"Elder Peterson! You're so much thinner! Don't they feed you in Orenburg?" "No, not really." "Ooooh....that's gonna change dearie!"
Man, let me tell you, it has been one really abnormal week of missionary work. First off, we spent most of our time left in Orenburg doing a super deep clean for Sisters Upshaw and Semyonova. We were able to get a couple of meetings in and get some fresh air, but really most of the time was spent doing area book work and making the apartment (as dingy as it kind of is) sparkle real nice. I had a pretty cool expereince though as we were at the train station. I've never really had any members or anyone come to say goodbye when I've gotten transfered (which makes sense since our trains usually leave at or around midnight everytime), but an investigator we'd been working a lot with wanted to come to the train station and see us off. We had a good talk, the three of us, and got to know each other a lot more (since most of the time we're with our ivnestigators we're there for elssons there's not always time to REALLY get to know each other). It was a great chance to just laugh and relax a bit before heaving suitcases filled with what seems like bricks onto the train. Even though she didn't get baptized before we left (and isn't too close to it even now, it seems), she told us before we left that the meeting we had and the communication between us had really helped her out these past few months and had helped her feel God's love. That was the coolest thing to hear! It's really was a heart warmer to know that the work we had done and all the prayers and efforts we'd put in to help her had really done what they were intended to do. So even though she's still on her path to God (aren't we all, anyways), we acted as good instruments to help her along. Cool stuff.
We would have gone straight to Saratov excpet for the fact that I needed to go on my very last visa trip to Kiev and back, so our train took us to Samara where, once again, I considered just how wonderful life would be without hauling around suitcases. I do have to give especially you, Mom and Dad, props for having me get bags that roll around on all 4 corners. That's been a life saver. And! The wheels have survived Russia, and achievment few missionaries can claim. So thank you :)
I had a super cool experience on the visa trip, by the way. As you may or may not know, we fly to Kiev and back in one day and take about 4 planes or so to do so. It's always a hassle, but one of the funnest things to do is to talk to the people that sit next to you on planes. Throughout my mission I've always had fun experiences on those planes, but none of which amounted to the coolness I had on this plane. I got on the plane going from Saratov to Moscow sat down next to a 40 year old woman (though, it was really weird, because she looked about 20 - come to find out she has a 14 year old son and that she's 40!). I like plane rides because you always have a good hour and a half or 2 hours just to talk and get to know the person. So, we got to know each other and it was about the coolest thing to see how the conversation worked out. I told her about how I'd studied Psychology before I came to Russia and how I was here as a volunteer for the Church teaching people about Christ. She's an accountant who lives in Ulyanovsk (yay!) going to pick up her son from a camp in Moscow and she has a particular knack or interest for learning Psychology so we had fun times talking about that.
The conversation really turned to God and faith though when she asked me how I liked Russia. Well, I told her what I tell everyone: I love Russia! It's got the best juice and there's nice people everywhere. She laughed a bit but told me that I couldn't really like Russia that much, it just meant that I'd never gone to Europe. I told her once again that I really do like Russia and began to explain more about what we do as missionaries. It was astonishing to see how she believed much of the same things we do and she really liked the idea of eternal families.
I told her something that I've been thinking a lot about but that I'd never really put into words before. I told her how logical faith in God really is; how in keeping the commandments and doing the things God asks we see, quite physically and really the love of God in our life and know for sure that He exists without having seen him. I've seen that in my life, and especially in the lives of those that accept the Gospel here in Russia. They act in faith on a little thing, and they receive blessing from God. She told me how that makes sense and how everytime in life when she had a problem in her family or with anything of a moral question she'd turn to the Bible for answers. She proceeded to, unknowingly, bear her testimony in saying "I know that God exists. I don't know how, I just do" and she explained the many times that God has anwered her prayers through thoughts and feelings and how He guides her. Of course, I gave her a Book of Mormon and explained it to her and the promise that's in Moroni about really knowing if it's true. It was incredible to make the promise to her that if she read and prayed about he Book of Mormon she'd come to know that it's true, the same way that she'd recognized the help of God in her life before. She wrote down my e-mail address (my civilian one) and said she'd e-mail. I'm not sure if she will or not, but keep your eyes out for that please :)
Not much time left (you got a big e-mail today!) but I had one last story for ya'll. In coming back here to Saratov I found out that our branch, the Volzhski branch meets in the the same building now as Zavodskoi. I got to see all of the members that I'd worked with for 6 months once again as I came to church this past Sunday. That was one of the happiest moments I think I've ever had on my mission; seeing so many of my old friends still doing well (and even better in lots of cases). I heard it more than once the members say "Oh Elder Peterson! We missed you so much! We all still talk about you!". I never thought I'd made any kind of impression like that on the members, but the experience just made me love them so much more and remember the wonderful things that really have happened in the course of my mission.
Alright, I've got to go now, but thanks so much :) Real quick, I got the Christmas packages! Thanks so much Mom and Dad and the Hershey Peterson clan! You really are the best and thanks for everything that you sent! I'm way psyched to hear that the reception will be in NM at the end of July! There's no way I'll miss that thing, so no worries there :) As for school, I don't think I'll be going to Summer session like I did before my mission, I'll need some time just to work and read Russian books before I get back into the school groove again, but I think entering in at Fall time will work out just great. I'd sure love to fix that fence, Dad, so go ahead and consider me hired I think. As for the whole grammar structure on "me and Elder So & So), in Russian you're forced to always say "we and Elder So and So), so I guess maybe that's just carried into my English in putting me before my companion since that's more or less how my brain translates it.
Alright, time to go for real now though. I love you lots! Have a great week!