Monday, July 31, 2017

Reunions in Rostov

Let me just start by saying how great it is to be back in Rostov - home of Sharma and so many people that I love! Week 1 as an assistant(again), is always busy and crazy with people in and out of our apartment for transfers, train the trainers, orientation for new missionaries, and leadership conference but it all went well! I am loving serving with Elder Weston and learning from each other! It was a week full of reunions both with volunteers and members that I thought I would not see again but have been so blessed to see people I care a lot about and teach them the good news of the Gospel.

Tuesday we were with Elder Altuhov who is a new Zone Leader and just a stud. He has only been a member two years and the light of the Gospel is visible in him. That night we went to Ludmila which was probably the most tender reunion of them all. When we walked in, she recognized Elder Weston and then Elder Altuhov introduced himself and then she looked at me and said, "who is this?" She recognized me, said, "Tucker!" and started to cry. She calls me her second Savior and it was good to be with her. That same night we finished the Book of Mormon with her! I was in awe to think that just one year ago, she could not even see us and that night we finished the Book of Mormon that she had read all on her own up until the last two pages. It is truly a miracle and I was blessed to be there to experience that milestone event with her. 

Wednesday was orientation for our one new Elder, Elder Sweeney who will be an all star missionary. That night we met with our investigator David who speaks English and is looking for his faith to be strengthened! He has started the Book of Mormon and is starting to recognize answers to his prayers. We were blessed to have the Krasnodar Elders with us that night, only a few days without them and I already miss them! 

Thursday was Mission Leadership Council in the Mission Home! I am always amazed at the incredible leaders in the Rostov Mission! It has been awesome to see a lot of the younger volunteers step up as we lose a lot of old, experienced ones, we will be down to 29 volunteers soon! President said how it is pretty crazy that every six weeks we send home our best, most experienced volunteers but he expressed his confidence in the rising generation. We had a great discussion about finding - a big challenge right now, keeping records in area/member books, and baptizing! Should have a good round of Zone Conferences coming up! 
That night we were walking home and ran into little Saveli Inkelis who asked us to walk him home. It was great to surprise Sister Inkelis and be back in their home, she just loves the missionaries and is still doing missionary work herself. In fact, on Sunday she pulled us out during Sunday School to meet her driving instructor that she gave a Book of Mormon to and was sharing the Gospel with. She is the ultimate member missionary! 

Friday we got to meet with Zhenya N. which is big news because Elder Norton and I worked with him extensively and he was coming back to activity but then he asked us to stop calling and stopped coming to church. It was great to see him and see that he has started the Book of Mormon again and teaching him felt so good! 

Saturday we were at the Kerokisyanis, a member family. The kids, and this whole branch apparently, have grown up over the past few months. Little Simone turned 12 since I left and even got the Priesthood! We had a great lesson with them about the Plan of Salvation, the Spirit was so strong. I love teaching the Plan of Salvation! 
Sunday was great. It was pretty funny to see the look of people's faces when they saw me, they were surprised to see me back in Center branch and it took them a minute to realize that it was me. It was good to see all the members! 

Last night we were with Alexander V. who we worked with a ton,  last time I was here. He recently had his liver stopped working and was in the hospital for a while. He has been having problems with his vision too so we read the Book of Mormon with him and he asked us to get it for him in an audio format so he can listen to it. We were also able to bless the sacrament in his home as he cannot leave his house while recovering. 

Found great comfort in the scriptures this week,as always! D&C 24:7-9, 12 and D&C 31:13 were answers to my prayers! I am trying to give my all for Zion, opening my mouth, and fighting through the end of mission trials knowing that the Lord is always with me, even more than ever before. 

I love this work and it is true! Thanks for all the love, support and prayers!!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - MLC, Best burgers in Russia, Sons of the original mission moms, Mission Home, Mission Leadership Council

Monday, July 24, 2017

Goodbye Krasnodar, Hello Rostov

Hello from Rostov! 

It has been quite the week and I am currently emailing from my old desk and computer in the mission office in Rostov! I guess that leads to the transfer news - I will be serving in Rostov Center once again for the last three weeks of my mission. I am extremely blessed to be able to serve with Elder Weston, a great friend of mine, and to be an assistant to President Miner once again to end my mission. 

