Monday, April 25, 2016

April 25, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

I don't know what it is, sometimes the days seem so incredibly long, but then the weeks fly by!  This week was in all honesty, a very hard and trying week.  In the last 2 weeks, we've managed to have one lesson with an investigator. It's been really tough, because we don't feel like it's been for lack of trying or lack of trying to meet people.  We've received several numbers, return appointments, all that jazz, but it's just all fallen through.  At one point this week I was pretty down, we were in the church building yet again, trying to get the firewall set up, as well as the internet.  Anyway, my companion and I were just so done with the madness.  By the time this problem was finally fixed, it took out 15 hours from our last 3 weeks, just sitting, one of us on the phone, while the other tried to be productive without getting really frustrated with the whole situation.  Anyway, this last day I was just really, really fed up.  All I really wanted to do in that moment was sit down, pull out my iPod Classic from back home, and listen to one of my favorite gym song.  (For those of you who don't know, it's Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson, judge me if you want.  I also have no idea why I loved playing that song at the gym, but I did, and I won't apologize for it).  Anyway, I instead got on (the internet was fixed on 2 of the 3 computers...just not the one we're supposed to do finances on), and noticed that there was a new Mormon Message up.  For those of you who don't know Mormon Messages, are cool little video clips that always share a good message about how we can improve and do a little better in life.  Anyway, this new message just talked about taking personal responsibility for our situation.  Instead of saying, "It's not my fault!" when it's a situation that may or may not actually be your fault, go ahead and DO something about it.  It was a very pertinent message in the moment, I called all the people I could, (no appointment came through) and just tried to keep an eye for what can I do to try and make the circumstances aroound me better, as opposed to giving up because of something that is out of my hands.  

This week was also interesting because Elder Coleman had a bit of a breaking point.  He's a good Elder, with a strong desire to serve and to help those around him, but he struggles with the language, and he feels that because of that all his other gifts and talents are just suffocated and of no worth.  Anyway, his emotions finally came to a head yesterday when we spent our night inside and he just talked out all his concerns and feelings with President Childs over the phone.  It has been really interesting for me to kind of get a window to the past with Elder Coleman.  I still remember one of the most bitter January days, (it was -22 C) when I just had the thought come to mind, "What am I even doing here?"  That ate at me ALLL DAY.  That night, I gave President Childs (my Mission President) a call and just shared with him some of my thoughts, concerns, and how I felt that I was wasting my time and my parent's money being here.  We had a nice long talk, and I came out of that feeling a little better, but what a change I've seen in myself over the last 3 months.  It's been cool being with Elder Coleman, because I literally have a window to my past. We had our meltdowns at just around the same time, in terms of duration on our missions.  I have no doubt he'll come out of this on top, because I did :).  I've also gained a lot of respect and appreciation for my first two companions who put up with me and all my whining about how hard it is to be a missionary.  It IS hard, but so very worthwhile and rewarding.  

At the request of momma Belnap, I'll share a bit about the situation with our one progressing investigator, Саша.  Саша, is a super cool, 28 year old who Elder Crookshank and I met a while ago.  He's Jewish in upbringing, and that's played a large role in our lessons.  He's made a lot of progress, but struggles with the idea of Christ and using his name when praying to God.  He's a lot of fun and is good friends with a lot of the young people in our ward which has been a real blessing, because they can help out on lessons.  

Lastly, today I got a really cool call.  As a mission, we receive a list of those who have a baptismal date, because a lot of missionaries served in other areas and worked with people for a long time, and it's always really cool to see who you know who's making progress to be baptized.  Anyway, this week when I was talking to the Zone Leaders, they said "we'll give you the list, and then we have a surprise for you at the end."  They gave me the list of names, and then said "Ok, here's the surprise."  Turns out, a man that I had contacted in December right before leaving Nevsky, has a baptismal date!  He started coming to English Groups, and then the missionaries helped him to come to church one day.  When he was there, he originally came with a mind to prove us wrong, but turned out he felt a warm, good, happy feeling that he had never before felt in his life.  He's been meeting with the missionaries, and coming to church, and he has a desire to change and become a better man, and he has a baptismal date for June 18th (Caroline's birthday!).  Anyway, I was just there on the phone overwhelmed with emotion, I was so happy!  As humans, we never know what ripple effect one right-or one wrong-action might have.  All we know, is that if we fail to act, we can be born and die without leaving a single ripple effect.  There wasn't anything special that I did to stop this guy, I didn't feel a big hand push me towards him, and a loud voice say "SPEAK!"  All I know, is that the Lord knows where each one of his children are, and that the Lord knows where his missionaries are too.  I read Luke 15 after receiving that call, and I just had a sweet feeling about how true that is, that the Lord knows each one of us.  That if he loses the one, he leaves the 99 and finds the one.  That like the parable of the prodigal son, he welcomes everyone back with open arms who comes unto him.  

I love you all so very much, but more importantly, I know that there is a God in Heaven who loves each one of his children very, very, very much.  

I hope you all have a fantastic week, 

Elder Belnap

Monday, April 18, 2016

April 18, 2016

Well, I haven't yet gotten your email, so I'll just print it out later.  In the meantime though, I'll fill you in on this last week and everything that has happened on our end.  You've got to stop waking up super early Monday morning to finish your email, and just get it sent off Sunday morning mom :).  

