Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!!  Since we called home yesterday, which was great to see and talk to the family, we have a lot to do today with moving and such, this will be a shorter one! 

It was a very special week with Christmas and the great Spirit that comes with it. At the beginning of the week we were busy with lessons and the end of the week was packed with Christmas activities and so on. 

Last Tuesday we met with Sasha who just got back from America! While he was there he attended church and finished the Book of Mormon! He will be going back to America in a month and plans on getting married and baptized in 2017! We went over the Plan of Salvation with him and answered some questions with him, he is such a great man and has found the happiness that comes in the Gospel. He comes to church every week and is close with a lot of branch members, it is great to have him back! 

Wednesday we had interviews with President Miner! He asked me if I was ready for a change since I have been in Rostov for 6 months which is usually how long we stay in an area. He told me that I was moving... to a different apartment in Rostov! So I am staying in Rostov but moving a to a different apartment a couple blocks away from my current one. I will be serving with Elder Norton as an Assistant to President Miner which will certainly be a growth experience! I am so excited to serve with Elder Norton, him and I have already gotten super close and our companionship has not even started. He is awesome!! I look up to him in so many ways and he is such a great volunteer, not to mention he speaks Russian like a native! 
After I found out,  I gave Elder Norton a quick hug, then got right to work planning transfer travel plans. This transfer is effecting a lot of people and it is pretty complicated getting everyone to their new areas usually hours away on a bus or train and of course always with a companion! We got it all figured out though! 

Thursday we had a really powerful Christmas District Meeting. The Miners asked us all to watch "Winter Thaw" which is about an hour long about a Russian shoe maker and it was so good. We were all in tears after, everyone should give it a watch, it is on

Friday night we had a Christmas gathering in the Mission Home with all the Rostov Zone of 24 volunteers! That was a night I will unlikely forget, the Spirit was so strong as we sang Christmas hymns and read scriptures under the guidance of President Miner who was conducting the event. As we sang "Hark the Harold Angels Sing" President asked while getting choked up, "What if we were some of those angels that announced the birth of Christ?" Sister Miner made us an incredible roast beef meal with mashed potatoes and gravy and it was just an incredible evening that I was blessed to be able to attend! 
Forgot to mention that since Thursday I have been serving with Elder Randall and Elder Norton and we will continue to do so until Tuesday when Elder Randall gets his new companion. It was great to be with Elders Randall and Norton, two good friends of mine, on Christmas Eve and Christmas. 

Saturday night was our Branch Christmas activity and it went really well! We had about 60+ people show up and many of them were less actives and non members! The primary kids and young women put on an incredible nativity skit and then we had lots of food but none of it was left over! Was a successful activity in the Center Branch! 

Sunday we only had an hour of Church like everyone,  although the 25th of December is not Christmas in Russia and we also had a baptism! (definitely a White Christmas)  Daria from the Severny Branch was baptized and we had a great turnout to that. I translated the baptism for the Miners and Taylors but was still able to feel the special Spirit that presides at baptisms. That was the greatest Christmas gift of all! 

It is going to be a crazy week with transfers and new volunteers coming in! Till' next week! Thanks for all the Christmas wishes and gifts!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - All our gifts, the district, Me and Elder Norton, Christmas Eve in our PJ's, Christmas District Meeting

Monday, December 19, 2016

Visa Trip and Baptism

Hey everyone!

It has been a good week although this week, a lot of our teaching appointments fell through. We had a lot set up, but last minute cancels were common. We learned the importance this week of having solid back up plans that is for sure! 

Last Monday we met with Illya and will meet with him tonight for the last time about Home Teaching and next week he is giving everyone in the Elder's Quorum their assignments! We hope to see an increase of unity between us and the members as we go to work together! 

Tuesday turned out to be an interesting day. Our plans fell through and then our apartment building power went out right when we had to take a large suitcase of stuff to the office. We live on the 14th floor so we got a good workout in on Tuesday! We got to go back to the English school after not being there for a few weeks. Everyone was really happy to see us and they ended up helping us with our Russian questions more than we helped with English. 

