Monday, May 13, 2013

I Will Surely Remember Their Love

Well I've got a sec on the computer, so I figure I'll write a little something for the blog. I'll be talking with you guys in about an hour.
It's been a really good last week. Zone Conference on Wednesday was a really cool experience. At the end they had all of the 16 departing missionaries testify/give some parting advice. I was last in the order and right after Elder Davis, so I was already pretty emotional before I even started to make my comments.
I think it was after that Zone conference that it actually hit me that I was going home. We had a really busy week. There were a bunch of member families, investigators and former investigators who wanted to see us before I left. We had a big turnout at church. V, A, Z, G, and a member's boyfriend who we have been trying to work with showed up. In all there were 14 investigators at church out of a congregation of about 100. Plus K, an inactive member in one of the families that we work with came to church for the first time in several years. Only a couple people there recognized him. I was really happy for him.
We went over with P to his girlfriend's place and she really likes us and feels comfortable with us now, she isn't very interested in what we are saying yet, but she will come around.
We had a really good last lesson with A and with V and both of them are looking like they are on track to be baptized. V, probably soon.
Today I'm just trying to do some last minute preparations before we take off. We have a train this afternoon to Novosibirsk, then Wednesday morning we fly out of there.
I really love Krasnoyarsk. The members here have made it a wonderful experience and my favorite city. They really love and support the missionaries. Their faith is incredible despite all of the trials they face out here. I will surely remember their love and their examples forever and it will always strengthen my testimony.
See you in a few days.
Elder Topham

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Book of Mormon Changes Lives

So we had a really awesome week, mostly because of P's baptism. Everything went really well all week and we had a few good lessons with him, and he was pumped for the baptism. The service was great. There was a really good turnout, better than I expected even (as demonstrated by how there were not enough refreshments). Our investigators V and M both came, also the sister's investigator. The really cool thing is that P's daughter and her Mom came. We had only met them once before and they had a good experience there and she invited us to come over during the week, which is huge progress for her. There was a really good turn out from members and they did a good job supporting. Elder Batson gave a great talk about baptism. One of the members with whom P has become friends, A, gave the other talk. All of the missionaries sang "Brightly Beams our Fathers Mercy" and it sounded really good. Probably the only hiccup was that when I baptized P the first time his foot came up out of the water. So I had to do it again, I put a foot on his feet the second time. Elder Batson told me after the service that he was probably all the way under, then his foot came up, but the witnesses had me do it again anyway. It was a really spiritual experience - the whole service, and especially being in the font with him and in the dressing room afterward. He was just really pumped and you could just see how happy he is, which is not like him because he is very introverted.
The confirmation went great the next day and after church the branch president interviewed him for the Aaronic Priesthood which he should get next week. He is really awesome and the best thing about him is how he can learn on his own, he doesn't need anyone to have to explain anything to him. He already finished the Book of Mormon, Our Heritage, and Gospel Principles.
Oh and at the end of the service, right after the words from the branch presidency, Elder Batson and I said some words and gave him some gifts. We gave him a Doctrine and Covenants with our testimonies in it, also a new white shirt, and the ties off of our chests (it was a big hit). Then they opened it up for anyone else to bear testimony or congratulate him and there were some really good and nice comments. A got up and also gave him the tie off of his chest, which I thought was really cool of him.
So that made it a really great weekend. I was an amazing experience seeing P all the way through from the beginning to baptism. I almost couldn't have imagined this day 3 months ago when we were sitting in his room the first time when he was a little drunk or the first few lessons when it seems like it wasn't really clicking. But there is one thing that changed this man's life and it is the Book of Mormon. I already had a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true, but maybe I didn't realize fully the power it has to change people and bring them to Christ.
Once P really started reading the Book of Mormon, we could see more and more light in his countenance every time we came over. He got engrossed in the Book of Mormon and read the whole thing in about a month and a half, but not only that he understood and applied everything that he read and had questions about the things he didn't understand. I remember the first time he went from not reading and he told us the next lesson that he got to second Nephi. I've been out here for a long time so I was a little skeptical, so I just kind of said, "Great, what did you read about? What did you like about it?" He goes on to give a perfect summary of exactly what happens in First Nephi even remembering names and pulling out really good insights about the importance of obedience and following the direction that God gives us, and more. I was amazed. Then later on he said he read 2 Nephi twice because he didn't really get it the first time. He read Mosiah twice because he liked it so much he decided to re-read it before he went to Alma.
The Book of Mormon gave him a testimony of Jesus Christ and the restored gospel, then from then on out we just had to use that strength to help guide him through his trials, and change his life in order to live in accordance with the commandments.
I don't know if I have ever told you how we met P. It was on a Tuesday and that is one of the days we don't have any standing appointments, so it is really hard to get things set up for Tuesday during the day. So that particular Tuesday, Elder J and I couldn't get any lessons and we had about a 2-3 hour chunk of time so we were looking at the map trying to decide where to go contacting. We prayed about it to receive inspiration about where to go, and after the prayer we both didn't feel anything strongly. After a minute of discussion we decided it would be a good idea to go down to a street which is called Shorsa, that was fairly main and we didn't get down there much, because in order to get there you have to walk maybe about a mile through an industrial part of town with not much of anything and no people. So we set off and talked to all the men in our path. We didn't really get any good conversations except for once we were in the middle of that industrial stretch and met a shy skinny guy in a long black coat who actually talked to us for a bit and said he would like to know more, and that we could come over the next day. We kept going and actually didn't make it to Shorsa, we turned off at the street before it which was also fairly main with a bunch of people on it, we probably got a couple more little conversations there and maybe a number or two, but I think we get the point of this story. The Lord led us to where we needed to be even if it didn't feel like any kind of amazing revelation.
Ok well other than that, V says he wants to be baptized, but he still doesn't believe in some of the main points of doctrine of the church, so we'll see where that goes. Not much progress from anyone else.
The leadership council at Novo was really good. All of the missionaries are going back this Wednesday for zone conference.
Yeah I'd love to speak in Seminary that would be great.
Love you Mom
Elder Topham


