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


Monday, April 11, 2016

Another Week in Paradise

Our week was good. We have been very busy trying to find some new investigators. We went tracting, which for those of you who don't know is knocking on doors. We normally approach a house and there is a key pad near the door. You press the number of the apartment you want to call and then their house phone rings up in the apartment. They answer, we say "Hello, we are volunteers here. Could you please open the door?" then if they are in a good mood or if they didn't hear your accent, they push a button on their phone and the metal door demagnitizes and you can open it up. You climb the stair well to the top floor and start knocking. We heard somewhere that an odd number of knocks is more friendly than an odd number. Normally 3 or 5 knocks. I am a fan of 3, Elder Bates does 5. Then you wait 30 seconds. If nobody answers then you move on. They might look through the peephole and then shout "Who is it?" You then shout back "We are missionaries" Sometimes you can add on "Is a strong family important to you?" or maybe "We are sharing a message about Jesus Christ". My personal favorite is the family line. People get weird when you say "God" or "Jesus". It happens often that people don't answer the door at all. It seems to be pretty normal to just ignore the people knocking at your door if you don't know them. After talking to all the people on the top floor you go down a floor and continue. It was pretty scary at the beggining of my mission but now I am used to it.

That is funny that Ethan's friends didn't want him to go to Russia. I really like it here, it is such an experience. I love the Russian people and have such a great desire to help those I see, the problem is getting through to them. We all put up walls and it makes it hard to let others in. The only way we can really grow though is by letting others in and working to love and support those around us.


I am sad to hear about Uncle Hack, but I know that we will see him again. It reminds me of the talk given by Bonnie L. Oscarson. You know the Plan of Salvation but do you really believe it? I hope we can all believe it and come to believe it over time.


Our luau is coming up this week. This Saturday in Vlad will be the Luau and we are all singing the song "How can I be?" It is a Ukulele song. We translated the words into Russian and will be doing a performance with a member named Zhenya. I really like this song, and if you haven't heard it before then I would encourage you to listen. I don't know how Hawaiian Sister Stevenson is... she couldn't even remember who Queen Liliuokalani was. No worries, we will all go to the Hukilau and cast our nets out into the sea and when all the ama ama come a swimmin' to me life will be good.


We watched conference and it was really great. We had 4 members show up on Saturday and 5 show up on Sunday. Of course it is less than desired but I am glad that those who did come had the chance to hear the words of our Prophet and apostles. I personally really loved Elder Dallin H. Oaks talk from Sunday afternoon as well as Paul V. Johsnon and W. Christopher Waddell. I really liked them all but I don't want to write down all of their names so I will just name those 3:) haha


My finger is doing great, I am getting another shot today. This one should be the last shot until June. Then in June will be my last shot forever:) At first the shots didn't hurt too bad but the last one was killer. It stayed sore for over a week, I couldn't touch it haha it was pretty bad! Then the one in my back was sore for 2 weeks and I couldn't lean back in my chairs because that made it sting. It wasn't too fun, but I am grateful for the experience. I now can better sympathize with those who have it worse than I do. It really is a blessing:)

Even after seeing the certificate we are getting shots just to be sure. And I have already done most of the shots. I don't wanna give up halfway through!


I love you so much and hope you all have a great week.


Elder Gardner

Monday, April 4, 2016

Testimony Meeting

Hey there!

My monkey bite is doing great! I haven't had to wrap it for the past few days, it’s really kind of a bother anyways. But, if I wrap it then get lot's of sympathy - and it is also a good conversation starter :) But if I wrap it then I can't do the dishes or I have to be careful washing my hands to not soak the bandage. The wound has scabbed over and it looks great.  I think I will live. :)   I have heard SO MANY monkey jokes and comments this past week you wouldn't believe it haha. During the training of the 3 new missionaries there were probably at least 20 made.  I am now known as, "that missionary that got bit by a monkey". 
It's always an adventure especially in Russia! I am glad that you liked the video.  Elder Siebach wasn't even making a video when I first started playing with the monkey.   I asked him to turn it on and then 10 seconds later he munched me!  We almost didn't get it but I am really glad we did.  Dang, it really hurt bad. Monkeys have strong grips and really strong teeth. He definitely had a hold of me and wasn't letting go if I didn't stop him haha. 

The Perkinsons are so great, it feels like I was at home when I stepped into their house.
This week was good, we were in Vlad for two days and I got to work with Elder Bacon for a day. He is a great elder, and has a great desire to share the gospel. All three of the new missionaries here speak really good Russian. It's pretty cool to see! Elder Bates is my new companion, Elder Siebach went to Ussurisk. Elder Bates is a really great elder, he speaks awesome Russian just like Elder Tracy and it is such a blessing. It makes a big difference in the work.  In addition, Elder Bates has a very strong  work ethic which is terrific. I think this is going to be a good transfer.

At church we had 11 people. That is a lot more than we had last week and I think the whole meeting was really fabulous. We had a great testimony meeting, and the three new missionaries got up and shared their testimonies along with all of the other members. Maybe you hadn't thought about that before, but each month every member bears their testimony. That wouldn't work in a big ward but here in a small branch we have that great blessing. The new missionaries are Elder Bates and Sister Stevenson and Sister Jossie. Sister Stevenson was in Irkutsk with me for a little bit, and I hadn't met Sister Jossie before. She's from Kansas. Sister Stevenson is from Utah but has Polynesian roots. 
Speaking of Polynesia, we are having a luau on the 16th of April. Should be great! It is going to be a big party in Vlad and we are helping get set up, we are getting some Bob Marley songs and grass skirts.

The number of missionaries definitely fluctuates each month and it is a challenge to keep all the areas covered.  When I go home we will be getting 6 new sisters. Should be pretty great! Getting rid of some goofy elders and replacing them with really spiritual giants, the sisters, in here is never a bad thing. All the sisters that I have met on the mission are very dedicated and more spiritual as a whole than the elders. They are great, they make us work hard to try and be better.
That is so cool about Marshall! I am sad though that I won't get to see him when I get home.  I will have to wait 2 more years. It will be really weird to see him when I finally do see him.

We are watching Conference next Saturday and Sunday. I am very excited to see it all. Elder Sayers used to say that it was like the Super Bowl of being on a mission. It’s the best part of every 6 months. I agree wholeheartedly.
Not a whole lot happened this week. My studies were good though. I was reading this week about the Sermon on the Mount. I can't even imagine how it must have felt to sit at Jesus' feet while he taught the people. I can only imagine what his voice sounded like. I really love the bible videos that the church put out, especially the ones where Jesus is teaching. We often study the Book of Mormon as missionaries because it is our unique message to the world. We need to be experts in the doctrine because we can't expect the people on the street to know it already. With that said there is no way that we can get rid of the Bible. Often people say to us that we aren't right because we only teach about the Book of Mormon but I have a dear testimony of the Bible as the word of God. The Book of Mormon doesn't have the same writings about the Savior like the Bible does. A friend of mine once said that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are 2 wings of the same bird. That is so true. I am grateful for the many people who sacrificed their time and resources to translate the Bible and even some sacrificed their lives for the cause of the Christians.

I love you, and hope you all find time each and every day to make their sacrifices worth it. That is, don't let all their time and energy be in vain. Read the words of the scriptures and make them a part of your life.

Elder Gardner