Monday, December 28, 2015

December 28, 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

I'm glad that the clean up went well and quickly, that's a first :)!  It was so much fun talking to you all, I love and miss you, but I'm having so much fun as is!  I can't believe that 6 months have already come and gone, it blows my mind!  I'm sure David is enjoying speaking Spanish and all that, it's weird thinking that the family isn't just sitting around at home for the holidays, but it sounds like you'e all having a lot of fun.  It was really just SOOO much fun talking to you all, I can't believe how old Spencer looks now, that little man child.  That was the biggest shock to me.  That and that David is looking a little bigger than when I last saw him ;).  Also, yes Mom, that Christmas package was THE BEST.  Thanks again so much.

Anyway, I really don't have too much to report on this week it feels like!  Like I said on the skype call, if anyone has any requests of what they want, they need to write me what they want along with a nice email with what they've been doing (or a video message like David likes to do).  There have been a couple of fun things that happened since Christmas.  Well first, on Christmas, my companion and I read the Nativity together for our study, and sang the accompanying Christmas songs.  It was really fun :). And then during lunch we opened our presents!  We spent a lot of that day calling less actives members and former investigators, inviting them to our Christmas party the next day.  Then at night, we had an activity for decorating for the party the next day.

The party was so much fun!  We got a few people to come, and we had about 10 more people there than we usually do at Sacrament Meeting!  Of course we'd rather have them all be at Sacrament Meeting, but it was good to meet a lot of people who up until this point I hadn't met :) (including the Branch President's wife).  It was a lot of fun, and I got to be Дед Мороз and give presents to all the kids!  Afterwards the kids kept teasing me and were telling me "how are you doing...Дед Мороз!!" and I would just reply "I wasn't Дед Мороз, that's not allowed for me to be, that would involve being separated from my companion while I wrapped all the presents!"  They all started chanting at me "Дед Мороз, Дед Мороз, Дед Мороз!!!"  It was super funny, and just a super fun event that went super well and will hopefully help bring a couple of members back to activity.

Also, just a last little thought before I sign off.  I busted out my big old winter coat for the first time, (it's just starting to get cold), and little did I know that in every pocket there were notes from my family written over 6 months ago!  Thank you so much for the foresight to write and share some spiritually uplifting thoughts that helped and inspired me.  Thanks for all that you do family, I seriously can't begin to describe how much I loved those notes.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have celebrated Christmas here in Russia.  I love it here, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to serve the people here in Novgorod.  It's been such a wonderful experience, and I'm so grateful for the experiences to come.  I seriously just love it here so much, and thank you for all the support that you all give me.  Love you family, love you friends, I hope you enjoyed Christmas so very much and that you remembered the reason for the season!  It's because we have a Savior named Jesus Christ who was born, and who loves us!  At the place where we do our groceries they played the "Emmanuel" song by Amy Grant and I just love the verse that that song is based off of (plus the song itself too, I was singing at the top of my lungs).  Isaiah 9:6 is the verse and I invite you all to read it, because that verse really sums up the real reason for Christmas.

Anyway, sorry I've been so scatterbrained, I've been super rushed.  I'll send some pics of me as Дед Мороз and then I'll be off! 

Love you all so much!

Elder Belnap

Monday, December 21, 2015

December 21, 2015

Oh my goodness, I can't even begin to imagine that it's Christmas right now!  It's weird because Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January, and even then, it isn't the big holiday of the year here, that's New Years.  Anyway, it wasn't feeling even a little bit like Christmas, so I had to take over a little bit!  Spent last P-Day downloading a lot of Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas music during P-Day time so that we could have a little more of a Christmas atmosphere.  We also splurged about 1000 rubles (less than $20, closer to $15 right now actually) on a tiny little tree and ornaments.  Now it feels a lot better!  I also splurged and I'm saving a ritter sport, toblerone, and ferrero rocher's for Christmas day!  So, now it feels even that much more appropriate!  It was a lot of fun.  Thanks for the update on the family and all that is going on, I miss and love you all!  Hope you have the best Christmas!  Also, must say I'm jealous of Caroline in NYC, we got to see the big tree that they have here in Novgorod, and while it was nice, it doesn't really compare unfortunately.  Also glad that the Goff Christmas party went well.  Also, that's a good challenge to extend to Spence, tell him that I'm sending the exact same challenge to him.  (My mom challenged Spencer to go on a group date on one of these Friday'sinstead of playing Xbox with all his buddies).  Keep me posted please :).  Also glad that Nate and Rebecca performed, and are seeming to enjoy it!  Being in the mission field now, it makes me realize how much I wish I stuck with piano!  I'm completely illiterate now, but my companion is super good, and next P-day our plan is him helping me out and try to remember how to play!  He says by the end of our time together, I should be able to play a hymn with my right hand :)!  I'm excited to see if that happens!  Also, I haven't gotten the package, but we have Zone Conference on Christmas Eve, so no worries, I'll have it for Christmas!  

Anyway, this week has been great!  First and foremost, our investigator got baptized!  I'll send you a picture mom, but unforunately for legal reasons and all that fun stuff, we can't send it out to lots of people, so just hold on to it!  It was such a wonderful service, we had a little testimony meeting after and he bore such a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel.  I didn't have the opportunity to know him before he started meeting with the missionaries, but apparently he has changed a lot.  He has a light in his eyes that wasn't there before.  He knows it, and what's really cool is his family has all noticed it.  His Sister is actually interested in meeting with us as soon as she gets back from a trip to Pskov because of the difference she has witnessed in him.  It was just a wonderful service, and while he was getting changed, we had everyone write notes for him congratulating him, and then we put it in a nice binder for him to hold onto.  He loved it so much, it was so exciting to see that.  We also told him to write a couple of his thoughts in there so that he could refer to it later on in life and reflect on his feelings and the happiness and love he felt on that day.  Our Senior Couple is also going to print out a couple of pictures from the baptism to put in there as well.  Anyway, it was such a wonderful day!  

