Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30, 2016

Got on late today!  So I'm working on your letter.  It's been a fun week, don't worry about me having no money in my account by the way, we've had a lot of problems in our apartment that we need to pay for but will later on get refunded.  So I just took out the rest of the money because it isn't worth the fee to swipe the card each time.  Sorry wanted to get out that little bit real quick.  I'm positive that by the end of my mission we'll have donated the St. Petersburg mission more than it deserves, it's been hard to keep track (I'll tell you in the big email) anyway, love you, I'll return to the big email.

Well, another week in the books!  This week has been a bit of a low, because I had to take 4 days of rest.  My knee problems acted up last Monday, to the point that while we were on the streets it turned into walking to the next bench and talking with whomever was sitting on that bench.  It was suprisingly effective and we had some cool conversations, but I knew it was probably time to call the doctor.  Anway, I called my Mission President's wife who told me to call the doctor, and I got put on a contacting ban for a few days, was told about exercises I needed to start doing immediately, as well as I was put on a lot of ibuprofen.  That little scare is over now (thank goodness) and I don't need to go get it checked out (thank goodness #2).  It served as a good little reminder that I shouldn't be afraid to ask for help when things are getting bad, because they just get worse if you keep doing it on your own.  It was a really good week because we got to meet with a lot of the members and get to know them better.  It's been really fun, because I've gotten a good relationship with members of the ward really quick here.  I've realized that as missionaries, we of course need to be careful around kids and can't be tossing them up in the air, but that we can give them high-fives and bring a notebook for them to draw in at church when the parents are feeling a little overwhelmed.  It's been cool to see that the parents have come to trust us more and be more willing to meet with us as we try to be good examples and help them out when there kids are being crazy at church.

A couple of random highlights/thoughts in my mind from this week:  So we met a couple of really cool people on the street 2 weeks ago, and we had a game night this week.  Anyway, we were trying to get a lot of people to come, to show them where our building was, and introduce them to the church, while also having fun and getting to know them.  Only one member showed up after 10 people cancelled, but then, one of the people we met came and brought a couple of friends with him!  It was a lot of fun and we ended up getting to know them better.  Only one of them is interested, and we are excited to be teaching him soon!  Also, there are a lot of young men in this ward, and they are always on their phones during church and stuff (never would have thought that I'd be on this side of the fence) and we're always trying to get it away from them.  Anyway, this week during young men's I went around and grabbed phones while they were not paying attention and gave them back if they promised that during lessons next week they wouldn't be on them.  At first I wasn't sure if I should do it, but I felt like it was what I was supposed to do, and we ended up getting closer to the young men because of it.  They're a good group of kids and it's fun to support them.  Last but not least, I started learning Russian Sign Language this week!  There is a less active member of the church who came on Sunday who is deaf, and he started to teach me.  He wants us to come over and meet with him, he leads a sad life, his wife passed away not too long ago and he just needs support.  Anyway, I almost have the alphabet as well as a couple phrases.  Also, we have had several things break in our apartment, and it's been fun trying to get them all fixed.  Our oven is one of those stick-your-hand-in-with-a-match-and-hope-you-don't-die ovens, and so it's always interesting.  Anyway, one of the glass panes broke and so now we have to be careful because even the outside is really hot.  Our washing machine also broke and so no we're doing laundry at the other missionaries apartments.  It's been really funny, in Novgorod, I became really clean.  Anyway, there's a toilet bowl cleaner here that certainly can't be legal in the states, it eats EVERYTHING.  Our tub used to be a deep orange color, and is now almost completely white!  Same thing with the toilet...and the stove.  Like I said, it eats it all.  

All in all, this has been a good week.  Scary at times, but we've come out on top.  Last week we were asked to work through the 12 step program to prepare to work with people on helping them overcome their addictions.  It's been really cool working on step 2 which talks about "Hope". Hope that through Christ we can become completely clean and free of all of our previous mistakes.  We don't need to be what we have always been, and we don't have to settle for less than our potential.  The idea of not settling for less than our potential is super interesting to me, because I feel like no matter what we are not hitting our potential at any given moment.  However, our potential doesn't rest in the "right now" or in 10 years or in 20 or in 30.  Our potential rests in the eternities.  That for me is a comforting thought, that on Earth I will never be perfect, but that the end of this life isn't the end of life as we know it.  That there is something more, and that it's accessible to all of us to reach our eternal potential as sons and daughters of God.  