Well, this week was really interesting.  One thing I've heard from other missionaries who have already come home, is that you learn the most random things on your mission, things that you never thought would come up.  Well, after this week, I'm pretty confident in saying that I could become and IT guy tomorrow if I wanted to!  When we were writing our emails, and the internet went out 2 weeks ago, that started a long process of trying to get the internet fixed in our building, and that responsibility fell on our shoulders.  We got to talk to people in the offices in Moscow (the guy I was talking to said he'd pass on a привет to надя, денис and владимир).  Anyway, after several hours, we finally got our modom working, and our firewall up and running.  It took a lot of time, but it was kindof left for us to do.  

Other than that this week was kindof up and down.  It felt like one of those times where either I'm sick, or my companion is sick.  We managed to still get work done, but it was unfortunate because we called and called and called several people and just could not get an appointment.  We did meet a couple of really cool people, one of which speaks fluent English, lived in New Hampshire for a while, and saw the Meet the Mormons movie before talking with us and really wants to meet!  We've yet to set up a second meeting, but that was a miracle.  This week has been really cool in terms of goals.  I can't lie and say that I've liked goals during my mission, when it comes to the language, I just sit down, I start with whatever question I have in my mind at that moment, and inevitably it leads to other questions which lead to other questions, and then I realize that my hour of language study is done, and that I got several really cool answers.  Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about how to set better goals, and I finally came up with a system that's worked well this last week.  So I have a list of 8 goals that I want to focus on this month, and underneath I drew a calendar for every day of the month.  At the end of each day (or the next morning) I go through each goal and record whether I improved, did worse, or made no progress.  It's been really cool to see how progress has already been made as I make sure that it's a daily process.  I know that prayerfully setting goals helps us reach our potential, and I encourage everyone to find a way to set goals that works for them.  I know it will help you improve.

Lastly, I just want to give a shout out to Aaron Shavitz who's birthday was 2 days ago!  

I love you all!  Have a great week!  Feel free to write me whenever, and I'll try to get back whenever the next Monday is!

Elder Belnap

Monday, April 11, 2016

April 11, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Sorry for not getting an email off last week!  I typed it all up, realized the internet went out half way through, and that I wasn't able to save it to any program on the computer or to the email.  Kindof unfortunate, but oh well, it happens.  I just felt worse that I wasn't able to send off a warning of sorts, but I'm grateful the Glausers (Senior Missionaries in our area) were able to send something real quick.  Anyway, this week we were everywhere except for in our own area doing missionary work!  It was kindof aggravating, but also a lot of cool things happened this week none the less.  We were up in Saint Petersburg for a day and a half, then in Демянск, visiting the family with 10 kids.  That was really fun, we made the mistake of pulling out the camera to do a funny selfie with them, and soon we had little kids climbing all over us, but at least the parents were in the room laughing with us.  I'm always so awed when I meet that family, they're 3 and 1/2 hours by bus from any other members of our church, and yet, they live the Gospel in their humble little home none the less.  The kids read the Book of Mormon every day, because that's the goal in primary this year, and the parents live the Gospel and teach their children the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They're an incredibly humble and good family, and it's always a pleasure seeing them.  We then came back to Новгород, and had to spend a big chunk of the night on the phone trying to fix the internet in the ward building so that we could do conference/financial work (it didn't work, the Glausers ended up just downloading it and we watched it that way).  The next two days were also chock full with Conference!  What a wonderful 8 hours, and I can't wait to watch Priesthood next week!  We got to watch it in English which was wonderful, although watching in Russian would have been fun too!  We're planning on burning both onto discs and watching them at our apartment (oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that the apartment here used to be a Senior Couple's, and so there is a nice TV, a crock pot, nice shower and oven.  I've been spoiled by my first 2 apartments).

Anyway, my favorite talks were President Monson's, and (of course) Elder Holland's.  Those were all just so powerful and so well put and clearly stated.  I felt the love that they have for each one of us, and the love that God and Jesus Christ have for each one of us.  I really understood that perfection is a life long quest, and the Lord just asks that we keep improving and getting better one step at a time.  In one of the prayers at the start of one of the sessions, the person who prayed, prayed for the Spirit to be poured out upon all those who were listening.  That really stuck with me the rest of the conference, and I found myself praying during talks and inbetween talks for that prayer to be answered.  Well, when both of those men talked I just felt an outpouring of love and support.  That I'm not a perfect person, and I won't be in this life, but that as I keep taking things a step at a time and relying on the Lord as I go, that I won't be weighed down by my imperfections, rather, I'll be grateful that I have reminders about how much I need a higher power, and Savior and a loving Heavenly Father in my life.  

I've included the links to those two talks at the bottom.  I invite everyone getting this email, to listen to those two wonderful men speak.  You'll feel uplifted, and you'll find answers to questions you might not even have known you had. You'll feel that there is someone that knows all the feelings and thoughts that you have, and that you can turn to him for help.  

I know that God wants us to be happy, he wants us to be successful in whatever wholesome endeavors we undertake in life.  He wants us to learn, to become parents, to have good relationships with those around us, but most importantly he wants us to know that the first great truth of eternity is that he loves us.  

I love all of you soo much.  I'm grateful for your support.  I'm excited to see many of you in a very, very, VERY short 15 months.  I hope you all have a great, and successful week!  Also, best of luck to my friends starting finals, you'll need it!


Elder Belnap

P.S.  Thanks to David, Spencer, Rebecca, and Nathan who have all written me or sent me a voice message in the last two weeks.  Caroline and Ryan are the two who have been slacking ;).  

The pictures are of our sketchy hotel room and the goofy picture with the kids.