Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Letter #17 7/29/13

Well, friends... I've officially run out of creative ways to start these letters. Let's just get right on to the good stuff.

You remember last week about Elena and Alona? Apparently after we left (after the Elders gave her a Priesthood blessing), Alona started coherently speaking for the first time in a very long time, asking questions about her sisters and how they were doing. And she started reading the Restoration pamphlet that we had left there. How awesome is that?! The Priesthood works! We met with Elena again this week and asked her if she thought the blessing helped, and she replied, "Of course it helped!" as if she didn't have a second thought about it. There's still progress to be made, and I'm sure it will happen as time and faith go on, but still... wow. :)

This week we were pretty busy, including an awesome day of five lessons (three investigators and two active families)! That's definitely my record for lessons in one day -- normally we have just a few. It felt so good to be that busy, and Sister Zaretskaia and I are definitely gonna try to keep that up.

Friday night we got a referral from Mormon.org with a phone number, address, and a request to meet with the missionaries. That like never happens here, and Sister Zaretskaia and I were SO excited to meet with her (Natasha). We had all sorts of miraculous scenarios in our heads, like her opening the door and just flat out telling us she's read everything on the site and wants to get baptized. And then we started having second thoughts, like, "Maybe she's actually super anti and just requested us to argue with someone and take up our time." Both extremes, but trust me, your imagination goes wild when you get a Mormon.org referral in Ukraine. Anyway, her phone number wasn't working so we just stopped by the apartment the next day, but no one was home at the time. Bummer. So we went and searched out former investigators in the area and tried back in a few hours, and this is the exchange that took place:
  • We knock on the door. No answer.
  • We hear the elevator open around the corner and someone come out.
  • We awkwardly stand by apartment 111 while said person (a woman) comes walking toward apartment 111.
  • We say, "Hi... are you Natasha?"
  • Woman: "No."
  • Us: "Hmm... does a Natasha live here?"
  • Woman, pointing to her door: "Here? Or there?" (pointing to the door across)
  • Us: "Here, apartment 111."
  • Woman: "No. There's no Natasha here."
  • Us (very awkwardly): "Hmm, well... we're missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ, and we were told Natasha lives here and wanted to meet with us, and, uh..."
  • Woman stares blankly.
  • Us: "Well... sorry about that. Have a great night!"
  • Woman (clearly not Natasha... well, probably not) enters her apartment and we awkwardly walk away (with me cocking my head to the side, like usual when I'm confused).
Anyway, we figure it was just a fake referral. BUT God works in mysterious ways because... we decided to tract that floor while we were there (maybe there was a reason we were led to that place), and a nice young man (Sergei) was just coming home to his apartment, and we talked to him for probably 20 or 30 minutes out in the hallway. Okay, by "nice" I mean totally wasted and hitting on us like his life depended on it, but we walked away with a funny story and he walked away with a Plan of Salvation pamphlet and a bottle of beer (we provided only one of those -- I'll let you decide which). The next day, we had another run-in with drunk guys at the park -- four of them, but there was Sister Zaretskaia, me, and two members, so we had it covered. It was actually pretty fruitful -- you'd be surprised how many drunk contacts turn out to be legit.

Well, in addition to fake referrals, drunk conversations, and lots of lessons, I've had a lot on my mind spiritually, particularly about weaknesses. Like I mentioned a few weeks ago, there's a lot to keep track of as a missionary, and it's easy to lose track of things or let things slide when you really shouldn't. This week, for some reason, my weaknesses and mistakes were very clearly on my mind, and it was quite emotionally and spiritually uncomfortable for me (basically to see who and how and where I should be, and simultaneously to see how far away I was/am from that). But I remember writing in my journal about determining the source of my discomfort. It's tricky because Satan is the one saying, "You're weak and useless," God is the one saying, "You're weak, but I'll make you strong and use you," and then there's usually me saying, "I'm weak? Oh yeah... I forgot."

Interestingly, President just shared a quote in his weekly letter that goes like this: "We should distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil's dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, master of the English language).

