October 31, 2016
Dear Family and Friends,
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.
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.
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!
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)|
Dear St. Petersburg Volunteers,
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 at (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 LDS.org 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,
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.
· 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,