We also had splits with the Zone Leaders this week.  It was fun to see my trainer again, I miss Elder Simonsen some times.  His Russian is SUPER good, and me and my current companion still come out of conversations every now and again just saying, "what were they talking about?" Also, random little side note that I probably never mentioned is that Elder Simonsen's parents are deaf and he speaks fluent sign language, so he taught me a couple things from Russian and American.  He's trying to learn Russian sign language (it's super cool!) and whenever we saw people signing, he would try to talk with them.  Anyway, my current companion is Elder Crookshank, from Southern California.  His brother served a mission in Ukraine, and we were in the MTC at the same time.  Which means we're both new!  We've gotten along super well, and we're just having a fun time doing the work here in Novgorod!  He's the Secretary in the ward, so he has a couple of other little things that he needs to do throughout the week which kind of stinks sometimes, because we can't be out on the street talking with people, but I usually whip out my book of words and start trying to memorize a few.  We've had a couple of super awesome spiritual experiences here already, and a couple of crazy ones.  I'll share one crazy, and one cool one and then send a couple of pictures, and I'll be off!  

So, last night, we were trying to get into a building to tract, just calling on the Домафон trying to be let in, when this super drunk guy came up to us and started telling us how we should go get in his car, drive him to some place so that he could do some things that I'm not going to write out because they're pretty vulgar.  Anyway, he started grabbing my companion and trying to take him to his car, and we were like, "hey, that's not ok man."  Anyway, we were trying to get out of the situation without things escalating, which was hard because the guy was out of it.  Anyway, we tried just giving him a card with just the website on it so that he wouldn't be able to get in contact with us personally.  He crumpled it up, started cursing at us again, and so we ran before anything could happen.  It was kinda scary, but my companion said that he thinks he didn't do anything because I was standing right there and had a solid foot on this guy.  Thank goodness that I haven't lost height, just weight :).  

Anyway, we had a really cool experience contacting the other night on the way to a building where we have been tracting.  We had a conversation with this lady, and we were asking a couple of survey questions, about what is the most important thing in your life, with 5 options. She answered that it was her health, and so we started getting into a really sincere, and honest conversation about what we can do for our health.  We mentioned how we don't drink, don't smoke, etc. and she said "Oh I knew that before you even started talking to me.  You two had a light in your eyes that wouldn't be there if you drank or smoked."  She actually did!  I was kindof in shock, because you always hear about people being told that, but that was the first time it happened to me.  It was such an awesome experience, with the Spirit really strong.  We testified of commandments to her, and the reason that we have that light in our eyes is because we try to follow the commandments of God to the best of our ability and one of those commandments is the Word of Wisdom.  She was really interested, and we exchanged contact information!  It was such a cool experience, and my companion and I were just beaming a little bit more than usual!  It was just so awesome!

Anyway, I'm just going to leave and end with wishing you ALL a very Merry Christmas!  It's such a wonderful time of year to think about the birth of Jesus Christ and feel at peace!  I love this time of year more than anything, and I love all of you so very much!  

Have a Merry Christmas!!!!!  (One more time for good measure)


Elder Belnap
New Years Tree in Novgorod

bananas for the week
Baptism in Novgorod
baptism in Novgorod (cropped)

Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14, 2015

Dear Family and Friends, 

Well, I'm in Novgorod now!  It's been a really fun and crazy transition.  When I was moving over here, trying to get my 2 big old suitcases, and duffel bag on the metro, I was getting a lot of crazy looks.  It was also fun though, because for the first time in my mission experience, people wanted to start conversations WITH ME.  It blew me away truth be told.  It really stunk though because about half way into our journey, my suitcase blew a tire!  I know have a wheel that is completely decimated on one suitcase, and gouged whatever I dragged it across.  In any event, we made it to the train, and then just took a taxi from the train to my new apartment.  Our new apartment is SUPER NICE.  And HUGE.  Way to nice/big for missionaries.  I'm being spoiled right off the bat with my first two apartments, I'm not complaining though. Oh also, I forgot something.  At transfer meeting we had 8 missionaries leaving, and 11 coming in!  8 sisters leaving, and 9 sisters coming in!  It was pretty crazy, and a lot of fun saying bye to people and welcoming new people in.  I also got my first practice translating for a senior couple at the transfer meeting!  It was terrifying and I missed so much, but it was super fun and good practice.  Sorry if you haven't already noticed I'm just sort of throwing out whatever comes to my mind here.  Anyway, Novgorod is a fairly small place, but we've been having a lot of fun.  The main focus since I've gotten here was doing new member lessons with someone who was recently baptized here (that's just when we go over the lessons and what was taught and correct any misconceptions/answer any questions they now have the second time around) and preparing someone for baptism this Saturday!  We're super excited! Things have been kind of crazy, but we're loving it.  

Also, I forgot to say thanks for the update of what is going on.  Also, I still can't believe Spencer Powell's flowing locks.  Those pictures were too funny, looked like a lot of fun.  Also I already sent David an email saying I'm jealous about the opportunity to go to a Jazz Knicks game.  Also, on Uncle Steve's birthday I sang I Dreamed a Dream as my little tribute to him (just quietly to myself) and Happy Birthday of course.  Oh how I miss him!  Anyway, I'll just go on back to what is going on.  This Sunday was the Primary Program in the branch.  The kids were adorable and did a great job!  I also got to meet the rest of the branch, and it's only about 30 people, but they're all a little family, it was really fun and cool to see.  They welcomed me right in and start having fun with me right off the bat.  I told them that I'm not even the tallest in my family, and some of the young single girls was like, "wait, do you have a taller older brother?"  I was like, "yeah."  She then asked if he was a Return Missionary and went to BYU, to which I responded "of course."  And then she just grabbed one of her friends and said, "Natasha, we found your future husband, you're on the next flight to Provo!  His brother is TALL, an RM, and a BYU student.  What more could you ask for?!"  It was super funny.  