Monday, April 29, 2013

To answer the question about when the Church here celebrates Easter. They kind of do both, but probably more so the one in May. I don't know if there is much special that they do here, I don't really remember from last year, the only thing i remember is that they have a cool phrase that everyone uses instead of just saying "Happy Easter". The first person says "иисус воскрес" then the second person says "во истину воскрес" which means "Jesus has risen" "He has indeed risen" or pretty much like that. I know they paint eggs but they don't hide them.
This week went really well. Wednesday was pretty good, we had a lesson scheduled before English with V. and we called Z, a member, to come teach him with us. But Z showed up with his friend, also Z, who is also our investigator, with whom we had lost contact for a while. Plus one of the other Elders' investigators was there already, so we called the other Elders who shortly came, and the cool thing was Elder Noel came really early so we were able teach everyone. I went with Z to teach Z. Elders Batson and Berg taught V. And Elders Duncan and Noel taught their investigator who could speak some English.
Then we have been having some really good success with P and V. P hasn't smoked for 2 weeks. He had a baptismal interview and now we are planning his baptism for Saturday. The members have done a really good job befriending V and now it is really nice that he is at the point where we don't have to worry about him at church and stuff, because it is easy for him to find someone to sit by. His personality is a little argumentative and it always seems like the lessons didn't go great, but then he always keeps his commitments, and he has really been changing. Last time I asked him if he thought he would be ready for his baptismal date, he said, "Yeah, I think I will" when before he approached it as more of a tentative goal and didn't think he was going to be ready for it.
No huge progress with any of the other investigators for now.
Saturday morning we had a really good service project. There is this little tradition that Lenin started where on the last Saturday in April everyone gets together to clean up the cities. In Krasno they went pretty big on it. If it happened in Novo last year I didn't notice. All of the government officials and volunteer organizations participated, also all of the schools had areas that they were in charge of cleaning, and our branch had an area, it was really cool. We filled two garbage trucks full of trash. I fulfilled a childhood dream throwing garbage bags into the truck.
Then that evening we put on a little talent show. I juggled again then I gave a spiritual thought at the end. It was a good night, decent but not a huge turnout. Some investigators and a good handful of people from English came and some members. One of the English goers that came also came to church the next day, and she is really into the church and already getting along really well with the members. I bet the sisters will have her baptized within the next little while.

