Monday, July 25, 2016

Happy Pioneer Day, VTC, MLC, and a Baptism

Hello everyone!!  It feels like I was sitting at this computer writing you all,  just yesterday! It has been a solid week, first week of the moratorium in the books! Happy Pioneer Day to all of you!!

I had a great birthday last week, got lots of very nice calls and texts from missionaries and others around the mission. Everyone made me feel real special! I also got a package from home so thank you Mom for putting in all the effort to get that to me and thanks to everyone who wrote a card, you are all the best! Elder Shumway and I went to a restaurant called Rees and got some Sushi for dinner so that was how we celebrated! 

Wednesday was also Day 1 of our Volunteer Training Center (VTC). We really want to come out of this two week moratorium stronger than we started, in all aspects, so we cover a lot of ground at VTC. We are very fortunate to have two Russian missionaries in our Zone and they helped us a lot with Russian. We also assigned Elder Kempton, who is super smart, to give us a Russian history lesson and he did such a good job! It was very interesting to learn about Russian history!!

For VTC we have also had the opportunity to do some Indexing on! Elder Shumway and I really love indexing now and we always want to do it! The other day while looking at my Family Tree, I came across some pictures I have not seen before.  Made me really happy. Family History is a great work! 

My favorite part of VTC so far has been our Doctrine and Covenants study groups. As missionaries we typically study the Book of Mormon and occasionally the Bible so we are taking this time to study Doctrine and Covenants. I am in an awesome group and we have had some powerful studies together. We just started from page one and have been able to relate our current situation to the various sections at the beginning of the D&C. There is always so much comfort in the scriptures and it has been powerful to read and discuss them with other missionaries! 

Friday we had Mission Leadership Conference (MLC) and it was my first time in attendance! It was fun to have all the leaders from around in the mission travel into Rostov and discuss the future of our work. President Miner went over the new "do's" and "dont's" as volunteers and then we just discussed how we can help our branches. There is so much work to be done in the branches! He also showed us some numbers to show that we ended the old era at a high- teaching more lessons than ever before and sacrament attendance increases. Now, with our focus on internal growth, we are going to see lots of improvements and miracles in our branches!

Because all the leaders were in town, I got to reunite with Elder Tolokonnikov and Elder Belan- my Russian brothers! I didn't think I would be seeing them again because they go home in a couple transfers but it was so good to see them and have them stay with us for a couple days. 

Now for the baptism! Last week, I wrote how I interviewed an investigator of the Sisters, her name is Snezhana. She told the sisters that she wanted me to baptize her but she was super scared to ask. She finally asked, and I of course, said that I would happily do it! Me and four other elders also went out to her house to do some service in her yard the day before the baptism. We actually found out the next day that our service was what helped her really know that this is the right path for her. She was having her doubts and Satan always works on those about to enter into the waters of baptism but just some simple service was all she needed! The baptism itself went well, it is always very powerful to be at a baptism watching someone be cleansed from all their sins and start a new life in Christ! 
On Sunday, Snezhana was confirmed and we were able to be a part of that sacred ordinance. The rest of church went really well and there were even more people in attendance than last Sunday! There are some great youth members here that I have started to get to know a little better. Really loving the Rostov Center Branch so far! 
That is all from me! This week we have Zone Training on Wednesday so lots of preparation to do for that! 
Thanks again for all the love, support and prayers!!  Much love!!

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Таккер
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Pictures - Birthday balloons (from my package from home), sushi, fun with some other volunteers!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The New Era

First of all, I want to thank everyone for the birthday love! I have 79 emails in the good old inbox right now so thank you all so much. It means a lot to have so much support. Tomorrow we will be gathered as a zone so it will be a good Russian Birthday! 

It has been quite the week! I arrived in Rostov early Tuesday morning after a night train from Sochi. Rostov is a HUGE city and I really love it so far. It is hotter than Sochi (broke 40 celsius the other day which is like 105 fahrenheit) but less humidity. The apartment I live in is so nice, we are super spoiled. 
My new companion is Elder Shumway and he is great. He is from Cottonwood Heights, Utah and is about 3 months from heading home. The best part is he is a UTE fan!! He just became a Zone Leader a transfer ago so we are working well together as we learn and make decisions as a companionship. He speaks Russian super well and is a humble leader! Crazy thing is, last summer at President and Sister Miner's farewell talk, a mom came up to me and told me if I ever meet her son in the mission to tell him hi. Well it turns out, that was Elder Shumway's mom! It is going to be great serving with him!  

