Monday, March 28, 2016

March 28, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

Well, transfers finally came, and Elder Crookshank and I are going our separate ways.  Elder Crookshank, will be serving with the only native Russian missionary for his last 6 weeks as a missionary, can't lie and say I wasn't a little jealous when I heard that.  I want to serve with a Russian missionary so bad, but it looks like my only hopes are for training one that comes in, because we know we're not receiving any Russian Elders into the mission before September.  I'm glad you had such a wonderful week doing all those things leading up to Easter/Birthday!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!  I hope you had a wonderful day (it sounds like you did) and I'm glad you got to do a lot of wonderful things with the family.  You're the best momma, and I'm so grateful for all that you do, I'm glad things went well.  In response to your question about what the Russians say for Easter, first off, we didn't celebrate yesterday, we will be celebrating at the Russian Orthodox time, and they say " Иисус воскрес" to which the response is "Воистину он воскрес."  We didn't really do anything special to celebrate yesterday, figured we will celebrate with the Russians!  In other news, my new companion here is going to be Elder Coleman!  He's a newer missionary, about to start his 4th transfer, which means that I'll have the opportunity to be District Leader, and Financial Secretary (or Clerk? I don't even know what it's supposed to be) in our little ol' ward building!  I'm now familiar with MLS and the Russian way of sending money, so it should be a relatively easy transistion.  He's 24, has his degree in Criminal Justice from Florida University, and was a body guard for T.I. (a famous musician) before his mission!  He's been a member of the church for a long time, but was no longer believing, when he felt like he needed to start thinking about serving a mission just a little while ago.  Anyway, now he's here, and I'm super excited to get to work with him and get to know the most mysterious missionary in our mission.  Our district will have one new sister, but Сестра Павленко will still be in my district!  She's the coolest sister missionary in the mission, and is super helpful with our Russian.  I'm excited to have another transfer working with her in Великий Новгород, it's the best area in the mission :)!  The weather has started getting really warm here, and it's awesome.  The sun is getting up at around 6:30, and so I've started waking up almost easily now!  Miracle!  

This week was full of a lot of cool experiences.  Just one that I would like to share was a walk we had with a member who's been planning to go on a mission.  We haven't seen him in about a month, and Elder Crookshank wanted to see him before he left, so we went by his home after dinner yesterday.  We rang his domaphone, and he picked up.  At first he tried to play it off like it wasn't him, but we told him to stop messing around and come downstairs so we could say goodbye.  We ended up walking with him for about an hour, just checking up on him and making sure that everyone was ok.  He's been a little depressed because he doesn't have the means to go on a mission, and the branch has been paying a lot of his expenses just in the process leading up to the mission, and there have been a lot of road bumps on the way.  It's been hard for him, and he just kindof fell off the map for a few weeks.  Anyway, we ended up sitting on a bench with him, and opening up to the bible and reading a verse from Phillipians.  It's a very well known verse, it's Phillipians 4:13 (mom I know that that is one of your favorites).  It reads the following:  13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

We testified to him that the Lord wants him to serve a mission.  To learn about his Gospel more, and to find joy from serving people that he's never met.  We testified that the Lord wants him to do it, and that if he's willing to put in his part, that God is a God of miracles, and has never ceased to be one, and that he can help him if he's doing everything he can.  We testified to him that there are people who he can touch in a special way that will help them realize that what he's saying is from the heart, and that what he is sharing is true.  It was a wonderful experience, and the Spirit was there strongly.  We all just felt very warm and happy, and felt the truth of the words which we had just shared with him.  The Savior lives, and as the Russians so beautifully say to one another on Easter "Jesus is risen.  Indeed, he is risen."  Anyway, I love you all!  I hope you all had an amazing week!  Mom, dad, Caroline, Ryan, David, Spencer, Rebecca, Nathan, I love you all so much!  Extended family and friends, I love you all so much!  I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Sunday!  Mom, Happy Birthday, one more time, just for good measure!

Have a great week!


Elder Belnap

Pictures:  Our district, doing service for the coolest family in the world, and pictures with people who came to our game night.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March 21, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