I love sharing that simple truth with people.  It sometimes causes people to swear at me, and often causes people to laugh at me, but that's not what is important to me.  I love seeing people who are intrigued and feel like they are hearing something familiar.  It's hard to always be contacting, but it's also very rewarding to share this truth with people.  

I love you all very much!


Elder Belnap

P.S.  Happy Birthday to Nathan and to Jeffrey McFarland!  Jeffrey is a great friend, and Nate you're a wonderful albeit crazy little kid, and I miss you both!  Hoping you have a wonderful birthday!

This basically means "I'm just a whale and I go with the flow"  I want to make it into a shirt.

Elder Hallstrom took a photo of me where we both agreed that I look like a very old and very tired 40 year old man

Анатолий the 300+ pound man with no legs.  He's a legend.


Monday, May 23, 2016

May 23, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

Wow that was a loaded letter.  I'm sad that I'm missing the house demolition, I've wanted to take a sledgehammer to that wallpaper for YEARS.  Well, not only that wallpaper, any sort of wallpaper.  Ok, I'll fess up more, I've just wanted to have the opportunity to take a sledgehammer to anything, that's something I was deprived of as a city boy.  Anyway, I laughed out loud when I saw the video of Caroline, I've already watched it a couple of times, and it doesn't get old.  That's awesome about Spencer, I hope he sees that as an awesome opportunity to also work on preparing for a mission.  I'm excited to see all the changes at 1592 Oakcrest Drive when I get back.  It's not home, but it kindof counts :).  Also, I apologize, I don't think I would be able to help too much on the house demo.  I seem to be shrinking by the day.  I'm going to be the smallest I've been since 9th grade when I come back.  There's just something about having to wear a suit in 80 degree weather that seems to shrink me like a raisan.  

Well, moving on, this week had some ups and downs, like any week.  There were the days where I was on the ground at night laughing and had trouble going to sleep because Elder Hallstrom was soooo drowsy and was 1000x funnier because of it, as well as the night where we met the funniest drunk in the world who wanted us to go to the club with him.  His ringtone was a metallica song, and he showed it to us and started playing the air guitar realllllllly enthusiastically.  Our farewell with him consisted of him yelling at the top of his lungs from about 15 meters away "METALLICA FOREVER!"  Other than those really funny moments, it just seemed to be one of those weeks where you feel like you are doing what you're supposed to, but you just don't really seem to have anything going your way, and then you just start slowing down a little bit.  It's been really cool to see how on my mission, there are days where I've started slowing down, and I go into a bit of a panic, because work has come to be a big aspect of who I am now.  That's in big contrast to the always too relaxed Christopher Belnap of a year ago.  Wow, I'm almost at my year mark (a month and one day?!) that's insane.  Anyway, I had one of those days this week, and it just leaves you with a gross taste in your mouth.  Got up the next day and started working hard again, and immediately felt better.  It's interesting how that works.  Anyway, it's nice because I've started getting to the point that I'm relaxed in working hard.  That it's what I'm here to do, and so I might as well be relaxed and be at peace while I'm doing it.  It's been a long time coming, but I'm glad it's almost there, where instead of being stressed out because we're always "GO GO GO," there's still the sense of urgency, but peace while doing so.  I hope that's something that I'll be able to take with me into life after the mission, because that seems like it's worth its weight in gold.

Anyway, given that I had a harder day this week, accountability and diligence have been topics of study this week.  I really like talking about both of those topics at the same time, because there seems to be an important link between them.  When we know to whom and why we're accountable in any given situation, there's a lot more of an incentive to be diligent.  Instead of having some outside force pushing you to do something, and you dragging your feet to do it, you know why it's important to you and you sort of become a self-sustaining perpetual motion machine.  The knowledge feeding in of why it's important to you pushes you to be more diligent, as long as you keep that knowledge fresh and up to date of why it's important to you, then you are getting the energy you need to get work done.

