Monday, December 26, 2016

December 26,1016

This one I'll keep relatively short given that you got 40 full minutes of face time with me yesterday! The rest of Sunday was really fun, I got to conduct our Christmas sacrament meeting, and it went very well.  The talks were well done, and the Spirit was strong.  After my companion talked to his family we went to visit one of the бабушки because no one should be alone on Christmas.  It was a very nice meeting, and we've been working with her for a while, trying to help her and answer her questions, so whereas we had a Christmas message prepared, we ended up talking about the fact that God is Our Loving Heavenly Father, because that is what she needed to hear.  It was really fun.  Also, as an update from the Christmas party, that was really fun.  I can know say that I was Дед Мороз two years running on the mission.  I have the big, jolly nature, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I've lost the пузо so we've had a pretty potbelly-less Дед Мороз.  It was really fun, and as I told you, there were about 12 kids, when usually only about 2 come on a regular basis, it was so much fun seeing the spiritual atmosphere that the children bring with them.  

I'll just wrap it up with a couple of thoughts about the reason for the season.  My favorite account of the Christmas story is in Luke 2.  This is the record of the angels visit to the shepherds and their subsequent visit to see the newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  When the angel came to visit the shepherds, he said the following: "10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."

The good tidings of great joy is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Without Christmas, or in other words, the birth of Christ, there would be no Easter, or the Resurrection of Christ.  Christ came to save all people, and to share these good tidings of great joy.  The Gospel is such a blessing in my life, and I'm grateful for this special time in my life, to share this message which shall be unto all people.  In Russia, the only difference is that we don't stop people on the street to share a message about Christ, but that's the only difference.  The opportunities to testify of Christ and the peace that knowledge of his Gospel are still many.  I encourage all of you to think about how you can adopt the Russian way of sharing the Gospel into your lives, because I'm sure none of you want to start stopping random people on the streets.  As you look for opportunities to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15) you can find those oppportunities, and help others find the same hope.  

I love you all so much, I hope you have a great Christmas Season!  And a Happy New Year!  I'll talk to you all next year!


Elder Belnap 

A couple of pictures Caroline took of me while we skyped.  Love you!

Monday, December 19, 2016

December 19, 2016

Dear Family and Friends!

Wow this week has been all over the place.  These last few days haven't been that fun, I've been pretty sick and sleeping about 24 hours a day.  I think as with every other sickness thus far on my mission it all started with eating something, and just went downhill from there.  I'm doing a lot better now, the only real remaining issues is a sniffle and tiredness.  BUT, the days before all that were awesome!  We had Zone Conference this last week, and we're having Zone Conference again this coming week, and this is probably the only time in the history of missions that this has happened, but it was because Elder Martino of the Seventy was in St. Petersburg to train us and help us lift our visions of what the Lord can accomplish in our mission through our diligence and hard work. The Conference was really just what a lot of us needed at this time, because there is still A LOT of confusion about what we can and can't do.  He taught us a lot of things, and a couple of the ones that stuck out to me the most were that we don't EVER just fill time, but rather all things we do should be focused on helping others come unto Christ.  Since becoming volunteers, a lot of times we have been trying to find activities that will just keep us busy, but it was a very needed reminder that we of course still help with renovations if someone asks us to help with renovations, but that's not the only thing that we will be trying to accomplish.  Anyone can renovate, not everyone can help people come unto Christ. 

This week's email will be relatively short!  I'm still in the recovery process and I'm a little out of it. Thanks for having Adam send the poem, that was too funny.  The fact that as an in-law he knows the family so well is a testament to what an awesome person he is.  To wrap up I'll share a couple of verse I read today.  We've been asked to prepare for Zone Conferences by reading 3rd Nephi 9-28, and since I've been sleeping 24 hours a day that last little while, I've fallen a little behind.  But, while reading chapter 17 the following verse stuck out to me  

8 For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.

I love the idea that their faith was sufficient that he should heal them.  

I hope that your Christmas preparations are going well and that you remember whose birth we are celebrating at this wonderful time of year!  Everyone have a Merry Christmas, and family I'll see you in skype in a few short days, I love you all very very much!


Elder Belnap

I forgot to tell you that I'll be using Google chats like last time. will be the way to get in touch, see you soon!


Elder Belnap

Monday, December 12, 2016

December 12, 2016

Dear Family and Friends!

This week went by really fast and it was a really good week! Thank you for many a birthday wish, and a special thank you to Terri who shares the same birthday as me and wrote a really nice note.  And Emily Watts who took a screenshot of a snapchat taken in honor for my birthday.  

