Monday, July 30, 2012

Hey there Fam!
Good Monday mornin’ to ya’ all!  It has been just another solid week of the good work here in the greater Eastern Europe area or wherever I've been.  Thanks for all the reports, it sounds like life is just going on back at the ranch.  We always talk about how it is funny to think that things are actually going on back at home, it feels like everything should just be paused.  It sounds like you all had a good week, and a good mouthful of baseball this past week.  Good work to lil' Tanner just gamin’ it up.  Your makin’ big bro proud, and a little jealous too.  It sounds like you’re having a blast which is so good to hear.  Sounds like those good lazy summer days are hittin’ now and I am glad to hear you are doin’ well.
This week has been another whirlwind of a week for this missionary!  What a good time it's been.  We started out the week having a solid family night here at the Stevens' place with Ivan and other youth here.  It was a super good time, and it was good to get Ivan alone.  We love Sergei, but at the moment Ivan is a little more honed in on the spiritual side of things, so it was good to have some time with him.
Tuesday and Wednesday was spent with just some solid missionary work, I believe that is all that needs to be said.  Just a good time.  After sports night on Wednesday night, I went with 5 other elders over to the zone leaders place here in the center of the city.  It was a good time to be all together.  We finally got 2 new missionaries this past cycle, and so I am finally not the baby of the mission!  I was assigned to bring the ice cream for milkshakes that night, so we all had a good time and got to know one of the new elders.  Good times!  That has been one thing that I have learned about a mission, you can work hard and have the spirit, but be yourself and have a good time!  But you better be working and obedient!
We then took off at about 4 in the morning to the Saratov "airport" (more like a long driveway) to fly from there to Moscow.  We then jumped a plane from Moscow to Kiev!  Man we were so lucky.  We got there at about 12 and got in a shuttle-van to the temple!  It was so great.  Definitely the highlight of the week.  Man, that place is just heaven.  We got there and had until 7 that night, so we were able to do baptisms.  It was really cool to baptize and confirm each other in Russian, quite the cool experience.  We had a minute and then were able to go grab some grub and then come back for an endowment session!  Man we were so lucky to have so much time, I guess that's not a very common occurrence.  So that was quite the treat to then do the session in Russian!  I would be lying if I said I caught every word, but for the most part it's pretty understandable. Plus it's a little hard to focus when you've been awake since 2 that morning. It was pretty darn cool, definitely gave me some new perspective. anyways so that was darn cool and we the had a little time to sit in the Celestial room and then we were off to the races to fly directly to Samara, work the day in Samara, then catch an overnight train back down here to Saratov, arriving on Saturday morning at about 8.  Man it was so good, and I love those train rides.  But I was really touched by that time at the temple, it was such a special place.  We were talking to the worker at the front who lives about 1000 kilometers away and comes for a couple weeks at a time to work at the temple.  There is definitely a special feel at that temple (as there are at all temples, of course).  But it was so interesting to be at a place where all the workers, all the maintenance workers, were at one point not too long ago baptized by somebody like me.  It was very touching to be at the temple where probably a lot of people there are sacrificing a lot more than a couple bucks on gas and a couple hours to be there, not to mention that they all have probably only been members for 10-15 years at the most.  They are so reverent and maintain the grounds so perfectly, it was really special to me.  Definitely a humbling and touching trip to the temple.  That was my favorite part of the week.  I don't think I got a picture of us in it, but at least here is a picture of the place.  It is heaven there.  They even have a drinking fountain and grass there!  Haha it's been a while since I've seen those.  Not to mention it is nice to walk into a building that smells good, has air conditioning, and people actually are happy to see you.  Man that was heaven. 
Well after that we were able to do our weekly planning, and then bust outta here to go up to the other side of the city with Ivan to watch a baptismal service.  That branch has the font, so, if all goes as planned, we will be back there with him!  Woo!  Man I love that guy, we have gotten pretty tight with him.  He really enjoyed the service (which is a good thing we came, I have to say for mom that yes I did play the piano right away when I showed up) and he talks as if his baptism will be tomorrow.  We have been so blessed by having him here, it has been all him and Heavenly Father working within him, we have just kinda been here to be his smiling American friends.  He also completely stopped smoking on Friday, and as far as we know has been going strong since.  Man he's so cool. It's pretty crazy, I don't remember if I said last week, but his parents have passed away, and Sergei's also left him when he was a child.  Somehow, they are now living over at a member's house until they get an apartment in 6 months from the government.  But it has been so awesome to have that support from those members, I will have to explain more about that next week. So they keep Ivan shooting pretty straight. We are among some pretty special people.
Well, I believe that does it for this week!  We just continue to work our little tootsies off here in good ol’ Zavodskoi.  I tossed this picture on with the geese at Roman's (the member that I sent a picture of us with) neighbors' house.  He is so funny, he reminds me of Preston.  He recorded these geese on his phone and then came walkin’ up to me at church and put it up in my ear.  So funny.  Well, time to get to work- what a blessing I have to do this.  That was some good flashbacks I had in the temple, it seems in my setting apart that I remember hard work and obedience being mentioned a ton.  That definitely sent me back with some good resolve to come shred up the place for the next couple weeks.  I love the temple, what a blessing we have to have the Lord's promises with us.  Just another testament that this is all true!
Elder Nielson