Anyway, just want to share a cool thought I had this week and then I will sign off soon.  So I was reading in the Church Liahona for the month of December, and there was a really touching story titled "Strings of Sacrifice".  I'll let you read it for yourself, but in the story the woman shares a touching example of the power of making time to serve others as opposed to just serving others to fill in time and because we should.  I know that as we make time to serve others, we feel better about ourselves and feel that much more happy that we were able to help someone.  I know that when we're feeling down, the best thing we can do rather than sit around and mope, is to get up and try and do something for someone else.  That is what Jesus Christ was the perfect example of.  When others would have turned inward and complained, he turned outward and served.  That is why he was the happiest man to ever walk the earth and why I try more and more every day to model my life after his.  Service and genuine love and care for others makes us happy and takes away the personal concerns and worries we might have.  I know that is true and I invite all of you to make some time to serve, because I know it will make you happier :).  I love you all so much and thanks for your emails/love/support/prayers/well wishes.  They're all very much appreciated.

Wishing you all a wonderful Hoilday Season and a Merry Christmas!

Elder Belnap

P.S.  Garment Dimensions, just go a little smaller than what I was before haha.  I don't really know what they should be now, maybe 34-36 in the waist (yes I actually have lost that much) and still an XL up top, but a large might work too.  I don't really know, whatever you send as long as they aren't smalls will work.  Also I forgot to take pictures this week, but next week I'll be sure to get some with my companion!  Love you mom!

Elder Belnap

December 16, 2015

Good morning mama!  We were told by President to set times for our skype call home, and you said between 10 and 12 at night your time.  The difference is 10 hours, so that should work perfectly. I'll call right around 8 or shortly thereafter on my skype account which is christopher.belnap.  Also we're allowed to do 3 way phone calls, which I'm trying to figure out right now, so if anyone isn't able to make it up to the home (Caroline and Ryan will be up in Oregon right?) we should be able to set up a 3 way video call (or more).  I can't read any of the instructions for skype in Russian (out of my vocabulary) so if you wouldn't mind looking into that for me and then letting me know about the feasibility of it in your letter to me next week.  I love you so much mama, thanks and have a great week!

Monday, December 7, 2015

December 7, 2015

Well first I'll start by saying thank you to EVERYONE for the wonderful emails.  I'm trying to respond to all of them, but I can only get so much done in the hour and a half that we have.  I'm really just feeling so loved right now and I'm so grateful to all of you for the examples that you all are to me.  I've been thinking about the wonderful association I have been able to have with so many wonderful people all over the years (all 19 of #old) a lot over the last couple days and I'm just feeling so blessed.  I love you all so very much.  Thank you very much for the birthday wishes and love I'm feeling right now!  Also, thanks mom for all these wonderful stories and loving thoughts from the family.  I cried at the story you shared of Grandpa, they're both so incredible and wonderful examples to me.  I have A LOT of stories from this week, so I'll try and get through them with a satisfactory amount of detail. 
First off:  I talked to someone on the street the other day, and he was so confused about a minute into the conversation and he said "'re not Russian."  And I was like, "No, was it not obvious when I started talking with you?"  And he said, "No, I thought you were Russian."  So TAKE THAT MISS OLGA (for those of you who don't know, she was the piano teacher for my little siblings in Moscow, and looking at our family pictures, she claimed that I look "Very American" (#andproud)).  It was really funny because right after that I undid my scarf and showed him my tie and said "And now?"  And he just laughed and said, "I didn't see the tie, if I had seen that I would've known you weren't Russian from the beginning!"  It was really funny and it was a really fun and good conversation with a cool person.  Said he's interested in knowing more about our message, but unfortunately I won't be around for that because...
I'M GOING TO NOVGOROD!!  We got transfer calls this week, and I'm out of Nevsky!  I'm really sad but also really excited.  I've gotten to go to Novgorod a few times already and it's a super cool and nice area.  I'm sorta scared though, because I'm with a companion just one transfer (6 weeks) out of training and I'm just out of training.  So we're both kinda fish out of water, but it'll be really good for our Russian, and although I'm pretty terrified, I'm also pretty excited.  In answer to your question about how much I understand, that depends on the conversation we're having and who's talking to me.  There have been conversations where I've understood every word, others where I missed a word which was the focus of what the person was talking about and therefore don't understand, and others where what they're talking about is above my paygrade (like telling us that we have to replace the lock in the church door).  My companion explained that last one to me, because that was too much for me.  Anyway, I'm really excited to go to Novgorod!
My birthday was a lot of fun!  The Sisters in our district brought me cake, the Senior Couple assigned to help our ward gave me a present, my Mission President and his wife gave me a call, and we had to stay at the mission home with a whole bunch of Elders that night because my companion had a visa trip the next day.  So I just brought the cake, some ice cream that I had bought beforehand and we celebrated together.  And yes I remembered to take a couple of pictures.  Also my companion made a delicious meal for me (chicken parmesan yumm).  It was just so nice, PLUS it was fast Sunday.  I just got to feel the love from so many people, and I've just been listening to Christmas music too, which has just helped me feel more and more the love that Jesus Christ has for everyone, and also for me personally. 
We also got to go to a really posh event this week.  We volunteer at the Hermitage every couple of weeks for a couple of hours (all in-city missionaries) and they had an event thanking their volunteers and our Mission President wanted us all to come.  We all went to it, and they took us on a tour through their extra storage facility.  We saw a lot of paintings and sculptures that aren't on the internet or anything like that and it was just tons of fun!  Felt like a tourist for the first time in a while :).  We ate in this dining hall with live music playing and it was just so funny and weird.  It felt a lot more comfortable to be on the streets in the cold talking with people than in that sort of setting :).
Anyway, I'm going to wrap things up!  Just wanted to share a scripture that I read this week! This is Alma 7:10-13 (in the Book of Mormon for those of you who would otherwise have no idea what I'm talking about).

