Eleven years ago I was still in the beautiful old city of Smolensk, Russia near Belarus. The branch was small, but growing. One Sunday this month we had 16 people show up (a record), while another Sunday it was 6 Elders and 9 sisters. I taught Sunday School for the first time during February. I was most nervous about my ability to respond to people's questions and understand the members answers to my questions in Russian.
On February 15th, I received a package from my family filled with green things (for me as the greenie). They had mailed the package in early December. Before I received the package, I had made the following requests to my family: Kool-Aid and Taco Mix. Two delightful items that had no duplicates in Russia. In the email, I said: "I really do think its a huge waste of money to send packages to me though, so save your money for special requests." As much as I loved getting packages from home, I couldn't stand to think about the money and time wasted, but I could have been more sensitive.
As more of my friends back home were getting their mission calls and leaving on missions, I set up a Luscious Letters group. Each month me and 8-9 of my friends on missions would send a letter to my mom. She would then send a copy of everybody's letters to the whole group. It was a lot of work for my mom to put this together, but I absolutely loved being able to hear about my friends' adventures throughout the world.
We had a special meeting with the Europe East Area President (President Hancock) in Moscow. We all had to take the overnight train to Moscow for the meeting. After the meeting, my companion and I took a visit to another district in our zone stationed in Kaluga - which is about a 2-hour express train ride from Moscow. It was fun to visit another city in the mission.
We had a few things going on during the month of February. We started English classes more intently and usually had a pretty good turnout for the weekly classes. We went to Romeo and Juliet at the theater in Smolensk which was built in 1935. The tickets were less than $0.50 a piece. My district leader's apartment was robbed during the month. His apartment had two separate doors (typical for missionary apartments) with 3 locks. The thieves were able to just kicked the doors in and bust the locks. Their luggage and many other things were stolen (including their juice and sausage). The Smolensk Police that responded just came to laugh at the rich Americans that got robbed. The church also donated a computer to the Smolensk archives that we were able to present. The archives were housed in an old Catholic cathedral that was filled floor to ceiling with paper archives. The computer was the first one that they had.
Donating the computer to the Smolensk archives
Each of the missionary apartments were equipped with special 3-stage water filters provided by the church. I changed our stage 1 filter (2 month) and was shocked by the orange and brown filth of the filter. We were sure grateful for the clean water.
It snowed a number of times during the month and most of the snow is never cleared away, so it just ends up turning to ice. As hard as we would try, it was inevitable that we would all fall on the ice. On one day every elder in my district fell on the ice. Often times, there would be blood in patches on the ice where somebody wasn't blessed with a soft fall. One of the elders from my zone was even sent home with a concussion sustained from a slip on the ice. It was routinely -20 degrees C when we would be out street contacting. One of the young sisters came to church one Sunday and as soon as she walked into the church her glasses lens shattered. I hid 100 Rubles in her coat pocket during church to help. I later found out that the branch president (my companion) had also given them money to replace the glasses, but that they returned that money to the branch and said that a friend had helped them out.
We had a few solid investigators during the month. One of them, our landlady finally got baptized. We rented the pool at a hotel here in town for the service. I gave a talk on baptism. We had another investigator, that seemed to me to be a genius. He had read the Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price, before we had even met him. He had numerous questions, one of his biggest concerns was that we only typically pray twice a day, but that the Book of Mormon teaches us to "Cry unto him... morning, midday and evening" (Alma 34:17-27). There is nothing like being called to repentance by your investigator. Our last investigator was a young woman named Olga. We enjoyed teaching her fairly consistently until she was sick for a few weeks. When she finally got better she let us know how she had gotten sick. She was feeding the dog one day and smelled the dog food and thought that it smelled so good that she ended up eating a can or two. It apparently didn't sit well with her.
My landlady's baptism
I had a difficult time with my companion this month. I think that the culture-clash of being with a Ukrainian and my frustrations with the language all added to this. On Groundhog's Day I finished the Book of Mormon for the 6th time on my mission (since 9/13). My comment in my journal is that the Book of Mormon is "easily my favorite book."
Now the challenge is on for me to not wait another year before posting about March. Stay tuned!