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!
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...