Anyway, thankfully I was able to push out the adversary's voice and cleave to the Spirit. I asked in prayer for forgiveness of my recent follies, made plans to improve (slowly but surely), and all the while grew in my testimony of the Atonement of Christ. I think one of the most beautiful verses of scripture is Mosiah 26:30 when the Lord said, "Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me." Every time. Seriously. It also helped me to read the parable Christ gave in Luke 7:41-43:

41- There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
42- And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43- Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

The thing that stood out to me the most was, "they had nothing to pay," because honestly, when we sin, we can't do anything about that except repent. We can't go back in time and choose differently, we can't offer some kind of payment to make it go away, and we can't make excuses that would do any good. We're in spiritual debt, and the only thing we can do is tell God, "Wow, I am so sorry about that. I was wrong. I should've chosen differently but I didn't. But I want to do and be better. Will you forgive me? Will you help me change?" In many cases, it would be easy to pay money than to pay your pride, but only the latter will grant you the peace of partaking of the redeeming and enabling power of the Atonement of Christ.

Alright, gotta go! Have an amazing week!

Sister Montgomery

PS -- The pictures are (1) me and a member's dog, (2) me and the nice old lady that works at the building we live at, (3) me with Sister Zaretskaia, and (4) not me but a rockin' awesome rainbow. I shall leave it up to your judgment to determine which description fits which photo...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fwd: Letter #16 - 7/22/13 (MIRACLES!)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Elizabeth Montgomery <elizabeth.montgomery@myldsmail.net>
Date: Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 8:42 AM
Subject: Letter #16 - 7/22/13 (MIRACLES!)
To: Christine Montgomery <chrismont9@gmail.com>

Helllllllloooo beautiful world! Man, I am on a spiritual HIGH! Prepare for a rockin awesome, miracle-filled letter. :)

First off, Tuesday afternoon. Sister Zaretskaia and I were in the church printing off some scriptures and quotes to memorize in Russian. It was taking some time, but we had about a half hour before we had to be somewhere. As I was sitting at the computer compiling these, I got the feeling, "You shouldn't be here right now" -- not in a dangerous sense but in the sense of, "There's somebody outside you need to talk to." I was putting it off because I really wanted to get the stuff printed and I wasn't sure if it was just in my head, but the feeling persisted. Sister Zaretskaia had to use the restroom, and when she got out, I just told her, "Hey, so the Spirit's telling me that we need to leave. I don't know why, but I think we should. So... let's just leave our stuff here, lock up the church, go outside for a bit, then we'll finish up here." She was a bit in shock but just said, "Okay. Let's go."

So, we got outside of the church and I decided to go right because there were more people in that direction. We got to the end of the sidewalk and I told Sister Zaretskaia, "And now... I literally have no idea what to do." We were sort of awkwardly walking around a parking lot area between buildings, looking for a person to talk to or a direction to go, when all the sudden a guy calls us out. He was in his 20's, standing with a bunch of his friends, but when he called us over his friends left and we proceeded to have a 15-20 minute gospel conversation with him (his name is Victor).

Well, I wish I could tell you that it was an incredible conversation and he's super interested in the gospel and that we're practically filling up the baptismal font for him right now, but it wasn't really. It was a pretty average conversation, we're pretty sure he was a little drunk and was a little bit hitting on us, and though we got his number, he hasn't met with us or the Elders since that exchange. BUT how ridiculously cool is that story?! I don't know why that happened or what will come of it, but "I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" (1 Ne. 4:6), and I can't tell you how amazing that felt! And though it might seem like we didn't have much of an effect on Victor so far, he is nevertheless a son of God whose Heavenly Father led us to him, and let me tell you -- that kind of experience changes the way you look at someone. We're gonna keep trying with him... I'd really like to find out why we needed to talk to him on that day.