10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
 11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
 12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
 13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
I love these verses so much!  I know that Jesus Christ loves all of us, and I wouldn't give up the wonderful opportunity I have to be here in St. Petersburg with the wonderful Russian people sharing that.  A knowledge of him lifts my spirit more than I can explain, it just makes me feel so warm and happy :).  I love this wonderful opportunity I have to be here, and I love all of you!  Have a great week, and if I wasn't able to get to you this week, I'll try to next week!  Sorry for the long email, love you all!
С любовью,

Старейшина Бэлнап


Monday, November 30, 2015

November 30, 2015

Dear Family and Friends,
I hope you all had just the best week!  This week was just so wonderful!  We were blessed to have a meal with our mission president and his wife on Thanksgiving because we had a Mission Leadership Council that day.  It was a big old meal with stuffing, pumpkin pie, turkey, you name it!  It was so good!  We also had a meal with our Senior Couple in the ward too which was so much fun.  When we were at our Mission President's home we all went around the table and shared 2 things that we were grateful for.  The first two things that came to my mind were first that I was so grateful for this opportunity to be on a mission and learn how to become more humble, and number 2 was just all the family traditions that came back to my mind just sitting around the table having a big Thanksgiving feast.  Thank you mom and dad for having those traditions for us growing up, it just sent a flood of nice warm memories coming my way, and it just felt so good and happy.  Also I have to side with everyone else on the tree debate, sorry Mom. 
Anyway, I don't have too much to report from this week, just a couple of fun stories and a couple of spiritual ones.  Well really just one funny story.  So this week I started talking to this guy on the tram, our main mode of transportation, and he told me to show him his documents because he was a policeman.  It happens all the time, but very rarely are they the police, so you just say, "first prove to me that you're a police officer."  His response was that in Russia, "we're all the police."  I told him that wasn't a good enough answer and until he showed me his identification, I wasn't going to show anything to him.  It was just a really funny back and forth for about 5 minutes, until he finally got to his stop and just left.  Made me laugh, and made the little tramvai conductor lady next to me laugh which made for a nice little conversation between us.
Anyway, this last Sunday was awesome!  We also have 2 investigators, woohoo!  It's been so nice to actually teach someone what we believe, and just a lot of fun.  They're both really cool, and I'll keep you posted.  Also this Sunday, we had 3 less active families come to church which was awesome.  One of them we taught a lesson to recently, and invited them to prepare to go through the temple as a family, and they have officially come to church 3 weeks in a row which has been awesome!  They're more set now than they have ever been before to make it to the temple which has been so exciting to see.  I also got to go on splits with the Assisstants a couple weeks ago (don't think I mentioned it in last weeks letter) and it was just so much fun.  I'm blessed to be surrounded by amazing examples :).  Also, I read Elder Uchtdorf's "Grateful in ANy Circumstances" talk this week and it was awesome.  Last but not least, this Sunday was the first day really in my whole life, where the blessing of the sacrament just meant so much to me.  I got to renew the week and it felt incredibly amazing.  I was strengthened by the talks of the wonderful people of the church here in Russia.  They're incredible, and I've just been so blessed by my association with people that are better than me in this wonderful country.  Anyway, I really don't have that much more to add.  Love you all so very much and know that you're in my prayers!  Have a great week!

Elder Belnap

PS Mom: I had a kindof embarassing moment this garments are now gray!  It was my fault and I feel stupid, but I just threw everything into the wash at once, oops lesson learned.  They're not actually gray, just no longer super white haha.  ANyway, I just wanted to ask about the likelihood of being able to get new ones, please let me know next week and I'll send you my new measurements.  Also, would it be at all possible to send a package home?  I know elders do that sometimes with things that just take up space right now, but they really want at home.  Also, can you remind me the exact dates of Grandma and Grandpa's b-days, Matt Goff's, and Ryan (bro-in-law)?  I just want to make sure I can send them an email at the time of their bdays.  Anyway, I love you mom, thanks for all you do!

Elder Simonsen and I building and after building a pyramid of cans with just a noodle (a fun MLC activity) first visa trip to Estonia, Thanskgiving meal.  Love you have a great week!

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23, 2015

Oh my goodness, where to begin.  Yeah, we're very safe with food preparation, it literally was just the mushrooms that got to me mom.  I'm fine I promise.  Ouch, let Uncle Doug and Rebecca know I'm praying for them.  As well as Grandma and Grandpa too :).  That's too funny about Nathan wanting some tap dance shoes.  When Aaron and I were younger, we wanted to buy tap dance shoes so that we could add a little more flair to our dance for America from West Side Story.  They had a board at the Shavitz's that we would use, but we both wanted to actually get tap dance shoes to try it out.  Even without them though, we had a pretty killer dance down to America, the finale was us running down the hallway, and then linking arms and spinning around in circles.  The first couple times we fell because I was so much heavier and we didn't have the balance right.  I haven't thought about that in forever, I'm just all smiles right now from thinking about it :).  Also that's too funny about Singin' in the Rain, I can't believe Ryan hadn't seen it.  I sing something from that movie at least once a week.  Also, I'm printing out Elder Uchtdorf's talk right now/downloading it on to our flashdrive so we can listen to it in the apartment.  Ugh, I love the letter mom, keep filling me in on those sorts of things, I love hearing about them.  Anyway, I'll go ahead and get started on how things are going here. 
This week has just been HARD.  I don't know how else to put it, appointments falling through, and I'm two transfers into my stay here in Nevsky and we've only had one investigator during this whole time.  We've been working hard to find people who are interested in knowing more, but it's starting to get cold and snow (I've been plenty warm though) and people just are giving us less time of day than they have before.  It's led to a lot of moments throughout the day of praying and asking, "What Lack I Yet?" like Elder Lawrence said in his talk this last Conference.  Sometimes, I don't like the answer, and I don't act, and then when I get the same answer the next time I ask I still don't act, and it's just been a very humbling process.  I'm really trying to do all that I can to serve these people and love them, and be ready to help teach them the message that I came here to share.  When I finally act and try to change something, I don't always immediately see results, but I'm just trying to keep moving forward in faith, and trusting in the fact that God has a plan personally tailored to me.  Even when I don't like a part of that plan, I'm still only ever aware of the smallest part, and I'm just trying to learn that he knows far better than me.  It's-as I've already said-been a very humbling experience to say the least.
This week we did service on a Dacha for a member of our ward all day.  It was tons of fun and I got to work with this guy who thought I was an American spy, and refused to tell me his real name.  I don't know what it is, but my one year in Ogden, there was a rumor about me being an undercover cop, even though I looked like the biggest (and fattest) teddy bear the world had ever seen that year.  People just get the wrong impression.  It was just tons of fun and a really Russian experience.  We also met this super cool guy on the street who plays basketball, and I had a little too much fun talking basketball with him (in Russian!).  He's about David's height and was telling me "You're from NYC, why the heck did you come here?!?"  It was a lot of fun.  Anyway, I'll just share a quick scripture and then I need to sign off, also no pictures this week sorry!  Anyway, I was reading in the Book of Mormon and I was really struck by Jarom 1:2.  He basically says that the prophets before him have already revealed the Plan of Salvation to us, and that what more would he need to add than to that what we've already received.  I immediately thought of all the cool talks and wisdom that Jarom probably gave while he was alive, and yet when it came to adding something to the scriptures that we would have in our day, the fact that we have already received knowledge about the Plan of Salvation was enough to him.  Anyway, just talk a moment to appreciate the docttrine of the Plan of Salvation, and the comfort that that gives us that there is life after death, and that we can live with those we love the most for the rest of eternity :).  Love you all so very much, and you're all in my prayers!  Have a great week!
Elder Belnap