Well that is pretty much all that I can think of today. I'll be going with Elder Harrison to Novosibirsk on Wednesday for leadership council. We are really looking forward to the baptism on Saturday. We are going to see the Krasnoyarsk basketball team for culture night tonight.
Sunday at church was really awesome there were 130 people at sacrament meeting. That is about 20 higher than it has ever been this year.
OK well have a good week everyone. Love you Mom.
Then one of us with a random guy we contacted, his friend was taking the picture, and he told him he should hold up one of our books, so it turned out to be a really funny picture.

Elder Mckay and I when we were on exchanges last week.

So here is a picture of me at the zoo with a bear.

Then this was a funny story that I forgot to tell about in the main email. We got to the service project to unlock the building and there was one member already there. We walk up and he has that circular saw in his hand and he says, "The lock is busted, I propose we cut it." It was really funny. We persuaded him to call the maintenance guy first before we did anything, so he ended up coming and opening a different gate while he worked on the lock. It was really funny so I had him take a picture with us and the circular saw contemplating what we should do with the lock.

These are just a couple pictures of our apartment building.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Lot of Ups and Downs

Hey, how's it going?

Well, it's pretty much the same in English and Russian (this is Drew's response to the question how watching General Conference in Russian compared to watching it in English), if they tell a story about something obscure then I might not know some of the details, but I get them from the context. The only bad part about watching it in Russian is the talks, especially the stories lose all of their humor and emotion.

This week was pretty good. We had a lot of ups and downs with investigators. They make us rejoice one day then pull our hair out the next.

P did really well and finally quit smoking, he has already been a whole week without smoking. Also, he finished the Book of Mormon. But he is going through a really tough time right now, because one of his friends committed suicide. And it put him in a really tough emotional state. Plus, we were going to do a baptismal interview with him on Saturday, but he got called into work. Then we were going to do it Sunday, but he got sick and didn't make it to that or to church. So we don't really know exactly what will happen this week with him. Obviously we are hoping and praying for the best.

We had a lesson with M this week. And we definitely agree with Mom and talked to him about that, how it won't be any easier to make that decision even after he gets the job. When we were studying and planning for the lesson I had a really interesting idea come to me about what we should teach, that was very unlike anything I have ever done in a lesson before. We prepared a lesson about damnation and what that word means. The Bible Dictionary gives some really good definitions about what it means. And we emphasized to him how one of the meanings is that your progress is stopped and that's why there are so many scriptures that say if you are not baptized you will be damned. Then we also talked about where much is given much is required, and made it clear that he may think he is a member but he isn't because he hasn't made that covenant. We also touched on sins of commission and sins of omission emphasizing that choosing not to be baptized is also a sin. Needless to say it was quite the interesting lesson and it went great. With the relationship that we already had we were able to present it in a way where he understood everything, but still felt our love and didn't get offended by anything that we said. He is making progress I think. We'll see what happens. It was just interesting how the Spirit prompted us to talk about this stuff, when it was really uncharacteristic of both Elder Batson and me.

We were also able to set a baptismal "goal" with V this week who is making good progress and isn't confident that he has received an answer yet, but is moving along nicely and changing a lot.

President and the assistants came out this weekend. I got to work a day with Elder McKay which was sweet. It's been really fun to go on exchanges with these missionaries that I had done exchanges with as an assistant, and now they are in leadership positions and you can see how much they have grown.

No other serious news or progress about any other investigators.

Ok well I guess that is it. Time has been flying by and I'm very grateful that we have a good little core of investigators to work with, this is a really good time on the mission. Have a good week. Love you Mom.

Elder Topham

Monday, April 15, 2013

Easy to Stay Focused

Hey, how's it going? We had a pretty good week this week. Elder B and I get along really well and we are really good friends. We don't really do too much on P-days, everyone once in a while will go see something but pretty rarely.