WHAT A WEEK!  I know I have said that a lot as of late, but seriously, this week was pretty crazy.  It started with P-day, and then we took a train up to our split in Nevsky, and oh how fun it was to be back!  We contacted for a large part of the day, and then we came home, had dinner, and then went up to the Stake Center for a lesson with one of my investigators!  It was so cool to see him again, and just see the change that has taken over him.  While Elder Simonsen and I were working with him, he was at about 2 packs of cigarettes a day, and now he's at about 5 or less cigarettes a day.  It's been wonderful to see that change taking over him, and the freedom that he is experiencing as he breaks free of his addictions.  He's a wonderful man, and he is planning on being baptized in the middle of April, I'm excited to report on that.  We then had Zone Conference the next day, which was just a day that got us all pumped up and ready to get out and work.  We talked a lot about a lot of different topics, but my favorite was when the Sister Training Leaders did a little activity on reverence.  They had us turn to our companion and talk about the funniest thing that happened that week.  Elder Crookshank turned to one another and started laughing about the time that I had a whole bunch of crumbs on my lap at district meeting (we had no time for lunch that day, so we just ate at the beginning of district meeting) and I walked  all the way over to the trash can with my legs bent at a 90 degree angle not spilling a crumb.  He and I were laughing pretty hard reminiscing, and then they told us to stop and join together.  They asked how many of us heard Sister Green reading a verse of scripture, to which no one replied yes.  After that they had us be perfectly quiet while they read 3 Nephi 11:3-7 again.  It was just a cool lesson about how when we tune out all the noise, we can focus on what's most important.  After that, we got to go the the Nevsky English Group before our train, and I got to see a couple of investigators and a ward member again which was awesome.  After the group Brother Andrey came up to me and said "You translate incredibly, and almost without an accent!"  That was pretty cool just going back to my first area and seeing just how far I've come, most definitely a tender mercy to have that happen.  Anyway, at the end we realized that we didn't have our tickets printed, and so we rushed because at this point we were already running late.  We had a suitcase full of materials and the printer took a while to hook up.  Anyway, we started panicking and by the time we got out of the building we had 25 minutes before our train left.  Elder Crookshank and I felt that we were just going to have to run taking turns with the suit case.  Anyway, we run a little less than a mile to the metro station, get in the metro, I walk down the escalator steps with the suitcase (about 40 pounds or so) and then up the steps too (keep in mind these are like the escalators in Moscow), we then ran to the platform, and we got there literally right as the train was pulling into the station.  We hopped on and a minute later it left.  We were sweating and panting and must have been quite a site, 2 guys dressed in suits just sweating like they've just finished a marathon.  I've heard that every missionary needs a running for transportation story, and I'm hoping that was my first and last :).  We also had a miraculous Sunday!  Our mission president and his wife were here, and it was just so wonderful.  We had 2 less actives who were there, and 5 investigators!  One of which told the Sisters after the meeting that he wants to get baptized really soon!  It was just such a wonderful meeting and we all felt so happy and wonderful, the Spirit was truly strong.  Our investigators, Pavel and Katya, came and were just having a wonderful time.  We have a table with Liahonas at the church, and they asked if they could grab them on their way out, and we said, "PLEASE.  Take them all!"  They're such a good couple and we've been super happy with their progression.  

In closing, I just want to share a little thought that my Sister Childs shared with as when we had a little district meeting on Saturday.  She just talked about how the Atonement heals perfectly and without a blemish.  She shared a quote that I can't remember exactly, but it reminded me of a quote by President Packer. It goes "The thought is this: the Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes isfixed. … The Atonement leaves no traces, no tracks. It just heals, and what it healsstays healed.”  What a wonderful promise that is!  That we can be completely free of guilt, and completely free of all the mistakes and errors that we have ever commited, and will ever commit, in this life.  It was a powerful moment with her as she testified of her daughter who recently got married to a Haitian man who has a 6 year old daughter.  She said when they got married, that she had a pang of doubt, which was soon washed away with assurance that this man had repented, and forgiven, and was 100% ready to be a wonderful husband to her daughter.

I love you all so much and I hope you have a great day!


Elder Belnap

Here's me enjoying my pancakes on Масленица

Me and Elder Crookshank after our "make it to the train" sprint

Monday, March 14, 2016

March 14, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

WHAT A WEEK!  First off, shout out to Caroline and Ryan for sending me a whole bunch of pictures from the face swap app, my favorite is either the one where Rebecca's face is swapped with mom's, it looks like Rebecca became a little Russian бабушка over night.  My companion and I were laughing for about 5 minutes.  Also, please let me know where Ryan is off too on his mission!  I was shocked reading that he just had his farewell!  Keep me posted on the updates of just normal life there, just so that I'm not too shocked when I come back :).

This week started off with 2 days of not being allowed to contact because of a holiday.  Monday was P-Day, which was then followed by a family night, so it didn't make too much of a difference (it just meant no talking with people on buses from point A to point B), but Tuesdaywas a wide open day.  It also happened to be Women's Day (кстати, с праздником!) which meant that we weren't allowed to contact, but that we could give flowers to every women in the branch!  That whole day was spent going about, buying flowers, putting them together, attaching invitations to a Relief Society event (for those of you who aren't members, that's the women's organization in the Church for all women 18 and older) for Saturday, and delivering them!  It was a lot of fun, we got in contact with a lot of Less Active members in the branch, and just had a lot of fun surprising people and making their day!  It was exhausting though, and we ended up just skipping lunch to make it everywhere throughout the city, fortunately we were with a member who had a car, but still, it took a long time.  By the end my stomach was growling worse than it does at the end of language study each day (seriously, just ask my companion, we do role plays and sometimes we just start laughing because it sounds like a cow just rolled over and died in our living room).  Wednesday was another crazy day of just breakfast and dinner, my companion and I conducted English Group which went really well.  Also yesterday with the kids was a party as always!

