Monday, January 30, 2017

Worldwide Broadcast

Good morning from Rostov! It is finally freezing on the Don, we have been spoiled with great weather up until this point, but the Russian winter is here! 

It was a way solid week, lots of big changes and lots of experiences! Started last Tuesday on a split with Elder Golovonkov while Elder Norton was on a visa trip. Elder Golovonkov only arrived a few weeks ago and just has a light about him. He is a happy one and is so thrilled to share the gospel with everyone, it is cool to see a Russian Elder with so much passion for the gospel! 

We are continuing to work with Roman and Grigori, they both have a desire to get baptized, but they have not been able to attend church yet due to work schedules. They are doing well with their Book of Mormon reading and they really want to come to church as well. 
We were able to meet with our other investigator Zita two times before she left for Moldova. We taught her the Plan of Salvation and she had great questions and understood it very well. She would even turn to some of the other people in the small house and teach them what she had just learned. We then started the Book of Mormon with her, reading the first few chapters of 1st Nephi. Once again she asked great questions so that she understood what was going on. She really liked the beginning of the Book of Mormon and said during these couple weeks at home in Moldova she will read, hopefully the whole thing, while she has time and a quiet place to read. She said when she gets back she will be more prepared to be baptized! 

We had a breakthrough with Giorgi this week, a long time investigator. One of his main concerns is tithing so we talked about it with him this week with President Butenko who was a huge help in explaining tithing. After teaching and testifying, Giorgi committed to pay tithing after his baptism, however he would not commit to being baptized. He wants to wait till Spring but won't even commit to a date in the Spring time. He is making progress though! 
As far as active members go, we were able to meet with the Sister Cherkashin and her mom who have been in the church longer than I have been alive! It was great to meet them and hear about their conversion stories. We talked about the power of the Atonement with them using Mosiah 24 where the people of Alma are strengthened to get through their trials/burdens. The Lord does not take our burdens from us, but strengthens us so we can get through them ourselves. Sister Cherkashin told us that that was exactly what she needed to hear, she said it was, "just what the doctor prescribed." 

Thursday we gathered as a Zone for Zone Training and the Worldwide Broadcast training for missionaries around the world. Elder Brent H. Nielson, Director of the Missionary Department, led the meeting and that was sweet because he is making his first ever trip to Russia next week and is only going to 1 mission - The Rostov Mission! So we are gathering the whole mission together next weekend which we have never done before, it will be a really special event! 
The broadcast re-emphasized what we were taught last year, that our purpose is to teach repentance and baptize converts. Elder Nielson asked questions/led a discussion with a couple apostles and other church leaders and it was very inspiring and helpful. I really liked how they talked about our personal responsibility to live by the principles that we teach. We must live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be repenting ourselves if we are wanting to teach it. 
There were some major changes announced to the missionary schedule! We now have a lot more flexibility with the schedule and are allowed to be agents of our own selves, just as President Miner so often teaches. We still wake up at 6:30am and go to bed at 10:30pm, throughout the day, we decide when to study, eat, etc. Planning is now in the morning so at night we can choose when to go to bed, and we have a lot more time on preparation day which is why I am writing early today. 

Friday we had a miracle. A less active women that the Elders have been contacting for months gave us a call and asked to meet at the branch which rarely ever happens. The meeting we ended up having was the most powerful lesson on my mission so far. She is so ready to come back and when we started our spiritual thought, she was so excited and told us she was spiritually hungry. She stopped coming to church about 6 years ago when her daughter was born because she has to take care of her, and has a mom that is against the Church. However, although she has forgotten some things, like the date of her baptism, she "has not and cannot forget the sensations she felt when she was baptized." She also said that she has not forgotten that everything she read in the Book of Mormon is true. It was a very emotional meeting and the Spirit was so strong, we all clearly felt Heavenly Father's love. It was moving to see how bad she wants to feel what she used to feel when active in the Church. Right towards the end, the Family Home Evening group starting singing "Come Follow Me" in the Sacrament hall which we could hear in the room we met in and it was a perfect ending to our invitation to her to start praying again. She offered a powerful kneeling prayer and promised that if she has a free minute during the week, she will give us a call to meet. I felt just a little bit of Heavenly Father's love for his daughter and just know that he loves us all and is always waiting for us with open arms to return to him. 