Second off, we had an amazing first Restoration lesson with an investigator named Looba. She's been coming to English class for like four years, and the other week I was giving one-on-one English tutoring to her, and at the end I just asked, "So, you know from English that we as missionaries like to meet with people and teach them about what we believe and why we believe it. Is that something you'd be interested in?" And she said yes! I was in shock. I mean... it worked! So yeah, we met and had a VERY Spirit-filled first lesson, and she said she'll be reading and praying about the Book of Mormon.

Third, Sister Zaretskaia and I were looking through old teaching records in our area book the other day and calling former investigators to say, "Hi, my name is Sister Montgomery from the Church of Jesus Christ. You met with our missionaries ____ ago, and we were wondering if you'd like to meet with us again." I did this last transfer too and called like a million people and got a million no's, but this time, the third person I talked to (Tatiana) replied to my request with, "Of course! When? Where?" Again, I was in shock. We set up the appointment, and apparently she said, "I'm so excited that you called," but I was still so baffled that I didn't even hear it or respond, so Sister Zaretskaia (who was right next to me), told me, "Say, 'We're excited too!' 'We're excited too!'" So I awkwardly said it and then the conversation ended. It was pretty funny. And now we're meeting with her hopefully on Wednesday!

Fourth and lastly, the biggest miracle of all: Elena and Alona. I shall tell this in story form:

Miracle #1: Elena (50-ish) walks into the Borshahovsky (Kyiv) church looking for help for her mentally ill daughter Alona (27 yr old, used to be totally normal but recently had some kind of nervous breakdown)

Miracle #2: They come back a few days later while I *happen* to be on exchanges there. I briefly meet them before Alona freaks out and wants to leave. I learn that Alona responds well to music, and that they might actually live in my area.

Wee little bit of diligence: When I got back to Voskresensky, I gave them a call and offered to come play guitar for Alona (a miracle in and of itself that I was able to find a guitar). Sister Filipovska and I met with them but didn't teach much of a lesson because Alona wasn't feeling well again. Then they had company over for a little while so we weren't able to meeting with them again.

Another wee little bit of diligence: Sister Zaretskaia and I called Elena a lot this past week trying to set up an appointment with her. She wanted to but nothing was working. We were persistent and finally just said (this past Saturday), "We're going to be in your area at about 8:00 tonight. If you're free, we'd love to see you." And lo and behold...

Miracle #3: We met with Elena and had an incredible lesson with her as we were walking through the forest near her apartment. She was looking for psychological help for her daughter, but we told her, "We don't have psychological help, but we know something else that will help your daughter: it's called the Priesthood." We bore testimony of Jesus Christ as our Savior, how He performed miracles (including healing) when He was on the earth, how He gave that same power and authority to His apostles, and how when God restored His gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith, those same apostles gave that Priesthood authority to Joseph Smith, and that's how we have it on the earth today. I felt prompted to read Alma 15:5-12 with her (wee little bit of diligence: I had discovered that passage as I was studying for her that morning), an amazing story of healing that applied so well to her daughter.

Toward the end of our time together, I felt the Spirit tell me to say something very specific. It was bold, so I double-checked with Him, and I could feel Heavenly Father smiling as He told me, "Yeah, you can say it." So right before we ended, I told Elena in the power of the Spirit, "I testify that if it is the will of God, and that if you have faith in Jesus Christ, your daughter WILL be healed." The Holy Ghost was incredible (reminds me very much of D&C 68:4-6). We prayed together right then and there, in the middle of the street as we were waiting for our bus. I knew that Elena was feeling the same Spirit because she told us, "I feel so much better now. I just feel so good being with you." We told her that the Elders would be over the next day to give Alona the blessing, and to read the Restoration pamphlet before the blessing (a commitment that came from the Spirit).

Wee little bit of diligence: We talked to the Elders about it the next day, checked our and their schedules, and let Elena know we'd be over at about 6:30.

Miracle #4: The Elders and Sister Zaretskaia and I came to Elena's humble apartment where she fed us like we were honored guests. When we were done eating, we went into the other room where Elder Romney explained to her the same thing we had the night before about the Priesthood lineage and the reality of miracles. When we asked if she had any questions, this faith-filled woman had only one: "How can we get her to sit still enough for you to bless her?" She is extremely unpredictable and hard to control, and we couldn't get her to come inside from the balcony and actually receive the blessing. Feeling the same Spirit as the day before, I simply said, "God will help us."