The birthday was really, really, really good.  And I'm sorry, but it's not possibly something that I can share over the email.  I've been getting teary eyed all week thinking about the experiences of that day, and the love that God has for me and all His children.  I had one of the most tender moments of my mission where I just felt that God loves all of us, and that we are children of God.  I also, for various reasons involving my responsibilities here in Kaliningrad, as well as the fact that it was my birthday, had to talk to President Childs 6 times.  I can only imagine if he had to talk to each volunteer here in our mission (about 60) 6 times a day, and how he would have no time for anything else.  He's such a good man, and I'm glad he doesn't go home until I go home.  It's comforting :).  In other news, we found a store that gets all incredible American projects, including DOUBLE STUFFED OREOS!!!  Don't EVER take the extra little stuff for granted, it makes all the difference in the world. Anyway, I celebrated with a couple of Oreo sleeves shared with my companion and the other Elders in the district.  We actually did the celebrating on P-Day, so the day before my birthday, and we got some nice шашлык from a butcher shop as well as eating those Oreos.  By the way, the no sugar thing fell off for a while, but I'm back on the horse.  

I also got to go on a couple day split with Elder Houston, because Elder Larson was getting transfered, and Elder Tribe had a visa trip, so I arranged for us to stay instead of flying into Peter and being up there for a couple of days without a lot to do.  It was really fun, he's on his 2nd transfer, and his Russian is killing it.  I've made it my personal goal to help him speak better than me by the time I leave the mission. I love this quote from President Ezra Taft Benson,"We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are." This was said in his conference talk, "Beware of Pride" in April of 1989.  I don't fully understand how to lift people higher than we are if we''re not also lifting ourselves up, but as I've thought about it it's made me think about what the Savior said in Matthew 6:28, 30-32 when he said:
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

As we exemplify the Savior and try to focus on lifting others, our Heavenly Father knows our needs and will bless us for our desire to serve and help others. I love that promise in these scriptures, and the challenge to think less about "Me, me, me" and "I, I, I" but to truly try to help and serve our friends, those in our families, and anyone that we might meet.  I'm grateful for this Christmas season to remember the Savior and the peace that his Gospel brings.  I've felt that peace in my life as I try to help others understand that peace, and my understanding has been strengthened and deepened as I try to help others.  Try and think about Him at this time of the year where we remember His birth. Share some of the peace that only Christ can bring into our lives, and it will strengthen your understanding of that very same peace.  I love you all very much and I hope you have a great week!  Thanks again for the birthday wishes!


Elder Belnap

Pictures are with the Бабсковы and with my covered oreo...yum!

Monday, December 5, 2016

December 5, 2016

Mexi Fest подробнее 
Light the World
Nathan's quote
Childs and interpretations
Powerful spiritual meetings

Wow, what a week!  So we got transfer calls, President wants me to stay in Kaliningrad and continue to support, but unfortunately Elder Larson is on his way out.  He's one of my favorite Elders in the mission and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have had him in my district for a long time.  So, Elder Ward (my other trainee) will be coming here, Sister Brown will be training here, the Бабсковы will be coming back, and Elder Tribe and I will stay together.  I'm also the District Leader now.  I hate feeling like I'm very old on the mission, I still feel like I just got off the plan and still have so much to learn!  I was interpreting for the Childs on a lesson the other day (I'll fill you in on that later) and the word for gooseberries came up.  How I am I supposed to know the word for gooseberries when I don't even know what they are in English?  But now I know what they are in English, and I haven't quite committed to memory what they are called in Russian.  Essentially they are green with little lines and kind of look like little watermelons.  I was talking with President Childs about it this weekend when they were in Kaliningrad, and it made him laugh when I said that I love it when I need to interpret for people, because you are always humbled by it and your desire to learn just increases always. You just have no idea what to expect and the most random things crop up that you're never prepared for at the time.  But then you learn that and if that word will every come up in the next 50 years, hopefully I'll still remember it and it'll come in handy! President was laughing for a while about that because he translated General Conference talks to German for several years, and he said it was always gut-wrenching when people went off what they had written earlier and started quoting some poem.  We also had two return missionaries here, one that I missed by 2 weeks, and another who I knew for 2 or 3 months before she left home, which was weird realizing that as things stand right now, I'm in the 3rd oldest group of missionaries in the mission currently.  I have a not-so-good trait that inherently I don't like responsibility, and that's one thing that the Lord is trying to teach me here, lots of new missionaries, plus 2 native russian-speaking missionaries (breeding ground for misunderstandings), as well as other assignments.  I'm sure the lessons on humility will continue to flow this coming transfer :).

While the Childs were here we had the powerful spiritual opportunity to meet with a Less Active branch president who still believes very strongly but for various reasons stopped coming.  Mostly it was painful for him to see as people didn't do things the right way after he was released.  Anyway, it was a sweet meeting and we had a wonderful time.  The power of listening to people is real.  I have a strong testimony that as we listen to people, and show them that they can trust us, we can be ready to help them.  When we listen and the whole time are just thinking about how we can take what they are saying to prove our point, we don't show them love and it shows in our response.  Every time I'm on a meeting with President Childs that opportunity presents itself and it's truly an honor to see as he listens with his ears, mind, and heart, and that people open up to him.  Then, when he needs to say something, it's truly given to him the words that he needs in order to help the person in front of him.  The promise of D&C 100:6 which reads "For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say." is true.  