In any event, just in the process of writing that paragraph, I've been thinking more about why is it important to me.  There are lots of reasons for why being a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is important to me.  I'll admit, some reasons are more selfish than others, and a lot of the reasons I currently have for being on a mission are different than the ones for why I became a missionary in the first place.  But right now, the most important reasons are: 1) I've seen the drastic change for good in such a short amount of time as I've actually applied the principles of the Church in my life and I want to see that change in others and 2) That I know that there is a God, and that Jesus Christ are real.  That they love us, and they know what's best for us, even when that might seem different from what we see all around us in the world.  That I've been trusted with a special and sacred opportunity to forget about ME for 2 years and do something that will bring joy to the lives of others.

I'll just wrap it up by challenging everyone who gets this email to evaluate what you do in life, in all aspects of your life, and think about why it's important to you.  There might be some things that you'll find aren't too important right now and that you'll end up tossing, some things that should be important to you and yet for some reason just aren't right now, and some things that you might find you have pretty selfish reasons for why it's important to you.  I promise that as you do that sort of evaluation, that a lot of the clutter that seems to take up our time will go away for a bit, and that you'll find greater purpose behind doing the things you are doing.  The best reasons for doing anything is for service to others, which includes (but is not limited to) service to God, service to family, service to future family, service to those who are less fortunate than us, and many other things.

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


Elder Belnap

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May 17, 2016

Dear Family and Friends!

Sorry that you didn't hear from me yesterday, I had a visa trip!  It was a lot of fun to see all of my MTC Group again, I love them all so much, and we always have a fun time catching up and exchanging ideas of what has been working for us.  I realized that I can be a lot more bold, and that I need to start prioritizing little things that occupy the few minutes of free time we have.  It's always a fun time having a visa trip, but it also makes me feel like dad on his birthday a little bit, I have a bit of a, "oh shoot, I've one visa trip closer to dying, and I still haven't done...(cue long list)" moment.  Sometimes I feel like my expectations are unrealistic, but that the unrealistic expectations are pushing me farther than I would have gone anyway to make sure I'm learning this language, always improving as a missionary, так далее.  Sorry that's a lot easier than writing etcetera, I always second guess myself on the spelling on that one.  I'm not going to bother checking, mom you can just correct me next week if I'm wrong :).

SO, NEW AREA!  I'm in Колпино which is a suburb of Saint Petersburg.  So I'm not in the city, but close enough that I can get there easily within an hour.  It's like traveling from Westchester to Manhattan to work.  My new companion is Elder Hallstrom, and we're kindof complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but we get along super well.  I'll give a few examples, I'm 6'4" (or 3" I don't know) and he's 5'6" on a good day.  I'm from Manhattan, and he's from Horseheads, New York and never been to the city.  He's a more awkward kid who doesn't warm up to people really quick, and I'm me.  Anyway, we had been on a couple of splits when our companions had visa trips and I had a feeling we would serve together.  It's been super fun thus far though, although we've been under the weather the last couple of days.  We're excited to meet lots of people and do good work while we are here in Kolpino together.  He struggles with the language a whole lot, and I've been trying to help him a lot which has been good.  It's been good practice for me as well, and has humbled me a lot as I realize how much I don't know.  I have a really hard time getting a language study plan together, so I just try to always be studying Russian at every free moment, but I can't help but feel that there's a better way.  I just try to use every opportunity as a study opportunity, and one cool thing that I've found is not only really hard, but really helps me focus on what is being said during church, is translating it under my breath into English and trying to keep up with it.  Anyone who gets this email who has learned a foreign language, feel free to give me tips on fun things you've done to learn the language that maybe I haven't come up with yet!  I like trying new things to just see what works best for me.  