Wee little bit of diligence: We tried so many things to help her trust us and sit long enough for the blessing. Elder Seitz calmly introduced himself, Elder Romney told her about the Priesthood and how it would work, I suggested that we sing "I am a Child of God" together (which so invited the Spirit and made Elena cry), and Sister Zaretskaia suggested that Elena receive a blessing first so that Alona could see that it's okay (brilliant idea). So they gave Elena a blessing first, which was not only good for Alona to see but for Elena to feel. Also, I felt prompted to share an experience with her about when I received a Priesthood blessing (Dad, I'll let you know sometime exactly what experience that was; I wonder if you'll remember it). Nonetheless, nothing was working. Elena called her son out to help, but that only made Alona move from the balcony to the kitchen.

Miracle #5: Elena went into the kitchen with Alona to talk to her and calm her down. I didn't catch this, but Sister Zaretskaia told me later that when Elena was talking to her, she said, "When they were giving me the blessing, I felt so warm inside. This is something that will help you. They can heal you." Elder Romney and Seitz went into the kitchen and continued to talk with her while Sister Zaretskaia and I were in the other room, heads down, eyes closed, praying harder than I think I've ever prayed in my entire life. I don't know how long we were there, but Alona finally allowed Elder Romney to give her a blessing, and when he was done, she was calm and even told him, "Thank you." The Spirit had saturated that home. It was miraculously, beautifully everywhere.

It was late so we couldn't stay longer, but Elena walked us back to the bus stop again and we kept talking about it. She said she felt such peace and warmth when she received the blessing. She asked me about Dad and marveled when I told her that he has that exact same Priesthood. She thanked us again and again and was eager to meet the next day (tonight).

I know that was a long story, but I haven't had time to write in my journal about it so I wanted to make sure I wrote it here. Everyone reading this, just know this: miracles are real! The power of God is on the earth today, and it works! Words can't describe how grateful I am to be here, witnessing such amazing things, not only feeling the Spirit of God but bringing that incredible feeling to others. Jesus Christ lives, and He still works miracles for those who have faith on His saving name.

With so much love,
Sister Montgomery

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Fwd: Letter #15 - 7/15/13

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Elizabeth Montgomery <elizabeth.montgomery@myldsmail.net>
Date: Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 7:22 AM
Subject: Letter #15 - 7/15/13
To: Christine Montgomery <chrismont9@gmail.com>

Another week, another letter. This probably won't be as upbeat as usual... I've been feeling kind of off lately (even missionaries are allowed to have bad days every once in awhile; no use lying about it). Nonetheless, here are some updates.

I got a new companion on Thursday -- Sister Zaretska. I only saw the name before, so I assumed she was from Russia or Ukraine or something, but it turns out she's from America. She was born in Belarus, moved to America when she was 3, and has lived there ever since. She spoke Russian at home and English everywhere else, so she can very easily speak both. She's 19 and joined the church a little over a year ago. It's funny because for about 4 weeks, I thought I'd be training a non-Russian speaking American, and then for a week, I thought I'd be training a non-English speaking Russian, and then I ended up training a Russian- and English-speaking mostly-American. Crazy how that worked out. Anyway, I'm sure there will be more on her later.

Before Sister Filipovska left, we put together a family poster to try to get parents and families interested in the church. I'm so proud of it. :) I attached a picture of it; the quote is from the Family Proclamation and the English translation is, "Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities." Anyway, Sister Zaretska and I used it in the park on Friday night, with a book table of free Liahona magazines (Ensign for non-American countries) and Family Proclamations, and it went really well! We talked to a few parents and a LOT of really cute kids. There's a lot of families around this area, and I think we definitely planted some gospel seeds in that park.