This week has been a hard week with the language.  I try not to get frustrated with myself and I try not to get frustrated with my companion for trying to speak Russian with me, but sometimes it just bugs me hearing so many grammar mistakes that he's making, and then making a whole bunch of grammar mistakes myself.  This week has just felt like I've been trying so hard to get this language, and no matter what my tongue is breaking everytime I try to get words out of my mouth.  I've been trying to not get frustrated with myself but it's just felt so hard this week.  Anyway, I was reminded today that Jesus Christ literally suffered for all of us, not only for our sins, but so that he could (as it says in Alma 7:12):  
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 filledwith mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

The fact that he's here to succor his people according to their infirmities is so comforting to me, even with something as nonconsequential as this language.  One of the definitions for infirmities is, "physical or mental weakness."  I feel like this week I've just had a mental weakness in the brain when it comes to speaking Russian.  It's been hard, but I also know that faith in Jesus Christ doesn't only help me feel free of guilt and sin, it helps me with practical things, things that we deal with on an every day basis.  I feel the difference when I think about how there's an all might being wanting to help me, as opposed to when I think about how "I can't learn this language, I can't do this, I can't do that."  When I focus on the fact that he wants to help me, and that I've been called to serve speaking Russian, I find that words stick easier in my head, things that I saw a long time ago are called to my remembrance, words make sense that I can't ever remember learning.  It might seem like such a little thing, but that's been a little miracle for me this week, to realize that Jesus Christ isn't just supposed to help us feel free from sin, but it helps us in ALL things that we need help with.

I love serving a mission, and I love all the fun times I have here.  I'm grateful for this work and all the miracles I see daily.  I'm so grateful for faith building experiences that I experience every day.  I love you all so much, and I hope you all have a great week!


Elder Belnap

Monday, March 7, 2016

March 7, 2016

Dear family and friends, 

Well another week is in the books!  It goes by too quickly.  Today and tomorrow will be kindof boring because we aren't allowed to be on the streets because of a holiday, but we'll still be making effective use of our time.  This last week has gone by in a blur, tons of fun though!  We have been working on trying to get all prospective Elders in our branch a class about the Priesthood and what that entails, so a lot of time for us these last couple weeks has been spent on meeting with people and trying to get them to be prepared to make the next step in the gospel.  It's been a lot of fun working with them and really humbling.  They're all wonderful men, and it's been a lot of fun.  We have also been working with a couple who are really trying to make changes in their life and set things in order to set their lives on the gospel.  We taught them the Law of Chastity which was such a cool lesson, and they took it well.  The Spirit was super strong during that lesson, and although I might not have the opportunity to see them baptized while I'm here, (they're still trying to get a lot of things in order and have a wedding planned for the summer), it's been such a pleasure just getting to know them.  We've been trying to help our other investigators see the importance of acting in order to find out if what we're telling them is true, but we've been having a hard time trying to read the Book of Mormon on their own time, so for right now we've been reading it with them on lessons and reminding them that they have to do it at home.  One thing I've realized this week is the importance of setting the tone for spiritual experiences.  We felt that with both of our investigators this week, the couple, and the other one who we've had trouble getting to read the Book of Mormon.  The one who hasn't been reading the Book of Mormon also speaks incredible English, and sometimes things get distracted just by him asking questions.  My companion and I role played just trying to keep things focused on the message during that time, and it paid off in our following lesson with him.  We felt the Spirit more strongly, and he did too, and he finally opened up to us about some of his concerns.  With the couple, we just felt such a feeling of peace from the second we said a prayer to the about 5 minutes after the closing prayer.  We just sat in peace after the closing prayer, none of us wanting to leave, it was such a wonderfully peaceful moment.  Anyway, I've just noticed that these moments come as we prepare for them.  If we want to have a good lesson, what should we do? Study!  If we want to have a spiritually uplifting sacrament meeting, what should we do?  Get there 15 minutes early, listen to the prelude, and prepare ourselves for a spiritually uplifting experience!  The power of just giving ourselves the time to prepare for these experiences can't be understated.  We felt that with our investigators as we prepared for them, and set expectations with them for the following meeting, and it paid off.

Anyway, Elder Crookshanks and I also went to the gym again this week for P-Day, which is definitely going to become our P-Day tradition, we've enjoyed it a lot, and it's a nice break from the 30 minutes of home workouts.  I also want to give a little shout out to Nate and Rebecca, who sent me the sweetest letters, and who both did incredibly well in their piano performances, and David who sent me a nice recording catching me up on life there and sharing some wonderful insights.  We also did primary again this week which was tons of fun, the kids are awesome.  We acted out stories of the prophets, and that was really fun trying to explain that in Russian.  Let's just say it was the first time that I had to try and explain to kids that they needed to act out the story of Daniel in the Lion's den, but I got some good vocab, so I can't complain.  Russian is coming along, I love this language, and it's cool being able to translate for our senior couple, I feel like the language is really starting to click! 

I love you all so much, sorry for a scatter-brained email!  I'll be better next week!

Love you all!

Elder Belnap

The ugliest picture and the best picture of me taken to date on my mission...I'll let you guess which one is which