No, I wish that was a real fox (in the picture last week). That park that we were at just has cardboard cut-outs of animals out in the snow along the trail, its kind of strange actually, but it was a cool picture. So needless to say we saw all kinds of stuff while we were there, foxes, bears, elk, you name it. All the snow melted this week, there is still a chilly wind sometimes, but I hope the snow is gone forever.

P is doing well. Last Sunday morning he had to take his daughter to the hospital (it seems like Russians go to the hospital for every little thing), so that is why he didn't show at church or for the lesson. And we had a really good week with him, he has already read the Book of Mormon through 3rd Nephi, and he has a really strong testimony of its truthfulness. He really want to be baptized and the only thing holding him back is smoking, so we are still working on it, but he's not giving up.

We watched conference this weekend. I ended up watching three of the sessions in Russian because we had investigators there, and I watched the other 2 in English. One line that the prophet said that really stood out to me, I believe it was during the priesthood session was about how a mission is a family affair, and about all of the sacrifices that people at home make, and it really touched me, so thank you all for that, especially Mom.

We had a really good turnout at conference for investigators. V came to all four sessions, and that was great for him. He had his notebook out the whole time and we met with him Sunday night and just went over all of his questions. He is coming along well. P and Z came to the Sunday morning session and M made it to the Sunday afternoon session. A was a no show :(

The Betzel family had us over last Monday night and fed us dinner, it was really good, we rarely eat full meals at members' houses, so that was really cool of them and we had a good time.

Other than that, nothing really special, we have just been working with those investigators and just trying to find more in the other time we have.

M is ready to be baptized, but he told us he doesn't want to yet because he wants to get a job as a police officer, but if they know he is a Mormon then they won't give him the job. So we are going to keep working with him and see if that is really the issue and how we are going to solve that.

Well that is really all I can think of. It's been really easy to stay focused and it doesn't even seem like I'm leaving soon. It's nice to have a good handful of people whom we see regularly that I can constantly think about, study for, pray for. It is still frustrating when they don't make the progress that you expect, but it has been a really good time on the mission comparative to other times.

Ok well thats all I can think of. Have a good week

Elder Topham

Monday, April 8, 2013

A really good time when you can lose yourself in studying and praying for others...

Hey, so this week has gone pretty well. We have had some really good experiences and some really disappointing ones.

We were having a really good week with P. We set a goal this week and made a plan that he would quit smoking starting Saturday afternoon. He said the next morning would be the hardest, so we thought it was great because we would we with him in the morning and do a lesson before church, then he would be at church during that time. And right after that he could go to his daughters birthday party and keep himself occupied. We planned a lesson about fasting and started teaching, and he just taught us basically, he said he already read about it in the back of the scriptures, and he already knew everything, it was really amazing. We ran into a little bump because later in the week he called us and said that he had just read about tithing and wasn't sure that he could be able to do that. We agreed to talk about it in the next lesson. Everything was going really well and when we talked to him on Saturday he had officially quit smoking and everything was good for Sunday, but then Sunday came around and he just never showed up and never answered his phone. I'm worried that he gave in Sunday morning and was too ashamed to talk to us, I don't know why else he would have disappeared like that. So we will try to get in touch with him and show our love and support.

A is still chugging along, we see him about once a week. He came to church this week and fasted to receive an answer so that is a big step for him.

M wants to be baptized, but hasn't committed to a date, he was sick this Sunday so we didn't see him this weekend.

We have two other solid investigators. I'm really grateful that we have a good pool of people to teach, a pool this size has been pretty rare for my mission. It's made it a really good time when you can lose yourself in studying and praying for others. That is hard to do with few or no investigators.

Z is a guy that describes himself as a "realist" so he can't believe in things he doesn't have evidence for. He really likes everything that we teach and says that he comes to our meetings with the hope that he will get convincing evidence. We have been working with him a lot to talk about what faith is, turn him to the scriptures and prayer in order to get his own personal "evidence" because really that is the only kind of evidence we can give him, is to help him have his own spiritual experiences.