We are working with Zhenya to prepare to get the Aaronic Priesthood. When we first starting talking about it, he said he did not have much of a desire to get the priesthood but after studying it with him and discussing it, he told us that he does want to receive the priesthood. Friday we had our Cultural Activity of the transfer which was going to the ballet with him! We went to a show called Snegorichka and it was awesome, the theater is a big part of Russian culture and they put on a good show! 
After the show, we had a great taxi driver who actually played in the orchestra of the ballet and when he found out who we were, he was super interested and has all sorts of questions about why are there so many churches. He gave us his number and told us to give him a call! He has five kids and has a lot of potential!  
We are continuing to see great miracles and progress with those that we teach and in the Rostov Center Branch! Thanks for all the love, support and prayers!!

Till next week!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Elder Norton and I in the theater, The Rostov Theater, After the Ballet, Matching suits!!, Rostov Zone

Monday, January 23, 2017

Return to Krasnodar

Hey everyone! 

It has been an exciting week in both Rostov and Krasnodar! 

We had some great, powerful lessons this week! We met with Grigori and we were able to teach him the Plan of Salvation! He already had a really good understanding of it from his Christian background and accepted it quickly. At the end, we asked him to pray and afterwards it was visible that he was feeling something so we asked how he felt and he said, "good and peaceful." He then said that those feelings were telling him that he is in the right place. It was powerful to see him feel and recognize the Spirit for himself! 

We have been re-teaching Zhenya the missionary lessons and that is going really well. He says he knows the Church is true but has not received an answer quite yet about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. He is reading the Book of Mormon daily though and feels the Spirit when we meet, he is still making great progress and has become a great friend of ours! 

Wednesday night we got on a train to Krasnodar and I felt like a kid on an airplane to Disneyland I was so excited to get back to the area I lived in,  exactly one year ago! Krasnodar still has and always will have a very special place in my heart and I am thankful for the opportunity we had to go down there for splits with the Krasnodar Zone Leaders! 
All of Thursday I was in Krasnodar with Elder Prescott from my MTC group and we had a great day. We met with some less active members and had powerful lessons about Church attendance and they both commited to come to Church on Sunday
Thursday evening we were in the Krasnodar branch and I got to see some members that were so surprised to see me and it was just so great to see them! My Russian brother Vitya called and was sick with a high temperature so we got to go to his home and give him a blessing. It was so great to see him and his wonderful mom, I missed them so much! 
We then got to see Yegor who I worked with a lot while I served there and he was all grown up and has a deep voice! He told me he missed me so much and told me all about the temple trip the youth went on last summer and how it changed his life. He is such a good kid and it was awesome to reunite with him! 

Friday we attended District Meeting in Krasnodar where we continued to re-watch last year's worldwide missionary broadcast in preparation for this week's worldwide broadcast. I loved the reminder from Sister Oscarson on the importance of personal study. The Spirit of course brings things to our memory right when it is needed, but He needs somewhere to draw from and we fill the treasure chest that He draws from during our daily personal study, the best time of the day. Elder Oaks also talked about the sacredness of our callings, that we are literally saving families and individuals and gathering for the Celestial kingdom, something that only we can do as the representatives of the only true Church that has the fullness of the truth and the Priesthood authority! 

Friday night we were on a train back to Rostov and it was great to get back and get to work in our area. We met with Zhenya again on Saturday and then went with him to the big Rostov District Concert in the Don Expo Center. It was a big activity and there was a good turnout. There were all sorts of talents shared and it all went well!!