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Good Morning Family!
It sounds like you all had such a good time together this past week. Man that is so fun, I'm so glad to hear that. It sounds like you all got along pretty well and had a good time on the lake. I can't even imagine swimming right now! Haha that is so fun, I'm glad you all enjoyed the time, I'll be looking forward to the big 2014 bash comin’ up then. That'll come all too quick. Thanks for sending the picture, that was awesome to see and see everyone all together. I know it hasn't been too long, but man you guys all look grown up! I almost said old and thought better of it. You're all lookin’ good, and I'll sure keep an eye out for a fresh copy of that one comin’ my way. We definitely have a great family, I think you can all agree. As far as needs momma, I'm doin’ alright. I can't exactly think of anything that is in dire need, and supplies and clothing I am fine on. Mr Mac is holdin’ up well. The green chilis and peanut butter were definitely enough to keep me happy. :) Not a bad diet if I do say so myself.

Well I will try to now report on my whirlwind of a week. We have been so blessed here in Zavodskoi with a lot of really good things going on. The first thing to report on is Sergei and Ivan! Man these guys are the coolest, and especially Ivan. Here's some pics from sports night to give you an idea...Sergei is definitely a little bit on the wild side if you will. He has shaved the beard by now, but he is just a crack up. And yes, Blake Griffin is representin’ in Saratov...with the elite socks. ;) We seem to always split up when we meet up with those two, and I end up chattin’ with Ivan, and Sergei with Elder Cowley. So here's the story...after I wrote you on last Monday we had family night that evening back here at the Williams (now the Stevens, the Williams are flying home right now...) so we picked them up and rode into the center on the bus. Ivan and I had a good chat, and he is always proud to tell me that he read some outta the good Book of Mormon. Once we got here, Elder Williams announced a youth conference that will be in Moscow. He immediately turned to me and said "I'm going there." Pretty cool! We had a good lesson and game here, and he asked me a lil’ about the temple cause they had a picture on the wall which was cool. After we left the apartment, we started chattin’ again a lil’ bit and he popped the question, "what do I need to do to become an Elder?" (he had been at church the day before where we talked about priesthood organization, and a lot about worthiness was said which was awesome) I was so pumped! It gave me a chance to give him the low down that first he's gotta be baptized, and then with time and worthiness he could, and then also attend the temple. It was so cool, anyways so we chatted the whole way home about temple and baptismal covenants and he said "ya it's just like another step on the iron rod!" It was so awesome, I was pretty "stoked" (thought i'd throw in some missionary speech, I know you love that one mama). The coolest part was, when we left the bus, he turned to me and just said, "thanks for coming man. Thanks for meeting me. I always considered myself an atheist, but now I believe in God and that's my first step. Without you I wouldn't have gone to the Williams, and I wouldn't have gone to church." That was definitely one of the more tender moments I've experienced on my mission. It meant a lot to me, and he just gave me the biggest hug when we got to our apartment building. I sure love that guy. Anyways, long story short, he is totally on his way to being baptized. We need to sit him down and get a calendar to show him what we gotta do, but he will be pretty willing. He and Sergei live together, Ivan's parents died, and Sergei's left him when he was 5 or so. It's pretty amazing that they are so happy. They get along with everyone in the branch. They came to family night on Tuesday at a members' house, and then on Friday they all the sudden show up to the branch building to help with cleaning! We were cracking up when we heard about that one. We just need to help them quit smoking, and luckily they can't afford alcohol so we just gotta help them avoid their punk friends. It's pretty funny, here in Russia everyone just asks everyone for a cigarette. We always get asked for one, it's pretty funny to see people's common tie is that they smoke. But it's also sad of course. Just a random side fact about Russia.

