Wow, so much has happened in these last ten days and there is PLENTY to write about. I've been so busy thinking about our mission that I haven't thought about structuring an email, so I'll just type what comes to mind for each day.
Here's a summary:
My first day was really difficult, but that was only because I was being selfish. I was thinking of myself and how life was so much better in the States and I was pitying myself because Russian seemed impossible and this was my life for the next two years and blah blah blah. But then I realized that I was being selfish, remembered why I was here, and I've been fantastic ever since. I'm here because I love Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I know that it has made me happy beyond measure and that it will only continue to do so. I want others to feel this same way and to share in this knowledge and the happiness that it brings because I love them. Once I remembered that, everything turned around. I am so excited to be here for two years and to do nothing but serve the people of Ukraine. What a blessing it is to turn outwards and dedicate every waking thought to others! If you don't have much time, I encourage you to read Jan 11 because a miracle happened that day.
Thursday, Jan 4:
BTW we're still in Madrid at this point. So all I can remember from this day was that we went to the Prado museum and it was probably my favorite P-Day activity while in Madrid. Saw lots of De Goya and other good stuff. I think my favorite rooms were the rooms with massive paintings that covered entire walls and a tiny room in one corner of the museum which had impressionist landscape paintings. Not everyone was too excited about it, but one sister at the MTC was big into art so it was fun to see her run around, haha!
Friday, Jan 5:
I don't remember much from this day except for what we did for sports. It was raining, and I was really bummed out because they never let us go outside for sports when it rains which meant that I wouldn't be able to play street soccer on my last day of sports in Madrid. But, suprisingly, they let us go anyway! It was easily the most fun game of soccer we played our whole time at the MTC because the courts were slippery and we could slide across the court standing up for 20 to 30 feet in one go and that brought a super fun dynamic to the game.
Saturday, Jan 6:
This was our last park day, so Elder Decker and I were together again. Because it was raining, we decided to stay on the metro the whole time as opposed to going out into the park. Before we got onto the train in the metro, I suggested to Elder Decker that we wait for the next train, because I thought it'd be a better idea to spread the missionaries out a bit instead of having all 60 of them go on one train. I told this to other missionaries, too, and it seemed that we were all on the same page. Then came a train, and every single companionship but ours got on. So much for that.
But, while we were waiting for the next train, we met a wonderful old man and began talking to him. We carried our conversation onto the next train and he was really excited about our message. By the time his stop came, he had accepted a Book of Mormon and had written down his info so more missionaries could teach him later. Before he left, his eyes were watering and he hugged us both. I'm glad that our companionship followed through with our idea about waiting for the next train or else we never would've met this man. After that, I really enjoyed contacting on the metro because people are much more receptive. No one is in a hurry the same way they are at the park, and people are more down to talk because unless it's their stop, they aren't going anywhere. Turns out that staying on the metro all day was a good idea because when we met up with missionaries who went to the park, they told us that there were more missionaries than people there.
Sunday, Jan 7:
Can't remember anything, but I'm sure it was great.
Monday, Jan 8:
I can't remember much from this day, either, but it was our last day in the MTC and we wrote in each other's journals and said our goodbyes and I'm sure it was emotional or something.
Tuesday, Jan 9:
This is where Ukraine comes in!!! We woke up at 3 am and took a bus to the Madrid airport where we said goodbye to our amazing teachers (who we were best friends with by then) and caught our 6 am flight to Amsterdam. It might as well have been first class because Elders Rowland, Ellis, and I were next to the emergency exit and had plenty of leg room. To make things better, Elder Rowland befriended a flight attendant and that flight attendant gave us soooo much food, haha! They were serving these little lemon muffins on the flight and this flight attendant gave us 6 each, lol! He then continued to give us extra of everything, and we even got some free KLM pens. Needless to say, I'll be flying KLM from now on.
Nothing really happened on our Amsterdam to Kiev flight. At the Kiev airport, we were greeted by Prez and Sis Kumferman and their APs. They were all super good to us. It was then that we had to say goodbye to our Nepro missionaries, including my companion, Elder Decker. It was a great experience to be with them as a district in the MTC and I know that they'll do great in their mission.
The APs then drove with us to the mission home in Kiev where we had some good training with our new trainers! My trainer is Elder Neuffer from Oregon and Utah. He's been on his mission a year and a half now, and he knows the language really well and has done a great job of taking care of me while also making me do things on my own so I can learn. More on him later.
When dinner time came, Prez and Sis Kumferman took us out to eat and we had some really good Ukrainian food. I can't remember the names of everything, but there was borsch, and it was good.
Wednesday, Jan 10:
We had some more training and then went to our areas! Elder Neuffer and I took a two-hour, bumpy bus ride to Chernigov, my first area. I'd tell you all about this city, but honestly you can just look up the basic facts on your own. The things I will tell you are that it's very cold (despite this being the mildest winter anyone can remember) and it's super gray. Today, as I write this, is actually the first day that the sky is blue, and it makes this town look soo much prettier, haha!
Anyway, we finally got to Chernigov and I got the tour of the apartment, unpacked, bought a coat and some boots at a mall, ate the Ukrainian equivalent of potstickers for dinner, and went to bed. The culture shock was real. Our bus ride was super crowded, no one was talking except Elder Neuffer and I, the road was super bumpy, the lasting marks of communism were all over the landscape . . . Yeah, it was just different. Then to get to the mall we took an even smaller and more crowded bus. Then at the mall I couldn't understand anything, lol. I knew this would be quite the experience.
Thursday, Jan 11:
Easily the longest day of my life. And honestly, I can't remember much from it. Good thing it's in my journal. Basically, we did a lot, walked a lot, froze a lot, my companion talked a lot and I tried to listen a lot. The listening was (and is) pretty unsuccessful. But there was one highlight, and I'll remember it for a long time.
My companion and I were walking from a member's house to the church when he realized he had made a wrong turn. It wasn't a huge mistake, though, and he knows this city well, so we just recalculated. While we were walking, I was thinking about the scripture in D&C where the Lord tells Joseph Smith that they shouldn't go so quickly from point A to point B while there were so many people in between who could use the gospel. I was about to ask him if we should try talking to people when I realized he was walking away from me towards another person.
He started a conversation with this man and I didn't understand. I could tell, however, that the man wasn't interested. While we were talking to him, a member who was driving by stopped his car, said hello to us and the man, and then went on his way. The man we were talking to then seemed to open up a bit more and talked about how he desperately wanted to quit smoking, but couldn't. Elder Neuffer promised him that with God's help, he could.
This man then asked me to say something because I'd been so quite. I told him I was bad at Russian, to which he replied "open your mouth and let God talk," in Russian, of course. So i talked about how I was here in Ukraine despite my good life back home, despite the cold, despite how scared I was, despite everything, because I knew that the gospel of Jesus Christ had brought me so much happiness and I knew that I had to share that with others. I said that I knew my Russian wasn't very good, but that I knew the gospel was true and that it could help the people of Ukraine find the happiness I found.
After I said that, he began to cry, hugged me, and asked if we could teach him and his wife. We set up an appointment to teach him and his wife at their place, and we told him we'd bring a member who had quit smoking with us. It was an amazing experience, definitely a miracle. There were so many little things that contributed to this miracle, and I know that they were all led by the hand of God.
I'm doing great! Obviously my Russian has lots of room to improve, but I'm already beginning to hear more. Unfortunately I don't have too much time left to write, so I have to lump all this together into "I'm alive and well." If you have questions, just go ahead and ask so I know what to write about. The e-mails in the future won't be nearly as long, sorry. This one was long because of the big milestones. I love you all!