In other news, you asked for a little more detail on Mexi Fest.  Well, Elder Larson's mom loves making Cafe Rio, and so we did that.  We bought pork from a super nice butcher shop, and went around the city in order to get everything we needed (fortunately, there are tortillas in Russia, you just have to search).  We made the hats and pinata out of paper mache.  It took quite a bit of time, but it paid off in the turn out.  Usually we don't do that much of the events in our ward, but when it comes to Mexican food, for some reason they trust the Americans more than themselves (probably a good idea).  

To wrap up, I'll pass on a little part from an email that Nathan sent that I got this week that got me a little teary eyed as I read it.  He said, "Our family has made our house shine with Christmas, and our tree is beautiful. I'm glad that we could have a holiday about Jesus and the importance that he is, does, and says. And I am also glad for my family to celebrate with me this year."  First off, I love you Nate, you said it far better than I ever could, and second, I want to reiterate what he just shared.  That this holiday is to celebrate the birth of Christ for which I am so grateful.  For those of you that don't know what he did/want to know more, as well as for those born and raised Christian/Mormon, that we can learn from the Savior of the World.  I receive peace and joy as I read the scriptures, and I love reading the words that Christ himself spoke.  We're studying Luke right now in the early morning seminary class and I'm loving the opportunity to read the New Testament in Russian.  Christ was born, and He is risen, and thanks to him I'm truly at peace in this life.  There's a really cool video on that I watched a couple weeks ago that shows how we can try to follow his example better in our day to day lives better.  Go ahead and watch it :).

Love you all so very much!

Elder Belnap

Dima who went off to sea recently, he's the funniest man I know
There's a member who loves plates from the different countries/cities she's traveled too and her birthday was last week...I'll let you put the rest together :)

Monday, November 28, 2016

November 28, 2016

Dear Family and Friends!

What a week! This week has had its ups and downs for sure. We spent a lot of time preparing for the Mexi Fest event on Saturday, and at times we were wondering if we were putting in too much effort for it, and if there were better things we could be doing with our time in order to serve the people. We felt that since the responisibility fell to us to make the event, that we should give it our best, and it paid dividends. We had several Less Active members there with whom we set up meetings, about 4 or 5 children who enjoyed all the games, one person who came and the other Elders set up a return appointment with him, 2 investigators brought a total of 3 friends with them. It was a big sucess and exciting to see the reward of that.

This week we also sent off a lot of members yesterday for the temple trip, and I'm excited for them and the opportunity they have to go. I had the opportunity to give a lot of blessings this week which was very humbling, many people have had some trials this week and it's always a tender mercy to be able to be the person that the Lord places in their path in their time of need.  I also had to be in charge of conducting and presiding on my first sacrament meeting this last week which again, was very humbling.  There definitely seemed to be that pattern to this week at times.  I want to become a better and better volunteer and sometimes I feel that I hit a wall that wasn't there before because of the law.  It really is just an excuse though, and whenever I start having those thoughts I immediately try to push them away and focus on all the reasons that the Lord has us here at this time as volunteers.  And when I do I really do notice the wealth of miracles that we are blessed with in this work.  Since I've gotten here, upwards of 5 or 6 people have found the church of their own accord, taken a Book of Mormon from the shelf, and wanted to meet with us again.  That's just one of many things that, again, has been super humbling.  

In a couple weeks Elder Martino will be in our mission, and then a couple of weeks after that we will have the Christmas Conference's, so you can say I'm pretty excited for the next couple of weeks. We were asked to prepare a 3 minute talk on diligence, as well as study some talks.  I'm excited to give the report in a couple of weeks about what will happen.  It's so weird that honestly this will probably be the best birthday present ever getting to receive cousel from Elder Martino.  It'll be a little late, but I'll take it nonetheless.  

Right now, I'm just feeling the topic of humility in a big way.  Some of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon are Mosiah 2:22-24.  They read, " 22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

 23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

 24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you .And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?"

Those are some of my favorite verses in the scriptures.  They speak to me of the need to be humble, to do what the Lord asks us to do with a willing heart and a willing mind (D&C 64:34), and that he truly has given us everything.  I've never experienced greater joy than as I try to follow all the commandments of God with a willing heart and a willing mind.  You all are such wonderful examples to me and I pray for you all by name.  I'm so grateful for this opportunity to be on a mission and I'm excited for the opportunity when I'll be home to share even more of my experiences with you, for right now though the weekly email will have to suffice.  

I love you all!  Have a great week!