Wednesday we gathered for District Meeting and Coordination Meeting. In District Meeting, Elder Norton gave a great spiritual thought about giving our all and had us all share times when we gave everything we had and times that we have held back a little. He taught that the difference is in the little things and that is so true! I am trying to give my all more often and even do the little things that count in the long run! Our District Leader, Elder Kempton, lead a discussion on faith and our most valuable time to build our faith and testimonies which is in Personal Study. I have gained such a testimony of Personal Study and the effect it has on my day. It truly is how we "obtain the word" before we can declare it to others! I was asked to teach the Language portion and for the first part we discussed why we speak Russian all day every day and talked about how it is good to open our mouths, better to speak Russian all day like we have been asked by President Miner, and best to actually learn from it, to progress and improve and not make the same mistakes tomorrow that we make today. To do that requires a lot of humility and it is far from easy, but it is the standard that has been set for us. Then taught about a Russian grammar principle that would not make much sense to any of you so we won't get into the details! 
After District Meeting, we had the Assistants over and we made lunch. It was Elder Wride's last day so had to say goodbye to him. He had such a great impact on me and set the bar high for all of us as leaders. He is already deeply missed in the mission and the Rostov Center Branch. 

Wednesday night we met with Yura and talked a lot about the Book of Mormon. He read the book of Enos which was his commitment and we talked a little about that before committing him to read the Book of Mormon from the beginning. He ended up getting sick a couple days later so we have not seen him since but plan on meeting with him this week! 

Thursday I was up at 4 AM and off to the airport with Elder Clark for our Visa Trip! I was deemed 'trip leader' because I am getting old out here but our group is experienced and knows what they are doing. We had a good trip, had some delayed flights that actually worked out for our benefit because we had some time to eat! Flew to Moscow, Armenia, and back to Rostov. All went well with the new visas and we were home by 9 PM like a normal day, but those trips take their toll on me. It was the last visa trip for the sisters that came to Russia with me which we just could not believe, we felt like we were on our first trip just the other day not knowing at all what we were doing! Time flies! 

Friday we got our new registration started with our new visas and planned our upcoming week that will be really busy with Christmas activities and lessons! 

Saturdays and weekends in general are typically super busy for us. This Saturday we were out in Bataisk in the Anderson home with both the Andersons and Savenkos. They made us some awesome pizza before we talked about the Plan of Salvation. The Savenko boys are pretty opposite from each other but they are both great kids. One really wants to start coming to church with their mom and the other does not for now. They both have a problem with getting out of bed on Sundays which I completely understand from when I was a little younger. 
We ran to the branch from the bus stop after Bataisk for the baptism! Tatiyana from Novocherkassk was baptized! Novocherkassk is one of the smallest branches in the mission and has not had a baptism in 3 years. They have now had two people get baptized in the past two months and will have a third shortly. Miracles! There is a special spirit at baptisms and it is always a special day when someone makes that decision to take the Savior's name upon them! Sasha came to the baptism who is a long time investigator that has been in Florida for the past three months. Him and I have emailed while he has been in America and I was so excited to reunite with him. He is so solid and went to Church there and continues to come here and just needs to get married before he will be baptized! 

Sunday I got to bless the sacrament with Illya,  Elder Taylor and Elder Norton gave some last minute talks in Sacrament meeting. Elder Taylor talked about the importance of the Sabbath and Elder Norton talked about improving our prayers, they both did a great job. Sunday School went really well! Sister Taylor and I always say that in Primary and Sunday School we either take 10 steps forward or 5 back. This Sunday was a 10 step forward one. I rearranged the seats in class that helped a lot and everyone participated in our discussion about leadership qualities and how Christ is the ultimate leader and follower. I will attach a picture of the board from the lesson!
After Church we all stayed back to help the Branch President set up for our Christmas Activity. It was quite the process and we did not leave until it was dark outside but got everything ready for what should be a pretty solid Christmas party this weekend. 

