Another awesome week in Voronezh! Me and Sister McDaniel seriously feel so blessed to be here!
We have a lot of things going for us down here: slightly warmer weather, great senior couple who live right above our apartment, a beautiful and giant Branch building, awesome and supportive ward members, with a pretty well-functioning ward (not without its character though, if you will :D), a really successful English Club that allows the community to become acquainted with us in a comfortable and non-abrasive way and see for themselves that missionaries are cool and our church is not a cult, in actual fact (as the Russians would say), a gymnasium that allows us to have awesome activities with the community, investigators, friends of the church, and a super-solid FHE activity every Monday night at the Craythorn's (senior couple) in which we now have about 30 or so people in regular attendance. We've created a community within itself which has seemed to really start booming recently and is expanding larger and larger every week where our friends have become our investigators, but more often than not, our investigators have become our friends and they have in turn become friends with each other and they invite their otherfriends into the circle (inclusive circle to be sure!) and it's all fostered by activities that always include spiritual thoughts and our incessant themes of Jesus Christ and service and Gospel principles.
So Sister McDaniel has coined the term "friendestigators"=an investigator who is a friend and a friend who is an investigator!
Because those are pretty much what all of our investigators are and it's awesome and really the best way to do missionary work that I've found so far.
Most of our investigators started meeting with us because they came to English club or volleyball or something else social that introduced them to the church.
I've learned that inviting young people to English club and other social events is usually the most effective window to introducing people to the church, and really much more effective than just trying to stop people on the street and talk to them about religion. Yes, there totally are people who are prepared for the gospel, but when it comes down to it those are miracles, and they are few and far in between hours spent (usually unsuccessfully) trying to contact people on the street. Because when it comes down to it, when you come up to people on the street and ask them if you can share a message about Jesus Christ or the gospel, they often times are wary of you and a bit weirded out because they think you are from some cult or something scary.
So it's been very interesting seeing the contrast between the work here in Voronezh and in my last area Podulsk. But even though me and my last companion didn't see much fruit of our labors and spent a lot of time contacting, we did still see little miracles everyday and we felt like we spent a lot of time planting seeds or even just towing the ground in Podulsk.
As for things with our investigators, they are going slow but steady. We met with Elena twice this past week and taught her about the law of chastity and about following the prophet. She is seriously so amazing and is so prepared and just eats up every lesson we give her! She is a very spiritual person and someone who hungers after righteousness! So we're excited for her and I can see her getting closer and closer to baptism. . She knows that the BOM is true, feels so good and happy every single time that we meet with her, or even just call on the phone.
Our prayers were answered this past week with our agnostic friendestigator Medina, because she came to church on Sunday for the first time since I've been here and it seems that everything is back to normal!
We got another new investigator this past week! On Saturday, we met with this young girl named Paulina who knows English and who we met at our Thanksgiving celebration/English club a few weeks ago. She's very religious and just a sweet girl who's really morally grounded and has been raised right. So we're going to start meeting with her each week.
We also met with both of our Olgas this past week. Olga, who comes to English club, kept her commitment to read the Book of Mormon and we did a lesson with her about baptism and the importance of being baptized by someone holding the proper authority. She's progressing slowly but surely, but she feels like she needs to read the whole Book of Mormon before she can be baptized. We had a spectacular lesson on Tuesday that included our good American member friend, Sussy, the Spirit and was coupled with moments of hilarity. Seeing the pair of Sussy and Olga together is almost priceless. And hearing Olga saying "Sister Sussy!" in her cute little Russian accent is too cute and hysterical to describe adequately.
We also met with Taya again and did an object lesson with her and a jar that we filled with rice and rocks to demonstrate the importance of putting the things of God first in life.
On Sunday, we met with a woman named Larissa, who we've been meeting with every Sunday after church for the past three weeks. She's super sweet and has been coming to church for two years, but hasn't gotten baptized because her husband is against the church. We listened to President Monson's Sunday afternoon talk from conference and talked about how the Lord can bless our loved ones as we pray for them and for their hearts to change and soften. It was a great lesson and we had the perfect member present with a convert named Nastya who was baptized 4 years ago and whose mom was against the church at first, but softened her heart.
We had a bit of a frustrating lesson with an eternal investigator named Lyubov, who doesn't seem to be making much progress and doesn't seem to have much of a desire to know if the Book of Mormon is true. But we'll just have to keep praying for her.
Russian is still really hard, but I can see myself getting better as the time goes by. What's hard here in Voronezh is that we have a lot of investigators who speak English really well and then there's a lot of young Americans here who are members teaching English as part of I.L.P. But I always make it a point to try to speak Russian with the branch members and in public as much as possible. I know that the Lord and the Spirit always make up for the difference and for my inadequacies when it comes down to it!
I'm in 3 Nephi 19 and on track for our mission goal to finish reading the Book of Mormon together before January 1st! I'm still trying to work on myself and become the type of missionary and person that the Lord knows I can be. I'm so grateful to have Sister McDaniel as my companion, because she is exactly the type of companion that I need at this point in my mission and is so loving and amazing!
That's it for now! I love all of you and hope you're getting in the christmas spirit!