Besides those two, we are just kinda rollin’ along here in good ol’ Zavodskoi. We have many other people we are working with, including a family with 4 children that we found! I can't remember if I mentioned that or not. Anyways, I say that because the work is just good here. We definitely have been wearing ourselves out these past few weeks, and it has just been good. I actually will be flying to Kiev tomorrow, already back on another visa trip. Pretty crazy how fast time flies. I hope I getta go to the temple, I don't know if I will. Then we'll be back through Moscow, Samara, and then an overnight train back to Saratov. Pretty crazy. I loved your little journal entry, dad about getting the call and going to the temple. Short, sweet and to the point. I will definitely have to compare when I get back. Good stuff.

Also thanks for the nice replies. I will definitely have some good study from the help mom and dad. It is interesting because some of these people just have lost all sense of that eternal perspective. It is tough, and we all have a hard time coping with things. But, some people do have that perspective and are prepared. And those are the people we are searching out. What a blessing they are, the Ivan's and Modar's and Kymait's of the world. I love you all and hope the week goes well back at the ranch. Tanner with baseball, Sarah with'll be in my prayers, and grandma of course. :) and of course everyone else. Have a good week!
Elder Nielson
Hey there family!

Wow man that was some such darn good reports to read from all of you.  Man that is so good for me to hear.  It is interesting how sometimes the mind wonders how things are going back at the ranch.  First I gotta give a hollar to lil’ Tanner!  Nice work man goin’ real big!  Way to go I am so happy to hear your playin’ well and enjoying it.  That’s how it should be.  You'll probably be able to beat me up by the time I get back!  It is also so fun to hear about the fun week that you got going on back at home with all the Arnett's.  Gosh that brings back some way good memories and I would not object to also be there with you guys, I sure hope you enjoy the time together.  It is interesting to hear about a big family getting together, people here are so proud to tell us that they have 2 kids and 3 grandkids.  Their eyes get all big when they venture to tell me they have 4 grandkids even.  Dad I'm sure you can imagine the dramatic European speech as these older ladies are so proud of their families.  They can't fathom having all the little kiddos running around that I'm sure we have at home right now.  So fun.  And so good to have Scottie and the gang be able to make it!  Man you will have such a good week. 

It is funny some of the things that you had mentioned were some things that Elder Cowley and I had talked about just over the last week.  For example, Mom I don't know if i'll come back a 6' 4" Ryan Jolley. Nastya (a member here) was looking through my camera and told me I was fat in the MTC!  And then she said that I'm going to go home a rail from Russia.  It was pretty funny, the nice humidity of Saratov and the lack of PB & J sandwiches is going to make me come home a little skinny guy.  Good times.  We also had some time the other night to just chat after we had got everything done and were waiting for bed to chat a lil’ bit. Elder Cowley asked a bit about SVU, and for the first time it seemed that I was finally able to talk about and look back at that whole crazy experience.  What a weird 5 month dream that was.  I haven't had too much time to think about that whole experience cause it's just been go go go ever since, but I was just dyin’ laughing telling Elder Cowley about that crazy place.  So funny.  I sure hope Collin has a good time.  I am looking forward to getting some news from him, he's such a good guy I was lucky to be buds with him.  Also, happy b day to big Tanner (Jensen)  man I am so excited to get that guy out in the field.  You'll have to watch for a letter, I sent a test run letter to him.  Don't worry family, I am working on something better than a letter for you.  :)  Just to answer a couple of questions mama:  for dinner I have to admit I have acquired the ketchup and noodles meal.  I must say, it's pretty good.  They have some fancy ketchup here.  And you can throw it down in about 5 minutes.  We also throw down a lot of pancakes and french toast, those always hit the spot. 