It was a great week, but also really sad as I left Krasnodar for the last time. We had less teaching opportunities with packing up and all of that, but we did have a good lesson with Zhenya B. Last week, he received an answer that the Church is true but did not really plan on acting on that answer. It was hard to hear him say that he would still probably go to the Church by his house because it is more convenient and that he has already read the Book of Mormon before and so why would he need to read it again? At that moment, the Spirit reminded me of what I read just that morning in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 28 and I was able to share with him verses 25-30 that if we are content with what we have and think "all is well in Zion," we will lose that which we do have. The Lord teaches us "line upon line, precept upon precept" little by little and therefore we must read, study, feast upon the words of Christ DAILY. It can't possibly be a one time thing. We are always learning and growing and improving. As we walked to the bus stop with him, he said he would probably start coming to Church soon and might even start reading. He is going to Youth Conference this week and I just hope and pray that he will have spiritual, strengthening experiences up there! 

Thursday was my 20th birthday and I was spoiled as always! I got to be on splits with Elders Foote and Romanovskii and Elder Foote made me a great pancake breakfast. We also had district meeting and the Sisters made me оливье, my favorite Russian salad. I got all sorts of letters, presents, phone calls, and texts that made me feel real special even thousands of miles away from home. The youth put a ton of work into putting on a birthday party for Sister Klimash, myslelf, and another member Nastya since all our birthdays are the same week. Also got to teach on our split and it was just an ideal birthday in Russia! Thanks for all the birthday wishes!!

Friday we were in the branch early cleaning the baptismal font for Christian's baptism!! Christian was found on our marshrutka back from the basketball game we went to last transfer by the Zone Leaders. He is from Cameroon, Africa and was taught by the Zone Leaders. The Branch President said it best yesterday. "I have never been to a baptism like that before. Not a lot of people there, but the Spirit was so strong." I was asked to be a witness for the baptism and it really was so powerful. Right when he came out of the water, he bore testimony with a tear coming down his face. Baptisms are so special. I was also able to be in the circle yesterday when he was confirmed as a member. He is a great guy and is already bringing friends to the Church! Our friends from Amway came for the baptism and I just feel like they are so close to being ready to hear the Gospel! 

Saturday morning we were at the Vokzal (train station) to say goodbye to Elder Feldman and then to Elder Foote and Sister Klimash. I got to spend the day with Elder Thayer and Romanovskii and we got to clean the whole 3 story branch which was quite the task but always feels good. 

Sunday was emotional as I spoke for the last time in the Krasnodar Branch. Although I still get nervous to speak, I felt the power and comfort of the Spirit and gift of tongues from the time I stood up at the pulpit. I was able to express my love and gratitude to them and talk about the importance of the Book of Mormon. I felt prompted at different times to testify and I  felt like I was an instrument in the Lord's hands rather than reading a scripted talk. I have grown a lot in that regard, public speaking and going off the script was far out of my comfort zone two years ago but has now become something I enjoy. I learned that the Spirit, when sought after and when I am worthy of it, will truly always be with me. 
I was so overwhelmed by the love and words from the members after Sacrament meeting. The Krasnodar Branch makes me feel like I am one of them. They are truly brothers and sisters to me and I will never, ever forget them. They will always have a special place in my heart and I know I will see them all again whether it be in this life or the next. President Palinkov gave me a hug which is a rare occurrence and he talked about me during Branch Council and he had everyone clap - I will miss him! 
From the branch, President Palinkov drove us home and we were so pressed for time but somehow got fed, packed, and to the train station on time. The Lunds were there and some members showed up to see me off. As I hugged them goodbye, I got pretty emotional and they all stood out the window until my train took off. Being without a companion on the train, I got a pretty good cry in for the three hour trip to Rostov. It was so hard to leave, but I am excited to get to work in Rostov and see other people that I love so much!  I have a lot to do and I am planning on working really hard these last few weeks.  Everyone warned me that leaving the mission will be harder than it was to leave home. I never thought that that could actually be true, but it is. Luckily, I have three weeks left before I have to say goodbye.  Thanks again for all the birthday wishes, for the love support and prayers!!

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Our Birthday Cake, Salt Lake City, Krasnodar Stadium, The District, me at the Birthday Party

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Spirit and Free Agency

Helllooo everyone! 

