Monday, March 27, 2017

March 27, 2017

Dear Family and Friends, 

What a week!  It was so good and flew by just so fast.  I really can not grasp entirely how it just flew by, and hear we are and it is almost April.  I'll start by wishing you с прошедшим днем рождения (a belated birthday)! I would have wished you a happy early birthday, but that's unlucky here :).  I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it and had a good time out and about with Aunt Carolee.  I'm also glad to hear about all the good things that are going on, and that you are enjoying your favorite thing--taxes.  Also, I never knew that you had a Native American "sister" who lived with you for a time.  Or maybe you did tell me, but I just didn't register that you actually had someone live with you for a time.  Can you fill me more in?  I'm interested.  Also, yes Dad I am interested in family history, I just don't know entirely how to do it, and you'll have to show me a bit when I get home.  If you want to come pick me up, you'll have to take care of that quickly, and I have a request to show you Kaliningrad if we do go :). 

Speaking of Kaliingrad, it was so much fun.  It feels like my home ward there.  Not many people knew that we were coming, and so it was a big surprise for many.  They really are my family down there.  I went on a split with Elder Ward, and we went to go running with the previous branch president (leader of the congregation in Kaliningrad), Президент Крот, and he had no idea I was coming.  He came up and gave me a big bear hug. We just talked about life, how he is doing, he is doing a lot better, we talked about some gospel topics, how the ward is doing and how we can help. It was just one of those experiences you live for, where you feel the Spirit, and see such wonderful people that you have come to love.  Our visit also coincided with the baptism of a younger man that came to the church about a week or 2 after I left on his own and completely of his own volition, he was just interested what was there.  I went to the Secretary's office and talked with Брат Кудряшов, he's the one who poked his head in during my skype call.  He finished up finances and we just talked a bit, how things are in his family.  He's the only active member of his whole family and just the biggest most lovable man I know, and he needs support.  At the end he said that he's always glad to see me and talk to me, and President Krot said that he's sure I'll be back at some point, I'm just not the type of person to fall away.  I really hope I can introduce you to all of them someday :).  

We also had a really good meeting with our investigator Tamara.  She came over to the bishops house and it was just a really good meeting.  I love being around the Childs, they are just so good, and I really do love both of them so much.  They inspire me to be better, do better, and really love people.  They are so concerned and in touch with individual people.  I know that they find the strength to remember names, really care, and truly love the people that they meet, because they pray to have charity and share that love with others.   It makes me think of this wonderful talk called the Character of Christ.  Christ never turned inward, but rather was always focused on others, and he was never selfish, but rather selfless.  What wonderful things we can learn about sincerity and love from the Savior of mankind.  As I try to study his example, my love for people grows, and as I pray the same thing happens.  

I love the opportunity to serve this people and the blessing it truly is to try and teach them about Christ, the example for us all, and if we learn from his example we can learn that, yes, we do make mistakes and that there is consequences for sin, but that we can repent quickly. I love this quote from Elder Holland: 

"If there is one lament I cannot abide, it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouraging attitudes, that is one that discourages me. Please spare me your speeches about “That’s just the way I am.” I’ve heard that from too many people who wanted to sin and call it psychology. And I use the word sin to cover a vast range of habits which bring discouragement and doubt and despair.

You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. It is another Satanic falsehood to believe that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say “I’ll change”—and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend—indeed, you had better spend—the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the Sons of Mosiah."

As we focus on him, we can learn how to repent quickly, learn how to love, and learn how to be forgiven.  We can learn how to keep working on our personal growth while not getting upset when the said personal growth isn't as quick as we would like.  We can learn the blessings of obedience to God, and the true joy that it brings.  We can better understand the great responsibility we have to use our free agency to make correct decisions.  

I love you all, I love Russia, I'm so grateful for the people here, the language, all of it.  It's a beautiful, miraculous place.  I'll hear from you next week!


Elder Belnap

Monday, March 20, 2017

March 20, 2017

Thanks for the update!  Before I start, this day was a little strange, and hence I am writing a little later, but for the most part I'll still be writing really early on.

I love that Nathan got to sing, and look his best, I love when he got his new suit and we all thought that he was the cutest little kid.  Thanks as well for sharing what Uncle Dave spoke about at the conference, I wish I could have listened to that, but I'm sure I will get to hear about everyone's experiences with Grandma and Grandpa at some later date.