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 16, 2015

Your right mom, another week passed by and I honestly can't believe it!  My time in Nevsky could be coming to a close soon, and it makes me sad, because things are finally starting to happen here!  I think as Elder Simonsen and I have started to work a lot harder that there have been substantial differences in our contacting with people on the streets, not only in terms of how many people we talkt to, but the quality of the conversations with these people.  Anyway, before I get started on my week, I'll just give a little commentary on your email.  First, that's tons of fun that you had Grandpa and Sharon up for dinner, I'm glad things went well and I was laughing pretty hard at Nathan's comment, what a little stinker.  He's got a sharp wit, he and Caroline probably the most of us 6 in my opinion.  That's too funny about Spencer with braces, how long will it take do you know?  Yeah, tell him it's not too bad and that if you can have confidence with braces, then there's nothing that can stop you.  Haha, when I got my braces off Freshman year one of my friends posted in the BYU class of 2018 page on FaceBook about how I got my braces off and it got a whole bunch of likes and one person randomly on campus even asked me if I was the kid from the post.  I was just thinking about that and laughing and thought why not share.  Anyway, that's too funny about Alex Angus, I love that too much.  I can't believe you haven't seen her in that long, she and I hung out every now and again Freshman year.  Anyway, don't apologize too much about a not too very interesting email, because I don't have too much to share either!  Because...
I was on the toilet again this week!  One night we went out contacting, and I wasn't feeling too well and Elder Simonsen asked me if we should just go home.  Right as I was about to answer "No, I'm fine" my stomach shifted really loudly and I changed my answer to "I think you just heard the answer."  Anyway, we waited super long for public transportation that wouldn't come and ended up taking the metro.  Elder Simonsen said I was sweating with concentration trying to keep it all in.  Waddled from the metro home, and barely made it in time.  The closest that I have ever been to pooping my pants.  Sorry if that's too much detail, but it was pretty funny.  Elder Simonsen couldn't help but laughing the whole time because I was just focusing so hard on not having to get a new suit for reasons other than dropping weight.  Anyway, we had to stay inside a couple of days because of that, but it's nothing compared to last time. 
Other than that we had interviews with President Childs this week which went really well.  It really helped me step up my contacting people on the street.  We actually had a really cool experience just last night.  We had just a lot of fun stopping and talking to people, and we met all sorts of cool people.  Anyway, we were about home and a guy comes walking by.  Elder Simonsen was already getting out the keys but I just go behind him and start talking to the man.  We had set a goal of getting one referral that night  (which almost never happens) and 4 lessons (we had only taught 2 up to that point).  Anyway, the man stopped, was interested in the English Group and almost passed on his wife's information.  We didn't get the referral we had stretched for, and we didn't have the opportunity to teach one more lesson, but we kept stretching.  I've learned a lot that goals aren't always set just for you to reach them, but so that you have to stretch for them.  We really tried to stretch for our goals and even though we didn't reach them, we talked with more people than usual and had far more quality conversations than usual because we were really trying to stretch ourselves.  I know that as we stretch ourselves that the Lord acknowledges that and helps us.  He wants us to grow and be better people than we are now in all aspects of life.  As we truly strive to be better than we are today and stretch for that, his hand is more easily apparent in our lives.  Anyway, I love all of you so very much and I hope you just have the best week!  I love you allso much and you are in my prayers as well!
Elder Belnap
CAB in Novgorod earlier in November

CAB in Novgorod

Monday, November 9, 2015

November 9, 2015

Dear Family and Friends,
Wow, the one year I'm gone and now you decide to go on a trip for the Holidays?  If I didn't know any better, I would think you just didn't want me around.  Just kidding, sounds like a lot of fun, although I'm sad I'm missing out on it.  Is it just me or do you seem to do more fun things in Utah this time around as opposed to last time?  Maybe I was just on my phone the whole time and missed it all when I lived there (now that I think about it I've answered my own question :) ).  That's fun cleaning through Grandma and Grandpa's basement, I've always known there were treasures down there but it's just been a matter of finding them.  Send Matt my love, and let him know he's in my prayers!  I hope they find out what's the issue soon and he's able to go on back, and even if he's not, he's been a really stellar example of enduring your trials and enduring them well throughout this whole process.  It's cool to see how we've both changed :).  Anyway, I feel really bad because I don't have a lot to report this week!  Just some fun pictures I'll send your way in a few minutes.  Basically this week has just been a lot of contacting and trying to hold one another accountable for talking with more people when we're on the streets-what's the point in trying to find people who are interested if we're not talking to as many people as we can!-Anyway, sometimes it's easy to get down on yourself when there's not a lot of success, and we've found that just having fun with each other on the street makes it so much easier.  The other night we met this awesome man, and Elder Simonsen and I were in the middle of a conversation, but we broke it off to talk with this man, and as soon as the conversation was over we picked up right where we left off until the next person came by.  That person cursed us out for being Americans, but hey we were just still glowing from the wonderful conversation we just had.  We also had a lot of fun with the members of the ward this week.  I think everyone on this email lists knows that I like to talk and I like to joke around, well I'm proud to report that although I still can't talk in Russian, I can joke!  Which might just be the most important thing for building a solid relationship with these members!  My area has a bit of a reputation for being hard, and so a lot of Elders who have come here before hand have just done there time until they got sent somewhere else, and so the members didn't have the best opinions of the Elders.  We've been trying really hard to change that reputation, and little by little it's been happening.  We also ran into one of our potential investigators who hadn't called us back while out contacting which was just a miracle and a lot of fun!  He was pretty shocked just running into us, but I think it might have been just the push he needed. 
Other than that I'll just close with a spiritual thought.  I was reading in the Book of Mormon today and I was reading in 2nd Nephi 25.  Anyway, it just strikes me how much the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ.  So many people call us a sect and that we're not Christians here and we whip out the Book of Mormon and show them the name of Christ on the cover.  And now I'm going to start opening to that page in the Book of Mormon because the name of Christ is invoked 4 times in that verse, and 13 times (I think ) on that page overall.  We are Christians because we believe in Christ, and we try to follow his example in our lives.  Anyway, that was something that just hit me kindof strongly today, I love you all and I hope you have a great week!  You're all in my prayers!
Elder Belnap
Nimbus 2000 in Novgorod