Just a couple hours after arriving, we had some Russian elders arrive for their first day in our mission. So we were on splits with them all day. They were so eager to get out and talk to everyone, it was a good experience!!

As for the rest of the week, most days were 8 hours a day on the streets. Headed out at 8 AM, took a break to eat and study mid-day and then back out! We all tried to maximize this last week of being able to preach the gospel. There were so many tender mercies and miracles. Most people were very nice and we found some prepared people. We even met someone who has been to Temple Square in Salt Lake, and that was a first! It was inspiring to talk with the missionaries throughout the Rostov zone and hear their positive attitudes and faith. No one gave up and everyone gave it their all! 

Friday we had a meeting with President Miner and the leaders throughout the mission via Skype to discuss this new law. As many of you know, we are no longer missionaries but volunteers. We ask that all will refer to us as volunteers in emails as we do the same with each other. We can no longer talk about the Gospel outside of the Church and so our big focuses will be volunteering in the community and really strengthening the branches! President Porter- the Area President- was in our mission a few months back and told all the leaders that there are more prepared people here than we think, but the Lord is holding them back from finding the truth until the branches are more unified and strong enough to support growth. I firmly believe that this is the Lord's way of allowing us to focus on the branches because we have always wanted to strengthen them and have done little things but our investigator work has always come first. Now we will have callings in the branch and focus on getting the Church, in Russia, ready for the big future it has! It is such a blessing and opportunity to be here at this time in this new era of our work. We are really excited about it! 

Saturday we had a baptism in the branch! It was an 8 year old little girl and there was a great turn out! Our investigator, Alexander, came and we had the most powerful meeting with him after. I have never seen someone so prepared! He has quit smoking since learning about the Word of Wisdom,  just by the power of prayer. He is a coffee drinker but told us that he never loved it that much anyway and will give it up. He was just asking us what he needs to do to get baptized. I was blown away. So he has a baptismal date for July 30th! He told me at the end that although we just met, he feels like he found a friend and a brother in me. Love him already! 

Sunday was my first Sunday in the Rostov Center Branch! There were so many people and families! Felt like I was back in Utah! In sacrament I was given the opportunity to share my testimony. In SundaySchool, they just discussed how they are going to step up and do missionary work now that we cannot. The law restricts members but not as much as us and they reacted so well. Someone said that is is clear that the Lord is now giving them the opportunity to share the gospel rather than fully relying on us to do so. Right after Church, I was able to interview an investigator for the Sister missionaries for baptism and she will be getting baptized on Saturday

After Church we took the sacrament to a member who is blind named, Ludmila. Elder Shumway told me that I would just love her and he was right. She has got such a funny attitude! We walked in and she asked to shake my hand and just started arm wrestling me! Then she sang for us and we sang some hymns. She is great! 

Last night was our last day to do missionary work. We had one hour last night and 85 pass along cards and we went out and came back with 0! It was weird knowing it was our last time, but we feel good about it. For now, we have a 2 week moratorium,  so that the Church can find out some more and get some new documents. So we will be gathering as a zone or district daily to have "Volunteer Training Center" where we will study Russian (language and culture), Family History, and the scriptures. It is going to be great. 
I love you all! Thanks again for all the birthday wishes, love, prayers and support!!

Till next week!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Таккер
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Pictures of the Olympic Park in Sochi - The Swan - the torch and arena make a swan. Hockey Arena, one of the most expensive in Russia.

Monday, July 11, 2016

One Crazy Week!!

Hello everyone! Well as the title says, it really was a crazy week with a lot of news. 

First off, last Tuesday was full of miracles. We had no appointments scheduled so we were just going to be on the streets the whole day. In the morning, however, our phone would not stop ringing with people calling us to meet! We ended up having 4 lessons in one day which is probably common in other missions but I think it was the first time for me! That is more lessons than we had all of last week! And all of our meetings went super well and we have seen huge progress in our investigators. 