Elder Belnap

MEXI FEST!  We made the pinata out of paper mache.  We're thinking of asking President Childs to put us in charge of all mission wide events.  Yes the sombreros were also made by paper mache.  Elder Tribe and I doing planning in our Russian шапки that we ordered from Elders up in Petro (the most northern city in the mission right now).  Real, authentic ones were on a huge sale up there, and President allowed us to order through them, it was super fun.  Also Elder Tribe playing chess with babushka ludmila.  She's a saint.

Love you!

Monday, November 21, 2016

November 21, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

Thanks for the scoop on everything going on and the pictures sent.  For ANYONE who gets this email and actually reads more than the first and last sentence (please take note that this is the 2nd sentence), if you feel that you don't have time to write me, that's normal, but feel free to send me pictures :).  There's nothing more fun to see on P-Days, than how much of a man Spencer has become or how good Nate is looking, or how awesome Rebecca looks on stage.  Or pictures of David and the height discrepancy between him and anyone else in this world.  Anyway, I just got a lot of great emails this week from friends and family members alike and I want to say thank you, and just repeat that you're all loved :).

This week has had highs and lows, we had a hard time getting meetings this week, as well as we're having another push to get all the materials that aren't marked with a 6+ tossed.  We've been scanning old Russian Church magazines that aren't on the internet/, just so that they can be preserved.  We've had a couple good meetings, made friends with our neighbors who are the most stereotypical Russian men you could meet, and I love them for it, did a lot of things for my calling (a building inspection, and a couple of other meetings, as well as studying up for a couple things that are coming up).  Being in a position of leadership right now has helped me realize how blessed we are to have things laid out for us in the scriptures that help us realize what the Lord expects of us. There's a good Russian saying that goes "соблюдай порядок, сон будет сладок!" which roughly translates to "Follow order, and your dreams will be sweet!" but it has a nice rhythym in Russian.  I love the scripture equivalent "inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land." (See Alma 50:20 for an example of such a verse).  I know that commandments are given to us by God to make us a happier people, not to put more pressure on us, or make us feel like we're bad people all the time when we make mistakes like everyone does, or that they're just too hard to follow and therefore are not worth our time to try to follow.  I know that all that God does is for the happiness and the benefit of all of us-His children, whom He loves very much and desires all the blessings that he has in store for us.  

Thanks mom for writing that funny little saying from Grandma, she cracks me up how full of little wisecracks she can be sometimes.  I was recently telling someone about my Grandma, and I was just saying how she's the most resilient woman I know.  I'm glad that the family gets to be so close to them right now.  I don't really know what else to write about specifics from the week, we did have one guy walk up to us on the street and say "Мормоны!  Как считаете, у Ромни будет пост в президенстве Трампа?"  Which is to say "Mormons!  What do you think, will Romney have any position in the Trump's presidency?"  I just said that we don't talk politics, and then we were able to have another conversation, turns out he has a Book of Mormon and he reads it from time to time! Sometimes it's so hard not being able to invite when we're not inside our building, but we told him about game night, and church and hopefully he'll come to one of those and we'll be able to talk more.  We're having Mexi Fest this week so I'll be sure to send pictures!  I love you all, have a great week!


Elder Belnap

Monday, November 14, 2016

November 14, 2016

Dear Family and Friends!

Wow, what a letter and what a week, thanks mom for the update, I'm so glad things are going well and that you got to have such a fun, jam-packed last week.  Tell Spencer to talk to Aaron if he has taken a liking to swing dancing.  At the senior year of prom Aaron killed it with the swing dancing, it was awesome.  Also, I'm a little jealous that dad is going to New Zealand, I remember forever ago when his friends from New Zealand invited us to go forever ago, I'm also excited to hear if the family will take off or not.  I'm of course all for the family going to Hong Kong, and given that last time when I really only wanted to be in Utah 1 year I got that wish, we'll see if I get 2 in a row.  Although it would be really nice to be close.  We'll see what happens, the Lord has a plan.  

I don't have too much time this week, so I'll keep it quick.  If you haven't watched President Uchtdor's talk from the President session of General Conference, please watch it.  In his talk he talks about the Book of Mormon missionaries "Alma and Amulek".  He talks about how there are "Amulek's" so to speak in our wards, who just need a chance and they'll become some of the strongest members we have, but they just need that chance.  Anyway, we found the "Amulek" so to speak in our ward, he received a calling last week, and he has taken off, and it's been super cool to witness.  This last Sunday was also so powerful, President Krot and I had planned to speak at the end, but he just leasned over to me after the rest hymn and told me to give the rest of the time to him.  Of course I did that, and he proceeded to ask several of the youth (many of him have only started coming again the last few weeks, and one who hadn't been for several years) to bear their testimonies.  It was so touching to hear of their trials and their spiritual experiences that brought them back.  One of my favorite things that was said was "Even when I had turned away from the Savior, he was never turned away from me."  I know that that is true, and it was just such a wonderful spiritual experience.