Today, I was studying consecration a little bit, just trying to know what I can do to be a better missionary.  I read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18.  If you haven't read that story, read it, it's super cool.  Elijah is probably the coolest prophet in the Old Testament, because he was so sassy (if you read the chapter you'll get what I'm saying).  Anyway, I read that and I thought about how the priests of Baal, were commited, not consecrated to their idolatrous gods. This thought came to mind because consecration is defined as "To dedicate, to make holy, or to become righteous." in the Guide to the Scriptures.  We can be as dedicated as we want to something, but if it's not in the pursuit of becoming more righteous (definition being:"Being just, holy, virtuous, upright; acting in obedience to God’s commands; avoiding sin.") then it's not consecration.  How often in life are we dedicated to responding to all the Facebook messages we get in one day, or dedicated to watching the news every night, or dedicated to making sure we sleep in until the last possible moment before we HAVE to get up.  Those might not be the best examples, especially because those aren't inherently bad things, but the point I'm trying to get at is that we have to make sure first things are first.  Because when first things are first (living the Gospel of Jesus Christ) then everything else seems to fall onto its own place.  As we make sacrifices to try to keep the commandments of God, we learn that they're actually from God, and that we are doing his will.  As mentioned a couple of times in the scriptures, we come to know, "after the trial of our faith."

I know that trials of our faith aren't fun, and taking steps into the unknown aren't fun, but that they are worth it, because they allow us to come to know about truth for ourselves.  That's probably my favorite part as a missionary, knowing that I'm telling people that this is something we're asking them to find out for themselves.  Not for us, not because we have something we are trying to sell, but because we know that what we're sharing has changed us as human beings (for the better) and it can do the same for them.

I love you all so much, I hope you have a great week!


Elder Belnap

P.S. In Kolpino, there is a guy we help get to church every Sunday, he has no legs and is missing one pinky because he was strapped to train tracks by the Mafia about 30 years ago!  He was saved because a dog picked up his leg, took it into town, and then people followed the dog back to him and they were able to save him.  He's like 300 pounds and I'll be sure to send a picture soon, he's super cool.  Also, here are some pictures of Elder Coleman and I in Novgorod, with my favorite 6 year old girl in Russia.  She came up to us with her mom's phone and snapped a candid selfie that turned out perfect.  Here's also a picture of our district in Novgorod!  

Monday, May 9, 2016

May 9, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

What a week!  This has honestly been one of the craziest weeks of my mission, we were in St. Petersburg for splits (all it means is serving with other missionaries for a day just so you can learn from them and from how they work), a conference, and an extra night because the Office Elders accidentally messed up and bought our tickets for the wrong day!  We ended up getting our calls about transfers on the way back to Novgorod on the bus!  And that leads to the big news of the week...I'm leaving Novgorod!  The family already knows that, but it's still a bit of a shock!  I skyped my family on Christmas and on Mother's Day from the same spot!  I'm off to Колпино, the place where my current companion started his mission!  I'm super excited although I'm also very sad.  There's a little 6 year old girl in the branch here who tried to keep me from leaving the other day, and even blocked the entrance to try and stop me.  She'll come up to me sometimes and give me/show me drawings that include her, her brother, her mom, and me (is she trying to hint something?)!  Just one of the many reasons I'll miss this wonderful city, all the people here are wonderful and strengthen my desire to become better eveytime I have the pleasure of spending time with them.

I've had a great run here, with great companions who have taught me a lot and helped humble me quite a bit.  I love this language and the people, and I'm excited to see what is in store for me.  I love this work, I love meeting people and talking with them.  I never thought I would say that, but it's true.  This is a message that helps people become better, and although even after my experience as a missionary I'll probably still try and get away from a salesman as quickly as possible, I've realized that when you're trying to share something with someone that you truly believe will help them, and that you've seen change your life, it softens the hearts of people.  Not everyone of course, I'm still cursed out fairly often, and that's not going to go away anytime soon, but there are those who stop and listen, and hear the sincerity in our voices, and feel the Spirit of God (often manifested as a warm, good feeling) confirming to them that we're hear to help.  

I read this verse in Helaman the other day, and shared it as a part of my testimony at Church on Sunday

3:35 Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.

I love that verse.  I know that as we humble ourselves before God and say, "Ok, I'll do it your way, to the best of my abilities," and try to rely on God then we become firmer and firmer in faith in Christ.  I love you all so very much and I hope you have a great week!  Mom, I love you so much, thanks for being the wonderful mom and example that you are.  I love you and I hope that your Mother's Day was as fantastic as you are.  Thanks for giving birth to all 6 of us hooligans.  