Sunday we had the Severny branch with us once again so we had a full hall but unfortunately most all the people that committed to coming this week were not able to make it! Most of our lessons scheduled for Sunday also fell through but we did get to meet with our investigator Zita. She told us after, when Elder Norton read a verse and when we meet and read she feels something come to her heart but she said she is struggling to let it in. She is going to Moldova soon for a couple weeks and said she will have time to read the whole Book of Mormon and pray about it. She said when she gets back she will call us and will be more ready to be baptized! 

That is about it for my week! I love you all!  Thanks for all the love, prayers and support!

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - The District, Train to K-dar, K-dar Branch, Train Home, District Concert

Monday, January 16, 2017

A New Year

Hey all! 

The New Year has started out great!!  It has been such a solid week, once again. We are working with so many great people and not only are they great, but they are truly progressing. We are seeing people change their lives and so many miracles along the way! 

I would like to challenge you all really quick to read two talks from Elder Bednar that our whole mission is studying in preparation for our Mission Conference that will be in February! "Bear Up Their Burdens With Ease" and "The Atonement & The Journal of Mortality" will give you a newfound appreciation for the Atonement of Jesus Christ that was not only performed for our sins but also to take what is good and make it better! Give them a read! 

We will start the weekly report with last Tuesday. Tuesday is typically our day in the office because we have Staff Meeting and we try to get everything else done so that we can work every other day. After getting all of our work done in the office, President and Sister Miner took us and the Taylors to an awesome dinner before the Miners came teaching with us! We had a really powerful lesson with Zhenya, a recent convert, about the Fall of Adam and Eve and repentance in general. President Miner helped so much with his scriptural knowledge and Zhenya just lit up as he found answers to his questions and felt the Spirit. He committed himself to read the Book of Mormon more and since then we have just talked about the Scriptures and where they come from and why we study them. Last meeting he brought his Scriptures with him and told us about what he has been reading. He is making so much progress and always feels the Spirit in our meetings. 

Wednesday we had the Zone Leaders from Volgograd in town for a split! It was so good to see them and teach with them. I was with Elder Nelson and we taught Sasha the investigator who recently returned from America. Elder Nelson actually found Sasha in Rostov over a year ago so it was awesome to see them reunite. We talked with him about daily scripture study and he asked me to send him a daily reminder to study in the morning and as I have done so, he reports back on what he has read. He is going to be a great member when he gets baptized hopefully this year, he is heading back to America on Sunday
We were also able to meet with Aleksander, another recent convert, that we have been working a lot with. We had Brother Igor K. come with us for one of the lessons and he was a huge help in inviting him to make some changes in his life. We have been talking with Aleksander a lot about repentance and the atonement and he has such a strong desire to change. After our last lesson we talked about how he already looks different, he is making lots of changes and overcoming lots of challenges but is well on his way back. He came to church again on Sunday and continues to read the scriptures. It has been a testimony builder for me to see him rediscover the hope that the Atonement brings. 

Thursday was mostly spent with the Elders in Crimea, our Russian Zone. We skyped in to their District Meeting and we watched last year's worldwide Missionary Broadcast in preparation for this year's, that will be in a couple weeks. Last year, Elder Bednar taught that the Holy Ghost is the real teacher. We are just the worthy vessel to bring the Spirit to those we teach. I have recognized that so much this week that when we prepare for lessons by the Spirit and bring the Spirit with us, their is a visible difference in the lesson. The people we teach have a clear understanding and they even give themselves commitments. We prepare, the Spirit does the rest! That broadcast also focuses on teaching repentance in order to baptize converts and we have been teaching repentance a lot lately, usually to people that are already baptized but were just not fully converted at baptism. It has increased my knowledge and testimony of the importance of repentance which is ultimately what we do in this life! 
We had a couple lessons with Zita this week, our investigator. She was not understanding the Restoration very clearly so we simplified it and she is a perfect example of when the Spirit just took over and it just clicked in her mind. She is taking the first steps of reading and praying and we hope to get her to church next Sunday
We also met with Ruslan this week, a miracle, recent convert. He lives in a city a few hours outside of Rostov where there is not a branch or any other members. He found the Church online and was taught and baptized and continues to read his scriptures and has permission to bless the sacrament in his home. He has a solid testimony and we talked to him about sharing the gospel with others and hope to start preparing him for the temple!