Other than that, we've been doing all the normal missionary stuff: meeting with investigators, less actives, and members, and lots of contacting in between. Yesterday we got our addresses mixed up for an appointment and ended up taking a trolleybus for about 20 minutes only to have it ride it back to where we were, but in that time I talked to a super nice man next to me who cares a lot about his family (he's got a brand new 2-week-old son), and I gave him a Family Proclamation and invited him to English. It was such a great conversation, and I have no doubt the hand of the Lord was responsible for that exchange.

Quick spiritual thought. I read Matthew 7:7-8 the other week, and I noticed something really cool about it. It reads, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." I used to think those three were separate: ask for something and get it, seek for something else and get it, etc. But this time I saw it as a progression. For example, if I was in some random apartment in Kyiv and you wanted to find me, how would you do it? First, you'd ask someone, "Where does Sister Montgomery live?" Once you are given the information, you have to look at a map and seek out the address. And once you find it, you have to go into the building, go to the apartment door, and knock. It's like that with the Lord: finding the peace He has to offer is a process, but as long as we're diligent in that process, our search will be successful. And the neat thing is that He isn't just the one in the apartment that we find at the end: He's there to give us directions when we ask and He's there to walk with us on our journey. Here in our mission we focus a lot on 3 things (prayer, scripture study, and coming to church), and I also like that there's three steps to that process (ask, seek, and knock).

Well, I gotta go write President Klebingat now (we write him every week). Have a great week, and if you can send some extra prayers my way, that would be great. I'm sure I'll get to feeling better soon.

Sister Montgomery

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Letter #14 7/8/13

Priviet! What an exciting week!

First off, this week is transfer week. Drum-roll please...... I'm staying in Voskresinksy... training... a native! Yep, wasn't expecting that! She's from Russia, and that's all I know for now. It's crazy because I was working so hard to prepare in the language, and I was getting all ready to help an American greenie with the language when she comes, but now I don't even know what to do haha. It'll be cool to be able to focus training more on missionary skills in general instead of language, and I'm sure my Russian will just keep on growing. There's a sister here who has had native companions her whole mission... I wonder if I'll end up like her. In whatever case, I'm super excited for next transfer. I'm gonna miss Sister Filipovska a ton (she's like a sister to me), but it'll be cool to get to know someone new!
This past week, we had exchanges, so I spent a couple days in another area of Kyiv (Borshahivsky, where the temple is). It was exactly what I needed. The morning of transfers, I was doing personal study, and the Spirit brought to mind so much that I can improve on as a missionary, and it was a bit overwhelming. But later when we did the exchange, it helped me so much because I saw all of those things in action from the awesome example of the Sister Training Leader, and it was like God was showing me the possibilities of what MY missionary work can be like.

I'm not a huge slacker or anything, but there's just so much to keep track of on a mission, and a lot of things fall by the wayside if you're not diligent in remembering and applying them. I wrote in my revelation journal, "I'm so grateful for the Atonement of Christ that allows me to look back on this last transfer knowing that I've fallen short so much and so often, but then having the peace of being forgiven and the strength to improve as time goes on. It's truly a miracle. And trust me, these aren't just words to me -- I feel them so deeply in my soul write now. I feel the guilt and discomfort of not doing and being all that I should've done and been, and at the same time I can feel God smiling at me, excited to help His perpetually stumbling daughter. I'm so weak, but the strongest Being in the universe will forever help me if I let Him." So grateful. :)
Another exciting thing: we had a baptism! It was the Elders' investigator, but it was still pretty cool. I wrote a song on the guitar in Russian about our baptismal covenants and played it for the musical number. President Klebingat was there, and he recorded it, so maybe I'll find a way to send it home so you can watch/listen.
Lastly, we had a lot of lessons with our investigators. Lena (the amazing 16-year-old) is still loving everything about the gospel, but her parents are against her getting baptized. We plan to keep teaching her, and we hope that her parents will be able to see the positive change in her that's taking place thanks to what we're teaching her, and then maybe let her be baptized. She's so ready for it! We taught a few others, Tamara and Raisa, but they're not progressing. If I had more time, I'd go into more detail about how difficult that's been for me because I love them so much, but I'll save that for another time. Just read Moses 7:44-67, and that's kind of how my emotions have been lately about it (all over the place, but ultimately resting on hope).
I think that's all! I hope you have a wonderful week -- stay close to your Savior who wants to stay close to you. :)
Sister Montgomery