Wednesday night, Elder David and I left Sochi for Krasnodar on a way nice train. Got up at about 4 AM on Thursday morning to get to the airport. Flew to Moscow, then Armenia, and then directly back to Krasnodar which was so nice! We got back by like 6 PM- way earlier than usual. Unfortunately, I had a pretty sick stomach on the trip which made for some long flights but turned out fine. We had a smooth trip and it was fun to see all the missionaries in the Krasnodar Zone. In Krasnodar we had to wait a while to finally get through passport control but the guards were being so nice and they were just laughing with us. We were the very last people in the whole airport then someone finally yelled "OK!" and they let us through.

Thursday as we were getting back into Russia, President Miner called with transfers. It was earlier than usually to get transfer calls and I assumed there would be no change on my end, boy was I wrong. "Hello Elder Tucker, this is President calling with transfers. I had you staying in Sochi for a while but I was wrong. I need you to come up to Rostov and be a Zone Leader, can you do that for me?" I was pretty shocked, honestly, just because I was sure that I would be in Sochi for a long time. My new companion will be Elder Schumway and I will be up in Rostov- the biggest zone of missionaries and the biggest branch in the mission. Lots of change coming my way and I feel pretty unqualified, but I have found great comfort studying one of my Book of Mormon heroes, Captain Moroni. He became leader over all the armies of the Nephites at age 25 and has incredible leadership attributes. Grateful for the scriptures! 

Thursday night in Krasnodar,  I got to see the Johnstuns and tell them that I am leaving. Might not see them until they head home in September, sure love those two! Thursday night our train left at midnight back to Sochi and we arrived at 6 AM in Sochi Friday morning. 

Friday we got our second wave of mission changing news. The Anti-Missionary bill has passed and will become law on July 20. Starting July 20th, we will not be allowed to share the gospel outside of our church building. All of the details are unclear for now, but it was pretty devastating to hear. We have been asked to spend as much time as possible on the streets until then and all the missionaries are boldly following that guidance. We are working our hearts out and expecting miracles. We know God has a plan and although we might not know how this will all work out, it will. Just need to press forward with faith, through this trial! 

Yesterday was my last Sunday in Sochi! I was able to testify in sacrament meeting and most the members were shocked that I am already leaving. They expressed their gratitude for my service and told me how they already love me and don't want me to go. Elder Vonn and I unexpectedly taught Gospel Principles in the second hour and then after church the Relief Society Sisters came and got me. They all sang the Missionary Song I sent home last week to me. They even put my name in at the end. It was pretty special, I am going to miss the great people here! 

Unfortunately, as Church went on, I kept getting sicker and sicker. Had a temperature and body aches so we went home right after. I spent the rest of Sunday, resting, drinking a lot of fluids, and packing as Sister Miner directed. Last night Elder David gave me an amazing blessing and I am so thankful for the Priesthood. I am feeling so much better today it is like a complete turnaround.

Well today we are going down to the Olympic Park where all the stadiums and stuff are from the Olympics. Tonight at 8 PM we will board a train and I will be off to Rostov with Elder Vonn- we arrive in Rostov early Tuesday morning. It was a solid transfer here in Sochi. Both Elder Vonn and I feel like we got a lot done and improved the area. I am sure going to miss this beautiful place and my great companion and district. But, like Nephi, I will go and do the things the Lord commands!  Thanks for all the love, prayers and support!!

Till Rostov-na-Donu!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Таккер
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Pictures of train ride to Krasnodar, last picture of our district together in Sochi (yes my hair is short/dark-but it will grow).  Picture of the black sea from the train.

This is not from Zach- this is from his mom.  Elder Zach Tucker has a birthday on July 20th.  If you would like to send a birthday wish to him, he would love to hear from you.  Send it by Sunday, July 17th.  His email is:    Love to all of you!!   

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Quartet- Happy 4th of July!!

Hello and Happy 4th of July!! Don't think there will be much of a celebration here haha but enjoy some family time, awesome American food, and fireworks!

It was a good week, went by pretty quick! Last Monday, I had a nightmare of a haircut and I am practically bald. It has become a big joke but it is pretty bad. Already growing back though! (thank goodness my hair grows fast, and no I will not be posting a picture).