Sunday was a full house in the Rostov Center branch because we had the Severny branch with us because they have a remodel going on. In fact, so many people were there that the coat racks fell off the wall they were so overloaded! It was powerful to have such a big Sacrament meeting! 
I was released yesterday as a Sunday School teacher and was called to be an assistant to the Branch Presidency with Elder Norton. A lot of the Sunday School kids were sad that I will not be teaching them anymore and I do miss them but the new calling allows us to help the Branch President with his big work load and I love it! 

I am going to end with a huge miracle. Yesterday after church and fulfilling our calling, we headed home for dinner. After we ate, our plans fell through so we were calling people to try to set something up when some members called and said that some guy just got to the branch looking for the tall blonde missionary he met in the Summer. They assumed it was me and we got there as soon as we could. Turned out there were two men, Roman and Griorgi, who recognized me although I did not recognize them. Roman is a taxi driver who has driven people to and from the branch and Griorgi apparently talked to me this Summer probably back when we could street teach and he said I gave him a card but he kind of sent us on our way because it was not a good time. He said now they are looking for the truth and are wanting to know more! When we walked in, two members had started teaching the Restoration, having both served on missions, and we hopped in and finished the lesson with them. One member asked them if they would be baptized if they got a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and he said, "of course, we would not have come otherwise." We committed them to being baptized on February 12th and they said they are going to read and come to church and they really have sincere desire to know the truth! Afterwards, we were just in shock. Elder Norton and I have a goal of how many people could be brought to the waters of baptism while we are together and we also had high weekly goals and learned yesterday that when we set goals in faith and do all we can, the Lord does the rest. He does his work and we are merely instruments, He is preparing people in this city, He is our Savior and Redeemer and leads His Church- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Thank you all for the love, support and prayers!!

Till next week!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - sorry did not get very many taken this week but this one, coat racks that had fallen down

Monday, January 9, 2017

Merry Russian Christmas

Hello everyone!

It has been such a solid week on the Don. It was a really busy week, full of miracles! We were able to teach the Gospel to lots of people and we both think this was one of our favorite weeks on our missions! 
I am just going to write about the great people that we worked with this past week and the progress being made in their lives! 

We met a few times this week with Alexander V. who is a less active recent convert and is the father of a family full of members. We started meeting with him last week and he has a great desire to make some changes in his life and he has a good understanding of the Gospel. We committed him to start the Book of Mormon and he did! He has been reading daily and rediscovering the great truths found in the Book of Mormon. We love meeting with Alexander and we always feel the Spirit so strongly when we meet with him. He still has a testimony and we are just trying to get him acting on it, and so far he has been! He came to church on Sunday for the first time in a pretty long time and it was awesome to see how many of the active members were so welcoming and happy to see him! 

I wrote last week about Vitaly Motok who we helped with some new winter clothes last week and we met with him once this week. He is also a recent convert with a strong testimony. We taught him the Gospel of Jesus Christ and just how simple it is! We had a cool miracle while we were there,  a woman walked in with whom Vitaly and his mom had shared a little bit about the Gospel. Her name is Zita and she told us right off the bat that she wants to get baptized! She just moved to Rostov from Moldovia and has a family coming soon. She is really awesome, we have only taught her the very basics of the Restoration but plan on working with her more this week! 
We had a few solid meetings with our investigator Georgi who continues to progress slowly but surely. We actually talked with him about procrastination and the danger of it, in regards to being baptized and he understood it well. We met with him later in the week and retaught the Restoration, focusing on the importance of prophets and Priesthood in Christ's Church and also talked more about the Great Apostasy and the Restoration itself. He has a great understanding of the Bible so we used Bible verses to support the message of the Restoration. He understood it all and even answered some of his own questions. He is continuing to read and pray and come to Church and we hope to help him recognize his answer soon! 
We have another investigator named Armen who is a deep thinker and has lots of questions! We only had short meetings with him but he committed to starting the Book of Mormon and we are trying to help him find answers to his questions! 