Took Sister Ludmila the sacrament and got to see her for the first time with her glasses! She is seeing pretty well now and even cooked for the first time in 5 years. She gave us some of the pies she made and they were great! We talked with her about faith and how faith does not grow accidentally, we must choose to act and then our faith grows. 
It is going to be a busy week and Christmas will be here before we know it. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and remember the true reason we celebrate this time of year. Take the time to appreciate the Savior this week and share His light with those around you! 

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Sunday School Lesson, City decked out for Christmas and the New Year, Final Picture with District, Burger King in Moscow, Somewhere between Moscow and Armenia, Elder David and Elder Boyce sent me a Christmas gift(front and back of it).

Monday, December 12, 2016

A More Excellent Way

Hello everyone! It has been such a busy week with Zone Conference and lots of teaching opportunities- my favorite kind of week! We were able to reach a lot of our goals this week and the Standards of Excellence which felt good after putting a lot of work into our area. It was hard but it is possible with lots of  faith! 

Last Monday night we were in the Letyagin home for Family Home Evening. There little son Toma always tells me that we need to come over and it was good to be with them. Brother and Sister Letyagin are just incredible, I am so grateful for them and all they do for the Rostov Mission and for the Branch/District. We talked with them about finding peace in this life and they shared some awesome spiritual experiences they had when they served on their missions. 
The rest of Monday night was spent preparing for Zone Conference that we had on Tuesday! We put a lot of study, time and effort into preparing for Zone Conference and it went really well. As I mentioned last week, our theme for Conference was, "A More Excellent Way" just all about how we can improve our work in some specific areas. Sister Jameson taught about faith and always asking ourselves where we are on the ladder of faith that Elder Kacher of the Area Presidency showed us last year. Elder Vasiliev talked about how we must love the work before we recieve joy from the work and just that what seems impossible is really possible. President Miner had many volunteers share about recent miracles that would just not be possible without the Lord's help. I taught about organization and just how we need to use our resources (planners, area books, members) better. Many volunteers come into an area and do great work but it does not get written down and passed on to the next set and it really hinders the work from moving forward so I talked about how it is crucial to be organized and keep a record! Elder Randall taught about planning and compared it to the Creation of the world and it was way good! The Miners led a discussion about the Savior and Christmas that was powerful and got us all in the Christmas Spirit. They also gave everyone their own shoe horn- a must have in Russia. The Spirit was so strong throughout the meeting and many people have expressed to us how much they got out of the Conference. We are now applying all that we learned and seeing the miracles that come from it! 

We met with Yura twice this week which was good after not being able to meet for awhile. He has so many questions and concerns and continues to find different things on the Internet about the church and last night we just testified of the basics- reading and praying. We promised him that answers would come he just needs to read and pray, we cannot do much else. We are sticking to those basics and will even do them with him before moving on to anything else. He is always so thankful for our patience and for us taking the time to meet with him and we love him and hope he can feel the Spirit of the good, simple news of the Gospel. 

On Thursday I was on splits with Elder Burwell who was actually in the MTC with me so it was fun to be with him for a day. We took Sister Ludmila to an eye appointment and back home we had a nice talk with her about the Commandments. Elder Burwell then took me to a nice lunch at a restaurant called "New York"- I will attach pictures. We also got to meet with Illya to share with him what we know about the members in our area so he can get Home Teaching organized! 