It has been a powerful week in Krasnodar with multiple spiritual experiences and people progressing! 
First off, I want to share with you all a talk that I came across yesterday on entitled "When You’re Already Tired and Can’t Do One More Thing" and having had a familiar thought once or twice, I clicked on it and the talk from Sister Eubank was an answer to my prayers! It was the exact advice and guidance I needed to keep going! Don't get me wrong, I have loved my mission so much and will continue to do so until the end but having been on my mission for almost two years, I am tired! Sometimes even exhausted. But we keep going, keep putting our efforts, and keep relying on the Lord who helps us do what we literally could not do on our own. Her talk can be found here -

This week we met with Vasilli P.  a couple times. On our second visit, we did some service in his yard and then showed him President Monson's last Conference talk and discussed it. The Spirit of the talk and what we talked about allowed him to open up to us. He has been having some health problems recently and has even been told he may lose his life although he is young and active. He testified to us that God will help him and expressed how he does not want his life to end before he has the time to do what he needs to do. He said that President Monson is probably nearing the end of his life with no regrets, knowing he gave all he could for his years in this life, and Vasilli clearly has some regrets and things he wants to change. It was a powerful, emotional lesson and it was moving to see the Spirit work on him and see him open up for the first time. He was at church yesterday and we got him to interview with the Branch President so they could get better acquainted! 

We met with Vova once again and had a couple members with us to help teach him. The Spirit was there as we taught him and testified to him. Unfortunately, he declined to both read the Book of Mormon and come to church. He said that he wants to change but the changes he is looking for cannot be found in the Book of Mormon and he said when he comes to church, he feels like an amateur in a professional chess club pretending like he knows how to play. I appreciated that he was honest and did not just say yes because we were asking. He has his agency just as we all do! We are not giving up on him, just need to help him see that indeed all that he needs and more is in the Book of Mormon! 

Zhenya, who we met with last Sunday and I wrote about, fulfilled his commitment to pray about which Church is true and texted us and said he got an answer confirming that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "more true" than the other ones he attends! That was another huge miracle thanks to the Spirit. 

We had a great Family Home Evening in the park with the Biletski mom and the two little boys. We taught them the Ten Commandments using hand symbols and then played some freeze tag with the boys. I have gotten really close with those boys and it is going to be so hard to say good bye to them this week! 

One of our investigators, Anya, fulfilled her commitment and started the Book of Mormon!! It was the first time she has acted and we were pretty caught of guard when she said she actually has been reading - lack of faith on our part. But we were so happy when she said she read! She is progressing slowly but surely! 

Saturday night we took our Cultural Activity for the transfer and went to the Kuban vs. Himki soccer game! I have always wanted to go to a game in Stadium Kuban and even bought Kuban apparel last year and was finally able to wear it! We lost 1-0 but it was still fun! 

Sunday morning Elder Feldman led a great Teacher Council Meeting as Sunday School President. We showed them how those Council meetings are supposed to go, that they are an opportunity to discuss and help each other, not for someone to teach a lesson.
Yesterday's sacrament meeting was all Volunteers! We sang a musical number - "I Feel My Savior's Love" and got to hear final talks/testimonies from Elder Foote and Sister Klimash who are leaving this week. We are losing 1/4 of our mission this week and so many of them have had such an impact on my mission and life. They will all be deeply missed! 

Last night we taught our recent convert Olya and her closing prayer was her thanking Heavenly Father for us and her asking Him to bless us and she was really emotional throughout the prayer and it got me emotional and just realized how hard it will be to leave Krasnodar. After serving here two times for over 6 months total, I have been so blessed to get to know the greatest people who I really consider to be my brothers and sisters. It will be a week full of goodbyes and it will not be easy, but the Lord needs me somewhere else and I will go and do the things which He commands. Thanks for all the love, support and prayers!!

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - Soccer Field, Lunch, Cultural Activity at the soccer game

Monday, July 10, 2017

Misha Gets The Priesthood

Hey friends and family,

It was a solid week in K-Dar! We had lots of teaching opportunities once again and an incredible zone conference which made for a great week! 