I'm breaking free


CAB's run in with the tree in Novgorod

Novgorod Kremlin

Monday, November 2, 2015

November 2, 2015

Well, I do have time this week to send out a quick email!  And hopefully a couple pictures as well, but probably not!  We spent our P-day here in Novgorod, and it was so much fun!  We're starting our splits in a couple of hours, but we made it to the Kremlin, and out to this Wooden Village.  Elder Simonsen and I had a great time there, and we got some cool pictures of us jumping in the air with a brromstick that looked like a Nimbus 2000 (not really though, probably more similar to the brooms Fred and George would ride).  We also just had a great week, gave a blessing to a member, watched a regional broadcast which was just SO GOOD.  And I got to watch it in English too so I can actually say that it was so good!  We totally forgot it was Halloween until we stopped by a Less-Active Member's home and she wished us a Happy Halloween on our way out the door!  Oh well, it wouldn't have changed the plan for the night anyways.  I'll just share one really cool experience from this week and then I'll have to dip!  Also no pictures this week, but I have a lot of good ones for next!  Anyway, Elder Simonsen and I have been having our companionship unity issues for the last couple of weeks (sounding like an old married couple, which I guess we kinda are at this point) and we had Weekly Planning this last Saturday (had to move it around for Zone Training and MLC).  Anyway, we had just a lot of really good conversations and tried really hard to find out what the center of our issues were.  I got to close with a prayer, and usually we pray in Russian, but after saying the first couple of words in Russian, I just felt like I had to pray in English.  And it was awesome, easily the most powerful I've felt the Spirit while giving a prayer.  I know that the Lord is just waiting for a lot of us to really learn how to communicate and truly rely on him.  Praying in English was the best thing that could have happened because I was more able to accurately express the feelings I felt in my heart.  It was honestly just incredible.  We got on the streets that night and had what was easily our best contacting night, and we did the same yesterday, and we're planning on doing the same.  We've already found an awesome potential in that time who we're planning on reaching tonight.  Anyway, I love you all, and I love the opportunity I have to be here!  I hope you have a great week, and give dad a big hug and kiss from me for his birthday in just a couple days!  Glad you had a lot of fun, and I love the pictures of Nate and Rebecca by the way!  Anyway, have a great week, sorry I couldn't include more!  I'll say it again, love you tons!


Elder Belnap

P.S.  Send Matt my love and support please, he's such a trooper :).   

Monday, October 26, 2015

October 26, 2015

Dear Family/Friends,
First off I just want to thank you all for your letters this week!  It's so much fun for me just to hear about all the fun little things that are going on in peoples lives, I think that's why I like talking to the бабушки so much because they just talk about the little things and it's tons of fun!  Also, I might not be able to write any letters next week because we have an awesome opportunity to go to Novgorod for P-Day and actually look around!  We have to do Zone Training the next day, so we just got permission for it and we'll go down a day early, start our splits that night and go home the next day!  Anyway, just wanted to let you know that first so that you're not too concerned if I don't write a letter next week!  Thanks for all the stories too mom, I love the one about the cat, just too cute!  You all are always in my prayers and I hope you know that (that goes for all my friends on this email list too)!  Anyway, I have to make this quick, but what DIDN'T happen this week, I'll try and make sense.
So we've had a lot better of a contacting week than usual.  It's funny, Elder Simonsen and I are just two entirely different people, but as we've communicated more, it's just made a world of difference.  We've been going around to meet with Less Active members in our area and we've had a lot of success and also a lot of curses thrown our way.  Nothing out of the ordinary though.  We have a new investigator named Viktor that we met with on the street and he's awesome.  We had a great conversation and we'll have our first meeting tomorrow.  We're also meeting with a less active family tonight with the sisters (in their area) and we have a message planned out that we really feel like they need to hear and we're just so excited!  We also had an experience the other day in the middle of ward council after church when these two rough looking guys came in asking about what we believe.  There were some lingerers who were talking with them and the Elders Quorum President and I went out and joined.  Anyway, it was just such a powerful experience about the importance of members.  It was a 4 member present lesson and it was just so awesome.  At one point one of the two guys was asking one of the members about what I was even doing here as an American who doesn't even understand what he was saying right then, and I just responded "Actually, I completely understood what was just said, and if you want to know why I'm here, it's because of this book."  And it was the strongest testimony of the Book of Mormon I've given on my mission.  It was just so awesome, and it really helped strengthen some relationships with some members of the ward.  One of the tiny little old бабушка's in our ward gave me all the days she was free to help with lessons right after.  We also called the two guys that night, and as soon as we find out if either tomorrow or Thursday works better for them, we'll have 3 new investigators!  And we got a referral the other day, and we're still trying to set up an appointment with him, but if that works out then 4!  AHHH, I'm just too excited right now, it feels good that we've been trying hard and things are finally starting to come together.  Also, I did get to see the Powell's which was a lot of fun (with permission from President Childs of course).  We get breakfast for a little bit and then Janae was like "Christopher you know I love you, but I'll see you again in 20 months.  This is my one chance to see the Hermitage."  I was laughing too hard.  Thanks for remembering everything mom!  We're pretty stoked for some pumpkin pie.  Anyway, we also did Hermitage service this week which was tons of fun, and I also just have a couple funny pictures of notebooks we found at a little store here!  That's pretty much all!  Love you tons, thanks again for all that you do, hope you all have a great week!
Elder Belnap