Zhenya is a young man, also a recent convert that we have been working with. He has great questions and just loves to learn more. We have been talking a lot about repentance with him after he had some promptings while at their Institute class and we had a couple great discussions about it. At first, he was convinced that repentance is not manly and just had a misconception of it but we studied it out and he understands now that repentance is personal and necessary for all of us. He went to church yesterday too, but to a different branch. After our meeting on Saturday night, he thanked us for meeting with us. He told us that he is a hard person but we do a good job with him.

Other than that, we had Mission Leadership Council on Friday and it went super well. It was different attending that meeting as an assistant and not as a zone leader but still just as powerful! Elder Norton did a great job conducting and we discussed our mission's Standard's of Excellence as well as getting the members involved in the work which is our 'next big hurdle' in our mission according to President Miner. We are trying to work with the members to strengthen them and so that the less actives and investigators we work with have a permanent link in the branch because we will leave at some point! President Miner gave an incredible lesson that was great for us as leaders and future parents about how to correct behavior. I loved how he said that when we see something that needs to be corrected we must first ask ourselves if we ourselves exemplify the standard and if we have taught it well enough. President Miner understands and teaches the principle of agency really well and he taught us that neither side wins when someone is forced to do something. He also counseled us to not sweat the small stuff, just be good examples and teach but always allow others to use their agency. 

Sunday was a way great one in Rostov. In the Center Branch, our attendance varies anywhere from 100 to 55 depending on the day which we are trying to get more consistent. Sunday we had a full hall and fast and testimony meeting is always my favorite, the Spirit is so strong! We had a lot of less actives and investigators in attendance as well. Sister Ludmila was also able to come to church and bore her testimony even! She talked about how she sat home blind for 5 years but the Lord was always with her and that He sent her us to help her and now she can see and was able to bear testimony. That was a really happy moment for me to see! It was just a solid Sunday in the Rostov Center branch, afterwards we just felt so good about the bright future of the Church in this city. 

A lot of great things are happening in our area and in the Rostov mission. It is an exciting time and I feel blessed to be here working with Elder Norton! Thanks for all the love, support and prayers

Much love!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Finally got our beds set up (no more sleeping on the floor), First sunshine in 3 weeks, All alone on a bus, dog followed us forever.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017 - Happy New Year

Hello everyone and Happy New Year! It is crazy to me that it is already a new year! My one full year as a missionary has come to a close and it has been the greatest year of my life! Lots of changes and growth, and still lots more to go! 

It was a pretty chaotic week, especially the first few days. Elder Norton and I, with the help of the Zone Leaders, got the old apartment all cleaned out and got moved into our new apartment. Took a lot of time but it had to be done! We only moved a couple buildings away and now we live in the same building as the Taylors which is great because we can help them out when they need it! 

Tuesday I attended my first Staff Meeting in the Mission Office. We went over the calendar for the next few months and time is just going to fly with all the great things coming up in the mission. I am still adjusting to my new calling but I am really enjoying it so far, especially being able to work closely with the Miners and the Taylors! 

Thursday we had a combined District Meeting with the Zapadny District and had a powerful discussion about how we are the means of salvation for these people. We talked about how we find joy by helping others come to know the Gospel and their Savior, even if it is just one person and even if that one person is ourselves. We got exciting news last week that when we talk to people now we can say that we are here to help strengthen people's faith in Christ and exchange phone numbers so we practiced those conversations as a district. Elder Norton and I have seen great success since we have been able to do that, almost all those we have had the opporunity to talk to have given us their phone number! 
Later on Thursday we had 'Train the Trainers' in the Mission Office. Neither Elder Norton or I have ever trained but we discussed with President Miner and the trainers about our experience as trainees including the good and the not so good. We have some solid volunteers that are training our new volunteers that arrived this past week! 
Thursday night we had a powerful meeting with a less active member who I have wanted to meet since I got here and was finally able to! He is a good man and has a solid knowledge of the Gospel. He told us he wants to start reading the Book of Mormon at the New Year and he knows that he needs to come to church. We are going to be working with him and supporting him on his journey back! 