In other news, we're still going to seminary every day, I haven't been perfect on the no sugar, but I can count the number of times I've messed up on one hand which is good, and yesterday, we tried холодец. If you're curious what's inside, look it up, I was terrified at first, but it turned out not to be that bad.  Anyway, that's all for this week!  Oh, and a big hello from Patrick O'Leary to the family :)!

Love you all!

Elder Belnap


gelatin (they grind the pig bones themselves)
some horseradish on top (of course)

the trick was to have a bite, and then a bite of something normal (like bread or potatoes), that was I could handle it a bite at a time. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

November 7, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Today hasn't been super busy as the week before, but still a really good one.  Our investigator couldn't make it this last Sunday, but we're meeting with him on Wednesday, and he's still very much progressing and it is super exciting to see.  He's a really good man.  This week I also had a couple meetings with our branch president just discussing different things, and callings (responsibilities) in the branch, and so on.  It's been hard for me to get things going on that front for a while now, but we've had some good talks and things are looking really good.  One of the things that I love about being in the branch presidency is that I'm kind of in touch with everyone in the ward.  There are such amazing people here.  This Sunday we had 3 members who haven't come to church in a while, 2 that have now come a couple weeks in a row, and before that hadn't come for several years, and one who came for the first time this week.  It was so wonderful to see the love that they all felt coming into church, not only the love of their Savior, but the love emanating from one another as well.  They really reached out, and 2 of them were able to stay all 3 hours.  And the one who hadn't come for a long time, exchanged numbers with a lot of the members and was just in a really good mood.  

I don't have a lot to report on from this week, plus we are in St. Petersburg for my visa trip, and I'm also getting my flu shot today.  OH, weird bit of news.  We just had our last visa trip with the sister volunteer in our group.  How crazy is that?!?  I feel so old.  Translating last week and all that fun stuff, I just feel like it's all coming to an end faster than I can keep up with it.  Also, did you get the video from our friend Alla of us breaking the bananas?  Can you pass that on to me as well as to everyone else who gets this email?  It was really funny, she's a long time investigator and owns a language school, we got permission from President Childs to volunteer there and he's really excited about it.  Anyway, we recorded some dialogues for her students, and then we showed her how to snap bananas in half and she thought it was so funny that she took a video.  We're really excited for service at her place, plus she's already known the "Elders" and "Sisters" for so long that she is always inviting people to our events.  

Well, that's really all I can think of right now for the week.  I'm really grateful for the opportunity to be serving in Kaliningrad.  It's been so very fun, and I'm having a great time with Elder Tribe.  I'll wrap up with one of my favorite verses, Mosiah 2:41 which reads: " And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it."

I know that's true and I love that promise :).  I love you all!


Elder Belnap

P.S. So today we had to stop emails early, we're up in St. Petersburg and have been busy getting other necessary stuff done, anyway, halfway through emails we had to go get flu shots, and then go to the center of the city to the bible shop (haha, I feel like such a missionary writing that, "have to go to the bible shop") and we got to see a quite a bit of the sights as our p-day activity, many pics to come!  Anyway, it was super cool, and we had a snow storm, and I loved it so much.  Here are the pics

Monday, October 31, 2016

Mission Culture & Standards of Excellence
Russia St. Petersburg Mission
10 October 2016
Mission Culture

In this mission we:
Love the Lord
Love the people
Are obedient
Work hard
Live the language
Strengthen the Church
Give Christlike service
Teach Repentance
Baptize Converts

Standards of Excellence

Mission Goals:
Reactivations: 70 less-actives reactivated in 2016
Baptisms: 30 baptisms in 2016

Companionship Goals:
Church Attendance: 2 less actives each week
2 investigators at church each week
Total Service Hours: 12 total service hours each week
Total Lessons: 10 total lessons each week

Personal Standards of Excellence:
Read from the Book of Mormon daily.
Follow your gospel and language study plan daily.
Do role-plays daily.
Greet the members of your ward or branch on Sundays before church.
Speak Russian from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Native Russian speakers learn English.
Pray daily that the hearts of the people in Russia will be softened.
“Go about doing good.” (see Acts 10:38)
October 31, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

What a week!  I'm really glad that you enjoyed the message I passed on from Sister Childs last week, I might just forward to you President's letter from this week as well mom :). Actually, I just did :).  I loved hearing about going for a drive with grandma, I showed the picture to my companion, and just started sharing a couple of funny grandma stories, I love her a lot.  She and grandpa have always just been so good to us.  I'm also glad you got to go see Grandpa Belnap, I love him too and I'm shocked at how good he's looking (Don't let him know I said that :) ).  Nathan really is just such a bright kid, he never fails to make me laugh, I loved his letter he sent me, I was super impressed.  Yeah there is no reason why I wouldn't be able to share with you the letter that President Childs gave us just detailing more about some of the confusion that we've been experiencing.  