Tapestry in Hermitage

CAB outside Hermitage

Gate opposite Hermitage

Monday, October 19, 2015

October 19, 2015

So drumroll please....Still in Nevsky for another 8 weeks!  This is a weird transfer, just because of the schedule of missionaries coming in, we need to have an extra long one this time.  I'm really excited because Elder Simonsen and I really seem to be hitting our stride.  We're still not nearly as good at contacting as we would like to be, but we've been improving a lot which has been nice.  It's really awkward sometimes because, as missionaries, our purpose is to invite others-as Elder Bednar so simply put it-to "Come and See."  Come and see if our message adds to what you already have in your life, come and see if it enriches what you already hold dear, just very simply, come and see if this is the truth for yourself.  That's why we don't walk around waving pamphlets in people's faces on their way out of the metro, but that we invite them politely, but firmly to see if this is something that they think would bless their lives.  BUT when we walk up to someone and introduce ourselves as missionaries, it immediately turns them off.  Then on the other hand, when we start a normal conversation (which are always so cool and interesting, even not as a missionary I want to do that because there are just so many cool and interesting people), it can be so awkward to try and introduce our message into the conversation.  I just need to remember what Elder Holland said that if we're trying to talk with them that at some point in the conversation, there will be a gospel truth that we can bear testimony of.  Anyway, that's sortof how the contacting goes for us, we're trying to be a lot better, and just not feeling so awkward.  Because if they don't listen, or they're not interested, then ok that's awesome, we're not trying to coerce anything out of you.  But if they are interested and do want to know more, then I don't want to think that I missed out on talking to that person just because I was too afraid to open my mouth.  And me being afraid to open my mouth?  It's never happened before, why should it happen now!
Anyway, I wasn't hurt too bad by the tree, it hurt to walk for a couple of days, Elder Williams got his suit all dry cleaned and he's all good, and other than the bruise on my leg I escaped with just a few bumps on my head.  To answer all your questions, we get up at 6:30, exercise, and then an hour for breakfast and showers, 8:00-11:00 we do personal study and 2 hours of companionship, then 11:00-12:00lunch, then 12:00-1:00 language, and then whatever comes up after until 5.  Then 5:00-6:00 we have dinner, 6:00-9:00 contact and then do our daily planning and get ready for bed.  Yeah I've kept losing weight, going to poke another whole in the belt soon, but Elder Simonsen and I have been eating REALLY well.  He's a good cook and we pooled our money together so it's all worked out really nicely, and I just help with all the little things while he also teaches me.  On P-Day we just do whatever needs to get done/miscellaneous things we've had on our to-do lists.  We've recently been contacting while going to less actives homes, so that we can ring their apartment and offer them a Liahona.  It hasn't worked out yet, but we've only been doing it for a couple days, we just feel strongly that we need to reach out to a lot of the Less-Active members of the ward here.  Anyway, this week Sister Wixom came along with Elder Porter and their respective spouses.  It was cool to find out that the Porter's knew you!  It was so much fun, and we just had a wonderful meeting where they all talked and a couple from the audience were asked to give their testimonies.  Also, I had a really good conversation with our Eternal Investigator, Alexander the other day.  I've felt that we still need to do the little things for that man, call him and invite him to things, ask him why he wasn't able to make it to church if he didn't, things like that.  Anyway, last night I called him just to see, and at the end of our conversation he said (in English) thank you for remembering me.  Thank you for caring about me.  It really touched me, and it just made me feel so happy.  People just need a little bit of love sometimes, just a little extra bit on your part can change people's hearts and make them feel so very grateful!  I just want to encourage all of you to be a little more aware of the little things in life you can do to help people around you!
I'm glad you've been able to do so many fun things while you've been in Utah this time around, you'll have to send me pictures from Halloween when that comes up.  Anyway, I love you so much Mom and Dad (and everyone else who gets this email).  Thanks for all your prayers/well wishes/good vibes in my direction!  Hope you all have a great week!
Elder Belnap

Got to see both Elder Mehr and Sonderegger!  Elder Mehr was shocked when he saw me and at how different I looked!  Also, I'm going to Novgorod this week again for a baptismal interview that Elder Simonsen needs to do!  I'll be aware of the trees!

Monday, October 12, 2015

October 12, 2015

Дерева упала на меня!