We had the Miners in town this week for Conference and it was so good to see them! It was especially great to see Sister Miner who was able to leave Rostov and come down after having some back problems. Also got to have an interview with President Miner which is just the best time of the transfer. We had a great talk about the work in our area and then he gave me the unexpected news that I will most likely not be ending my mission in Krasnodar as expected. Nothing is final yet, so I will let you know when I know! 

Thursday was Zone Conference! It was an especially good Conference! We were so blessed to be taught a lot about the history of the Church. Within the next few weeks, 1/3 of our mission will be going home and President Miner wanted us to be prepared for the opposition that we will undoubtedly face when we return home and most likely it will be in regards to Church History. We learned from President Miner about the translation of the Book of Mormon and how it really happened. Sister Miner talked about Zion's Camp and the things we can learn from it and how we can compare it to our modern day Zion's Camp- our missions.  Although every testimony, my own included, comes from the Spirit, it really strengthened my testimony to hear more about the facts and details of Church history and to feel the Spirit confirm that what was taught to us was true. I feel more ready than ever to face opposition and teach the gospel now that I have not only a testimony, but factual information as well.

The night after Zone Conference we met with our investigator Anya and she had lots of questions about the Plan of Salvation and it is so awesome to see a person weighed down with questions and concerns about how it all works in the next life and to see how much peace and relief they feel when they find the answers! We were able to start the Book of Mormon with Anya and hope that she will get reading on her own! 
We got to meet with Vasilli G. after he has been out of town for about a month. We also took Kostya with us who is preparing to go on a mission. We taught him the restoration and how to pray and he said a wonderful prayer at the end. He is a very successful man and a deep thinker and although his knowledge of the gospel is minimal, he has a testimony!

Saturday morning we were at the Rinok with Rustam! It is so fun to go out there and a lot of the workers say hi to us and ask us how we are doing. Rustam was kind enough to let us pick out his new mop, after all, "we will be the only ones who use it."  Got to clean his apartment as well and read the Book of Mormon with him. 

Sunday was a very special day because Misha got the Priesthood!! He asked me to do it and I was so happy too, but it was my first time ever giving someone the Priesthood in my life, let alone in Russian.  I was nervous beforehand trying to remember all the things I needed to say and making sure I said it correctly in Russian but when we circled around him and laid our hands on his head, I just felt the power of the Spirit working through me. I felt the most comforting warmth, that was a testimony to me of Misha's preparedness to receive the Priesthood and the reality of the authority that I have as Priesthood holder. It was a  privilege to be able to give someone the gift and power of God that has been restored in these later days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Afterwards, the Branch President asked the whole quorum about who has their Priesthood Line of Authority and Misha shouted out, "can't I just download it from Google Play Market?"  He cracked us all up. Misha then taught the lesson and we were not there for it because we taught the Young Men but we helped him prepare for it and heard he did a great job.

Last night we finished our weekly planning and were about to go stop by a couple less actives in the area when one of the less actives we work with who rarely wants to meet, text us and said we could meet right then on the banks of the Kuban River. We went down there as soon as we could and had a wonderful lesson with him. Last time we met, he kept asking why there is only one true church and told us how he attends multiple churches and feels the Spirit in all of them. At the time, we were not prepared to answer that question and the meeting did not go well, but this time was different. We were able to read and discuss a few of the verses we found when going over that exact question in a recent district meeting about why there is only one true church. By the end, he committed to pray about it just as Joseph Smith did and that was a huge step for him! Hope you all have a great week!!! Thanks for all the love, support and prayers!!

-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - District, last night on the Kuban, Zone Conference

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hot and Humid!!

Hey everyone! 

It is soo hot and humid now in Krasnodar! I love it though, I would rather sweat than shiver any day! It has been a great week in our area! We were able to hit the standards of excellence with ten lessons and more importantly, those that we are working with our really progressing and it is so rewarding to see.

Last Tuesday, like usual, we were in the Biletski home for Family Home Evening with the Lunds. This time, though, the Lunds asked us to do the Spiritual thought because they were just arriving back from Armenia. We did an object lesson about prayer that the whole family loved, but just in general it is incredible to see how that family has changed since last year when I was here. There is a new Spirit in their home and the little boys get so excited when the missionaries come over for Family Home Evening. The two little boys, Vladik and Illya, are my favorites. They cannot remember my name for the life of them so they call me Elder Tank and they love that name. The sisters told us yesterday that they kept talking about an Elder Tank in Primary and they had no idea who they were talking about. I love that family so much! It has been so awesome to see them change and to bring Family Home Evenings into their home! And the best of all, Sergie Jr. who we met with last week came to Church on Sunday for the first time in a long time! 