This week was a truly wonderful week, and I was feeling super blessed last night.  So, President and Sister Childs were in town, and their assistants came too!  The assistants right now happen to be someone from my MTC group, Elder Jensen, and my previous companion Elder Crookshank!  So it was just super fun to see them and spend time with them.  Elder Crookshank got a picture and as soon as he sends that one on to me, I'll pass it on to you.  Anyway, it was just super fun to have them.  I got to translate for a lot of the interviews that President Childs had lined up with many people and those were all special experiences.  After one I was feeling particularly weighed down by a question on my mind, and so I just asked President Childs the question.  I don't feel the need to share what I asked, but I learned a lot about myself in his answer and a lot about how I can continue to improve and become the person that the Lord needs me to be, and the example to all my friends that I need to be.  I'll treasure those 15 minutes where we just sat down and talked, informally and both of us fairly tired, for a long time to come.  He's a wonderful man, and he acts by the Spirit in all that he does, and it's always a pleasure to spend time with him.  

On Sunday we had one of the most spiritually powerful meetings that I've ever been able to participate in.  All in all, there were 2 investigators, 4 (or so) Less Actives at church, 2 of whom are former branch presidents, 1 of whom hasn't been in a couple years and served in several other positions of leadership (counselor in the mission presidency, district president, and so on.), and that the ward has been praying and fasting for.  We've been trying to meet with him for a while, but he came on his own!  He really enjoyed the meeting, and it was a miracle.  The Spirit was strong and we had a wonderful experience.  

Especially after my informal conversation with President Childs I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice.  It just so happens that the day before this all, I read D&C 117:13 which reads: "Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord."

Sometimes what why we're going through what we're going through doesn't make sense.  We feel that we are doing what we are supposed to, trying our best, and we're hit by any number of challenges.  We might wonder what the Lord has in plan, and what is he trying to do with me.  I think this verse is a perfect answer.  Sometimes it is our SACRIFICE that is more important than what we actually get done.  And why?  Because that sacrifice helps us to change, become better, and rely more fully on the Lord.  

This truly has been a miraculous week.  Our investigator came to church, and was touched.  He's progressing very quickly.  It's weeks like this last one where you just feel ready to take flight a little bit, and it's been super fun.  We said goodbye to the Babskovi the other day, they'll be gone for about 3 weeks.  At the end we sang a native russian song that we had memorized and they joined in with us.  The Childs loved it and they said if we ever serve in Saint Petersburg again, they'll have us go to the one of the centers where volunteers are doing service by singing songs to elderly russian people in a nursing home.  I'm excited for that (although, I can honestly say I could stay here in K-grad until the end of my mission).

Love you all, have a great week!

Elder Belnap

Eating at a place called "Obama pizza" the slogan is "yes we eat!"

My comp finally got a lucky ticket

Pictures from our halloween party (I'm on the far right)

Double rainbow!

Letter from President Childs that Christopher translated into Russian for his Branch:

17 October 2017

Dear St. Petersburg Volunteers,

New-law Reminders
Even though we have talked a lot about the new “Yarovaya” laws recently, I can still see that there is confusion about them--some confusion with the volunteers, and massive confusion with the members.  And no wonder really.  The police are just now stepping up their enforcement, and are bringing charges of violations to the courts.  The courts in each oblast are deciding how they will interpret the law for their own oblast. In the past few weeks, law enforcement officials have made over 26 visits to LDS meeting houses around Russia, and have visited many other denominations, as well. In some cases, the police seem to be specifically looking for small things that could be considered a violation of the law.
Because violating the law can have serious consequences, namely fines, deportations, and even the closing of some church buildings, please pay careful attention as I review what we know about the law and how it is being interpreted so far.  Also, please find ways to help our members understand what the law means for them.  Please ask for time in ward and branch councils to plan ways to help members understand the law.

Principle #1:  Don’t proselyte strangers;  Do make friends.
The Yarovaya laws (named after the lawmaker who drafted the laws) are anti-terrorism laws.  Because terrorist organizations often try to recruit members by getting people to convert to their beliefs, the laws forbid anyone from doing any kind of public proselyting.   You cannot initiate a conversation about your religion with a stranger.  This prohibits such things as street contacting,  door-to-door tracting, handing out church literature to people you do not know, and putting up posters which advertise your religious services.  
On the other hand, this law does not prevent you from talking to strangers as long as you do not bring up religion.  In fact, we highly encourage you to have normal, natural conversations with shopkeepers,  to compliment strangers on their handsome dog, or their beautiful children, and especially to offer to help strangers who are obviously in need.  Having as many natural conversations as possible each day will help you improve your language skills, and more importantly, will let people see the light in your eyes.
They will naturally be curious and want to know where you are from and why you are in Russia.  If they ask, you may tell them that you are a follower of Jesus Christ and that you are in Russia as a volunteer to help the local members of your church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Notice that your brief testimony was not aimed at converting them or teaching them about the various things that you believe--it was simply offered as an explanation for why you are here.  If they have more questions about the Church, you may tell them that if they are interested, they may visit the local LDS meetinghouse, and that someone will be there every Sunday at 11  a.m. (Or whenever you have people at the church), who can answer their questions    You may write down the address of the Church and the times of church meetings for strangers, but you may not make a specific appointment to teach them.  You may answer a few informational questions about the church, but you need to keep such conversations brief.

