Easter cake and choco-chip cookies and the sister missionaries bought juice and another member named Katya made borsch. It was a really great dinner:) I enjoyed it. Now we know how to make borsch and can make it for you when I get back. I would recommend borsch for the missionaries when you feed them this week - I am sure they would love it :)  
The people at the homeless shelter didn't particularly ask for anyone to play the guitar, they just said that they had one if we wanted and I really wanted to play on it haha. It wasn't super great but I am trying to be a wise and profitable servant and not bury my talents in the ground.

And about the winter gear, I will be sure to bring it home. It is all in good shape still. And besides they hold all my winter memories. I haven't decided how I will get it home yet, but I will figure it out:)
Can't wait to get the mail! Especially that birthday package :) Thank you so much for sending it! I can't believe that I am going to be 20 years old soon. I feel like I am still 15 years old. I still look the same anyways haha.

The internet in Artyom went out today and there aren't any internet cafes in Artyom so we came into Vlad today to write home. I really have no time to write this week, hope you have a great week!
I love you so much. Can't wait to skype next week!

Elder Gardner

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I love the light and the dark

Sorry about not writing super great letters recently. I really haven't had a whole lot of time. I have been writing longer letters to President Perkinson each week so I have had less time to write you. We found some extra time this P-day so here is a little bit more about my week.

I am doing good and this week was a good week. We are tracting more and more houses each week. We are getting more lessons too and we even got a new investigator this week but it isn't enough for me. We tracted 162 houses and had 14 people at church which are really great numbers! We even met a lady name Tatiana. She was interested and let us into her house and we got to teach her a lesson about the Plan of Salvation. We have 4 lessons this week which is pretty low, but that’s what happens when you go tracting so much. I am very grateful though for the success that we are having. It reminds me of the Scroll Marked II. It says "I will greet this day with love in my heart. I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars." I imagine that being darkness in the form of hardships and set backs. When everything is dark it makes it possible to see the little specks of light up in the sky. If it never got dark we would never be able to enjoy the beauty of the starry night sky. When it gets dark it really helps us to see the little mercies and little successes.
I gave myself most of this haircut! Elder Bates helped me blend the sides.
Doesn't look too bad. :)

We are at a tough cross-roads in our work. We have 80 people on the branch list. Only 10 or so come to church regularly. We went through the list and looked at everyone who would be interested in the church and who could help build up the branch. Out of the 80 people there we have around 5 men who are interested in the church and would be able to build up the branch. And we have about 10 women who fall into the same category. 3 of the men are less than 15 years old and the other 2 are in college and don't come each week. The women are wonderful but can't be Branch Presidents or Counselors. We have been trying to find the golden balance between our first option, meeting with our members to help them grow and progress, and the second option of going out to find new people. Right now though we are focused more on the “finding” aspect of missionary work. We need to find some people who can carry this branch.
The branch is good. This week at church we had a ton of people! 14! Pretty great. The only problem is 11 of them left after sacrament and wouldn't stick around for 2nd hour... yes... the big dilemma. How to get them to stay after they've come!

We went to a facility that helps people that can't take care of themselves. They are all religious and they love Jesus. We had a great lesson with them and then we got a chance to sing some hymns for them. We told them that we wanted to sing for them and they said "Oh hey! We've got a guitar here if you wanna play!" I have played a little bit on the mission and Sister Stevenson knows that I am not very good. She said that I shouldn't play but I did it anyways haha. J   We sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" and "Because I Have Been Given Much" and "Lord I Would Follow Thee". With my basic knowledge of chords and music I was able to play a couple of them. We sang the last one acapella. I am trying to use my talents so that I don't lose them. They really loved the hymns.
I learned that the Fish symbol that symbolizes the feeding of the 5,000 used to be a secret symbol. They told me that it used to be a sign between Christians to let one another know that they were both Christians without expressly stating it. You would meet someone and draw with your finger the top half of the fish body... Like a little hill kinda looking thing. Then the other person, if he is in the club, should finish the drawing and draw with his finger the bottom half of the fish, like a shallow U. That's how you would know who is a Christian and who isn't. That's what the guys at the place told me! Haha I had no idea, I had never heard of that before.