Now for the update on the good Zavodskoy!  Yes, Elder Cowley and I will be working together again here and are excited about it.  He is from Logan, Utah and will be hitting his year mark.  He was a mountain crest mustang, and just a good guy to get along with.  We are definitely learning a lot together.  I have a lot to learn still.  Life in general is going very well here.  We have the same Tatyana, Sasha, and Alyssa that we are working together with towards baptism.  We have been very blessed with a couple younger guys that we found a couple weeks ago.  Their names are Sergei and Ivan.  They are our bros!  Sergei is 20 and Ivan is 19.  They ran into us when we were talking to a lady and it kinda chased her away so we though they were just a couple of punks.  But anyways they asked us ‘bout the Book of Mormon and we ended up getting contact info and giving them the book.  They actually read!  That was about 2 weeks ago, but this past week was really good.  They came with us to family night at the Williams' (the senior couple here, they will be going home to PG on Friday, you'll have to watch for them.  Also, Dad, I gave them the suitcase which they needed so that worked out well) and they meshed in real well.  They are younger, goofy guys, but when we talk about the gospel or pray, they get real serous.  It's so darn cool.  They came on Wednesday to sports night with us, and we found out that on Tuesday they had actually gone with Nactya (the member) clear up to the other side of the city to institute at the other senior couples' place.  It's like 2 hours away!  We were so pumped to hear that, and they studied 1 Nephi 8 there which is just da’ bomb for investigators.  Anyways, they also came to an activity on Saturday with an art lady in one of the branches here that does the nesting dolls.  Here is a picture of it :) (Sergei with black hair, Ivan is the blonde) Ivan then came to church yesterday, Sergei was a lil’ sick which was a bummer.  For the week, those two are definitely the highlight.  Ivan especially reminds me of those Syrian bros we had, he is just the man. Family died in a car wreck, if I understood correctly, and so he is very prepared for the message.  I love that guy.  We are so excited to work with them, and begin to actually make them progress towards baptism.  They already love the branch and are just a fun couple of guys to have around.  It's been so good, I love those guys. 

There are so many good things going on around here.  The work has been so enjoyable and has kept us so busy.  It's been interesting how recently, we've been asked so many times why bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people.  I guess, if anybody has some good input on that, it would be very interesting to have more in the arsenal to share with people here.  We even talked with a lady last night who asked that, and it was interesting the way the Spirit directed the conversation.  She told us of all these bad things and how she still trusts in God, but asked why she gets such "punishment".  It was interesting to then tell her to recognize the trust and love which has grown in her in our Father in Heaven.  She has the hope in Him that all will be made right.  It was interesting, also to talk about how she is better off than the people that we talk to everywhere that refuse to acknowledge a God, or any truth.  Anyways, it left me really thinking.  I would love any input.  :)

All in all, things are just good.  It is the good work.  It's not easy, but it's good.  I love all of you and am so glad to hear of the good times you are all having.  I sure hope you enjoy it and that all is good.  I keep you in my prayers and am so blessed from each of your support.  Love ya!

Elder Nielson
(also the other pic here is with a member Roman and his inactive bro down at their place outside the city.  It is some legit taste of Russia there for ya!)
Sorry I couldn't just not send you guys anything.  We are doin well and will be together another cycle here in Zavodskoi with Elder Cowley.  Loved the reports this week and hope you all have a good time with the fam in town.  So fun, pass my hello's and love all around.  Love you!

Elder Nielson