Principle #2:  Teach investigators only at church; Teach members at home or at church.
Members of the Church, including the volunteers, may perform any religious activities, such as teaching and baptizing, on church property.  Volunteers may also teach members in their homes.  Nonmembers (such as family member or friends) may be present, but you must direct your teaching to the members.

Principle #3:  Foreign volunteers are treated with more suspicion than local members.
Local members may talk about religion with nonmembers in their own homes.  They may also invite their friends to learn more about the Gospel and give them church literature, including the Book of Mormon. Members should be the greatest source of referrals for the volunteers.
Most people in Russia associate foreign missionaries with public proselyting.  After all, the Mormons have been doing that for twenty-five years.  In order to change our image, we have changed our title from missionary to volunteer.  
Some people who would like to get rid of the Church altogether don’t believe that missionaries will really abandon their proselyting ways.  They approach volunteers on the street asking to know more about the Church to see if they can entrap us by getting us to say more than we should about the Church to a stranger or by getting us to give them church literature, which they then can take to the police as evidence that we are still proselyting.
We even need to be cautious about media referrals or referrals from people we do not know. It is best to have members make the initial contact with all referrals.  If they are interested, you can teach them in the Church.  

Principle #4:  When the police come visiting, call Oleg!
When the police show up at Church be helpful and kind, but DO NOT answer any questions or sign any police documents until Oleg or one of his assistants tells you it is OK. Call Oleg (or one of his assistants if you cannot reach him) as soon as the police come.  You volunteers know to do this, but the members mostly do not.  Oleg Rumyantsev - +7 (985) 231-0582 | Vladimir Mochalov - +7 (916) 642-8240 | Yuri Kozhokin - +7 (926) 377-6992

Principle #5:  Data-privacy laws have gotten broader
You already know that you should never publish photos or other personally identifiable information about Russian citizens on public websites, such as Facebook. The Yarovaya laws apparently now extend this to “public” bulletin boards, such as those found in Church buildings (at least in some oblasts)! It may also now be illegal to leave a ward list of any kind out in a church building where the public could see it.  Area books are also of concern. They should be kept in a locked cabinet if you keep them at your meetinghouse, or put away in a cupboard, if you have taken your area book home.  The Church is still investigating to see exactly how these new data laws will be interpreted in court. As a precaution in the meantime, the Church has advised us to take down all photos and other personally identifiable information from Church bulletin boards (including building cleaning schedules with people’s names in the assigned slots).  We should also keep all lists of names in locked cabinets.  Follow your bishop’s or branch president’s lead on when and how to do this.

Principle #6:  Get rid of old Church literature.
Church literature that does not have a “6+”-type label should be destroyed.  This includes pamphlets, and magazines. It may also include some books (manuals, scriptures, etc.), but this is still being determined.  It is legal to have “6+” literature, which you can hand out to people at Church or to members in their homes, but nowhere else.  The police check this sort of thing when they come visiting.

Members & Volunteers Must Work Together
The most important thing that members need to know about the Yarovaya laws is that the referrals they generate are the primary source of investigators for the volunteers to teach. If they do not rise to the task of asking friends and family to learn more about the Church, we will not have very many baptisms!
We must also find ways to teach members that finding people is a matter of faith.  If they pray sincerely and without ceasing to find someone for the volunteers to teach, the Lord will answer their prayers!  
Will you please find ways to review Elder Neal A. Anderson’s General Conference talk from this month, “A Witness of God” with the members.  This is perfect talk to use as a lesson when you teach members.  The talk is available on in both English and Russian. His words will encourage and inspire members in their missionary efforts, and should not make them feel guilty.   I will close this letter with a few quotes from the talk:

“President Thomas S. Monson has said: ‘Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together … to bring souls unto Him. … He will assist us in our labors if we will act in faith to fulfill His work.’ The divinely appointed responsibility that once rested primarily upon the shoulders of full-time missionaries now rests upon us all.“
“I suggest that you stop feeling guilty about any insufficiency you think you have in sharing the gospel. Rather, pray, like Alma taught, for opportunities ‘to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places … that [others] may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, [and] have eternal life.’ This is a much stronger motivation than guilt.”
“I promise you that as you pray often and sincerely for opportunities to ‘stand as a witness of God,’ those opportunities will come, and those who seek more light and knowledge will be put before you.”
“Some governments have restricted the work of missionaries, leading our noble members to show even greater courage in being ‘witnesses of God at all times and in all … places.’ Nadezhda from Moscow often gives others a copy of the Book of Mormon in a gift box with lots of candy packed around it. ‘I tell them,’ she said, ‘that it is the sweetest gift I could possibly give them.’”