On Friday morning we had orientation for the 3 new volunteers, one from America and two from Russia. We went to the mission home early to cook the blini (pancakes) and help the Miners prepare. I conducted the meeting and had a little part on obedience and Elder Norton spoke about the gathering of Israel which is always interesting because a lot of the tribes of Israel can be found in Russia! Elder Norton and I also went over some different tricks and tips to Russian studying as well as safety protocol. It was a different orientation with translating and everything but it went well. All three new volunteers are here in the Rostov Zone and will be great additions in their areas.  

Saturday was a special day! We had a meeting with our investigator Georgi and the Spirit was strong in his humble home! He is a long time investigator and just has a few doubts and a hard time recognizing his answers. He reads the Book of Mormon and comes to church and said he feels good when he does both of those things. We taught about the difference between the Light of Christ and the Gift of the Holy Ghost and he understood that well. We invited him to be baptized and he said he is not ready. He has made a lot of progress from what I have heard though and we will continue to bring the Spirit unto his heart and hope that he will let it in! 
Saturday afternoon we used the money given to me from the home ward  P-1, to help someone in need! We chose to help the Motok family, some less active recent converts who are refugees from Ukraine. Elder Norton knows them well and knew that they really needed some help during this holiday season, and he was right. We got new coats, boots, socks, gloves,  and scarves for Vitali, his daughter, and his mom. We also got lots of food for them so they could have a good New Years meal. When we got to their place, we had to wait for them and when they got home they went right to the heater to warm their feet and hands because they do not have suitable shoes and clothes for a Russian winter. They live in a shared home on a refugee base with not much besides their two beds in a small room. It was perfect timing to give them all their new clothes and food, big thanks to Parley's First Ward. They were absolutely in shock and kept saying how happy they were and how unexpected it was. Vitali told us that his daughter just the other day asked him why they do not see any miracles in their lives and he told her to just wait a little longer and something will happen and he said that this was their miracle. He immediately wanted to pray and thank our Heavenly Father and it was a special moment that I will never forget. 
Saturday night, being New Year's Eve, we had to be home by 5 PM. I wish I could explain what New Years is like in Russia but I either would not do it justice or you would not believe me. Let's just say we were woken up from 12-1:00 AM on January 1 due to constant flashes and booms. It is the loudest, constant, brightest night of the year that you just have to see to believe. 

Then on New Year's the streets are dead but we still had a pretty good turnout to Church, the faithful members of Rostov did not let the New Year festivities prevent them from being at Church and partaking of the Sacrament. We only had a two hour block and in Sunday School we talked about Christmas which will be on Friday here and discussed the Savior and his birth. It was probably my last time teaching the Sunday School class as I will be getting a new calling soon but I have sure loved seeing those kids grow and they have taught me so much! 
After Church, the Matekina family invited us over and we had a discussion about how we can keep our prayers and scripture study sincere when we do it so often, something Elder Norton and I have been discussing recently. We came to the conclusion that we can pray for help to do so, that we need to remember that Heavenly Father is listening every time we pray, and that although we should not do it out of repetition, it is better to do it out of habit than to not do it at all. The Matekina family is so awesome and treats us so well, I love them so much! 

We were in by 5 last night as well and will be in tonight as well! Setting goals for the year and getting caught up in my journal during all the time being in our apartment!  

I am loving serving with Elder Norton and we should have a great week ahead of us! Thanks for all the love, support and prayers

Much love, 
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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P.S.  Side note - December was the highest baptizing month in the mission since Pres. and Sister Miner arrived in July 2015.  7 Baptisms with a number of people being prepared for January.  2016 surpassed the baptisms in 2015. At our peak we had 67 volunteers we are now at 48.

Pictures: Happy New Year, Me and departing missionaries/volunteers, tree in center Rostov, It is a tradition that the Assistants cook blinis for Orientation Breakfast