PS-- The pictures are from our last district meeting and a random walk through the forest on our way to a members' place. Yay!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fwd: Letter #13 - 7/1/13

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Elizabeth Montgomery <elizabeth.montgomery@myldsmail.net>
Date: Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 7:25 AM
Subject: Letter #13 - 7/1/13
To: Christine Montgomery <chrismont9@gmail.com>

Hello again! I'm rushed on time, so I won't be responding to anyone personally today, but at least I'll have time to tell y'all about the AWESOME week I've had (quickly...)

First, a lot of people told me last week about the worldwide missionary broadcast, and I finally got the chance to watch it yesterday. It was Ukrainian, so I didn't understand all/most of it, but I watched the first half in English later. And WOW. The Spirit was amazing, and it made me feel so inspired. I love war analogies, and it got me thinking about how sometimes it feels like Sister Filipovska and I are lone soldiers crossing through rugged, dangerous terrain, hoping to win this war going on between good and evil. When we get together for district meetings or zone conferences, it's like meeting up with the other soldiers in our area (platoon maybe? I don't know my army jargon...) and receiving strength from one another before going out into that jungle again. But this worldwide broadcast was like the leaders of nations inspiring all their citizens and soldiers to unite and move forward. It was so inspiring, and I'm grateful to be part of this army of Saints, fighting every day to bring the world the truth of God.

Guess what?! I got myself a guitar! I got permission from President Klebingat to use it for proselyting purposes, I miraculously found one to borrow from one of the members, and so far I've played hymns in a park, played for investigators and members, and (my personal favorite) sang my Joseph Smith song for the spiritual thought at English. I've also played piano in church three times already. It feels great to use my talents to build up the kingdom of God -- each of us has been blessed with gifts and talents, and God will really use them to accomplish His purposes if we let Him.

Another exciting thing: my language has improved SO much this last week. Sister Filipovska encouraged me to dare more greatly when I speak (be more confident, less afraid, talk more, etc.), and it has made all the difference. I still make mistakes of course, but I'm able to speak freely and quickly more and more every day, and I can think more about what I really WANT to say instead of just what I CAN say. God has blessed me so much with the gift of tongues (and the gift of interpretation of tongues), and I am SO grateful for that.

And lastly, we have two new investigators! One is Tamara, a 50-something-year-old lady who was a former investigator, and one is a 16-year-old girl named Lena who is basically a "golden investigator." Lena just astounds me. Sisters in another area found her by contacting, taught her the Restoration, and gave her the Book of Mormon. Yesterday she came to church, we had a lesson about the Plan of Salvation that she readily accepted (and told us, "You've given me answers that other churches haven't been able to"), and she even went to a youth fireside that night. She's already started the Book of Mormon and is reading it, she prayed the first night after meeting the other sisters and said that she received a feeling that it's true, and when we asked her in our lesson if she would get baptized, she said yes! She is like the pure definition of "elect" (D&C 29:7), it's incredible. Her parents are kind of opposed (mom is neutral, dad very opposed), but we'll be praying that they soften their hearts toward the gospel. I think they only need one parent's permission to get baptized, so we'll see what happens. So exciting!

And I think that wraps up the main points... this is my last full week of the transfer, and then I'll be training! How crazy is that?! Time sure flies.

Hope you have a great week! Love you!

-Sister Montgomery

PS -- Oh yeah, funny story: the word for "to love" is really close to the word for "to kill," so while at a member family's home, I was teaching about the importance of respecting one another when I said, "God loves each of you SO much, and that's why He wants you to kill each other." Umm, yeah... LOVE each other. At least it united them in laughing at me. :)

NOTICE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.