Saturday was such a solid day, one of the few days on my mission where everything just worked out as planned. We went back out to Bataisk on Saturday and had a cool miracle! Friday night, Sister Andersen called to invite us over and we asked if the Savenko boys (recent converts) would be there and she said probably not but come anyway so we prayed that they would be there so we could meet them and teach them and we prepared a lesson for them. We got out there and one of the boys was there and the other one came a little later, Sister Andersen said she was shocked that they came! We started teaching the Restoration but mostly focused on families and how the Gospel can bless our families. The two boys do not have a very good relationship with each other so I talked about my brothers that I used to not get a long with (hah) but are now my best friends. We challenged them to pray together and come to church which they were not able to, but hopefully can next week! 
We met with Slava - less active member- out in Bataisk as well and got him a new pamphlet that will help him make some changes in his life! We also read in Ether 12:27 about how the Lord gives us weaknesses so that we are humbled and turn to him. He has such a great desire to change and improve and he knows we are here to help him! 
Saturday night we met with Nikita and Bogdan. We had a great lesson about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and even commited them to being baptized on December 25th. They fasted in preparation of their dad coming and hoping he would give them permission to be baptized. Their grandma called us last night and said he came and long story short said no and they are not even going to be able to come to church for now.. It was pretty hard for us to hear, but their Grandma said that we did all we can and it is true. We taught, prayed, fasted, and hoped for a miracle but at the end of the day, everyone has the ability to choose- a truth of the gospel that is sometimes the hardest on others! We hope we will be able to see them soon but for now we just dont know. 

Sunday was a little hectic at church. Sunday School went alright, some of the kids are so good and want to learn and participate and some are just in a whole other world. Love those kids though! 
Sunday night we went to Andrei, a less active that we have been working with for awhile. He has really started to warm up to us and by the time we left yesterday he commited to reading a Liahona article- a small but significant step. He also is thinking about coming to our Christmas Activity on the 24th. When we left he said something along the lines of, "10 years without going to Church and you two are bringing it back." Line upon line! 
That is all for this week! I am off to Armenia on Thursday so keep us in your prayers! Cannot believe it is already time for another Visa Trip, time flies on the Lord's errand! Thanks for all the love, support and prayers!!

Love you all! 
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Picture from Zone Conference(not very focused, it was on a timer), Elder Yashanin and me, Lunch in New York (LOL), and basically all that I have seen all week (stormy weather).

Monday, December 5, 2016

SNEG!! (Snow)

Hello everyone! 

It has been another good week, we had so many tender mercies this week including the big snow storm on Saturday! There is sneg (snow) everywhere and I love it, although it is so hard to walk around and not fall! 

The tender mercies all started last Monday night when we got to meet with Illya and Makar who make up the Elder's Quorom Presidency. We have been working closely with them and helping them get a home teaching plan. The work moves forward much more effectively when it is done with members!
Also on Monday night we got to meet with our investigator Yura. We talked a lot about prayer because he has had some questions and concerns about why we pray the way we do. He is open to praying, just did not have a full understanding in the past. We had a good discussion about it and commited him to continue to read the Book of Mormon and pray. 

Tuesday morning we were with Sister Ludmila to take her to her second operation. Everything went really well and she is seeing even better now than she was last week. When we got in the taxi after her appointment, she even told the driver that he was cute. She is now just waiting for some special glasses to come in from Moscow and once she has those, she will be able to read, sew, and come to church which is all she wants!  