We also made bread for the sacrament bread this week. Yum. We bought a big bag (500 g) of yeast.  We will be making lots of bread :) Elder Bates gave a great talk about the teachings of Jesus' life and how he is the way, the truth and the life. We had a good Sunday.
I thought of something that you might want to consider for my birthday.  How about some Kraft Mac-n-Cheese? That's a quick dinner and it’s very tasty. Or maybe even hamburger helper :) Can't go wrong with that!

Yes I am now the proud owner of a brown suit. Elder Kluff (who served with me in Angarsk) went home recently and didn't want his brown suit - so I took it:) It is still in nice condition. It’s a little bit long but I know how to hem the pants. The rest fits good :) well... good enough!
I probably won't be going to Korea again until the end of May.  Three months is such a short amount of time between Korea trips, I still haven't mastered the Korean language.

I hope you don't rip ALL your hairs out this week with the crazy kids, good luck! I love you.
My high was tracting lots of houses and my low was not having our members stay for 2nd hour :(

I love you all.

Elder Gardner


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hawaiian Luau

Hello! How are you? I am glad to hear from you! I love you mom.

I love those pictures you sent me! If only I would have known the whole smiling thing, I might have been able to avoid the rabies shots. I agree only slightly with the Russian comment. The older generation is definitely softer in my opinion. I smile at them all the time. They normally receive it well. I think it might be because I am young and they expect the youngsters to be the rebellious teenagers, which most teenagers here are. When they see a nice young man they are taken aback and probably just smile out of confusion J

I had no idea that this Friday was Earth Day! I don't think Russia celebrates that holiday.  I haven't heard anything about it. They have lots of war holidays and commemorations of days of victory and things of that nature.  But, they seem to have less "silly" holidays (I use the term silly loosely but I hope it makes sense. In the US we have national pancake day and siblings day and all those things, whereas Russia celebrates more of their actual victories and historical feats).
I did get those photos! Thank you so much for sending them! They are great. Some people seemed super shocked to find out that I was in choir and had a solo! Some even questioned if they were real and asked "You’re kidding, you were in choir. Are you serious?" I mean... there are a lot of things that someone could lie about in life. You could lie about your grades or what kind of car you drove back in the day. We all know people that lie to impress others. But, I don't think lying about being in choir or being in a musical would dazzle that many people. That's just not something you lie about!

We have been having rain for the past 3 days and its wearing on me haha. I miss the sun! The work is alright but really slow. We had 3 adult members show up for church. One lady brought her daughter but the daughter just ran around the halls the entire time. After the sacrament the only male who came left. So we had 2 people stick around till the end of church. I feel so bad for them, they are really out here on their own. I wish there was something more that we could do to get more people coming. The missionaries come and go and the strong members just get worn out because there is no support here.  For church we watched the rest of General Conference, the Priesthood and Women’s sessions.
We had two men this week let us in to their homes. One was an ex-convict who was really drunk.  He was just recently let out of prison. He served 5 years for stabbing a guy. He was really friendly to us though and really drunk. He liked us because we were American and gave us a big hug when we left. He didn't really want to know about the gospel because he said he had enough religion in his life. He has a giant icon up in his apartment of Mary holding baby Jesus and he prayed in front of it each day. Nice guy, though.  The other guy we met was a retired guy, he liked English but didn't want to know about the Gospel. That is one of the hardest parts of the work. This message is so great and I have that desire to share it but we can't force people to open their doors and their ears and eventually their hearts. Normally they don't open up the first one (the doors) so we can't work on the other 2 (ears and hearts).

Our Luau was really great, hopefully someone puts up on Facebook a video of us singing our song "How can I be?" I think it turned out really well. We made smoothies and pineapple upside-down cakes and Hawaiian hay-stacks and had lots of decorations and I was really pleased with them way it turned out. Artyom was in charge of the decorations and dessert so we made smoothies and some tiki-heads out of soap as part of the decorations. We carved a turtle and dolphin as well and put them out on the tables as centerpieces. I will attach a picture.

I love you all! I hope you have a great week and I hope you re-read one of the conference talks that were given this last Conference. I love Conference and hope we don't forget what we heard and felt :)

Elder Gardner