Hello family and loved ones!
So I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and congratulations on surviving the supposed "end of the world".
And happy new year!!!!! So today is actually the equivalent of Christmas Eve in Russia. It was so weird because December 25th was just like a normal day for everyone here. and we actually have to be in our apartments by 6pm and we can't come back out until 4pm tomorrow afternoon for safety reasons. Tonight we're having F.H.E. despite it being their Christmas Eve, because we figured it would be a good alternative for our investigators than to go out and party and also to give some them an opportunity to celebrate with us if they don't have anyone else to celebrate with. And as usual, the Craythorns our cooking a ton of food for the occasion and have games planned. We're also going ice skating this afternoon with a few of our "friendestigators" Elena, Yulia and Medina. In the center of Voronezh they have a big walking square in between a bunch of really pretty government buildings and universities and the theater, where they have a big statue of Lenin. They put up a HUGE Christmas tree which is gorgeous and also have an outdoor skating rink, so that's where we plan on going today. So I can think of no better way to welcome the New Year!
This past week was wonderful but pretty slow as far as missionary work because we celebrated Christmas and then we actually had to go to Moscow for my second visa trip, which ended up being a three day ordeal because the train ride to Moscow is 12 hours there and 12 hours back.
I've had a bit of a fear of flying here in Russia for some reason, so before we left for Moscow on Wednesday, I asked Elder Craythorn for a blessing of comfort. He gave me a beautiful blessing which just confirmed to me how inspired blessings are and how aware my Heavenly Father is of me. He told me that even though I am away from the comfort of my family and familiar surroundings, that my Heavenly Father is perfectly aware of and knows all of my surroundings and is always with me. And part of my mission and service to the Lord, includes taking these trips for our visas, but that I should always look for enjoyment in them. It was really neat because he said a lot of things which were exactly what I needed to hear and also a lot of other things that he couldn't have known, which was such a confirmation for both me and Sister McDaniel of the truthfulness and power of the priesthood.
So Wednesday evening we walked to the train station and Elder Craythorn walked with us to help us with our bags. We had a pretty fun/crazy experience of almost missing our train! It was a thirty minute walk and we had to get out tickets once we got to the station and there were people in line ahead of us. We heard the loudspeaker announce that we had 5 minutes before our train left and we were like "uh oh!" This man was right in line before us trying to buy tickets and calling his wife to get her passport number and we told him our train was about to leave but he still was bent on buying his tickets. Honestly, it can be a bit infuriating sometimes how inconsiderate some people can be. So then we had to run down this tunnel with poor Elder Craythorn trying to keep up and when we got to the platform our train was already pulling away!
We didn't know what to do, but then some really nice people on the platform yelled for the train attendant woman to let down the stairs. So Elder Crayhthorn ran and threw our bag on and then me and Sister McDaneil both literally ran and hopped on the train!
It was hilarious and like something out of a movie! The train attendant lady jokingly asked us if we were trying to get ourselves killed, but was really nice because she knew we were foreigners and then she walked us through the length of the train to find our wagon.
The night-trains are really nice here and the church always buys us a private room to prevent any possible awkward situations. So it was one of my many crazy experiences I've had involving trains on my mission in Russia.
The visa trip itself went pretty smooth and it was great to see Sister Carver and all of my friends from the MTC. On our first flight to Riga, I sat next to this really sweet woman named Tanya who was flying with her husband and a group from her church to go to Riga and then on the Rome for the holidays! I was asking her about why they were spraying the wings of the plane and we ended up having a really awesome conversation and it turned out she spoke English because she writes textbooks for English classes in elementary schools. It was super nice to talk to her because it also helped to distract me from being nervous about flying and it turned out that she lives in Lipetsk, which is the city right next to Voronezh! When she left, I gave her a restoration pamphlet and church invitation and she was super nice. So that was an awesome tender mercy from the Lord, and one that almost didn't happen because I had considered changing my seat, but then I changed my mind because the thought came into my mind that I might need to sit there for a reason.
We were just in Riga for a few hours for a layover, so we ate at T.G.I. Fridays (which has never been so appealing in my entire life until I came to Russia!) and then we got back on a plane and came back to Moscow. We now have three year visas which is something that they just started providing for Americans, and is such a blessing because now we don't have to leave every 3 months and it will save the church a TON of money! So our next trip isn't until 6 months from now, when we have to get new immigration cards.
On the plane ride back I sat next to Sister Carver and I read Cinderella in Russian to her to keep me from getting nervous, which was perfect. It was funny because the only time when I did get nervous as we were taking off, Sister Carver pointed at the book and was like "Look at how cute those mice are!" to distract me! =D So this visa trip was much better than my last one, despite the fact that we missed our train coming back to Voronezh and ended up taking a midnight train.. We did end up having a really good missionary experience because we missed our train though. We had to go to a different train station in Moscow after the mission office but us new tickets and we didn't know how to get there or how to tell where to go for our train. So we asked this really nice girl and she ended up walking us to the station and explained where we needed to go. She was soooo sweet and her name was Anya and I had a really great conversation with her. She's actually Hari Krishna, but she really loved that we're here as missionaries, and afterwards Sister McDaneil gave her a Book of Mormon, which she was really excited about to get!
So the midnight train didn't get into Voronezh until 2pm on Saturday, and me and Sister McDaneil were both absolutely spent afterwards, but we were able to recover in time for English club on Friday, and then on Saturday we had a couple of lessons cancel on us, so we helped cook and prepare for the ward Christmas party (which was tons of fun). (Those are the pictures) They have a HUGE Christmas tree in the lobby of our branch building and they put on a musical play about Santa Clause (who is called Dyed Muhroz in Russian). Olga (not the mom with four kids) came and had a fun time and is also coming tonight to celebrate New Years with us!
This week we actually get to go BACK to Moscow on Friday for a mission-wide Christmas conference.
As far as Christmas went:
Christmas Eve was wonderful and we spent it at our senior couple's apartment with our district and a few of our investigators. We invited Elena and she absolutely loved it! It was a great evening and Elena was so appreciative of all the gifts we and the Craythorns gave her. She is truly such a special person and is so gracious and just appreciates and sees the beauty in everything that we share with her.
Actual Christmas day itself was a working day (despite getting to skype with family in the evening). We had a bit of a disappointing lesson with one of our "eternal" investigators Lyubov. We had Anya-who's a return missionary and served in temple square-help us on the lesson which was good because it helped Lyubov to see that we're not just a bunch of young American people trying to get her to join our church. She's a really nice lady who's in her sixties and one of her sons is actually a member, but she says that she can't believe the Joseph Smith story and doesn't seem to have much desire to find out if the Book of Mormon is true. So it was a bit frustrating and sad, but we've decided to drop her because there's nothing else we can do besides continuing to invite her. So we probably won't meet with her for a while unless she wants to.
So that was a bit of a bummer, and we weren't able to do a ton of teaching this past week because of Christmas and the visa trip, but yesterday (Sunday) we had 4 lessons and had a really awesome and productive day.
I love all of you and hope that you have a fantastic New Year and stay safe! Family-it was so wonderful and surreal getting to skype with you on Christmas! Cessily-Paxton is absolutely adorable and perfect! It made me so happy to hear little Dalles and Jaden! Thank you guys for giving me a tour of the house-that was super surreal and crazy!
I love you guys so much and miss you a ton, but I am loving my mission and so happy to be serving here in Voronezh!
Please keep praying for Elena!
Also-mom and dad-I mailed my tax return to Austin a few weeks ago, so I don't know when you will get anything back, but I sent it so it should be fine.
I love you all! Please keep emailing and writing!
Love, Sister Schmidt