Wednesday we had a coordination meeting with the Crimea Zone Leader and with the Sister Training Leader here to plan for our Zone Conference! Conference will be tomorrow morning and we are super excited to share with everyone the messages we have prepared. I have studied and prepared all week for my part which will be on organization and it has been incredible to see how the Spirit has really guided me to certain scriptures or thoughts that I will share tomorrow. We hope it will go well and everyone will know how to work in a more excellent way! 
On Wednesday we also went over to the Inkeles' to meet with Bro. Inkeles but he was really busy and had to run to work so we ended up meeting with Sister Inkeles. She gave us a lot of valuable information about different members and their families that will help us to get in touch with them! She knows everyone so well and is often times the only one that still keeps in touch with some of the less active members we work with. We also talked about the temple and she talked about how they are truly pioneers here in Russia and she started talking about the day when a temple will be here and just had the biggest smile on her face while tears filled her eyes. The members here continually inspire me! 
Wednesday night we had our first "birthday miracle." We made a list of every less active member in our area's birthday and we try to get to them and take a treat or something in hopes to get our feet in the door and meet them! We went to one and we only had her address and a cake, no phone number. We got there and knocked and waited and after a little bit a man came out and gave us her phone number. Her phone was busy and after waiting we just left the cake with a note and about 5 minutes after we left, she texted us and thanked us for the cake and said she would call soon. So we got her number and hopefully planted a good seed! 
Wednesday night we slept in Severny and did splits with the Severny Elders on Thursday. After their district meeting, I was with Elder Andersen in Rostov Center. Elder Andersen and I knew of each other before the mission and he just got to the zone after serving in my first area Volzhiky for 6 months so it was good to catch up and serve with him for a day. On our taxi ride into Center from Severny, we had a great conversation with our taxi driver who informed me that he knew I was not Russian not from my accent but from the fact that I asked how his day was going when we got in! I thought that was pretty funny and says a lot about the Russian culture, but it made for a great conversation! Got to translate a temple recommend interview for President because the Assistants were out of town and then we had another "birthday miracle." We knew this one less active lives in the same building as Sister Ludmila and that it was her birthday so we got some donuts and with Luda's help, we got their correct address and got the donuts to them! Then that night our friend Vanya called to meet us at the branch and we had very little time but talked to him and invited him to church!

Friday we got to reunite with the Assistants after they were in Krasnodar and Elder Norton said that a bunch of members down there told him to tell me Hi. Yegor, the youth we worked with a lot in Krasnodar, also gave him a note to give to me and it was the sweetest thing ever. We went with the Assistants back to the Pavlovs to do some service. They have a not so friendly dog named Cesar that was not loving Elder Tucker and while I was shoveling by his dog house, he lost his temper and tried to bite my leg! It was a little scary, but luckily he only bit my pants and long johns... Then that night we had a great turn out for game night! One of our less active youth came and brought his non member friend! 

Saturday was a special day! Started with the snow in the morning and got even better as we made the trip out to Bataisk, a little city outside of Rostov. We were supposed to meet some recent converts out there in the house of some active members but they could not come. On the bus out there, an active member sat right next to Elder Randall and neither of them knew each other but they made the connection and it turned out she was going to the Andersen's house as well! It was a big tender mercy for her because she did not know where to get off so we showed her and walked together. We had such a powerful meeting out there in the Andersen home. They were playing American Christmas music and fed us a great meal before we had a spiritual feast! Sister Andersen and the Sister that came with us on the bus just talked with us about the Plan of Salvation and about how our efforts in this life are enough and how we see the Lord's hand in our daily lives. We all had our scriptures open and just shared verses, thoughts, experiences, and testimonies. It was the most powerful lesson with active members that I can remember. One of the sisters said how she just felt like we were in a whole new world in that house and did not want to leave. The other said that, like it says in Matthew 18:20, when we are gathered together in the Lord's name, he is with us. They both expressed their gratitude to us and said we do not even see all the good we are doing. And they both teared up talking about their lives and how the missionaries changed everything for them. We found out that it was Sister Andersen's birthday and she said that there was no greater gift than having us over. 
While out in Batiask we were able to meet with a less active named Slava. He actually called us today and said he has been thinking about things a lot recently and wants us to help him get his life back in order and quit smoking so we will be working with him and doing all we can to help! 

Sunday was Fast Sunday and our Sunday School homework from last week was to share their testimony in sacrament meeting! 3 bore great testimonies in sacrament and one more wanted to but time ran out,  so she testified in class for us. Two of them testified about how much Sunday School helps them and how the homework we give has really helped them come closer to God. It was extremely rewarding to hear that our efforts in that class are really helping,  at least a couple of them. I love being a Sunday School teacher! 
The work is going well and I am so happy here in Rostov. I love this branch and the people here so much! I feel so blessed to be here at this time and to be on the Lord's errand. Thank you for your continual love, prayers and support. 

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Branch Snowman, Note from Yegor, More Sneg (Snow)!