With great appreciation for all you do,
President Childs

Weekly letter from Sister Childs:

Sister Childs’ letter

Dearest Elders and Sisters,
Possibly a good title for today’s letter would be, Stay Healthy. I have a just few reminders for you that are meant to help you avoid some common mission miseries.

  • Flu Shots! Yes, that’s right, it’s that time of year to get your yearly flu shot. The Mission Department strongly encourages each volunteer to have this vaccination. They stop at saying that it is mandatory only because there are some individuals that should not receive this vaccination, for the rest of us, we should bite the bullet and get shot.
    • Where to get shot: I have arranged with the Euromed Clinic to have enough vaccine for each volunteer in our mission. To lessen confusion, I want to emphasize that it is at the Euromed Clinic. We have often recommended using the Medem clinic for health needs in the mission, but have also used Euromed quite often and for the vaccinations they have been a bit more efficient and reliable. Medem often required a complete physical exam in order to give the vaccination, which is generally not necessary. Euromed is about a 20+ minute walk from the Mission office. The address is Suvorovskiy Prospekt 60; head west across the Peter the Great bridge and continue straight (relatively) on ул. Тульская until you reach пр. Суворовский. The clinic is a corner building with a large, visible sign.
    • When to get shot:  Please plan to receive your flu vaccination the next time you need come to St. Petersburg or the mission office. If for some reason you need to delay getting the shot, have it done no later than December 1st. The earlier in the season you get vaccinated, the better protection you receive.  
    • Arranging a shooting: The procedure is the same as for any time you need medical care. Call the insurance company, (use the Russian number on the back of your insurance card), tell them you need to schedule a flu shot at the Euro Med Clinic in St. Petersburg and they will work with you to arrange the best time.

  • Stomach Distress. Unfortunately, we have had several reports of stomach problems recently. It’s often difficult to determine if stomach ailments are caused by a food-borne problem or a viral infection. Generally, the symptoms are treated the same in either case. Here are some reminders about treating problems of stomach pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

  • Prevention! Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Often. Always before preparing or eating food. Obviously after going to the bathroom, but also after being in public places (transport, church, shopping…). Also be careful about touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. This is a great way to invite germs inside.

  • If you do get sick.  Please remember to call me. We do like to track illness in the mission. Sometimes it can help determine a cause. Plus, I can direct you to the great health resources we have in the mission.

  • The BRAT Diet. If you have stomach problems, it does help to give your digestive system a rest by eating foods that are easy to digest. Modify your diet as follows for 24-48  hours:
    • Drink clear liquids such as water, soda pop, apple juice, gator aide, herbal tea, clear broth. Peppermint and ginger teas both have helpful properties for stomach problems. Drinking frequent, small sips may be better than a lot at once if vomiting is a problem. Drinking something other than plain water often stays down better and offers some nutrients and electrolytes. It is very important to avoid becoming dehydrated!
    • Eat food on the BRAT Diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast
    • Make sure to call me again if problems of diarrhea or vomiting persist for more than three days, or sooner if the severity increases dramatically.

·               Осторожно!  Do not try to boil a can of sweetened condensed milk to caramelize it!!  Elder Taylor, our wonderful Area Medical Advisor recently sent a message throughout the Europe East Area warning against what seems to be a fairly common thing volunteers in the Area have tried. I hesitated to share this, for fear that if you haven’t heard of doing this it may entice you to try it, but I can’t stress enough that it is not worth it. I could send you the pictures Elder Taylor sent of the volunteer who ended up with severe burns to his face and hands after trying it and you would see that it’s not worth it! The can exploded. You can easily buy caramelized sweetened condensed milk. It’s right next to the regular kind. Please help me keep my word to Elder Taylor that nothing from our mission would end up on his list of “Stupid Things Volunteers Do.”
In all this discussion about health, I don’t want to focus solely on physical health. I was recently reviewing the wonderful resources in Adjusting to Missionary Life and came across the following quote in the section titled Resources for Managing Intellectual Demands:
“Just as we should not lower the standards that the Lord has established for the conduct of His servants, we are also not authorized to raise them… Be sure that you do not have higher standards for yourself or others than the Lord has established.” (--Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr. Provo MTC devotional address: “Perfection, Perceptions, Pressures, and Principles.” Given March 19, 2002)
With all my love, and prayers for health in every way,
Sister Childs