This week had its highs and lows.  We had Zone Conferences, which went really well.  It was enjoyable to see how they were all planned with the same broad topic in mind, but how each one varied based off different ideas from different people, and different comments throughout that spurred conversation on one topic or another.  

We also received a media referral today and got a new investigator last week!  One step at a time!

Other than that, we were only able to have a couple of meetings this week, and I don't really know why, but my companion and I just had a little bit of tension between us, and when that happens, things just seem to stop.  I don't really know when it cropped up and how, I think it was just after a lesson with an investigator that left an unsavory taste in our mouths.  Anyway, we finally had the companionship inventory on Sunday that we really should have had on Friday (that's been one thing I've had a hard time with, I'm usually the one who talks a lot, and for the most part I have a pretty jovial attitude, so if there's a potential issue, I want them to bring it up so that I don't mistakenly ask if something is wrong if everything is ok).  Anyway, we realized that we had a hard time, because we had been traveling and the week before it was stake conference, and so it was hard to meet any one person in the ward. So, basically my companion hadn't even gotten to meet the ward that we were serving in yet, and we though that after he gets to meet them, then things would probably get a lot better.  It was incredible how night and day it felt, as soon as he could really see the people that we were serving, any and all tension disappeared and we refocused on what we are here to do.  

I got some thoughts today on remembrance from a friend serving in California (shout out to Sister Sorenson), and they were so beautifully put, and just reminded me a lot of the tension that left as quick as it came between my companion and I this week.  I love the Gospel and I am so grateful for the reminder to remember.  Remember the first time we received a testimony of Christ, remember the time that we felt a feeling that could only be described as the peace and comfort that comes from the Holy Ghost, remember all the pile of blessings that we have received in this life.  I know that as we look back in our lives and at our lives now, if we prayerfully think about how God has blessed us, we will be able to see and understand a little better all that he has done for us.  For me, the hardest thing that I have had to remember is that even though the success for us can be hard to see sometimes in our mission, that my success as a missionary or as a volunteer has nothing to do with outward results, but inward desire to do everything I can, and pray to God to bless my meager efforts, so that other people can be blessed.  

This next weekend we will be in Kaliningrad and a man will be baptized who walked into the building about a week or 2 after I left.  It will be an exciting week.  Here are my friends thoughts on remembrance:

The Book of Mormon uses the word "remember" 157 times, and the word "forget" just 20. One of our most important instructions to "remember" come in the sacramental prayer-- that we "always remember Him." I've compiled a list of 7 ideas via scripture that chronologically relate to what I want to remember and how I want to "always remember Him": 

Remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth  (Alma 37)
Remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer (Alma 29)
Remember that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water (3 Nephi 7)
I could remember my pains no more (Alma 36)
Remember that every good gift cometh of Christ (Moroni 10)
Remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true (Mosiah 1)
3 Nephi 27-- Remember the things that I have told you.

1. Remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth

I don't think my parents would have ever looked at me as a youth and thought, "she is... learning wisdom." Quite the opposite, in fact. But I mean I wasn't totally hopeless. I was still learning. Heavenly Father can teach us at whatever stage of our lives.

2. Remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer 

When I went off to college, I became more aware (obviously) of being an individual human independent of mom, dad, same home family ward as the former 18 years of my life. I talked to my YSA bishop, totally dumbfounded at how people my age had the capacity to claim they had a firm belief in God when they had only just stopped shopping in the "juniors" section at Target. I wanted to know two things-- 1) why wasn't that me? And 2) was there actually God? My bishop advised in a way I had heard but also not heard before because it felt more personal than previously: pray, ask God if He is there and if He loves you. Not a complicated thing, but as I prayed  there was this thing that started to grow inside of me: a little seed of faith. 

It grew as I prepared to serve a mission, and life started working out more than before. It's not even that my grades or musical performances of athletic endeavors worked out better-- I just felt more joy, and more at peace with not being everything I wanted to be  all at once. 

I felt that Heavenly Father heard my prayers, and got me and my family out of the rut that was all of high school. 