Wednesday I got to be on splits with Elder Labizov. It is always awesome to get to serve with one of our Russian missionaries, they have such an ability to connect with people immediately. Elder Labizov is also our Branch President and does a great job fulfilling that calling. He is loved by all the members and is always teaching them and loving them. Don't know what we will do when he heads home! It was a great day to just further our friendship and unity within the District and see what we can work on, in the future! 

In District Meeting this week we discussed commitments. We focused a lot on two of our most common commitments- praying and reading the Book of Mormon. President Miner has taught that giving that as a commitment without proper explanation or introduction is like asking all of us missionaries to go outside the branch and play a game of cricket. The way we pray and the Book of Mormon are foreign to most people here so as a district we came up with simple, clear ways to introduce these vital commitments for conversion/progression. Also discussed the importance of following up because even if you commit someone to read or pray and it is explained well, it will not mean anything without following up! We are all trying different approaches to see what really works and then we will discuss it this week!

It has been a good week with our investigators. Both Alexander and Nikolai came to church! We had a good lesson with Alexander just sticking to the fundamentals of reading, praying, and coming to church. He informed us that his Book of Mormon is down in Adler (outer city of Sochi) and that he is not there often so he humbly asked us for another so that he can read every night! 
Nikolai had surgery this week and he asked us to visit him at the hospital and then we helped him get all his stuff out when he got released. 
We met with our new investigator Samuel twice. He has tons of awesome questions and he loves that we embrace his questions and try to answer them rather than fear them. We are still in the very early stages of teaching him but there is a lot of potential! 

The other Elders were forced out of their apartment a little earlier than expected and long story short, they moved into our apartment on Friday night. So we now have all four of us Elders living in one apartment which has its pros and cons. Love the other Elders, our apartment is just not made for 4 haha. Just hoping and praying we will find somewhere for them to move into soon.

Fast Sundays are always special and yesterday was no exception. We had our two investigators come and I am glad they did because it was a powerful meeting! Also had members from Volgograd and an awesome family from Moscow- dad of the family was a bishop up there and served his mission in New York. One testimony was so powerful and it was actually one of the shortest from a recent convert of less than two years. He is a quiet man but he boldly testified that he knows this Church is true. He shared his gratitude for the missionaries that found him two years ago and how he could not quit smoking for 40 years but thanks to the Gospel, he is about to mark 2 years without smoking! Made me tear up! 

We had choir practice after Church which was great as always. It has helped us build relationships with some members and who doesn't love to sing in Russian? We prepared for our big Talent Night activity this Saturday night! Should be a good one. I will attach the translated "Song for Missionaries"- we actually had a member from St. Petersburg tell us the story behind it, it was written by the first converts in Russia to their missionaries. 

Elder David and I will be heading up to Krasnodar this week and then off to Armenia for visa trip #3 so pray for our safety!  Thanks for all your prayers, love and support!!

Till next week!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Таккер
Строка за строкой

Picture of the song, and a picture of a typical with heat and humidity(haha)

Message from President and Sister Miner:
  Parable of the Sunflower:
Our first few weeks in Russia were similar to many of yours.  We were overwhelmed, jet lagged, hot and not used to the humidity and we really had not idea what people were saying (since we did not get 9 weeks in the MTC for language training).  Our first two weeks were spent traveling the whole mission so we could quickly meet you wonderful missionaries.  We quickly realized that there was no fast way to get around since there are only two lane roads between cities.  Our backs began to hurt with all the swerving to miss the potholes that seemed to cover most of the roads.  We decided our back pain was from PES pothole evasion syndrome.  I was tired and discouraged and felt like I could not do this for three years.  I was having a prayerful moment in the car when I looked up and saw these beautiful fields of giant sunflowers.  It was as if God was telling me that I could see the potholes in the road during this mission or I could look up and see the beautiful sunflowers.  This was God's way of helping me see the beauty around me.  This is the season for sunflowers and I was reminded of this experience this weekend as we came upon the sunflowers!! I hope we can all see the sunflowers around us!!

I hope all of us, like Pres, and Sister Miner can look up and see the beauty around us, instead of the potholes.
Have a great week!!   Love,  Elder Tucker