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!
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