And then things fell somewhat apart at once at a very inconvenient time-- 3 months before my mission. Family went from smooth sailing to a little stormy, friends went from contactable to unreachable (partly cuz they became missionaries), working and school became more challenging and started earlier in the day. I kept preparing for a mission. 

Which is good. I loved the MTC, I was excited to serve a mission. Then I got here and my brother left the church. And then a few months later my family member passed away-- the one thing I asked Heavenly Father to not do, to take someone I loved from me before I got home. 

So I had to remember what the Lord had done for me, and how He had heard some of my first sincere prayers as a freshman in college. 

3. Remember that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water 

Our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ. Even through what my heart and mind were batting, Heavenly Father gave my companions and me people to love, teach, and help to be baptized. But none of them would have been baptized without repenting, and none would have repented without having faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Remembering my purpose was my lifeline, and even though I still felt like I was drowning I knew I could at least do what Elder M. Russell Ballard directed-- "stay in the boat and hold on." As I tried to stay afloat, I began to feel what Peter felt when seeing the Savior walk on water--

28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Remembering the Savior gave me faith to teach, and reminded me to help others remember Him, too, through helping others through the path to Him. 

4. I could remember my pains no more... and oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain 

I still remember how I struggled and fought, but through the healing power of the Atonement I don't feel the darkness like I did. Through reaching for the Savior during my trials I was able to bear what was happening, and through helping others understand and apply the gospel and atonement of Jesus Christ I found conviction and strength. 

I remember the circumstances, I remember the challenges, but I also remember the equivalent joy and light that came with it.  

5. Remember that every good gift cometh of Christ 

Back to last night's "Miracle Drive". Looking back on my mission I'm not even going to try to count the gifts, blessings, and miracles. Whether it's serving at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site-- which, in itself, has been an incredible blessing-- having companions from all over the world, learning more about who I am and what I'm capable of accomplishing, or meeting soul after soul after soul and testifying of the Savior, His gospel, and the blessing it is to know and apply it. Every good thing has come because of Him and having His name so close to my heart. Every good gift cometh of Christ. 

6. Remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. 

Whether I was sitting on the floor of my freshman dorm room, the back of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, or the ancient desks in our ancient apartments doing everything I could to make up for lost time and really "treasure up the word" of the books of scripture, I want to remember that what I've been teaching others for 18 months is true. And that the records we have are true. 

7. And, finally, the Savior's words: "Remember the things that I have told you."

I will have a lifetime of learning, and the gospel in its simultaneous complexity and simplicity will be foundational in my decision making. The Savior taught anciently to the people in the Eastern Hemisphere, He taught anciently to the people in the Western Hemisphere, and as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father-- as disciples of Jesus Christ-- I can remember the things He has told me. 

 I can remember the parables, the stories. Most importantly, however, I can always remember Him. I can always remember His example, His love, His goodness. I can always remember His joy, and His pain. I can always remember His Atonement-- His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. He is more than a man, but He has descended below anything any other man so He can lift every other man and woman if they remember Him. 

My hope for myself is that I will always remember Him. My hope for you is that you will always remember Him-- that you'll remember your brothers and sisters and invite them to come to Christ. Whether by your example or your invitation, I hope you'll remember the things He has told us to love Him, love our neighbor, and love ourselves. 


 I love those thoughts so very much, and I pray that we all can remember all that God has done for us in our lives, and remember all the wonderful things that we have been given.  I know that as we do so, we will receive greater peace, knowing that as we pass through trials right now, we will be able to recognize and remember how God has supported us and that he still is.  I love you all so very much, and I hope you have a great week!


Elder Belnap

Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 12, 2017*

Dear Family and Friends, 

What a great week!  We were really busy all week, but that's exactly what we are trying to do :). We had the opportunities to meet with a couple of members which was really fun, and get to know them a little better, and help them set plans for inviting others to learn more.  We also had MLC this week, which is just when different leaders in the mission gather together and discuss the affairs of the mission, what we can work on, and how we can improve things.  That's a once every 6 week meeting.  We had 2 wonderful lessons that really stick out to me in my mind.  One was with with Tamara, she's 18 and is from a different city, but her good family friend who is a member is also from that same city and we've started meeting with her and teaching her.  It's really cool to see what strikes a cord with different people, and for her the Plan of Salvation was something that she really perked up about.  She had lots of good questions, and we are excited to talk about it more with her.  Her progress has been slow, but she's very naturally in tune with things of a spiritual nature and willing to talk about them.  We are excited to see how she will open up some more.  I love being able to ask people to read and pray about it for themselves, and that the questions that she has can truly be answered through study and prayer.  