I couldn't think of what the subject for my email should be, so I just decided to tell you the craziest thing that happened this week, and then if you speak Russian you don't need to read the rest of this email, and if you don't then you'll find out soon.  Before I forget, the music you can put on an SD card or a CD (CD's work in every apartment, SD's might send better and should work in every apartment but apparently don't sometimes, it's really up to you and what's easiest for Spencer to do).  I also forgot that Piano Guys is можно as well.  Also, if you haven't already assembled the package, a small, spiral bound, laminated PMG would be great (I'm only 3 months in and mine is dying), a vacuum seal bag would be great too, along with some small and big ziploc bags (those can just be fillers if there is space), some scripture-underlining pencils, a small Merriam-Webster Dictionary (you'd be surprised how valued/needed and English dictionary is during personal study), and some American goodies if at all possible (preferably starbursts would be included).  Other than that if there's room, makings for pumpkin pie, and for stuffing (Elder Simonsen and want to eat nice for Thanksgiving).  Phew, now that I finally got all that taken care of I can tell you about this crazy week!
First off, this week has just felt like night and day.  Also, I was really lucky and I got to watch the Sunday Sessions, and Priesthood all in English one of the themes that I got from conference is that things take time, which was such a comfort to me.  Now, that's not to say that we can't work hard in the here and now, Elder Bennett (who we got to meet a few times in Moscow!) talked about how we need to counter the desire to procrastinate, put off, or give up.  We shouldn't say that it takes time in order to procrastinate, but just realize that God has a plan for us and that as we do our part that he will magnify our efforts (President Eyring).  I just love that message!  Don't put off and procrastinate, but also realize that we're moving in the right direction and that to reach our goals, time, patience, and enduring to the end are required.  I hope you all enjoyed General Conference as much as I did (although I didn't get too much out of the Saturday Sessions).  For those of you who don't know what that means, essentially it's a time for us to get council from the leaders of our church about how we can improve and change our lives to bring us greater and lasting happiness.  If that's something that would be interesting to any of you, it's easily accessible on!
Anyway, from this week.  Oh how this week was just ridiculous.  So last week we had another Missionary Leadership Council which means that we get to do another Zone Training.  We got to go to Novgorod, and this time I wasn't sick for it!  It was so much fun, we just took the train down first thing in the morning and then at night we came back up.  After Zone Training we had a little bit of time, and I got to go on a mini split with Elder Williams who is just an absolute riot.  He reminds me a lot of Jeffrey McDonald actually.  Anyway, so we were contacting, and he asked me if there was anyplace in particular I wanted to go, and I said "It would be cool if we could go by the Kremlin" so we went that way.  Anyway, when we were there, we were walking through this grove of really tall trees around the Kremlin, when a big gust of wind blows in.  We were jokingly acting scared when all of a sudden, we heard a crack like thunder and we look back and the tree behind us was falling down right on us!  And it was big!  I wish my camera wouldn't have died otherwise I would've gotten a picture.  Anyway, I turned around and booked it, but then I realized I didn't know what direction it was falling, and I look back and it's about to fall on me!  Fortunately I was booking it, and it was a lot of smaller branches that hit me, but I still got knocked to the ground and got pretty scratched up along with a couple big old bruises on my leg.  Elder Williams was smarter than me and dove out of the way, but his suit was just covered in mud.  When he saw that it had knocked me to the ground, he ran over, but I got out just fine, we were just so shaken up by it, but the best part is we had a really nice contact right after with a lady who came and said "Дерева упала на тебя" and I replied, "Да дерева упала на меня!"  Which means, "yes, a tree fell on me!"  It was crazy, and Elder Williams and I were pretty shaken up so we started going back home after that, but they've started working with this lady and hopefully things will work out!
Anyway, I don't have a lot of time, but it's just been such a fun week.  Elder Williams and I were talking right after that experience how miracles really do exist.  We were talking about how what would have happened if we were just a little slower, or a little too slow to realize that it wasn't actually a crack of thunder.  We truly felt blessed and humbled by that experience, and I prayed really hard after that just thanking our Heavenly Father for the blessings that are in my life and the miracles that happen around the world daily.  I love you all so much and I hope you have a fantastic week! 
Elder Belnap

None with me in them, but one from when I first arrived in novgorod and one from my split with one of the AP's (we got to spend the whole time contacting on Nevsky Prospect!)  Anyway, love you, bye!

Monday, October 5, 2015

October 5, 2015

 I decided that I totally lost track of all the weeks, so that I'll just take after your example mom and just say what week it is.  When I can actually think of a creative title I'll try and be witty, but no time on P-days to waste!  It's so nice that we have a washer in our home and we just leave things out to dry (every apartment in the mission has one) because I have no idea how we would have enough time to do it all on P-days.  Today we're planning on just getting a couple things that are needed for the apartment (we'll get reimbursed, but it's a super nice, and fairly new apartment and a lot is missing) and then go back and just get some study of last General Conference because unfortunately I need to listen to it in Russian.  What my companion and I are doing right now is just listening to some of the talks while we are writing home.  It's not the most effective way to listen to conference, but I hope it'll help when I try to understand it in Russian.  Before I forget, I'll go ahead and let you know a couple of things I've thought of for the package (also would you mind telling the Powell's to try and get in contact with the mission office to get my phone number, I've still yet to talk to President Childs about getting permission to have lunch with them, but I've heard there's a precedent for that already so fingers crossed).  Anyway, I was thinking about what I would want, and as I said earlier, President is very lenient with music, and just says as long as it invites the Spirit, so I've talked with a couple Elders, and decided on stuff that will be appropriate.  As I said, Glorious by David Archuleta (for some reason everyone has that one) Vocal Point (BYU Accapella Group), MoTab, and the LOTR Soundtrack.  That was one that I asked a lot of people about, but I feel like it's можно (allowed).  

I'm so glad you've had such a great week, it seems that things are just going well at the home, and that you're actually able to leave it every once in a while, unlike our first year.  I'll go ahead and get started on this week.  Frankly, this week has been a little harder for me.  Elder Simonsen had his turn to spend most of the day on the toilet, so we stayed inside for a couple days this week.  Whatever it was, it wasn't what I had, because he still had an appetite, and he got better after a couple days.  It's just been a little harder, because we haven't felt very effective while contacting, our one investigator stopped contacting/responding to us on a dime, and I've frankly just felt weighed down by the wasted opportunities I had to prepare for a mission, and now I feel like I'm stuck playing catch up instead of trying to help people to come unto Christ with all the focus I can muster.  I'll just share a couple of things that have helped me.  Last night was especially hard for some reason, and I was reading through some talks from last conference and I read "Latter-day Saints Keep On Trying!" by Elder Dale G. Renlund.  He just talks a lot about how the Lord cares a lot more about where we are going and what we are becoming than where we were.  It's hard to know that instead of just having lived in Russia for a month, I've lived here for a year and a month, and instead of reading the scriptures, I watched Netflix and spent my whole day socializing.  I've just felt that weight a lot lately, but I hope that my word can be an example to others when I say, IT'S NOT WORTH IT.  Even though I've had a hard time, I'm happiest when I get to build relationships with people on the street, serve the bishop and make his burden easier, and establishing relationships with members of the ward.  I've just been trying really hard to focus that the Lord cares more about where I'm going than where I was. 
Anyway, I'm going to get going, I love you so much mom, I got to listen to Elder Holland's talk just a few minutes ago, and I have to agree with him about the love of a mother!  I love you so much, let everyone in the family know I love them so much, and I hope you all just have the best week! 
Elder Belnap

So there is a building being built next to ours, and we saw this guy rappelling down the building on literally just a little plank of wood, and he was just chilling there smoking a cigarette.  I'm not even going to try and understand.

our break the fast feast from yesterday.  Also, I forgot to mention in the email, I won't be at the Hermitage this week, because I get to go to Novgorod tomorrow!  Woot!  Anyway love you bye!