Wednesday we were in the branch from 10 am to 9 pm getting the Krasnodar branch in accordance with the new law in Russia. Pretty much we had to stamp or label ALL church literature from pictures, to magazines, to Books of Mormon, to Hymn books, and everything in between or throw it out. We threw tons out, I will send pictures, but it was quite the task considering we have a three story building full of literature from the 90' s till today! But lots of Papa John's Pizza made it worth it! 
Wednesday night we met with President Palinkov, the Branch President, and went over all sorts of things. He is incredible! 

Thursday was the hardest down pour of rain I have ever seen and we were at the Rinok teaching Diana which is technically inside but the "roof" still got us a little wet. We had a great lesson with her about Tithing and are continuing to help her work towards the temple! 
Thursday night we met with our investigator Anya and taught her the Plan of Salvation. It went way well and Elder Feldman was on fire! It was a "proud dad moment" to see my trainee boldly teaching and testifying in Russian! 
Thursday and Friday we had Elder Romanovski with us who is a new Russian Elder. It was so great to be with him. I love our Russian missionaries/volunteers so much! 

Friday we went to see Vova! Vova is praying more frequently and when we went over this week he had his Book of Mormon out on the table he said he has been reading a little! We are trying to get him to Youth Conference this Summer in Moscow, they are gathering all the youth in the entire Europe East Area and we hope he will decide to go! 
That night I got to interview with President Miner over Skype to renew my Temple recommend. We ended up talking for like a half hour. I am so grateful for President Miner and all he and Sister Miner do for us! They will be in town this week for Zone Conference and I cannot wait to see them! 

Saturday we went to the Rinok to get Rustam's groceries like usual. As we were buying a cow liver from a woman, she asked what we were going to make out of the liver which led to us explaining that we were just buying groceries for an older member of the Church who cannot do it on his own. She asked more questions and as we left, she thanked us for the good work we are doing as volunteers and was really impressed by what we do. It was so nice to hear those words and to know that our service is planting seeds and softening hearts. A lot of the sellers at that Rinok see us weekly and even know us and hopefully we have planted many seeds there!

Sunday was such a great Fast Sunday! Hard to believe it was my second to last! It started in the morning when our lesson fell through before church which allowed us to give a blessing to Sister Sveta, one of my favorite people. She told us right after, that right when we put our hands on her head, she felt better and she even testified about it in Sacrament meeting. I am always grateful to use the Priesthood that I am so blessed to have.
As we were greeting members at the front door, my mouth dropped open when I saw Sister Inkeles from Rostov walk in!! It was so great to see her, she promised she would come down to Krasnodar and she really did! She shared a great testimony in Sacrament meeting and her family is doing well up there! 
3/4 recent converts we are over bore wonderful testimonies yesterday, they are so strong! Speaking of them, this week I have felt the rewards of helping people get to their next ordinance that was heavily stressed by both President Martino and Elder Kacher. We found out yesterday that Olya P. who we have been meeting with and challenging her to get to the temple, met with the Branch President yesterday and is all set to go to the temple in Helsinki at the end of August to get her endowment! We also got Misha, who we have been preparing to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, to meet with the Branch President yesterday. I called him last night and was so happy to hear that all went well and he should be getting the priesthood next Sunday!! Of course every missionary, including myself, has the prominent desire to baptize. But, as I thought of it last night, baptism truly is just the start, it is the first ordinance and covenant, and helping these wonderful people get to the next step/ordinance is just as rewarding. 

We had a wonderful Break the Fast at the Lunds yesterday that I got to translate for. They always make the best food and give a great lesson! I could not help but realize that this begins the last full month of my service as a missionary/volunteer. I am fighting back the tears while typing that, but I also can't wait for what lays ahead (next chapter in life). Thanks for all the love, support and prayers!! Have a fun, safe 4th of July!!

Much love!
-Elder Tucker//Старейшина Такер
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Pictures - on the railroad, half of the stuff we had to throw out, the down pour, a member made us cookies (it says Tucker in Russian), on the railroad (again), stamping all the material