Elder Belnap

P.S.  Three shout-outs go to my Brother in Law who's bday was 2 weeks on the 27th ago and I forgot to congratulate him (sorry Ryan, love you bro), Sister Giles serving a mission in Toronto who's birthday is the 12th, and to Christina Badiola on the 18th.  Hope you all have (or had in Ryan's case) wonderful birthdays! 

P.P.S. There's a law against sharing information about Russians, please don't pass these pictures onto anyone else after receiving them to keep their identity safe.  Thanks!

Monday, May 2, 2016

May 2, 2016

Dear Family and Friends, 

First off, I want to thank Dad for sending me a lot of funny things this week.  He sent me a whole bunch of bad puns, and I showed them to my companion who is the king of bad puns and he just died.  My favorite was probably "Q: What is the definition of "varicose" A: Nearby"

Anyway, it sounds like you have had quite the storm out in Utah, that's a lot of fun, I miss making forts and having a good time with the electricity out.  That's also cool about the homeowner's association too!  Sounds like progress is being made.  Also, that picture of you 2 next to Mark Eaton was hilarious.  I wonder how small he would make David look?  I can't even imagine being that big.  Nate's a little goon, that's too funny playing would you rather with him, for everyone elses pleasure, I'll add what you sent me mom: 
"your dad just asked NJB "would you rather go to St Pete. For a day and see CAB and visit with him for a day or to Moscow and see all of your friends?"--he choose Moscow--haha--said he would see you in a year and get to talk to you on mothers day.  Another question he asked "would you rather visit Japan or China?"  as NJB was weighing pros and cons he said "In china the men pick their nose with their pinkie I think Japan."
You're a funny kid Nathan, and I miss you, but I agree with choosing to go to Moscow, I'll be skyping you in 6 short days now.  That blows my mind, especially because I'll still be in Novgorod when I skype.  It's been a fun 6 months, I've really come to love the people so much.  This last Sunday was Russian Easter, and it was also Fast Sunday.  It was just such a powerful meeting, we were few in numbers but the Spirit was strong.  I was really impressed when reading in the Bible on Sunday.  I decided to read John 17-21 as well as 3 Nephi 11, basically 5 chapters that testify about the mission and the reality of the Savior.  In John 21:15-17 Christ asks Peter if Peter loves him, to which Peter replies "Yes Lord" following which Christ tells Peter to "Feed His Sheep".  Christ says this to Peter 3 times.  I was really impressed by the lesson Christ was teaching there, that if we love Christ, then we will share that love with others.  It was very powerful and set the tone for the rest of the day.  Some of you know, but in Russian culture on Easter you say "Christ is risen" to which people reply "Indeed, he is risen".  By the way Russian is so cool, I can say "Indeed, he is risen", which is 4 words in English, in just 2 words in Russian, without having to worry about a comma!  Sorry, this language is really cool, and as of late I've just been really excited about it, things are starting to click a lot more.  Anyway, we had to be inside by 7 for safety reasons, but until that point we just got to testify to people that Christ is risen, and what that means.  It was a wonderful week, and I couldn't have asked for anything better!

A couple of funnies from this week:
-We were waiting in line to buy our bus ticket and these 3 little kids heard us speaking in English, and one little kid said "Hello" and Elder Coleman said "привет" in return and they all looked kind of shocked.  Anyway, they just talked to us the whole time we were in line, and I taught them to say "What's up dude?" and "Don't worry about it."  Unfortunately, their parents weren't around and it's not allowed for us to give materials to kids (for obvious reasons) so we probably won't see them again.  I gave one of them the last American quarter I had, (if someone can, send me those! They're really fun to give to people as a souvenir), and that was that!  They were really funny, cracking a lot of jokes.  
-Since we were not allowed to contact, but we were allowed to go to the church, and everyone who we wanted to meet with couldn't, we ended up staying at the church and then going home yesterday.  Elder Coleman and I ended up pulling out the pingpong table, listening to some instrumental hymn music, and just talking while something was downlading on the computers.  We ended up getting creative with fun ping pong games to play and just had a good time.  We're not allowed to contact tonight either, and next week is Victory Day so we will see what happens during those times.  

I love you all so very much!  I love being a missionary, it's just such a rewarding feeling trying to help others.  I hope you have a great week!


Elder Belnap