We also had one of the coolest experiences of my mission. I had a split with Elder Hallstrom this last week.  We had 2 lessons fall through for the my split with Elder Hallstrom during MLC, and we were not really sure what we would do, but the Lord gave us what we needed to do as we prayed humbly, and sought for what he needed to happen. We then got to see one of the biggest miracles of my mission with Edward. For the last month and a half he has not opened the door to us. We knocked and he told us to leave, so we prayed, and Elder Hallstrom and I both the need to stay. He is a drunk who is only capable of not drinking when he doesn't have anymore money to buy alcohol, and he was baptized about 20 years ago.  We felt the need to not leave even though he told us several times to do so, and the need to sing. So we sang outside his door to him and a miracle happened. I really got to see how, as one of the first Presidents of the Church Lorenzo Snow said, "There is no mortal man that is so much interested in the success of an elder when he is preaching the gospel as the Lord that sent him to preach to the people who are the Lord’s children”. 

We also got to go to Pskov this weekend, and I think that there might be more churches in Pskov than in Provo, Utah.  There are so many, and it's truly a beautiful city.  I would love to show the family that city some day :).  The church is very small there, but it was a great sacrament meeting.  I got to speak and I talked about a couple of verses in D&C 93:36-37 "The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one." In my talk I really talked about how we come to church and read the scriptures not для галочки (for the check mark, can you say that?), but to learn and grow, and understand why what God wants for us is better than what the people in the world might be encouraging us to do.  I know that I receive so much joy and peace in my life being here and serving people, teaching the Gospel.  I love Russia, Russian, and everything to do with it.  I love you all so very much!  


Elder Belnap

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March 5, 2017*

This week has been a fun one!  We had transfers on Wednesday and I got my new companion Elder DeVol.  His mom is Ukrainian and his Grandpa is Armenian.  Sorry, that's just how he introduces himself to everyone, so I feel like that's the best way to introduce him.  He's really a good Elder, and I'm excited to work with him.  It's really funny, Elder DeVol just served with my trainee Elder Tribe, and when we all changed companions, Elder Tribe just came up and said "Look!  I just train assistants ok!  Elder Coleman, you're next!" 

Well, we had a fair amount of things to get done after that, but we have been able to get to work since then, and we have set plans for who we want to meet and when for this coming week.  We will be in Pskov on both Saturday and Sunday, so that will be exciting.  These last couple of days we have tried to meet with some of members in our ward, just so that both Elder DeVol and I can get to know them better.  We also had Stake Conference this last weekend which was so exciting, everyone gathered together.  There are so many cool, young families in our stake, and our investigator Tamara was so interested by the fact that there are so many young people here who believe all of this, she really enjoyed it.  

This week I studied a bit about the divinity of Christ, and his divine Sonship.  We had a conversation with a man that left me with not the best taste in my mouth.  Anyway, the man was going off about how he believes the scriptures, but does not believe that Christ is the Son of God.  I decided to go through the scriptures and see where someone testifies of Christ's relationship to God, including the testimony of Christ himself.  I really enjoyed the verses in Mark 14:61-62 which read: 61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

I love those verses, and to me, reading them my testimony of Christ being the Son of God was strengthened.  I do not understand everything, but I know that the scriptures are true and that my faith in Christ helps me on a daily basis.  I love the words of Nephi when he said: 10 And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.

 11 And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.

I know that the scriptures are true because I have prayed about them and studied them trying to understand whether or not they are true.  I love reading them and the comfort and knowledge that I am able to attain from reading them, they truly are the words inspired of God through chosen prophets, and more valuable than any other reading material on this Earth.  

I love you all so very much!  

Have a great week!  Pictures as promised!

The one of me looking good and then me making a fat face was on the 6 hour drive to Petrozavodsk, my companion and I decided that all of those lose weight fast ads are just the same person, but in one picture they're trying their best to look good, and in the other they are trying their best to look terrible.  I think I did pretty good one both ends :).  The others are pictures on the lake in Petro, and of the ice sculptures down there.