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!