Then V from English, he is a little contentious and gets in little arguments with the members we have on lessons sometimes. We had an interesting experience with him yesterday. He brought a friend to our lesson, who was being very contentious and even rude to us. and V really stepped up and defended us and our faith and what we were teaching, so I think that could have been a really pivotal moment in his conversion.

A, Z and V all made it to church this week.

Well that is really what we have been up to this week. It's been nice to be busy with all of them and our other usual business.

We took one of the inactive members who we work with to the Noels for dinner this week and that was a really good time. It made everyone happy because the Noels wanted to meet more of the inactive young members and we love Sister Noel's cooking so it was good for everyone.

Well I think that is about all I've got this week. Have a good one.

Elder Topham

And some of us at Stolby. The blue jacket is one of our investigators.



Monday, April 1, 2013

A Little Explosion

Well this was my first full week with Elder Batson, (minus the day that I went to Novo with Elder Harrison for ZLC) and it went really well. We were pretty busy and had a little explosion of new investigators I guess you could say.

First, as we were going to P's place, there was a guy standing outside the building and he was a rough looking guy, and it's a rough neighborhood, and he came up to us asking what was going on with the Americans that keep going to P's place. By the way he asked it didn't seem like it was going to be a good situation, but he turned out to be an alright guy and we had a good talk with him for a while, taught him and gave him a Book of Mormon right there, (it was still pretty cold). Then we called him and agreed to meet him there another time and when we showed up, we saw him there with two other rough looking guys. I guess they were just some more neighbors that live right there in that staircase, one of them went in shortly but one of the other guys had been reading the first guy's Book of Mormon and wanted his own. So now we are teaching three guys who's apartments are in that staircase. The two new ones both came to sacrament meeting also, we will have a lot of work to do with them, but they'll come around after a while. And once we get P baptized that will be really convenient for "member-present lessons."

Speaking of P, we had a really good week with him. He chose April 27 as his goal for baptism, and today as the day that he is completely quitting smoking. He had already cut down to only a couple a day, but today he goes off for good. He really has a strong desire and I believe that he can do it, so we will be supporting him a lot throughout the week.

Another really cool experience this week was at church last week I found out that a guy who had been coming for a while wasn't actually a member and I had assumed he was. He started coming off and on a few weeks ago and when he came, everyone knew him and he talked to all the members young and old. I talked to him a few times but just always assumed he was a member. Anyway, upon finding out that he was not a member I set up a lesson with him, and yesterday at the lesson he explained how he has been coming off and on for about 7 years and he likes it because of the peace he feels at church away from the world. I asked him if we wants to be baptized and he said after pondering for a good while, "Yeah I really don't see why not." So we are going to pick a date next meeting and make a plan, but he should be ready to go really soon.

Then, in addition to that we launched English this week and had a great turnout, everyone did a good job finding people for it and getting the word out the last couple weeks. We got two new investigators from it already, and one of them came to church as well.

So the work is going really well, this is probably the most investigators that I have ever had on my mission - maybe at the apex of Elder Anderson and I's time together we had about this many. It will be really cool if they can all stick around. And I can see the 3 of them getting baptized soon.

Elder Harrison and I went to Novosibirsk together on Friday night for ZLC. It was really good as usual, then on the train back Saturday night, there was a Buddhist Monk from Tibet who travels around Russia doing Buddhist seminars in the cupe next to us, we struck up a conversation with him. He was really friendly and invited us into his cupe and we talked for a good while. He told us a lot about his Buddhist stuff and showed us a lot of pictures on his iPad. (He was dressed traditionally and I thought it was really funny when he whipped out his iPad, he is a very modern monk.) He asked us some questions and we preached to him for a while and gifted him a Book of Mormon. So that was an interesting experience for the train ride back.

When I was in Novo Elder Batson ran into that investigator from last week accidentally again. But he didn't show at church so I don't know what his deal is.

Yesterday was really warm, probably in the low fifties, and everything was wet all over as stuff was melting, but today got below freezing again and started snowing. And it was really windy.

Have a good week. Love you.

Elder Topham